Put Your Writing in Someone Else’s Shoes


With everything going on in the world today, it’s easy to feel for other people and care about what they’re going through, whether they’re family, friends or even strangers. And while it’s tempting to hide under the blankets and escape all the negative feelings, there’s a lot to be said about the power of empathy – especially as it relates to your writing.

Empathy is the ability to understand or feel what another person is experiencing. It’s often confused with sympathy, which is when you perceive another person’s suffering or sadness. So, if empathy is walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, then sympathy is feeling bad for someone who has no shoes.

Here are some tips on how to make your writing more empathetic:

Show them you care

You don’t need to hire a skywriter to spell someone’s name in the clouds to show them you care. Little gestures can go a long way. It can be as simple as one word. For example, they.

How can a four-letter word hold such power? It’s because it includes everyone, regardless of gender. It shows that you respect whoever you’re talking about, even if it’s an imaginary placeholder person.

The same can be said when using professions: firefighters instead of firemen, workforce instead of manpower. It’s not erasing one gender – it’s including all genders. Read more about inclusive language in our February blog!

So, now that we’ve included everyone, how do we show them we care? Actively listening is a huge part, and I don’t just mean nodding your head and saying “mm-hmm.” Active listening is putting all your focus on listening to the other person, caring about their answer and not just thinking about what you’re going to say next when they’re done talking.

Make it about them

Psychologist Carl Rogers said that reflecting on another person is a great way to show empathy. I found a lot of connections between this explanation and client pain points: the person – or, in this case, client – is the expert on themselves. They know what they need and you should keep your focus on that. It’s the key to making your executive summaries more empathetic. We could go on and on about all the great things Compass Group can do, but who has time to read all that? (Answer: I do, but I get paid to). The rest of the proposal is all about us – make the opening pages about the client.

Use their words

When I write executive summaries, I do research (also known as snooping) on clients’ websites and try to tie their motto or mission into my writing. It’s a personal touch that says we took the time to learn more about them instead of just sending out generic mailers. Another good tactic is to use specific words you heard from them during site visits or read in their RFP. “Repeating” a client’s own words is something they will be naturally drawn to, and also shows you were paying attention.


“Reading novels enables us to become better at actually understanding other people and what they’re up to,” says Keith Oatley, a novelist and professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto. Reading more also strengthens your vocabulary and improves your writing overall. Win-win!

Your turn

Now that you have some tips, try your hand at practicing writing with empathy. Of the three pictures below, choose the one that you identify with the least. Then set a timer for 15 minutes and write something (a story, an observation, a sales pitch). I find this an interesting challenge because it’s easy to put yourself in someone else’s shoes when the shoes are a colorful, comfortable pair of sneakers, but it’s a lot harder when the shoes are old boots that smell faintly of cheese.

Get out there and care!

Empathy isn’t just something extra that humans have, like appendixes or wisdom teeth. It’s important in making connections. Using inclusive language and keeping focus on the client can show them you heard them and you care. With empathy, you can make your audience feel seen, even if you’re miles away and talking to them through an executive summary.

Don’t be sad. We’ll be back on the first Monday next month with a new blog post. If you can’t wait that long – whether because you have a topic you’d love us to cover, a question or you simply want to throw your two cents into the pot – we love talkin’ shop, so drop us a line.

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