Welcome to Teaming Up, a series by Wethos exploring the ten traits that make up a great teammate.
Each week, we talk to Specialists within our network and bring in professionals from other industries to share their insights on one of the ten key traits surfaced in our 2019 Year in Review. This latest installation of Teaming Up spotlights Wethos Specialist Giovanna Salucci and her approach to employing empathy in remote teamwork.
As a full-time freelance designer and web developer who works with distributed Wethos Teams, I’ve found that it can be easy to forget that not everyone thinks and works exactly like I do. Freelancers talk about the freedom of being your own boss, but that can also mean falling into the trap of only doing things “your way.” In certain circumstances, it’s efficient to work that way, but in most cases, it can make working with others unpleasant! I’ve found that ultimately the solution is just a bit of empathy.
Make space for a wide array of perspectives and voices.
Your teammates and your clients have unique perspectives, different sets of experiences, and strengths and weaknesses that can complement your work if you let them and make the end-product better. Even if it’s not immediately obvious at the outset, everyone has something to bring to the table. If you can harness everyone’s perspectives and experiences, the result will be thoughtful, effective, and less likely to be offensive.
How many times have you seen an offensive or poorly executed ad or product in the world and thought, “How did so many people see this and let it get to consumers?” Obviously the first step to avoiding this is to make sure a diverse group of people is participating in a project, but that isn’t enough. It’s also about making sure that you really listen when people raise concerns, no matter how small, and understand the real root of the problems being raised so that you can work together to find a solution.
Which takes us to: Listen early and listen often.
Employing empathy as a freelancer means you need to be as good at listening to other people’s ideas as you are at articulating your own. It sounds easy, but listening is not just about hearing what others say. It’s about internalizing what they’ve said and knowing how to ask follow-up questions to get at the root of their ideas and concerns.
Ultimately, everyone on a Wethos Team is working with a target audience in mind. As a designer, it’s easy to get stuck in a place where you’re creating work for your client. But the truth is, you’re not designing for your client, you’re designing for their user or customer. Making sure that you’re also listening to and empathizing with them is the best way to create something that not only looks great but solves a real problem. Too often we try to solve problems that don’t actually need a solution. Your ability to empathize with your teammates, your clients, and even your end-user not only makes work more enjoyable, it makes you better at what you do.