We use the word ’empathy’ a lot; to talk about ethics, to talk about understanding users, to talk about the differences between humans and machines… but what do you actually know about what empathy is? I’ll explain the history of the concept of empathy and use examples from peer reviewed papers to explain what ’empathy’ does (and does not) mean, how to elicit it in yourself and other, and how activating someone’s empathy changes their choices and behaviors. Then I’ll discuss how this applies to our work: How we can help our teams better empathize with our users, when we can rely on empathy to help us make better decisions, and when it can lead us astray, and how we can design processes that allow for human empathy to do what it’s good at (understanding the experience of another person), while allowing machines to do what they are good at (making calculations, and comparisons with large sets of data).
You’ll leave able to confidently define empathy, and understanding how and why it works, and when it is to activate it to help us make decisions.
Kat King has a master’s degree in Information Science from the University of Michigan School of Information. She currently works at the U of M library, where she helps teams map the parts and relationships in their work ecosystems, so they can better solve problems, design services, and develop the library of the future.