3 posts categorized "Non Verbal Communication"

October 29, 2015

What’s the difference between Empathy and Sympathy, and why has Sympathy got such a bad name?

149_MTUwOTMwX01hbl9Qc3ljaG9sb2dpc3QtMDE
By John Ford

Have you ever wondered about the difference between empathy and sympathy?

And if you have, why sympathy has got such a bad name?

I addressed these very questions in the recent pilot of my online course that focused on Challenging Workplace Relationships, but was prompted to write this after watching a short online video  narrated by Dr. Brené Brown.

In the video Dr Brown says that empathy fuels connection and sympathy drives disconnection. To empathize, she says, we must 'internalize the feelings of another'.

In the examples she gives she suggests that we sympathize when we avoid acknowledging others difficult feelings and also when we minimize the experience of another, such as when we ‘silver-line’ with expressions like, “at least you have a job,” after hearing that the person was demoted.

I agree that these last two practices (avoidance and minimizing) are not empathetic, but I am not sure that they are what sympathy is about. Or indeed the real reasons for sympathy’s bad name.

As is often the case, words have numerous meanings. Sympathy’s Latin roots point to ‘similar feelings’ (sympathia and pathos).

However, the primary sense in most modern dictionaries suggest that sympathy means “pity or sorrow for someone’s misfortune.”

Sympathy as pity is dis-empowering and fuels disconnection. Comments like “I don’t want your sympathy” confirm this.

We want to be allowed to feel our feelings, rather than be rescued by the sympathizer who can never actually feel for us!

I agree that this sense is unfortunate and I suspect a reason for sympathy’s bad name.

But sympathy can also refer to the original Latin meaning and our capacity to recognize a common feeling. We sense that the other person may be feeling something similar to what we have previously experienced and sympathize.
As the listener, if we express our sympathy we may say “I was also ‘gutted’ when my team lost!”

The apparent danger is that unless we are careful we shift the focus away from the other. Now it’s about me and my team!

That’s another reason for its bad name.

So what then is empathy, and how is it different?

Empathy is our capacity to sense and understand what another is feeling from their – nor our – point of view.

This to me is vital. The focus is on them and how they make sense of their feelings.

So while I listen to my English friend bemoan their loss in the rugby world cup, I can sympathize as suggested above as I know what it feels like to lose.

But I can also empathize.

And when I do the shift is apparent. “I imagine you were gutted when your team lost! Especially as hosts. Must really hurt!”

As is suggested by Paul Bellet and Michael Maloney, our perspective becomes superfluous, certainly secondary to that of the speaker:

“Empathy is the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing from within the other person's frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another's shoes.”

At best my frame of reference and knowledge of rugby can help me to understand what my friend is feeling (sympathy), but empathy lies in my ultimate ability to demonstrate to my friend that I understand him and his woes.

Empathy builds connection, and is based on authentic attention to the other.

Sympathy can move us toward, but is not the same as empathy.

In the same way that avoidance and minimization are neither sympathetic nor empathetic.

Much ado about nothing?

Not so sure. Words matter.

Sympathy has its place, but there are dangers.

Which is why for life’s challenges,

I prefer empathy!

August 10, 2015

Are you safe from Mixed Messages?

Yes_no

I recently received feedback on a video I had created to promote my online course that focuses on the skills to handle Challenging Workplace Relationships.

I had posted the video on my personal Facebook page and asked my friends for some honest feedback! 

Let’s just say, that wasn’t easy! 

But I did it - anyway. 

And what I heard, from a number of kind friends, was that there was a disconnect between the use of my hands and my voice! 

Also - that I was looking down at my audience. Rather than being on the level! 

I can easily change the angle of the camera. But what about the disconnect? How best do I address that?

Very simply, by ensuring congruency between my words, the tone of my voice and my body language.

According to Albert Mehrabian, a communication researcher from UCLA, when we are conveying our feelings or attitudes and there is any incongruency between what is being said, the tone of the voice and the body language, we place the least importance on the words used. 

When there is an incongruency, the words have a value of 7%, the tone 38% and the body language 55%. 

If someone shouts “I’m not angry” and pounds the desk while glaring, we discount the words. We give primacy to the message of the body. 

Sadly, this statistic has been misrepresented to mean that in all communication words only constitute 7% of the message! 

I was at a workshop recently where the presenter said exactly that. That’s more like an incorrect message! 

This short video called Busting the Mehrabian Myth that makes it crystal clear what the research really says. 

To peace at work with peace of mind!

September 20, 2007

Welcome!

This new blog is the result of feedback I received from readers of my Conflict Managment E-Newsletter. Many indicated that they wanted me to write more, and to share my pracitical insights about the management of conflict through articles, case studes, practice notes, and in the form of tips.

I have created a number of categories that appear in the left hand navigation bar. My intention is to add at least one new entry a month that will address the categories that I have created.

Please feel free to comment and add your thoughts as we go along.

With appreciation for your support,

John Ford