By Suzanne F Stevens | March 29, 2017


Have you ever been in a situation where had a cough, your relationship broke-up or lost a love one? You shared with someone that things have been a challenge, and they instantly try to empathize with you. “I remember when I was sick, I…” “I remember when I broke up with the love of my life…” “I remember when I lost my dad…” So this is my question, how did your situation become about the other person?

This happens all the time. We have been brainwashed to be more empathetic (I know, not a popular perspective… but here me out). Empathy by definition is: “understand and share the feelings of another” often referred to as “walking in someone else’s shoes.” Your client is having a challenge gaining buy in to a situation, or your colleague can’t seem to move a project forward, why do we feel the need to say…” I have been there.” It is as if just because we have been there, we can relate. I have news for you, no two people feel exactly the same emotions when confronting a situation. Sure we can distill the idea down to fear, like, dislike, happy, love… but it is the journey to these final resting places of emotions that is so diverse.

A client who looses their biggest contract could be devastated, but they may have many other opportunities in the works. Compared to a client who looses their biggest client and they have been barely able to stay afloat for years. The backstory to someone’s situation is much more complex than the end result.

Why is this so important to you and your connections with stakeholders? Well, stop empathizing, and start sympathizing.

Sympathy is: “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.” Sure we may not want to bestow pity on someone. But the difference between empathy and sympathy is: one is about you (empathy if you missed that), and the other is about them (just to be sure, that’s sympathy). In both cases you can take a genuine interest in someone, but when you sympathize you can keep the focus on them and be an active listener. Often people just want to talk, and if they don’t – they wont. But at least you will demonstrate that you are there for them.

Sympathy is similar to demonstrating compassion. The difference between empathy and compassion is well described in The Book of Joy, “empathy is simply experiencing another’s emotion, compassion is a more empowered state where we want what is best for the other person.” The Dalai, Lama describes it best, “if we see a person who is being crushed by a rock, the goal is not to get under the rock and feel what they are feeling; it is to help to remove the rock.”

By immediately (which unfortunately is often when it happens), we say, “I understand, I remember when I…” Or “I remember when my client….” What would you be thinking? Me? “That is great you or someone else you know has this challenge, problem, situations… but right now all I care about is me and mine. So let me talk.”

I want to challenge you, to stop thinking empathy is the answer. Sometimes it can be…here is a clue, they will ask you: “Do you know anyone else who has gone through this?” Ok, go crazy. Let them know about someone else. Pay attention. Really pay attention to the clues when someone is sharing. What do they want from you? Get it wrong, and it just may make them feel worse than before your interaction. Not a great way to build business relationships, or any relationship for that matter.

Conscious Contribution™ in Action

Next time someone shares an unfortunate situation, do three things:

  1. Express concern (i.e. ‘I’m sorry to hear of your…) – genuinely.
  2. Thank them for sharing (i.e. I appreciate you sharing this with me…)
  3. Ask if they want to share more about it.  (i.e. Would you like to share more about it?). I wouldn’t recommend asking: “Would you like to discuss it.” Sometimes people just need to be heard. If the opportunity presents itself, you can ASK if they would like a perspective or hear of a similar situation. Gain permission, before diving in. This will go a long way in appreciating it is about the other person. (Remember, it’s not about me!)



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About the Conscious Contributor

Suzanne F. Stevens, CSP, Conscious Contributor™ Cultivator
Social entrepreneur |International Speaker | Pioneer | Host |Philanthropist | Author

Lead tomorrow’s legacy today.

#YouMeWe Group of Initiatives | Cultivate, Celebrate, Co-create conscious contributions

Book launch coming soon: YouMeWe: lead tomorrow’s legacy today

2017 National President: Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS)
Awards: TIAW World of Difference Recipient for women economic empowering
*Accreditation: Suzanne is one of 61 Certified Speaking Professionals (CSP) in Canada and is in the exclusive 15% of speakers who have this designation internationally.


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