Empathy vs Sympathy (Brené Brown)

My coworker showed me this awesome short video on “empathy”. I can’t help but share it with you.

Many reasons why I love it:

  1. Short and powerful. These days, who doesn’t love an artifact that’s packed with meaning, but short in bite pieces?
  2. Intriguing start. Brené starts with very compact explanations on empathy (“fuels connection”) and sympathy (“drives disconnection”) – this triggered my curiosity:
    • What are your definitions of empathy and sympathy?
    • Why would you say think there’s the difference?
    • Please explain to me!
  3. Great storytelling. Brené started quoting 4 qualities of empathy from an expert, then stated her own opinion with transition – “To me, I always think empathy is this secret space …” and started painting a picture of someone in a deep emotion hole.
    • Brené started role-playing conversations from the perspective of the person in the hole: “I’m stuck” “It’s dark”. She then did this for the fox, the bear (empathy-er), and the deer (sympathy-er).
    • She role played them in a way that you can clearly tell who’s empathizing, who’s sympathizing — fox’s tone is low, depressing; bear’s is low but soothing, while deer’s is entirely different “woo- it’s bad, huh? You want a sandwich?” Her voices popped the pictures in front of my eyes (even without the animation).
  4. Actionable. You learn the differences on connecting with people through empathy vs sympathy. You may practice to master be empathetic, but now at least you can tell the differences.
  5. Lovely animation. I believe this message has got across to more people because of the animation. It’s so well done! It turned Brené’s speech into an easy-to-understand visual story. It depicts the characters so well: the sad little fox, the caring chubby bear, the “sympathetic” deer (who’s looking down into the hole).

The “ah-ha” moment to me was the “silverlining”. In general, I hope to be empathetic. There were moments that when I was soothing someone, I was trying to make the happy, by looking hard for the positive aspect of their lives right at the moment — “This didn’t go well… but you have that, so you should be happy about yourself again.” I don’t think I’m sensitive enough to know that this potentially made the other one even sadder.

Being empathetic, now I think, is first to be a great listener. Listen to the other person, understand their pain points. Encouragement on positivity and happiness are important — but remember that moment may not be the right moment. Building an emotional connection first helps us to better help the other person find ways to walk out of the hole.

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Another one I love from Brené:

I also enjoyed its wonderful storytelling. It’s really interesting how she explains the blame thought process. Enjoy!

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