Main Hoon Na!

No, I am not talking about the blockbuster SRK starrer movie! While this phrase became very popular and achieved a cult status post the movie release, it has been a part of our daily lives forever. This phrase truly emotes – assurance, goodwill and that consistent support that one needs when in crisis. In short, this one phrase expresses empathy or communicates empathetically.

So, what is the difference between empathy and sympathy? There is a thin line between the two and that is emotion. Dr. Brené Brown, social psychologist and bestselling author explains the difference beautifully – Empathy means experiencing someone else’s feelings. It comes from the German Einfühlung, or ‘feeling into.’ It requires an emotional component of really feeling what the other person is feeling.  Sympathy, on the other hand, means understanding someone else’s suffering. It’s more cognitive in nature and keeps a certain distance.

Sympathy is often being objective of the other person’s situation, which is not wrong but can be a detached approach. Let me simplify this for you with an example: a colleague shares –

I am feeling very despondent and fearful and am just unable to work. What do I do?”

Two responses come back at her:

First response

I get it. The situation is bad, but you are not alone. I am also going through this stage and there for you just a call away. Talk to me anytime.

Second response

Well, at least you have a job! Many people have been laid off so try and focus on work it will help alleviate the gloomy feeling.

None of the above answers are wrong, but the first response is empathetic which drives a connection between two individuals and the second is sympathetic which distances the connection. In my experience, being empathetic also makes one vulnerable which is often a struggle and require courage to make yourself feel the other person’s suffering. Thus, this form of communication is difficult.

In times of crisis, such as the one we are navigating empathetic communication is critical. Organisations and leaders that have a high EQ practice this form of communication creating an open environment aimed at making a difference in the lives of a vast majority of people. Empathy helps strengthening trust, encourages ownership, results in long lasting and fulfilling relationship and is productive in nature.

The key elements of empathetic communication are:

  • Actively listening to your employees
  • Acknowledging their issues and fears
  • Share facts and information real-time
  • Provide flexibility
  • Support – not only emotional health but also in practical forms when needed by pooling resources
  • Empower employees – so that they can share what they are going through and enable them with tools to tackle the problem without a feeling of obligation
  • Keep Calm – showcase a calm front. Your employee is already panicking and if you panic it will only worsen the situation
  • Practice what you preach

Empathy and compassion are unseen forces that have the power to bring about a change in a positive manner. Being connected albeit virtually, really helps in listening to people’s problems, drive collaboration and connect at multiple levels. As Dr. Brown says, “Empathy is simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of you’re not alone.”

And in this ongoing crisis truly none of us are alone as we all say to one another Main Hoon Na!

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Radha Radhakrishnan
Radha Radhakrishnan has over 25 years of experience in corporate communications and marketing across different industries and geographies. She has built a reputation as a storyteller and a creative thinker. She has mentored social entrepreneurial startups and has been a visiting faculty at premier communications institutes in India. She is currently the global head of corporate communications at Wipro Enterprises. She anchors the weekly PR and Communication podcast, Mrigashira.

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