Sympathy or Empathy?
I recently had a discussion with a client where one of the less experienced managers on his team felt sorry for a fellow employee who was in a bad workplace situation. The manager arranged for the other employees in the company to provide assistance in an effort to help. On the surface, and from a human standpoint, helping this employee was a kind and good thing to do. That said, this brings up a number of complicated issues when talking about “helping” as it applies to a workplace situation. First, is the help being given really “help”?
When we “feel” like we need to help someone, we first need to identify if we are really helping or if we are making the problem worse. Many times, our human hearts react with a quick knee jerk reaction, and we immediately try to “fix” the situation. If we slow down a bit, we may be able to use our mind with our heart and do much greater good.
First, let’s clarify the difference between sympathy and empathy:
Sympathy is literally ‘feeling with’ compassion for or commiseration with another person. It reinforces their perception of their situation and is like saying, “that’s terrible”. This can prevent action or reinforces continuing on the same path.( By the way, this doesn’t apply to sympathy cards.)
Questions To Ask When We Want To Help in the Workplace:
As leaders, we need to help others to become better. In both our businesses and in our families, we need to be supportive while letting others know that we genuinely care about their circumstances.
We also need to know the right time to step back and allow people around us to deal with their own problems. Many times personal growth comes out difficult situations. It provides us with better tools to face problems that may come in the future. If we constantly “fix” someone else’s problems, we may end up hindering their progress in working through the situation.
As leaders, we have to know how to assist our employees (without creating dependency) and our employees need to know that they can count on our support when they need it. We need to have a clear understanding of the difference.
Most great leaders are who they are by dealing with challenges and difficulties. We must make the distinction of when to give “appropriate” help. We should ask ourselves the question,
“How can we in our leadership roles help our employees build tools that they will need to work through difficult workplace situations, while still offering our support?