People who are placed in positions of authority—especially people in management positions in organisations—may sometimes show a lack of compassion toward other people, because they may be experiencing a subconscious feeling of superiority and power.

Do you remember the last time you were pulled over by a traffic officer and how he treated you and how you felt? You may have felt that you were at his mercy—he could decide to let you go or he might give you a fine. He behaved powerfully, showing no compassion and you probably became very ‘needy’, perhaps embarrassed or angry.

A definition of compassion is a ‘deep awareness of and sympathy for another’s suffering’ or ‘the humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it’.

Consider the example of recruitment consultants: they deal with ‘needy’ people, who are either unemployed or unhappily employed. The consultant may feel superior because she is in a position to help the client by placing them in a job. This feeling is quite normal but we can train ourselves to overcome such feelings and be more compassionate.

You can decide to be more compassionate, kind, trusting, friendly and understanding. When you become aware of feelings of superiority towards someone (who could even be a client), you can change the situation by using that energy in a more productive way by displaying compassionate behaviour—it is a choice.

Some compassionate behaviours

  • acceptance
  • empathy
  • belief
  • trust
  • understanding
  • being non-judgmental
  • friendliness
  • kindness
  • genuine interest
  • integrity
  • respecting others’ dignity

Ghandi said: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’

Ask yourself what you need to change about yourself in order to start building more compassionate relationships.


Using empathy together with listening skills (‘empathetic listening’) will result in stronger relationships and emotional intimacy with others. Your empathetic listening makes the speaker feel as though you are giving them a ‘psychological hug’. The use of empathetic listening skills will make you a good leader. It will add to your professional image and you will be held in high esteem by others.

What is the difference between empathy and sympathy?

Sympathy is agreeing with and sharing another person’s feelings, beliefs, etc., whereas empathy is experiencing and understanding them. Empathy helps you to be there fully for the other person because you ‘tune in’ to their emotions. If you are empathetic towards others, your caring, understanding demeanour will draw them to you, and they will feel safe to talk about their feelings and emotions, because of your non-judgmental attitude.

It is easier to forgive when you practice empathetic listening because you will make every effort to try to understand the other person’s point of view. When practicing empathetic listening you do not judge and you are more receptive to the other person’s feelings—you automatically discard any prejudices and negative assumptions about them. Thus empathetic listening promotes meaningful, closer relationships.