If you’ve read previous Communications blog posts you know that we are avid fans of getting to the point in written communication. While this still stands true, with the widespread devastating effects of COVID-19, business writing has needed to adapt. When writing emails to customers, suppliers or other stakeholders it’s not just business as usual, you need to convey empathy through your communication now more than ever. So how do you find the balance between being empathetic and not sounding ““?
Well let’s begin at the beginning, your introductory sentence(s). I’ve always made it a point to start any interaction by showing interest in the other person’s wellbeing with an “I hope I find you well”. Some articles say it’s rather cliché and you should be more creative with it, but sometimes there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Given the gravity of the pandemic, however, I’ve found it necessary to take it slightly further than just showing interest with somewhat closed ended statements, rather I make the statements more open ended and engaging (often by phrasing them as actual questions) giving the respondent the option to go into detail about how they are doing and how their business is faring during these difficult times.
Taking the above approach has two advantages. Firstly, it shows whoever you are communicating with that you genuinely care (which I hope is the case), and secondly, it also gives you some context about their business’ current position which can guide how you approach certain subjects so you don’t come across as insensitive. For example if you are trying to pitch a new service to an existing client and they inform you that they are in the process of laying off employees then you may decide not to push the sell too hard unless it addresses an issue they have brought up. Additionally, knowing their situation may help you that another service you offer but hadn’t considered could be of use to them.
after the introductory niceties you can move onto the body of your message. Here be sure to be concise, people still have other things to do so try not to take up too much of their time. Whatever you are communicating be sure to maintain an empathetic tone and to show that you understand that this may be a difficult time for the other person and their business. Frame what you are talking about in the context of the current environment if it’s relevant.
Now we get to the conclusion. This is highly contextual of course so it will vary depending on who the message is to, and whether it’s a one on one email or a general mass message giving your customers updates, for example. The key sentiment to get across here is one of reassurance. The pandemic has left a lot of people feeling anxious because of the uncertainty that has come with it, so people need to know where things stand and know that everything will be alright. Even if it won’t be alright, put people at ease, and that does not mean over promising and being unrealistic, it means being honest but also reminding people that you are doing your best to adapt to this new reality and that they remain a priority.
During this pandemic people really just want to feel like they are not alone and want to know that they are not going be hung out to dry by the companies they engage with and have come to trust. Clear and conscious communication can make all the difference. The environment is changing and everyone understands that but people can only understand your position and appreciate the efforts you are making if you communicate and do so in a way that makes them feel safe with you and that reminds them that you are human and you care.