Empathy is the Ultimate Superpower

I’m always grateful when someone takes the time to give me advice or constructive criticism as that’s where the real growth lies. A lot of the advice is stuff that is helpful and I end up following. On rare occasions, the advice, while well-meaning, ends up being wrong for us.

In this post, I talk about a particular piece of advice I received early on in my career from a PR pro. I fully believe that they didn’t mean any ill harm when they gave me this advice, but it led me astray for a few years.

Their well-intentioned advice simply boiled down to:

“It is impossible to be nice, direct, and professional at the same time.” 

I believed it for a long time.

As an introvert, who can be conflict-averse, straightforwardness is something I’ve always admired in others but something I’ve struggled with personally.

The result was in some conflicts, instead of being nice and straightforward, I would often water down my communication style and stripped my tone to what I can only call – “fake nice.” I used a lot more words to get my point across. Oftentimes, my point would fall flat.

The reality is this overly polished, “fake nice tone” doesn’t actually lead to great communication. It reeks of inauthenticity. People might respond to it (Note: This is likely because most branded messages are delivered in a fake nice.), but it is not going to be as well-received as if you are straight-up and writing or speaking in a more casual manner.

Fake nice is to “nice and straightforward” what sympathy is to empathy.

Empathy is a superpower.
Sympathy is a weakness. 

It is a subtle but an important difference.

Empathy is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and feeling what they are feeling right alongside them.  

Sympathy is saying it without actually putting yourself in the person’s shoes.

In the case, of “fake nice,” it can mean a lot of different things including:

  • Communicating a message whether in person, over the phone, or in writing  in a sympathetic rather than an empathetic manner.
  • Talking or writing in circles to get a point across that could easily be summed in a more concise manner by being direct.
  • Or, it could be glossing over and watering down the negatives so much that it no longer effective.

The opposite is being nice, direct and honest, while still putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. That’s a real superpower.