3 Signs that you lack Empathy

Empathy White Cat CoachingIn a previous job, I found myself confiding in a colleague. It was pretty big for me at the time, and I was not sure what to do. I considered us friends, as we had known each other for a while and she often sought my counsel about random life things. The time was right, and I needed a sounding board. She was listening, and I appreciated her time. Right in the middle of the conversation, she suddenly said “oh, that reminds me, I need to make a dentist appointment for <insert child’s name here>”.


I felt really let down. And really hurt. I wondered if she had been listening to me at all. And, even though we have since stayed in touch on and off, I would probably never confide in her again. I often think about that encounter and reflect on what it taught me. The most important thing it taught me was how important empathy is if you want to connect with others. It makes us human.

Empathy Defined

According to Wikipedia, Empathy¬†is “the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another sentient¬†or fictional being. One may need to have a certain amount of empathy before being able to experience accurate sympathy or compassion”.

So, do YOU lack empathy? Let’s find out. If these apply, you may want to work on your self-awareness skills…

1. People look at you with puzzlement – now it might take a tiny bit of empathy to be able to see this. But if you are finding that people have slightly squinted their eyes (and it’s not that sunny), and possible slightly shaking their heads and looking a little bit confused, chances are you have said something that has shown a complete lack of understanding of the situation around you. You may have just failed to listen properly and missed a vital point. Do this too much and the next point applies…

2. People don’t confide in you – do you ever get the impression that people are not being completely open with you? Like they’re not saying EVERYTHING? It’s possible that you may have failed to show them any empathy or respect for their situation in the past. So they have made the decision (probably unconsciously) to not bother telling you anything again. Common signs might be colleagues hanging around after a meeting to talk. Chances are they’re not talking about you, but rather things that they are not comfortable sharing with you.

3. Your actions are not getting you the results you desire. Okay, this is a long bow, but let me explain. I have a client who has the most amazing amount of empathy. She truly has the ability to see the world from other’s shoes. She has turned that empathy into getting involved with causes that mean something to her so she can make a difference. She is getting results from her empathy. You can spend a lot of time “feeling sorry” for the starving children in Africa, your next door neighbour whose husband died or your colleague who lost their job, but unless you can turn that feeling into productive action, it is nothing more than sympathy. Worse still, if you take action, and it gets you into trouble or harms another person, this is just sympathy executed badly.

What to do

If you have worked out you lack empathy, congratulations! Awareness is the first step. Start to pay more attention to what people say. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. Actively listen when someone is speaking. Don’t interrupt with something else just because it came to mind. Truly seek to connect with others and show you care.

I would argue that empathy is not an optional attribute. In order to function as human beings we simply MUST have it. What can you do to improve your empathy and connection with others? Feel free to share!


  1. […] an earlier post, I talked about Empathy, and how to tell if you are lacking it. The truth is, many people do, and spend all of their lives […]