Kindness is the gateway to empathy

What’s your favorite quote regarding kindness? Maybe it’s one of these:


No act of kindness – no matter how small – is ever wasted.”  ~Aesop

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”  ~ Dalai Lama


Or maybe even this one:

Mean people suck.” ~ Literally Everyone


My favorite quote about kindness is really rooted in empathy:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou


That, then, begs the question: What’s the difference between kindness and empathy? Thanks for asking! Kindness is either an act of service or being considerate to another person. Empathy, on the other hand, is recognizing the emotion of another person to help them feel less alone in their emotions. They’re closely related to each other and together they can make a powerful impact on your members and staff.

Let’s say you see someone who is holding a baby, has a toddler by the hand, and who seems to be flustered as they struggle to get through the double doors into your building. Kindness is opening the door for them. Empathy is recognizing that the person is flustered and saying, “It can be overwhelming to navigate coming to the credit union with two kiddos. How can I help make your day a little bit easier?”

Good news! When we’re young, we learn kindness through social interactions and family interactions. Kindness can be modeled and developed. Better news! Empathy can also be modeled and developed as the next step in our journey to build relationships with members and co-workers. Empathy is a muscle that can be strengthened and honed with time.

Bad news! If we are unable to empathize with others, the rest of the member service skills we possess won’t matter. Empathy forms the foundation for communication, team building, and all human connection.

Empathy means meeting our colleagues and members where they are, listening to the emotion being expressed, and acknowledging that emotion so the person feels truly heard. A kind person holds open a door. An empathetic person holds space for dialogue that may feel off topic as members share struggles – and joy! – they’ve experienced. Where previously we may have had interactions with a strict “stick to the work at hand” mantra, we’ve now come to realize that human connection is as important to getting the work done as the actual work itself. There is always room and time for empathy to live in your culture. By encouraging it among your peer group and modeling it with your members, it creates a cascade effect throughout the credit union.

Demonstrating empathy is a crucial skill that is central to building relationships. It allows us to know what other people are feeling, to emotionally connect with them in that feeling, and to act in a way that shows we support that person’s well-being. Showing that you “get” someone’s experience – whether it be happiness, pain, joy, frustration, or something else – and make them feel heard is the greatest gift you can give.

Realizing that the critical skill of empathy can be built and flexed like a muscle is the first step toward growing your relationships. The more you practice using empathy and kindness together, the better and stronger you get. You also act as a role model for your team, so the benefits are far reaching. Your member relationships will grow stronger as your empathy muscle grows stronger.

Need help building those empathy muscles? Reach out any time at and we’ll talk about how kindness and empathy can build stronger relationships.

Angela Prestil

Angela Prestil

As Senior Consultant for CU Difference, Angela brings a distinct specialty set in the critical areas of employee engagement, leadership development, and member loyalty strategies. She has helped hundreds of ... Details