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No Tissues Please

"I am sorry." We say it and hear it all the time. But is it empathy? Or handing a verbal tissue?

Lately, the word ‘empathy’ has popped up in many places, especially in developing leadership capabilities.

It is easy to consider empathy and sympathy as the same action, but they are very different in intention and delivery.

I was in yoga training, and the practice brought up many emotions. One of my peers started to cry. The person sitting next to them handed them a box of tissues. They thought they were helping. That was their conscious intention, but there was a different impact. My peer looked sheepish and stopped crying. At first, you might think this is a success.

But then they shared a poignant story of how handing tissues made them feel like crying was not okay because it was an uncomfortable emotion. Handing the tissue was sympathy and did not help the person crying process their emotion. It made them shut down because they felt wrong for showing their strong emotion.

This can happen in words, tone, and action.

Sympathy can create reactions of shame.

Sympathy can shut down the connection.

Sympathy is not empathy.

Empathy is recognizing your and another person’s emotions, listening, connecting, and communicating understanding.

It is not walking in the other person’s shoes or being sympathetic.

Brene Brown defines empathy as listening to another person’s story and hearing what it is like to be in their shoes while believing them even when it doesn’t match your experience.

Please share your thoughts either in the comments or in Direct Messages.


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