To Reach More People, Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Empathy brings your fans closer, talking down only drives them away
You’ve probably accidentally posted something on social media and forgot about being empathic in your approach. If not the online world, you’ve probably done the same at work. Or when your friend told you their biggest struggle and you shrugged it off because you were pre-occupied.
I currently have a pinned note on my computer which says: “Be more empathetic to the reader rather than talk down to them.” This note is to remind me to offer solutions in an empathic way. It’s a challenge I’ve been toying with to not only improve my writing but improve my life in some way.
The event that partly triggered me to reconsider my approach came about when I revisited many of my blog posts from a few years back with the idea to make a few edits and republish them. Reading over a few of them, I thought to myself, “If there was a tad more empathy, would it make it easier to connect with people and impact them in a deeper way?”
So, I’m a former self-confessed example of what lacking empathy can look like based on these old blog posts. It’s a subtle shift in thinking, but a useful one.
Empathy Costs $0
This is an idea that was made famous by online personality Gary Vee. He says it over and over again and claims it’s a big reason for his success in business.
When people post picture quotes with this kind of message, it’s worth considering a healthy sense of skepticism. After all, our online heroes are often nothing like how we imagine them based on their social media posts.
Gary is different, though. Earlier this year, Gary came to my hometown of Melbourne and I got to meet him. I told him how I lost my job and how my side hustle of writing kept me going thanks to the skills that his books, such as “The Thank You Economy,” taught me. Rather than talk down to me, he smiled and was incredibly happy to hear what his work had done. In typical Gary fashion, he took none of the credit and saw my situation for what it was through the eyes of empathy.
You can read about empathy, but seeing it demonstrated in front of your eyes by someone you look up to gives it a whole new meaning. It costs nothing to be empathetic and share the feelings of others.
Empathy Works in Business Too
Attempting to measure the effects of empathy, I started applying it in other areas of my life to test its effectiveness. Someone I work with spoke down to me when we first met. When I asked them for help in a new job, they refused. I was excluded from different work situations and made to feel alone.
Shortly after, I found a few other colleagues that decided to help me. They helped me get some traction in my career with customers and it meant a lot.
One afternoon, we were standing in the lobby with a client about to have lunch, and the colleague that didn’t help me and had excluded me walked over. Their face said it all and it became obvious that not being invited to the lunch by the organizer made them feel excluded.
At that moment, there was a decision to make.
- Give them the same treatment they gave me (revenge).
- Show them empathy and include them.
Given all that empathy had taught me so far, I made a different decision. To my colleague’s surprise, I insisted that they not be excluded. I went out of my way to include them in every customer interaction and invite them to social events to see what would happen.
Rather than tearing us apart, empathy brought us closer together, allowing us to achieve more together instead of remaining siloed at work.
Everyone Is Fighting a Battle You Know Nothing About
“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” — Brad Meltzer
This quote gives us an idea that supports being empathetic. Without empathy, you could accidentally be giving someone who is enduring immense hardship the cold shoulder. Before we judge, considering this quote can provide perspective.
Are we judging someone without having all the facts? Probably. And by judging someone without knowing what they’re going through, we can push them away rather than bring them closer.
Become Obsessed With This Idea
A common email writers get is, “How do I reach more people?” There are many potential answers to this question. My recent experience has taught me that perhaps reaching more people starts with thinking about your audience’s thoughts, feelings, differences, cultures, and financial position.
Perhaps before we write, speak, post, film, or judge, we could consider what our audience might be going through using empathy. It’s an idea worth becoming obsessed with. This involves thinking about a simple choice: Are you judging and making assumptions or are you attempting to put yourself in the audience’s shoes?
When we lack empathy, we can think we have all the answers when the truth is none of us have that magical gift. We’re all speaking from experience and our own view of the world.
I’m a long way from being empathetic as a writer and this experiment continues. If you seek to reach more people, consider your level of empathy as being an enabler or a blocker to your end goal.