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Author's profile photo Deepa Iyer

Empathy- is it so hard to practice?

Empathy is the fundamental principle of Design Thinking. It is the ability to step into the shoes of another person to try to understand their feelings. Is it so hard then, to put it into practice?

Let me share an example. As I reflect on my recent family trip to India, I can’t help but wonder why is it so hard to show empathy when you travel? To fellow passengers, to the flight crew, ground staff or anyone you may encounter during your journey.

We travelled by a well-known European airline and so expected to see the same standards and procedures at all the airports. However, it varies vastly in each country. For example, in our stop over in one of the biggest hubs in Europe, the experience was abysmal. There is no process when boarding the 200+ people onto the connecting flight. Passengers with children are asked to board after the airline priority passengers but everyone is in a rush and just pushes aside their neighbor- baby or no baby! The airline priority members were not happy with this- they started yelling at the ground stuff who seemed at a loss on how to handle this utter chaos.

The experience on our return flight from India was the complete opposite. The ground staff of the same airline was organized and followed a clear process. The boarding process was smooth and a pleasant experience overall. No yelling at the staff, no shoving each other and no nasty stares at your fellow passengers.

I wonder if the environment affects how you empathize? It shouldn’t but it seems to be the case. When we are under pressure and in a chaotic situation, we seem to forget that the people around us are probably feeling the same anxiety we are. In fact, this is the time when we need to empathize with one another! Take a moment and try to think of the problem from the other person’s perspective before reacting.

As 2015 comes to a close and we spend time with friends and family, let’s make a resolution to try and empathize with fellow human beings in any situation.

Do you have stories about empathy? Please share them in the comments below.

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