Developing Real Empathy in ISD/LXD

My worst job taught me a lot. I worked for a mortgage company in Kansas City starting in early 1972, in the collections department. I dealt with people on the phone and in our conference room who were perpetually late with their payments. My job required me to proactively call a long list of people just to remind them that their payment was due the next week and take note of what they said. And then I’d call a subset of them to ask why they were late, and when would they have their payment in, and make note of that.

I’ve stood on the court house steps during foreclosure proceedings with a certified check in hand to bid on the house as my boss ran through the legal proceedings in a public forum.

I also had to visit the homes that the firm foreclosed on, to remind people face-to-face, that the sheriff would be arriving the next day to remove their belonging after foreclosure. And then I made note of what was said or what condition I found the property in.

I learned real empathy and how to project that with people who found themselves in very sad and desperate situations – sometimes due to nothing of their own doing – as sometimes the health circumstances of the family/household “breadwinner” left women and children with few decent options.

When I read of Design Teams in LXD exercises getting together to step through an Empathy Phase or Step – I wonder what their source of insight and empathy comes from. And how nuanced it can possibly be.

Of course, if they have people from their Target Audiences involved from end-to-end they’ll have a much better chance at producing something that addresses the nuances that they’ll never understand well enough.

I’ve been facilitating Teams from the Target Audience in ISD/LXD Analysis and Design and Development efforts since 1979, and could never convince myself that I had clue #1 about the authentic nuances below an artificial surface-level understanding of the Performance Requirements and Contexts.

My empathy was centered on not pretending otherwise.

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