How to Create an Empathy Map

September 27, 2022

When was the last time someone at work asked you how you felt about a major change in the business? Has anyone ever asked you for your perspective? And if they did, did you feel heard? Valued? Respected?

If you’re thinking that seldom happens but it’d be amazing if it did, you’re not alone. Eighty-eight percent of people believe empathetic leaders create more loyal employees. 

Yet, creating a culture that communicates the importance of empathy can be a challenge for nearly every company. Many times, people simply don’t know how to express empathy toward the people they work with. Other times, leaders simply don’t know how to put their good intentions into practical use. 

That’s where empathy maps come into play. 

What Is an Empathy Map?

An empathy map is a tool that helps you understand the emotional state of someone or a group of people. It helps visualize on paper what an audience wants and needs, how they feel about the situation, and what will inspire them to take action.

Product developers have used empathy maps for eons to codify what’s important for people who use their products. But empathy maps can be used in many more situations, especially for innovators. 

Leaders can use empathy maps to understand teams as well as individual employees. For example, you can use it to understand how team members will feel about an upcoming change you’re thinking about making. Maybe you’ll realize that the friction and frustration aren’t worth the upside of your idea. Or you could use the valuable feedback to tweak the idea before it’s even launched.

Importance of an Empathy Map 

Empathy maps help leaders create a culture of trust and respect. And that leads to a better experience for everyone.

The layout gives you a visual representation of the people on the other end of your idea. You can use it to identify relationships between groups of people, how they relate to each other, or even how they relate to you as a leader. 

And they’re not just for internal audiences or people who use your product. You can use an empathy map any time you want to understand and create a greater emotional connection. Not just with customers, but also a broader group that you want to build trust with – potential customers, influencers, stockholders, the media, investors… you name it. 

The Four Areas of an Empathy Map

When you develop an empathy map, focus on these four areas.

1. Says

Think about what someone says about a situation. This helps you better understand what they’re thinking and feeling. And take into account the frame of mind they’re in when they’re talking. For example, an employee who just came on board is a lot different than one who’s been there 30 years. The first is excited and wide-eyed. The latter knows about all the company skeletons in the closet and wants to keep them hidden. Understanding these different emotions and what each group would say, how, and why makes a big difference. 

2. Does

Empathy maps are a great way to figure out what somebody does. Once you know this, it helps you understand their needs and motivations better than if you just had a one-sided conversation with them.

3. Thinks

By figuring out how a person thinks, you’ve got a peek into how they walk through life every day. What they think about their work, the products they use, the relationships they have, and the world around them. To get to the emotional side of empathy, you need to understand the rational side of how they think.

4. Sees

What do people see in the marketplace or in their everyday environment? What do they see other people saying or doing? What are they watching or reading? 

How to Create an Empathy Map

Follow these steps to create your own empathy map. 

1. Define your goals

Have a clear idea of what you want to achieve with your empathy map before you start drawing any lines or circles on a piece of paper or with a digital tool. Without a clear goal in mind, you won’t get a clear outcome.

2. Align the four areas with your goals 

Do your focus and goals line up with what your audience sees, thinks, does, and says? Once you know this, you can identify the needs and pain points of what matters to them, and create a strategy that matches up.

3. Explore the mindset of your audience

There are two main reasons why you need to take time to understand your audience’s mindset.

First, it helps you see the world from their perspective. For example, if you want to create more empathy for your employees, knowing what inspires them and what they’re passionate about helps you create a work environment that motivates them so they’ll be happy at work.

Second, it makes it easier for employees to communicate with managers, with each other, or with customers or people who represent the brand.

4. Summarize and share

The purpose of the empathy map is to communicate a person’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions and help others walk a mile in their shoes. When you’re finished with your empathy map, summarize the information and share it with your team.

The person can see how their thoughts, feelings, and emotions are being seen by someone else. And it allows for feedback on how they feel about what you mapped out for them.

Keep Things Simple

The process of creating an empathy map can be time-consuming and difficult for people who aren’t used to this type of work. This can lead to people feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, or like the process isn’t worth the effort.

If you want your empathy map to be effective, make sure you keep it simple and easy for everyone on your team to be a part of and use.

Review and look for ways to improve

To keep a good map going, keep reviewing it to find ways you can improve it. Teams, processes, systems, and leadership change all the time. You want to make sure your empathy map keeps up. 

A successful empathy map will help you understand your employees and what they need. It’ll also clarify how to make them feel valued and included. And that’s good for everyone’s business.

To get started on building a more cohesive and empathetic team, download an empathy map template here.

Photo credit: iStock

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author