Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy. How to Experience Empathy.

Know thyself to know others. Listen to yourself in order to listen to others. Appreciate yourself to appreciate those around you. Understand who you are to assist others in knowing who they are.

It is a process that implies that gaining greater awareness about what you are thinking and feeling leads to greater skill in being able to read and interpret what is going on around you. And the more adept you are at sensing what others are thinking and feeling, the better equipped you will become at knowing what messages to send to people who work for you, and how to frame them. The skill involved in this process is called empathy.

Defining Empathy

Empathy is defined simply as:

“The capacity to understand and respond effectively to the unique experience of another.”

Given this definition, it is evident that empathy includes three main components: understanding, responding effectively, and a focus on the unique circumstances of people and situations. Let’s look at each of these three components separately.

Certainly managers are required to have solid understanding about a number of things regarding the people who work for them. They need to understand, for example, the basics: the essentials of the jobs that report to them, the requirements for performing these jobs, what superior performance looks like, how the job gets done extremely well, and much more. But these types of technical understandings only scratch the surface about what a manager needs to know and appreciate. It is at least, if not more important, for managers to understand:
§  How each staff member adds value to the enterprise, and to the satisfaction of the enterprise’s customers.
§  What each individual staff member’s training and development needs are.
§  How each individual staff member can maximize his or her full potential.
What motivates each direct report, and how each of these individuals is likely to respond to varying motivational techniques.
Do you see the difference between the more superficial, “content-oriented” technical understandings (job specifications) versus the more interpersonal, “process-oriented” understandings that characterize the skill of empathy? Obviously, there are an almost infinite number of additional “understandings” upon which a manager can focus. But the crucial point is that, as is the case in the process of self-examination, there are deeper and richer understandings about people that help connect a leader to his or her team. The effort to create or achieve the more interpersonal “process”-oriented understandings at work is at the core of empathic supervisory practice.
Responding effectively to situations that present themselves at work is also an essential component of managing others. Judgment about which response to employ in different situations is a crucial part of managing people with empathy. Armed with understanding, a manager can tailor a response that fits the person and the situation. Empathic responses to situations imply an effort to “read” the situation and select the correct response accordingly. Management should never be “one size fits all.”
The skill of empathy then adds another dimension to the ability to understand and respond to people in work circumstances. Empathy focuses on communicating with others in a way that makes them feel uniquely understood. It involves an ability to assess the unique circumstances of people—what seems to be going on inside them in the here and now, what they are feeling, how they are showing it with body language and affect, what type of core personality they have, what values drive them, and much more. Empathy is sparked by a natural curiosity about people. Managers need to nurture and develop that sense of curiosity about what people are experiencing, in order to focus in on their unique circumstances.

The Difference Between “Sympathy” and “Empathy”

It is important to have an appreciation for how the terms sympathy and empathy relate to each other. The distinction between these two seemingly analogous terms lies in the difference between “feeling for” someone (sympathy) versus “feeling with” someone (empathy). The sympathetic response feels for someone out of an orientation to one’s own experience. The empathic response feels with the person, based upon an orientation to the other person’s unique circumstances. Sympathy is a form of agreement, rather than an exploration of feeling—it is emotionally distant. Empathy, on the other hand, is emotionally connecting. Empathic listeners feel others’ pain, joy, grief, and frustration. Sympathy leaves the other person in the interaction feeling supported but not uniquely understood.

Experiencing Empathy

To understand what empathy is and its importance to human relationships of all kinds, consider your own experience with it. Think about an interaction or series of interactions with another person in your life, when you felt:
§  As if your words had been listened to completely, and therefore truly understood.
§  Engaged, rather than simply heard, in a conversation.
§  Pleased that the interaction took place, because it created a feeling of connection to the other person.
§  A wish to have additional opportunities for such interactions with this person.
The interaction you chose may have been part of a loving relationship or friendship. Obviously, empathy is a key component of intimacy with others, because of empathy’s power in connecting people to one another.
The interaction you chose also may have been a professional one. Teachers, academic supervisors, mentors, clergy, or medical/psychological caregivers are common examples of the types of individuals who can model empathy in professional relationships. They listen in order to be of service, to help in meeting different types of educational, professional, spiritual, or medical needs. When we receive an empathic response, we feel as though our problems matter, as though our growth or development is important to someone else, and that we are unique and also uniquely understood.

The author of the aboved writing: Stephen E. Kohn



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