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Empathic Design Workshop

2015-07-20 Monday 8am:  Empathic Design Workshop

Participants. Online empathy Team (workbook)

1. Edwin Rutsch
2.  Sonja Bobrowska

3.  Safiullah Khan

2015-07-20 - Empathy Team Online Meeting

YouTube Video

Empathy Circle (1 hour) 

Question: What is a concern, anxiety or fear you are dealing with in your life?

Empathic  Design (2 hour) 

Challenge:  How might we redesign the Empathy Circle to be more empathic?


1 Interviews

After doing a 1 hour empathy circle we interviewed each other about the experience and how we could redesign it to better address our needs.

Safi interviews Sonja

How did the empathy circle work for you?

  • it’s not the first time so I was familiar with it.

  • the only problem, it’s hot and I’m tired so it was hard to focus on it.

  • it was hard because of the conditions.

At the core, what problem do you feel this solves?

  • this is what I have trouble with. You have to really listen to people. Regularly you are listening and preparing to respond.

What does it feel like to be really heard?

  • I didn’t have any fears and worries, I didn’t care if I was really heard.

  • I didn’t really have a problem, in the end the process is good but in this case it didn’t work so well because I don’t have a big fear. If I was dealing with a bigger problem I would feel more understood.

What is the importance of being understood.

  • I have conversations with my boyfriend, I don’t feel heard, he doesn't respond,. I don’t know what is going on with him. There is no reaction.

  • While we are talking I don’t know how he hears it.  Later on he will say something and then I know he heard me, but in the moment I don’t feel he hears me.

  • You have to show you understand. my boyfriend doesn’t show that he understood but when it comes up in a conversation, I know he has. To feel understood, the other person has to show it somehow, otherwise we don’t know if they understood.

What is the need for being understood?

  • it’s good to hear each other.

  • the empathic listening prevents misunderstandings.

  • sometimes you think you heard someone but you really didn’t, this helps you to really hear the other person and can clear up misunderstandings.

Sonja interviews Edwin

You are an expert on empathic listening. What is the experience of redesign?

I find it the best process to rewire the brain to become more empathic.

It is like an exercise.. You have to exercises repeatedly.

We will exploring the nature of iteration. continuously improving the empathy circle process. I’m really excited about that. ie Improving the process and also learning design.

Has the process changed, or is it being done differently?

We are doing basic empathic listening right now, but usually its more deep with emotions mirroring like

  • setting the intention

  • lighting candles  

  • mindfulness exercise

  • tap into emotion. and do physical motion.

  • With the empathy circle we can add steps to redesign and add more methods to make it more effective

  • etc.

Is there space to improvement?

Right now we talking.. 

what is the most effective question to ask for the dialog?

What different question to ask to improve the process? 

You make guesses.

We can do the Focusing process we can do as well,

Process of focusing in primarily not about thoughts but about taping into and empathizing with feelings.

I only speak to felt experiences it take lots to directions to deepen the relation.

There is also role playing and have different pieces come together

That Last part was interesting

I have good stories for how to do that.

You were really involved

Multifaceted and  profound

People may feel bored by the empathic listening.

We need to explain that is like doing a basic exercise.

We are practicing, this and it needs to be done over and over rewire the brain.

There is a desire to ask questions, dig deeper, to help,  etc. That is not helping with fostering empathy and for the other person to feel deeply heard.

Edwin interviews Safi

How was the experience?

Good part: structured. Structure is limiting, not a free flow, one way conversation.

Times were I am left alone with following along, I don’t understand why I’m following. E.g. I do empathic listening, when she explains, I don’t learn why, what are the reasons, it’s more about following along, miss out on reasons. It’s all about repeating the words, making them happy about following along.

[edwin note: have more support material to explain the process, intentions, benefits up front.]

Intention. Want to hear more but can’t ask.

If I knew those answers, I would empathise more with the person. Following along is blind. Leaves me on the sidelines.

[edwin note: yes, empathy is setting yourself aside for a while and focusing on the other person. you will have your turn to be seen and to ask questions when it is your turn. The intention is for the speaker to be heard.]

Feel a deeper sense of connections. Yes.

Connection doesn’t happen most of the time. Understand the sentiment, but doesn’t understand reasons. Cannot question. Little limiting.

Sense of limitation.

Two different mental models. I would like to ask to understand more. Doesn’t let me know about what that person really feels - less engaged.

He has a need for understanding.

Why important? Understand how a person thinks, what matters to them most. What was the intent, what is the motive. Their Purpose is lost when following along.

Why important? Understand it to much better connect with person - connect with the intent, purpose. If you understand what their purpose is, leads to much better conversation, a solution based conversation, not just analysis.

[edwin notes: I ask the 5 whys]

Why are Connection and solutions are important?

Connect = understand how a person thinks and does things. Mutual interest in the other person. 

Deeper connection = enjoying more.

Solving problems. Reason we share: we’ve done something good and we share, OR we don’t have an answer for something that happened. Either get or give solutions.

Sense of sharing is important.

Sharing is caring.

Sharing = altruism, tangible or intangible. Sense of altruism.

2. Empathy Map What are some notable aspects of your partner’s experience that stand out?  

 What do they experience, think, see, hear, etc?

are related feeling?


Your Name:   Edwin

Partner name: Safi
Insight: Safi is not able to ask questions to understand the person more deeply. The empathy circle does not address the deeper need Safi has for understanding, connection, sharing, and problem solving.


is around

sharing when you don’t need an answer

don’t share a good story








Your Name:   Sonja

Partner name: Edwin
Insight: Edwin feels excited about redesigning the Empathic Listening Circle by adding more steps, more methods or changing the initial question. He feels excited about using empathic design to redesign an empathic circle.


excitement, curiosity,



the process

Your Name:   Safi
Insight:  Sonja

  • Empathetic listening works when there is a problem to share

  • Its hard to focus with environmental challenges (Climate, bad mood etc)

  • When no worries or fears, it doesn’t matter if you're heard

  • Its more important to be understood than heard

  • One needs to express when they understand

  • Being understood helps eliminate misunderstandings


I’d like the person to ask questions if they ask questions.

If they show this interest.

just repeating what you heard is not what you need.

sometimes empathic listening is not a good tool.

Carelessness, connected

be understood

4. Define one problem/pain/need statement

How to connected more in empathic listening it doesn’t show enough interest

If there isn’t a tough situation it doesn't help me.

how does it facilitate

[edwin: Explain that there is a need for practicing. Just link  doing exercises and music scales}

Empathic listening works when the problem is really deep, when it’s more superficial or have a problem it's not so interesting and engaging?

5. Translate the problem into a ‘How Might We’ (HMW) challenge

How might we make the empathy circle more fun and engaging?

6. Brainstorm  

How might we make the empathy circle more fun and engaging?

Have different topics that are more fun?

  • what is a celebrations?

Timing - have a mini break in between, have some regular talking.

have direct one to one session.

  • listening

  • discussing

  • listening

  • discussing

Do more physical motions

  • laughing yoga

  • some exercise

  • stand up and shake yourself

Ask random question. Interviewee picks up cards with random questions.

  • mirrored the conversation. about anything.

  • have a set of cards that are random.

  • what did you eat for breakfast?

  • what do you like the most cheese or eggs.

  • what does it feel like to take a cold shower?

Get on the lighter side of the persons, if the conversation is deep.

stand and do exercise. 5 min physical exercies

The idea must cost a million $.

  • Masseuse comes to everyone's house and give you a massage while your doing the empathic listening.

  • take part in a bollywood movie

  • Dubmash - get the words or audio that you have to enact.

  • have a dialog and you have to enact it. enact it

  • enactment of what the other person is saying.

  • sing it back.  if it is a deep issue,

7. Final Prototype

Start the circle with an initial movement.

Have menu of different types of reflections that you can request

  • verbal reflect it back.

  • sing it back,

  • move it back

  • by having more options for reflections and them being more physical and artistic, this may be more engaging and fun,.
  • Gives a sense of release
  • more like empathic truth or dare.
  • a problem maybe is losing concentration when the person reflects back

Issue of people physical state.

  • For Safi. meeting on weekends is more relaxed.

  • morning for him is good.. IST  6 to 8am  -   5:00 to 6:00 PDT

  • Safi, we have a lot of ideas, need to start prototyping.

2015-07-20 - Mini Design - Redesign Empathy Circle