What would you do if your kitchen caught ablaze? Would you fight fire with fire? Or would you instead grab the fire extinguisher and kill the flame? In any type of situation, it is essential to know how to best approach it first, instead of going with your instinct and ending up in hot water.
Learning how to control the situation will prevent your kitchen from burning down to the ground. This applies in both the literal and metaphorical sense. It is also very relevant in communicating with people.
Miscommunication is unavoidable in our everyday interactions; it is easy to have your message and its meaning lost in all the noise. Everyone has different interpretations of the same words, and our beliefs, values, and culture further filters everything we hear and read.
But there’s one thing that can help you cut through this. It’s called empathy, the ability to put things into perspective and see the situation from another person’s point of view to fully recognize a situation.
In this post I will show you why empathy is important for a writer, and how you can develop it. The better you can see where your readers are coming from, the more successful you can be in offering them precisely what they need.
Empathy is commonly confused with sympathy, but there is a clear difference. Empathy makes you feel the emotions that others are experiencing. It’s putting yourself in other people’s shoes. Meanwhile, sympathy is the act of sensing and understanding others’ emotions, even if they don’t directly affect you.
For instance, one person could say, “I’m sorry for your loss,” without really knowing the pain of losing someone. That’s sympathy. However, when you have actually experienced it firsthand or have imagined yourself in the shoes of the bereaved, that’s empathy.
Interestingly, empathy is a skill that has been studied by scientists, and they were able to trace it back to brain cells called mirror neurons. These neurons activate when an individual watches another individual perform an activity and feels what it would be like if they were to do it themselves.
In this article, we’ll talk about why this ability is important for a writer, and how you can develop it on your own. High emotional intelligence is an essential trait for any communicator, especially during trying times. And the better you can implement this in your work or speech, the more your words will resonate with your audience.
Being able to practice empathy is something that all great writers and communicators share. This simple act of listening for the emotions that drive a person’s actions empowers people to become more trustworthy, professional, and engaging. This is because being able to relate to the emotions of your audience builds rapport and establishes a level of connection.
Think of how it feels to confide in a friend after a long, bad day. That warm and comforting feeling is what we are trying to emulate as writers and communicators. To be able to engage your audience, you need to start off by giving them a sense of comfort and familiarity, a feeling that they can resonate with.
If you haven’t noticed, a lot of great public speakers usually start off with an anecdote or a question, and usually that will get people hooked, because the audience has something that they can relate to—a lived experience that some of them might have even gone through.
In writing, for example, we use a conversational tone to resemble the experience of talking or confiding with a genuine, close friend. Similarly, sharing anecdotes also works well in writing. Painting a picture of a realistic scene that people have experienced is also an efficient way to capture your audience’s attention and interest.
If you’re wondering how this works, it is actually traced back to our psychological need to feel a sense of belonging. Social connection is hardwired into the human brain, so that anytime we meet an unfamiliar face or person, we immediately start to look for something we can connect with, whether it’s a shared interest, emotion, or an experience.
Most importantly, empathy humanizes you as a writer and speaker. It makes your audience feel that you are as vulnerable as they are. You have feelings, too. And once they recognize that they can resonate with you, they get motivated to pay attention to what you have to say or write.
However, this can be a challenge for many writers and communicators, but it can be learned. So to help you develop your empathy muscles, here are some pointers on how you can apply empathy in writing and in speech.
Being aware of your audience’s motivations and emotions will help you figure out how to best communicate with them. You want to better gauge the voice and tone that will work best in relaying information to a particular group of people, be it your consumers or business partners.
Doing so will enable you to build a sincere and authentic relationship with them. After all, as humans we tend to look for friends who know us on a personal level. And that’s exactly what you want your audience to feel.
This is especially important today, when people look for an emotional connection even in brands that they support. In fact, brands have been using this as part of their marketing campaigns to influence consumer behavior. They have met great success, with one company seeing a segment increase of up to 70%.
Take Apple, for example. The company recognizes that we are all social animals who want to belong to a particular group—to something bigger or more important than ourselves. And so, when they create their campaigns, they make people feel that anyone can be part of it and that everyone has the chance to partake in something special.
The same thing also works when you’re writing, whether it’s a story or a simple sharing of your thoughts. Both forms of communication require building a certain level of rapport and relevance with the audience you wish to engage with.
According to The Greater Good Science Center, empathy is “a key ingredient of successful relationships because it helps us understand the perspectives, needs, and intentions of others.”
Simply put, it plays a part in giving the right solution to issues and queries by using emotional intelligence to create a customer persona. It is practiced by many ad and marketing professionals to make sure their campaigns appeal to the right people.
Of course, “marketing empathy” and “genuine empathy” are two different things. Empathy in marketing is primarily driven by sales and brand awareness. It’s commonly used by brands to be able to capture the interest of passing consumers.
Genuine empathy goes on a deep dive to understand the audience, taking into account their background, intentions, and feelings. When applied successfully, genuine empathy drastically improves the way you relate and connect with your audience without any sales-related agenda.
Comprehending your audience’s persona or their fictional representation results in more salient articles and conversations.
This lets you structure your work in a way that will best answer the needs of your target reader. With a personal guide, you can build a list of challenges and goals that your audience may have and use it as inspiration when developing relevant content.
Seeing someone through and making an effort to hear their side helps you create powerful connections with your audience. It enables you to become closer to them on an emotional level.
Again, this applies to your personal life, your career, and your business. It’s achievable by sourcing feedback from your audience and making an effort to make them feel listened to, not just heard.
For instance, instead of saying, “I’m sorry that you feel that way,” you can try, “It must have been tough to go through all that. No words would be able to express the pain you’re feeling right now.” This would make it seem like you are putting yourself in the shoes of others.
In an IPSOS survey, it was found that 86% of consumers see empathy as an essential driver of customer loyalty. This is more important than ever as audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic become more critical of brands they choose to engage with. More consumers want to support companies that see them as more than just a source of profit.
You’ve learned the value of empathy as a communicator. Exhibiting this skill in your writing, be it fiction or nonfiction, will help set it apart.
Now it’s time to find out how to develop empathy as a writer.
If you’re still grappling with how to become a more empathetic writer, don’t worry. This is something that you can learn and hone with practice.
Here are some tips for becoming a more empathetic writer:
Customer service authority Don Peppers once said: “Empathy is the ultimate form of customer insight.”
By demonstrating your ability to feel for whomever you’re speaking to, be it a friend, a reader, or a customer, you become more human. It improves emotional intelligence and shows that you perceive what is beyond data and cold hard numbers.
It’s a golden skill, especially when it comes to writing. With only words and tone, you can tap into a broad spectrum of human emotion by taking a moment to become more perceptive of others.
Pearl is a content writer from Deploy Yourself who’s especially passionate about assisting Sumit in helping him coach leaders and individuals to pursue their wildest dreams and reach their highest potential. She also loves sharing leadership stories, entrepreneurship journeys, and digital marketing tips and tricks. When she’s not writing interesting blog pieces on the web, you can find her binge-watching crime stories on Netflix.