Understanding and applying empathy in your work

Empathy is a simple phrase that’s increasingly popular thanks to methodologies like Design Thinking, but very few people understand it, how to incorporate it into their work or how to find real empathy with their customers. In this episode, we will look at what empathy entails, the things people mistakenly think is empathy, how to find empathy in your work and find a balance between empathy and subject matter expertise.

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Show Notes

Today we are going to talk about empathy. Its a phrase that is being used a lot lately because of the rise of Design Thinking and customer centric design. Its a simple phrase that seems obvious but I find very few people really understand it, understand to incorporate it into their work or how actually find real empathy. I wanted to talk about it because I think it is one of the biggest things you need to master in order to do great work.

Empathy isn’t…

I wanted to quickly walk through some of the way I see people misuse the word empathy for things and actions that don’t create any empathy.

Too many people get this confused or do it willingly because they want to create the work they want to create – regardless of it is useful or successful. Empathy requires you to put your ego in check and step outside of yourself with an open mind. If you don’t then you create a lot of work people don’t care about.

What is empathy?

Customer-centric design is about looking from the inside out – rather than the outside in. In its simplest and purest form, empathy enables us to not only experience and understand another person’s circumstances, but it also lets you walk in your customers’ shoes to experience what they are feeling. This is so important because the more we know, the more biased we become.

I think this is so important and you have to seek these things out because customers experiences – especially the emotional ones – are the most impactful and the places you can make the biggest impact.

Subject matter expertise

To be clear, I’m not rejecting or diminishing the knowledge and experience you bring to the table. Subject-matter expertise is not only a critical part of methodologies like design thinking, but it is also essential to collective insight. What I am advocating here is the strength and insights that come from the application of the empathy. What I want people to do is to find realizations and perceptiveness in the experience of their customers – not in the accumulated experience confined to what you know or what what you think you know.

How to find empathy

Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

What people say they do and what they actually do are often different.

Go out and talk to people.


We talked before about how empathy isn’t compassion but compassion does play a key role here. Partially so you can emotionally connect with your consumers to connect with what they are feeling. But it plays a key role in actually bringing the work to life as well. Compassion is putting those observation and insights to work with the leadership to not be blinded by a client or creative brief.

Because the basic truth is that the more we know, the more biased we become – and most of us don’t know that. You have to create solutions people really need – not just talking to yourself or designing for yourself – because then empathy leads you to new solutions that will profit the consumer and the client.

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