Monday, July 23, 2007

Client Advocacy at Its Best

Because I have always seen myself as an advocate, I have trained myself to rapidly identify with a client’s cause and do everything possible to achieve the end result desired by the client. Without understanding and meeting the client’s goals, the chances for a successful outcome are slim.

But what is at the heart of successful advocacy? Obviously, you need to know the issues and develop strategies that will work, and you need to be aggressive. Nevertheless, at its very foundation, I believe it requires two skills:
1) a very deep understanding of the client’s situation, and
2) being able to fully imagine how he or she feels — personally and professionally — to the point of being able to feel it yourself.

In a nutshell, I’d call it “empathy.” To me it’s at the heart of our closest personal ties. It’s equally as essential in a professional environment.

A study, reported in the July 2007 issue of Harvard Women’s Health Watch, indicates that humans are wired to connect. Conducted by researchers at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, the research suggests that the success of psychotherapy is strongly linked to the patient’s perception of the clinician’s empathy. When positive emotions are at the highest levels, patients and therapists are most in sync, in terms of facial expressions, body language and verbal exchanges. The more in sync they are, the greater the empathy. The greater the empathy, the better the outcome.

While this particular study specifically addresses the patient-psychotherapist relationship, I feel the findings have much broader relevance — for business, in general, and particularly for counselors in public relations.

If the client feels that the counselor truly empathizes and they are emotionally in sync, the counselor can be a better advocate, enhancing chances for success. The attributes of empathy — including listening intently, sharing information and showing an emotional closeness — can create a feeling of connectedness among people with all kinds of divergent interests, from parents and children to labor and management or a company and its employees.

Empathy is often considered an inborn talent but, in reality, it is a skill that can be learned, according to lead researcher Dr. Carl Marci. It’s a skill that’s worth acquiring, since we now know that it can change everyone’s fortunes for the better if it’s in play.

Technorati Tags: client advocacy, empathy, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Massachusetts General Hospital, emotions, Dr. Carl Marci, business, communications, public relations

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