We’re more inclined to show empathy when we’re talking about sensitive issues face to face with someone. Most of us make a concerted effort to make sure we’re not offending the person we’re talking to, not only because we’re nice people, but because we’re scared what they’ll say to use in response.
The use of tone and initiation is also vital when discussing sensitive subjects, and tone is something that’s pretty difficult to translate into the written word.
Unfortunately, sensitive subjects are never far away for writers.
From error-messages to legal agreements, empathy is not optional, it has to be understood loud and clear.
Imagine your company was hacked and all your customer data was compromised - it’s your duty to tell them as quickly as possible, but at the same time, you can guarantee that not one of them is going to happy that they’ve received the message.
That’s why it’s all about damage limitation, and the best way you can do that is to be concise, serious and above all else, nice. Being understanding is important too, but be sure that you choose your words carefully, seeing a company that’s just lost your money say ‘we understand you must be worried about this but sadly at this time we can’t do anything about your predicament’ is like raising a red flag to a bull - it sounds patronising and annoying.
If you’re employed at a bank for example and you’ve been tasked with contacting a customer to tell them that their account’s going to be closed, clearly this is something which is only going to evoke either embarrassment or anger.
Below I take a look at some of the different ways you could go about sending this message.
Here are a few examples for the opening line;
(1) We’ve had to close your account because your balance has been overdue for three months
(2) For some time now your bank account has been overdue and after much consideration we’ve decided that we will have to close your account
The first example here is better because it’s concise and tells the customer what they want to know. The second line also implies that they’ve had to think about the decision, meaning that the account’s closure is not necessarily in line with company law.
Here are two examples for the second part of the message;
(1) It’s unacceptable for your account to be overdue for this long and against company protocol to keep such accounts live
(2) We know that you rely on the service but we just can’t let an account go overdue for three months
The first example here shows absolutely no empathy and is also patronising - words like ‘unacceptable’ are never going to go down well. The second statement works because it sounds like the company understands, but again is emphasising that they just can’t keep an overdue account for three months
Here’s a couple examples for the closing line;
(1) We’ve concluded that it is unlikely that your account will get back on track, so we will be closing it with immediate effect
(2) If you’re able to get your account back on track, we’d like to continue working with - we always appreciate your service
The first statement again comes across as short and gives the customer no avenue to rectify the situation, whilst the second one is open and gives the customer an opportunity to respond in a positive manner.
The examples above show how companies should approach a sensitive issue in speech - humour is perhaps something to avoid, but being concise, open and nice should never be underestimated when breaking sensitive news to a customer.