Empathy in communications | S1 E20

First published: 20 October, 2020

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Series 1
Series 1
Empathy in communications | S1 E20

Empathy in Communications

In this episode of Engaging Internal Comms, The Big Picture People’s Craig Smith talks to Megan Dold about the challenges of communicating within an organisation, and how to overcome them by using empathy in communications internally.

Having previously worked with the likes of Thomson Reuters and the UN Foundation, Megan is now Head of EMEA Comms for global news organisation The Financial Times. Megan focusses on internal comms and corporate communications, as well as social responsibility roles, and is currently working with an audience of 600 journalists.

Bearing this in mind, Craig is interested to learn of the challenges Megan comes up against when communicating with employees, particularly as her field audience consists of professionals who communicate themselves.

The challenges of communicating

For many reasons, getting teams and departments to become engaged in the message being communicated to them can be difficult to achieve.

But Megan points out that, quite often, a lack of employee communications can be due to the audience themselves being time-poor. Employees may be challenged with pressure from deadlines and back-to-back meetings. Despite them appreciating the importance of the message you’re trying to deliver, and even wanting to show an interest or attend presentations and events, they simply do not have the time to do so. Taking this into account and utilising empathy in communications is essential.

Additionally, there may be a lack of trust for the individual or department delivering the message. If you have no experience yourself in the department you’re trying to engage, there will often be a lack of professional loyalty that acts as a communication barrier between you and them.

The power of professional empathy

Such challenges can be overcome with a little effort and the ability to understand your audience’s situation. Megan states that you should, “Know your stakeholders and adapt your style for different audiences when possible.

She goes on to explain how she approaches her audience with honesty and understanding of their time constraints, while also giving them a branch to care for the message she is trying to communicate.

Adapting practice

How internal comms are perceived by teams and departments can easily detriment the power of the message that you’re trying to convey across the organisation.

In Megan’s case, she ensures that when she is corresponding through email to her audience of journalists, she does so in a manner as professional as they’d expect.

I am rigorous about checking my emails 300 times before it goes to journalists,” she says, “because I think poorly written comms and even typos can actually have a really damaging effect on how people perceive you. Your own communications have to be gold standard – that’s what they expect and that’s what they deserve.

The internal comms person must be quick and direct with their delivery of communications, and give the audience a reason to listen and create engagement in the brand they care about and are proud of.

Working in an environment where internal comms does not exist

Megan emphasises the importance of bringing internal and external comms together.

The best way to do that is to show it through people,” says Megan. “Using your employees as your employer brand champions, and getting things out that might just go internally, can be a really, really good thing.

This transparency through your own people will also be visible to your clients, who respond very positively to their own values being reflected through those of your company.

Megan also emphasises how effective it is for employees to hear the message for the CEO level as well as from the internal communications department.

As Megan recalls from experience, “If you want someone to read something, you know it has to come from the top”. The answer is to facilitate the people within the company as allies to help get the message across within the fabric of the organisation’s people.

Reducing communication channels for improved communication

While business communication platforms such as Workplace have often been considered as ‘go-to’ for organisations, businesses are now looking at alternative, simpler ways for technical internal business communications.

With collaborations and communication now a huge challenge, particularly for remote teams, it’s important that every employee has easy access to resources that are located in familiar places.

Megan suggests the example of a regular intranet. And although one platform might suit one business and not another, organisations need to ensure that the chosen software enables knowledge to be shared and communicated effortlessly and reliably.

Building empathy into communications at work

Megan explains how crucial it is to understand everyone’s role and respect the part they are each playing for communication to flow between them.

She explains this perfectly by saying, “It’s easy to forget, as an internal comms person, when you’re in the thick of writing these really long, thoughtful business updates, or planning these really important internal events around diversity, inclusion, and whatnot, that people might not have the time to read it or attend. And it’s not because they don’t want to, but they have their own day jobs, and priorities and objectives, and KPIs, and things that comms people… it’s just different for us.

Seconding employees into other departments can have a huge improvement on the respect and understanding employees gain for the different roles across the board. “It helps us understand who we’re communicating to,” says Megan.

And what about the busy lives of the audience? How should an organisation tackle this issue to optimise internal communications? Firstly, with empathy. Secondly, with an acute awareness of the need to get communications across in a way that fits in with your audience. Megan explains how she does this:

I try to make events really short and to the point that people have time to do them, and there’s an incentive. I think it’s just about finding ways to help your colleagues make time for something.

Summing Up

Communicating effectively across a business internally requires empathy in a sense that internal comms people are understanding of the importance of employees’ roles, and are adaptable in their approach to ensuring a message, that they will care about and is of importance to them and their company, reaches them.

As Megan correctly identifies, “Take the time to know what they care about and what they’re going through. Be aware of the different projects and strains, and stresses that people are going through right now.

Doing so will optimise your communications reach, and see your engagement within the company soar.

Useful Links:

Megan’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/megandold/

Twitter: @megandold

Email: mailto:megan.dold@ft.com

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