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How to communicate with empathy

If I asked you to describe the way your organisation communicates, what are the top three words you’d use?

Would empathetic, compassionate and values-led (I know that’s two words), be on your list?

Think about it from an employees’ perspective. What would their words be?

If you’ve never done that exercise before, I encourage you to do so.

I’d love to know what your words are. Feel free to comment below or Tweet me @AllThingsIC.

What you’re looking for is the gap – is there a gap between the intention of your internal communication and the perception employees have? Sometimes it’s huge and can be an integrity gap, which is the gap between what we say and what we do as an organisation.

When to use empathy

When I’m advising my clients and Masterclass attendees on leadership communication, particularly during change or crisis comms, I often bring empathy into our conversations.

I recently wrote about communicating with compassion via my blog, this is a similar situation.

According to the dictionary, empathy is: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Wow. I love that. Imagine if your internal communication demonstrated you understand and share the feelings of your employees.

What impact would that have? How would it make employees feel?

Empathy manifests itself in many forms, from the words we use, to the tone, channel and timing.

Here are some examples:

  • Telling employees internally first that changes are happening, so they don’t hear about it externally.
  • Equipping line managers with information, tools and space to plan, discuss and communicate change effectively.
  • Providing line managers with practice sessions to get uncomfortable being uncomfortable so they can have difficult conversations.
  • Showing concern, care and understanding through your language.
  • Communicating with, not to or at employees. Why? They’re the first to feel and notice the difference.
  • Not referring to our people as headcount, numbers or resources. They are human beings and need to be treated respectfully.
  • Using face-to-face channels to communicate difficult, upsetting or drastic news. Where you can’t do this (particularly due to COVID-19), you need to ask employees their preferred method.

This final points keeps cropping up in conversations with All Things IC’s clients over recent months. We are trying to make sure employees feel connected, informed, engaged (ideally!), inspired and motivated.

But if they have been furloughed, are homeschooling or have caring responsibilities, it’s hard to know the ‘best’ time to have the conversations you need to have.

My advice? You need to ask your employees. You may find yourself as a line manager having evening phone or video calls with your team once your/their children are in bed for example.

I can tell you from experience, having conversations about the future of your role with a tiny baby by your side is far from ideal.

What are you doing to understand and share the feelings of your employees? What could you start, stop or continue today to get you into a better place so you really understand and share employees’ feelings?

Further reading via the All Things IC blog: How to communicate job losses.

Setting your intentions

Whenever I’m planning internal communication, I set my intentions upfront. I usually share this formula in my Masterclasses or if I’m speaking on stage.

If I don’t know the answers to these questions, I can’t possibly hope to measure. It’s my starting point for any Internal Comms plan.

Intention of internal communication

 

How are you making people feel through your internal communication? How are your leaders communicating? Are they leading with integrity, empathy and compassion?

I appeared on The Bananatag Morning Show in Canada at the start of lockdown alongside hosts Kyla Sims @krositabanana and Adam Brayford @AdamBrayford

We talked about the power of compassionate communication during a crisis and how to encourage leaders to lead with empathy. We also discussed the power of having solid corporate values in times of turbulence.

To be successful in internal communication, you really need to know your business.

It is our business to know our business.

You need to know what makes your employees tick, what’s on their minds, what they’re concerned about, what is working well, what the rumours are and what doesn’t make sense.

I talked about this on the show (see below), including the importance of internal communicators developing strong relationships:

If you missed the show, you can catch up with the whole conversation below.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog

I’m curious about your own experience. Does your organisation lead the way when it comes to being empathetic? What does that look like?

As ever, I welcome your views, you’re welcome to comment below of you can find me on Twitter @AllThingsIC.

Learn more about internal communication with me

Are you a professional communicator in need of a knowledge or confidence boost? Perhaps you’re curious about Comms theory and trends, but struggle to find the time to learn.

All Things IC Masterclass attendees say my courses leave them feeling inspired, full of ideas and ready to turn plans into action. I’ll help you to build on what you already know and explain fresh ideas.

I’ve trained nearly 1000 Comms professionals face-to-face since 2016 and now we can work together wherever you are in the world.

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Thank you for stopping by

Rachel.

First published on the All Things IC blog 10 August 2020.

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