How to use empathy to improve your writing

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Your content isn’t about you — it’s about the people you’re communicating with. When you create content, your goal is to help your reader understand how what you’re sharing will benefit them.

As Donald Miller explains in Building a Story Brand, you want to make your prospect or customer the hero in their journey. You’re the guide.

To achieve this, start with empathy.

What is empathy?

Empathy is feeling with someone. It means being able to understand on either an emotional or cognitive level what a person is feeling or experiencing. This doesn’t mean you’re imagining how you would feel in the situation, but instead, taking on the perspective of the other person.

Empathy is different from sympathy, which is feeling sorry for someone. With sympathy, you’re not necessarily understanding how the other person feels.

How to use empathy in your writing

With research and a focus on empathy, you can craft language that’s truthful and will connect on a deep level. Here are some tips:

Understand your prospect

You may have heard about creating a persona or avatar for your ideal customer. The purpose of doing this is to develop a deep understanding of your prospect’s needs and challenges, and how what you offer can help. Here are some ways to build your understanding:

  • speak to actual customers
  • talk to the people who work on the frontlines with customers
  • look at online forums your ideal customers are part of
  • pay attention to what people are saying on social media

Whether you’ve built a persona or not, before creating content, you can spend some time thinking about the person you’re communicating with. Consider what they might be dealing with and how they might view the world.

Understanding your ideal prospect will help you come up with content ideas for different stages of their journey towards purchasing/using your product or service (or donating to your cause).

Become an active listener in your day-to-day life

Great content creators are good listeners. Get curious about the people around you. Listen more and talk less. Ask questions. Not only will people like you more, but you’ll also start to develop a deeper understanding of other people’s experiences and views that may not be the same as your own. You can then draw on this knowledge when you’re creating content.

Identify the core challenges you help with

The process of understanding your prospect never ends. As you continue to learn and discover new challenges or ways you help, you will find new ways to refine your messaging so it gets to the core benefits of what you offer.

Consider that people don’t make purchasing decisions based on features alone — the features help them justify their decision. Generally, they’re looking to solve a deep challenge they have. It’s often part of their inner world — to reinforce their identity, to build self-esteem, to feel more competent, to feel like they have significance, to succeed — these are common human experiences.

Ask yourself, so what?

Each time you think you’ve gotten to the core benefit of what you offer, ask yourself so what? They’re taking your course because they want to build their skills… so what? They want to be able to speak up in meetings with relevant ideas… so what? They want more confidence… so what?

Can you keep going?

Write your content by starting with benefits first

When you start with the benefits or what you solve first, you’re putting your prospect at the center of your content. You’re showing them you understand their challenges — you have empathy.

And remember, it’s not about you!

Who you are, your story and authority are important, but they’re secondary to the value you offer. When you lead with content that’s about you, you’re making yourself the hero and missing the opportunity to connect with your prospect right away.

Does empathy matter in internal communications?

It’s absolutely valuable to use empathy when you’re communicating internally as well. You can still identify the key benefits of what you’re communicating from the perspective of staff.

One of the best ways to demonstrate empathy in internal communication is to organize and write your content so it’s easy to read and understand.

Chunk it under clear headings and use bullet points. Pull out the need-to-know information and clearly identify any next steps. Doing this shows that you understand how much information employees receive (and you do, because you get it too!) and you want to make their lives easier.

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