Empathy vs. Sympathy. How Compassion Helps Everyone Involved

I hope that today’s post finds everyone in good spirits. I would like to touch on a topic that on the surface may not seem to have a lot to do with the home inspection business. Its importance will (hopefully) become clear by the end of the post.
pic of 2 children walking together

We often hear the words empathy and sympathy, and most people are under the impression that they mean the same thing. While their meanings are both related to having compassion for another person, there are subtle differences between their definitions.

When we sympathize with someone, we have compassion for that person and their situation, but we don’t necessarily (fully) understand what they are going through. When we have empathy for someone, we have compassion for them and their current situation, but we also have the ability to understand their problem, as we have previously had a similar experience.

A good example of these different terms would involve a pregnant woman enduring labor pains. While a male nurse can certainly have sympathy for the woman’s pain, a female nurse (that had previously had a baby) would be able to empathize with her, as she has experienced the same pain before in her life. And while it is certainly a good thing to sympathize with someone in a difficult situation, empathy has been proven to lower stress, improve our relationships and connections and make us better leaders.

How does this all tie in with my business, you ask. Theodore Roosevelt famously said that “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Your clients must have confidence that you are looking out for their best interests before they can consider you to be an expert in your field.

As home inspectors, we are all subject to what I like to call “The Big Head Syndrome.” If we stay in this business long enough, and are proactive in our education, we can develop a mental database of housing information that can be overwhelming.

With so much information in our heads, we often feel compelled to release the pressure, spewing our knowledge all over everyone involved in the home inspection process. And while more information can be good for everyone involved, we must always keep in mind the mental state of the buyer, our client.

Many of our clients are first-time home buyers, or at the very least have considerably less experience with the sale of houses than we do as home inspectors. This is where empathy comes into play. We must keep in mind how difficult it was when we purchased our first home; the range of emotions that we felt, and how overwhelming the whole process was for us as new home buyers.

All too often, we fall prey to the trap of our daily routine. While it is great to have an established routine to guide us through the inspection process, we must remember that while we may have been through hundreds (or thousands) of home inspection, the odds are high that this is our clients’ first inspection. So while this particular ungrounded three-prong outlet may be the 27th one you have seen this month, to a new home buyer it may represent a seemingly insurmountable hurdle to feeling comfortable with their home purchase.

pic of new home buyers toasting

I will leave you with a quote from Swiss psychologist, psychoanalyst and author, Alice Miller: “Empathy grows as we learn.” Through our experience, we (hopefully) gain knowledge and insight into the mindset of our clients and their situations. And, while sharing our knowledge of houses is certainly an important part of our job description, always remember to do so through the lens of empathy.

Show some compassion for your clients and their fears, attempting to put everything into proper perspective. You (and your clients) will be happier and more satisfied for the extra effort.


I welcome all feedback (positive and negative) about my take on this subject.  Please leave your comments below.  Thank you!


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I thoroughly enjoy creating these posts for you, the reader.  Please take a moment to comment, letting me know what you think about the topic, and passing along any of your knowledge to our community.  Please feel free to get in touch with me, letting me know if you have any specific topics that you would like to see covered on the site.  And please feel free to share this content with your friends.  The more people that we can help in their careers, the better!

Thanks, Joe

Comments 2

  1. Very nice reminder. Something to think about. As a new home inspector, I find it humorous when the “know-it-alls” start to pick apart everything or try to show how much they know in a class or meeting.
    I will certainly try to put myself in the position of my clients from now on. Thanks!

    1. Hey Dustin,
      Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for the comment! I hope that this info can save you from some grief in the future!

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