If we had to give one piece of advice to business writers, it would be: show empathy. It’s often the last thing we think of, but empathy is one of the most powerful things you can do in your writing.
Many businesses are waking up to the importance of empathy in their communications – and with good reason. Over the last few years, thanks to a lot of research in the area, there’s been a change in ideas about what motivates us as human beings. The old view that we are self-interested creatures is being replaced by evidence that we’re actually wired for empathy, working together and helping each other.
And that’s true for us at work, too. We don’t switch empathy off when we step into the office (though, based on some of the standard business letters we see, you’d be forgiven for thinking some people were temporarily possessed by robots).
You might be thinking that’s all well and good in theory, but irrelevant to the corporate world.
We beg to differ. Here’s a few reasons why:
1. Empathy makes you more successful
“Empathy isn’t some soft and fluffy add-on, best left to the ‘dolly birds’ in HR, but a hard, teachable skill that opens the door to profit,” says Belinda Parmer, founder and CEO of business consultancy Lady Geek, in the Guardian.
And it would seem she’s right. The evidence tells us that emotional intelligence and empathy actually earn you more money.
Among the L’Oreal sales-force, for example, their best empathisers sold nearly $100,000 more per year than their colleagues. Waiters who are better at showing empathy earn nearly 20% more in tips, and even debt collectors with empathy skills recovered twice as much debt.
2. Empathy makes your customers more likely to stay
To get your customers to stay with you and tell others about how great you are, offering a good service or product isn’t enough. You need to build good relationships with them, too.
The best relationships are founded on empathy. The ability to understand and relate to people comes directly from your ability to empathise with them. And if people feel understood, they’ll start to trust you.
Business writing is the perfect place to start building this trust.
3. Empathy helps people remember you
If you show empathy when you’re writing to your customers and staff, they’ll feel something about it (hopefully, something good). And if they feel something, they’re more likely to remember your words.
Once again, the research backs this one up. Lots of studies have shown that the most vivid memories people have, tend to be of emotional events. People remember things they’ve had feelings about, much more often and with more clarity and detail than neutral events.
And being memorable – for the right reasons – is good news for any business.
How to be empathic writers
So, the good news is: empathy works in business writing. The even better news: you can learn ways to show empathy in your writing, even if it’s something you’ve never tried before.
1. Think about your reader’s needs, and put them first before you start writing. What do they most need to know, feel and do when they read whatever it is you’re writing? This one simple shift in the way you approach your writing will make the way the whole message feels for your reader.
2. Address your reader directly, even when you’re writing to many people. Wouldn’t you rather be referred to as “you” rather than “customer”?”
3. Use the words you’d use if were speaking to your reader. ‘Need’ not ‘require’, ‘help’ not assistance’, ‘people’ not ‘persons’. It’ll help you sound genuinely empathetic, not like a robot that’s been switch to human mode.
It’s the small things like this that make a massive difference to how empathic your writing feels. So try it with the next thing you write at work.
By Nikki Allen
We’d like to hear your thoughts. Tell us about your experiences of being empathic in your writing at work.