Empathy in Uncertain Times
These days, everything feels unsettled. We’ve watched travel discontinue, lively offices expeditiously shift to remote work, restaurants and small businesses shut their doors, cities still and quiet, as the landscape of our global economy shifts on a daily basis. Recognition that this COVID-19 state of living, working, and doing business will not be ephemeral is settling in. We’re seeing first hand as our clients are forced to quickly adapt—make swift decisions, innovate new solutions, and reimagine the way they’ve always done business.
It’s clear that the weight communications hold has heavied. Executives are reaching out to their employees, eager to instill both calm and action. Businesses are connecting with stakeholders aiming to secure trust. Brands are reaching out to customers, motivated to emotionally resonate with consumers’ current state of mind. These connections, big and small, have never been more critical. Empathy has never been more essential.
Getting Closer in a Socially Distanced World
Empathy is an innate human skill that is available to each and every one of us. As such, it is a talent that stands ready to be reanimated through leadership, organizational behavior, and brand behavior.
As your brand aims to re-create a collective sense of what truly matters to people, and responds accordingly, it has the opportunity to take on a new and more emotionally valuable role in people’s lives. Employees will feel closer to your organization if they feel it is working hard in favor of their interests. Customers will feel a sense of kinship if they feel your brand truly understands them. Now is the time to think about how the experience of your organization’s products, marketing, and support all confirm its commitment to putting people first. How do you ensure that people walk away from every communication feeling they’ve been listened to, that their needs (both emotional and rational) have been better met, and their fears have been quieted? That every connection means one step closer together?
At Emotive Brand, we see empathy as something a bit more than simply “sharing someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in their situation.” (the dictionary definition). To us, it’s more powerful than both sympathy and compassion combined. Empathy is two-fold: both understanding and action. It’s the ability to truly feel and understand someone else’s situation—their emotional state of mind, their needs, desires, and fears. To use that empathetic understanding and take action that is in tune with the person and their state—ultimately improving it.
It’s no secret that business has never been strong on empathy. The closest it usually comes is in consumer research, but that science often leads to inhuman numerical analyses of the human psyche. People are notorious for telling researchers what they want to hear and are often unable to articulate what they really want or need.
Empathetic understanding is not necessarily an empirical process. Rather it is an experiential one leading to deep insights and a profound understanding and appreciation of the lives of others. It is a way to feel the hopes, dreams, fears, and concerns of the people your business seeks to impact. It is a way to vicariously experience what they see and feel when they use your products, experience your marketing, and deal with your people. This informs you of how you can retune and refine what your business does in ways that better reflect the insights you’ve gained through empathetic understanding. This also leads you to new ways of doing business that is more aligned with today’s world and more resonant with where people are today.
It’s Time to Rediscover Your Innate Empathy Skills
The smallest children show empathy for others, but we tend to lose this skill as we enter the mainstream of life. We can, however, reawaken this valuable talent and put it to good use.
The first step is to turn up the dial of two other innate traits: curiosity and caring. Think of the people who your brand impacts as people you know, love, and treasure. Try to imagine the perspective they have on what’s happening, the attitudes and beliefs that drive their behaviors, and the emotional nature of their new daily realities. Give them permission to have values and needs other than your own. Don’t ascribe right and wrong, rather strive to find out more about what drives them, what fulfills them, and what brings them greater peace of mind.
Empathy Has Rewards
For leaders today, empathy might be your most powerful tool. By better understanding what makes followers tick, empathetic leaders can find ways to make their new ideas, messages, strategies, and dreams more relevant and emotionally important. This shifts the response from followers, not only in aligning them to your vision, but also energizing them to work better together, develop new ideas, and strive for the highest goals.
The rewards multiply for an organization in which empathy is a core practice today. More resonance, greater impact. More appealing, relevant, and differentiated products. More compelling, activating, and loyalty-building marketing. More innovation, collaboration, and spirit flowing within the organization and greater stability to underpin your business.
If you want help embedding empathy into your executive and company communications during this time, please reach out.
Emotive Brand is a brand strategy and design agency in Oakland, California.