I recently attended the TEDxUW 2012 conference. The theme for this year’s conference was EDGE. The speakers – ranging from Olympic medalist winner, stutterer turned award winning orator to indie music artist who made herself a niche in the web – talked about what that EDGE meant to them. Of course, this so-called EDGE would mean many different things to different people, including myself. So, naturally, I asked myself “what is my edge?”; “what is the single most important skill that makes me unique?” I thought and concluded that my EDGE is empathy!
Empathy, in short, means the ability to feel what other people are feeling, be it happiness, sadness, concern, doubt, distress or drive. I have had the tendency to sense what the other people are going through by simply speaking to them or sometimes by just observing them. At first, I didn’t think much of it but later on I learned to use this to my advantage. From little things such as being a good friend to sensing what to do to please my teachers before being asked to do something and figuring out whom I can trust. It doesn’t always work otherwise it would be a super power. Just like everyone else, I make mistakes and occasionally I am completely wrong, however, overall, I think my empathy has made me a better person.
Who would have thought that the same empathy gives me a competitive EDGE at my workplace? Currently working as an interaction designer, part of my job is to talk to people about my designs “User Research” and figure out what are the user needs. I am a strong believer in the user research methodology for two reasons: First, it really helps validate your product designs, while understanding how your users interact with the product and secondly, we are able to find usability issues to make our product even more easy to use and intuitive. While conducting user interviews, I am able to quickly able to empathize with the users and draw out their true intentions for the product. Granted the users are not always right, as Steve Jobs famously quoted. However, I think by asking the right questions, most often than not the users will bring about the real pain points in using your product, which when combined with your knowledge and experience, can help you build a much more delightful user experience.
In addition to the above, being empathetic allows me to understand the dynamics in the work environment better; my own limitations and that of my peers, identifying and avoiding conflicts before they get out of hand and earning the respect and cooperation from your co-workers so that we can collaborate and build something truly awesome.
One of the challenges that an empathic person faces is the ability to take a decision without any emotional attachment. Empathetic beings, as I choose to call myself, are often driven by emotion that at certain times it makes it very challenging to make tough decisions that directly affect someone. Despite its challenges, I truly believe that being an empathetic person helps me be good at my work, pursue my passions and be happy.
As Psychology Today states:
Empathy is strength, and an asset towards surviving and thriving in any environment. It promotes genuine curiosity about others, which facilitates a desire to teach and learn.
I am quite proud about this discovery. What is your EDGE?