Instantly Improve Your Outreach Through Empathy

| by Katie Test Davis

Our guest blogger, Katie Test Davis, is the Founder of Forthright Advising, a communications firm that works with organizations that love kids.

I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately (sigh) so I’ve taken to doing a meditation before bed. Recently, one of the meditations had me imagine what the world would be like if we all had a sign around our necks that detailed our burdens. You’d see neighbors with “cancer treatment”; “my cat passed away”; or “miscarriage” around their necks. We’d all carry “pandemic” in addition to our other troubles. 

The instructor had us imagine the signs, and then made the wise point that we should assume each person we meet is carrying something difficult, and we should treat them with kindness.

As communicators and leaders, we’re constantly having to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. At the heart of good communication is empathy—anticipating how our audience will receive information, and then customizing our approach based on that. But that’s sometimes easier said than done, especially when you yourself are tired and overwhelmed. 

So how do you flex your empathy muscle when you’re drained? Here’s my personal trick. 

When I begin drafting something for a client, I stop for a moment to really think about who I’m writing for and ask myself what it’s like to be them right now. For example, when I’m writing to a parent audience, I picture what life is like right now for a parent who is really truly just going through it today

I imagine a mother, let’s call her Jessica. She normally has a support system of her parents and friends, but during the pandemic she’s going it alone more often than not. I imagine that she’s juggling two jobs, and is headed through a drive thru on her way home with her two children in car seats in the back. They’re singing songs together and talking about their days. She’s focused on getting them apple slices and milk with the nuggets. As she pulls to a stop in the drive thru, she glances at the email I’m writing to her. 

IF I’M JESSICA—AND I’VE GOT A FEW MINUTES UNTIL I HAVE TO ORDER (REMEMBER APPLE SLICES, MILK, APPLE SLICES, MILK), I’VE GOT A SOUNDTRACK OF BABY SHARK IN THE BACKGROUND, AND I’M ABOUT TO SCAN THIS EMAIL, WHAT DO I NEED TO SEE? 

Well, I’d probably need to see the most important information at the top of the email. Probably in bold. Maybe in bullets. Definitely no acronyms or tricky SAT words. 

Once I’ve got a good image of how she’ll be reading this email, I allow myself to write to her. 

This easy two-second trick helps me be a better and more effective communicator Every. Single. Time. Right now it’s easy for us to get wrapped up in big science words, to be hurried, and to brute force jam our next message into our audience’s ears. 

Instead, take a small moment to picture your audience and how they’ll receive your information no matter what you’re working on—from a single tweet to a 20-page report. 

Since everyone is carrying that “pandemic” sign around their neck, in addition to their other heavy burdens, all of our audiences are some form of Jessica—juggling life and work and still trying to participate in a sing along. 

So let this message be a reminder to you as a leader and communicator to be more empathetic in your outreach to your audiences. To tailor your outreach and truly meet them where they are. 

How can you make “Jessica’s” life just a little bit easier today? 

Be kind to yourself and to others, friend. We’re all really going through it right now. 

This post was originally published on Forthright Advising's blog. View it here.

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