Tom Kelly states that design starts with empathy. In my observation, empathy gets loads more lip service than action. Empathy takes grit and perseverance to push past our own narcissistic behaviors. It's not easy, but endlessly wealthy.
Here is where I, and many others, struggle with empathy; perspective. On one hand, perspective is the missing key to insights and discovery, and on the other, it's the very thing that prevents us from seeing life with fresh eyes.
the state of existing in space before the eye: The elevations look all right, but the building's composition is a failure in perspective.
the state of one's ideas, the facts known to one, etc., in having a meaningful interrelationship: You have to live here a few years to see local conditions in perspective.
The magic sauce in developing strong empathy is strengthening your ability to step in and out of new and different perspectives. It can be a bit of a mind fake at first, trying to grasp ahold of more than one perspective at a time (especially when they are competing perspectives!).
Don't know where to start? Stretch your comfort zone.
Most people have predictable routines that essentially blind them to seeing things differently. We take the same rout to and from work, we talk to the same people every day, we go to the same eateries, etc. STOP!
Well, don't stop all of it, just stop one or two things and trade them in for something different. The more you're willing to risk, the stronger that muscle is going to be.
Consider these as kick starters!
- Ask someone with a different political view to tell you a story of how they came to vote a certain way – and listen. Don't battle it out, just listen and try to understand their perspective.
- Go to a church (or a different church/faith) and respectuflly inquire into what makes them different than the 10 other churches in your town. Just listen. This isn't about being right or voicing an opinion. It's about seeing life from a new perspective.
- Grab a cup of coffee with someone from a drastically different economic class than your own, and listen to what they consider their most exciting moment of the last year was. Don't one-up the story or judge, just listen.
If you're not feeling quite so risky, try starting with something as simple as listening to a grandparent tell of life growing up 2 or 3 generations removed from your own. If you're on the grandparent end of that spectrum, listen to a 8 year old explain what an average day at school looks like.
Here is the beauty of embracing and understanding a new perspective that I missed for a long time; we don't have to keep it. Perspective is about SEEING and doesn't require BEING. It's about a moment in time, landscape and context. We don't need to be afraid of it.
Before you go, consider checking out Roger Martin's book "Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking He takes the topic to a whole new level, one that I think you'll appreciate and learn from.