As I’ve worked with clients I’ve noticed a shortage of empathy that I believe to be global in nature. We all, it seems, face so many problems and challenges personally that when someone in our professional life needs empathy, we often feel like telling them, “Problems? You think YOU have problems? You should see MY problems!”
Empathy is the ability to understand how someone feels without necessarily feeling the same way. These days it is likely easier to experience sympathy. That’s when we do feel the same way as someone else. The problem, however, is in appropriately expressing either (sympathy or empathy).
The cold harsh truth: other people aren’t too concerned with our problems. They bring us their problems–as customers, colleagues or friends–because they believe we can help. It takes discipline to remember that helping is our first duty, not commiserating or complaining. It sometimes goes against our natural inclinations to be of service when we feel we need as much or more help ourselves.
William George Jordan warned about syndicating our sorrows by sharing them with others. There are people in our lives we can and should be open and candid with. But customers and colleagues coming to us for help aren’t on that short list. We can build rapport by admitting that we face challenges too, but the focus should always be on those we serve rather than ourselves.
Life isn’t always fair, of that I’m certain. The professional, whether a leader or service rep or healthcare provider or consultant or whomever, is able to understand and express that understanding because he or she chooses to do so, whether or not they feel like doing so. That’s the only way to end the empathy crisis.