Problem Solving with Empathy and Authority | Whiteboard

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Insight 06 | February 22, 2016

Problem Solving with Empathy and Authority

by Nick Morrison

Problem Solving and Empathy.004

First off, let me start by doing the obvious thing and defining both these important terms.

Empathy means to understand and share the feelings of another or essentially to walk a day in someone’s else shoe’s.

Authority, in the context of this talk, is utilizing our experience to make educated decisions on a client or project’s behalf and trusting that we are correct.

Key Messages



We have all struggled with applying empathy to all aspects of your process. Now if you are saying that you haven’t, then you are likely lying.

Empathy starts by developing an attention to listening to the client, being able to let go of your own perspective and then apply your own experiences to their situation.

IDEO previously called design empathy an “out-of-ego experience”, which I think is a very accurate description of the process.

Empathy is important because ideally it ensures that the work you are doing is effectively working towards the objective of the client. It is a key part of the process to keep this objective close at hand throughout the course of the project.

I know personally that this is something that I have often struggled with in the past. In order to help myself stay focused I like to keep a note of these objectives near my desk or in an easily accessible digital note. Now when you reach a major problem and need to take a step back to reassess the situation, the goals of the projects will be close at hand to give your mind a full reset.


Problems with Empathy



We are all experts in our own field and are approached based on our expertise and we should remember to bring that authority to the table when necessary.

Authority does not mean being egotistical and argumentative. However, it does mean being educated and informed with all decisions we make and taking the appropriate steps towards communicating them with authority.


Maintaining an Authoritative Position


Maintaining an Empathetic Position


The Conclusion
Final Thoughts

At this point, it makes sense to remember our position on a specific team and the objective of the current project. Remember to take a step back from the design/problem and try to view it from their shoes. If the solution to the problem, in your eyes, makes the most sense, then approach it with authority and empathy. Be sure to recognize and interpret where the clients are coming from but do not forget to acknowledge the educated and informed decisions that have been made up to this point.


On Design Thinking…
Elsa Fridman

A collection of resources, thoughts, and tidbits on design and user-centered thinking.

How Empathy Works
Katja Battarbee

"What are the mechanics of empathy? Why is empathy so important in design? How is having empathy different from just being informed?"

The Empathy Paradox
Emily Campbell

"By empathizing with our users (clients, colleagues, etc), we are able to create more meaningful experiences, and therefore better designed products. However, there’s a paradox to empathy: the more we think we know another’s needs, the less effort we make to find out what their real needs are. "

"Design empathy is an approach that draws upon people’s real-world experiences to address modern challenges. When companies allow a deep emotional understanding of people’s needs to inspire them—and transform their work, their teams, and even their organization at large—they unlock the creative capacity for innovation."

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