Empathy as a team value can bring big results. Build your team based on values which embody empathy. Appreciation, compassion, warmth, kindness, support, empathy, these are all important reminders that UX is first and foremost a human-centered process.
In the post-pandemic world, much has changed about our work places. We have mastered the art of zooming, the art of meeting on camera anywhere and anytime, and the art of insightful messaging.
We’ve set up work cocoons at home, whereever we found a nook of privacy. We’ve invested in internet upgrades, and possibly even hooked up extra super monitors to our laptop. We’ve learned a great deal of new hard skills!
Our understanding of team structure has also expanded exponentially. We are plugged in with colleagues hundreds of miles away, in different zime zones and countries. Team work is more crucial than ever.
But what about our empathy skills?
Empathy, kindness, generosity, compassion, and wisdom are all qualities great leaders develop in their lives and careers. These soft skills come with practice, experience, and exposure to the unexpected.
By definition, empathy embodies the ability to not only share another person’s motivations, goals, preferences, delights, but also mirroring their pain points, needs, frustrations, complaints, difficulties, obstacles, fears, anxieties, inabilities, and disappointments.
In other words, UX designers need to fully understand a wide-ranging spectrum of users’ feelings and moods without being influenced by our own point of view. For that, we need to access our empathetic mind as a tool to understand our users’ stories.
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” – Bill Gates
How does empathy fit into the emotional universe?
Empathy is large and complex. It embraces a solution-defining approach to solve user problems. Empathy mirrors users’ pain points and engages in the process to develop and refine products and services to remove such pain points.
Empathy is much bigger than sympathy. Empathy can bring real change to where it’s needed to most.
Let’s look at how sympathy leads to empathy in Figure 1.
From sympathy to empathy and how an empathetic approach can reduce pain points
Figure 1: The journey from sympathy to empathy embodies a complex understanding of how an emotional engagement in UX works. Being sympathetic means we acknowledge users’ pain points and difficulties. However, while we are sympathetic to these pain points, we are not doing anything about them. On the other hand, engaging in a fully empathetic understanding in our users’ pain points means that we are actively mirroring these pain points. Furthermore, we commit ourselves to finding and implementing solutions for the users’ difficulties.
Sympathy is a recognition of another person’s suffering or hardship. There is a significant amount of distance to the other person. While we see that this person is suffering or experiences difficulties, there’s little we do to help them overcome whatever the source of their suffering may be.
If, as UX designers, we are sympathetic to a user’s difficulties, we simply acknowledge that this user is trying to accomplish a difficult task.
For example, a user is trying to cancel a purchase, but he or she clicked on “checkout” too early by mistake. The purchase is made, and cannot get cancelled.
In being sympathetic to the user’s mistake, we simply acknowledge that:“We are sorry”, or, “There’s little we can do”, or, “We recommend you contact the customer service hotline”.
Empathy goes well beyond sympathy, and is more complex in nature. By definition, empathy is the ability to fully understand, mirror, and share the other person’s/user’s needs, pain points, fears, difficulties, goals, motivations, and more.[1,2]
When we engage in empathy in UX, we dig deeper into the pain points of the users. We commit to understand why the pain points happened in the first place. We are defining solutions to the difficulties experienced, thus refining and improving the users’ journey and brand experience.
To illustrate empathy with the example of the user mentioned above, who inadvertently clicked on check-out too early, using empathy, we will research the why.
Why did the user have these difficulties?
Was the user under time constraints? Is the checkout button placed oddly? Is an interim ‘check purchase’ screen needed before checkout is complete? Can we add a time component to cancel a sale easily?
These are all potential questions/solutions to research the user’s pain points. Engaging in empathy with users’ pain points will define the solutions.
This user’s pain point is our take-off point to delve deeply into the user’s issue, and find out details about why this happened. In the process, we are leading the charge to improve upon this user’s experience.
“Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.” — Oprah Winfrey
The empathy bear hug
Think of empathy as a symbolic bear hug. It is heartfelt and genuine. I makes the receiver feel appreciated and cared for. These are important leadership qualities in UX.
A bear hug is a huge empathetic gesture from the side of the giver. The receiver will feel that emotions are shared and respected.
Just as the teddy bear is a symbol of comfort for children and adults alike, bear hugs can be given to anyone to share and mirror feelings, be they joyful or expressing pain.
Build Team Empathy
Empathy as a team value can bring big results. Build your team’s UX manifesto around the values that embody empathy. Appreciation, compassion, warmth, kindness, support, empathy, these are all important reminders that as UX researchers and designers, we value our users and their feedback first and foremost.
“My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of its parts. That’s how I see business: great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” — Steve Jobs
Empathy is an invaluable soft skill in UX.
Empathy must be provided to our users and customers to fully understand their wide spectrum of feelings and moods when interacting with our products and services.
Continually practice empathy with your peers.
Build your UX team on the principles of empathy.
 Empathy, the UX designer’s most valuable asset. https://evaschicker2012.medium.com/empathy-the-ux-designers-most-excellent-asset-52e38197eff6?sk=b7d97026445bdac8bb8f6e747e1b5006
 Understanding Pain Points Measurements: https://evaschicker2012.medium.com/understanding-pain-points-measurements-in-ux-design-and-why-they-matter-6da6c4919121?sk=696c057aafb6f65886f9f42ad27b7405