During disasters, it is often stated that “we are all in this together.” This statement is incredibly accurate, as a crisis like COVID-19 has affected our very way of life and requires collaboration on so many levels. It is essential that we understand one another better and how we fit into a broader mission. Whether it be dealing with a global pandemic, preparing for the potential impacts of a natural hazard, or merely building team cohesion, building empathy for one another will help us address our problems. As author John Steinbeck said, “You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.” Click To Tweet

What is empathy? Simply stated, it is understanding and sharing the feelings that another person is experiencing. To understand others, you should put yourself in their shoes.

Why is empathy important? Trying to solve wicked problems requires collaboration among diverse and often unfamiliar stakeholders. Without empathy, we struggle to understand how a researcher or a practitioner can fit into our team and run the risk of dismissing ideas because they are too unfamiliar to us. 

How does one build empathy? As we work to integrate the work of researchers and practitioners, it is critical to better understand how the other is experiencing a situation. There are many ways to empathize with others and attempt to better understand their experiences. It starts with listening to one another and asking questions. One of the tools that Impact360 uses within our inclusive problem-solving toolkit is Empathy Mapping. 

Empathy Mapping is a visual thinking tool used to document what we know about a person or a profession. We use it to understand natural hazards and disaster professionals who may be researchers or practitioners representing a diverse set of disciplines. It can also be valuable to build your map around a specific problem statement (i.e., improving tornado alert and warning capabilities.) 

The image below illustrates an example empathy map to showcase what I have learned about some of our partners’ work in the last couple of weeks. As you can see, they don’t have to encapsulate everything. We can use them to build our understanding, while still recognizing we don’t know the full story.

Are you interested in building empathy with your partners or incorporating it into your work? All Impact360 members can request a free toolkit planning workshop to explore empathy mapping and other useful activities to support your problem-solving.

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