Yes, it is me talking about empathy again because we really need more of it in our society. Every day, I work with leaders and teams and every day the topic of empathy is raised. All too often, I hear stories of people feeling silenced, having their emotions downplayed, being directly told not to feel something or having the other person try to point out a silver lining. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t done maliciously. It is usually born out of lack of awareness and/or a need to avoid intense emotions and make things better.

To many people are tired, overwhelmed and journeying with so much right now. If we can just walk a little next to them, the oxytocin release will help them to make themselves better. The problem is that we often struggle to sit with pain and just connect with another person’s struggle. It is hard and uncomfortable. It takes courage and energy.

Let’s show up and do the work and take Key Steps together to really show empathy and…

‘be the difference that makes the difference.’

  1. Just listen. This sounds so simple and yet it is so hard. Practise just showing interest in non-verbal ways and not interjecting too much with your story. The “me too” moment detract from the other person’s story. Be a safe space for the other person to be vulnerable and receive the gift of your attention. If you reflect what they are saying, you will be well on you way to…
  2. Acknowledge even when you can’t relate. You can always respect the way someone else feels, even when you don’t agree. It is just harder. Remember that this is about recognising the humanity of someone who might have been raised to think very differently from you. All you have to say is, “I can hear you are feeling [enter emotion]” or “Shooo, that’s hard, thanks for sharing with me.” Even be honest about not knowing what to say and just being grateful that they felt safe to share with you. Therein, lies true human connection and authenticity.
  3. Don’t try to make it better. Telling the person not to worry or it’ll get better – or trying to find a silver lining – undermines what they are going through. Rather say, “I really hope this passes soon or that you feel better soon.” The best thing you can do is just be with the other person in their pain and not mover to hide it or fade it or fix it. Even if you can see the silver lining, it might not feel like one for them and it might simply be too early in their process for them to see it, if it is even there at all. Accept that it might not be.When we display empathy, people feel more satisfied with the conversation and, since we are social creatures, being able to navigate social situations successfully contributes to our overall sense of belonging, happiness and well-being. In addition, empathic listeners more easily foster trust, so they often benefit by attracting opportunities that contribute to their personal and professional success. In essence, empathy is one of the key ingredients of a happy and fulfilling relationships.

Let’s take these Key Steps together and…

‘be the difference that makes the difference.’ 


NOTE: The information in my blog may be freely shared and re-used in any online or offline publication, provided it is accompanied by the following credit line: This was written by Dr Sharon King Gabrielides, and originally appeared in her free weekly  ‘Key Steps Food for Thought Blog’ available on the Key Steps website.

Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

About Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

Sharon is a dynamic facilitator, speaker and executive coach with over 25 years’ experience in leadership development and organisational transformation. Her PhD thesis contributed a framework for holistic and sustainable leadership development that was published by Rutgers University in the USA. She is faculty of numerous business schools and highly sought-after by leading corporates because she works hand-in-hand with them to create sustainable results and long-term success. In 2020, Sharon was inducted into the Educators Hall of Fame, which is a lifetime achievement award, recognising excellence and her contribution to the field.

Sharon is one of only three women in South Africa to have achieved the title of
Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) – the Oscar of the speaking industry. She is also a COMENSA Master Practitioner (CMP), a qualified Modern Classroom Certified Trainer (MCCT™) and an accredited Global Virtual Speaker. Sharon is also a registered Education, Training and Development Practitioner (ETDP), holds an Honours degree in Psychology and practices as an NLP master practitioner.

Most important to Sharon is that she has become known for her genuinely caring manner, practical and transformational approach, and for providing valuable tools and that allow people to take Key Steps to really… ‘be the difference that makes the difference.’