In this delightfully animated short, Dr. Brené Brown succinctly explains the crucial distinction between moving through the world from a place of empathy, rather than sympathy. As Dr. Brown says: “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.”

 

We at Zebra Strategies believe empathic listening is necessary for conducting insightful research. Through this practice, we create a safe space to navigate highly sensitive and deeply personal subject matter. 

 

In this video, Dr. Brown outlines the four key qualities of empathy:

 

  1. Taking on the perspective of another person, or recognizing their perspective as their truth.
  2. Staying out of judgment and listening.
  3. Recognizing emotion in other people that you may have felt before.
  4. Communicating your understanding of that person’s feelings.

 

Empathy is a vulnerable choice, the choice to feel with someone else. In order to create a genuine empathic connection, you have to connect with something in yourself that knows that feeling. You have to get in touch with your own fragilities.

 

In the face of difficult conversations, we often try to make things better, to present a silver lining. It’s tempting to respond when someone is disclosing something painful with an “at least…” But a sympathetic response can create an uneven power dynamic, and lead to more isolation and disconnection.

 

Rarely are people looking for a magic answer that fixes everything. What’s essential to remember is that it’s not a response that makes something better, it’s creating a connection that does.

 

For deeper insights, we recommend watching Dr. Brown’s full talk “The Power of Vulnerability.”