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Communicating with Compassion

Nelson Mandela Nelson Mandela

The recent death of former South African President Nelson Mandela, along with all the media attention surrounding the Pope (not to mention the start of a new year!), has caused me to do a lot of self-reflection about how I live my own life and how I want to be remembered. Regardless of your political or religious affiliation, what strikes me about both of these great men is their tremendous compassion for people.

Pope Francis Pope Francis

Yet, as a professional communicator, I see a dangerous pattern in the workplace that has been exacerbated by the economic downturn —and that’s a lack of communicating with compassion. In fact, my colleague recently wrote a terrific blog about The Power of Personal Touch and how Pope Francis is shaking things up at the Vatican and beyond by adopting a more personal style of leadership with great success.

In the corporate world, dialogue often lacks the personal touch. Instead, it is impersonal, full of jargon, and sometimes even downright cold and uncaring. The human element is removed, sometimes at the urging of attorneys, other times because corporations are afraid of showing their human side — or they don’t know how to show compassion.

Nonprofits often have a leg up on their for-profit counterparts. Just read any well-written donor appeal letter. Unfortunately, for many organizations, effective communications stops there.

Consider some common scenarios:

Nonprofit A has lost a large government grant and has to lay off a portion of its workforce, but workers first hear about the layoff from news reports.

Company B’s profits are down significantly, which results in loyal, dedicated staff being let go. The guidelines of their severance agreement are delivered in a cold, impersonal manner with no acknowledgement about the years of valuable service and contributions those employees have given to the company.

Rumors abound that Organization C may be headed for bankruptcy, yet management is completely silent about the situation.

In difficult situations, there absolutely is —and should be — a role for attorneys; they are critical to a business’s success.

However, somewhere along the line, too many organizations have lost sight of the importance of also communicating with compassion, especially when it comes to dealing with its most valuable asset — its employees. All communication has one element in common: it involves a connection to human beings and we owe it to one another to communicate openly, honestly and with compassion. It’s not always easy to do, and it’s often uncomfortable.

Yet, with the New Year upon us, I would challenge all businesses — for profit or not-for-profit — to dedicate themselves to communicating with compassion with all their stakeholders. Ultimately, it’s what will truly make a difference in the long run in an organization’s bottom line.

Karen Addis Karen Addis

The preceding is a guest post by Karen Addis, APR, senior vice president at Van Eperen & Company, a full-service public relations and marketing communications in the Washington, DC, area. You can contact her at You can also follow her on Twitter at @karenaddis or connect with her on LinkedIn at

Topics: Communications