• Barb Mayfield

Do others know you care?


Two teddy bears sit in the grass with their backs facing front and the left bear has its arm around the other.

Theodore Roosevelt wisely said, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” When I taught nutrition communication at Purdue, I used this quote to illustrate two important attributes of effectively working with any audience: Demonstrating that we care about who we are communicating with as well as caring about what we are communicating about. Communicators often do well at demonstrating enthusiasm for their message and yet not so well at demonstrating to their audience how much they care about them.


How do we demonstrate to an audience that we care… about them? First, we seek to understand.


As a communicator, it is critical to gain an understanding of your audience. Find out what they think about the topic of your message, do they have misconceptions, opinions, or values connected to it? What are their attitudes about it? What are their motivators, barriers, or readiness to change in relation to your message? If promoting change is a goal, what will move them to action? What will stand in their way? How likely are they to adopt an approach or activity that will lead to the desired outcomes?


When you are preparing to communicate with an audience, are you seeking to learn these things about them? The answers to these questions will enlighten your communication efforts. Asking your audience what they think, how they feel, and what they do, will also demonstrate to your audience your desire to understand their interests and needs, which in turn will increase your ability to connect with them and help you achieve your communication goals.


Effective communication is tailored to an audience. Therefore, the more clearly and thoroughly a communicator understands an audience, the more tailored their messages can be. Seek to understand.


Just as important as assessing needs to show an audience we care, is demonstrating empathy, which is intentionally tuning in to the thoughts, values, emotions, and feelings of others. To accomplish this requires us to pay focused attention, make eye contact, listen actively, and reflect back what we see, hear, and perceive to check for understanding.


The more people perceive a communicator to be someone who truly understands them, the greater the likelihood that the desired communication outcomes will be achieved.


Let me repeat, to demonstrate empathy requires us to pay focused attention, make eye contact, listen actively, and reflect back to others what we see, hear, and perceive to check for understanding.


One of the biggest barriers to accomplishing that goal is a device we carry designed for communication, which can easily become a hindrance to demonstrating empathy.

Put down that phone! If we are staring at our screen we are not focusing our attention on another person. We are not making eye contact and we cannot be listening actively. To demonstrate empathy requires focused attention.


Have you heard the phrase “Reading the Mind in the Eyes”? It is a test developed by British psychologist, Simon Baron-Cohen, which determines a person’s level of empathy. You’re shown a series of pictures of people exhibiting different emotions and you have to choose from a list of four options which one the person is feeling. Here is a link to a version of the test: http://socialintelligence.labinthewild.org/mite/


When you look someone in the eyes, can you perceive their emotions? Can you feel what they are feeling?


When we look each other in the eyes our brains release oxytocin which increases our level of trust and helps us to connect.


Do you want to improve your communication skills? Make eye contact, sense the feelings and emotions of others, verify your perceptions, in other words… demonstrate empathy.


Do others know you care? They will if you seek to understand and demonstrate empathy.


“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt


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