What is Empathy? How is it any different from Sympathy?

Empathy is a common buzzword, especially being used now, during the pandemic times. Organizations have changed policies to accommodate the situation and tried to empathize with their employees. Both sympathy and empathy are clubbed together and used interchangeably, then what is the difference.

Let us try to understand this with an example:

Scenario: Colleague lost his father during COVID. Our conversation:

Response 1: I am very sorry for your loss. I understand it would be a very difficult moment for you and your family. I hope your mom is doing fine. I feel the pain that you are going through. I have seen two of my family members suffering from COVID. Do you need any support in terms of extended WFH, or financial support, I could definitely support you in this regard.

Response 2: I am very sorry for what happened to you. Seems like you were very close to your father… Since you are the only son, the incident would have left a bigger impact on you and your family. Also, your mom would be going through a tough time. It looks like you would need some more time with her…Why don’t you WFH for some time until you both are better? Do not hesitate to reach out for any support you need. I will be there for you.

Let’s look back-

In the first response, I tried to understand the other person’s feelings and support them. This is sympathy. If you observe there is more of “I” in the sentence. I sympathized with the person, trying to understand what he is going through by getting into the other person’s shoes.

Whereas in the second response, I tried to label their feelings trying to understand their emotions by saying “Seems like you are very close to your father” or “It looks like you would need some more time with her”. Here I am trying to acknowledge the other person’s emotions, there is more of “you” in the sentence… I feel empathy towards them.