This presents something of a challenge to us. How do we utilize these efficient, yet undeniably cold and analytical digital tools in such a way that they are received with the same degree of empathy that we would hope to express in a physical environment? How can we still build interpersonal relationships with our colleagues and customers via the conduit of technology?
These are questions worth answering, not just for our businesses to thrive, but for the continued health of our personal humanity. Despite how Hollywood so often depicts successful entrepreneurs and ambitious career-driven individuals, we don’t all want to dispose of our compassionate side in exchange for huge barrels of money and kudos. Whether we’re undertaking day-to-day interactions with employees or designing effective UX platforms, it is in our best interest to consider how we approach expression of empathy as our methods of communication lean toward digital environments.
Consideration of the Recipient
Empathy, at its most basic level, requires we consider the feelings of those with whom we interact. Companies often deal with a variety of people from all backgrounds and cultures — it’s among the reasons that implementing empathy in business is crucial. So, we must first take a look at who is at the receiving end of our communications in order to more effectively plan our approach.
Communicating empathetically with colleagues can be complex. While you may have developed a rapport with them, to the extent that they would know that your intentions are always benevolent, this doesn’t necessarily translate to digital communication. Wherever possible, use what you know about them from your direct interactions to see how your communications may be received from their perspective.
Customer communication can involve an entirely different approach to empathy. You may not have developed a relationship with them, and therefore understanding how to tone your digital messages may not come quite so naturally. That said, it is equally important that they are treated as the individual humans they are; everybody deserves to feel — even on occasions when you’re trying to sell something — that you have genuinely considered their feelings, needs, and perspectives.
Address the Potential Pitfalls
Emotional intelligence can have a significantly positive impact on our interactions — both as business people and human beings. We will make mistakes in how we apply this soft skill, but this can be avoided by taking due consideration before acting. We can approach this by looking at the elements that best express our emotional intelligence.
Active listening can be challenging for many of us, and can be one of the obstacles in communication. Digitally, this involves not just receiving a communication and reading it, but really taking the time to consider the content; sometimes the ubiquity of emails can lead us to treat them as disposable. We always need to consider the intention of the human sending it. If it’s a difficult subject, what challenges did they face in approaching you? In your responses, simply making it clear that you have taken the time to consider the point of view of the sender can go a long way.
Conversely, difficulties can also arise from the manner in which we ask questions to both colleagues and customers. A significant aspect of emotional intelligence involves learning to express that you have been thoughtful in generating your responses. Be specific in your questions, rather than making generalized queries. Show that you have considered the recipient’s perspective with the intention of working together to find a solution to problems.
Make Efforts to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
There’s no quick fix to integrating more emotionally intelligent content into your digital communications. Just like learning to understand the perspectives of a broad range of your fellow humans, it takes research, practice, and a little bit of venturing outside of your comfort zone. So what are the practical steps to encouraging greater empathy in your business practices?
First of all, you must always invite communication. So many businesses fail at empathetic expressions because they make a lot of assumptions about those they work with. The fastest way to get a sense of what your customers value in business interactions, and how colleagues need to receive feedback, is by actually asking them. This in itself can open up a digital dialogue that will improve your approach to empathetic communication.
You must also take every opportunity to make your communications personal. You cannot achieve a significant level of empathy while taking a hands-off approach. Find opportunities to give something of yourself to those with whom you are communicating, help them to show that you are taking the approach that you understand their perspective not as an entrepreneur, not as a boss, but as a fellow human being.
It is becoming increasingly clear that emotional intelligence has value across a variety of industries, from healthcare fields working in-person with patients and students to the technology sectors where most communication takes place digitally. We know as living, feeling humans what we appreciate about our interactions with each other, and yet historically we’ve struggled to apply these to a business environment. Our challenge now, as we implement more digital solutions which often limit our face-to-face interactions with each other, is to make the effort to exert the same level of empathy as we would in a physical landscape.
Frankie Wallace is a recent graduate from the University of Montana. Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho.