Get This Right And You’ve Made Empathy 10 Times Easier

We just finished a big dinner at a local restaurant. My family and I walked around town, enjoying the summer weather. We live in a smallish town with about 12,000 people. Despite being only forty minutes outside New York City, we’re pretty laid back. The big difference I notice is when we cross streets. Cars go out of their way to allow you to cross. They’ll stop at intersections. If they see you approaching an intersection, they’ll stop in anticipation of you crossing the street.

There’s one subtle, but telling difference between suburban and city life. Crossing the street is safer. Cars go out of their way to allow you to cross. They’ll stop at intersections. If they see you approaching an intersection, they’ll stop in anticipation of you crossing the street.

That’s a far cry of what I experience in city life. Crossing the street in the city requires a leap of faith and razor sharp alertness. The people aren’t meaner. They’re the same people. It’s the context and circumstances that alter their behavior.

We like to believe that we act according to our principles and beliefs regardless of our external circumstances. The truth is, context and external situations influence our emotions and behavior.

Context Matters

Accounting for context is an important piece of building that connection and trust with your audience. Take this situation as an example. You’re appealing to men who want to get rid of their pot bellies. Sure, tell him about how great he’ll look with his six pack abs. Don’t forget the context in which they live. Touch on what it’s like to be at the beach and face the embarrassment of taking off your shirt.

Let’s pretend you appeal to men who desire to rid themselves of extra weight around the gut. Sure, tell him about how great he’ll look with his six pack abs. Don’t forget the context in which they live. Touch on what it’s like to be at the beach and face the embarrassment of taking off your shirt.

Preaching a health food that prevents disease? Talk about the indignity of walking around in a hospital gown, being poked and prodded like you were someone’s medical experiment.

“Wow, that’s exactly how I feel.”

If your audience thinks that, you’ve won the first half of the battle.

Think about the world in which your audience lives. That gives you the context and understanding in which your audience sees and interprets the world.

The Two Sides Of Context

The two sides of context give you the understanding to empathize with your audience.

What is the setting or circumstances your reader finds himself in right now?

What is his perspective on why he faces his current problem or cannot capitalize on an opportunity?

Keep in mind most of us attribute our failures or challenges to external influences. You may think your audience is struggling to succeed because of their effort. They likely attribute that struggle to the economy, lack of opportunity or pesky regulations.

Make sure your views align with his thinking and you’ll have a better shot at winning his support.

 

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