Develop Stronger Client Relationships through Empathetic Action

Image of two people overlapping to show empathy

Saying, “I empathize with your situation” usually means that I relate to your situation. I appreciate what you’re going through. I feel for you. But there’s a big difference between spouting empathetic words and displaying evidence of empathy.

This was the realization had by members of a facilities department whose primary responsibility was to arrange the relocation of their clients from one company location to another. This role might entail anything from moving a small team to another floor in a corporate high-rise to moving an entire building’s worth of people to a neighboring state or even across the country.

If you’ve ever been through such a move, you know how stressful it can be. Productivity goes out the window and the details of the relocation consume your attention. After all, even seemingly simple moves entail a lot of packing and unpacking, taking down and putting up, and adjustments of all sorts. So it’s not surprising that many people in this particular company resented both having to move and the stress associated with going through it. 

During an off-site meeting, the facilities team members acknowledged that although they understood their clients’ stress, they’d been doing little to display evidence of that understanding. And that’s where empathy—acting on it, not just saying the words—came in. Out of a brainstorming session they made the decision to connect more frequently with these clients.

In particular, team members decided to contact people further in advance of a scheduled move to review important details, and then to check in with them periodically as the date of the move approached. They also agreed to send out reminders about pertinent details that clients often forgot in preparing for the move. And they resolved to give their clients an opportunity to vent about the move and to truly listen. Indeed, empathetic listening was one of the most important things they could do.

In addition, they decided to stop feeling defensive in response to their clients’ inevitable complaints about an upcoming move. Instead, they agreed to strive to acknowledge the anxieties people expressed and to focus on ensuring that all critical details received attention. Once they implemented these measures, they were intrigued to discover that not only did their clients’ stress levels diminish, but theirs did as well.

Expressing empathy is about more than just spouting, “I feel your pain.” It’s about communicating early, often, and with sincere concern. If your clients face stressful situations, you may find that empathy is a powerful communication tool to help them—and yourselves—through it.

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