I think I’m an empathetic person and can be sympathetic. However, I do my best when focusing on making it better, bettering the situation, because empathy, understanding, sharing, awareness, or sympathy don’t always make things better. Sometimes they can make the situation worse. I’ll give you an example.

If a friend loses their job, and you say “at least,” it minimizes the severity of the loss.

  • “At least you can collect unemployment.”
  • “At least you’ll have time for your hobbies.”
  • “At least your partner still has a job.”

Instead of trying to lessen the gravity of losing a job with lame reasons that losing the job is a good thing when it’s not, ask what you can do to make it better.

  • “How can I help?”
  • “What can I do?”
  • “Would you like to meet up and talk?”

A Broken Foot  

This week one of my closest friends, a musician I’ve performed with for nearly 50 years, called to tell me he fell. The first thing I did was ask what I could to help. I took him to the doctor. We learned later that he had broken his foot. I’m taking him to a surgeon next week. Later I might commiserate about the time I needed surgery to set my broken hand or when my dad broke his foot, but having that understanding, without adding action, wouldn’t have made it better for my friend.

In the Workplace

I was having dinner with friends when I asked one friend about their recent promotion. They were delighted with the new position and the team. They mentioned that their boss from the previous position was a good and kind person but overwhelmed. One of the old team members came to my friend, frustrated. The boss was over their head. There were multiple mistakes, they were behind schedule, and it wasn’t getting any better. Instead of commiserating, because my friend had faced the same challenges, she asked what she could do to help. The teammate said, “Get us more help!” My friend went to the VP of the division and explained that when she left the position, it left a hole. The VP moved two associates to that team. My friend was bettering the situation.

Are You Making it Better?

The reason I wrote this post is I keep hearing we need to be empathetic to others needs. Often it’s about co-workers, teammates, and direct reports. I will not argue with this, but empathy without action is empty and misguided action can be harmful.

Feeling Sorry for Someone May not Help

If all you do is feel sorry for someone, how does that help? The answer is it probably doesn’t. Instead of stopping at empathy and sympathy, take the next step. Ask what you can do, how you can help, and what they need, and then follow through with help. It might only be small steps to begin, but those steps are toward bettering the situation. Are you making it better?

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy, You Can’t Talk Shit Done.

 How Can I Help You?

I like to help people and organizations, but I have three criteria I consider before taking an assignment – I believe in what the organization stands for, I know I can help, and it looks like fun. If you have any questions, Contact Me. 

Does your business have a management training plan? Businesses and universities use my book, The New Manager’s Workbook, a crash course in effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program. I’m also available to conduct training.

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash