Three Types of Empathy


Design thinking can’t begin without a deeper understanding of the people we are designing for. In order to gain that understanding, it is important for us to empathize with the people we are designing for so we can understand their needs, thoughts, emotions and motivations. Empathize, the first stage of the Design Thinking Method, means developing a sense of empathy towards the people we are designing for, ability to see the world through other people’s eyes; to see what they see, feel what they feel, and experience things as they do. None of us can fully experience things the way someone else does, but we can attempt to get it as close as possible.

To understand what empathy is, it’s important to look at different kinds of empathy. Psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman break down the concept of empathy into the following three categories:

  1. Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand how a person feel and think. Cognitive empathy makes us better communicators, because it helps us relay information in a way that best reaches the other person.
  2. Emotional empathy (also known as affective empathy) is the ability to share the feelings of another person. Some have described it as “your pain in my heart”. This type of empathy helps you build emotional connection with others.
  3. Compassionate empathy (also known as empathic concern) goes beyond simply understanding others and sharing their feelings; it actually moves us to take action, to help however we can.

So, making a useful product or service needs more than just a group of talented and hard working people. We have to engage and collaborate through empathy and authenticity, staying connected and transparent, and empowering clear communication and strong collaboration.

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