|Source: Oliver Clink|
How does one build empathy?
I've followed a lot of contemporary product guys and discussed with them what differentiates great PMs from others who also write documents, analyse data, coordinate with stakeholders and get things done? And the answers lead to their skill/ability to empathise with the user/ stakeholder/ reader/ audience/ team. I firmly believe, and it won't be hard to realise for you too, that how you do one thing is how you do everything. So you can't possibly be doing a great PM job for your users, if you aren't also empathetic towards your team and other stakeholders.
While your job involves a lot of pushback and "Saying No", that's certainly far from meaning that you stop listening. You don't exist to pick battles and win them, you exist to create a balance in feasibility, viability and usability. The negotiation hat comes in only after you've been super receptive to what people need and want - not only from the product, but also from you (you are also a product).
When you are being empathetic, it shows up in your communication, in the documents you create, in the designs you make and in the metrics your measure.
Conscious effort to be empathetic is all it takes. Ask "why" and "who for" more often. You need to put it in daily practice. Here's a few things that can help you get better.
Get deliberate exposure
|Get out of the building|
Get into the calls, meetings, visits where you can see, meet and talk to your users and understand them better. Make it a process. If you aren't going out of the building you'd never reach their heart. If it's not part of the process it won't happen regularly.
Make it a process, put it on your calendar.
Listen to feel
Articulate user responses
When thinking of your user's journey through a task - check at every step what the user Says, Thinks, Feels, Does. That's a great framework to understand the user and also to convey your understanding to the wise folks around you.
Eat that dogfood
If you aren't using the product "like a user", you can't get it right. If you are creating something for a delivery boy, use the phone they use, get out in the sun/rain, drive with them. Unless you do that, your requirement gathering is incomplete.
Forget your product
|Forgetting is a superpower|
This is powerful. How easily can you forget you have a product and articulate the exact problem your user is having. Don't try to tweak it in terms of the solution you have. We generally practice filtered listening, we note only what is relevant to our product, our beliefs, and our roadmap. A good indicator that you are able to forget the product when listening to a user is that you'd learn about 2-3 non-relevant problems of the user as well.
A great way to be more empathetic is to improve your emotional vocabulary. Humans have 34000 emotions, how many you name? Refer to this amazing guide of Emotions. If you are able to observe your emotion and decide whether you are irritable or angry or disappointed, you help yourself win the emotion as well as get more empathetic. A good exercise is also to try understanding art - not just enjoying it. It could be music, painting, movies, poetry - or anything that you deem creative.
Show the author some empathy, drop a line.