July 9, 2015

When is empathy a smart strategy?

“Listen to his conversation carefully,” the text advised and “share his joys and sadness.” I recently saw this practical lesson in empathy in the Sunday newspaper.

I also ran across an online account of Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to Latin America and his solidarity with the poor. “He'll visit several slums, an old-age home and one of the continent's largest prisons,” the author wrote. Empathy in action.

Why did I find the first anecdote chilling and the second uplifting?

The advice in the first is from “A Course in the Art of Recruiting,” a manual written by al-Qaida in Iraq. The newspaper quote from it helps explain the attempt to radicalize a young woman from Washington state. She was victimized by those following a strategic and prescriptive approach using email, Skype and text messages to gain her trust. In the end, she saw through their deception, thwarting the effort.

Together, these stories offer a good reminder of the value of healthy skepticism, of considering intent and of looking for consistency in word and action.

As my friend Carolynne taught me, actions communicate more convincingly than words alone.  

My takeaways:

  1. Include actions, as well as communication messages and materials, for a more effective communication plan.
  2. Demonstrate you are worthy of trust.