Back in September, NJ Connect invited me to give my talk, “Amazing Design Through Empathy.” I had a ton of fun speaking with the folks in attendance.
The conversation continued, and Benjamin Doda of Springboard PR (the organizers of NJ Connect) interviewed me on web design, empathy, and business. He asked me some really provocative, difficult, and fun questions.
A number of the questions he asked me about are going to feed the next iteration of my talk.
Here’s an excerpt
When you give an inch, some people take a mile. What are the consequences of designing with too much empathy?
Sympathy is feeling for a person. Empathy is feeling with a person.
It’s the difference between looking at the world’s tallest and fastest roller-coaster and saying “Wow… that looks really intense” (sympathy), versus getting into the roller-coaster and experiencing the ride for yourself (empathy).
Sympathy is useless, and drives a wedge between you and the person you’re dealing with.
To take this one step further, there’s a difference between having empathy, and being emotional.
If you’re feeling with a person, you have awareness, if you’re being emotional, you’re being strictly governed by emotions. In business, being emotional is going to ultimately make you spiral out of control.
Here’s what empathy is in a business context. I have a client who is agitated, passive-aggressive, and inconsistent. He’s incredibly difficult to deal with. Throughout the course of working with him I pieced together that he has a boss who micromanages him, changes his mind at the drop of a buzzword, and bullies my client around. When I look at my client, I understand what he’s feeling. I can identify those same emotions in myself, and I can even remember a time when I had a boss who did the exact same thing to me. What I am not doing is internalizing those emotions, and allowing myself to feel my client’s total panic. I’m identifying with his emotions, and using the knowledge that I have of how he must be feeling to help the situation.
Regardless of whether you feel with a client, or are numb to their emotions, a client can still push you around, and take more than they have paid for.
I have a small tolerance for extra work with my clients. When I start doing extra work, if it’s small, I let them know, “This is above and beyond, next time we’re going to have to talk about a change order and a budget.” If that extra work is a bit bigger, I may issue a no cost change order, and make everyone sign it knowing that the next change is going to cost money.
Some requested changes are just going to cost money. Sometimes you just need to tell the client early and often that future iterations and features are going to require a budget.