What is Empathy and What is It Not?
Empathy is our capacity to understand other people’s feelings and needs, to take the perspective of another person. Empathy entails a warm-hearted, open, and kind attitude.

This does not mean, though, that you must like the other person and that you must be happy and smiley all the time—nor does it mean sugar-coating messages, only telling people what they want to hear, and putting up with issues. The opposite is true: You can empathically address unhelpful and inappropriate behaviour, as the following example shows.

act in an empathic way: Find out first what’s going on and try to understand why
be frank: Don’t beat around the bush but make a clear and specific request once you’ve found out what drives the behaviour

it’s easy to confuse projection with empathy: The former means making assumptions about what the person should feel according to some preconceived ideas —for example, believing that someone who speaks loudly wants to dominate and take over a meeting—.
Empathy, however, implies developing an understanding of what is really going on for the other person. In the example just mentioned, the individual might have an odd communication habit and a general tendency to speak loudly, or the person might raise their voice because the individual is upset, not because they want to dominate.

Original and full post: Roman Pichler – Empathy in Product Management 

Why is Empathy Important in Product Management?
there are 3 reasons that make it particularly valuable for product people:

First, empathy is the foundation for effective leadership. It creates trust and psychological safety, and it allows you to influence others and encourage change. That’s key for product people who lack transactional power, who are not the boss of the stakeholders and development teams, but still have to guide and align the individuals to achieve product success.

Second, empathising with users and customers helps you develop a deeper understanding of their needs.
reaching out to selected users and customers with respectful curiosity and genuine warm-heartedness  is crucial to truly understand what they want and need.

Third, showing empathy towards yourself and cultivating self-compassion helps you be a happier person. It strengthens your ability to empathise with others, and it avoids the risk of overlooking your own needs and, for instance, regularly working too hard —which is an easy mistake to make, given that most product people have a demanding job.

How Can You Strengthen Your Empathy?
We all have the ability to empathise. But how strong it is, varies significantly. Not everyone we meet is a highly empathic person. What’s more, it is easy to empathise with someone we like and who we agree with. But if we are dealing with a “difficult” stakeholder, customer, or team members, developing an open, warm-hearted attitude can be challenging.

The following 4 techniques will help you increase your capacity to empathise with others.

Practise Active Listening Listening is not only crucial to have a successful conversation. It is key to understand someone’s feelings and underlying needs. What’s more, you should listen not only to what is being said, but also pay attention to the body language including voice pitch and volume, facial expressions, and gestures. To discover, consider using open-ended, non-directive questions.

Cultivate Curiosity and Open-mindedness Attentively listening to someone and empathising with them is difficult if you are strongly attached to preconceived ideas and beliefs. This does not only reduce your ability to understand and connect with the individual. It also risks ignoring a suggestion that might turn out to be a good idea.
do hold your views lightly and be willing to challenge them.

Walk in the Other Person’s Shoes Empathising with someone requires the ability to take the perspective of the other person, to see things through their eyes. You can achieve this by walking in the individual’s shoes and sharing their experience. You might, for instance, shadow users to better understand how they get a job done and what they might be struggling with… sharing someone’s experience can truly be an eye opener. It can help you cultivate an open, receptive mind and better understand people’s feelings and needs.

Practise Self-compassion It’s hard to empathise with others and cultivate an open, warm-hearted attitude if you are not kind to yourself.
To be more self-compassionate, follow these 4 recommendations:
1. don’t expect to always succeed and get everything right. Don’t beat yourself up when you make a mistake; don’t be overly self-critical and have unrealistic expectations of yourself. Look at yourself with kindness without being complacent and ignoring any shortcomings you might have.

2. don’t sacrifice your own needs but look after yourself at work. Practise sustainable pace, stick to standard working hours, and take regular breaks. Consider delegating some tasks. …focus on your product role and don’t take on responsibilities that are not part of your job… otherwise you are likely to become overworked or neglect important, non-urgent duties such as product discovery and strategy work—neither of which is desirable.

3. make regular reflection part of your work. Allocate thirty minutes in your calendar towards the end of each work week and ask yourself the following three questions
What did I get done this week? Which challenges and difficulties did I encounter? What did I learn?
How am I feeling right now? How did my moods and energy levels develop during the week?
What changes do I want to make next week so I can be more productive and happier at work?

4. consider meditating to develop a heightened awareness of how you are feeling. Noticing your mental states without judgement and blame will not only help you understand yourself better and be more effective at work.