In a recent RSA Animate video, philosopher Roman Krznaric argues that western society is moving from an era of introspection to an era of outrospection.
In other words, he claims both people and organisations will need to become more empathic.
So where do technical writers fit on the empathy scale? We could take the view that we add “perspective empathy” to a project—that part of our role is to understand the user in how they think and feel, and, consequently, provide the User Assistance they need.
While the process of technical writing may be empathic, what about the deliverables—do they demonstrate empathy?
Empathy is, in part, a shared, emotional, sometimes mirrored, response. It involves demonstrating that you have listened to and understood the other person. You could argue the deliverable a technical writer provides (the manual, the Help file) is not empathic. It’s essentially a monologue: the text is static, and the user rarely has the ability to reply and be acknowledged.
Perhaps part of the reason for this is because language indirectly communicates a relationship between two parties. In another RSA Animate video, Steven Pinker claims we use language to communicate a relationship of either dominance, communality or reciprocity:
If we want to be more empathic, this suggests the tone of voice used in technical writing may need to change as well, so that it communicates a relationship of communality, rather than a dominant or purely transactional relationship.
What do you think? Do you agree organisations will need to be more aware and understanding of its customers? If so, do you think technical writers will be able to adapt to this change?
Use the comments box below to share your thoughts.
Ellis Pratt is sales and marketing director at Cherryleaf. Ranked the most the influential blogger on technical communication in Europe, Ellis is a specialist in the field of creating clear and simple information users will love.