If you're a coach or drawn to becoming a coach, you're probably a naturally empathetic person to begin with. Emotional intelligence (also called EI) keeps gaining importance in the business and coaching world. So yes, your empathy is your superpower as a coach. Many people mistake empathy for sympathy. And many don’t understand either of them at all. So if you’re wondering why is empathy important in life coaching, we have the answers. But we also want to clarify the difference between the two, before we deep-dive into the qualities of empathy and why it matters so much in the first place.
The Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy
Sympathy is more surface-level acknowledgement. The usual “I hear you” response we say to people, and yes, we understand what they're going through and we feel badly for them. In simpler terms, sympathy is showing or telling people you understand how they feel, but you’re not actually feeling the same exact emotion at the given moment.
Empathy is more intense, but in a positive way. You can consider it as sympathy but a lot deeper. A lot more intentional. Empathy is not just feeling with someone, it's as if you were having the exact same experience and feeling the exact same way. And you feel for them because you’ve allowed yourself to see things from their perspective, and felt those feelings deeply.
How To Be Empathetic As A Coach
Connect with yourself in order to connect with your client
Fact: There is no such thing as magically connecting with your client. Every client is different, and you need to tap into different aspects of yourself in order to connect with clients. The keyphrase here is “connect with yourself.” Why? Because how can you feel for your client if you cannot feel for yourself? If you cannot connect with your own emotions and your own perspectives? If you don't know your own story and your own experiences, deeply? That said, learn how to connect with yourself, and through practice, you will know how to easily tap into your emotions so you can be a better coach.
Go deeper into negative emotions and discover intuitive solutions
Negative emotions are oftentimes just the surface. Problem is, almost all of us get stuck on that surface. When negativity comes, it affects us strongly. We’re doomed. We get overwhelmed and paralyzed. This is normal and this is pretty much how every human reacts.
As a coach, it’s your job to encourage and teach your clients that negative emotions and negative circumstances don’t have to be the end. Positive psychology at its finest. Dig deeper and keep asking questions, reframe things into a more positive light. This is one way to break through the negativity and realize there is something better. This is a way to discover intuitive solutions to your client’s dilemma.
It’s not about flashy techniques, it’s about connecting with your client
It can be so tempting to be wordy and use fancy terms as a response, thinking it’s called empathy. Really, it’s not. Because as a coach, it’s not about those smart words you use or fancy terminologies your client has never heard elsewhere. It’s about connecting with your client on a heart level. And yes, we’ve already mentioned connection but this time, we want to highlight another aspect. If you want to know how to improve your empathy as a coach, understand that your job is to be connected with your client. If there’s no connection, or you find it difficult, you may need to reassess your approach.
Qualities of Empathy
Brene Brown, in her Ted Talk on vulnerability, cites a scholar named Theresa Wiseman who came up with 4 qualities of empathy.
As she says, perspective-taking is “the ability to take the perspective of another person and recognize their perspective is their truth.” And clearly, this is one of the qualities of empathy. If you know how to see someone’s situation in the same perspective then you’re on the right track.
Allowing ourselves to listen without passing into judgement. Especially as a coach, judgement or condemnation is not our role.
Recognizing and understanding emotions
As easy as this sounds, this quality of empathy is actually one of the hardest. It goes back to learning how to better connect with your emotions, and yourself, in order to recognize the emotions of your clients, and it takes practice and time.
Communicating those emotions
Effective communication is a big part of coaching, and comes with practice. Especially the more we are able to understand distinctive, separate emotions for what they sre. Part of communicating emotions is letting your clients know that you’ve been in the same situation as they are. And you acknowledge how they feel about it because you felt the exact same thing when you were there.
Why Is Your Empathy Your Superpower As A Coach?
It makes the invisible visible
It's a skill we can work on, and the more empathetic we become, the more in-tune with others we are. The more we strive to understand and synchronize with those feelings, the more we "see" others for who they really are.
It expands your capacity to understand people
Humans are funny creatures and have such a wide variety of lived experiences. Empathy is a coaching skill that forces you to better understand people. It encourages you to expand your capacity to understand not just your clients but the rest of the world as well.
It’s that invisible force that will move your business forward
Facilitating true human connection is difficult. Empathy is something not all businesses have because let’s be honest, it’s not that easy to practice. That said, if you exert effort in learning it and applying it your coaching practice, if you keep asking how to improve your empathy and you keep growing, that will greatly help in getting your coaching practice to where you want it to be.
It's a reminder that behind every business is a person
Your empathy is your superpower as a coach. You have built a heart-centered business that seeks to help people change their lives and live more fully immersed in this beautiful world. You're probably already highly emotionally connected to your clients, and expanding your capacity for empathy means more to give yourself, more to give clients and a deeper understanding of the world around you.
Ready to discover more about empathy and how to help others with it?
If you're ready to learn more about how to become a life coach, take a look at The Catalyst Life Coaching Intensive. Vibrant community. Evidence-based life coach training. Lifetime support.