How to cultivate the skill of empathy

As Service Designers to create great services we need to truly understand the Customer (user). Not by asking them what they want, but by really observing and understanding who they are and what they actually do.  To minimise personal bias and really put yourself in the user’s shoes takes a great deal of empathy.  So does this means all Service Designers need to be inherently very empathetic people?I discovered an article  “Service Design Soft Skill Builder: Empathy” by Patrick Quattlebaum, Managing Director at Adaptive Path  ( that highlighted the importance for designers to consciously try to inculcate and enhance their ability to empathise. As any skill, it needed to be honed and practiced to be effectively applied.
He suggests reading fiction as a method of building empathy and emphasizes the importance of selecting fiction that touches your heart and truly absorbs you. He also touches upon the fundamental skill of listening. Relaxing, meditating and actively listening without distraction are ways to build the skill of empathy and demonstrate the emotion to others. Having a genuine sense of curiosity and desire to learn can also direct you towards the user’s needs. He recommends taking an improv class – something he did to tap the ability to be free, creative, and empathetic by learning to build a rapport and trust with others.
It makes me realise being empathetic can be built through several aspects of my life, and the result does permeate to my work as a designer. This soft skill cannot be compartmentalised between personal and professional realms, and as one begins to intentionally cultivate empathy in their daily life, the ability to create Services that are human centered and cater to the implicit and explicit desires of people will be the natural outcome.
Keeping my phone out of sight when listening to someone, or focusing a social conversation on the other person with genuine interest are intentional actions I try to include in my interactions with others.  Allowing myself to be introspective by chanting for an hour daily has also really helped me develop a more compassionate lens. Contributing your actual time to the community or participating in any kind of social activity with strangers inspires a new sense of collaboration, understanding and empathy.  The skill of empathy is also deeply linked to having an open mind and being able to celebrate diversity. I find travel the best way to achieve this. Going beyond the urban comfort of some of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities that offer you pretty much the same experience no matter where you are, is the kind of travel I recommend. Tread outside your comfort zone to explore new cultures, cuisines, languages and terrains and let yourself adapt to the environment.
Expanding the heart and mind can enhance the empathy skill bringing one great fulfillment as a designer, as well as other aspects of life.
References:  Image and some views in this articles are taken from