Brené Brown once gave a talk that explained the difference between empathy and sympathy:
“Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection … Empathy is I’m feeling with you. Sympathy, I’m feeling for you.”
I see that empathy/sympathy divide in how organizations are choosing to communicate right now. A time of crisis is when it’s most important to show empathy and fuel connection. Yet it’s easier to show sympathy. Sympathy feels safer, because it’s doesn’t require being vulnerable.
Yet we all can tell the difference. I think that’s why some organizations feel more out-of-touch than others.
In a time that is particularly difficult for small businesses, this is one area where small businesses naturally have an advantage.
“There were tears. There was lots of looking at the floor. There was lots of silence. In these moments, you begin to see how much you mean to each other.
“Sure, you moan and groan about this and that, but this is our community. And you may not always say it, but you really like each other. Yup, hard work is hard work, but it is also where the banter and laughter is. And heck, we are going to miss each other.
“I promised everyone that I would make sure they had a business to come back to. That quote came to mind ‘I haven’t come this far to only come this far’…
“And lastly, thank you for all your support. I know we made the jeans, but you built the company.”
Hiut Denim shared this week, two months later, that, after re-opening the factory to make PPE, they reached a milestone of donating over 1,000 scrubs to the NHS.
This is a good time for all organizations to think about how they can lead with empathy.
On a related note, I gave a 45-minute talk for Marketing Week this week on the importance of humor right now. I think humor can be an act of empathy.