Now available: Design for Impact by Erin Weigel

Frequently Asked Questions

These common questions and their short answers are taken from Indi Young’s book Practical Empathy: For Collaboration and Creativity in Your Work. You can find longer answers to each in your copy of the book, either printed or digital version.

  1. How are you using the word “empathy?”
    This book is not about the kind of empathy where you feel the same emotions as another person. It’s about understanding how another person thinks—what’s going on inside her head and heart. And most importantly, it’s about acknowledging her reasoning and emotions as valid, even if they differ from your own understanding. This acknowledgment has all sorts of practical applications, especially in your work. This book explores using empathy in your work, both in the way you make things and the way you interact with people.
    Chapter 2 introduces the nuances among different types of empathy.
  2. Can anyone learn how to be empathetic?
    Curiosity about people is key to the empathetic mindset. A core inquisitiveness about other people’s thinking and experiences is necessary. This curiosity can be something that starts small and grows over time. People who have received constant positive feedback for speaking about themselves might have a hard time learning to be curious about other people. In addition, people who are used to solving other people’s problems (like a doctor) will have a difficult time turning off their deductive thought process in order to absorb more detail through listening.
    These criteria are discussed in Chapter 2.
  3. How should I train to increase my empathy skills?
    Practice listening to people every chance you get. Practice shutting down your inner voice so that you can hear more clearly and recognize when you need to ask more to really understand something. Practice recognizing your own emotional reactions, so you can dissipate them before they distract you too much from listening to others.
    In Chapter 4, there are some practice exercises to try out.
  4. What do I look for in a candidate when I need to hire an empathetic person?
    Look for core curiosity about other people. Look for the intent to support others better. These are discussed in Chapter 2. Additionally, look for the ability to listen, silence the inner voice, and dissipate reactions, as explained in Chapter 4.
  5. How can I train my team to be more empathetic?
    Teach your team how to listen deeply and show them how to practice by doing it yourself or with them, over lunch or during meetings. Additionally, the experience of working through the stories and creating summaries is a powerful way to improve listening skills.
    Summaries are explained in Chapter 5.
  6. How do I clearly convey insights I’ve gained via empathy to my peers and decision makers, even across departments?
    Repeat the clearest stories you’ve heard. When you open your mouth, other people’s voices will come out. An important part of your job is to “pollinate.” Get these perspectives out among the people of your organization who need them.
    Suggestions how to do this appear in Chapter 6.
  7. How does empathy improve my interaction design skills?
    Empathy doesn’t directly help you lay out the steps of how a person uses your solution. Empathy is knowledge that lines the inside of your skull, awaiting the random creative inspiration. When the inspiration happens, your collected knowledge serves as a foundation to support, hone, or disprove the idea. Empathy helps your team decide on the overall direction and flow of what you are making so that it supports the intents of a specific set of people.
    Chapter 6 shows how this works, and Chapter 8 addresses it in the context of your organization.

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