GUEST POST: Writing with empathy, like a human being

Human comms is something that works. We can sometimes forget to do iut as a communicator. Catherine Molloy shows how it can be easily done.

It is the responsibility of the communicator to be understood. But beyond that, it is the responsibility of the communicator to write in such a way as to evoke the desired response. Do acronyms and council-ism’s help you to be understood? Do they encourage a positive response? Referring to ‘Members’ rather than ‘Councillors’? Referring to the ‘AQAP’ rather than the Air Quality Assessment report? Many still feel that writing to customers’ needs to be a version of a 1970s formal letter….

“Dear Resident, I am writing on behalf of the Council regarding your application for…….”.

Stop! Stop! Stop!

Our written communication needs to be show we are human. We need to use ‘normal’ language, demonstrate understanding, show we care in finding a solution or listening to the problem…. ultimately, we need to show empathy.  It is only when we communicate on a human level that guards come down, anger and frustrations fade away to be replaced by acceptance and perhaps even understanding.

As communicators we know all of this and like me, you probably spend much of your time trying to explain this to others in your organisation or rewriting letters, emails, web copy etc etc.

To aid you in your internal endeavours, I offer my tips for writing with empathy.

Tips for writing with empathy

Think about how you like people to talk you

How do you feel when you receive an overtly formal email? Chances are your customers will have the same reaction. Stop, think and write as you would like to be spoken to – open, honest and not overloaded with information.

Throw out that template email / letter – how old is that thing?

How many iterations from different people has it had? Let’s not create work for ourselves but at the very least begin an email should refer to the specific correspondence you have received. Of course that is not…”I refer to your letter of 6 November 2021..” but rather “I can appreciate your frustration and I would like to help you. Let me start by recapping on the situation…..”

Treat people as important

You may have received the same query / complaint from numerous other people, but individual circumstances differ, and we should take the time to acknowledge that.

Show your personality in your writing

That doesn’t mean writing as if you were replying to What’s app message of course, but the reader should be able to get a sense of you from your writing (or your Chief Executive or Leader if you are writing for someone else).

In a world where people are bombarded by so many pieces of written communications each day, it is those written with empathy and thought that will stand out and positivity support us in our work with our communities.

Catherine Malloy is communications manager at Elmbridge Borough Council in Surrey.

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