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How to understand empathy for communication?

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Software Engineer Intern at Taro Community2 months ago

Alex mentions

  • Communication is fundamentally an exercise in empathy - The entire goal of communication is to align with or win over another human being in some way.
    • Strive to put yourself in the shoes of the person you're communicating with. Try to see the world through their eyes.
    • What are their values? What makes them happy? What are they struggling with? What do they care about? What's their background?

I get this from a high level, I understand this concept, but I'm struggling to understand this from an actionable perspective. Would you be able to expand on this maybe with an example?

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(4 comments)
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    Engineer @ Robinhood
    2 months ago

    A real life example would be: I was talking to a PM in my org about how we determine what post-transfers upsells to show to users. I was trying to be high level about it to not bog them down on the lower-level details of the code, but at some point the PM straight up told me to just send them the code instead (the PM was a former engineer and has a CS degree). Since the code was just a large if-else block that felt pretty straightforward to read for anyone who's coded, I just sent them the raw code & the discussion went a lot faster. Now whenever I have to interact with this PM and the discussion is going more low level, I just start sending them code snippets in the discussion.

    If I do this with the other PM of my org (who did not come from an engineering background), sending them code would simply confuse them and the discussion wouldn't go anywhere.

  • 2
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    Entry-Level Software Engineer [SDE 1] at Amazon
    2 months ago

    A manager for example can best make an engineer satisfied with his job by understanding what he wants to achieve with his career.

    • Does he want to get promoted? Great, let's identify stretch projects that will help him get promoted and provide him feedback based on the work he is currently doing
    • Does he feel more satisfied working within a specific technology domain (ex. frontend, backend, infra, mobile, machine learning)? Awesome, let's identify projects that align with his interests
    • Does he want to prioritize wlb? Ok, let's create a plan where he can be productive without stretching himself too thin

    This is just one example but there are many others. The idea is that before you help someone out in some way, you need to truly understand what they are looking for first.

    Fun Fact: Taking an existing solution and putting it in the hands of customers without understanding if it solves their pain points is not customer obsession/user empathy.

  • 2
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    2 months ago

    I'm really glad you're resonating with my Effective Communication Series! If you're able to consistently apply the concepts there, you will go a long way as an intern. 💪

    Here's a relevant example for you: Asking for help. This is one of the classic examples of exercising empathy and here's a breakdown of a good way and a bad way to ask for help from a senior engineer on your team.

    • Bad: "I'm stuck on this task, can you help me?"
      • This has 0 empathy for the teammate you're asking for help from as it is completely disrespectful of their time.
      • It has no supporting details (what you have tried already, what broader project this task is for), so your teammate now needs to spend this time doing research and painstakingly pulling these details out of you. Given that their time is more valuable than yours, this... isn't great to say the least.
    • Good: "Hey, I know that you're really busy, so whenever you get a moment, I would really appreciate your help here. I'm stuck on this task, which is part of our team's mission-critical project A. I have already tried XYZ (resources linked in the task), but none of them have worked. I'm pretty sure component B is what's failing, but I just can't seem to get the last piece to make it work. Any ideas? No worries if you aren't able to find the time - You can just point me towards someone else, and I'll follow up with them. Thank you for your time reading this!"
      • This immediately shows an understanding of your senior teammate's hectic life by acknowledging it and giving them an out to redirect your request.
      • You clearly put in the hard work to solve as much of the problem as you can, and you show your trail of breadcrumbs to give your teammate the context they need to debug as fast as possible. You explain that unblocking you would be a high-impact value add to the team. You are 100% respectful of this person's time.
      • To really wrap up this interaction, you can treat your teammate to a lunch or coffee in gratitude if they end up helping you. To learn other creative ways of giving thanks, watch this video: How To Build Work Relationships Faster - Giving Deeper Thanks

    For a more complex example, you can check out this video where we talk about incentives in more detail and I go through a case study between SWE and product design collaboration at Instagram: The Crucial First Step To Building Relationships That Everyone Misses

  • 3
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    2 months ago

    To turn this into more of a framework, here's some things you should think about when you try to put yourself in someone's shoes and genuinely try to see things in 1st person from their perspective:

    1. What does my life feel like?
      1. Busy?
      2. Boring?
      3. Frustrating?
      4. Stressful?
      5. Actually just pretty good?
    2. What actions matter to me?
      1. What makes me happy?
      2. What pisses me off?
    3. How do I get rewarded?
      1. What's good for my career? What gets me promoted? What makes me look good in front of my manager?
      2. What makes me look bad from a performance and professional standpoint?
    4. What's my longer-term end goal?
      1. Ship awesome products?
      2. Make my team happy?
      3. Write really good code?
      4. Understand our users better?
      5. Get rid of tech debt?

    Once you're able to figure this out (don't be afraid to write it down so you don't forget), you'll be able to synergize with any person in the workplace (assuming they have a decent amount of well-meaning).

    Deep compassion and empathy are truly a superpower. A lot of engineers and people in general write off the concept as cheesy, and from my experience, these are overwhelmingly the people who struggle and suck at their jobs.

    When you're able to quickly identify what makes others happy and come up with plans to do those things while also bringing yourself up (i.e. creating mutual benefit), your career trajectory will become a rocket ship with unlimited fuel.