Pärt Ojamaa: Empathy helps us access the very core of the purpose – the why

Pärt works as a service designer at Nortal. His role is to connect the dots between different stakeholders in – mainly public sector – projects. Pärt loves the process of bringing clarity to complex problems. To do so, he combines his visual expression skills with theoretical knowledge gathered from MA studies in culture theory and semiotics. He believes it is all about the effectiveness of project communication when struggling with wicked problems. At the summit, Pärt will speak about using empathy for improving project communication, and as an intro, he opened the topic a bit more.
In our work, we are pretty much numbers and goals oriented. This is useful because we need to be effective and able to measure success and set strategically sharp future goals. Often what is left in the shade in the midst of all that is asking "Why are we doing this at all?". Not only business-wise but more broadly. Why are we doing what we do? What is the purpose of all that?

In most cases, the answer could be narrowed down to – "helping other people". In other words: Your work is pointless if it does not help (in the short or long term) anyone. To help someone, we need to understand him or her – the user. Everything we do is used by other people, sooner or later. To get to the core of their problem, we need to understand them. We need to "step into their shoes". Every problem-solving stands on the basis of empathy. To understand is to be emphatic. We could go even further by stating: "empathy being somewhat the highest form of knowledge" (Bill Bullard).

Empathy helps us access the very core of the purpose – the why.

To step into someone else's shoes, you need to step closer to the person you are helping. Hearing what they say when struggling and seeing them in action bears down the distance you'd otherwise have, making your decisions in your work bubble/ivory tower.

In our project – the childbirth event-based service project – we had to communicate the pain of our end-user to various stakeholders. The stakeholders needed to understand why we are putting so much effort into some specific areas. There was a need to efficiently communicate certain aspects of the user journeys so that the project's focus would be clear.

To do that, we not only interviewed our users in the AS-IS mapping phase but took some of the most abundant quotations from the interviews and presented those word-by-word in the proper context. By context, I mean a visual depiction of the exact situation where a problem occurred. The result of showing and describing the struggle with the user's own words was bringing the end-user – a pregnant woman – and her problems much closer to the decision-makers. Needless to say, it worked well inside the project team. It is bizarre, but it gets on you way better if the end user's pain is brought to you via other mediums than just, let’s say, a wall of text on the client’s confluence page!

Seeing and hearing help us understand more effectively when just reading an analysis on the topic. Empathy is the key feature in human-centric business. Especially nowadays. Getting to know the person your efforts are aimed at and using different mediums makes the project more humane. It boosts the motivation to invest in it – because everyone can see the one the outcome is helping.

In my presentation, I will be talking about the effective impact empathy has on overall project communication. To describe the role of empathy in effective communication, I try to tie real-life project experience with some insights on the topic from the academic field. See you on October 20!

Add a comment

Email again: