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Sympathy, Empathy and Compassion

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How Do You Rate?

Let’s agree that our ability to effectively convey our personal feelings at the right time and place is important for building relationships and influencing others.  Consider your current level of  interpersonal skills.  

How would you rate your ability to convey or express sympathy, empathy and compassion

This is really three questions rolled into one.  So let’s break it down.  On a 1 to 10 scale, how skilled are you at recognizing the need and then sharing your:

  • Sympathy?

  • Empathy?

  • Compassion?

How did you rate?  What might you gain by improving? 

To discover how to be more effective at  recognizing needs and then conveying these three sentiments, here’s some defining questions. 

Sympathy, Empathy and Compassion: What's the Difference?

These simple definitions are listed in order of emotional intensity.  


“I understand how you feel”


“I feel the same.”


“I want to connect and support you.”

Notice as you move from empathy to sympathy to compassion:

  • Empathy is a prerequisite for sympathy.  Without recognizing others’ emotions, how can you feel the same?
  • Sympathy is a prerequisite for compassion.  

So empathy is the starting point. 

Empathetic Leadership

For a leader, recognizing and understanding the emotions of the people you lead is a critical starting point.  Is empathy enough?  It depends.  There are situations to avoid expressing sympathy or compassion:

  • When you don’t really feel the same.  Or with compassion, when you’re not truly committed to giving support.  When you’re not genuine and authentic, people can smell it.  Your acting skills are rarely as honed as you believe. Phony compassion is repelling and will erode any trust you may have built..
  • Sometimes your sympathy and/or compassion is best not shared.  If you sense that others will exploit your emotional state, you need to exercise careful discretion. 

When do sympathy and compassion come into play?  When should you find enough empathy to genuinely convey your sympathy?  Let’s remember the time tested axiom.

"Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care."

Pay It Forward

Putting President Roosevelt’s insight to use requires digging deep enough to first develop empathy, then sympathy.  If you don’t, who cares?