Empathy: A Post-COVID Lesson
As the one-year anniversary of COVID comes and goes, it’s easy (and important) to reflect on what’s been lost – jobs, relationships, mental health, and far too many lives. But if there’s one thing we can all learn from and carry with us as the post-COVID world begins to take form, it’s the power of empathy.
We often think of our ability to empathize as one of the hallmarks of what makes us uniquely human, but the concept itself has only existed for the last hundred years. You would never know this from how often we stress this characteristic as marketers.
If you sample a random group of strategists about what they believe is the most important skill for someone in their discipline to possess, there’s a good chance that empathy will be one of, if not the top cited answer.
We strive for empathy because it helps us connect with brands’ target audiences, because it leads to more interesting insights, and because it’s how we create work that resonates with people who do not look, sound, think, or behave like us.
But this past year has reminded me of the true reason empathy is important, not just as a strategist, but as a human being.
We saw a year of unprecedented pain, loss, and upheaval of our lives, in both monumental and seemingly minute ways. And although we’re now seeing glimmers of hope in the form of vaccine distributions and reductions in case numbers, we’re far from out of the woods.
It’s hard to even utter the word ‘silver lining’ in the face of this devastating pandemic, but I think there was one; it was the small ways we saw empathy creep back into our daily interactions – with clients, customers, and colleagues, friends and strangers alike.
We didn’t judge when someone showed up to a virtual meeting with messy hair, no make-up, and admitted they were still in their sweatpants. We didn’t comment on how tired or stressed they looked. We didn’t shame people for having to adjust their schedules to make sure their kids were set up for virtual school.
So many of us have sat in Zoom meetings where one of the participants (or us!) is interrupted by a barking dog, the incessant drone of nearby construction, or in the case of our Creative Director, a child hitting him in the face with a Nerf gun.
These moments that once upon a time would have horrified us, served as a pivotal reminder when we needed it more than ever, that we’re all human and doing the best we can. We have lives that are messy, chaotic, and imperfect, and COVID gave us permission to give each other the grace that we all deserve.
I witnessed so many people act with compassion, humility, and humor, in the face of these unwanted distractions. And I couldn’t help but wish that this response was our default.
It shouldn’t take a year-long pandemic for us to remember that empathy is quite literally one of the things that makes us human, and that our individual and collective well-being depends on it.
Beyond helping us connect with others, empathy can lower stress, help manage burnout, boost collaboration, and improve productivity. It breaks down walls, shifts work dynamics, and makes us more purposeful with our relationships. And if we’re being honest, it just feels good to know that we’re helping others feel seen. And we could all use some good in our lives right now.
So here’s hoping this upcoming year (and beyond) brings each of us more stability, more kindness, and more empathy.