How to Show Empathy and Not Get Sucked into Slime Pits

Empathy is a platform for relationship, not encouragement to wallow in slime pits.

Solid relationships strengthen people.

Strong people perform better than weak.


Remind people of their strength by asking about past success.

The power of empathy:

The purpose of empathy is to strengthen people, not affirm weakness.

People feel stronger when they feel understood. Telling someone, “That must be discouraging,” lets them know it’s OK to feel dark emotion.

Before people feel understood, they work to validate themselves. After they feel understood, they’re free to move forward.

Empathy that promotes stagnation and weakness harms people.

The energy of empathy:

Use empathy as a platform to move the game forward.

Empathize, don’t offer quick solutions. You devalue people when you minimize their struggle. If the problem was easy for them to solve, they would have solved it.

Stay curious a bit longer and offer solutions a bit slower. Curiosity is one solution to our inclination to offer quick solutions.

Take action, don’t simply listen. Invite someone out to lunch, for example. Include others. Go to a concert, or sporting event as a small group.

The power of empathy is increased when others are involved.

After people feel understood…

Build an environment where people find their own solutions.

#1. Believe in people’s capacity to move forward. “You’ve overcome challenges in the past. What did you learn that might apply now?”

Remind people of their strength by asking about past success.

#2. Nudge people toward the future.

“What would you like to happen?” (Focus on things within their control.) Discouraged people are stuck in ‘don’t wants’. Ask, “What DO you want?”

#3. Connect with passion and purpose. “Why is that important to you?”

#4. Encourage imperfect progress. “What small step forward might YOU take today?”

#5. Be available. “How can I help?”

Don’t rush to solutions when someone struggles with dark emotion, but don’t wallow either.

What does empathy look like, and sound like from your vantage point?

How does empathy build strength and capacity in others?