Posts Tagged empathy

7 Tips to Be a More Empathetic Researcher

Empathetic Researcher

We know that empathy is important in building good relationships with our family and friends. However, empathy is also crucial in our professional lives and business success.  Empathy allows us to be more insightful researchers.  It allows us to see experiences in our consumers’ shoes and to create better products for them.

Here are 7 tips for your interactions with others (whether it’s with friends or with consumers) to become a more empathetic researcher:

  1. Recognize your preconceptions and prejudices. Be honest with yourself and be mindful of your preconceptions and where they come from (it’s ok – we all have them). Park them aside and be like a sponge, soaking up anything the another person has to say without judgement.
  2. Listen with your ears, eyes, and gut.
    • What key words and phrases stand out? What tone are they using?
    • What is their body doing while they speak?
    • What does your instinct say about what is important to them and how they are feeling?
  3. Validate. Phrases like “I get it”, “That makes sense”, and “Of course you feel that way” validate the other’s feelings. You don’t have to agree, you just need to show that you understand what they are going through.
  4. Mirror.  Studies have shown that going through the motion of making facial expressions can actually result in us experiencing the associated emotions. Imitate and mirror back the facial expressions of the person you are talking to so that you can tap into how they are feeling.
  5. Paraphrase. When actively listening, paraphrase and repeat what the person has said so that you can internalize what you’re hearing and also show that you understand what they said. If it becomes apparent when you paraphrase that you’re off the mark, they can use that as an opportunity to clarify.
  6. Tell me more. When listening to their story, try to understand why they might feel the way they do. Phrases like “What makes you say that?” or “Tell me more about that” can help you get closer to the “why”. Do your best to imagine yourself in their scenario.
  7. Don’t confuse sympathy and empathy Empathy is a great, warm place to foster growth. Sympathy comes from a place of perceived superiority and can be very destructive.

The Empathy Machine

VR Oculus Empathy Virtual Reality

What if you could put on a headset that allows you to feel exactly what someone else feels?

Verge publishes fictional stories bi-weekly – not to be confused with their news- and one especially caught my eye. It is called “The Empathy Machine“. The author describes his fictional experience at CES trying out the PathoGlyph Wavelength, a device that allows the wearer to feel the complete emotional journey of a person other than himself.

If virtual reality hijacks our eyes to show us the world through someone else’s, the Wavelength hijacks the whole nervous system.

It is a provocative piece, describing this “empathetic immersion” as the next great medium after virtual reality.

For most of the Wavelength’s “tracks,” PathoGlyph developers construct and place different feelings at key places in the story, the way a film editor might layer audio cues. They’re electrochemical cocktails that produce generic sensations — approximations of sadness, joy, or even complex concepts like jealousy…

Wearers can try out the PathoGlyph Wavelength and choose between different “tracks”, from Henry, a lonely big-eyed hedgehog’s search for a friend to Syria, a bystander’s perspective during a Syrian bombing. The story paints possible opportunities and concerns such a device could bring – from bringing about true empathy to bringing about psychologically damaging effects.

Of course in the real world – that device doesn’t exist. We cannot simply strap on a headset that will allow us to feel the emotional experience of another person; but we can build our empathy skills as people.

What we do have are emotionally intelligent researchers who have developed strong interpersonal skills to be able to empathize with and understand the people they are learning about. And in a world where the message of being more consumer centric has been touted over and over again – many marketers and designers are still sadly out of touch with the very people they are reaching/designing for.


Whether you are creating cleaning products for working mothers in the suburbs or marketing apparel for millennials in the city – you have to understand the world as your consumers see it; or else you miss the mark.  It is a difficult skills to not let your own personal perspectives subconsciously influence the way you imagine others to feel. Our researchers have honed in on important empathetic building skills to be able to paint the true emotional journey of the consumer and draw deep insights that can inform products and communications that will truly resonate.

Of course it probably would be simpler to just put on a Polygraph Wavelength. But until then, empathetic researchers will be the closest we have to stepping into someone else’s shoes.

What Researchers Can Learn from BBC’s The Fall

THE FALL episode 2

I’ve just started watching season one of BBC’s The Fall on Netflix, and I’m obsessed. No, it’s not just because of the beautiful Jamie Dornan and Gillian Anderson – this show is intelligently written and gorgeously filmed in a way that immediately sucks you into the psychological thriller storyline.

The plot follows a serial killer of professional brunette women (Dornan) and the Detective Superintendent brought in to track him down (Anderson), but it’s not just a game of cat and mouse. The story closely tracks the personal lives of the main characters, allowing the viewer to speculate on emotions and motives based on the characters’ actions, words and professed beliefs – not entirely unlike ethnographic research. It got me thinking: what can we, as researchers, learn from my new favorite show?

observing keyhole

Take a step back and think about your own camera angle. The show puts the viewer in an almost voyeuristic POV at times – the opening shot in the first episode is through a bathroom door, watching Anderson clean the bathtub from behind. The angle of view affects how we perceived the story and the characters. It can set us up for fear, skepticism or trust; it can influence us to see motives as predatory, ruthlessly ambitious, altruistic or loving.

As marketers, we view consumers from a structured, purposeful angle; yet as researchers, we need to be open-minded enough to suspend judgment and hold back on making assumptions until we have all the evidence. When walking into a room, consider the angle you’re viewing from – how is your viewpoint throwing your perception of the situation?


Your consumer is not a caricature of herself. In the show, the psychotic serial murderer also is a grief counselor who loves his children and who you genuinely start to root for when he’s in a bind; the badass lady lead detective is undeniably qualified and seen as the expert who can rule any room (or sexual relationship), who also deeply empathize with victims and suspects.

This is one of the most amazing, groundbreaking parts of the show: the characters are displayed as real, complicated and sometimes utterly unpredictable humans. It sounds obvious, yet think of how often, in society, we caricaturize instead of characterize – summing up people as predictable, one- (or two or three) note personalities instead of rich, complicated and deep-feeling humans.

As researchers, we often have to understand people quickly, capture their motives, habits and behaviors and make recommendations based on predictions. This doesn’t mean, however, that building caricatures is ever a shortcut for understanding character.

Real life means beliefs and intentions change rapidly, and you have to keep up.
The Fall’s detectives have hunches and inklings that seem immediately important, but sometimes they’re red herrings – and sometimes, by the time the evidence is uncovered, it’s not relevant anymore. Humans are fickle, emotional creatures, and we’re constantly changing our minds and adapting to the world around us. The job of the detectives – like researchers – is searching, identifying the patterns, and keeping up as the case evolves.

As a researcher, you are going to see cues, clues and indications that seem to fit together into an immediate perfect solution, but when that solution is pressure-tested, it may just not work anymore. And that’s ok. Solving any problem isn’t about knowing where to put each piece as its handed to you – it’s about being flexible, being truly open to an evolution of hunches and ideas.

Antedote recently launched a new tool called the Idea Accelerator to help us keep up and be open to the evolution of our ideas. The Idea Accelerator allows us to rapidly and iteratively explore ideas and concepts with consumers and get in-the-minute, global feedback. To learn more click below.

Learn more

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6 Tips for Practicing Empathy

Today we honor a great hero who dedicated his to life to ending racial and economic inequality, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was an iconic leader who inspired us to have empathy for people from all walks of life.

Empathy has been on the tongues of many lately, from educators to businessmen to politicians, as an important trait necessary for successful relationships at home and at work. Differing from sympathy, which is feeling sorrow for someone else’s misfortune and may come from a place of perceived superiority, empathy is the ability to understand and share the other person’s feelings and perspectives, to figuratively “walk in someone else’s shoes”. Here’s a great video on the difference between the two.

Below are 6 tips from Antedote on building empathy for others. Much of it seems like obvious common sense, but in daily practice, it is often easy to forget to do. Beyond our personal lives, being empathetic is also critical in our research work to truly understand consumer behavior and motivations and reach deeper insights.

6 Tips for Practicing Empathy


  • When someone else is talking to you, truly listen and focus on their words as opposed to thinking and creating your own response to it. Take a few moments before verbally responding to consider their emotional state and the motivations behind their words.



  • Be curious about others outside your social circle. Next time you’re at a café, strike up a conversation with a stranger. Even more points to chatting with someone who does not share your gender, ethnic make up, or age group. Go beyond talking about the weather. A good icebreaker is to offer them a genuine compliment and then ask a question that follows up on learning more about how they acquired that skill/trait. Allow the other person to talk about themselves.



  • Share a hidden part of yourself. When someone shares a story with you, open up and share a story of yourself as well to show them that you understand what they are going through and where they are coming from.



  • When meeting someone different than us, recognize your own preconceptions and prejudices and where they stem from. Do not let them govern your actions. Instead focus on finding commonalities between you and the other person.



  • Put into practice the Native American proverb, “Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him.” Do activities that you wouldn’t normally participate in to literally see how it feels to live someone else’s life. Attend a service of a faith that is not your own. Spend time in a neighborhood that you never hang around in.



  • Don’t instinctively go with your default reaction. Try to internally take the opposite point of view first, then work from there. Try to even argue the opposing view.


By practicing empathy in our daily lives, we can help to strengthen our relationships with our family, friends, and our greater community to build the caring world that King dreamed of.

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