Finding Commonality – COVID-19 has changed us for the better

COVID-19 has changed forever the way we work and how our colleagues and clients want to communicate.

Let me give you one of a number of recent examples: last week, I got a call from a colleague, out of the blue, and to be honest, I was expecting it to be about work. Now without going into too much detail, she was feeling a bit under the weather, had been stuck at home for months with her three young kids (and a husband); and the internet kept dropping out.  Sound familiar? So she didn’t want to talk about work, she wanted to talk about everything else, to feel somehow normal again by getting her head out of home.

This is just one of many stories I know we are all hearing. They resonate with all of us and reminds us how important it is to connect with friends, colleagues and clients as we continue to navigate COVID-19.

Some people call this connection “empathy”.  Empathy is “the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling”. It differs from sympathy which tends to evoke more a feeling of being sorry for someone’s misfortunes.

Elaine Reese in The Conversation says reading fiction, watching high-quality television shows, and playing pro-social video games have all been shown to boost empathy and may decrease prejudice. Who would have thought that entertainment like reading and video games that have likely increased during the pandemic may actually make us more empathetic?

With so many of us juggling families, friends and work in a way we have never before what else can we do to make our relationships with our colleagues and our clients more empathetic and caring.

Quite clearly there have been a number of things we have always done that we can ramp up.

We have been doing more ‘homework’, than ever before, let’s keep it up! Take the extra time to look at your colleagues’ and clients’ LinkedIn profiles; where they have worked, who they’ve connected with and what their interests are. Read their posts rather than just skimming through and liking. It’s not stalking – it’s there for a business purpose, so use it.

With little or no face to face contact it is important to know what the preferred method of communication is. We are all a bit over virtual meetings and seeing your colleagues and clients in their slippers and onesies may be getting a bit tiring. It’s stressful times and if there was ever a time to ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’ it is now.

Empathy does not always come easily – it requires insight and attention to more than just someone’s words. With so much of our communication now digital we all have to work harder to listen to and respond to nuance.

Strive to build a rapport during your meetings. With the technology available to us with video conferencing, it is completely possible to keep everyone engaged and set a collaborative tone. Sharing common stories and practicing active listening are great ways to continue building rapport.

When keeping in touch with colleagues and clients, set yourself a plan. Take account of how many contacts you can pick up the phone to, keep note and contact them regularly, even if just to say ‘hi’.

With clients, trust your purpose and intent: set your intention and approach your conversations with a genuine focus on bringing value and understanding to their challenges, rather than jumping straight to problem solving mode. Acknowledge that this is not a normal time.

Ultimately, focus on the human. Know the individual you are speaking with and respond with empathy. At times it will be awkward, but the more you approach your relationships with empathy – both clients and colleagues – the more rewarding your conversations will be.

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