Have you ever been in a situation where had a cough, your relationship broke-up or lost a love one? You shared with someone that things have been a challenge, and they instantly try to empathize with you. “I remember when I was sick, I…” “I remember when I broke up with the love of my life…” “I remember when I lost my dad…” So this is my question, how did your situation become about the other person?

This happens in personally and professionally all the time. We have been brainwashed to be more empathetic (I know, not a popular perspective… but here me out). Empathy by definition is: “understand and share the feelings of another” often referred to as “walking in someone else’s shoes.” Your client is having a challenge gaining buy in to a situation, or your colleague can’t seem to move a project forward, why do we feel the need to say…” I have been there.” It is as if just because we have been there, we can relate. I have news for you, no two people feel exactly the same emotions when confronting a situation. Sure we can distill the idea down to fear, like, dislike, happy, love… but it is the journey to these final resting places of emotions that is so diverse.

A client who looses their biggest contract could be devastated, but they may have many other opportunities in the works. Compared to a client who looses their biggest client and they have been barely able to stay afloat for years. The backstory to someone’s situation is much more complex than the end result.

Why is this so important to you and your connections with stakeholders? Well, stop empathizing, and start sympathizing.

Sympathy is: “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.” Sure we may not want to bestow pity on someone. But the difference between empathy and sympathy is: one is about you (empathy if you missed that), and the other is about them (just to be sure, that’s sympathy). In both cases you can take a genuine interest in someone, but when you sympathize you can keep the focus on them and be an active listener. Often people just want to talk, and if they don’t – they wont. But at least you will demonstrate that you are there for them.

By immediately (which unfortunately is often when it happens), we say, “I understand, I remember when I…” Or “I remember when my client….” What would you be thinking? Me? “That is great you or someone else you know has this challenge, problem, situations… but right now all I care about is me and mine. So let me talk.”

I want to challenge you, to stop thinking empathy is the answer. Sometimes it can be…here is a clue, they will ask you: “Do you know anyone else who has gone through this?” Ok, go crazy. Let them know about someone else. Pay attention. Really pay attention to the clues when someone is sharing. What do they want from you? Get it wrong, and it just may make them feel worse than before your interaction. Not a great way to build business relationships, or any relationship for that matter.

Conscious Contribution™ in Action

Next time someone shares an unfortunate situation, do three things:

  1. Express concern (i.e. ‘I’m sorry to hear of your…)
  2. Thank them for sharing (i.e. I appreciate you sharing this with me…)
  3. Ask if they want to share more about it.  (i.e. Would you like to share more about it?). I wouldn’t recommend asking: “Would you like to discuss it.” Sometimes people just need to be heard. If the opportunity presents itself, you can ASK if they would like a perspective or hear of a similar situation. Gain permission, before diving in. This will go a long way in appreciating it is about the other person. (Remember, it’s not about me!)


Suzanne F. Stevens
Conscious Contribution Crusader
International Speaker | Host | Producer | Humanitarian
YouMeWe Group of Initiatives

Igniting collaborative cultures thru conscious contributions
Architect of the YouMeWe Movement – Celebrating the contributions that count and the Crusaders who ignite them.

President Elect 2017 } Canadian Association of Professional Speaker (CAPS)

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Suzanne F. Stevens CSP*, Ignites collaborative cultures thru conscious contributions. Suzanne is an International Speaker, Entrepreneur, Host, Producer and Humanitarian for YouMeWe Group of Initiative. She is the architect of the YouMeWe Movement – Celebrating  contributions that count and the Crusaders who ignite them. She is a recipient of The International Women Alliance World of Difference Award in 2013 – in education. This acknowledgement recognizes people who make a difference in women’s economic empowerment.  In 2017 she will be the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS) elected President. To find out more visit: www.suzannefstevens.com.

*Suzanne is one of 63 Certified Speaking Professionals (CSP) in Canada and is in the exclusive 15% of speakers who have this designation internationally.

Suzanne F. Stevens - YouMeWe
Suzanne F. Stevens - YouMeWe

Conscious-Contributions™ Cultivator: Author, Professional Speaker, Moderator, and Social Entrepreneur. Founder of YouMeWe Social Impact Group — igniting a culture where your contribution counts for you • your company • your community. YouMeWe.ca | we@youmewe.ca

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