Empathy versus sympathy

Empathy versus sympathy


Empathy and sympathy are two very similar words that have related meanings. They both have to do with understanding someone else’s feelings. That being said, you have to focus on one versus the other when it comes to making offers.


The late, great, Zig Ziglar has a story he uses to illustrate the difference between the two concepts. He talks about when he sold Saladmaster cookware door to door. The story goes something like this:



Zig went on a sales call where he was met at the door by a small-town country farmer in overalls. Zig was invited in and was allowed to do a demo of the Saladmaster cookware. Zig went on to show the man how this cookware was going to cut down on food prep time and increase the nutritional value of their food. He also demonstrated how it was made from the finest materials.


The farmer agreed that this cookware was amazing and that he could see how much it would benefit his family. He said something like, “But I got an issue. We don’t have indoor plumbing. And my wife and children have to use that outhouse in the yard. Now I got the money right here to get plumbing put in our house (as he patted the breast pocket of his overalls). And I’m not doing anything until I get that plumbing put in.”


Zig started to reminisce about how he grew up poor on a farm on the outskirts of Yazoo City, Missouri. He thought about how it felt to get up in the middle of the night to run through rain and snow to use the restroom in his families outhouse.


As he rejoined the conversation, he told the farmer that he knew exactly how the farmer felt. Zig thanked him for inviting him in, excused himself and left.


Later on, Zig learned that the farmer had wanted the cookware and would’ve financed it had Zig offered. He also learned that the farmer was mad at Zig for not trying to make the sale.


According to Zig, sympathy means you feel the way another person feels, whereas empathy means you understand how the other person feels, but you stay objective. In this case, Zig could feel what it felt like to use an outhouse and be exposed to the elements. This affected his performance, and consequently, his sympathy caused him to not even try to close the sale.


This week, I almost lost us a deal because of a similar scenario. We had a young family in our office who needed needing us to make them an offer — and fast.


They had told me what they were wanting to get out of the place. I wrote the numbers on the board, trying to figure out a way to make it work as their kids played on the floor. You see, I’m a sucker for kids. I just love them. And in my heart, I saw some kids with parents that were going through financial difficulty, which was something I knew very well when I was younger. Some old feelings came up, and it was affecting my objectivity.


I just couldn’t see a way to get to a number anywhere close to what they were asking for.


And right as I was about to say, “We can’t help you.” Ashley piped up and made them an offer. The parents lit up. The offer Ashley made was exactly what they needed.



You see, Ashley understands what financial hardship is like from a kid’s perspective as well. But instead of just remembering those feelings, she used them to see a solution. That’s what empathy is.


Because of Ashley, we made a deal and got those kids into a better situation. Had she not been there, the limitations my sympathy was putting on my mind would’ve caused me to fail those children.


That’s why it’s important to know the difference between sympathy and empathy. Make sure you’re empathetic! You will help more people that way.


Joe and Ashley English buy houses and mobile homes in Northwest Georgia. For more information or to ask a question, go to www.cashflowwithjoe.com or call Joe at 678-986-6813.


  1. Great article. I would have loved to have read the structure that Ashley put together.
    Y’all are a great team.

    1. Ashley offered them $5,000 cash, gave them a move out date of their choice, and we bought their house subject-to their existing mortgage. It was a win-win. Their two motivations were they needed money for a storage building and deposits to get into a rental. They got both. Not only did they get the money they needed to move (with some to boot) but they also got time to move. Which was huge. We got a great house, prior to auction mind you, that we can fix up and resale. Because it is a subject-to, we have a safer deal that called for little out of pocket, plus we didn’t have to compete at auction to acquire it. Ashley made this into a great win-win deal!

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