Updated: May 12
I talk on my website about writing with a human touch, a focus on connection with your audience. But how can I write in a way that connects to your audience when we are just providing information to them in a website article?
We connect with the reader by displaying empathy, and using the words and language they can relate to. In her book, the Gifts of Imperfection, psychologist Brené Brown defines connection as:
the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.Brene Brown
I would love it if, in my role as a writer, I was able to fully offer such connection. However, Brené, neuroscience, and myself, would all agree that it is very hard if not impossible to provide true connection in the realms of the internet alone. It is harder again, to provide true connection in a one way street, such as an article on a website. So let me clarify that when I talk about connection in my writing, I am talking about helping the reader feel seen, heard and valued, without judgement. I do this by writing with empathy.
Kendra Cherry from verywellmind.com provides a definition of empathy that I rather like:
Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people fee, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place. Essentially, it is putting yourself in someone else’s position and feeling what they must be feeling. Kendra Cherry
Of course, it is very difficult to ever truly know what another is feeling. Many times since the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic I have seen references to the saying ‘we are all in the same boat’ elaborated to ‘we are all in the same storm, we do not all have the same boat’. However, with a little empathy, emotional experience, and most importantly, a curious mind and open ears, we can learn a lot about how others experience something and how they might feel. So, when we write for an audience we can certainly attempt to see things from the audiences point of view. If I am writing for an audience of mostly grandparents, I might recall conversations with my parents about their experience or find a few blogs by grandparents about their experience. If I am writing for a client, obviously I will ask them about their experience with the grandparents in their audience with whom they hope to connect. Even from those few short conversations and recollections I will have the beginnings of an understanding of their feelings, relevant to the topic brief, from which to begin writing.
But how can I use empathy to make a connection with my audience I hear you ask. Here I draw on my counselling studies, pulling right back to basics. If I am in a room with someone and I want to show them empathy, I can nod, or ask relevant questions, paraphrase back what they have already told me, in order to show I am listening. When I am behind a keyboard, I can use words like, ‘I hear you’ when you say lack of bicycle lanes makes you feel unsafe when you ride you bike. ‘I see you’ sitting in the café as you read this. ‘I understand’, it’s challenging when you feel isolated working from home. I can even attempt to read your mind, by predicting the next question you might have, as you may have noticed at the beginning of this paragraph.
Even better, if I can honestly relate because I have honestly had a similar experience, I can share that experience. When writing, trying to forge that one way connection without the ability to engage with the audience directly, sharing a story, a true story, can show true empathy. After all, you’ve probably been somewhere similar to where the reader is. Think about the influencers you follow, the marketers that draws you in, the celebrities that you trust. What is it about them? Do you feel like you know them? Do you feel like they include you in their lives? These days, their truth sharing (and I only mean the truth, not fluff, photoshopped or downright made up) creates a form of connection even though you have never met.
So, although we cannot provide the kind of connection Brené Brown talks about, which we need as human beings, we can learn from this concept as writers and marketers. We can use empathy to build trust with our audience. And grow from trust to connection. If we have trust and connection with our audience, when the time comes, it is us they will come to. It might be a long marketing game but it is worth it, both for business, and as humans ourselves.
References:  Brown, Brené, ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’, 2010 except as accessed at https://www.oprah.com/own-super-soul-sunday/excerpt-the-gifts-of-imperfection-by-dr-brene-brown/5  Cherry, Kendra, ‘What is Empathy’, 2 May 2020 as accessed at https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-empathy-2795562