People Don’t Want Your Solutions—They Want Your Empathy

Even until a couple years ago, I could never understand empathy or sympathy.

They sounded like mushy emotional words that didn’t seem all that important in light of fixing a problem or saying something true and powerful.

But I was wrong. Empathy makes all the difference when we’re trying to communicate with someone else.

Brené Brown on Empathy and Sympathy

There’s a big difference between empathy and sympathy. This video from a presentation by Brené Brown explains more:

[Brené has many more wonderful insights, by the way. Check out her incredible book, “Daring Greatly,” and read what her work taught me about being vulnerable enough to build relationships that matter.]

“Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.” – Brené Brown

Sympathy is lobbing a pity grenade into the dark hole in which someone got stuck.

Empathy is climbing down into the darkness and sitting next to that person.

A Solution Is Not The Answer

When my wife or a friend tells me about a problem they’re having or a conflict they’re working through, my first impulse is to try to fix the problem. I like fixing things. Finding a solution always seems like the best goal.

But sometimes my wife or my friend tells me about their dilemma not because they want a solution, but because they need someone to be there for them. They need support, a shoulder to lean on, a listening ear.

We don’t need to make things better in every conversation.

We don’t need to solve a friend’s problem when he or she approaches with a heavy heart.

In someone’s moment of crisis, it’s not time to heap on advice; it’s time to be present. (tweet that)

It’s time to express empathy.

You can stick with them through the problem.

It’s all the more glorious when you get to walk with them toward the light at the end of the tunnel.


What’s one situation in which you wanted to fix the problem but someone needed empathy instead?


Learn more about the book I’m writing, which explores the best way to build relationships that matter through good times and bad. You can get a preview chapter here.

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