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Why empathy is so important for effective internal comms

I wrote recently about the importance of the “who” in the planning and creation of your internal comms, about the significance of knowing your audience so that you can contextualise the messages to help them to land and to matter. And before that, I wrote about how empathy is an important quality for those wanting to be a better leader.

These things clearly overlap hugely. To effectively consider the who along with the desired outcomes of your comms essentially requires empathy.

Before you start to construct your message, you need to know what you want your people to think, feel and do as a direct result of them.

If this is all a relatively new (or alien) concept to you, or you are coming out of the hellish crunch of Covid and its effects on your people and your business and are looking to take stock and move forward in the right direction with your best foot forward, perhaps the first thing to consider is how your current comms are received. Here comes the empathy again: how do you think your people feel about them? What words would they use to describe them? If you don’t know, I strongly encourage you to find out. A full, external health check is the most thorough and robust way to do this, but you could also employ some carefully constructed interactive feedback sessions to gauge how your people are feeling.

One thing we have hopefully all learnt from the past 14 months or so is that we can’t generalise, and we can’t judge others’ situations, experiences and feelings by our own.

Some have been locked down alone, others with young children and the need for home-schooling, some dealing with loved ones’ illnesses or worse, some with new and ongoing financial worries… the list is endless and the combinations and permutations countless. As leaders, we need to understand and be sympathetic and sensitive to this diversity of experience. And right now, we need to remember that, whilst things are starting to look a little rosier for many of us, some will still be dealing with situations considerably tougher than they were pre-pandemic.

Take Covid out of the equation altogether, as if it never existed (now, wouldn’t that be nice?), and this level of empathy and understanding would still be hugely beneficial to internal comms. Of course, a CEO can’t possibly know the personal situation of all employees, and each comms can’t be personalised to each worker, but comms that are written with smaller groups of recipients in mind, and that cater to the different needs and circumstances of different populations can work wonders in building trust and respect.

This doesn’t all have to be as arduous or time-consuming as it first appears. Sending messages via multiple platforms to allow employees to access the comms at a time and in a way that’s convenient for them is a great start. Sharing the spotlight within your comms and including content from a broad spectrum of different employees from different levels and departments can also help with engagement as well as inclusivity and diversity. Engaging video content can be so powerful, injecting a personal touch that the written word struggles with and allowing for more relatability and warmth. And asking for feedback after key messages shows humility, a willingness to learn and a sincere interest in the feelings of those on the receiving end.

Finally, remember that, as leaders, showing humanity, humility, and good humour is not showing weakness. Showing vulnerability makes us more relatable and can open up better connections with our people. Not too long ago, I supported with video comms from a site director who was sharing personal experiences of difficult times and the survival techniques used to get through these. Rather than eroding their authority or undermining their influence, it acted only to inspire and reassure. It was received with warmth and respect from the audience, and this was reflected in their immediate feedback.


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