We all know the saying, “put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” This phrase basically means—practice empathy. If you imagine yourself in someone else’s situation, you’re more likely to relate to them, feel connected to them, and feel empathy for them.
One of the main jobs of stories is to put the reader in someone else’s shoes. In fact, stories teach us how to practice empathy from a young age.
What is the theory of mind?
The theory of mind is a social-cognitive skill that allows us to think about the mental state of ourselves and others. In simple terms, it’s the part of our brain that enables us to infer other people’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions and create a response based on what we infer. This skill also allows us to understand others’ thoughts and beliefs, even if they vary from our own.
In our day-to-day social life, this skill is essential. That’s because it lets us figure out/hash out/guess our way to the thoughts, hopes, dreams, feelings, biases, passions, beliefs, and intentions of those around us. It also lets us predict the behaviours of others.
Let’s say you’re talking to a friend. You can tell they’re upset, but they say they’re not. You’re able to know that they’re upset even if they say differently and react accordingly.
No, bear in mind that there’s a reason the term theory of mind includes the word theory. We can only ever make informed guesses. We can never know precisely what another person is thinking or how they will act – but we can use this skill to make an informed hypothesis and react accordingly.
Stories teach us the theory of mind.
When we’re around three to five years old, we can’t get enough stories. We play with friends for the first time, we play pretend and pretend we’re someone else, and we read a plethora of stories.
As kids, we’re surrounded by these stories and interactions that show us that others think differently than we do. Remember when a parent or teacher read you a story as a child? You maybe heard the thoughts and feelings of Alice from “Alice in Wonderland” or Paddington from the Paddington series. For the first time, you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, so to speak.
A recent study that examined the “effect of storytelling on the theory of mind in preschoolers” proved that stories help us develop this skill. After four weeks of consistently reading stories to the children, the study ultimately found that storytelling improved their theory of mind skills.
How this relates to our business comms
If we develop this skill as a child, how does this relate to our business comms and ultimately connecting with clients? It relates in a few ways. First (and most importantly) it relates to understanding our audience.
Before we even begin to write for our business, it’s essential we get to know our reader. Knowing our reader lets us tailor our writing specifically to our ideal customers and clients. This ensures our writing connects with the people we want it to resonate with.
A helpful exercise to begin getting to know your audience is using the theory of mind. At Lindentree, I work with you to create a detailed persona of your target audience. Using this persona, put yourself in their shoes. When creating content, try to think the way the persona thinks.
Once you feel connected to your persona, you can anticipate what they are looking for in your business comms.
Let’s get to writing
It’s all about empathy.
Whether we’re three years old or one hundred years old, well-crafted stories are always going to let us see the world through someone else’s eyes – and feel empathy. Using effective storytelling in our business comms allows our customers and clients to see the world through our eyes, relate to our brand, and ultimately understand our mission.
The good news is, a lot of people have the theory of mind skill. So, as long as you’re telling stories and writing in a relatable voice, clients will use this skill to connect with your brand on their own.
Here are some steps to activating the client’s theory of mind:
- Use the first person including “I, me, my, mine” or the plural “we, us, our”
- Share your thoughts and feelings
- Use narrative and walk your reader through events as if they are there
- Address your reader using “you”
- Appeal to the senses through imagery and sensory details
The theory of mind is something our readers developed over the years and bring with them when they read our business comms. Our task is simply to use techniques that will help our clients feel as if they are in our shoes to create empathy and lasting connections. Take a moment today to see the world through someone else’s eyes and to show your reader’s the world through your eyes.
Happy empathetic writing!