Facilitator Journal | Issue #0431, February 16, 2010
As facilitators, we help people get perspective and to see and move through apparent inner and outer limitations. During this process, people will sometimes experience emotional reactions as they face challenges in their personal and professional lives. Our conditioning might tempt us to lose ourselves in their dilemma in an attempt to sympathize with them. In this weeks issue, Be Empathetic Not Sympathetic, we explore a better alternative to help others move on. I hope you find it useful and as always, I look forward to your feedback.
Facilitating at a Distance coming March 22nd : Essentials of Teleclass & Virtual Meeting Facilitation. This class is for those of you wanting to offer a teleclass but don't feel you have all the skills and knowledge you need to do so, or for managers working with distributed teams that require you to facilitate virtual meetings. See details at the end of this issue. Register by February 28th at
Journey of Facilitation and Collaboration Workshop (JOFC). Our Summer session of the JOFC Workshop is now open for registration! We'll be meeting the week of June 7th in Madison Wisconsin...check out this opportunity to learn an Integrally Informed Approach to Facilitation and Leadership. Click here for details and registration. Here's a wonderful testimonial from one of our readers who attended last month:
Props and Costumes for Trainers. Check out this site I found with props and costumes you can use to spice up your trainings and group work.
Making Your Virtual Trainings More Interactive. As many of you know, I've been using Maestro Conference for the past year learning to make virtual trainings more interactive and engaging. I'm offering low cost demos of the system if you'd like to try it for your new or existing teleclasses or virtual meetings. I'll run the technology for you and if you want, even help you design and facilitate the event. Click here to view the various options.
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Be Empathetic Not Sympathetic
Put yourself in the other’s shoes, but don’t walk their path for them
As facilitators, we help people get perspective and to see and move through apparent inner and outer limitations. During this process, people will sometimes experience emotional reactions as they face challenges in their personal and professional lives. Our conditioning might tempt us to lose ourselves in their dilemma in an attempt to sympathize with them.
We may find ourselves saying things like:
“Oh you poor thing. What happened to you is just terrible! You must feel awful. I wish there was something I could do.”
Do these words sound familiar? Maybe you’ve used them on a friend or relative who suffered a bad break or a heartache. Or perhaps you’ve heard them yourself from a well-meaning friend at a time when you were down.
Words like these are usually expressed by well-meaning people in sympathy to someone they care about. But imagine yourself hearing these words right now. How do they make you feel? Loved, cared for, empowered? Or a helpless victim?
Though sympathy is a socially acceptable gesture, I suggest that you stop using it and accepting it from others. It doesn’t help you or them. Empathy is a far superior form of expression. Let me explain.
Sympathy or Empathy?
So what’s the difference between sympathy and empathy? Sympathy, while highly valued in our culture, can actually be very disempowering. The sympathetic perspective tends to place you above the other, placing you in an "I'm fine and you've got a problem" stance. While this statement may not be uttered, it may be the underlying feeling sentiment. Expressing sympathy this way can actually accentuate a victim state of mind, and is less likely to empower someone to resolve this self-limiting point of view.
On the other hand, coming from an empathetic perspective, you understand what the other is feeling but you don’t necessarily go there with them. Instead, you view them as capable of working through the issue at hand. To be empathetic to someone in pain, you might say something like, “I sense that you’re hurting. What do you need right now?”
This stance is one of understanding and one that places the responsibility for getting the necessary help in the hands of the person who needs it. Don’t rescue! Many people play the victim role so that others can play the rescuer role. Give people the opportunity to find the strength they need and you will both be better off.
Practice using empathy the next time you’re in a situation where someone is suffering emotionally. See this person as a functional, healthy, whole human being. Be present with them and listen quietly. Don't lose yourself in an attempt to connect with them. Stay present to yourself to connect with them in the present...the place where no problem exists.
Don’t try to have their feelings for them. Instead, let them feel their feelings, express their concerns, and shed their tears. Trust that what they need to take their next step is available somewhere close at hand if they are open to seeing it and receiving it.
Don’t try to fix anything for them. Just be with them with your heart open and with an inner and outer certainty that their current perception is only one perception of what's real and that they will find strength in your silent witness to their temporary fantasy of limitation.
Practice using empathy the next time you're in a situation where someone is suffering emotionally. Be present with them and listen quietly. Don't lose yourself in an attempt to connect with them. Stay present to yourself to connect with them in the present...the place where no problem exists. I'm interested in hearing about your experience. Please reply to this email with your thoughts, stories, and experiences on this issue. I'd love to hear from you!
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