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Empathy for Ourselves

We’re in this situation where we have a finite period of time, we really need to pay close attention to this person. We need to concentrate. We need to focus. And we need to go into it with the intent of gaining understanding, of challenging our assumptions, of teasing out the problems and needs and better understanding them and defining them in a way that will be actionable for our work, for our teams.

We go in with this openness and this presence, that I don’t know that we possess a lot of the other time. And I don’t think a lot of us possess that for ourselves, that level of patience, that level of acceptance.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a user interview or a usability test, and in my mind, just before it starts, I’m telling myself whatever this person has to say, it’s valid. Whatever their challenges are with what I’ve designed or with what one of my team members have designed, it’s valid.

I accept them wholly. I trust that what they’re telling me is true. And I am there to serve them. That is my role. And so much of myself fades away. And I’ve written about this before when I give my tips on conducting user interviews. I’ve said many times I’ll forget that I have to take a sip of water. I’ll forget that I had to go to the bathroom before this started. I’ll forget about this nagging thing that’s going on in my life that’s consuming me at all other times.

When I’m in the room with that person, I am so focused on them, and it’s all with the intent of building the awareness that I have of them and the empathy that I can build within myself and help other team members of mine build as well.

And it seems as though we should probably spend more time trying to cultivate that acceptance, that attention, that concentration for ourselves. But how do we get the space from ourselves to do that? That’s what’s so hard. It’s like we can’t get away from ourselves. We can’t escape.

An excerpt from my dialogue with Paul McAleer on our podcast Designing Yourself, Episode #3: Getting to Know You (originally aired July 23, 2013), with minimal editing for readability.

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  • Gonçalo Salgado

    meditation is a great way