Developing Empathy - A Core Skill Of Innovation

Yvonne Chua, Co-Founder
12 Apr 2021 • 2 min read

Empathy is integral to design thinking, and is a must learn skill founded on understanding and responding to the needs of the users. In fact, empathy is derived from a German word, Einfühlung, which means 'feeling in'. Emotional researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people's emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else is thinking or feeling. There are 3 distinct forms of empathy that you can develop.

Cognitive Empathy

Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand what people might be thinking about. It is perspective taking, which means to put yourself in someone else's shoes and see the world from their perspectives without necessarily internalizing their emotions.

Apply it to design thinking requires you to mirror the user's state of mind, instead of projecting your own assumptions. Knowing what questions to ask and asking them will help to validate your hypothesis and paint a clearer picture.

Emotional Empathy

Emotional empathy is emotional contagious, where you literally sense people's emotional state and creating an echo of that state inside your mind. It attunes you to their inner emotional world, as if you catch their emotions yourself and a deeper connection can be established as a result.

When people share about their pain points, listen actively and focus on the understanding on the how and the why. How are they feeling? Why do they feel that way? Once you have a more complete picture of the situation, you can find a way to relate and take action, which leads to the next form of empathy.

Compassionate Empathy

Compassionate empathy goes beyond understanding people's thoughts and feelings, with an additional move towards taking actions.

In user research, exercising compassionate empathy ensures that users' insights are acted on. You will find the right balance between logic and emotion, apply reason to the situation and devise effective strategies to influence better decision making. For example, proof of concepts that are developed to meet users' needs will be assessed to be advanced to prototyping. Another example is to demonstrate the risk of inaction of not investing in a potential idea.

Understanding the different forms of empathy will help you develop a more holistic understanding of your target segment, uncover insights and generate impactful ideas that respond to their needs.

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