What place does empathy have in business writing?
All the places. All. Of. Them.
If your writing isn’t empathetic to your readers’ needs, you’ve failed. End of story.
Who are you writing for? YOU?
All those bad, waffly, long-winded, not-fit-for purpose documents you see at work? Those are the result of writers writing to satisfy their own needs.
Don’t believe me? How about these needs writers have:
- the need to look good in their role
- the need to come across like they know what they’re doing
- the need to “do it right”
- the need to show evidence of enough work
- the need to sound knowledgeable
- the need to sound “professional”
- the need to not sound stupid
See what I mean?
Those are very real drivers, and I believe they are the root cause of most bad business writing.
But. If you switch your focus to your readers’ needs and write for them, not for you, magic happens.
What happens when you think about your readers
I’m talking about the kind of magic that happens when you:
- Give your readers the bottom line up front, instead of making them look for it.
- Omit those sections that no one ever reads, but that are there because they’ve always been done like that (or just push them further back, like to the appendices, if you need them there to cover butts).
- Answer your readers’ questions before you tell them all the stuff you want them to know.
- Acknowledge the fact that business readers skim-read, and then write to support that behaviour (headings, bullets, tables, white space)
We’ve been lying to ourselves
For such a long time we’ve tried to believe work and emotions are separate. But we do so much work on “soft skills” and emotional intelligence these days. We know those are vital!
We spend millions of dollars building empathetic leaders.
Can we PLEASE bring some of that knowing to our writing at work?