In the absence of in person communication the need for being empathetic over digital channels like email is critical. Being able to write empathetically will help you be more likable and will build strong relationships and bonds both in personal and professional life.
1. Are organizations displaying empathy?
91 percent of CEO’s say their organization is empathetic. Conversely, 92 percent of these employees believe their employer undervalues empathy.
There is a significant gap. Why does the empathy gap exist?
A real-life work example:
Before we answer that question let us look at a real-life work example:
Scene: Customer Service Rep from a Telecom Company sitting at his desk looking concerned and worried. Jenny walks up.
Jenny: Hi Deepak, you look sad, what is going on?
Deepak: Since the morning, I have been getting low customer satisfaction scores on my emails. I am at a total loss of what to do. I am trying my best!
Jenny: Show me a copy of a few emails that we can look at.
Deepak: Here is one email.
This is the Customer’s email
I have a prepaid mobile plan on 9811089401. From the last 15 days, rarely am I able to call or are people able to reach me. It takes me many tries to get through and then I get cut off after a short period. This is extremely frustrating!! I have not been able to take important work and personal calls. I need this resolved as soon as possible!!!
This is the Customer Service Executive Deepak’s Response
Dear Dr. Jain,
Because of the merger of our company with another, there is a lot of work happening on our infrastructure. Hence, we are sorry you and others like you are experiencing connectivity issues. Please bear with us.
Customer Service Associate
Jenny: Deepak, what do you think a typical doctor’s day is like?
Deepak: I know they deal with patient problems and emergencies, so it must be incredibly stressful.
Jenny: Most doctors receive at least a 100 calls per day of which many are extremely critical. On top of that, given their schedules they have limited and specific timing when they are available. Call dropping can be very frustrating. It is natural to expect that she will be angry and upset with the current quality of service.
2. What is Empathy?
Empathy means that you put yourself in the customer’s shoes, and acknowledge the questions even if you cannot answer all of them. Make the person feel heard and that you care. The opposite of this would be sounding indifferent, frustrated, angry, or parroting standard responses which demonstrate a lack of personal touch.
We know how important connectivity is to a doctor. If you put yourself in his shoes, would you rate this response as high on empathy?
Deepak: No probably not. However, I am not sure how to write it more empathetically.
Let us rewrite a response together for Dr. Jain’s email.
Dear Dr. Jain,
We are very sorry to hear that you have been experiencing significant connectivity issues. Given your profession, we understand the urgency of remaining connected. I studied your area of work and residence. We have five towers getting refurbished after the big merger, which will finish in 10 days.
We hope to make things better for you soon. If you have any other issues, please let us know.
Customer Service Associate
When empathizing be careful of your tone. For example, in the Customer Service Executive’s first email there is little empathy for the difficulty that the Doctor would have faced or concern for the need for the importance of a Doctor’s accessibility. Instead, the email focusses on blaming the infrastructure and meekly apologizes midway
- Understanding. and appreciating how others feel.
- Avoid hurting the feelings of others.
- Getting in touch, relating, and being sensitive to other people’s emotions and feelings.
- Respect other people’s emotions.
- Care about how others feel.
- Express the feelings and the facts from the other person’s view.
- Notice the unsaid – read between the lines of what the customer wrote.
Examples of empathetic words and phrases:
While writing emails you express empathy by your words. Here are examples of words and phrases that are empathetic:
- I experienced the same.
- I really want to hear what you have to say.
- Give yourself some time to process.
- If I were you, I would feel the same.
- I wish things were different.
- I can imagine how that might have felt.
- I can see this is making you upset.
- You are frustrated.
- I know how you feel.
- That must be hard.
- I do not know what to say.
- I cannot imagine what you must be going through.
- I wish I could make it better.
- It makes me really sad to hear this happened.
- Thank you for sharing with me.
- I am glad you told me.
- This must be hard to talk about. Thanks for opening up to me.
- I am here for you.
- That must have annoyed you.
- We really appreciate.
- I have experienced a similar issue.
“Empathy works so well because it does not require a solution. It requires only understanding”. John Medina.
Yet in day to day life both at work and at home it is hard to practice. Data shows, as we saw earlier in the video, the empathy gap at work is huge. Why is it hard then for people to be empathetic?
What empathy is not?
For the rest of us it is a skill we learn. Empathy is a combination of both nature and nurture. The reasons why it is not a widely displayed trait at large are:
- We mistake empathy to mean agreeing with what the other person is saying and or doing. None of that is true. Empathy means listening and understanding that is all. You can be assertive and empathetic at the same time. You do not have to necessarily agree with the other person nor say yes to doing things you do not want to do.
- Being empathetic is different from being sympathetic. We often end up equating the two, while the two are different. Sympathy is feeling sorrow, compassion and pity for others while empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and feeling what they are feeling, which could be a whole range of feelings, from happy, frustrated, joy, angry, cheated to disgusted.
- Empathy takes work. In our fast-paced lives, we are not able to take time out. One of the most important things which helps you be empathetic is to listen to the other person. You must be patient and proactively display empathy. This takes effort and you need to invest in people and relationships.
3. A real-life work scenario:
Let us look at a workplace scenario where a team leader is having disciplinary issues with one of his teammates. She is coming late to office as well as not working full shift hours. Here is the email that he sends to the employee:
As we discussed, you have been late to work 8 times in the last one month by 15 to 45 minutes each time. This is because you are not used to having to take your child to daycare before coming to work. We agreed you would talk to your sister about helping you manage this.
I look forward to seeing you here on-time tomorrow.
This mail captures the facts and documents it. It rates high on assertiveness but is low on empathy. It does not build any emotional bond with the employee. Emotional bonding drives loyalty to the company, significantly improves productivity and motivation. Let us see how the same email could be written empathetically:
I understand you are going through a difficult time. If I were in your position; I would feel the same way. Your family needs you. We are also counting on you too and need you here every day on-time.
As we reviewed, you have been late to work 8 times in the last one month by 15 to 45 minutes each time. This is because you are not used to having to take your child to daycare before coming to work. We both agreed you will seek help from your sister to manage the situation better.
I look forward to seeing you here on-time tomorrow and every day this month!