For individuals and companies alike, one of the biggest factors in pleasing others is easily identifiable, a little more difficult to apply, and rarely used. Merriam-Webster defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” Pretty awesome capability to have, right? While some are predisposed to having this skill, others aren’t as fortunate. Some of the best designers and innovators harness empathy to uncover, understand, and create solutions to unmet needs by putting themselves in the proverbial “other person’s shoes.”
For those that don’t naturally feel empathetic, actually talking to the people you want to help is the next best thing. Through contextual research in that person’s natural environment (home, office, etc.) you have the opportunity to observe and discuss their feelings, thoughts, and experiences in an explicit manner. When you can sit with someone as they do their job, watch their interactions with their company’s system, the information you can gather can be groundbreaking. To hear a person’s mutterings of frustration and see their facial expressions and body language conveys infinitely more than words typically do. It also gives you the ability to inquire about the thoughts and feelings behind that frustration (or delight, if that’s the case) to help uncover how best to address the situation. All of these interactions between you and the user inform your level of understanding, and consequently build empathy.
The ability to empathize with others isn’t exclusive to any particular gender, personality type, or any other inherent characteristic a person may have. No one group of people has a monopoly on empathy. All it takes is the willingness to care about others, and the interest to seek out solutions to their problems. Telling user stories to build empathy is what we do at User Insight, if you need to strengthen your connection to your users, let us know, we can help.