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Why do Software Developers need to be More Empathetic?

Sanchit Balchandani
Python Programmer, Love Open Source Communities, Co-organizer of HydPy & DSUGHyd
Updated on ・5 min read

We all know about "Empathy" and especially during these unprecedented times, we might have heard this term even more often. However, do we really practice and understand the real importance of Empathy in our life?

In my little experience and the number of people I've met during my career, most of us understand the importance of it but very few would practice it in real life because sometimes even if you know what's right or wrong, you may follow your subconscious mind and end up being unempathetic in that moment.

In this blog, I'll try and convince you why do software developers and in general, we need to be more thoughtful about being Empathetic.

Also, before we move forward let me clarify a quick point - "Sympathy is not Empathy!"

Sympathy-Empathy

Sympathy is more about feeling sorry for someone. However, Empathy is about actually understanding someone else's pain/suffering. In case of being sympathetic, you'd probably feel for that person at that moment and move on, but empathy doesn’t work the same way. it opens the door to a range of long-lasting emotions and feelings.

Now let's come back to the importance of Empathy for a Software Developer.

Software Developer is a generic term or title and I assume that software developers play different roles in their organizations - Business Analysis, Coding, Testing, Leadership, DevOps, Maintenance etc. Each of these roles would involve talking to people and wherever you need to deal with people, empathy can play a key role. It can help you create better client relations, create better products, retain employees & help you build a great team. We can go into the depth of each of these roles and probably try to understand the importance but let's not go the orthodox way and instead, I'll add few pointers from my experience which may be limited to certain roles but in general applicable to most of the cases.

Working with a fellow associate - A lot of time when you go up the ladder or let's say if you are super skilful, and you are working with someone who may not be equally skilful; that shouldn't allow you think or develop some subconscious bias about that person - e.g. He/she is not good or he/she is taking too long to finish the task or he/she is giving me excuses. Because if you do that, your subconscious mind may not let you experience that person's actual state or condition. That's where Empathy plays a very important role. If you are a fellow developer or a lead and if you practice being empathetic, you can create a better work environment for that person and also help him/her grow eventually. Note - arrogance & rudeness are disproportional of Empathy.

While taking an Interview - When you take an interview, Empathy also can play a great role for the interviewer to identify the candidate's potential. With this, I don't mean that one shall become empathetic and hire a candidate which doesn't fulfil the criteria. However during the interview, If you can be kind enough, give decent time to the candidate even if he/she is not doing well can do wonders. It is generally the interviewers' responsibility to get the best out of the candidate and it will only happen when you'll show empathy towards the candidate. Sometimes if you find candidate very nervous, you may have to play dumb and that eventually can make him/her feel comfortable. If you are able to achieve that by being little empathetic then it certainly creates a great experience for both interviewer and the candidate. And who knows you'll end up hiring a great team player :D

During the customer Interactions - This is more of an obvious one because customer interactions are generally tricky and can be complicated at times for software developers. We(software devs) tend to think more from a software endpoint but if the customer is non-technical then it can be a nightmare as well. I've seen a lot of back n forths happening because of small communication gaps, it can be frustrating for both sides. The simple solution is when you go to these discussions try and be empathetic, this might enable you to think from a customer standpoint and when gradually both parties start to think in same directions, there are always possibilities of lesser conflicts and unneeded iterations.

Leaders

If you are a leader - Empathy is a must-have quality in the modern-day industry leaders and many companies are focusing on these qualities as well while hiring them. If you are a leader & Empathetic -

  1. You will be able to better understand the needs of those people who you work & deal with
  2. You will experience the world in a bigger perspective as you perceive through not only your perspective but of those around you as well
  3. Also, You will learn how to motivate the people around you and help them grow
  4. You will be able to more effectively convince others of your point of view
  5. Moreover, you will be a better leader, and most importantly, a better friend.

How to practice it? - If you are reading till this point, I hope it is evident and clear that empathy is not only a feeling but a very much needed skill in today's software developer's profile :) and any skill can be learned and practised.

So being mindful about your daily interactions, be it with anyone in your office or personal life can help you learn and practice this. I generally prefer to re-think some of my conversations and If I feel I could have been better then I try not to repeat.

Conclusion - I hope that I was able to convince you that Empathy is critically very important. Considering that title of the blog is about the importance of empathy for a software developer, so I'd like to conclude mentioning that companies are trying to build practices, engineering excellence cultures, adopting a lot of software best practice to grow exponentially but not greatly focusing making Empathy a must-have skill. Also, these days leaders are trying to adopt the "trust culture" within engineering teams. However, I strongly feel trust is the output of Empathy :)

So looking at all the points I mentioned in the blog above, I feel times have changed and Empathy should be given a lot of value as a skillset and there shall be efforts to train engineers about it.

With that, I'd like to end this blog here, hope you liked it. Do reach out to me if you have any questions or suggestions or inputs.

I'm available at Twitter and Linkedin.

Disclaimer: This is a personal [blog, post, statement, opinion]. The views and opinions expressed here are only those of the author and do not represent those of any organization or any individual with whom the author may be associated, professionally or personally.

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