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Exploring Empathy Part 6: The Conclusion
Exploring Empathy Part 6: The Conclusion
Brian Salts-Halcomb
Research Team

Throughout this series, I joined my colleague Chloe in examining empathy in UX, creating an "Empathy Cocktail" to represent empathy's various aspects. The recipe symbolizes empathy for users, clients, and ourselves, highlighting the importance of curiosity, acceptance, and continuous learning. Here's to embracing empathy's complexities!

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When my colleague Chloe Markley set out to write about empathy last fall, I was curious how she might give a familiar term, new clarity, new bite. At EchoUser, we say empathy is our core essence. That sounds important but hard to grasp, bringing up thoughts of the undefined essence of fruit flavor contained in a LaCroix. Could we move towards a more refined, more bold, more palatable recipe?

The Empathy Cocktail

We began by thinking about empathy for users, the basic foundation of UX. There, we recognized that empathy’s main ingredients are curiosity and acceptance, a posture that people (ourselves included!) is fascinating and well-intentioned. Rather than interpreting someone else’s viewpoint or actions as mistakes, the empathic person sees their best intentions. However, we also balanced this curiosity with the idea of “one foot in the room, one foot out of the room”: for the UX researcher, the temptation to overextend and over-identify with the user leads to burnout and missed insight. If we’re crafting an empathy cocktail, we must recognize it is potent and to be consumed in moderation. It’s a slow sip over an evening, not the choice of frat parties.

  • Select a modest glass. You’ll be filling this only about ⅔ of the way (never to the top!)
  • Fill your shaker with one part curiosity and one part acceptance.

In empathy for clients, we saw how hard it can be to have acceptance when we are not in control or when we’re pressured to take action in the moment. New requests - whether a change to a research goal or method - can feel like personal affronts. I guess our cocktail isn’t all sweet and floral! Chloe guided us to use understanding as a way to actually produce empathy. Before expecting yourself to be comfortable with what you’re hearing, pause and ask, “how does this behavior make perfect sense?” The first step may come more from the brain than the heart, but it will produce a more balanced response.

  • Add a couple of splashes of bitters. It can’t be too smooth!
  • Let your ingredients sit and age for a few minutes. This stage is vital: they’ll create their own unique combination of flavors outside of your control.
  • Observe the changes that are occurring. Shift your focus from how you feel about the changes to what the ingredients are trying to accomplish. What are you noticing?

Things started to taste really different when we introduced empathy for kids and the idea that we might have to pursue hard empathy over time in the nitty-gritty of life. We discussed the deep urge to change people and situations, contrasted with the best moments when we can simply recognize what the other is trying to communicate.

  • Add a heaping tablespoon of humility.
  • Take a small taste. Let the flavors speak for themselves.
  • Make minor adjustments. Your tendency will be to over-correct but remember you want to help the flavors develop their autonomy.

Lastly, we looked at ourselves and asked what we could learn about extending empathy to our own minds and bodies. Here, we noticed how active the process is, a repeated practice rather than a one-time thing. It doesn’t appear to be a recipe we perfect the first time. Along the way, we actually have to remove some things: perfectionism that no longer serves us or some other nagging voice that does not match our goals.

  • Take another small taste. You will likely notice something too strong, something out of balance. Add another splash of acceptance.
  • Shake it up
  • Pour and enjoy with friends
  • Improve your recipe again tomorrow

Thanks for joining Chloe and me as your mixologists in this reflection this past year. We learned a ton and came away refreshed by the users, clients, and family members that guided us.

And cheers to your pursuit of less control, more observation, and waiting - empathy. May you enjoy the mysterious combination of flavors that results!


If you haven’t already, check out the previous posts in our empathy series.

Exploring Empathy Part 1: An Introduction to the Series

Exploring Empathy Part 2: Empathy for Users

Exploring Empathy Part 3: Empathy for Clients

Exploring Empathy Part 4: Empathy for Kids

Exploring Empathy Part 5: Empathy for Myself

Published on March 22, 2023

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