Empathy as a tool for alignment

The importance of developing empathy with internal stakeholders

We as designers invest a great deal of time understanding our customers. Who are they? What are their aspirations and frustrations? What do they feel and think and do throughout their journey? How are they valuable for the business? Questions like these help cultivate empathy.

Empathy motivates us to care so much about the challenges of another person that we’re driven to action. Empathy is the ultimate form of understanding.

While there’s unquestionable value in empathizing with our customers, it’s equally important to develop empathy with our internal stakeholders — the people we work with on a regular basis.

A stakeholder map of the people I engage with at work

When we put ourselves in the shoes of our internal stakeholders, we start understanding their concerns and expectations, what drives their behavior, and what makes them tick. We start anticipating actions and decisions. Alignment happens naturally. Collaboration becomes easier.

After a couple of months of being more intentional and mindful about my relationships at work, I started to realize that knowing who we design with is as valuable as knowing who we design for. The quality of our outcome depends on how well we understand each other.

Asking the right questions

We can cultivate empathy with our internal stakeholders the same way we do with our customers — by asking questions and listening attentively. It may not be as simple as it sounds, especially for someone with an impossibly short attention span such as myself, but I guarantee it pays off.


I wrote this article while reading Tom Greever’s inspiring book Articulating Design Decisions. That’s where I got the quote above from.