Imagining the lives of others:

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Slide1

Imagining the lives of others: the paradox of empathy in public relations and implications for the curriculum

 

Panel Presentation:

“Exploring parallels and linkages in international public relations and intercultural communication: theory development and implications for education

EUPRERA Congress 2016

Slide2

What is empathy?

“an

affective response that stems from the apprehension or comprehension

of another’s

emotional state or condition and is similar to what the other person

is feeling

or would be expected to

feel” (Eisenberg et al, 1994 in Eisenberg, 2000, p. 671 )

Put

simply: stepping into another person’s

shoes.

Slide3

Empathy as contemporary concern

today, empathy seems to be of greater concern than ever before, as researchers from multiple disparate disciplines have become convinced of its relevance to a wide range of issues, such as the nature and conditions of morality and moral judgments, how we understand one another, what makes certain political candidates appealing, how and why we engage with works of art, what characterizes psychopaths and bullies, how medical workers should interact with their patients, and the recipe for successful psychotherapy

.

(

Coplan

, 2011, p. 41)

Slide4

Paradox of empathy: self/other orientations

Self

-orientated

empathy is a form of perspective-taking

(pseudo-

empathy; fake)

:

This

is subject to ego-centric bias

- we

cannot always predict how a person different

from

us, or even similar to us, might

feel -

and is therefore unreliable

. (

Coplan

, 2011).

Also relates to ‘role-taking’ (Mead, 1934)

True (authentic) empathy

is

‘other’

orientated and operates at the level of feeling

: suppresses our own perspectives in order to focus on the ‘other’ and their feelings in their particular situation. (Calloway-Thomas, 2010;

Coplan

, 2011).

Slide5

Types of empathy

Cognitive

empathy

: high level perspective-

taking or “recognition of another’s difficulties, coupled with some understanding about the nature and causes of these difficulties”.

Physical empathy

: “experiencing the distress of another at a physical level”. [also known as ‘emotional contagion’; ‘catching’ emotion]

(Clark, C. 1997, cited in Turner and Stets, 2005).

Emotional

or affective empathy

: feeling what other people might feel or “actually having an emotional reaction to a person’s plight.” It is also culturally regulated (what people

should feel

and

how this should be displayed

)

.

Marks out

true

empathetic skill (Calloway-Thomas, 2010)

.

Moral empathy

: also known as a ‘social emotion’ (Eisenberg, 2000). Associated with feelings of guilt and shame in relation to another person’s emotional state.

Slide6

The business discourse of empathy

Slide7

Empathy in the public relations literature

Empathy is considered to be a

key principle of dialogue

in

organisation

-public relationships.

Provides “an atmosphere of support and trust” (Kent and Taylor, 2002, p. 27)

Windahl

and

Signitzer

(1992, p. 21) cite empathy and

social perspective taking

(Reardon,

1987

) as valuable competencies of the communication planner, especially as planners have “no direct contact with the people with whom they communicate”.

Related to

role-taking

(Mead, 1934) which is identified as an important part of the public relations process for the practitioner to understand the position of the ‘other’ (Culbertson, 1991; 2009)

Slide8

Empathy as a personal attribute in public relations literature

Among

the top three

personal attributes

in four specific professional communication

roles:

chief communication officer, crisis communication manager, internal communication manager and social media

manager, according to the ECOPSI study (

Tench

and

Moreno, 2015).

A US

survey found that transformational leadership and empathy

[

as a personal attribute

] were

significant predictors of PR

leaders’

’competency

in gaining

employees

’ trust, managing employees’’ frustration and optimism, taking stances toward employees and top management in decision-making

conflicts (Jin, 2010).

Slide9

Empathy in PR consultancy relationships: PR executives

A key

skill in public relations agency work which is

learned on the job

to

manage the feelings and expectations

of clients, journalists and colleagues

Linked to

the process of

educating

the client about the value of PR work to their business

Linked to

the process

‘selling-in’

stories to journalists

Helps practitioners

to

manage upwards

(with agency directors/managers)

to ensure that confidence in their account-handling skills are maintained.

Some

empathising

strategies suggest ‘deep acting

(emotional empathy)

techniques that could be considered harmful to one’s sense of self; however in

my study

empathising

was considered as ‘part of the job’.

Learning

more about the other person’s situation enabled practitioners to

take control

of the professional

relationship

(cognitive empathy)

.

Slide10

Empathy in PR consultancy relationships

Senior level perspectives

Slide11

‘Client alignment’ strategies to understand the client’s situation

“So

we do try to understand what pressures they are under because the pharmaceutical industry’s not doing well at the

moment.”

(participant 5)

“So

we suggest things like

‘go

and hot

desk’; ‘go

and actually sit and work in the client’s office so you can see what’s going

on’,

because that sort of chemistry, that relationship I think is terribly important to do

.” (participant 2)

 

 

Slide12

Developing empathy among junior team members

“all

the accounts will have regular internal

meetings;

it’s a point that you can just say, look guys, you just need to

be on it

a bit

more;

remember, always think in their shoes, wear your client’s shoes, what does it feel like

?” (participant 3)

“I’ll

need to win him round to make him reflect on how, if he’s going to develop a career and become a very senior consultant, maybe a little bit more empathy and therefore what are you going to do about it then

?” (participant 4, r

eferring

to

a junior

entrant who loudly

complained about a ‘stupid’ client

)

Slide13

Understanding client relationships beyond the immediate contact

“We

delivered a campaign for them which got outstanding national coverage and we thought,

wow […] the

next day that client sacked us and the reason why is because what we didn’t

account

for is the chairman of that company totally disagreeing with the whole news angle that we had come up

with. Even

though that had been discussed at length with marketing

director […]

he never checked with his

chairman”. (participant 1)

Slide14

Conclusions

Intercultural communication theory (Calloway-Thomas, 2010) presents empathy as ‘other’ orientated practice based on authentic feelings and imagination.

But, there is a paradox within a business context where empathic skill is framed as a route to career-enhancement and profit, suggesting an instrumental, self-orientation, This particularly applies in a high-pressured PR ‘sales/selling’ environment.

I argue for clear

distinctions to be made between ‘empathy’, ‘role-taking’ and ‘social perspective taking’ in

the PR literature and

for empathy teaching in the curriculum to prepare students for interactions where culturally-sensitive ‘other’ related skills are deemed as essential, while

recognising

the commercially-driven motivations for empathy

.

Slide15

References

Calloway-Thomas, C (2010)

Empathy in the Global World: An Intercultural Perspective

.

Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Clark, C. (1997)

Misery and company: sympathy in everyday life

. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Coplan

, A. (2011) Will the real empathy please stand up? A case for a narrow conceptualization.

The Southern Journal of

Philosophy

, 49

,

pp. 40

–65.

Culbertson

, H.M. (1991

) Role

-taking and sensitivity:

keys

to playing and making public relations roles.

Public Relations Research Annual

,

3,

pp. 37

-65.

Culbertson, H.M. (2009) Role-taking: an important public relations process.

Malaysian

Journal of Media

Studies

,

11 (1), pp.

1-

8.

Eisenberg, N. (2000) Emotion, regulation and moral development.

Annual Review of Psychology

, 51, pp. 665-697.

Hochschild, A. R. (1983)

The managed heart: commercialization of human feeling

. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Slide16

References

Jin

,

Y

(2010) Emotional leadership as a key dimension of public relations leadership: a national survey of public relations leaders.

Journal of Public Relations Research

, 22 (2) 159-181.

Kent

, M. and Taylor, M. (2002) Towards a theory of dialogue in public relations.

Public Relations Review

, 28, pp. 21-37.

Olson

,

G.

(2013) The neoliberal state and the state of empathy. In:

Empathy

Imperiled

: Capitalism, Culture and the Brain

.

SpringerBriefs

in Political Science 10, pp. 43-51.

Mead

, G. H. (1934)

Mind, self and

society

. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tench

, R. & Moreno, A. (2015).

Mapping communication management competencies for European practitioners.

Journal of Communication Management,

19

(1), 39 – 61

Turner

, J. and Stets, J. (2005)

The sociology of emotions

. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Windahl

, S. and

Signitzer

, B. (1992)

Using communication theory

. London: Sage.


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