The thing that I’ve realised most deeply through this lockdown experience is that we believe that everyone is experiencing it in the same way.
by Shavaun Glen
It starts with the idea that the sum of our life experiences must be equal to those around us; my struggles are your struggles. Which is why so many of us, myself included, take to sharing our daily grind (living in PJs, sourdough baking, home schooling challenges and holiday boredom … it’s all there in your timeline!).
Regardless that I may share some views and opinions of those in my echo chamber, I’m also struggling to relate. So rather than experiencing the fear of missing out; it’s shifted to fear of being overwhelmed.
And I see people making conscious decisions to switch off and tune out of the noise.
I’m calling it: the content cacophony (the provenance of this word is from the Greek kakos meaning bad and phoné meaning sound). Loud, confusing, disagreeable sounds.
As a communications professional, I notice there’s been a shift to near constant righteous broadcasting, berating well-meaning brands, leaders and individuals for not doing everything right first time. But they are just trying their best.
I imagine, as I’m not working inside a business right now, that the teams standing behind the products and services that we’ve taken for granted most days, are having good and bad days. They’ll be worrying about their jobs, finances, loved ones and where to buy loo-roll. Just like all of us.
That is why I believe that EMPATHY is going to have more than just its day in the sun; rather it will re-emerge as one of the most important and desirable features of being human.
Could we use this time to reimagine a better way of how we relate to each other, how we recruit and develop people, as well as how we measure our leaders and brand performance?
You can’t fake empathy and it will backfire badly if you do.
As more businesses make the strategic shift away from ‘profit is our purpose’ at the expense of anything else, there is an opportunity for professionals operating in the field of communications to translate empathy into the posture and positioning of the business.
By working across the organisation, the communications team can help to define the characteristics of empathy in the business, what it looks and sounds like in words and actions, as well as shape how it can be measured across leadership, brand perception and staff engagement.
Empathy does not mean that you’re weak.
It is a competitive advantage. Seeing your brand or service, as experienced by your customer, means that you can take steps to address their needs and concerns through product support channels, engage them in making improvements, or prioritising content on your website and social channels.
As a communications professional, we need to be plugged into the channels that provide valuable insights into the experiences of customers. Without it, we’re working on what we believe, or want to believe, their experience is.
Operationalising this will meet resistance; empathy requires humans.
Last week I received an email from my bank, setting out their position during the coronavirus lockdown. It explained what they could do to help me manage my money and access government help for qualifying businesses. It was also an appeal for me to not call them, and rather use their online banking services and app.
While I’m sympathetic to the remote working and workforce capacity challenges that they must be facing, it screamed, “we’re here for you, but only on our terms”.
I know they meant well but the message could have been delivered at the point that I did try calling or via video on the homepage and “contact us” section of their website. For me, it didn’t achieve the objective or demonstrate real empathy.
Lead the way, get ahead of the curve and start now.
We need to give serious thought to how we introduce empathy into the language and behaviours of the organisations we work with and for. I would recommend gathering data first; conduct an audit to establish how well your business scores on empathy through its employment policies, recruitment questions, customer charter for example.
Put forward a proof of concept to help build evidence that support a new approach.
You might consider the changes needed to team structures or roles to show the extent of changes needed in all areas of the business. Investigate training and development programmes that you and your team can do to enhance your cognitive, emotional and compassionate empathy skills.
Tune into the right stuff, be kind.
Strategy is often about choosing what not to do. Staying true to your business or brand purpose is not always easy and the temptation to contribute to the cacophony to be seen + heard may have the opposite effect.
Imagine, what will happen if you choose to stay silent?
I’m using this time to welcome the invitations which are truly about interaction, conversation and respectful exchanging of views and ideas.
I am seeking out and focussing on the topics that are important and valuable to me, as opposed to those that feature in my feed.
I am practicing how to learn and build insight by not asking “what is wrong with you?” but rather “what is happening to you?”.
If you’ve got thoughts or ideas about best practice or how to introduce empathy behaviours into your team or business, please do share them. Here are some challenges to get you started:
Is the absence of empathy, a risk to brand reputation?
Does demonstrating empathy, positively impact how we trust leaders?
How is your advice changing for your business/clients on how they communicate/interact with customers, stakeholders and employees?
How are you evolving how you collaborate with functions to enable them to apply empathy through delivering services and carrying out business operations?
Image via Global Panorama