Empathy Isn’t Just for End-users
How to extend the same level of empathy to the people around you, as you do for the people you design for. Humans are funny. Particularly humans that have jobs that require them to genuinely care about the needs of other humans (like me). I’m talking about designers, researchers, psychologists, anthropologists, school counselors, mentors, advisors, nurses — any role that lends you responsible for advocating for the needs of specific segments of people you serve. This of course, requires a lot of empathy. em·pa·thy /ˈempəTHē/ noun 1. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another -Oxford Dictionary Sometimes we become so in-tune to the needs of those particular segments in our work — like online shoppers, therapy-goers, kids in school, patients in a hospital — that our ability to empathize with others outside of that segment can become compromised. Ironically, over time compassion lessens because we are conditioned to be constantly compassionate! One result of this empathy fatigue (or compassion fatigue)? Conflict with our colleagues, our clients, or our own loved ones at home. I’m a UX researcher. In my case, I’m paid to care about the needs of anyone that visits my company’s websites. To do this, I’ve been trained to ask non-leading questions that look at the holistic journey a site-user takes. I empathize with their hiccups in the experience. I’m then able to translate those hiccups into actionable things to do to eliminate them. Getting rid of the pain-points for end-users is the goal after all. Then, I share those recommendations of how to do so with stakeholders– the others responsible for the business and design pieces to the product puzzle. All of this is in order to keep our end-user’s needs front and center. After one particular instance where I shared findings to my product managers, designers, solution owners and other business unit stakeholders we ran into a few roadblocks: ~There was a business requirement that said we needed to update something on the backend, and there wouldn’t be funding for UX updates. ~Then, there was a technical limitation that had a work-around that would have actually made the experience harder for an end-user. ~And then, a leader simply didn’t “like” the solution. ~And then, another division wanted to add their own suggestions to something outside their expertise. And by the end of it, I was beyond perturbed. I vented to a fellow UXer about how illogical the process felt. “Why did they pay me to care about our customers and then not listen to what I heard from them? What’s the point of asking users what they need, when we wouldn’t be able to deliver on it anyway?” In my head, I thought it was the other people’s fault we couldn’t make progress. “They’ve roadblocked my work. They don’t care about the customers really, just the profit margins.” I didn’t understand. I became worked up. And then, I caught myself. Why can’t I use the same process I do for customers, and place myself in my stakeholder’s shoes? Why can’t I come up with ways to navigate this, like I do every day to help customers navigate sites? Had I really used up all my empathy trying to advocate for users, that I had none left over to extend to the people I work with? More likely, it was a blend of compassion fatigue and cognitive biases. I looked up at the Cognitive Bias Codex I have pinned above my desk. I put it there to keep me in check when I’m consolidating user feedback before creating my user research reports. It’s to…
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