Harnessing Empathy In My New Role

Today’s post was written by the Vice President of Policy & Communications, Elizabeth Krause.

In June, after the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy’s annual meeting exploring “widespread empathy” I offered three ideas for bringing empathy into system focused work.

A week into my tenure as VP of Policy and Communications (after spending seven years in the program department) I find myself ruminating on empathy again.  This time, what role can empathy play in integrating the foundation’s program, policy, and communications work?

This an internal question that I share externally because nonprofit and health care organizations of all stripes struggle with silos.  In other words, I suspect blog readers can empathize.

CT Health’s new strategic plan (to be unveiled in the new year, stay tuned) and staffing will together serve as the charter for integration.  In addition, I posit that collegial relationships built on empathy will help actualize a more integrated way of working.

Three Interconnected Ways I Pledge to Bring Empathy into the Integration of Program, Policy, and Communications:

  1. Cross train.  My expectation is that communications staff will grow even more knowledgeable about CT Health’s program and policy strategies because it will enhance their ability to communicate and act as change agents.  We will learn together.   For example, our state and federal budget consultant extraordinaire, Alison Johnson, will be training us in policy and budget analysis in the coming year.  And we just might invite program staff.
  2. Enable doing each other’s jobs.  What better way to develop real empathy than to dabble in each other’s’ roles and responsibilities, especially when it makes good sense for the success of a project?  For example, communications officers are beginning to serve as program officers for grants that have a communications focus.  VP of Program, Lina Paredes, is currently hiring a new program officer who we hope will have policy experience.  We are all committed to avoiding stepping on each other’s toes and when it happens, we will problem solve in the name of empathetic integration.
  3. Bridge the divide.  Attending the Communications Network’s annual meeting last month was a revelation for me. I blogged about how eye-opening it was for me to witness the frustration of communications professionals who struggle to work effectively with their program colleagues. It was somewhat of a relief to know hey it’s not just us. But I also saw opportunity. As someone who now speaks both languages, I can serve as an empathetic interpreter between both.

Integration is a non-linear process.  We will report back, but more importantly, we want our grantees and partners to begin experiencing the positive effects of integration.

10 Responses to Harnessing Empathy In My New Role

  1. Jon Buscall says:

    I love the point about cross training. It is imperative because just as managers or CEOs need to know about marketing, the marcom team need to know and understand every aspect of the organization they’re working for.

    I think using the phrase “Learning together” is extremely positive because it presupposes no hierarchy. Everyone is there to learn. An organization that is proactive about improving communications inside the company will see rewards externally. I am sure of that.

    • Laura Click says:

      You took the words right out of my mouth, Jon.

      I think it’s absolutely critical for people to understand all of the different facets of an organization and “cross training” is the perfect way to characterize it. Everyone’s job is valuable and better understanding how each role fits into the larger organization will help create rapport and a build a stronger team!

  2. I second Jon. I love the cross-training and the idea of enabling people to do each other’s jobs. I’ve seen this in some tech shops (I work in the tech industry) and it’s had very positive effects. For example, it’s usually a real eye-opener when software developers do customer support. I think those first two items alone could have big and long-lasting positive effects. I’ll be very interested to see the results of your initiative!

  3. Elizabeth Krause says:

    Jon, Laura, and Neicole,

    Thanks so much for validating the cross training approach from other fields.

    To Jon’s point about lack of hierarchy in learning together, in our case policy is the equalizer for program and communications staff as policy becomes more integral than ever to our work.

    I love Neicole’s example of software developers doing customer support. It not only generates collegial empathy, but empathy for those you serve.

  4. As I was reading, Elizabeth, what struck me the most was the absence of a human, personal, people touch.

    Can you have empathy without emotion?

    Perhaps you might consider an outing oriented to getting those departments more acquainted on a personal level. That may contribute to enhanced cross-department engagement.

    Just thinking out loud.

  5. Elizabeth Krause says:

    Great question, Jayme.

    At the philosophical level, the speaker who first got us thinking empathy, Udaya Patniak from Jump Associates, noted that empathy doesn’t mean compassion; rather, it means the ability to step outside of ourselves to see the world as others do. That said, is it possible to have empathy without emotion? Probably not.

    At a practical level, great suggestion about cross team building that is more high touch than high tech. What’s worked well for you?

    • Hmm…what has always worked well for me in team building is to build the ‘raderie. I do that on my blog within my community of disparate and non-friend commenters, as well.

      How is that done? With warmth, a welcoming and genuinely caring spirit which delivers a sense of safeness.

      I think back on my Chicago days when I had my annual Chili Bash at the holiday — 18 of them! Those who came as my guests were of so many different walks of life, ages, genders, races, business/non-business, tennis players and non-sports…you get my drift.

      Why these relationships work for me comes from the heart; I love everyone until you give me a reason not to. I wear my heart on my sleeve, unfortunately, and I trust you until I shouldn’t.

      What about launching a closed LinkedIn group for your people only to develop some online rapport? Or, how about a TweetChat (with a hash tag) and you schedule a time for all your peeps to join in on a topic? That way, it’s safe and some humor and personality can come out. Later, when you read the print “recording” you’ll begin to see some patterns and perhaps you can invite the stronger personalities to lead a book club or neighborhood walk or some social event with no strings attached.

      Oy, I’m rambling…but you asked and I’m trying to provide some solid thinking here! Not sure it’s working! Heh!

      • Forgive me! I’m back with my today blog post


        A Harvard B-School professor is using “happiness” in his teachings. He’s also written a book about finding that Holy Grail. Perhaps that’s from whence these thoughts are coming, Elizabeth!

        This professor, had stroke, cancer, heart attack and got back up to live and teach again. He wants personal relationships to embolden our business lives. Very interesting.

        • Elizabeth Krause says:


          I really enjoyed your blog and the message of Clayton Christensen. Our VP of Finance and Operations, Carol Pollack, just contributed a blog post that includes mention of HBR articles about kindness in the workplace.

          What a nice set of ideas with which to end the work week.

  6. Edwin Rutsch says:

    May I suggest a further resource to learn more about empathy and compassion.
    The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
    The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.

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