Empathy, while one of our greatest strengths as designers, can also be our most challenging handicap when we need to operate in the political culture of an organization. This ability (more of an unavoidable compulsion) to read and respond to the subtlest of nuanced behaviors of others, can over-sensitize us to a sometimes emotionally harsh environment.
Often, in an effort to cope with the demanding corporate sphere, we cling to the flawed adage that any trespasses we experience are “business, not personal”. I can confidently say, after having too many reports and colleagues throughout my career walk into my office and break down crying at the sheer weight of the emotional pressure of dealing with difficult clients, peers and managers, that the above-mentioned tactic does not work very well.
We designers also possess another trait, though, that helps balance out the difficult consequences of our empathetic nature. Collaboration, and the camaraderie it engenders, provides a support system that allows us to turn to our like-minded designer co-workers to vent, muse and commiserate with.
I often hear vendors to the design community, who aren’t designers themselves, comment on how insular and skeptical of outsiders designers are. This is most likely a means of self-protection and quite possibly the healthiest response we can have to an environment that can appear to be emotionally harsh and dangerous. The trick is to balance our need for the emotional nurturing our team provides us with the need to get out on the playing field of corporate politics to ensure we provide our companies great design and design thinking, while acknowledging it’s always personal – at least for us.