As a lifelong marketer, I consider myself a constant and committed student of human behavior. As part of this practice, I’m always working to understand people’s actions and motivations by continuously reflecting on my empathy skills.
In 2020, we all received a “masterclass” on the importance of empathy, witnessing and experiencing a vast spectrum of emotions as we watched our friends, colleagues, and communities struggle with numerous challenges personally and professionally. The pandemic has affected everyone, and its impact has been greater on some than on others. From this, we have learned that every person experiences and responds to things in his or her own unique way. No one person’s work-from-home environment or overall pandemic experience has been exactly alike, and working to understand each other’s different experiences and perspectives is how we’ve built connection and learned lessons that will carry us beyond the shadow of coronavirus.
The Power of Empathy + the Gifts it Provides Us
It’s the power of empathy that has reminded us of our shared humanity and has personally given me a new appreciation for the challenges my team faces every day. Struggling to navigate virtual schooling, living in tiny apartments with limited workspace, experiencing the hardship of family members’ job losses, trying to stay connected with parents who may be alone/sick, managing the impact of isolation on mental well-being, and unfortunately, grieving the loss of life due to COVID—these are all trials my team members and colleagues have faced over the past year.
As a leader, it’s been a crucial learning experience. I’ve been invited into the personal spaces of my colleagues on video calls and understood their perspectives in ways that I never could have in the office. While born from an uninvited tragedy, these personal experiences have been a great gift I take forward with a deep appreciation for all they have given me.
The events of this past year also opened discussions about things happening outside the virtual office, because conversations around race, inequity, social justice and political tension cannot be separated from our work lives. Working in healthcare, it’s been important to have tough, honest conversations about the realities of the inequities that exist in our industry. These conversations, while not always easy or comfortable, open up lines of communication that allow us to more effectively understand each other and shed light on the great responsibility we hold as healthcare marketers who shape the conversation. More importantly, they have taught us that the ability to empathize with different perspectives is what moves us toward greater work, personal success and achievement.
Empathy Can Propel Us Forward
As I think about the next few months and beyond, I believe empathy will continue to lead us toward a positive, forward-thinking future. Here’s how empathy will drive us forward in 2021.
- Empathy drives engagement. Empathy is a foundation for effective engagement—whether engaging with your colleagues, employees, clients, family or friends, it’s difficult to build authentic connections if you don’t truly understand who you’re engaging with. This past year reminded us about the power of empathy, and we should use it as a catalyst for genuine engagement moving forward, which in turn will bring us closer together.
- Empathy unlocks expansive ideas and diversity of thought. The more we understand each other, the more open we are to different perspectives. This encourages us to embrace more diverse talent and ideas—things that are critical for a business to be successful. When teams and organizations are more connected and embody a greater understanding, there’s an increased flow of ideas and creativity that produce new solutions and strategies for the business.
- Empathy fuels productivity and progress. When we choose to empathize with each other, we are a better collective team because of it. Leaders impact productivity by recognizing employees’ needs and putting them in a position to succeed. I have a finer understanding today of how to work with my colleagues, collectively and individually, which has deepened our work and helped us reach our goals faster. Moreover, empathy allows us to gain a sharpened understanding of the customer, provider or patient we want to reach. Empathizing with target audiences helps leaders and businesses communicate more effectively, as well as track changing trends or perceptions.
Where Do We Go From Here?
As business leaders, we need to continue the push to better understand our teams and their individual ways of thinking, working and doing. Embracing and demonstrating empathy as a management tool has significantly helped my ability to connect with and inspire my own team, ultimately leading to enhanced collaboration and business results.
I believe empathy is an important unifier both personally and in the workplace. We have seen all too closely over the past year how a lack of empathy, particularly when it’s needed most, can be harmful. But with empathy as a foundational tool, I think we’ll see a better 2021 and beyond with greater engagement, inclusion of ideas, and progress inside our businesses and communities.