Apathy is simply being indifferent to someone or towards a cause. This happens when the person displaying apathy can’t see how anything of what is being communicated to him/her makes sense or how it is going to benefit him/her in any way.
After all, there are several other pressing concerns which require his/her immediate attention.
Are you being apathetic yourself?
Interestingly, this is one of the root causes of failures in communication. It is easy to blame others for not showing interest in what is being said, but the speaker too could be guilty of the same, an apathy towards the listener. Unless you find a way to ‘connect’ to your listener, you are in error for thinking that you and your cause/what you are talking about is all that matters.
You can hardly expect others to be empathetic towards you if you cannot do the same to yourself. Respect is always 'give and take', and ‘give’ comes before ‘take’. You need to respect your listener’s time.
Find out why it would be important to him/her
Unless you do this, there would be no reason for him/her to think of it as anything but a waste of his/her time. And that is the one thing that people tend to be short on these days. This requires you to come out of your comfort zone and put yourself in his/her shoes. Find out how his/her life would be changed for the better, no matter how small. The more it is capable of changing his/her life in a positive way, the more attentive your listener would be.
Are you communicating in a distant, detached way?
When you do this, such as by opting for email when you can have a face-to-face conversation, the contents of the email are not going to strike a chord with him/her in any way, because that only demonstrates that what you are talking about is not that important enough to you either.
This could also be because of the so-called generation gap. Millennials (those born in the 1980s and 1990s) use technology more often, and if you are one, your preference for email is only indicative of the generation you belong to. Baby boomers (those born in the 1960s and 1970s) are more used to the in-person approach when it comes to communication. So you need to tailor the mode of delivery according to your listener(s).
If your intended audience consists of both groups, for instance at the workplace, you need to respect both of them in the way they expect to be respected. Millennials might like to be left alone and think there is a greater value when you send them an email that outlines what you are trying to communicate, but with baby boomers, it is the opposite. They expect to be told in person, and you need to do this before you send an email, not after.
A seemingly innocuous question like “Hey, didn’t you get the email?” can come across an insult to this generation. Yes, they got it, and they read it too, but they can’t understand why you couldn’t have let them know about the content beforehand. For them, emails are like office memos – a detailed plan of action on what has been agreed upon after due consultation with them.
However, for millennials, you need to approach them after you have sent out the email. They expect to agree to something only when they learn about it in detail and not in principle because there are multiple ways of achieving the same objective. And this matters to them, every single one of them has his/her opinions on whether the process is as foolproof and/or efficient as it can be. They also expect you to listen to them when they raise their objections later. Meeting them before you send out the detailed plan of action, to them, is like garnering support for what you think is best. That doesn’t cut much ice with them because the indication is that it is probably faulty at present, which is why you are unwilling to elicit their opinions at a later stage.
This understanding could radically change the way you perceive and approach others.
Is there a common meeting ground?
Yes, there is. Quite literally too, the meeting room. You need to get both generations into one room, explain in brief what the subject of the meeting is, and then get into the specifics. Baby boomers would have no problems with this, and when you are finished, you need to throw the floor open for any questions. If none of the millennials have anything to say at the moment, let everyone know you are going to be sending them all an email and they can reply at a later stage (provide a realistic deadline) after they have had a chance to study it. This is how you can win over both generations at the workplace.
It might not always be possible for you to get everyone together into the same room. You might be in a mid-to-junior level role, and your intended audience could include people higher up in the corporate hierarchy or in different departments altogether. For instance, an IT support executive might face this problem when trying to implement an updated version of the software used by the company. If he/she faces apathy from say, procurement, a meeting might still be the best way of breaking the logjam. He/she would do well to talk to his/her boss or the head of procurement directly, let him/her know of what advantages there can be by streamlining the system and let the Procurement Head call a meeting to discuss this with the employees of his department.
There is always a way you can put your point across gently, and expect your listener(s) to act on the same. As long as you do it right, you can always be assured of results, with support coming in from all quarters. And that is what the art of communication is all about.