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The difference between empathy and sympathy is one that’s lost on many people. Empathy is just recognising someone else’s emotions. Sympathy is usually a reaction.When it comes to management, that’s a critical difference. Empathy is fine. Sympathy, according to Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, can be a problem, because it often means you’re just trying to be liked. It’s fine to disagree with senior people. It’s also fine to be persuaded by them. It’s not fine to make up excuses.
“There’s no better way to undermine your own leadership,” Costolo said in a November conversation with Ben Horowitz hosted by Fast Company. Here’s how he summed up the distinction:
“Yeah. I’ll tell my managers, ‘Look, managing by trying to be liked is the path to ruin.’ And they’ll say, ‘Well, does that mean I should just tell someone, ‘You can’t work on project A, you idiot, how many times have I told you this?” And I say, ‘No, you can be empathetic — you just can’t be sympathetic.’
You can say, ‘I understand you want to work on project A. It’s just not a priority right now.’ You can’t say, ‘I know you want to work on project A, Dick just really doesn’t want to make it a priority.’ Don’t sympathize with them, right? You can empathise; don’t sympathize.”
If you have good people and you trust them, then you don’t need to react to try and make them feel better when you disagree. You can hold your ground when you need to, and give when you’re not sure.
If you are somewhere in the middle, then have a discussion. That’s the benefit of hiring people that are better at some things than you are. Otherwise, you’re just looking for people to say yes to you and do things the way you want them to.
That can be another recipe for failure.
Find the whole discussion at Fast Company
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