in user experience

Can there be too much empathy?

It is exciting to be the person on the team who is responsible for bringing the end user to life in a project team. To be the person who is advocating on behalf of the end user, to be fighting in their corner, to be trying to build an empathetic sense of who the end user is within your project team. It’s a fun job and it feels like a valuable contribution. It’s something I spend a lot of my time doing.

It’s important we don’t oversimplify our responsibilities when it comes to empathy.

Empathy goes rogue if you empathise with one party only. If your fervour for empathising with your end user affects your ability to empathise with the needs of the people in your project team, things will go badly. Your ability to be effective for the end user will be diminished or neutralised if that is the only perspective with which you can truly empathise.

That’s not to say that the needs of the developer or the delivery manager should outweigh the needs of the end user – user needs come first*. It is to say that in the way that you involve the rest of the team in experiencing empathy with the end user you are also seeking to understand what is important to the people in your team.

So, no, there probably can’t be too much empathy, just make sure you spread it around.

* this, of course, assumes that you’re working on something that you should be working on – if you’re in government, something that only government can do. If you’re in a business, something that is going to, if successful, help build a sustainable business.