Empathy is good for business
As an expert or coach, who also writes, you have to operate with a wide, and sometimes diverse, set of skills. And, always, right at the top is ‘great communication skills’.
Good communication is essential to every aspect of your job, from sending an email, to getting feedback on the first draft of your book, to talking with potential clients, agents, or business partners, right through to connecting with readers with your final published edition.
But when it comes to ‘communication skills’, which one out of these many skills is the most important?
In our experience, even if it seems counterintuitive, empathy definitely tops the list. It isn’t a hard ‘selling’ skill — but it’s the one area, that if you develop, will bring rewards right across all your creative work and marketing.
What is ‘Empathy’?
Not to be confused with sympathy, empathy is the actual action of being aware of, and sensitive to someone else’s feelings, thoughts, and experiences; and not judging them through your own lens.
It’s not the same as treating everyone equally. It isn’t about ‘fairness’. It’s closer to respecting the notion everyone’s idea of being treated ‘well’ is different — and, of course, then actually taking action and treating people differently.
In the words of George Bernard Shaw,
Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you—they might have different tastes.
How to incorporate ‘Writing with Empathy’ into your business
Empathy is important on every level of your business: from virtual and face-to-face communications, to effective social media and marketing, to writing a book that gives the audience knowledge that they need, not just what you would like to impart.
And developing the skill of writing with empathy will help you improve your business and career as an expert and writer on three levels: creating, communicating, and selling.
1. Empathy And Creating
Practicing empathy, whether it comes intuitively or it’s something that you have to work on, fuels your creativity.
In his TedX talk at Wellesley college, ‘How empathy fuels the creative process‘, Seung Chan Lim, award winning author of Realizing Empathy: An Inquiry Into the Meaning of Making, explains the importance of interdisciplinary communication and collaboration in generating different perspectives and ideas.
He argues that the way you think prevents you from creating new meaning and value from your work. We are so tied up in our own model of the world, that it limits us.
Stepping into someone else’s shoes allows us to see things from a different and new perspective. Which means that we get new meaning, and we see the world with new eyes.
And, as a writer looking for new and interesting ways to communicate ideas to a hugely diverse audience, the skill of creativity through empathy is invaluable. We get ideas, we can develop in new ways, and with new stories, and we are inspired to express ourselves.
2. Empathy And Communicating
All too often, we become fixated on the knowledge we wish to impart, and we shift our attention off the reader and what he or she really wants to know.
Understanding what your audience wants to know, and then delivering this in the best way possible is a learned skill. We often start writing what we know; what we want to share.
But writing is a two-way relationship — don’t forget the reader.
And if you can write in a way that connects with a reader, and creates a positive emotional reaction, then this not only makes you an effective communicator, but it also makes you a desirable prospect as an author.
Make your work marketable
You are marketable because you are able to communicator effectively what it is people want to know, and, what they are seeking. There’s a big distinction between the ‘communication’ part and the ‘in-demand’ part — and not everyone gets this right!
Finding the line where your knowledge crosses with audience needs can be tricky, but if there wasn’t a need for your knowledge, you would soon lose motivation and you’d probably stop writing. It’s the connection that keeps most of us going.
Make your work readable
And beyond what readers want to know, we want to engage them and entertain them. Our readers are not us, therefore we need to see the world as they see it before we can connect with them.
When you can write with empathy, you can make your books more engaging. Your use of stories and case studies to illustrate lessons will draw a reader in, and no case study is engaging without the use of empathy.
Anna Li for Poynter details how journalists can practice empathy to improve their story, by really listening to communities and subjects, asking questions, and then crafting stories from the perspective of the subject. Testing and refining.
It isn’t as simple as just relating a story from someone else’s perspective.
As writers, empathy is your core skill when you are crafting stories and case studies that illustrate your teaching. And the deeper a connection between writer and case study subject, the deeper the connection between story and audience.
Using empathy and developing good storytelling skills, means searching for different perspectives, making distinctive arguments, and then testing that the assumptions you are making about the person you are writing about, actually do connect with a reader.
As in all things, mastery is about practice and feedback.
3. Empathy And Selling
When marketing your products and services — whether it’s the product of your writing or otherwise, you have to get noticed.
It’s a busy world, and many of us are in a very competitive space.
Every social media post has have a hook to get the clicks, every blog article has to be compelling enough for shares, and every YouTube clip or speech has to be relatable enough to hold attention spans.
Throughout all this, you also need to stay true to your values. Your work has to fit the overall ethos of your brand and match your business vision.
Which is not always an easy balance.
The best way to get your message out, in a way that remains in alignment with you and your values, and creates a genuine connection, is through empathy. Or rather, by creating an emotional connection with the person reading your work or your marketing.
And this can only come when you are able to create a real, strong, human connection.
Sell to a person, not a credit card
By understanding your buyer at the same level you might understand your reader, you can make a connection in your marketing as well as in your content.
Tony Zambito argues for human-centric marketing, based on empathetic insights and empathic approaches to problems. And if you dive into the world your buyer inhabits, you are making empathy central to your marketing strategy.
It’s A Work In Progress
So now you’re convinced on the idea of empathy being your greatest asset – but what if you’re not a naturally empathetic person?
As Tim Minchin once said,
Empathy is intuitive, but is also something you can work on, intellectually.
It’s never too late to work on yourself, particularly when it comes to a skill that will have such a big impact not only on your professional life, but on your personal life as well.
Chad Fowler on Lifehacker, ‘Why Empathy Is Your Most Important Skill (and How to Practice It)’ gives great advice, first on the positives of developing your empathetic side, and secondly, on how to do it. As well as listening (an obvious place to start!), he also advises immersing yourself in the debate by taking the other person’s perspective.
Empathetic people are also naturally curious and questioning of their environment and their assumptions. In ‘6 Habits of Highly Empathetic People’, Roman Kznaric describes these practices and how to incorporate them into your everyday life. He reminds us that empathy can be a social movement — and that inspiring action and change is often driven by seeing the world from someone else’s perspective.
And surely, this is a strong piece of your writing motivation: to inspire change? Whether at the level of one or many, I think it is why many of us do what we do.
Empathy is like creativity – even for people to whom it comes naturally, it must be practiced regularly to be kept sharp.
And for those who find it harder to tap into the empathetic part of our psychology, the struggle towards understanding other people will lead to a greater appreciation of empathy itself.
Because to get there, you’ve already had to change your perspective.
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