Empathy In Engineering Part 3: Six Steps to Empathy

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Utilizing design engineering in an empathetic way comes with a bit of a learning curve. After all, it is somewhat unorthodox to apply additive engineering to the assistance of production staff with a disability or injury. Fit, form, and function are typically the driving characteristics behind the design of tooling or specialty featuring. 

It has been said that “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” In a situation where employees have an underlying disability, injury, or other issue which inhibits their fullest potential on the job, the temptation is to hear the employees concerns and produce a solution in the quickest, simplest way possible, without truly empathizing and offering a sustainable solution. Listening in order to understand, not merely reply,  is oftentimes more easily said than done, particularly since engineering types tend to listen to issues with the intent to gather data, fix the problem quickly, and move on.

However, if design engineers could seize the opportunity to look at workplace problems 

through a less technical and more empathetic approach, looking through the eyes of the user, something unique and incredible could be created. 

When thinking about this concept of empathy as it relates specifically to the process of gathering personal input for industrial design, it is helpful to consider this insight from Shep Hyken on the five different steps toward empathy:


A big part of empathy is listening. Employees want to feel heard. They want their thoughts and feelings, especially as it pertains to the workplace, to be valued.

Acknowledge and Relate 

Reflect back to the employee. Make statements that prove you’re listening and can relate to their issue.

Prove Understanding

If an employee is sharing their thoughts, ideas, concerns, and suggestions, show them you understand. Ask pertinent questions to gain more information and further understanding.

Be Genuine

Any lack of sincerity will work against your goal to show empathy.


Along the lines of sincerity, there must be a level of mutual trust. The concept of trust in business relationships between a company and its customers, and the employer and employees are paramount to a good relationship where employees are engaged.

Show Appreciation

One of the strongest phrases you can say to an employee is “Thank you.” A sincere sign of appreciation shows the employee that they are valued. Being empathetic does not mean you must agree or acquiesce to every employee’s request. What it does mean is that you are accessible and approachable, a leader or co-worker others can trust, and are open to listening and understanding the other person’s views and thoughts. When this happens, employees feel more comfortable, are more motivated, and more committed to excellence.*

As we have found, practicing empathy in engineering is not a fast and simple process, but it reaps rewards far beyond its initial investment, going beyond the surface level productivity and logistics issues, into some deeper and more lasting. When employees are genuinely listened to, heard, and taken care of, they are not only better able to do their jobs physically, but they are able to pour into their work on a more personal level.

*Hyken, Shep. February 25, 2018. “A $600 Billion Employee Engagement Problem Solved: Empathy.” Forbes.com. https://www.forbes.com/sites/shephyken/2018/02/25/a-600-billion-employee-engagement-problem-solved-empathy/?sh=658636fbb1a3

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