When was the last time you felt totally down and alone? When was the last time you felt nobody understood what you were going through? When was the last time you just wanted someone to ask how you were doing?
During those difficult times, did you want someone to be sympathetic or empathetic toward you?
Well, what's the difference between sympathy and empathy? Sympathy is trying to point out a positive aspect of the vulnerability a person just shared. Empathy is making yourself vulnerable and feeling with the person.
Empathy fuels connections with the vulnerable person. Sympathy keeps you above the problem but prevents you from getting into the weeds of being vulnerable.
One of the reasons being a hostage negotiator with the Cincinnati Police Department SWAT Team was so exhausting, was because in order to be empathetic, I had to go where the hostage taker or barricaded person was. Many times, that was a very dark and ugly location.
Tactical Empathy was a term we used that helped us see a situation from another person's point of view. By asking how the person was feeling and making a commitment to understand (not agree with) their perspective, we began to form a connection with the vulnerable person.
The problem with most of us is that when we are presented with a problem or issue from another person, we try to "fix" the situation. We want to make things better, and that almost never happens. In addition, what the vulnerable person wants most, is to know they aren't alone. They aren't looking for a solution to their problem. They are looking for someone to stand beside them so they don't feel so lonely and isolated.
Please check out the short video below about the difference between sympathy and empathy.
Also, please leave me a comment about your thoughts on being sympathetic versus empathetic and which one you would prefer if you were in a vulnerable situation.
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Author & Motivational Speaker
Terry is a sought after speaker who believes in the power of a story to motivate, inspire, and help others lead their uncommon and extraordinary lives. By combining his eleven-year cancer journey with his diverse business, athletic coaching, and hostage negotiating expertise, he delivers compelling yet relatable presentations for conferences, on-line events, panels, meetings, and seminars.