Both our kids have taken a recent interest in Harry Potter, including the movies, the books, the games, Lego sets, etc. So we’ve been deep in the Harry Potter universe recently. As geeky parents, we’ve been pretty proud. So if you’ll indulge me for a moment, we’re going to explore empathy and Harry Potter and bring it all back together shortly.
One of the best characters in the Potter universe is Severus Snape, who Harry despises for most of the series, pities for a moment when he gets a look inside of Professor Snape’s memory, but then goes back to hating until he gets to see the full story again right at the end.
What causes this rollercoaster? Unlike the real world, Harry actually gets to see and live the memories of some wizards in his universe. After Voldemort kills Snape, Harry gets to go back through Snape’s key memories and see that he was, in fact, loyal to Dumbledore the whole time. He spent his whole life protecting Harry (and the other children) while fighting Voldemort, all at substantial risk. He loved Lily (Harry’s mother) to the end. And he suspected all of this was going to end badly for many of them, but he stuck with it because he trusted Dumbledore deeply and was committed to what was right.
Harry was so incredibly wrong about him the entire time. Many people were wrong about Snape and yet Snape never once corrected anyone. He cared more about doing what was right than being seen as the “good guy”. He was one of the ultimate heroes of the story, but wanted no glory.
Harry finally saw that, all from Snape’s perspective. He could finally understand what he needed to do and understand Snape’s thoughts and feelings in a way that is really impossible in our “muggle” universe because we can’t see into people’s thoughts and emotions in the same way.
Harry could ultimately empathize with Snape once he saw his thoughts, his memories, and his emotions through his life. He saw the events that made Snape and the choices that led to his decisions, from the teasing as a child to the regret at working for Voldemort to the attachment to Harry. And then the thoughts he had and the emotions he felt as he progressed through key moments. Harry finally understood and could really empathize and understand.
So what does this have to do with all of us?
In product management, we talk frequently about empathy. But do we really understand it? It is essential for our roles as product managers and designers, but how can we ensure we’re not only empathetic, but getting better at understanding and empathizing with our users?
What Is Empathy
So what is empathy?