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Why is Empathy Important in Agile?

People- smile

In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey indicates the importance of “trying to understand before being understood” and you cannot form this habit, the fifth which Covey recommends in his book, without the moral compass that produces empathy.How many times have we questioned our way of doing things? Have you ever got frustrated with yourself for not being able to do something? We can even get frustrated with ourselves for not understanding a slogan or forgetting to carry out a task.
To stop “mistreating” ourselves, the “miracle cure” is Empathy.But what exactly is it?
Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.In simple terms: putting yourself in the shoes of another person to understand their feelings and emotions.

The Empathy Formula

From my point of view, it is okay not to understand what another person is feeling- we may lack the context to do so,
as we haven’t lived the other person’s life so it may not be possible to truly understand them.It is okay not to understand what another person is feeling, many times we lack the context to do so, as we haven’t lived the other person’s life to be able to really understand them. But
it is definitely wrong not to try to understand another person.For example, imagine we are driving and the vehicle in front turns without warning, and thus very quickly we react by muttering “use your turn signals”, in an angry tone, perhaps even with a curse word thrown in.At that very routine moment, a series of questions arises that would allow us to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person: What if they indicated, but their taillight is broken and they didn’t know? What if they are on their way back from the hospital and their mind is elsewhere because of some bad news they have just received? What if they’re distracted because they just got fired from work?Who knows why people do what they do, perhaps they are being ignorant or really not thinking of others. But how do we really know that someone is inconsiderate?
The point is, before passing judgment,
why don’t we try to be more compassionate? Why don’t we try to understand and see that person from another perspective?Everyone, absolutely everyone in this world, struggles daily with their own demons.https://youtu.be/UzPMMSKfKZQ

The Challenges of Empathy

It’s hard to be empathetic. It is a habit that forms, like all habits, by doing, and begins with the decision to think differently. Over time, after several attempts, we may come to think differently, and then, with a little more time, we can even feel different. Practice makes perfect.Now, how do we apply Empathy in Agile? Let’s take a look to clear up any doubts:

The Agile Manifesto

Agility, as described in The Agile Manifesto, has people and their relationships as one of its bases, so we already have that to work with.Empathy is a basic tool for working with teams, interacting, reaching agreements, collaborating with each other, making commitments, and so on.

Design Thinking

Design thinking, for example, is one of the methodologies which is considered Agile, the objective of which is to find solutions based on understanding the real needs of users and/or clients. Accordingly,
one of its steps, the first in fact, is to “Empathize”.


When using Scrum, one of its values is Openness, which, among other things, means being mentally open to listening to what others say from their perspective, and understanding what others do from the context that they are the ones living their experiences. Without explicitly saying it,
Scrum promotes developing active and empathetic listening.For example, in the case of the development of a new product, active listening is key before manufacturing in order to understand the needs of our future consumers.In essence, it is to get out of our own way of thinking and put ourselves in the shoes of the other person (the client, user, stakeholders, product owner, etc).
It is similar to the way that in order to provide a prescription, a doctor must first diagnose a patient. This means that
we must understand what is happening to us.

Empathy and Scrum

In a Scrum planning meeting, as members of the development team, we must commit energy to understanding what the Product Owner is asking us for and why.
We must ask questions so that we understand, and by asking questions with the intention of understanding their point of view we are being empathetic.During a retrospective meeting, the meeting where we review the way in which we have been working in order to improve the processes we use, if we do not try to be empathetic it can cause serious problems if someone raises something that affects another person, because if we are not being empathetic at that moment we can take what is being said as a complaint against us, and take it personally.In a retrospective,
empathy must manifest itself both in what we say and what we hear. Why is this person saying what they are saying? Why is what I did affecting them? I didn’t do it with the intention of causing harm. They probably did it because they didn’t understand the consequences or the process. Perhaps no one explained that they should do it the other way.

Try to understand before being understood

Agility promotes collaboration and reaching agreements, the involvement of all the parties, and commitment. Communication is important in achieving all of these things, and a basic component of good communication is listening to understand.

More empathy equals more agility, the more we understand others, the more agility we achieve in developing a product.

Are you ready to start putting yourself in other people’s shoes and seeing the world from the perspective of empathy?


About the Author

José Meyer is a talented Project Manager and very experienced in working with teams of diverse sizes and backgrounds. He has excellent planning and communication skills, and specializes in Agile Methodologies. José is a strong leader with a great work ethic.