Sympathy and Empathy in Workplace

Workplace is a tight-knit social environment and it is important for us to ensure the implementation of positive social factors. So, is it necessary for leaders to sympathize or empathize at work? In general, sympathy is an act of sharing an emotion, condition and sensation of other people. It is a social affinity in which a person stands for others by closely understanding their feelings. On the other hand, empathy is a capability of understanding someone’s mentality to fully comprehend the person. Empathy is a capacity to fully recognize the feelings, such as happiness or sadness that is experienced by another living being.

These definitions seem to overlap and it’s true that there’s no clear distinction whether someone is being sympathizing or empathizing. However, we may tend to mix these things up and the result can be ineffective. Sympathy would happen when we are exposed to specific emotion or situation of others and we are able to respond appropriately through acting, expressing or experiencing on it with enough authenticity. In order to sympathize with someone, we need to be authentic. It also implies that we are having a positive relationship with the person. So, we could sympathize with a person or choose to sympathize with a person. If our sympathy is authentic enough, it will cost us some amount of emotional energy. Depending on the situation, the whole process may actually de-energize or even energize us. However, we should know that nurturing an authentic sympathy will take a lot of time.

When we feel empathy, we respond and sense to the unique experience of other people and we want to create a space for the person to be understood, valued and heard. People who empathize are able to have seamless dialogue, so the other person will feel understood, heard and valued.

For empathy to be authentic, we will need to spend energy to be committed in listening. Depending on our circumstances, authentic empathy may take a lot of time or extremely brief. In this situation, we need to understand more about the unique experience of others. When empathizing for someone, we may choose not to solve problems of others. When being empathetic, we listen and articulate back our understanding of the specific emotion. We may provide space for the other person and it may include being silent and attentive about what the person say.

But how these factors could be implemented in the business environment? For leaders, to respond and sense the unique experiences felt by colleagues and employees. This should be a meaningful and powerful way to fully engage people. When used properly, empathy and sympathy could become critical to the strategic success of the organization. However, many businesspeople find that it’s more appropriate and professional to empathize with authenticity, instead of sympathizing. We should know that both sympathy and empathy will cost us cognitive and emotional energy. Whatever we do, we need to increase morale, engagement, productivity and loyalty in the workplace.

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