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Sympathy or empathy?

What's the difference between sympathy and empathy? People will say things like sympathy is saying you're sorry, empathy is feeling sorry. That doesn't really explain it. So let's use an example to drive this home. If someone fell into a dark, damp, dirty hole, and you leaned over with a sad expression and said, that must be a really tough situation, then you're expressing sympathy. You're sharing their feelings, but you aren't experiencing those feelings. If you crawled down into that dark, damp, dirty hole with the person who fell and said, this is a really tough situation, then you're expressing empathy. You're able to see something from someone else's perspective and understand their feelings. The word choice between the two situations is very similar. But the action, the action you take by looking at it from their perspective, is what empathy is all about.


Unsolicited advice rarely gets a warm reception no matter how tactfully it’s offered, and you must admit the possibility—as crazy as it may sound—that you do not, in fact, have all the answers. Even if you do have all the answers, the advisee may not be in the mood to hear them.