Sometimes, when we are trying to be empathetic we can end up saying the right things but not actually helping as we are not fully considering another person’s position from their own perspective. This exercise is useful to help your team identify what a truly empathetic response looks and feels like.
Gather your team and explain that for any given situation another person is experiencing, we can respond to them with empathy, sympathy, or apathy.
Show them the following diagram, or if you like, draw it up on a whiteboard or flipchart.
Explain to the team: Imagine that you come across a person stuck in quicksand.
Apathy in this situation would be standing back and not caring, leaving the person stuck.
Sympathy in this situation is a response that acknowledges the other person’s situation, but doesn’t consider it from their point of view. It doesn’t help the situation, or even makes it worse. A sympathetic response to the quicksand situation would be to tell the other person that you’ll help but then leap heroically into the quicksand, without thinking that you might also get stuck.
An empathetic response would be to relate to the person’s situation and think deeply about what could be helpful for them, if you were in their position. For the person stuck in the quicksand, you might want to think about carefully pulling them out while being aware of your own safety, or calling 911 and staying with the person until you are sure they are safe.
Split the group into pairs and ask them to discuss a customer situation where empathy might be required, what the empathetic, sympathetic and apathetic responses to this might be, and what the impacts of those are. Give them a few minutes to do this.
Bring the group back together and ask them to share their ideas.