By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven®

Compassion And Empathy: How Covid-19 Changed Communication Forever

Over the last two years, our entire system of communications changed. (Yes, it’s been two years since the onset of the pandemic.)

In-person, face-to-face interaction seems to have largely become a relic of the past—personally and in business. Zoom calls, emails and phone calls have taken over. Even when we do see others in person, face masks present a literal barrier between people, making it difficult to read facial expressions and gauge how others are feeling.

As human beings, we were not born to be in isolation. It’s not natural. It certainly isn’t for me.

In addition to the pandemic’s devastating health effects, there have been countless residual impacts on businesspeople, the elderly, health care workers, teachers, students, children and the list goes on. My own mother is 88 years old and in assisted living, and she has spent a lot of time—too much time—isolated from others. It’s extremely challenging for people like her, who need social contact to keep their brains functioning at an optimal level.

Fortunately, mental health is now a prevalent topic of discussion. It’s no longer taboo or “off-limits” to discuss mental health struggles, even if you’re famous. Olympians like skier Mikaela Shiffrin and gymnast Simone Biles—world-class athletes—have come out publicly as vulnerable people. And that’s okay. It’s no surprise that such people suffer from the pressures of greatness, and they are brave enough to admit it.

Of course, celebrities aren’t alone. Millions of everyday folks deal with mental health challenges too. Life is just plain hard oftentimes.

As business leaders, we need to recognize that: Life is hard. I think the pandemic has taught us that we need to be more compassionate and empathetic than ever before, even in company meetings. In meetings, we must remember to give others the time of day to talk about how they’re feeling. Everyone deserves to be heard, especially when you’re relying on people to produce and add value. Employees need to feel empowered, and people are only empowered when they feel like they are heard.

At my agency, we make sure to have weekly check-ins via Zoom where we discuss something positive that has happened in the last week. And it’s not just professional: We encourage people to share good news in their personal lives too. The lines between personal and professional have been blurred in recent years, so employers must take time to care about people’s actual lives—even outside of work. Employees appreciate it.

Communication hasn’t only changed in terms of mediums, such as Zoom or FaceTime. It is also different because communicators need to do more to preempt and prevent potential concerns. For example, people seem to be more judgmental now, since they spend less “real” time with people. I’m reading the book The Four Agreements, which teaches us to not take things personally, even when people are judgmental. If people are critical of you, it’s often a reflection of their own feelings about themselves, not you. The less personal contact we have with people, the more judgmental of others we may become. It’s a natural human tendency.

The lesson is to be more considerate. Communicate with an open mind. At work, we should challenge ourselves to pick up on social cues and comfort others when they seem down. Extend a helping hand.

That starts by listening. Whether you’re an employer or not, try to stop talking. Listen. Try to read into others by taking the time to slow down for a minute and have a chat. Face-to-face conversations are obviously best, but you can be creative too. I’m personally an advocate of traditional letter writing because it inherently conveys compassion and empathy. I write letters to family and friends all of the time now, and they love it.

You can break down your communication goals into action items.

  • Slow down and listen to others.
  • Assume that life is hard and people are struggling.
  • Make an extra effort to check in.
  • Show compassion and empathy.
  • Take care of yourself too, so you can communicate at your best and be your best.

That last one is important. From eating well to sleeping enough, you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first. Treat your body like a temple to get your mind right. And then spread your goodwill to others.

This article originally appeared on the Forbes Agency Council CommunityVoice in March 2022.