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  • Writer's pictureMiriam

The Fourth E - Empathy

I believe the best communications happen when we take all four of the Es, Ethics, Expectations, Engagement and Empathy, into account. But if I have to pick one of them to lead with, I will choose empathy every time.

Your ethics allow you to follow your north star and retain your sense of self while assuring your audience of your commitment to being credible and trustworthy.

Setting and meeting reasonable expectations gives you and your constituency a map to follow as you navigate communications together.

Effective and flexible engagement makes your communication and interactions with your community dynamic and effective.

But empathy? Empathy connects you with your community on a human level. Authentic empathy propels us to seek engagement, adjust and meet expectations and behave ethically. Being empathetic does not require us to compromise our values or agree with people with whom we fundamentally disagree. It simply requires us to recognize that we have a shared humanity.

When we sympathise with someone, we feel compassion toward them and recognize that they are experiencing an emotion. We often say "I'm sorry." "I'm sorry you're sad." "I'm sorry you're mad." "I'm sorry you are frustrated." We understand that this feeling is bad, but we don't connect to it. We give the verbal equivalent of a pat on the arm. When we empathize, we connect with the part of ourselves that has experienced that emotion. Empathy is about recognizing the humanity in others as valid and equal to our own. Practicing empathy is not trying to solve the thing that is causing the emotion, it is simply sharing and acknowledging the experience of emotion.

"But!" I hear you saying. "But we have a problem to solve! We are wasting time! I am a problem solver! And also emotions are hard."

I get it. I really do. I want to solve that problem and cross it off the list too. The fly in the ointment is that, without beginning with empathy, we run the risk of never solving the problem at all and possibly creating a new problem entirely. I often talk about how communications is like a tree and that your strong roots are what let us thrive as communicators. The four Es are roots. When we swoop into a situation where we need to work with others without considering these core principles, our roots are rotten and we will never grow.

Of all the things I can teach you and help you with, empathy is trickiest. I can write you a communications plan. I can build you an engagement framework. I can guide the development of your code of ethics. I can facilitate your meetings. I can help you shed some of the nerves you feel when you're public speaking or talking to the press. But I can't tap into your empathy for you.

What I can do is work with you on authentic empathetic listening. We will talk about how empathy and boundaries can work together. I will help you know when you are being empathetic and how to get back to it if you've gotten away from it. And I will help you see how your empathy strengthens you and your organization.

The four Es are the points on our communications compass. Let me help you chart a new course.


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