What is Empathy?

From a coaching point of view, empathy from a coach can help their clients think clearer or deeper about their own motivations, wishes and feelings, prompting them to share this with you. This is ultimately what we want in this coach/client relationship, as it can encourage self-change and awareness.

What are the 3 types of Empathy?

Cognitive Empathy

The ability to understand the feelings that someone else is experiencing or to place yourself in someone else’s position, but you don’t actually feel, emotionally, what they’re going through.

Emotional Empathy

The same as cognitive, with the addition of feeling on an emotional level what the other person is going through.

Compassionate Empathy

A mix of both cognitive and emotional empathy, but you take action to help the person.

How do we show empathy?

By asking genuine questions.

Be curious, engage in conversation because you want to, and be interested in what people have to say. People want and need to be heard so it’s important to be present.

By letting go of any biases you may have.

Biases can cloud the information or experience we’re receiving and can damage the relationship we’re building, whether that be personal or client based. However, don’t be too hard on yourself when it comes to biases, these can be influenced by things like personal experience. You may feel more deeply if someone’s experience resonates with you.

Acknowledge their feelings and open up about similar experiences.

Acknowledgement is so important and this brings us back to our first point of engagement. Simply put, listen and be present. We don’t like going through difficulties by ourselves, engage and share similar experiences.

When is empathy most useful?

Empathy is useful at all stages in our lives, in personal and in professional settings. It’s the ability to recognise emotions in others and to understand others’ perspectives.

This brings us to a great LinkedIn post by our founder Steph Durbin where she shared her own thoughts on empathy;

“I have high empathy, I tune in, I empathise, I care, I connect, I walk in shoes others have walked in, sometimes before them, sometimes with them, sometimes following them.
I also have a brood of amazing grown-up kids and I’ve had a fabulous career, I was and am a mother but also industrious, commercial, passionate, ambitious. I care. A lot. About people, humans, results and longevity. Legacy. 
I was once labelled by one peer as a “mother hen” – well I can now see what he couldn’t see, that my empathy wasn’t led by my motherhood, but by my being me – it led me to great things, achievements I never thought possible, a superb high performing team, relationships I never could have predicted, and career satisfaction.
Empathy is a strength, not a weakness 🙏”

Steph Durbin, 2022

You can see the full post here

Does this post resonate with you? Comment below, or on the original post on LinkedIn.

When is empathy over-done? (on you and others)

There are definitely downsides to being too empathetic.

Impact on you

Taking on too much of others emotions could lead to you being ‘burnt out’ and in some instances, you could empathise so much that you take on others feelings as your own, this is often referred to as ’hyper-empathy’.

Have you experienced this yourself? How can you change it?

Impact on others

Hyper-empathy, as mentioned above, can lead to exhaustion and mental and physical fatigue. This could prevent you from helping the people you need to the most and potentially lead to complications in relationships.

How have you experienced this yourself? How can you change it?

Common signs of empathy in another person

  • They genuinely care about others’ well-being
  • Good at really listening
  • They can be very intuitive
  • Find it easy to relate to how others are feeling
  • Aware of how their actions affect others
  • Other people feel comfortable sharing their problems with them
  • Other people often seek their advice


Ultimately empathy can lead to good things and negative things, but we’d say mostly good, especially from a client/coach point of view.

As coaches we need to ability to listen and be trusted, but be interested in the answer and ask questions that help lead them to a positive result.

As clients we need to feel safe and heard and this can only be achieved by a good, trusted coach who really listens and hears you.

Recommended reading

Time to Think – Nancy Kline

Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl





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