Sympathy vs empathy

As a manager, I've been doing a lot of reading of Brené Brown's work, starting off with Daring Greatly and then Dare to Lead - really great books. Brown argues that vulnerability is not a weakness, but rather a strength. She writes, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”. I do find this very hard to do, but also very empowering. There is a magic moment in a group meeting when you open up and show vulnerability. Suddenly you can feel everyone really listening to what you are saying in a way that just doesn't happen when you're talking about the latest guidance about performance reviews.

I've been really trying to work out how to bring more empathy into my dealings with people at work, rather than sympathy. Brown defines sympathy as "feeling for someone" and empathy as "feeling with someone." She explains that sympathy is a feeling of pity or sorrow for someone else's misfortune, while empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Brown argues that empathy is a more powerful emotion than sympathy because it allows us to connect with others on a deeper level.

Recently I've been taking a long hard look at myself, especially in difficult situations and thinking about how I can bring a lot more empathy into discussions. Some of what Brown wrote about the difference really resonated with me. I'm not sure if it's my background, or just my personality, but I do find this to be really hard to do, but I do know it's important, and you can feel how much people respond positively when you try to do it.