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Want to be More Likeable? Use Empathy Not Sympathy

By Sandy Schroeder

When our friends run into problems, most of us reach out and help in any way that we can. If we have run into the same problem, we are empathetic. We know exactly how crushed the person felt when the bottom dropped out of their relationship, or they lost a treasured parent.

If we have never experienced that sort of loss, we are more likely to be sympathetic. That’s the difference in how we react with empathy or sympathy.

Understanding Empathy

With empathy we are right there feeling the same feelings; with sympathy we feel bad for the person, but often wind up giving advice which seldom works. We simply do not know how the person is feeling, and they usually sense that we do not.

Lifehack says, “Empathy is the ability to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. It is the ability to stand in his or her shoes and endure the gut punch.”

Sympathy is different. It’s like watching a movie. You see that punch but you don’t really feel it.

How to Be Empathetic

When a friend is going through a painful situation, lend an ear and a warm hug, but skip the advice. Your hug, smile and willingness to listen will mean a lot more than advice.

A dear friend of mine is considering making a major move that is economically sound, but not really what she wants. I am very tempted to jump in to suggest ways to avoid making the move. But what really helps my friend the most is being there and listening, helping her unload frustration and anger.

My friend is a very resourceful person, and I know she will find ways to turn this around. After she gets past the initial impact, she will make a list of the possible options to explore. Then she will pick the one that fits and find ways to make it work. I have seen her do this in lots of projects, and I know she can and will do it.

When you run into situations with your friends or family, here are some good tips to remember.

  • Figure out ways to feel what they are experiencing
  • Make the effort to share experiences and learn from them
  • Listen to a person’s feelings that go beyond their words
  • Listen, and then listen some more
  • Just be there when you are needed

If you want to learn more about the process, see Psychology Today’s The Neuroscience of Empathy.

If you have read this far, you are obviously a good friend who cares about others. Your friends are sure to be there when you need them.

To learn more about your health and wellness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Tampa, Fla.

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