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Stakeholders are People Too

October 20, 2015

This is a post I wrote for UX Booth.

Jim worked for me several years ago. He was a young, enthusiastic designer, building a brand-new platform for a non-profit to further a mission he believed in. His ideas were strong because his user-centered approach taught him to always put the user first, but he was also arrogant. When stakeholders and executives raised questions and provided criticism, Jim became defensive. The stakeholders didn’t understand, he thought. “You’re not the user,” he reminded them. But because Jim didn’t address their concerns, the stakeholders heard his rationale as nothing but excuses.

In the end, funding for Jim’s project was cut and he lost his job. He understood his users, and he was talented, but because he had no empathy for his own stakeholders he wasn’t able to help his end users. He didn’t understand the people who held the key to his success and, as a result, lost their support.

It’s an unfortunate (but true) story, and it demonstrates what I believe is a key ingredient missing from many designer’s skillsets: the ability to empathize with the needs and expectations of stakeholders.

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