Why empathy is key for Product Managers to build products users love
Empathy is understanding that people don’t listen to Spotify because they like Nina Simone, it’s because they want to create a relaxing atmosphere for their guests. It’s a skill that taps into the depths of a human problem, and an essential one for product managers to master.
Empathy enables problems to be understood within their context
Problems are not islands. Empathy is about embodying the whole world and context of the user to understand their problems and pains. Empathy enables PMs to ‘system think’ and get a holistic understanding of the problem. This reduces the risk of learning relevant information later and needing to pivot to incorporate it. It’s learning my grandmother does not forget to charge her smartphone, it’s that she’s uncomfortable navigating all the buttons when she does — two very different problems for a PM to solve.
Every issue is real, even if the words people are using point to a different one
Every situation you encounter is valid and real, even if the words people use to describe something are not entirely true. For example, a stakeholder may say that they do not have funding for this solution, whereas they really mean that they don’t quite understand how the ML model would actually work. Empathy is the skill that uncovers the truth. A technique to dig deeper is asking “why” relating to the same question until it feels uncomfortable and you can’t learn any more with another “why”.
Empathy will enable you to learn more and often
Being aware of having gaps in your knowledge can be uncomfortable, especially having this be seen by stakeholders. Showing empathy is repeating, summarising and communicating your understanding of the situation back to your users or stakeholders. You may say “it seems like you tried to solve this before but it was difficult”, “it looks like the guard-rails in place are not sufficient”, “it looks like you are not using this feature”. Showing understanding will make people more comfortable to open up, share their thoughts and create collaborative relationships. A positive scenario is communicating something that you’ve actually misunderstood, in which case you can quickly course-correct, learn what is not true and gain trust for being transparent about your knowledge.
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