Do you know the differences between empathy and sympathy? The similarity of these terms generates confusion in most people. In this article, we’ll show you what the differences are between these two feelings. Is it better to be sympathetic or empathetic? Sympathy and empathy are about our behavior. It is about how we relate to other people. Many people confuse between the terms since they are used interchangeably in our daily life. Although the concepts are similar, there are some crucial differences as we will show in this article.
Before dealing with the differences between sympathy and empathy, we need to better understand what those words mean.
What Is Sympathy?
Friendly people are those who can relate to others. Sympathy is a behavior related to solidarity and aims at a good relationship with other people.
People who are friendly have a good relationship with most people, and that is because friendliness makes us pleasant and positive for others. Friendly people identify with other people superficially. They don’t try to understand the other person, but they manage to navigate in any social situation.
An example of sympathy is a manager that greets every employee of the company on a daily basis, asking if everything is okay. However, when he hears about a problem he doesn’t show any further interest or try to solve it.
What Is Empathy?
Empathy goes further than sympathy towards contact with other people. An empathetic person is one who seeks to understand the other and puts himself in his place. It means that he can understand the point of view of others. As well as without judgments or prerogatives, he actively seeks to offer solutions to their problem.
It is no longer a matter of looking for the positive in the situation. Nor is it necessary to like or dislike the other person. It simply requires to see the world as the other person sees it. Being empathetic is to relate and understand the feelings, needs, concerns and emotional states of others.
In short, empathy is putting yourself in the other’s shoes. This doesn’t mean that we have to agree with others on all points. However, we must understand their point of view and come up with an argument or a solution to a possible problem. Empathetic people see human relationships as an opportunity to help others.
An example of empathy is when a person tries to solve someone else’s problem. Let’s say that in a flood, the houses on the lower part of the street have been damaged. The residents which were not affected by the flood, join their neighbors to make a collective effort to clean and gather supplies. These people are putting empathy into practice and are really looking for ways to help others overcome this difficulty.
The Skill of Empathy
In order to understand the feelings of others, and connect with them, it is necessary to begin by learning to understand oneself. In this context, developing empathy is an important aspect of personal growth. A person should first recognize what one’s own needs and desires are. What things, people or situations cause certain feelings and what thoughts provoke which emotions. Finally, a person should know how these feelings affect him and understand their consequences.
In this way, empathy is composed of numerous skills. It requires the interpretation of non-verbal expressions of feelings. As well as the imagination about what one would be feeling if they were in that situation. Finally, the recognition that not all people feel the same in similar situations is needed.
In order to assume an empathic stance in relationships, it is necessary to avoid prejudices. These are beliefs and values that may prevent us from understanding the other’s point of view. People with this skill stand out for their ability to listen actively to others. As well as for being “observers” of the non-verbal signals and affective states of those around them.
This ability of empathy is related to mirror neurons. These are neurons activated when the person perceives an action of another person, leading to the performance of a similar action. Mirror neurons explain both imitation and empathy. They are responsible, among other things, for the transmission of yawning. These neurons are also at play when we see someone in distress and can almost feel their fear.
Types of Empathy
Generally, two types of empathy are recognized:
- Emotional empathy – the ability to respond with a feeling to mental states of other people. That is, it occurs when a person expresses a feeling and another person can also experience it just by seeing it. Even Though the situation does not affect them directly.
An example would be when someone sees a friend crying because a relative has passed away, and also feels sad and becomes tearful.
- Cognitive empathy – the ability to understand the point of view or mental state of other people from the signs that they show. The ability to know what they think or feel. That is, when someone easily understands what is happening to the other and how they feel, even if they are not experiencing it themselves.
An example would be when a friend tells another that he has argued with his partner and is very angry. Although the person does not feel the same way, he can understand how his friend feels.
What Are the Differences Between Sympathy and Empathy?
As we can see, the main difference between sympathy and empathy is the depth of relationships with others. The word sympathy has a positive connotation. While it encourages a person to behave affectionately, the engagement is more superficial. A sympathetic person does not get involved to help or understand the other’s point of view.
Empathy is the behavior of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. This helps to understand different points of view and deal with different situations. Empathy is often confused with free acceptance or agreement with everything, but it is not true.
An empathetic person understands that he does not need to agree with the other person to help him. He just seeks to recognize the problem, understands the other person’s opinion and respects it. Thus, he can find solutions and also bring arguments that can help the other person to expand their point of view.
Are You More Empathetic or Sympathetic?
Once you understand the differences between empathy and sympathy, can you answer the question in this topic? Obviously, being an empathetic person takes a lot more work and generates a lot more involvement than just being nice.
Empathy is a highly demanded skill in the corporate world today. Managers and entrepreneurs must be empathetic, they need to demonstrate that they truly care about their employees. In fact, empathy is a key skill for anyone looking to take on a management or direction position in the future.
We can say that being friendly is the least we can be to deal well with other people. Being empathetic is a better way of connecting with others and creating important opportunities in personal and professional life.