To attract and retain workers, businesses are seeking greater empathy in the workplace. Trainings, webinars, and other initiatives are devoted to the subject, with the goal of creating happier, more understanding spaces for people of all backgrounds and circumstances to work.
But as a recent Time magazine story explains, employees report frustration over the fuzziness of the term and related corporate initiatives. They know empathy is important but don’t actually know how to enact it in meaningful ways.
Empathy does not have to be a pie-in-the-sky ideal, especially when applied to business writing. You can take tangible actions to empathize with your readers.
What exactly is empathy?
Generally speaking, empathy means trying to understand or relate to the feelings and experiences of someone else. It is the act of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
How can I write with empathy?
To write with empathy, you should make an effort to enter your reader’s world and adjust your message to suit it. You can do so in these ways:
Analyze your reader’s world.
As you prepare to write, analyze what your reader knows and needs to know. Be mindful of the person’s role, position, personality, mood, and biases. Consider how your reader will react to the information, and adjust your message accordingly. For example, if you are sharing bad news, you might include a buffer statement to soften the blow.
Be clear and specific.
Consider what Kieran Snyder, CEO of Textio, says about empathy: “We had an engineer give some feedback that was really striking. She said that the most empathetic thing her manger could do for her was be really clear about expectations.”
The takeaway? State your main points in clear and specific terms. Avoid vague details and fluff. Doing so respects your reader’s time and prevents frustration. No reader wants to spend time deciphering what a message really means.
Use fair and inclusive language.
Recognize your reader’s humanity. Use respectful language, especially when it comes to gender, race, ethnicity, and orientation. In particular, do the following:
No one enjoys receiving criticism. When you must levy it, be honest about the seriousness of the situation, but avoid personal attacks. Instead, focus on improved processes and team building.
- Begin with the positive before you criticize.
- Focus on the issue of concern, not the reader.
- Expect improvement and offer a pathway to it.
- Invite input from the reader.
- Maintain a team atmosphere: Use “we” instead of “you” to indicate partnership.
The Bottom Line
Readers will appreciate the effort you put into respecting and understanding their world. In that way, your empathy is persuasive. By matching your writing to your reader’s needs, you will earn respect and get the response you seek.