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  • Writer's pictureDiane Down

Sympathy - An Action Killer

I had to make a hard decision recently. Actually, the decision was not so hard—it was based on facts, financial realities and future vision achievement. What became difficult was executing on the decision. After a few too many sleepless nights mired in my procrastination, I plied myself with coaching questions and what surfaced was that I felt sorry for the folks who were going to be impacted negatively (my perception) by the decision.

Over the years I’ve identified deep empathy as part of my coaching presence. However, in this instance I realized that empathy had morphed into sympathy, and my “feeling bad” was driving my behaviour. It was delaying necessary action.

Sympathy was debilitating since it left me wallowing in negative emotions about the lives of others and their responses which were completely out of my control. When I coaxed myself back into empathy, I was empowered to execute on my decision. I was able to hold the feelings and experiences of those on the other side of the decision with care, without succumbing to a false narrative.

What have you learned about the difference between sympathy and empathy?

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