If you’re a designer, you’re likely to be a very empathetic person.
This can be great because it connects you to people. People see that you feel what they feel and that leads to understanding and trust. People are more likely to confide in you and to be emotional around you. Consequently, designers can make a lot of friends and allies very quickly. We get a lot done because people like us.
Recently, I discovered there’s a downside to being empathetic.
While we can nurture relationships by mirroring peers’ sadness, confusion, and anxiety, we can also hurt those relationships when we’re presented with aggression or extreme frustration because we mirror those emotions as well.
Throughout my whole career (from college to now), there have been times when I’ve been yelled at, put down, and scolded. For the more intense situations, I remember coming out of the interaction feeling totally confused. I didn’t understand why I said something stupid or why I was so angry. I’m a pretty happy, reasonable, flexible person and it was totally out of character. It was almost like I lost consciousness for a few minutes.
Before this post, I thought the solution was to try and be more level headed in general. However, after thinking about it some more and after running into more people who exhibit strong negative emotions, I realized that what I really needed to do was focus on having less empathy when confronted with aggression. Empathy was getting me in trouble.