The Difference Between Sympathy And Empathy

Today I read a post on LinkedIn written by John Ford about the difference between sympathy and empathy. I decided to comment on it, but the amount of text seems to be limited. So I wrote this post instead.

 

Words matter. Agreeing on what words mean matters more.

 

The Ancient Greek words for sympathy and empathy (which then found their way into Latin) can provide insight into to their meaning today.

They have a common root, the “pathy” part. It derives from the Greek word “pathos” (πάθος), which means “pain, suffering, passion”.
Prefixed to the root are conjunctions: “sym” meaning “with” (from “sun”, σύν) and “em” meaning “in” (from “en”, ἐν). This adds up to:

 

Sympathy is “pain with”: to feel the pain with someone.

Empathy is “pain in”: to feel the pain in someone.

 

Sympathy, in its positive understanding, means we identify with the person’s pain because we’ve experienced the same or a similar situation.

Empathy takes it up a notch: we feel the person’s pain, even though we do not personally relate to their situation. In other words:

 

Sympathy is putting yourself in someone’s shoes and feeling:

“I know what it’s like, mine feel the same.”

 

Empathy is putting yourself in someone’s shoes and feeling:

“I don’t know what it’s like, mine feel nothing like that. But I relate to how they make you feel.

 

Empathy is priceless when we’re incapable of identifying with the person, for instance, when people do things we could never picture ourselves doing.

Empathy allows us to connect with them by identifying with their feelings and emotions, even though we consider their actions and behavior unacceptable.

To give an extreme example, we might identify with someone’s overwhelming feelings of fear, intimidation and threat to their safety, but still feel incapable of committing the homicide they committed.
Sympathy is easy. For life’s challenges, like John, I prefer empathy.

 

12 Tips For Constructive Feedback

Whether a direct report, a manager, a colleague, a friend or a partner, giving constructive feedback is a crucial element of our relationships.

.

How you give feedback
determines how it is received.

 

I moderate constructive feedback sessions for teams and their leaders, and some patterns prove to be more effective than others. Here’s a set of keys that unlock the doors for constructive feedback to be well received.

Download and discuss them with those you give feedback to.

 

What matters most
isn’t what you say, it’s what they hear.

 

So by all means, I’d love to hear your constructive feedback.

12 Tips for Feedback_Tobias Rodrigues

The Trap

Warning: This post is a rather thick philosophical “steak”. If you don’t have much of an appetite, you can save it for later. If you do, take your time and enjoy.

Who is it that is aware that I am thinking?

Let’s start with a demonstration: While you’re reading, can you hear what you’re thinking? Catch yourself thinking. Is it What’s he talking about?, Where’s he going with this? or something else? Go ahead…

Did it? Good! Now, who did that? Who was it that just became aware that you are thinking? You? The same you that was thinking while you were reading?

Before we answer this, notice these two distinct ways of thinking: you can think without noticing you’re thinking, and you can think, aware that you are thinking.

 

Thinking without noticing you’re thinking is a curse.

 

Einstein thought that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. When life isn’t as good as we want, thinking without being aware of thinking is a curse.

It’s a curse because you’re trapped in the process of thought that creates your reality and trapped in the reality that reinforces your thoughts — round and round in a vicious circle that produces and predicts the same results over and over.

In order to create new thinking, we want to break free from the thinking trap that produces undesired results. Here’s how:

 

Awareness thinking is to become aware
of the thought processes that go on in your mind.

 

In awareness thinking, there’s your thoughts and then there’s something else that notices your thoughts. That something else is… YOU! You break free from the trap because you become aware that you are NOT your thinking.

You see that your thoughts — like your hand — are not you. If your hand is cut off and dies, you do not die with it (unless you don’t treat it). This realization releases us from the domination of thought, enabling us to create new thinking.

As Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said:

 

The way you see the problem is the problem.

 

The way we see the problem is thinking without being aware that we’re thinking. But to look at the way we see the problem gives us awareness of our thinking and that it is governed by a set of principles that lead to a set of outcomes.

Becoming aware of the thought process and it’s principles gives you the opportunity to create new principles, thus leading to new outcomes.

A real example: Nobel Prize-winning mathematician, John Nash, on whom the book and film “A Beautiful Mind” are based, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

(BTW, “schizophrenia”, from the Greek, literally means “a splitting of the mind” — befitting, seeing we’re talking about two split ways of thinking.)

 

Awareness of thinking
frees you from the trap of thinking.

 

After years of treatment, Nash chose to stop taking medication and decided to reject his delusional thinking habits. As a result, Nash willingly “thought” himself out of this disorder:

“I began to intellectually reject some of the delusionally influenced lines of thinking which had been characteristic of my orientation. This began with the rejection of politically-oriented thinking as essentially a hopeless waste of intellectual effort. So at the present time I seem to be thinking rationally again.” John F. Nash, Jr. – Autobiography

Awareness of his delusional thinking freed him from it. Aware of his thinking, Nash was able to see its effects (a waste of intellectual effort). This became the new governing principle for the thought process that rejected the delusional thoughts.

If there’s a lesson here, it might be: When suffering, trapped in my thoughts about reality, ask the question: Where is the who that is aware that I am not my thinking?

Love to hear your comments!!

The Trust Story

For Yoel Calek
Once upon a time, there was a man who valued trust very much. Before he decided to trust someone, he thoroughly made sure the person was worthy of trust. Only then, he felt he was ready to trust.
This meant he didn’t really trust anyone.

Except for one person: his special friend. It took him more than 10 years to do so. Before trusting him, he assessed the events that indicated his special friend was worthy of trust:

– Whenever I needed a favor, my friend would promptly assist.
– When I wanted to go for a drink, my friend was always ready.
– When I renovated my apartment, my friend booked all his weekends until it was done.
– Even when I considered a career change, my friend was there to carefully listen and give good advice.
– And when my mom died, my friend never once left my side.
For the first time the man felt he was ready to trust.

The next day, his special friend died.

For the remainder of his days, the man wondered if his friend had also trusted him. And when they met in the afterlife, the first thing the man did was ask his friend if he had been trustworthy, and if so, when had he decided to trust him.

Staring at the man with a look of confusion on his face, the special friend said:

Of course you’re my trusted friend! I decided to trust you the day we met. And ever since you’ve never betrayed my trust:

– Whenever you needed a favor, you trusted me to ask for help.
– When you wanted to go for a drink, it was me who you choose to confide your secrets.
– When you renovated your apartment, you allowed me and no other to enter the privacy of your home to rebuild it.
– Even that time — remember? — when you were considering a career change, again it was me who you turned to for advice.
– And when your mom passed, I was the only one you accepted at your side.

Your actions have taught me the meaning of trust!

The man stood there in shock, thinking:

You never fully know what people are capable of. By this token, you’ll never really know when you can trust someone.

 
On the other hand, if you give people a trust credit, and let them show their level of trustworthiness, you might be surprised at how much they feel you trust them, and so, respond to you at the same level.
The end.

Credits: I first heard of a credit for trust from my dear friend Florian Mueck.

How Odie Helps You Design Awesome Workshops!

The other day my friend and colleague Evgueni Talal, a specialist in customer satisfaction, asked for feedback on a workshop he’s preparing for the Toastmasters Fall District Conference in Lyon.

This got me thinking about what makes workshops awesome. I noticed four recurring elements that make workshops memorable experiences. Remember Odie from Garfield? These are the ODIE elements of awesome workshops.

  1. Original: How will the content be MINE?

When I began creating my conflict resolution seminars, I asked my friend and colleague, Florian Mueck, a public speaking and charismatic communication expert, for advice. Halfway through my first sentence, he said: “Stop! Don’t talk about someone else’s stuff. Present your own material.”

“Original” answers the question: What does the workshop offer that is uniquely mine that participants can get nowhere else? Evgueni has decided on something unique, to say the least. I won’t ruin the surprise, but be prepared to dance!!

This element avoids making the workshop merely a loudspeaker for other people’s material. Think about it:  Why would someone want go to a workshop to listen to you talk about someone else’s ideas?

But how can we be original when some of the material is not ours? Only you own the experience of the content. Share your personal experience and add value by making connections we haven’t heard of. What does networking have to do with dancing? I have no idea. Ask Evgueni!!

  1. Doable: How will lives change?

The high applicability of the workshop to real life situations is crucial. “Doable” answers the questions: What will participants be capable of DOING when the workshop is over? What are the specific outcomes they can count on?

The answer to these questions begins with: By the end of the workshop participants will be able to do 1… 2… and 3… Once you’ve got the answers to this, design your workshop to make it happen.

What we avoid here are merely reflexive workshops that make us think about cool stuff but don’t equip us with the tools to change specific situations in our lives.

  1. Interactive: How will they share the stage?

Workshops where the participants are the stars are always successful workshops. The interactive element answers the question: What exercises and activities will I include to involve the participants?

What we avoid here are passive workshops, where participants receive but do not give. Awesome workshops invite participants to share their knowledge and skills. This is what makes it a workshop instead of a lecture or a speech.

  1. Entertaining: How will they be fully engaged?

No one wants to deliver boring workshops. But some people do. Inspiring others with our enthusiasm is the name of the game. It’s the greatest challenge we face.

Here are a few tips to make workshops more entertaining: tell stories, provide a form-like-handout with questions and blank slots to be filled throughout the workshop, and use examples that relate directly to your participants’ struggles.

Thank you Evgueni, for inspiring the topic for this post! Thank you Odie, for making the elements unforgettable: Original, Doable, Interactive and Entertaining!

No One Plans To Be An Idiot

Ever been in a situation where someone is slightly rude but in a polite way? Isn’t it annoying? The other day, a friend told me a member of the cleaning staff at work made an unpleasant “humorous” remark about how her files were “organized”.

“This made me realize that most of his remarks”, my friend explained, “aren’t really nice. In fact, they’re more like criticism disguised as humor.” Then she added:

“If I tell him to mind his own business, there’s a good chance I’ll come across as rude. If I start a conversation, I risk making too much of an issue – after all, I’m not his boss. But if I do nothing, things will continue as they are. What should I do?”

When we’re impolite or inconsiderate,
it’s out of weakness not strength.

“Where do you think this comes from”, I asked, “and why do you think he feels the need to say this kind of thing? Do you think he has something better to say and purposely changes it just to be critical?”

I went on to suggest that before she decided what to do, she might want to consider that negativity, like bad habits, has an acute ability to sneak unnoticed into everyday remarks. Unawareness of this accounts for some impoliteness.

On the other hand, I argued that genuine jerks are rare creatures and that pure stupidity is not the standard. No one plans to be an idiot. And on good days, most of us are not.

We tend to fall into the trap of disrespect
when we feel hopeless not hopeful.

Unpleasant remarks happen when we don’t know any better or when we’re having a bad day. When someone disrespects or provokes you, chances are they did it out of weakness, not out of the abundance of their strength.

I’m not saying you give them a break, I’m saying: Look at it from this angle. It places you in a position of greater power to decide how to influence the outcome of the situation.

My friend decided she’d give it some thought before acting. And it occurred to me we’d love to hear your suggestions: “What do you think she could do?”

A Lesson From Tough Times

Think of someone who causes a sense of admiration when you recall the tough stuff they’ve been through and still managed to keep it together. How did they do it?

Lao Tzu said that the person who conquers others is strong while the person who conquers him/herself is mighty. How do you do that? Is there a formula?

It is precisely the extreme events of our life
that show us the essence of growth.

My personal experience of “intense” change includes moving unexpectedly at the age of 13 from Canada to a tiny Island of Portugal; losing quite a bit of weight (25 kg/55 lbs), and a career change.

More importantly, I’ve seen others go through much tougher events, such as an unjustly large jail sentence, the shaking news of a terminal illness, the untimely death of a son or the raw suicide of a sibling.

What does it take for us to change or overcome imposed change? In all these situations, I’ve noticed two defining forces that allow us to effect change or to overcome imposed change: pain and pleasure. I call them “The Curves of Change”.

The curves apply both to a desired change we wish to implement or an imposed change we wish to overcome.

Pleasure makes change desirable.

Pleasure is an attracting force: it pulls us to change. When faced with a situation to overcome, visualizing the pleasures that we will receive creates the desire to change.

For ex., when my family and I moved, the desire to make friends impelled me to quickly improve my Portuguese. When I lost weight, the idea of being slimmer made me want to exercise. When I changed career, the hope of more freedom fueled me to complete another master’s.

When we want to change, the first step is to visualize the pleasures that will be obtained as a result of changing. This provides the motivation to take action.

Pain makes change inevitable.

Pain is a repelling force: it pushes us to change. Pain is more effective than pleasure. Often there’s a taunting voice in our head: “It’s too hard. It’s not worth it. Not now.”

The efforts involved in changing can sway us to give up and settle for the way things are. The solution to reducing the pain involved in changing is to emphasize the pain involved in not changing!!

The solution to overcoming
great pain is a greater one. 

For ex., when we moved, feeling ridiculous when I talked helped me overcome the challenges of an unfamiliar language. As I lost weight, the idea of feeling tired again drove me to stick to months of strict dieting. When the uncertainties of a new career made me doubt, the thought of another month doing the same thing pushed me forward.

The second step is to reduce the pain involved in changing by emphasizing the pains of not changing. This eases the feeling of discomfort involved in changing and gives us the stamina to endure.

Have no doubt, the road of change turns to lessen pain and curves to enhance pleasure. Be sure to look at it from this perspective. To successfully effect any change, engage in increasing pleasure and getting rid of pain!

What roles to pain and pleasure play in the curves of your change?

Two Signs Of Good Advice

The other day my friend and colleague, Sebastián Lora, visited Barcelona and we met for a stimulating Gin&Tonic. He asked for my opinion about a workshop he’s preparing for Toastmasters. I gave one at last year’s District Conference, so I shared my experience.

Afterward, I wondered if I’d given useful advice. I began to reflect on criteria to recognize good advice. Family, friends, colleagues and professors whose counsel I deeply value came to mind. What do they have in common? Two things stood out:

Questions instead of recommendations
are a sign of good advice.

1. The people who give me good advice never say: “you should do this”. They have in common that they ask questions that help me discover what to do. This is a sign of wisdom.

They know no two situations are the same, that their experience is always their experience. And if they have a pretty good idea about what to do, even so they use questions to help me see the way, not just the finish line.

Tell me how – now that’s priceless!

2. Good advice consists of “how” not “what”. The people who’ve helped me improve and grow are those who’ve suggested specific alternatives.

General advice is easy to get — and give! — because it requires no real effort: do this, do that, be this, be that, blah, blah, blah! But find someone who tells you HOW you can do it, who suggests SPECIFIC ways and you’ve found a true treasure!

The world is full of people with a message.
There are few with a method.

You know you’ve found a good adviser when you hear questions that help you decide rather than recommendations that tell you what to do.

You know you’ve found a good adviser when you hear specific suggestions to improve instead of general guidelines to follow.

Did I live up to these criteria with the advice I gave to Sebastián? Only he can say. 🙂 I do remember asking questions and giving a few tips. But there’s no doubt: next time I’ll do better following these two principles!

How do you recognize good advice?

Grandpa Jose’s Effectiveness Recipe

My grandfather was born in the Azores Islands in 1906. His schooling literally lasted two days: the first and the day after. He got punished, didn’t like it, left and never went back.

Grandpa didn’t learn to read or write. Grandpa didn’t really know who Aristotle, Shakespeare or Karl Marx were. Grandpa didn’t rely on business trainings or performance enhancement models. Grandpa was a farmer.

One day, when he was but a young man, his dad gave him and his brother a gift: a pregnant young cow for the two to start their lives as herdsmen. Two years later, his brother owned two head of cattle; grandpa Jose, seven. From then on, his success kept multiplying, considerably.

This afforded him the opportunity to savor life, especially his passion for discovering the wonders of the world. In the end, grandpa grew to be quite the philosopher, readily armed with the precious pearls of common sense and practical wisdom.

The recipe of his effectiveness? He used say he remembered that often at the end of the day while he sat by the sunset reflecting, he’d notice his brother in the distance, still tilling the earth, persistently putting his back into every strike.

“Before the sun rose,” he used to say, “John would already be out on the field. And not before dark would he return! — All hard work and diligence. I did it differently. Every morning I’d ask myself: ‘What do I have planned for the day?’” Then he’d think:

How can I accomplish twice as much with half the effort? 

Grandpa kept at it until he found an answer. Most of them eventually worked.

I gather an important lesson from my grandfather: To make it an undying habit to stop, rethink and improve. I’m sure he would be happy to know that Aristotle thought along similar lines: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.”

I must confess, though, I sometimes recognize a bit of great-uncle John in me. What about you: with whom do you most identify with?

Is Positive Thinking A Drag?

Small shifts can lead to big changes. During one of my workshops with senior managers of a global corporate bank, we were discussing the power of beliefs when Patty commented that she often felt exhausted after “dealing” with “difficult” team members.

She explained she normally kept a positive attitude, but was now wondering if it was actually worth it. Thinking “things will improve” wasn’t really helping and she was no longer buying the whole “positive thinking act” because results didn’t add up.

I asked if this way of thinking motivated her to lead her team. She said no. So I invited her to stop for a moment and look at what her beliefs were doing for her.

I said: “You think positive thinking is consuming and now doubt whether it’s really worth it.” “Yes, exactly”, she said. I continued: “So what you believe is not working for you, in fact you’ve begun to doubt it, is that right?” “Yes, that’s right.” Then I asked:

Is your fatigue the result of a committed effort to effectively manage your reality?

“Of course!” she said. “And do you have your team’s interests in mind when you make that effort?” Yes again. “So would it be fair to say that a) having the team’s interests in mind; and b) being committed to achieve those interests are two qualities of a leader?”

She frowned and paused. Then smiled and said: “Yes.” I asked how she felt. “Better. I don’t feel doubtful. I know I can improve the situation in my team.” “What changed?”, I asked. She thought for a moment and then replied:

Before I was focusing on how being positive made me feel tired.
Now I’m looking at my fatigue as a result of my leadership qualities.

Finally I asked: “Does this motivate you to continue leading your team?” This time she said yes. But then added: “This still doesn’t change the situation!” “Yes it has”, I said.

And added: “You’ve shifted your focus from looking at the consequences of positive thinking to appreciating the energizing effects of empowering beliefs. Changing what you focus on, changed the way you feel. This changed the situation because it changed the way you will interact and the strategies you will now choose.”

Instead of focusing on thinking positive, concentrate on what your beliefs do for you. This allows you to choose between the ones that give you energy and those that don’t. It creates new enthusiasm to interact in different ways and to devise new strategies, which leads to new outcomes.

Positive thinking is fine. But it’s not the focus. The focus is what your thinking does for you. Embracing energizing beliefs boosts you to a new reality. Small shift, big change.