practical empathy – live blogging from qcon

Practical Empathy: unlocking the superpower
Speaker: Pavneet Singh Saund @pavsaund

See the list of all blog posts from the conference

speaker’s blog:

Started by telling the story about the guy who broke the prod database on his first day on the job and how it was poorly handled. Compare with speaker mixing up two elements (physics) – asked how was and was told his boss has done that and suggested to go home/rest/come back next day.

What is Empathy

  • Ability to see world as others see it
  • Ability to understand another’s current feelings
  • Witholding judgement
  • Communicate that understanding back to them

Told story about a team deciding to work more hours where they could. Speaker worked as well to keep up. But exhausted becuase little kids and burden on wife. Impacted family and daughter. Burned out and quit for 6 months while on vacation.


  • self-empathy is checking in with your own feelings and needs. Anger is an unfilled need.
  • Mindfulness – non-judgemental awareness of experiences in the present moment. For developers, sometimes a task is hard to start. ex: too big. Taking a few minutes to focus before starting helps. Be more engaged in moment and keep calm
  • Journaling – Writing thoughts and feelings honestly can be healing. Can empty the mind. Agile retrospectives are also a good place for reflection. But that’s for a team. Having a place you can swear provides a safe place to be honest. Also, makes awareness of how much filter own thoughts.


  • Listening to understand – put aside immediate goals. “Don’t just do something, listen”. As developers, our first reaction is to solve problems.
  • Listen withough judgement – Breathe to calm down. Be curious to learn and avoid irritation/frustration of not understanding
  • Assume good intent – “bad” intent could be misunderstanding or language/translation problems. Retrospective prime directive.
  • Listening to connect – Try to connect situtation to a feeling within you. Be curious to try to get to underlying feelings so can relate and understand

Gaining perspective

  • Challenge comfort zones – seek out diferent perspectives, learn about context
  • Walk a mile in their shoes – sit with the users, understand what they are trying to do. Pair with a tester. Work in customer support

“Empathy is the key to understanding”
“Empathy is a skill. You need to actively practice giving and receiving empathy”
“Empathy is hard”

Can’t have empathy in a culture of blame/shame
Empathy is hard. Takes energy and boundaries.
Empathy is a choice. It is a first step toward making more options available