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“I hear you”
Moving beyond empathy in UXR
Megan Campos, Dir. User & Experience Insights @ Fidelity
Baby/Dog Tax
Why am I talking about this?
Empathy is ubiquitous.
It is… empathy that helps to
create meaning from the data
we gather in observation.”
– Jane Fulton Suri
“
Words matter.
“High-impact UX research supports
product teams in identifying the right
problems to solve, discovering the best
solutions to those problems, and designing
effective, efficient, and delightful
experiences that encourage desired user
behavior and drive business outcomes.”
“What is the business value of user experience research?”
“It creates empathy for our users.”
Empathy is a user research buzzword.
Definition: Empathy is the ability to fully understand, mirror, then share another
person’s expressions, needs, and motivations.
In UX, empathy enables us to understand not only our users’ immediate
frustrations, but also their hopes, fears, abilities, limitations, reasoning, and goals.
It allows us to dig deep into our understanding of the user and create solutions
that will not only solve a need, but effectively improve our users’ lives by removing
unnecessary pain or friction.”
- Nielsen Norman Group, Sympathy vs. Empathy in UX
“
“Empathy is feeling with people.”
- Source: Brené Brown on Empathy
Empathy can be harmful.
Lived experience matters. Empathy
requires an element of ‘recognition’…
to recognize you have to have seen or
felt [the experience] yourself.”
– Umbereen S. Nehal, MD, MPH
“
Empathy can be harmful, part 2.
Very few of us have had an easy path, but attempting to equate
your journey, as someone who has benefited from the
privilege of existing as part of the dominant group, with that of
someone who has not had those advantages is simply not
helpful and can in fact be destructive.”
“
– A Point of View: When Empathy Isn’t the Answer
True empathy in UXR is a virtual impossibility.
Saying that we can be truly empathetic towards our users assumes that we can let go of our own
assumptions, biases, and stereotypes to feel and experience what they feel and experience.
”I understand what you’re
going through…”
“I know how that
feels…”
“I can imagine how that
must have felt…” “I totally get it…”
People with intense Empathy talents have an
instinctive sense of the emotions of others… They
don't learn this ability, because it can't be taught.
It's innate, a function of neurological wiring.”
UXRs are trained to deploy similar skills:
• Compassion
• Analytical and strategic thinking
• Advocacy
• Communication
• Listening
Empathy is a rare innate talent, not a skill.
– The Empathy Problem: Mistaking a Rare Talent for a Business Necessity
“
The Perception of Empathy Creates Bias.
Many people believe that dogs enjoy being
hugged, for example, presumably because
we enjoy being hugged. But this is probably
wrong: Dog experts* tell us that dogs don’t
naturally enjoy being hugged; they suffer
through it.”
Ugh.
“
– Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion
This is Rye.
Rye LOVES hugs.
…or does she?
Judd Antin and “the performance of HCD”
UX Research needs to find a balance of business-driving
user-centeredness that changes the fundamental math
about our value…
I’m suggesting once we find our role as drivers of business
value, only then will we be positioned to advance [our
more humanistic] goals.”
“
Carl Rogers and “accurate empathy”
When you say _______, or when I experience
you _______, you're bringing in this therapeutic
material in a way that we can work with
together.
Am I getting this right?”
“
Paul Bloom and “rational compassion”
Empathy is a spotlight focusing
on certain people in the here
and now.”
“
Moving past empathy in study design
Replacing empathy with compassion
Source: Susan David, PhD
Empathy vs. Compassion.
Goal: respond to someone
else’s experience
Share in the experience
of the other person
Identify opportunities to
improve that experience
COMPASSION
EMPATHY
Understand what the
other person is feeling
Listen to the other
person’s experience
Creating more targeted research questions
How do users think/feel about x
functionality/activity?
What are the concerns or challenges with Y?
Why are users using/not using Z feature?
What keeps users from performing x
activity on y platform?
Which concept is most useful to novice
investors when making an investment?
How do users compare the experience of x
platform with y competitor?
Replacing empathy as a response in moderation
An alternative to empathy.
Validation does not mean that you agree with the
other person.
It simply means that you recognize and accept that
the other person has also had an experience and
that his or her point of view, while it may be
different from yours, has equal validity.
Remember that others are not you.”
“
- John Sullivan
Affirmation gives the participant
space to correct any
misperceptions the moderator
has by allowing them to surface
what they’re hearing and ask for
a response.
Surfacing + correcting assumptions.
Moderator: From what I’ve seen, it
appears that you’re super into hugs.
Can you tell me whether that’s
accurate or not?
Rye: No, I don’t like being hugged. But
I do like that when I lean into you, you
scratch my chin.
Give yourself grace.
How to practice validation + affirmation
1. Recognize the participant as the expert.
2. Employ active listening.
3. Share statements of affirmation.
4. Be gracious in asking for more.
“I want to start off by noting that you are the
expert here; in this conversation, my role is
to listen and facilitate. We are talking about
your experiences, and anything you share
today is completely valid. You have all the
right answers.”
MODERATOR
How to practice validation + affirmation
1. Recognize the participant as the expert.
2. Employ active listening.
3. Share statements of affirmation.
4. Be gracious in asking for more.
“I want to say back to you what you
just said to me to make sure I
understand - it sounds like you found
the financial advisor’s
recommendations to be confusing. Is
that right?”
“Kind of. The recommendations
themselves weren’t confusing. I just
didn’t really understand how they
aligned with the preferences and
history I described to the advisor.”
MODERATOR
PARTICIPANT
How to practice validation + affirmation
1. Recognize the participant as the expert.
2. Employ active listening.
3. Share statements of affirmation.
4. Be gracious in asking for more.
Instead of… Try:
“I understand how you feel.” “That sounds like it was a really intense experience.”
“I know what you mean.” “I hear what you’re saying.”
“I’ve been there.” [active listening]
How to practice validation + affirmation
1. Recognize the participant as the expert.
2. Employ active listening.
3. Share statements of affirmation.
4. Be gracious in asking for more.
"I appreciate you sharing [that]. If
you are comfortable, I would love
to explore what you just
mentioned a bit more."
MODERATOR
What about emotional tangents?
Validation has the potential to springboard the participant into tangents - sometimes
productively, sometimes not. Especially when the tangent is emotional, it can be difficult to
steer the participant back. In those cases:
1. Try appreciation.
2. Try practicality.
3. Try leveraging your mod guide.
4. Try making connections.
5. Make sure they’re comfortable moving on.
“Thank you so much for sharing that with
me - I’m grateful for the insight and for
your willingness to talk about [subject]. I
want to make sure we hit a couple key
topics, so I’m going to move us along…
[next question].”
MODERATOR
What about emotional tangents?
1. Try appreciation.
2. Try practicality.
3. Try leveraging your mod guide.
4. Try making connections.
5. Make sure they’re comfortable moving on.
“Thank you so much for sharing all of
that with me. I hate to change subjects
but I want to be respectful of your
time and we do have a couple more
things to talk about. [Question].”
MODERATOR
What about emotional tangents?
“Thank you so much for sharing all of
that with me. We may circle back to
everything you just mentioned in a bit,
but I do have a couple other questions
here that I’d like to ask you.”
MODERATOR
1. Try appreciation.
2. Try practicality.
3. Try leveraging your mod guide.
4. Try making connections.
5. Make sure they’re comfortable moving on.
What about emotional tangents?
1. Try appreciation.
2. Try practicality.
3. Try leveraging your mod guide.
4. Try making connections.
5. Make sure they’re comfortable moving on.
“Thank you so much for sharing all of
that with me. When you said [thing] it
made me think of another question I’d
like to ask you - [question].”
MODERATOR
What about emotional tangents?
1. Try appreciation.
2. Try practicality.
3. Try leveraging your mod guide.
4. Try making connections.
5. Make sure they’re comfortable moving on.
“I do want to move us along to
another question. Before I do
that, do you need to take a
break or grab a glass of water?”
MODERATOR
• Is the participant still in the
emotional “zone”? You might
acknowledge them with something like
“I just want to say thank you again for
your openness and willingness to share
– I know that’s not always easy.”
• Has the participant moved on from
the emotional moments? Then maybe
you don’t need to bring them up again –
just end the interview as per usual.
Ending an emotional interview.
Reframing empathy with stakeholders
Carry compassion through to recommendations.
EMPATHETIC RESEARCH COMPASSIONATE RESEARCH
“Participants said they found the advisor’s
recommendation confusing.”
“Consider lowering the reading level of the
advisor’s recommendation.”
“Make sure the advisor’s recommendation is
not using industry jargon.”
“Participants did not always see alignment
between their preferences/history and the
advisor’s recommendations, resulting in
confusion and decreased trust.”
“The advisor needs to do more to explain the
‘why’ behind any recommendations.”
“Clients want to understand the connection
between what they told the advisor and the
recommendations being made to them.”
Words matter.
“What is the business value of user experience research?”
“It helps us create compassionate, useful
solutions for our customers.”
“High-impact UX research supports
product teams in identifying the right
problems to solve, discovering the best
solutions to those problems, and designing
effective, efficient, and delightful
experiences that encourage desired user
behavior and drive business outcomes.”
“It creates empathy for our users.”
“It creates empathy for our users.”
Recap!
We can do better than “empathy” in UXR:
• Empathy can cause harm
• Empathy is a biased decision-making tool
• Empathy can create assumptions
• ”Doing empathy” decreases our business value
Source: Susan David, PhD
Reframing what we do can generate more useful
insights and increase our business value.
Questions to consider.
• How do I describe the impact of UX research? What do I see as our
business value?
• How have I heard the impact of UX research described by others?
• What do I mean when I use empathy as a descriptor?
• How does the concept of empathy come into my own practice?
• How might changing how we think about what we do impact our
approaches and outcomes?
• Where and how might I be more specific in describing what UX research
does? How does that impact my practice?
Let’s continue the conversation!

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"I hear you": Moving beyond empathy in UXR

  • 1. “I hear you” Moving beyond empathy in UXR Megan Campos, Dir. User & Experience Insights @ Fidelity
  • 3. Why am I talking about this?
  • 4. Empathy is ubiquitous. It is… empathy that helps to create meaning from the data we gather in observation.” – Jane Fulton Suri “
  • 5. Words matter. “High-impact UX research supports product teams in identifying the right problems to solve, discovering the best solutions to those problems, and designing effective, efficient, and delightful experiences that encourage desired user behavior and drive business outcomes.” “What is the business value of user experience research?” “It creates empathy for our users.”
  • 6. Empathy is a user research buzzword. Definition: Empathy is the ability to fully understand, mirror, then share another person’s expressions, needs, and motivations. In UX, empathy enables us to understand not only our users’ immediate frustrations, but also their hopes, fears, abilities, limitations, reasoning, and goals. It allows us to dig deep into our understanding of the user and create solutions that will not only solve a need, but effectively improve our users’ lives by removing unnecessary pain or friction.” - Nielsen Norman Group, Sympathy vs. Empathy in UX “
  • 7. “Empathy is feeling with people.” - Source: Brené Brown on Empathy
  • 8. Empathy can be harmful. Lived experience matters. Empathy requires an element of ‘recognition’… to recognize you have to have seen or felt [the experience] yourself.” – Umbereen S. Nehal, MD, MPH “
  • 9. Empathy can be harmful, part 2. Very few of us have had an easy path, but attempting to equate your journey, as someone who has benefited from the privilege of existing as part of the dominant group, with that of someone who has not had those advantages is simply not helpful and can in fact be destructive.” “ – A Point of View: When Empathy Isn’t the Answer
  • 10. True empathy in UXR is a virtual impossibility. Saying that we can be truly empathetic towards our users assumes that we can let go of our own assumptions, biases, and stereotypes to feel and experience what they feel and experience. ”I understand what you’re going through…” “I know how that feels…” “I can imagine how that must have felt…” “I totally get it…”
  • 11. People with intense Empathy talents have an instinctive sense of the emotions of others… They don't learn this ability, because it can't be taught. It's innate, a function of neurological wiring.” UXRs are trained to deploy similar skills: • Compassion • Analytical and strategic thinking • Advocacy • Communication • Listening Empathy is a rare innate talent, not a skill. – The Empathy Problem: Mistaking a Rare Talent for a Business Necessity “
  • 12. The Perception of Empathy Creates Bias. Many people believe that dogs enjoy being hugged, for example, presumably because we enjoy being hugged. But this is probably wrong: Dog experts* tell us that dogs don’t naturally enjoy being hugged; they suffer through it.” Ugh. “ – Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion
  • 13. This is Rye. Rye LOVES hugs. …or does she?
  • 14. Judd Antin and “the performance of HCD” UX Research needs to find a balance of business-driving user-centeredness that changes the fundamental math about our value… I’m suggesting once we find our role as drivers of business value, only then will we be positioned to advance [our more humanistic] goals.” “
  • 15. Carl Rogers and “accurate empathy” When you say _______, or when I experience you _______, you're bringing in this therapeutic material in a way that we can work with together. Am I getting this right?” “
  • 16. Paul Bloom and “rational compassion” Empathy is a spotlight focusing on certain people in the here and now.” “
  • 17. Moving past empathy in study design
  • 18. Replacing empathy with compassion Source: Susan David, PhD
  • 19. Empathy vs. Compassion. Goal: respond to someone else’s experience Share in the experience of the other person Identify opportunities to improve that experience COMPASSION EMPATHY Understand what the other person is feeling Listen to the other person’s experience
  • 20. Creating more targeted research questions How do users think/feel about x functionality/activity? What are the concerns or challenges with Y? Why are users using/not using Z feature? What keeps users from performing x activity on y platform? Which concept is most useful to novice investors when making an investment? How do users compare the experience of x platform with y competitor?
  • 21. Replacing empathy as a response in moderation
  • 22. An alternative to empathy. Validation does not mean that you agree with the other person. It simply means that you recognize and accept that the other person has also had an experience and that his or her point of view, while it may be different from yours, has equal validity. Remember that others are not you.” “ - John Sullivan
  • 23. Affirmation gives the participant space to correct any misperceptions the moderator has by allowing them to surface what they’re hearing and ask for a response. Surfacing + correcting assumptions.
  • 24. Moderator: From what I’ve seen, it appears that you’re super into hugs. Can you tell me whether that’s accurate or not? Rye: No, I don’t like being hugged. But I do like that when I lean into you, you scratch my chin.
  • 26. How to practice validation + affirmation 1. Recognize the participant as the expert. 2. Employ active listening. 3. Share statements of affirmation. 4. Be gracious in asking for more. “I want to start off by noting that you are the expert here; in this conversation, my role is to listen and facilitate. We are talking about your experiences, and anything you share today is completely valid. You have all the right answers.” MODERATOR
  • 27. How to practice validation + affirmation 1. Recognize the participant as the expert. 2. Employ active listening. 3. Share statements of affirmation. 4. Be gracious in asking for more. “I want to say back to you what you just said to me to make sure I understand - it sounds like you found the financial advisor’s recommendations to be confusing. Is that right?” “Kind of. The recommendations themselves weren’t confusing. I just didn’t really understand how they aligned with the preferences and history I described to the advisor.” MODERATOR PARTICIPANT
  • 28. How to practice validation + affirmation 1. Recognize the participant as the expert. 2. Employ active listening. 3. Share statements of affirmation. 4. Be gracious in asking for more. Instead of… Try: “I understand how you feel.” “That sounds like it was a really intense experience.” “I know what you mean.” “I hear what you’re saying.” “I’ve been there.” [active listening]
  • 29. How to practice validation + affirmation 1. Recognize the participant as the expert. 2. Employ active listening. 3. Share statements of affirmation. 4. Be gracious in asking for more. "I appreciate you sharing [that]. If you are comfortable, I would love to explore what you just mentioned a bit more." MODERATOR
  • 30. What about emotional tangents? Validation has the potential to springboard the participant into tangents - sometimes productively, sometimes not. Especially when the tangent is emotional, it can be difficult to steer the participant back. In those cases: 1. Try appreciation. 2. Try practicality. 3. Try leveraging your mod guide. 4. Try making connections. 5. Make sure they’re comfortable moving on. “Thank you so much for sharing that with me - I’m grateful for the insight and for your willingness to talk about [subject]. I want to make sure we hit a couple key topics, so I’m going to move us along… [next question].” MODERATOR
  • 31. What about emotional tangents? 1. Try appreciation. 2. Try practicality. 3. Try leveraging your mod guide. 4. Try making connections. 5. Make sure they’re comfortable moving on. “Thank you so much for sharing all of that with me. I hate to change subjects but I want to be respectful of your time and we do have a couple more things to talk about. [Question].” MODERATOR
  • 32. What about emotional tangents? “Thank you so much for sharing all of that with me. We may circle back to everything you just mentioned in a bit, but I do have a couple other questions here that I’d like to ask you.” MODERATOR 1. Try appreciation. 2. Try practicality. 3. Try leveraging your mod guide. 4. Try making connections. 5. Make sure they’re comfortable moving on.
  • 33. What about emotional tangents? 1. Try appreciation. 2. Try practicality. 3. Try leveraging your mod guide. 4. Try making connections. 5. Make sure they’re comfortable moving on. “Thank you so much for sharing all of that with me. When you said [thing] it made me think of another question I’d like to ask you - [question].” MODERATOR
  • 34. What about emotional tangents? 1. Try appreciation. 2. Try practicality. 3. Try leveraging your mod guide. 4. Try making connections. 5. Make sure they’re comfortable moving on. “I do want to move us along to another question. Before I do that, do you need to take a break or grab a glass of water?” MODERATOR
  • 35. • Is the participant still in the emotional “zone”? You might acknowledge them with something like “I just want to say thank you again for your openness and willingness to share – I know that’s not always easy.” • Has the participant moved on from the emotional moments? Then maybe you don’t need to bring them up again – just end the interview as per usual. Ending an emotional interview.
  • 36. Reframing empathy with stakeholders
  • 37. Carry compassion through to recommendations. EMPATHETIC RESEARCH COMPASSIONATE RESEARCH “Participants said they found the advisor’s recommendation confusing.” “Consider lowering the reading level of the advisor’s recommendation.” “Make sure the advisor’s recommendation is not using industry jargon.” “Participants did not always see alignment between their preferences/history and the advisor’s recommendations, resulting in confusion and decreased trust.” “The advisor needs to do more to explain the ‘why’ behind any recommendations.” “Clients want to understand the connection between what they told the advisor and the recommendations being made to them.”
  • 38. Words matter. “What is the business value of user experience research?” “It helps us create compassionate, useful solutions for our customers.” “High-impact UX research supports product teams in identifying the right problems to solve, discovering the best solutions to those problems, and designing effective, efficient, and delightful experiences that encourage desired user behavior and drive business outcomes.” “It creates empathy for our users.” “It creates empathy for our users.”
  • 39. Recap! We can do better than “empathy” in UXR: • Empathy can cause harm • Empathy is a biased decision-making tool • Empathy can create assumptions • ”Doing empathy” decreases our business value Source: Susan David, PhD Reframing what we do can generate more useful insights and increase our business value.
  • 40. Questions to consider. • How do I describe the impact of UX research? What do I see as our business value? • How have I heard the impact of UX research described by others? • What do I mean when I use empathy as a descriptor? • How does the concept of empathy come into my own practice? • How might changing how we think about what we do impact our approaches and outcomes? • Where and how might I be more specific in describing what UX research does? How does that impact my practice?
  • 41. Let’s continue the conversation!