We will tend to want the comforting, reassuring feeling that someone cares and is supporting us - and that is what we get from sympathy, empathy, and compassion be expressed or indicated to us.
The question for the "provider" of it is how to do it most effectively and what does one want to get out of it for him/herself or for the other person.
GETTING SYMPATHY, FEELING BETTER
Getting sympathy can feel good to a human when he/she is down or experiencing some negative feeling or situation. And it is appropriate socially to express caring for the other person in some way.
Of course, no "poor me" conversation should be reinforced, but your supporting it or not will probably make no dent in the practice one way or the other, since we cannot control other people with our behavior (i.e. we can't "break" someone of this harmful practice). Nevertheless, feeding the "victim monster" is not a great idea. (And sometimes, though no result is guaranteed, it is appropriate to be a strong interruption and a stand for people being responsible - just don't expect anything for yourself or a decent success rate - you are only doing it for others, where someone here and there is benefited by "getting" the concept, by stopping playing the "poor me" persona. Be clear here: you have no permission to do anything that is an attempt to benefit or help the other person. As such, it works very, very seldom, and it would be appropriate for you not to engage in it at all, when you can do other things that are more beneficial for yourself or others.)
EMPATHY - BRIDGING THE GAP
Empathy would seem to bridge the gap. Expressing how you can imagine how the person feels and "validating" his/her emotion and that she is feeling it is being in "rapport" with the other person and it is satisfying to the other, as it has them be recognized and in a real sense "validated."
I had an experience with a person whom I would want nothing but the best for, but where I "violated" what works. I was attempting to coach the person and steer the conversation toward a "responsibility" conversation instead of a "let me tell you the story and how bad I feel - and you know it was due to my upbringing, so it is understandable" conversation.
I went over the line trying too many corrective statements, similar to nagging. It doesn't matter if your "advice" is correct or not. It can be bothersome to the person, as is all nagging, but also it is invalidating as it was interpreted as my not listening (though, of course, I had to listen in order to respond, but that is irrelevant here). What is relevant here is that I was not hearing and acknowledging how she felt nor allowing her to speak without interruption. It apparently offended her, as she broke off the conversation, saying she felt worse having had the conversation than she did when she called. (Of course, since she was the one feeling the upset, it would have been appropriate for her to take a time-out or make a request.)
The difficulty for me was where to draw the line. Since I was in a quasi-coaching relationship with her, I was trying to create it so that she was learning to not be in the victim mode and how to distinguish it. The delivery was poor on my part, because it would have been better to listen and then to isolate some time to discuss the points I wanted to make - and it would have been appropriate to ask if it was ok and was a reasonably appropriate time to talk about this.
COMPASSION - GOOEY OR A FRAME OF MIND?
Yes, I had compassion for her. I didn't want her to suffer. I was enrolled in helping relieve that suffering, on a long term basis, so that she could be happy. I was totally "for her" and accepted her as a person, though I could not support her victim mode of conversation - and, I think, I was a bit impatient with her trying to get her to finally roll over from being a victim into being responsible. I just wasn't good enough at communicating it. I made a mistake, and I better learn to do better. (The subject of compassion is, interestingly enough, in the Psychology - Emotion Management section.)
TWO CONFLICTING GOALS?
There are two separate things going on here. One is the "human side" in supporting the other person in feeling better for the moment. The other is the attempt to intervene for a "good cause".
The latter clearly is, if done too often and especially with interruptions, the virtual equivalent of nagging. I also had a vested interest in "being right", despite my being on her side. And "being right" always creates a "being wrong" on the other side - and humans do not respond well to that, whether somewhat enlightened or not.
The interruptions and the attempt to "push" an idea onto the other person "feels" contentious - and it is, since one is contending a point, but more like a hidden one-sided debate.
WHAT CAN I LEARN - AND IMPLEMENT?
It is appropriate for me to learn from this, even after I get "used to" being with the other person and I could assume the other person knows I care, for me to keep in mind the following and to follow the practices that work:
1. To lead and pace, saying "you know I want the best for you" several times
2. To ask permission to discuss solutions (not assume that there is a blanket ok, even in a coaching relationship)
3. To not interrupt and to only make a point when it is fully addressable; to give the courtesy to the other person of hearing him/her out.
4. To validate his/her feelings with such as "it sounds like you had a tough time and that you're really upset" (or some attempt, even if not perfectly executed). [Emotions are always valid and if we argue with the thinking that causes the emotion, trying to correct that, we can sound like we are invalidating the emotional pain the person feels.]
I know, not as an excuse but an acknowledgement, that I will at first not be so good at this, as I must go through the learning process, making mistakes of "not knowing" or "not seeing" until I "know" and it becomes a regular way of operating (a habit).
It is my intent to implement these for myself and for any other person involved in the conversations.