By Guest Blogger, Mattias Strandberg, Managing Director, EQ Europe

There is a lot of research indicating the importance of being empathic, both as a fellow human being and as a manager.

When business life gets tough, the togetherness and empathy between colleagues and partners is what keeps us going. Some say that you mustn’t be too empathic since that can make you feel too much.

But that’s when you have Empathy and Sympathy mixed up.

Empathy is about being able to put yourself in somebody’s position, frame of mind and feelings, and show compassion.

Daniel Goleman has identified three levels of empathy:

  1. Cognitive Empathy: “I understand what you’re thinking.” This is important to understand how somebody has reached a conclusion and helps to find common ground.
  2. Emotional Empathy: “I understand what you are feeling, I would probably have felt the same had I been in your situation.”
  3. Compassion: “I can put myself in your shoes and understand your experience, and I want to help you if that is possible.” Compassion is thus a part of Empathy that extends beyond just wishing others well.

Based on this, we can see why Empathy and Sympathy are easily mixed up. The defining difference is the ability to keep the other person’s experience separate from your own.

Where Empathy gives you the opportunity to understand another person’s thoughts and feelings, Sympathy causes you to think and feel as the other person. It’s when you let yourself become affected to the extent where you experience the same thing as the other person, that you are feeling Sympathy.

A classic sympathy-situation is when somebody you know is sad, which then causes you to become sad. Crying together can feel good and create a sense of belonging and understanding, but the problem probably remains. You have joined the other person in their experience and you both are incapable of doing something about it.

Had this been an empathy-situation the outcome would have been different.

You would have asked the person why he/she was sad, you would have affirmed the feelings (“I would also have been sad had I been in this situation”) and then move on to try and help the person out of the situation. The help can be in the form of offering a different perspective, physically helping the person with a situation or just being there for a while offering comfort and support.

Regardless of the help you offer, you are not incapacitated just because the other person is feeling sad.

It is only natural that we experience feelings of sadness when someone else is not faring well. But it is our ability to separate their experience from our own that enables us to help out.

There will be situations where you are unable to help and that may in turn make you sad. But that is your own experience and not a reflection of the other person’s feelings. You are not incapacitated by your feelings of sympathy, but by external factors.

Showing empathy is essentially what the Danish philosopher Soeren Kierkegaard said, “If I want to succeed in moving a human being towards a defined goal, I must first find her where she is and start there”.

You need to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and see the world from their perspective in order to help the person.

That is why empathy is critical in business settings and has the biggest influence on staff turnover.

Kandidata Asia can help you develop Empathy skills, we would love to hear from you.