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Empathy mindsets

What mindset should we have for the empathy stage? Have a read of key attitudes to have when using the Empathy Tools.
People remember stories

Empathy and Mindsets

Empathy is the first stage of the design thinking process. In this stage we are learning as much as we can about our challenge. As our challenges involve people, we are taking the time to understand and learn peoples real needs and motivations. This means we need to ask “why” a lot!

Focus on Human Values

One of Stanfords mindsets is to focus on Human Values (one of Ideo’s mindsets is Empathy). This is exactly as it sounds – focus on the people we are designing for. Ensure the person is at the centre of the process and we can unlock ideas we would never have thought of. The next two mindsets explained below help to expand on this one.

Assume a Beginners Mindset

During the empathy stage we assume a beginners mindset. This concept comes from Zen Buddhism which refers to the idea of letting go of all preconceptions, forgetting everything you know (or think you know) about a subject, or project, or person as if it was completely new. The beginners mindset means you can create as new. You are allowed to ask the obvious questions as the answers may surprise you, but most of all it means you are not making judgements on the information (or the source of the information) to early. It allows you to explore that information as new.

“In the beginners mind there are many possibilities, in the experts mind there are few” Shunru Suzuki
Active Listening (but Ask Why)
Related to the beginners mindset is the ability to actively listen. We are listening to understand the challenge from our users point of view. The only time we are talking is to ask “why” and to extrapolate on answers. This can be difficult as we are not there to “sympathise” we are there to “empathise” (there is a task below on this). A way to ensure we are actively listening is to always be curious, immerse ourselves in their stories to learn, and withhold any judgement. Remember what you learn is your users reality (even though it may not be yours).
Asking why is really important. We are trying to uncover peoples motivations and needs. And a person first answer rarely tells us this. Asking why, allows us to uncover the real desires of our user, and in doing so creates criteria we need to solve during the challenge.
“When you talk, you are only repeating what you know, but when you listen then you learn something new.” Dalai Lama

Be Mindful of Process

This mindset is important in every stage (most mindsets are important every stage). But the first stage is really easy to get stuck in. There are two reasons for this that I see commonly:

  1. People get overwhelmed with information. There is a huge amount of information in this stage, and we aren’t making sense of it yet – just collecting. This can paralyze us into stopping. Knowing there is a process, and knowing the team will make sense of it in the next stage is helpful.
  2. Information never stops. We can collect information forever, and some of it is always new. But we have to draw a line in the sand to move to the next stage and make sense of findings. Once we hear repeated messages from people we can move to the next stage. If we identify gaps in the define stage we can always come back to explore the missing knowledge.

Look up the definitions of sympathise and empathise. What is the difference and how could you ensure you empathise and not sympathise when interviewing?

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