“Three-fourths of the people you will ever meet are hungering and thirsting for sympathy. Give it to them, and they will love you.” (Dale Carnegie)
Sympathy. That word comes to us from the Greek roots syn (together), and pathos (feeling) – or just “fellow feeling”. Often we hear it used interchangeably with empathy, but the two are slightly different. If you look up the definitions of the two words you find that empathy is the state where you actually feel the same as the other person, while sympathy is the state where you understand the feelings of the other person and have a genuine interest in those feelings.
The quote above from Mr. Carnegie reminds me of something else that I was once told. A former mentor of mine told me to treat the other person as though their heart is breaking, because most often you will be right. In a conflict, or even a difference of opinions, understanding that the other person has feelings about the subject, and then understanding what those feelings are, goes a long way to helping win that person to our way of thinking.
As I am writing these entries about the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, I am constantly reminded that in order for me to accomplish the title of the book, I must be genuinely interested in the other person. It isn’t about my feelings, my desires or my wishes only, it is about those of the other person.
In the late 1960s in America there was a television show called Dragnet. Each week the stories on the show were about the crime fighting that was done by the main characters –Sgt. Joe Friday, and Officer Bill Gannon. It became a bit of pop culture to mimic Joe Friday and say “Just the facts ma’am”, as he would when discussing something with a suspect or witness. I am sure that he said it far less often on the show than most would believe, but the idea was there. In his world of solving crimes, he was only interested in dispassionately gathering the facts. Those facts would, and most often did, lead him to the culprits and help him secure an arrest.
That is a fine approach if you are Sgt. Joe Friday, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, or any other detective. Most of us, though, are not detectives. We live in a world where facts and emotions often are intertwined.
One of the best compliments that a person can receive where I work is that they take a fact based approach to problem solving. This compliment is a recognition of the fact that most problems which need to be solved have both a fact-based, and an emotion-based side. When a person takes a fact-based approach, they are doing what they can to weed out the emotion and deal only in the black and white. Most of the time this will yield the best answer in terms of the technology involved, or the objectives of the project, but it can ignore the human element with detrimental results.
I have often seen in group meetings where a person has a particular fervor about a position in regards to a problem at hand. The fervor may, or may not be based on the facts in play. The feelings the person is having may just be related to their own passions on the subject, or some other situation which is going on. Sometimes it is about ownership of a piece of the puzzle. Too often I have seen teams steamroll through the facts, reach a conclusion that satisfies them, and implement a solution. Left in the dust are the feelings of the person (or even people), who were passionate.
Most people are quire professional, and they will set aside their feelings for the common good. But, setting aside those feelings, and actually having them addressed are two very different things. While the professional might willingly swallow their pride on an issue, it doesn’t mean that they have forgotten that their feelings were trampled. At some time in the future, whether they do so intentionally or not, those feelings will pop up.
Failing to at least acknowledge the feelings of the other person might bring compliance to a solution, and it might even bring compliance to the best solution. But, it is like playing emotional whack-a-mole. That little head might go down under the hammer this time, but it is just going to pop up out of another hole later.
I am not suggesting here that conference tables be replaced with couches and bearded men with notebooks delving into the dark recesses of other peoples’ minds. What I am suggesting is that if we want to continue to be successful, and if we indeed want to Win Friends and Influence People, then we better learn how to recognize, address and acknowledge that the other person has feelings in the situation, and what those feelings are.
Note that in this principle, Mr. Carnegie doesn’t tell us to be empathetic to the other person. I do not have to share the same feelings about as subject as the person with whom I am working. But, if I want long term success and cooperation, I need to…
Principle 18. Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.