Empathy Exercises as a Test Engineer

Empathy is ones ability to understand and share what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference and definitions can encompass a broad range of emotional states.

So if you’ve ever heard the phrase “put yourself in their shoes” you may have an idea of what this means.

The variations of empathy are vast and include cognitive empathy, emotional (or affective) empathy, and somatic empathy. If you take reference to the image below you can see the breakdown of the many facets of empathy someone may experience.

A diagram of Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions
Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

Did you know that the most common categories for accessibility are pain, flexibility and mobility; followed by mental health, dexterity, and hearing; and then seeing, learning, and memory?!

I know what you’re thinking. That’s a lot of emotion…how does that fit into software testing?

How do I use empathy when approaching software testing?
Literally and figuratively I “put myself in their shoes”…
If I am testing a website or app for WCAG level AA, then I have a set of criteria that I expect the thing I’m testing to meet. There are several tools available to help evaluate compliance, but more importantly I want to empathize with other users, not just follow a guideline or reference materials.

I like to enlist open-source applications or usability simulators in order to experience first hand what it would be like to use an app or play a video game with special features turned on. You’ll find these settings on your device or platform within the Accessibility settings, typically. I’ve reviewed some of the tools I prefer in a previous blog post, 7 Cool Accessibility Testing Tools. I also reach out to robust #a11y communities like Stark and The Ministry of Testing, where we have a place to be curious and ask questions and connect with others.

Flex your empathy muscles as a tester!
Using empathy to assist you with testing is only going to help you in the long run, in my opinion. You will begin to rewire your brain to “see” and feel things from many different perspectives, abilities, and disabilities. You’ll begin to think about and want to include a set of end-users who may have been overlooked previously. This in turn improves knowledge for your projects by making these end users more visible to the whole team, and 💥 boom, now you’re spreading awareness of accessibility AND advocating for all end users. Look at you go!

As always, thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I appreciate you.

Please take a second to share in the comments how you think empathy has helped you as a software tester, developer, product owner, or general human. Or, maybe you disagree and would like to share that feedback as well. All perspectives are welcome here.

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