Vary the Pace While Increasing Your Empathy Index

A positive Empathy Index ensures that your writing is benefit oriented and reader focused. You can use any of the four techniques, or you can use a combination of the four. For example, notice how all four approaches are integrated in the following memo from Mary Jo, a crises hot line executive director, to the hot line's volunteers. Mary Jo uses pronouns, refers to shared interest, addresses her readers by job title, and allows inference to her readers to be made as well.

Dear Volunteers:

It's easy to skip paperwork. Caring people like you, people who volunteer for work on a hot line, are there to do the work—to provide the kindness callers need. When we ask you to use forms and fill out reports, we know it's hard for you to muster enthusiasm.

Good news! Volunteers report that the new log sheets are easy to complete. Sure, there are growing pains, and we need to work out a few bugs, but all in all the forms are doing what we need them to do: track calls and provide broad statistical data.

You have been terrific in your openness to change and in your support in helping us achieve this quality objective that has been essential to the program's success. Any questions? Please call me directly. And again, thank you, thank you.

Warmly, Mary Jo

Doesn't the memo read well? It's clear, upbeat, and reader focused. EXERCISE 7: Calculate the Empathy Index

Calculate the Empathy Index for the memo on page 57. Then count the number of references to the executive director's readers (by name, shared interest, inference, or pronoun). Then count the number of references to the director or the hot line itself. When you subtract the number of references to Mary Jo or the hot line from the number of references to the reader, are you left with a positive number?

After you have completed your analysis, compare your assessment and Empathy Index to Mary Jo's. Then take a look at Mary Jo's explanation of how she approached writing the memo. (The references to the reader are in boldface and the references to Mary Jo and the hot line are underlined.)

Dear Volunteers:

It's easy (implied "for you") to skip paperwork. Caring people like you, people who volunteer for work on a hot line, are there to do the work—to provide the kindness (implied "you are there to provide the kindness") callers need. When we ask you to use forms and fill out reports, we know it's hard for you to muster enthusiasm.

Good news! Volunteers report that the new log sheets are easy to complete. Sure, there are growing pains, and we need to work out a few bugs, but the forms are doing what we need them to do: track calls and provide broad statistical data.

You have been terrific in your openness to change and in your support in helping us achieve this quality objective that has been essential to the program's success. Any questions? Please call me (implied "You call me") directly. And again, thank you, thank you.

Warmly, Mary Jo

Seven is a strong score, and you can hear it in the upbeat tone of the memo. Note the variety of approaches Mary Jo used: the pronoun "you," the reference to the job category (i.e., "volunteers"), the reference to shared interest (i.e., "caring people"), and the imperative (i.e., "Please call me").

Them Us

Empathy Index

Using this variety of reader references adds liveliness and reader interest to the memo. Mary Jo signaled a strong connection with her volunteers by referring to them in so many different ways.

Mary Jo said, "I was very conscious of the Empathy Index as I created the first draft. Being aware of it saved me a lot of time. I found that I'd pause between sentences and consider how I could integrate one or more of the four options for referring to my readers. At the time, I thought these pauses would add up to extra time in writing. But no—it actually saved me time.

"When I write, typically I know what I want to say. What was new to me in the writing process was to pause and think for a moment about how I wanted to say it. The idea of adding a reference to my readers in every sentence, if I could, was new to me. Soon it became second nature, and I discovered that my first drafts were so much better than they used to be that it took me less time to revise them—which means the memo writing process became quicker once I got used to the system. By writing better, more focused first drafts, I've reduced the time it takes me to write a decent communication by about a third."

EXERCISE 8: Rewrite to Improve the Empathy Index

In the E-mail below from Paula, a manager, to Jim, an engineer, calculate the Empathy Index. Then, using the techniques discussed above, rewrite it to increase the Empathy Index.

Hi Jim:

I am writing in response to yesterday's conference call in which I was embarrassed that I wasn't up-to-date in my information about the ABC Corporation deal. I think it's important that we address this issue right away.

First, ABC said that I need to coordinate with you more effectively to save them the job of repeating conversations. This was pretty humiliating to me as you and I certainly ought to be in close touch about this customer.

Second, I expect you to keep me up-to-date at every step along the way. I expect you to do that without my having to hear updates from the customer.

Best, Paula

How did you evaluate the Empathy Index? The following is one assessment. (Note that the references to Jim are in boldface and the references to Paula are underlined.)

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