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Natasha Eric, Account Associate 

Recently, there’s been a demand for a certain kind of commodity from our Leadership, a buzzword of sorts that continues to elude even the most powerful - empathy. 

It seems like an easy thing to understand but an even harder concept to apply. In fact, it’s the reason most communicators continue to hold on to their day jobs (thanks empathy!). Scott Morrison has even jumped on the bandwagon to say that if re-elected he would show more empathy and become a better listener. Because empathy 101: a listening ear is your most powerful tool (I mean, how else are you going to tell people what they want to hear if you don’t know what they want to hear?). 

If we were to be critical about it, the illusion of empathy can be a real shot to the arm for authenticity. Paul Kelly illustrates this brilliantly in his commentary for the Australian. Essentially, what he’s saying is that you could be the smartest person in the room with the most effective policies backing you, but it wouldn’t mean a thing to your voters if it hasn’t been packaged in a way they can connect with. And if you want them to connect with your ideas, you need them to connect with you. That, my friends, is where empathy is key.  

We all know the old adage, you don’t vote governments in, you vote them out. So, this isn’t about how empathetic Scott Morrison actually is, but rather how empathetic he appears to be when stood next to Anthony Albanese. Creates quite the picture, doesn’t it? 

It therefore begs the question, can your vote be bought by the price of illusory empathy. “What can I say to make you feel like I understand you? What can I say to make you feel seen?”. Granted that whether or not you have truly been seen or understood will remain a mystery until a leader’s actions reveal itself during their time in office. 

This is where Anthony Albanese has his advantage – we can’t exactly question the authenticity of his empathy until we see him in action. He understands that the devil isn’t in the details, as long as the voters feel seen. He knows suggesting a 5.1% minimum wage increase will resonate with retail workers, not because it is logically sound, but because it feels like an immediate supportive response to the panic they feel with the rising cost of living . 

However, expecting empathy free from reason can be perilous. It’s a case of whether or not you would want your leaders to forfeit themselves for the sake of appearing empathetic and eventually inauthentic. 

This is not to say that empathy is bad or good, but understanding its role in the world can feel like holding on to the ring of power. As a leader or an organisation you can do one of two things: you can either weaponise empathy in order to win at all costs, or, you can use it to find out how to best serve your community, understand what is it that they’re experiencing that you’re not seeing and ultimately use that empathy as a motivator to fix the problem while communicating it to them in a language they understand (as opposed to telling them what they want to hear). 

As professional communicators and advisors the SAS Group understands the intricacies and the delicate role empathy plays in public affairs, and how to use it to pave the way for a better Australia. So, whether you are a bulldozer or a builder, if you need a hand connecting with your stakeholders call the team at the SAS Group. 

 Paul Kelly's article in the Australian (note you may run into a paywall):

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