Empathy is the heart of coaching. It's like building a bridge of understanding to another's experience. The bridge extends from the coach out to the feet of the client on the far shore.
Empathy is often described as an emotion. Yet, in coaching empathy is the ability to understand without getting one's own emotions involved. Human nature is to sympathize - to place oneself in another person's shoes emotionally. Yet, when a coach sympathizes, he/she is accessing his/her own emotional experience, which turns the coach's attention inwards, away from the client. So the trick is to create the bridge - the respectful understanding - and to keep the focus outward on the client: on what he/she is saying, feeling, and showing. When a coach's attention is fully directed on the client, the coach can more easily reflect and voice what the client is saying and feeling. That reflection helps the client recognize their needs in a way they could not have done without the coach's deep understanding and appreciative reflection of their situation.