We’ve been saying this thing around the office quite a bit recently: “Meet your client where they are at.”

The idea is simple really—but remarkably hard to do in practice because it requires us to suspend our own ideas and immerse ourselves in another person’s point of view. That takes hard work.

This is no new idea: it’s called active listening and the opposite is passive listening. It’s the difference between listening to understand, as opposed to listening just to respond.

The understanding, ‘What I know is different from what you know’ is essential for effective communication.

Kenneth Savitsky

Now it’s important to recognise that this basic skill has been eroded by much of our modern technology: we’re far more prone to dismiss different ideas when we’re not directly interacting with a person. In person, they have the opportunity to correct our misunderstanding by conveying the idea differently if necessary. Instead, online, we ignore it and move on to the next post (and the algorithms amplify this over time).

This has far reaching implications: business leaders espouse the value of dialogue for driving institutions and initiatives forward, but here again we’ve damaged our ability to have effective dialogue.

There’s nothing more fatal to wisdom and good relationships than rejecting certain ideas or certain people out of hand.

Tim Keller

As we create digital products and services that increasingly underpin much of our lives, this is a great danger that we must design for. Initiatives like Perspective are a step in the right direction, but even more important is that we design for empathy. Designers talk about how empathy is the essence of an effective design process—that is, we design with empathy—but perhaps now we need to begin thinking about how we design for empathy.