Unlocking Empathy: AI’s Role in Improving Communication Skills and Preventing Burnout

By Aruna Ravichandran, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing & Customer Officer,  Webex by Cisco

AI is the latest technological advancement, revolutionizing industries and reshaping how we approach various tasks and challenges across sectors. While it’s been game-changing in many ways, its power expands far beyond task automation and productivity management. It holds the potential to nurture one of our most important human qualities: empathy.

Empathy is a fundamental connector that aids in understanding others and ultimately connecting with them emotionally, from one human being to another. But empathy and communication are skills—and like any skill, it takes training to grow and strengthen them.

Technology has always been an aid to support our lives. From using habit-tracking apps, devices that help locate lost keys, or a simple alarm to wake us up in the morning, we’ve always harnessed the power of technology to improve our lives—why not use AI to help improve our empathy and compassion?

Getting into the empathy mindset

Growing up in the diverse tapestry of India, I was immersed in a culture that prized directness in communication. “Calling it as you see it” was a saying and a way of life. There’s a profound value in straightforward communication. It cuts through the noise and gets the job done. But, like any tool, it has its nuances. What’s direct to one person can be perceived as blunt or even harsh by another.

In my professional journey, I quickly realized the importance of understanding what I said and how it was received. Empathy, that powerful ability to put yourself in another’s shoes and truly grasp their perspective, became my guiding light. I learned that effective communication was about ensuring that the message resonated with the recipient.

For me, it wasn’t a sudden transformation. It was a gradual process of self-discovery, where I began to appreciate the impact of my words on my team, but it came at a cost to my productivity. Like empathy, communication is a skill—and learning to communicate well takes time. There have also been many generational considerations to communication, which made the process even more challenging. For example, a Baby Boomer may communicate and perceive tone in text differently than someone from the Millennial or Gen Z generations. Tailoring messages to each recipient proved difficult and time-consuming.

Now, with the help of AI, I can quickly write with the correct tone and messaging. AI has significantly boosted my journey to strengthening empathy and communication because as I use it, I am learning tools and techniques that help me in all facets of communicating, whether verbally or written, personally or professionally.

Here at Webex and Cisco, we aim to power an inclusive future for all. Empathy is a core skill set and value significantly impacting mental health and well-being. I feel so honored to serve the greater good by launching AI in our products to help people improve their empathy skills. Some of the functionality includes:

Be your best self and do your best work

There’s a saying that goes, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” meaning that we can discuss anything if we say it well enough. So often, we have good intentions, but if the delivery is off, the impact can be harmful to the recipient. Because impact matters more than intention, the newly launched Webex AI Assistant will help users communicate with more optimistic tones and provide message suggestions in real time directly from the Webex app.  This capability lets users quickly change blunt or negative responses to ones with more positive and professional tones.

Also part of Webex AI Assistant, Meeting Summaries help users catch up so they can show up as their best selves because business moves faster than we can sometimes keep up with, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed in the maze of meetings and messages.

Our newest development in Messaging Summaries ensures users can summarize the most critical elements of messages from a specific person or group to catch up on discussions, key points, and action items you might have missed. This capability eliminates the manual sorting of messages, freeing time and reducing the emotional and cognitive load. Not only is this a game-changer for productivity, but it also dramatically reduces stress and the risk of burnout, so users show up with more patience, presence of mind, and understanding and empathy for others.

And for those of us who grapple with the constant pings and notifications that disrupt our workflow, here’s an added benefit: you can now be considerate of everyone’s time and still stay on top of your messages. There’s no need to keep checking for updates continuously, as the AI takes care of summarizing the important information for you, ensuring a more focused and respectful work environment.

Never miss context to improve understanding 

As with anything, context matters in communication. Everything from tone, gestures and reactions along with voice tones and inflections and word choice are all part of the nuance of communication.

To ensure our users never miss social or communications cues while joining meetings from different locations, our Real-Time Media Models for audio and video ensure you never miss insights, information, or interaction.

To support getting the full context of audio and video communication, our new AI Audio Codec eliminates choppy audio or video resulting from poor connectivity. This capability eliminates issues that typically derail conversations and interactions, leading to frustration and misunderstandings.

Reduce burnout to increase retention in contact centers

All employees can benefit from reduced stress, but some employee populations, such as contact center agents, are at higher risk of stress and burnout, leading to poor mental health and high turnover.  A recent study found agent turnover is twice that of any other profession, and burnout causes 50% of agent turnover within contact centers, costing businesses $4.8M each year on average. But the cost to humans is even higher, with stress and burnout having very real detriments to emotional and social activity.

Wellness is a core value at Cisco, and building compassionate, progressive cultures around mental health and well-being is a mission we share with Thrive Global, the behavior change technology company led by Arianna Huffington and our recently announced partner in reducing agent burnout and improving customer experiences with contact centers.

Webex Contact Center and Thrive will use insights derived from real-time AI technology built by Webex to proactively detect stress indicators in agents and provide actions can take to disconnect and recharge after a cycle of stress. Upon detecting stress, agents will be served a quick Thrive Reset video to reduce stress before taking another call. This results in customer care delivered by an agent in a positive mindset.

Final thoughts

The human side of AI is a story of hope, progress, and positive change. It’s about using technology to enhance human capabilities, reduce burnout, and increase well-being. Using AI, we can quickly grow our communication and empathy muscles to build connections and strengthen culture.

In this journey, we must keep people at the forefront, ensuring that AI is a force for good to create a more balanced future. As leaders, it is our responsibility to harness the potential of AI to uplift our people, nurture their well-being, and drive progress in our organizations and society. Together, we can unlock the full potential of the human side of AI and build a better world for everyone.

About the Author

Aruna Ravichandran is the Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing & Customer Officer at Webex by Cisco with two decades of experience leading global teams through workforce and technology transformations.

Tags: AI