Ten years ago, in a project interview, I was asked a question by Rob, CEO of a large healthcare organization: “How can design improve empathy in our organization?”
The question has stayed with me, and continues to profoundly shape my work as a designer committed to health and wellness in the built environment. I reflect on the question often, imagining and exploring potential responses—which can and do vary greatly. Ten years ago, I did my best to respond based on work I’d done with Planetree, and our team was fortunate to be awarded the project. In truth however, my reply that day and work on the project was just the beginning of my immersion into this significant topic.
Empathy, is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. The quality of empathy in our relationships allow us to form foundations of trust, and foster greater collaboration, problem solving, and communication. It is positively related to job performance, and has been noted as one of the most essential attributes of successful leadership. Empathy guides our behavior, health, and happiness, and has relevance in every building type—from homes, to schools, to hospitals, to our workplace environments. Fortunately, empathy is not exclusively an innate trait; we can learn to expand and grow our own potential capacity to care for ourselves and others.