Thursday, October 6 2022

The pandemic and other stressful events of recent years have only made empathetic communications even more desirable and necessary, especially as these expressions have become more virtual – including videos, social media posts and emails. But just as each of us has different levels of empathy, not all leaders are equally empathetic. So, is a lack of natural empathy a hindrance when it comes to expressing and benefiting from empathic communications? No. The good news is that all leaders (even those who are not naturally empathetic) can communicate messages of empathy as powerfully as they communicate messages of unity and responsibility. During difficult times, the most effective leadership communications are those that call attention, acknowledge distress, show care, and – not necessarily at first, but eventually – take appropriate action to alleviate the situation or at least bring comfort. This article suggests four touchpoints to focus on in your communications.

Most business consultants – and certainly most workers – agree that empathy is an essential leadership skill. We even sometimes reimagine the “CEO” as the “Chief Empathy Officer”. There is no doubt that the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes and understand their situation and challenges is a powerful trait that builds confidence and faith.

The pandemic and other stressful events of recent years have only made empathetic communications even more desirable and necessary, especially as these expressions have become more virtual – including videos, social media posts and emails.

As Paul Tufano, CEO of AmeriHealth Caritas, explained in a July 2020 McKinsey & Company article: “This has been a prolonged period of uncertainty and fear, but also a great opportunity to build a workforce work stronger, more coherent and more motivated. If CEOs can take on a ministerial role – reaching out virtually, really listening, building relationships and connecting with people where they are – there is enormous potential to inspire people and build ties and loyalty to the world. within the company.

But just as each of us has different levels of empathy, not all leaders are equally empathetic. So is the lack of natural empathy an obstacle when it comes to expressing and benefiting from empathetic communications? No. The good news is that all leaders (even those who are not naturally empathetic) can communicate messages of empathy as powerfully as they communicate messages of unity and responsibility.

During difficult times, the most effective leadership communications are those that call attention, acknowledge distress, show care, and – not necessarily at first, but eventually – take appropriate action to alleviate the situation or at least provide comfort, therefore, regardless of the degree of empathy. you are or think you are, focus on these four touchpoints in your communications:

Listen

As a communication tool, listening is as essential as speaking, especially when it comes to empathy. Sometimes just showing mindful presence can signal deep understanding and empathy. Listening indicates that “I want to hear about the situation”.

Remember that listening only works – as your kindergarten teacher may have told you – when your mouth is closed and your ears are open.

Acknowledgement

Even if leaders are not in the mode of directly solving a challenge, they express empathy when they simply acknowledge the challenge and its impact on staff. Expressions of appreciation indicate “I am now aware of the situation”.

Examples:

“I know and understand the widespread anxiety about the pandemic.”

“I recognize how stressful this reorganization process can be.”

“It was a very difficult quarter for all of us.”

Care

Leaders express empathy when they go beyond simple acknowledgment to express genuine feelings of caring about how a challenge affects the team. A leader certainly wants their teams to be attentive and caring when communicating – that expectation goes both ways. Expressions of caring indicate that “I am moved by the situation”.

Examples:

“I care deeply about your ability to balance your professional and personal life.”

“Your safety on the pitch is our top priority.”

“I am very concerned about staff burnout.”

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Action is generally not considered part of a classic empathetic response, but leaders can convey empathy in their proposed solutions. Beyond acknowledgment and attention, expressions of action indicate that “I want to remedy the situation”.

Examples:

“The Human Resources team has partnered with the LiveLearn Foundation to provide a range of staff coping resources.”

“We have established a committee to review these issues and recommend solutions.”

“We have extended summer Fridays by half a day for all employees.”

As I wrote earlier, empathy doesn’t come easily to all leaders, but that shouldn’t stop them from imparting empathy. Here are some do’s and don’ts to elevate your empathy in your words and voice.

Do:

  • Focus on how a crisis or challenge might affect people.
  • Acknowledge real feelings of sadness, frustration and anxiety.
  • Use phrases such as “Don’t worry” and “We’ll get through this” to encourage resilience and demonstrate your commitment to responsible business management.
  • Be open, transparent and truthful about bad news, clearly differentiating between what is known and what is unknown.
  • Use simple language and sentences, which makes it easier for your team to hear and process your message.
  • Show great appreciation for your team, including details that describe their admirable and impactful qualities.

Don’t:

  • Don’t focus on how a crisis might affect company earnings or other financial metrics.
  • Don’t assume you know your team’s reactions to a challenge or jump in too quickly to “solve the problem.”
  • Don’t use scripts (although you can trust the notes). Your remarks need to sound totally authentic, and reading – whatever the words – makes the message more staged.
  • Don’t be the predominant speaker during communication exchanges.
  • Don’t try to put a happy spin on crises or oversell the “silver linings” on tragic events. They will ring false and damage credibility and trust.
  • Do not talk at length about the difficult decisions you had to make. Referencing yourself in this way may feel soothing to you, but it turns a moment of empathy for the staff into sympathy for the leader. Your job is to support your team, not have your team support you.

Remember that empathy only has a meaningful impact on your team when they hear it, read it, and see it, so don’t worry too much about your empathy inside. Take smart and effective steps to speak your empathy out loud.

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