As designers, we hear about the power and importance of empathy. The importance of sharing in a customer’s experience is an oft-discussed aspect of experience design. But before empathy can take place, we must have awareness. The ability to consciously perceive:
- Perceive emotions you’re feeling and whether they are yours or not.
- Perceive a person’s reactions to news, good or bad.
- Perceive a person’s body language and position relative to others, including yourself.
- Perceive as many of the details of an interaction as possible.
While it’s impossible to truly know what others are thinking or feeling, we’ve been culturally trained through experience to infer meaning to certain cultural cues. However, bringing these perceptions to the forefront of consciousness, while not simply letting them affect emotions and judgements about a situation, is a great challenge. It’s the timeless challenge of “seeing” one’s culture.
It is in fact the reason a “new set of eyes” or “third-person perspective” is crucial. It’s next to impossible, if not impossible, to both participate in the interaction and have an observer’s perspective. This means a customer or service provider can only be trusted to give their account of an interaction, and that one story may be distinctly different from another; given their different perspectives.
This is why, as experience designers and consultants, it’s our role to provide that alternate perspective and be aware of all the nuances of an interaction. We should be able to empathetically understand both perspectives, while integrating the layer visible only to us (as an observer) to achieve the broadest understanding regarding an interaction’s significance. This ability is important not just as an outsider, but as a participant as well. We must also be able to role play effectively to understand the emotional and physical needs an interaction requires. This level of awareness is a skill that must be nurtured and honed. It doesn’t come overnight, but it can be developed with practice.