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Empathy & Apathy in Coaching...And why You Need Both.

Updated: Jun 10, 2021

There are two sides to every coin.

Love & Hate. Hot & Cold. Yes & No. In & Out. Up & Down. Wrong & Right. Black & White.

We are surrounded by dualities in our day to day lives. From media to philosophy we are always pulled in two opposing directions that make up a whole.

Now here at CLCI, we actively teach our students how to break out of this Black & White thinking so that our clients can embrace seeing the world in all of its colours. It would be naive of us though to say duality doesn't exist and isn't an important part of our own and our client's worldview.

With that said our CLCI Live's March theme is Duality. This week Lisa Finck (A.C.C.), Brooke Adair Walters (M.C.P.C.), and Jerome LeDuff Jr (M.C.L.C.) talk about Empathy and Apathy in coaching, how to handle narcissism, and why qualities from both can be used to our advantage.

Empathy & Sympathy

Before we continue, we should probably define what these two words mean and how they have an import distinction. While these two words are connected by their Greek root (-pathos), in everyday usage they are nearly interchangeable. Nearly. When we look at the differences between the two, think about which word would be more in line with the coaching-client relationship.

Empathy is the ability to acknowledge someone else's emotions or struggle. We recognize and understand that someone is feeling certain emotions, despite us not currently experiencing these emotions. Empathy is a skill that we can cultivate as human beings.

Sympathy is the reaction we have when we share the feelings of someone who is feeling intense emotion. Fear, Laughter, Joy, Sadness; we all have experiences where these qualities are contagious and spread among people. So whenever someone yawns and you yawn right after, congratulations, you just had some Sympathy.

As we can see, Empathy is one of the primary skills we have as a coach and it is what allows our client to have a space where they can comfortably express themselves. But what do we do if ourselves or our clients are overly sympathetic?

The Empath

Empaths are people who are unconsciously more connected to the emotions of others. They may intuitively mirror the movements and emotions of others or feel the pain of others to a high degree. They are highly sympathetic and empathetic individuals.

Psychiatrist Judith Orloff M.D., author of The Empath's Survival Guide, has put out a variety of assessments to help identify if you are an empath. While being an empath may be a good thing, it can interfere with a person's life in distinct ways. From Dr. Orloff's assessments, you may...

  • Have been labeled as overly emotional

  • Avoid confrontation

  • Absorb people's negative emotions

  • Often feel overwhelmed or anxious

  • Become easily overstimulated

  • Be highly sensitive to others feelings

"My client is an Empath who has similar barriers in reaching their goals, how can I help?"

In this scenario, we would have our client explore ways they can overcome these barriers so they can achieve their goals. As empathetic coaches, we can hold a space for our clients to express their emotions, but we should seek to gently direct our clients with questions to think in a goal-oriented space. Remember to acknowledge our clients emotions and then move forward.

If these barriers are too debilitating for our client and they interfere with our client's daily normal functioning, you may seek to refer them to a specialized professional.

"I'm a coach who is an Empath, how can make sure my emotions don't influence my coach-client relationship?"

Knowing the difference between empathy and sympathy is the first step. We now know that there is a distinction between the skill of empathy and the feeling of sympathy. We want to encourage outcome independence and not become too emotionally invested in the success or failures of our clients.

During our discussion we acknowledge that our clients may talk about emotionally charged topics that will influence us. Lisa suggests that in her own practice she will try to redirect her emotional energy into something neutral.

  • Writing notes or writing down emotions

  • Having a touchstone to visualize the transfer of emotions

  • Excusing yourself to the restroom

While these are some examples, it is up to you as a coach to see what works for you so that you can hold the professional space for your client. In opposition to the Empath, it may be beneficial to be in touch with our Apathy


In duality with Empathy, Apathy is a feeling of indifference or the lack of emotion. In the worst cases, apathy can be an indicator of an underlying psychological problem or aspect of narcissism. But apathy can be a powerful tool to utilize as well for both coaches and clients.

When apathy is put into a practice, it can begin to looking something like Stoicism. And contrary to popular belief, stoics do not avoid emotion or happiness, but seek happiness and peace by not allowing themselves to be controlled by emotions or factors outside of their control.

How can we put apathy into practice?

Think about the times you have been affected emotionally. Why did it affect you? What about that situation influenced you and in what ways was it not beneficial? How can you redirect that energy into something more neutral?

These are questions we can ask ourselves where the answers will lead us to a more neutral state of mind. Our goal is to control our emotions, not let our emotions control ourselves.

How can you achieve this goal?

In our CLCI LIVE, we talk about two strategies that utilize our apathy

  • One is channeling our sympathy into curiosity and a desire to learn more about our clients.

  • The other is staying silent. Silence is a powerful tool that gives us the space to collect our thoughts and emotions, while simultaneously allowing our clients to speak more. This is inline with the 80/20 rule; 80% of the session should be the client speaking, 20% should be the coach coaching.

Empathy & Apathy. Two sides of our emotional personalities that we can use for not only our own benefit, but for the benefit of others.

One Final Announcement:

#CLCIHowTo Challenge!

Throughout the month of March, CLCI LIVE is going to be live streaming and recording How-To videos based on topics coaches like you have submitted.

Want to learn how to find your niche, create video content, use streaming platforms, how to price unapologetically, and more? Then be sure to participate and follow us on Facebook & Youtube to stay tuned!

In addition to this, the more you interact, the more likely you are to win a $490 Restream Professional Subscription

Through Restream, you can multiply your views and simultaneously stream your content to multiple platforms. This includes Twitter, Youtube, Twitch, Facebook, and so much more!

Our challenge will go until March 23rd and we will have 3 winners who interact with our How-To videos the most! How to interact?

1 entrant = Like

2 entrants = Comment

3 entrants = @mention/challenge a friend

5 entrants = Share

10 entrants = How-To video with #clcihowto

Our challenge to you is to watch, share, and make your own How-To videos to spread your knowledge. Record a video of yourself teaching people how to do ANY skill with #clcihowto.

Watch the announcement video here.

Thank you,

Lisa Finck, Brooke Adair Walters, and Jerome LeDuff Jr.

Join us every Tuesday at 4 pm PST/7 PM EST for our CLCI Live Facebook Demos.

We now stream from our site! Watch by clicking here

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Don't miss out on our 3-day life coach classes, it's an education that is beneficial for life, not just for life coaches! Want to learn more click here.

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