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How COVID-19 Made Empathy a Key Communication Skill


March 26, 2020  |  Hassina Obaidy


We’re in a time where we need to consciously be aware of our comments, how we communicate to our peers, and what we can do to help those in need. COVID-19 has organizations across the globe adapting to the new norm, ensuring employees are productive in their new workspace and use empathy when communicating with others.

On the other hand, everyone’s situation and environment are different, and not everyone adapts the same way. Social intelligence and pre-existing mindsets play a significant role in how we treat each other in the remote workplace. Now more than ever, it’s essential to understand each other and how our perspectives and comments may not align with others, which will ultimately define how we treat one another in the present and future. 

Understanding each other through empathy

Social intelligence means building empathy for others. Without empathy, people won’t understand each other on a deeper level. Emtrain’s Workplace Culture Report 2020 defines social intelligence as “the ability to recognize, and skill to negotiate, the social dynamics of the workplace. While stereotypes exist about how social skills vary by role, gender, ethnicity, or generation, the fact is that these skills vary widely in every group. Social intelligence is shaped by experience, and multiple studies have shown that social skills are learnable.”

Everyday language and conversations might not be appropriate during these vulnerable times, and being aware of the context of your communication style can be taken into account. For example, if employee A says to employee B, “I’m dying to see Season 3 when it comes out on Netflix,” the word “dying” might not be appropriate during specific events or personal situations that employee B might be dealing with. Ultimately, this may trigger discomfort. Everyone has to take a step back and take a moment to think about what we’re saying could be insensitive or not, and how others might perceive it. 

The transition to working from home might be smooth for some, but challenging and stressful for others. Some employees may already have an extra room, or desk space set up, or they don’t have children at home, which could potentially add another challenge on top of the mix. Meanwhile, other employees have different circumstances. A baby boomer might not be as tech-savvy as the typical Millennial; some employees may have to use their dining table or living room as their workspace as opposed to their bedroom; some have small children and will need to tend to them between calls and meetings. Recognize that not everyone is comfortable being on a Webcam all the time in every meeting. Also, consider some of the financial status’. Most Americans today are living paycheck to paycheck, so it might be insensitive to say, “I’ve bought so much food, it will last me weeks” when another employee might not be able to afford weeks and weeks worth of food at once financially. 

By understanding your employees’ current circumstances and using empathy as the foundation to learn about your employees, you’re also building mutual trust and working toward creating a remote environment that makes everyone feel comfortable. 

How we treat each other matters most

Demonstrating respect in the workplace, whether it be virtual or physical, is an obvious need in every organization. Unfortunately, some workplaces are already struggling with respect in the workplace. Read Emtrain’s Workplace Culture Report 2020 for more information and data points.

Employees come into an organization with a variety of pre-existing mindsets. Emtrain’s Workplace Culture Report 2020 explains pre-existing mindsets as “a unique set of values, behaviors, and learned mindsets shaped by life experiences.” 

Each one of us has a diverse background and unique life experiences that bring something different to the table. Our values are part of who we are. However, mindsets can change. Our brains can evolve and change and that’s what makes humans so special. People come into the workplace with their own strong opinions. That doesn’t necessarily mean organizations need to change employees’ opinions and who they are. Using your company’s mission and values can shift those mindsets by showing different perspectives of a situation. 

For example, one person’s perspective or definition of harassment, for example, is different from another. The same goes for today’s unfortunate pandemic. 

Using today’s scenario as an example, recognizing that some people have chronic fears, such as the fear of going outside to pick up essential items from a grocery store, equipment from their office, or nervousness about running an errand for work (the bank run) because of the potential exposure of the virus. Some might think it’s an overreaction because they might not have experienced loss, critical health concerns, or care for someone else. Meanwhile, others might be living with chronic anxiety, pre-existing health conditions, or responsibility for the elderly, which heightens their fears. 

Now is the time to genuinely care about your employees, understand their circumstances, and maybe even be open about yours. It’s a time to build trust and show your organization’s loyalty to your workforce. We’re all in this together. 

If you have any questions, how we can help you and your organization during these challenging times, please reach out to us: experts@emtrain.com and join our Linkedin community page #AlwaysLearning


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