What is the difference between empathy and sympathy? While these may seem like the same thing, there’s a stark contrast between the two. Author, scholar, and public speaker Dr. Brené Brown breaks down the difference in this beautifully animated short for the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (RSA).
What separates an empathic response from a sympathetic one is the length you will go to connect with another person. Empathy is feeling with people; it is a vulnerable choice one makes. An empathetic response is one without judgment, where the listener recognizes another person’s perspective and finds a way to relate. On the other hand, a sympathetic response tends to merely look for a silver lining to a problem, rather than trying to establish a connection with the person.
When someone in your life has a problem, try not to brush it off. Take the time to really understand where they are coming from. Many people try to "cheer people up" by attempting to get the person to forget about their troubles. Sweeping something under the rug doesn't get rid of it, it just hides it. Acknowledging someone's pain and feeling with them will do more than any "at least ..." statement.
“Rarely does a response make something better,” Brown says. “What makes something better is a connection.”
H/T: The RSA