“Can you hear yourself?”

Written by:

… we usually ask someone this when they’ve said something we don’t agree with.

But I mean it in the literal sense. In other words, can you hear your own inner voice?

My theory is:

Genuinely empathic writing that is aimed at an audience won’t work without a healthy dose of self-empathy.

Especially when it comes to ethical marketing. That’s something more and more copywriters have committed to for ecological and cultural change.

As a formula, this can be expressed as follows:

attention to oneself × attention to the text = empathy for the audience

The perception of our own needs and emotions has an impact on how we interpret those we want to reach. The question is, how do we transfer this concept into client work?

Much has been written about self-empathy. However, I find Rosenberg explains what this term encompasses most accurately in his concept of non-violent communication. When we listen to the “voices within us” (1) and focus our attention on what we really need (2) this empathy enables us to be there for the other person. (3)

  • How do I want to be addressed?
  • Which topics and perspectives are important to me?
  • Which world do I want to see myself in?
  • Can I express these wishes, and am I aware of them?

When reading something another author has written, ask yourself:

  • what exactly resonates with you?
  • which sections give you a prickle of excitement?
  • which words trigger something in you?

It’s important you recognise these feelings so you can empathise with others. It also allows you to understand their reactions to the copy and the expectations they put on it.

Let‘s transfer these questions and our own insights to our audience:

  • How would the target audience want to be treated?

  • What kind of language and images resonate with our ideal customer?

  • Does the quality of the copy meet the demands of the reader?

  • Are we giving enough information and the right kind of information?
    This is particularly relevant given our commitment to write responsibly at a time when false statements can masquerade and be disseminated as facts and news.

The superpower of self-empathy as a booster for sensitive copy

So how does showing ourselves empathy deepen our understanding of writing?

  • It makes us aware that people have certain needs and expectations from copy. For example, when we make an economic investment in a product or service after having read the copy, we want to get what was promised. And we want to feel like we can trust the writing.

  • We realise that some feelings are associated with specific words. As with certain forms of touch, they can spark various emotional responses. 

  • The effects of language are not only part of our cultural knowledge. They are also insights born from our own experience. And as such, they can be triggers for different feelings – from those that are harder to process to those that cause a feeling of well-being. We use these feelings more sensitively, without disguising or denying ourselves.
  • Since we do not want to be manipulated or controlled ourselves, we respect other people’s wish for autonomy, for the freedom to have a choice.

  • It makes us appreciate that nobody wants to be put into a category, pigeonholed or judged. We expect respect and appreciation, and we want to be able to trust the authority behind the copy. That’s why we do our audience the courtesy of offering the same.

  • We know that access to other linguistic microcosms enables an understanding of other individual needs and views. By being adventurous and bold enough to dive into different worlds, we find ourselves presented with new ideas and perspectives. These in turn enrich our writing.

  • We take a fresh approach to writing when we realise: the experiences and emotions that resonate in our copy do not necessarily have to be the experiences and emotions of our readers. Writing that is based on self-empathy leaves space for interpretation. Questions that encourage self-reflection are therefore always better than a list of rules or rebukes. The latter is especially true if you’re trying to bring about positive change through your copy, i.e. ethical marketing.

  • We’re also familiar with feeling we belong to the world a piece of copy encapsulates – of being talked to directly, of feeling welcome there. But equally, we’ve also experienced how alien and uncomfortable copy can make us feel – especially if it comes with the sensation you have to be at a certain level or good enough to read it.

When we allow for self-empathic understanding, we pay more attention to any possible non-empathic communication in our writing, which includes: demands, judgement, and confusion for the reader.

Sincere copy attracts a curious audience

Self-empathy also means paying attention to your own language so your audience feels like you really stand behind what you write.

So, how can we write in a way that reflects our awareness of our own identity and thereby our authenticity?

Do you feel like you know yourself well and are able to write as yourself? Do you allow your inner voice to speak up? And do you understand what it’s telling you?

After all, empathy for ourselves isn’t just about understanding how individual people feel, how they interpret language (spoken or written) and how they react to it. It also teaches us how to gain audience empathy for ourselves and our cause.

In this regard, self-empathic writing doesn’t have to be accepted or understood by all readers. By its very nature, it means writing in your own style and not for all or a specific persona. This gives the opportunity for people to adopt different perspectives through different interpretations of the copy. It broadens our horizons and thus creates space for interpersonal exchange.

— Nadine Stelzer (English translation edited by Julia Graham)


Rosenberg, Marshall B.: Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Puddle Dancer Press, 2015

(1): p. 172

(2): p. 173

(3): p. 102 f.