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Feeling feelings...


When was the last time you felt sorry for someone?

Did you have a hard time connecting to the reason they were suffering?

Did you find yourself not caring about what they care about?

This focus is sympathy, not empathy.

Chances are we don't need to learn this, we just need a reminder!


When we act out of sympathy it means we understand what the person is feeling. Chances are we're not really connecting with the other person though. If we don't move toward empathy our understanding is most likely realized as pity in our behaviors toward them.


When we act out of empathy, a connection emerges with the feelings of the one who is suffering. It means we feel what the person is feeling.

Empathy actually is sensing others' emotions. Imagining how another person feels and what they're thinking. It's the ability to identify how others are feeling and mirror them. It's truly connecting to their feelings from points of view other than our own. It's actively listening to what they have to say and at times feeling overwhelmed by their story.


When we act out of compassion,  a connection happens with the person who is suffering alongside our willingness to relieve their suffering.

It's for you AND others

When we find it hard to treat ourselves with empathy (or compassion) we will also find it hard to treat others with empathy. A healthy relationship with ourselves allows for a deeper connection with others. This is connection to our shared humanity. It's the glue that holds our relationships, teams, organizations, communities and our world together.

Leadership is our behaviors. Our behaviors support the kind of relationship we desire to have with others. When you find yourself struggling to care about what the other person cares about, ask:

What kind of relationship do I want with them?

The answer will lead you away from the "thing" that's bothering them and toward a deeper connection with them as a person. Wasn't that your intention all along?

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The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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