Before leaving Gogo I spent quite a bit of time in the Portal Team Room talking with a UX Designer called Lydia. Lydia is soft spoken and is very consistent. She does what she says, and she will even explain why she decided to do the things she does. In explaining her reasons, one word constantly popped up: Empathy.
Lydia was a true champion for the User, and constantly asked the developers and product owners to empathize with their needs.
At first, and certainly on the surface, one might begin to think that empathy could make one soft, too yielding, or even weak. But the deeper you go you will discover that empathy can take you outside of your normal limits and viewpoints to become greater, more enlightened, aware, and resolved in your convictions.
Let’s look at a very simple example: Driving home from work in your car. You arrive at a four way intersection one moment before another car arrives. You stop clearly and are ready to start up again when the other car, instead of stopping, just rolls and then blasts through the intersection when it was your turn.
When we experience this only from our own limited perspective we may become a bit angry. OK, a lot angry. We may curse under our breathe or even yell out loud at the passing car. We may even flip them off! Why? Because we feel as though we were discounted, or even that our rights were violated. We may feel righteous in our indignation and those feelings make it alright for us to swear at the other.
Now, let’s shift our perspective a little bit. What if that other car was actually there at the intersection and stopped even before we were. But, we were talking on our cell phone or trying to find a piece of gum in our center console so we didn’t even see them?
We thought we were right, but so did they. As a matter of fact, they were right in proceeding before us.
When we see things only from our own limited perspectives it can be possible that we may have missed something.
empathy would allow us to ask the question of the other, “What do you think? What did you see? What is your experience?”
By not reacting immediately to anger, and by first really understanding that there could be another way to see the situation will lead us all to greater self-control, greater compassion, and even more loving relationships with others.
Empathy is an under-utilized tool that you can use to build consensus on your teams, too. Instead of forcefully trying to persuade your team to do what you want, maybe you could all try working together to really understand what is truly needed. When you all have that information and are in agreement, then the required course of action may be evident and obvious to all.
I was on the Ted website last night, because I wanted to learn more about empathy from some of the world’s greatest thought leaders and innovators. Guess what? Of the hundreds of lectures there was only one Ted Talk on empathy. I guess we all have a lot of thinking and learning to do on empathy, huh?!