How To Use Empathy Effectively In Letter Writing

A letter states a request in a straightforward manner, yet the recipient denies the request.

Why?

Because the letter lacks empathy for the recipient. Of course, the letter writer presumes empathy belongs on his or her side. After all, the writer wants something from the recipient. It’s a natural presumption based on logic, but an incorrect one.

So, how does one create empathy in a request. Look to Apple.

Walter Isaacson’s eponymous 2011 biography of Steve Jobs, Apple’s iconic pioneer, examines empathy in the chapter entitled The Apple II. Mike Markkula, an early Apple executive / investor and the company’s second CEO outlined empathy as one of three key factors in a one-page paper entitled The Apple Marketing Philosophy.

Empathy: “We will truly understand [the consumer’s] needs better than any other company.”

Focus:  “In order to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities.”

Impute:  “People DO judge a book by its cover. We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.”

Recently, I employed Markkula’s philosophy without realizing it – I had not yet read Isaacson’s book. And it got me what I wanted.

During my research for the book Blue Magic: The Brooklyn Dodgers, Ebbets Field, and the Battle for Baseball’s Soul, I discovered a 1942 film, It Happened in Flatbush. The film is a comedy about the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Because part of my book concerns popular culture and the Dodgers, I wanted to screen It Happened in Flatbush. So, I did what any self-respecting researcher would do. I went to Google, hoping to find an outlet that distributes the film.

I drew more zeroes than the Brooklyn Dodgers against the New York Yankees during Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

I tried Amazon.com. I tried Barnes & Noble. I tried video stores. The film was not available. So, I did the next thing that any self-respecting researcher would do. I contacted the film’s original production company.

Because I worked as an attorney for a production company, I knew that a straightforward request would likely meet a denial. So, I put myself in the other person’s position.  Empathy. Focus. Impute.

Empathy:  I explained that I knew a denial is the pro forma response to requests for movies on DVD screeners, even if the purpose of the request is to obtain information for a scholarly purpose. I also mentioned my lack of objection to a burn-in of a time code – the running time of the movie at the bottom or top of the screen. This lessens the likelihood that the owner will duplicate the DVD for sale.

Focus:  I only mentioned the purpose of my request. I avoided mentioning extraneous information, for example, other materials used during research.

Impute:  I wrote the letter in a professional manner with language indicating respect.

The production company granted my request on two conditions:

1) I sign an agreement promising not to duplicate the DVD screener of It Happened in Flatbush
2) I send a payment of $60 for the duplication fee.

Mission accomplished.

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