Have you ever told someone, “I’m sympathetic to your cause.”

Well, if you’re trying to sincerely connect with them, that really isn’t the best thing to say. Turns out, having empathy is a better approach.

According to author and University of Houston professor Dr. Brené Brown, empathy fuels connection, while sympathy drives disconnection.

In the entertainingly-animated video below, she shares the four aspects of empathy, as determined by nursing scholar Theresa Wiseman in a 2007 study.

Having Empathy: The Four Qualities

As Brown explains in the video, these are the four qualities of empathy:


  • The ability to recognize the perspective of another person
  • Staying out of judgement
  • Recognizing emotion in other people
  • The ability to communicate that recognition effectively

Empathy’s Role In Your Emotional Intelligence

Over the past month we’ve been focusing on Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and how it can positively – and negatively – impact your career. One of the key components of your EQ is empathy. But even if you aren’t working on increasing your EQ, merely cultivating empathy can help your career.

The “father” of Emotional Intelligence, psychologist & author Daniel Goleman, recently published a post on his blog titled, Empathy 101. In it, he outlines the various types of empathy and how they impact us – and our careers. Regarding “cognitive empathy”, Goleman makes this comment:

“This way of tuning in to another person does more than give us an understanding of their view – it tells us how best to communicate with that person: what matters most to them, their models of the world, and what even what words to use – or avoid – in talking with them.”

Increased connection with teammates, and better communication with your boss or employees? Seems the benefits of increasing your empathetic tendencies abound.

Habits of Highly Empathic People

So if you’re ready to do a little empathy cultivating, here’s a start. Roman Krznaric, the author of Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution, provides a list of Six Habits of Highly Empathic People. He recommends adopting one or more of these habits:


  • Cultivate curiosity about strangers
  • Challenge prejudices & discover commonalities
  • Try another person’s life
  • Listen hard – and open up
  • Inspire mass action & social change
  • Develop an ambitious imagination

There’s more detail on each of Krznarisc’s habits on his post at GreaterGood.

So practice a bit, and see how effectively you can increase your connection with the folks you worth with each day.