Empathy is key to building great products. Give it to your office community, and they will love you. Be a good listener. Encourage them to talk about their product ideas. Talk in term of their interests, let them feel that the idea is theirs and use it to firm up your roadmap. The empathic component is what makes a product manager special.

In a field that values objective performance, spending your time on empathic interaction is perceived as a waste of time because is not measurable. But there is a connection between empathy and other outcomes, such as enhanced team buy-in, smoother communication and information exchange.

Patient-physician interactions

Let's analyse this from another professions point of view. Researchers have long examined and discussed the utility of empathy in medicine. The one attribute always mentioned as necessary to being a good physician is being a good listener. Each patient wants to be treated as a person, not as an illness, and wants to be reassured that the doctor understands the nonmedical aspects of his or her condition.

Throughout medical school, instructors stress the importance of empathy. When a patient feels that a physician understands his condition and apprehensions, he feels more comfortable confiding in him/her. This heightens the quality of shared information. When combined with factual information about the patient the physician stands a far better chance of treating them and illness effectively.

The ceremony of the stethoscope exam

Physicians use a process to build empathy. First make eye contact. Eye contacts are related to patient perceptions of clinician empathy. Then talk about personal aspects of the patient’s life. How’s their work? Their children? Look at their clothing, jewelry, buttons and other items. These items may give them things to comment on. The stethoscope is also an icon, of course. The instrument may have outlived its use, but it hasn’t lost its power. An opportunity to create a bond between doctor and patient. It narrows the physical distance. It compels human touch.

When children play doctor with each other, they listen to the chest with a toy stethoscope. Patients seem to want the child’s version of a doctor’s visit.

Listen to your teammates with a toy stethoscope

Patients can’t trust a doctor who won’t touch them. Your office community (executives, sales, or engineering teams, etc.) won’t trust you if you don’t listen to them. One of the tenets of your relationship with them is their perception of your empathy.

Empathy equity built through patient questioning, physical exam and factual information obtained through computerized tests allow physicians to recommend behaviour changes that will last a lifetime. Use a similar approach with your office stakeholders. First address the emotional, then move on to the informational aspects.

You’re the one who will be trusted enough to tell them what should be built and why. Interactions are crucial to the development and maintenance of that trust. During the initial phase of the process, you must not only identify but also understand the basis of your colleagues feelings. Every input, idea and feature request you get from them should be an opportunity to create a bond. Reassure them that you will seek to understand the various aspects of the product, will examine the data and seek to understand their perspective better.

There's nothing like the buy-in of colleagues to move ideas forward. Combined with factual information about a product you stands a far better chance of steering the product effectively.


Paul Ortchanian partners with middle market and large corporations, as well as startup organizations, to produce measurable business results by improving the performance of products with emphasis on strategy, roadmap planning, user knowledge, UX, product leadership, team member engagement and process improvement. Check him out on Reflektions.com and view his LinkedIn profile.