Empathy is Not a Buzzword

Empathy is not a buzzword; it’s a life pursuit. The wings of wisdom and compassion have been taught by Buddhism for 2500 years. This isn’t new.

What’s new is the movement to integrate compassionate practices into business. Particularly in the tech industry which is often so dehumanizing. Left unchecked, technology turns people into proxies. That’s why it’s so crucial that we integrate empathy and compassion into the design process.

The way to authentically introduce empathy to your organization is to live it and breathe it yourself. Compassion starts at home, inside you.

Empathy can be assessed and it can be developed. Through ongoing self-awareness practices (such as meditation, yoga, martial arts, journaling, coaching) we are able to gain greater awareness of others — by achieving greater presence. It is a process, a lifelong process, and it has an impact not just at work but in your whole life.

Remember, you are a whole human being, and all of you goes with you wherever you go. The same is true for everyone around you — your coworkers, your boss, that guy across the hall you just can’t stand.

Cultivating compassion for others reduces conflict and increases joy. It will transform your life. So when you see all this talk of empathy, try not to think, “Oh, that again?!” and instead wonder, “What am I missing?”

The answers lie within you. You just have to look.

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  1. Jesper W. says

    Yes, empathy is a life pursuit – or at least it very well should be. To professionals in UX, though, it’s also something else, namely a tool, a way of addressing the non-technological, non-technical part of a product or service chain – the user, the human being in the equation – in a knowledgable, skillful and constructive manner.

    Here, I penned a wee ditty on it: http://www.jesperwille.com/the-empathy-tool/
    (I know about “nofollow”, not trying to link farm or whatever they call it)

    Thank you!

  2. says

    Whitney, I completely agree with you on this. However, I am still finding it hard to put it into words where executives don’t feel like I am getting too touchy feely or esoteric when it comes to the benefits of empathy in UX. How would you say that empathy benefits business, or tell a client that your empathy will benefit them?

    • says

      Our role isn’t to *tell* our clients or stakeholders anything. Our role is to identify and solve their problems. *Show* them how empathy benefits business by demonstrating it to your customers, your coworkers and your superiors. Show them compassion by making their pain go away. What do they need? What do they fear? Can you answer those questions. Don’t just teach the principles, live them.

  3. Dale Morris says

    Hi Whitney,

    I came across your post by way of a Google search for my latest article on empathy, mindfulness (lately a fashion in itself that has been around thousands of years too) and what this means for good UX. I don’t really need to learn what empathy means per say as I have been “practicing” Buddhism all my life also. (“Practicing” is not quite the right word; living it would be a better choice – it’s tricky to put into words exactly what it means to experience life as a Buddhist.) That’s beside the point, though, here.

    What I wanted to know is what the “industry” I’m in is purporting these days on the topic so I could relate it to my readers in a concise and clear manner. I’ve never really thought about singling it out as something to specifically learn to make better web design. It just seems like the natural thing to do to make sites that consider the end user(s) – always room for all of us to grow. :)

    I find it ironic I suppose that It’s something that has to be taught specifically and with Persona Maps as well. If it works, though, so much the better for our world. I like that I’m seeing this stuff coming into mainstream consciousness and only hope that it sticks with a larger amount of folks than just the ones putting it forth.

    I think there’s still a lot of room for growth as to UX on the internet and let’s look forward to the web becoming more and more empathic soon. Thanks for the article as well as the one you wrote: Awakening to Buddhism.

    • says

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Dale. I deeply appreciate it. It’s great to know there are people around the world with the same passions and sensibilities as me. We’ll move the needle together.


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