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The Key Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy, and Why Entrepreneurs Need to Know It

If you run a business of your own, it's essential you make the distinction. Here's how

By | Lucas Miller |

Something bad has happened to all of us. The loss of a loved one, an illness, a car crash, or even smaller things like a missed concert or an argument with a partner. When these unfortunate events occur, it’s normal for our friends, family or colleagues to reach out to us. But have you ever noticed that some responses leave us comforted and feeling heard, while others leave us feeling condescended upon or victimized?

Enter two words we hear a lot but often fail to distinguish: empathy and sympathy.

What’s the difference between empathy and sympathy?

Let’s start with the simpler of the two: sympathy. Sympathy is, put in the simplest terms, feeling sorry for another person. They are suffering and you pity them. You want them to be happier than they are currently. Sometimes this wish is laced with condescending overtones. Responses based in sympathy can leave a person feeling unheard or like a victim.

Sympathy is more than recognizing suffering, though. Dr. Conor Hogan Ph.D. specializes in entrepreneurial mindsets, building out specific programs to help improve them. In a recent Doc Conor video, he explained, “Empathy is the capacity to vicariously experience and understand another human being’s feelings … Empathy involves compassion through a shared experience.”

Someone practicing empathy doesn’t just see and feel sorry for someone else’s situation, he or she feels their emotions with them. When someone is grieving, an empathetic responder will grieve with them, for the same reasons. A person practicing empathy truly puts themselves “in the griever’s shoes.”

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