Empathy = I feel your pain
Compassion = I understand your pain and want to do something about it
We see the impact of this distinction in the healthcare industry. Providers can seem more detached and businesslike than we would be in the same situation. While empathy alone would likely lead to burnout in the face of overwhelming pain and loss, compassion drives action. Empathy becomes an important component of the plan instead of the result.
Klimecki makes the case, “We can increase our resilience and approach stressful situations with more positive affect.”
Your goal is to apply loving kindness in response to the suffering of others. You become the source of something highly positive, rather than the victim of something highly negative. That’s why compassion gives you the staying power that you won’t have by merely being empathetic.
How do you know when empathy alone as opposed to compassion has become the driving strategy for customer relationships? Look for these two likely outcomes of empathy as a professional goal in your organization:
- Colleagues stop short of true empathy, uncomfortable with the emotional engagement required, and no progress toward “understanding our customers” is ever made. Innovation stalls because any understanding of the challenges faced by customers is superficial.
- Colleagues will dive too deeply into empathy, and while good things may happen in the short term, eventually the effort will fizzle out as people burn out from the heavy emotional lift required.
What would it look like if you moved past empathy and instead engaged your customers with compassion? How would your colleagues feel and act if they were called to solve problems with compassion instead of just feeling the pain of your customers? What would your customers see and feel if instead of “feeling their pain” you “showed them compassion” through action?