Empathy Is Not Sympathy

Empathy is not sympathy

We have all heard of empathy and it has often been defined as “the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes”.

However, this is difficult to put into practice and often does not work well.

While it is obvious that sometimes we put ourselves in the other’s shoes, in most cases we do so only because we think like the person in front of us, that is to say, that we adhere to his ideas.


Thus, we could say that sympathy supposes the adhesion and the sharing of the values ​​of the other person.

Likewise, it will be difficult for us to “put ourselves in the shoes of” someone with whom we have nothing in common. This is precisely the weakness of this succinct definition of empathy.

What is empathy?

Empathy is a communicative attitude that allows us to understand all interpersonal interactions, regardless of who we are in front of us, whether we agree with them or not, and whether we have sympathy for them. her or not.

We can define empathy as the ability to express respect towards the other person, whether or not we buy into what they say.

Empathy is not sympathy

Empathy involves respect for the other person, and often our personal posture can be at odds with that of the other person. Otherwise, if we agree, then there is sympathy.

How to use empathy?

We empathize with people who are different from us when we respect their opinion.

For this, we express empathy towards the other, showing him understanding of his posture, because we observe where he is speaking and we do not judge him for it.

Here are some examples that can express empathy:

“I understand that for you, what you tell me is important”.

“I understand that you are getting angry about this thing that you think is unfair.” 

When to express your personal opinion?

To show empathy, there is no need to express your own opinion because empathy involves listening, observing and respecting the other person. 

Thus, there are many other opportunities to be able to express your opinion through assertive or adapted communication.

Other confusions …

Sometimes we think we are empathetic when in fact we are trying to please the other person to gain their approval.

In this case, we pretend to have sympathy in order to get something in return, some valuation.

Other times, we agree with the other person and are sympathetic to them.

What does respect imply?

Respect requires knowledge and empathy. We need to know ourselves and observe the other person so that we can show them respect in their personal posture.

Respect is accepting that everyone has the right to decide how they want to live, think, act and feel, and not judge for that.

When we respect, we understand where the other is talking to us, according to their own scale of values.

We show empathy towards him, without needing to “put ourselves in his shoes” since our scale of values ​​can be very different.

We can share his scale of values, but we really empathize when we respect his position without wanting to change it.

To sympathize is to share values, tastes etc. To show empathy is to express respect for differences, without judging.

In the cohabitation of two or more people, respect means allowing everyone to do things as they choose.

Showing empathy means showing respect, without this implying imposing changes on the other, which would modify their scale of values.

Thus, empathy is a fabulous tool for interpersonal relationships, especially in professional environments and those which generate differences.

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