By wielding the power of empathy, you can make employees care. And that’s what communications is all about. But making messages stick can be tricky. Comms pros spend countless hours drafting, collaborating and reworking their content, only for it to roll out into the workplace like tumbleweed. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last.
The challenge? Your people need to care about the messages you’re sharing. Only when they care, will they act.
If you’re churning out the same soulless communications each week, how can you expect them to care? If you’re not excited about what you’re producing, will they be? If they don’t trust what you say, they won’t start reading. That’s where empathy comes in.
A Climate of Distrust
As communicators we blur the lines between media and messengers. We live to break business news. But making information engaging — and making your messages land — is proving more difficult than ever before. Why? Because audiences are switching off, fatigued by information overload.
Selective news avoidance is at an all-time high, according to Reuters’ Digital News Report. Respondents say news either has a negative effect on their mood, it’s untrustworthy and biased, or there’s nothing they can do with the information. And these findings aren’t isolated.
The Constructive Institute found that 76% of Brits believe the media exaggerates the real story. Its June 2022 study on attitudes to news and journalism reported a widespread belief that news is dominated by extreme opinions, creating demand for more constructive coverage.
If your latest pulse survey unveiled those kinds of results, you’d be worried. What can we learn from news avoidance? If your messages don’t have a clear action and are problem-oriented, rather than solution-based, people will stop reading them. This can breed distrust.
Empathy Is the Answer
Empathy is what makes us human. It’s the psychological superglue that connects us; it’s what makes us good friends, partners and teammates. It can even make us better managers in the workplace. But equally, a lack of empathy can drive a wedge between us, making it harder to connect, create and care.
Luckily for comms teams, studies have found that empathy is not a fixed trait — it can be nurtured. Even if your employees are losing trust in what you’re saying, you can take steps to build it back with empathy.
5 Ways You Can Use Empathy To Make Employees Care and Land Your Comms
- Build empathy through storytelling: We already have the antidote to distrust. We can administer it by putting authenticity, connection and responsibility at the heart of our stories. A longing for authentic connection is a powerful tool and it’s something you can easily inject into every story you share. Bringing feeling and vulnerability into the conversation is a sure-fire way to make it stick.
- Make your comms approach constructive: The best constructive journalism is fact-based, nuanced and engages in dialogue. It’s solution-oriented, not problem-focused. It brings the audience into the conversation, rich in perspectives and diversity. Employees want to feel a connection to the subject matter; to empathize with the story, but also to be included in the discussion. A constructive approach will do just that.
- Create a culture of experimentation in your internal comms newsroom: The risk is that constructive stories lack a villain, drama or conflict — so they might feel a little, well, boring. If everything’s inspirational, what demands readers’ attention? Be strategic in where and when you publish these stories. Use light and shade or bring in humor. It’s not about creating entertainment, but do be entertaining. If readers must care to be prompted to act, we need to know what pushes their buttons. And it isn’t more of the same.
- Just listen: When engaging with employees is proving tough, sometimes the best solution is the most simple one: stop and actively listen. Listen to what your people want, what treatments they like, what stories struck a chord and how they connected with them. As the interviewer and reporter, remain omni-partial. The term comes from mediation, and it means you’re on everyone’s side: there to listen and to be empathetic. Remember, listening is not an activity — it’s an attitude.
- Pick up a book: Research shows that reading can improve our ability to empathize. While asking employees to turn a few pages every day may be out of the question, it will definitely work for you. Try it; take 20 minutes to breathe and read. If you can write with empathy, take a constructive approach, experiment and listen, then will empathy be the natural result.
Make Me Care
Empathy is a tool that, when wielded right, has the power to connect and make people care. If your communications are the map with which your employees navigate the workplace, then empathy is their trusted companion to decipher the markings. If you’re struggling to make your people care, if their distrust of media is seeping through, empathy is the answer.
A former internal journalist, Elle is passionate about bringing storytelling and strategy together to drive more purposeful and empowering content. She works with a variety of scarlettabbott’s global clients, helping transform their internal communications channels, harness the power of citizen journalism and break through the barriers of taboo topics. Elle speaks about: Information overload – and how to cut through the noise, creating a journalistic culture in an IC newsroom, diversity and inclusion storytelling to build a sense of belonging and constructive journalism and its application in ESG comms.