Coach your cleaning technicians to success and promotion with the right balance of empathy and sympathy.

Empathy:   most often defined by the metaphors of ‘standing in someone else’s shoes’ or ‘seeing through someone else’s eyes.

Sympathy:  the fact or power of sharing the feelings of another, especially in sorrow or trouble.



At first glance, these words appear to be interchangeable.  They are in fact synonyms as indicated by the above dictionary definitions.  However, upon closer scrutiny there is a fine, but distinct, difference.

Read any “sympathy card” and the authors express sorrow for loss of a job, loss of a pet or person, loss of well-being due to an accident or ill health, etc.  There is clearly a time and place to exhibit sympathy to your employees.  But in the majority of interaction with our employees, empathy is what’s most appropriate.

“Empathy” on the other hand displays similar compassion to Sympathy but is more useful in your human resource management style.  When one of your workers has a problem on the job or a personal problem they want to share with you, expressing your sorrow does not resolve the issue.  You’re not Dr. Phil, but you have the opportunity to show your compassion and understanding by listening to the employee’s issue.  Being a good sounding board is something prior managers were not. 

The reason employees may not look forward to performance reviews is because of the lack of empathy which prior supervisors likely lacked.  This is why it is important to criticize an employee’s behavior and not the employee herself.  “Mary, on this issue I have to take blame myself.  I obviously didn’t show/explain/teach) the right (way/technique/method), so let’s go over this issue again.”   Performance reviews should be a positive experience for most employees – and they are if administered empathetically.

With 18 years in the cleaning industry and 45 years of experience building his own businesses, Gary Goranson was one of the first business consultants to serve the residential cleaning industry with real experience and solid credentials. Visit him at