One attribute that differentiates good Product Managers from the rest

From my personal experience, empathy is the one attribute that almost every single job descriptions depict as a requirement for their Product Managers.  This make sense since Product Managers are supposed to be the advocate of the user, and in order to do that, they must be able to empathize with their user, right?

Well, this author believes empathy is a piece of the puzzle, but another attribute is much more needed:

Let’s look at why:

What is empathy?

First, let’s define what empathy is:

…it is the ability to experience for yourself some of the pain that the other person may be experiencing…

Operation Meditation

And, as a result, an empathetic person should be:

able to imagine being in the place of the troubled person and feel what they feel…

 Mental Health

Now you can see why companies place such importance on wanting their Product Managers to be emphatic: you cannot solve someone’s problem or pain point without understanding what the user is feeling and why. If they are not empathetic, then they wouldn’t care about truly understanding the core problem (root cause) and as a result, come up with a solution that would fail in the marketplace.

With empathy, product managers can understand the problem. But now what? How does the problem get solved?

The need for compassion

This is where compassion comes in. Compassion harnesses the understanding of the problem (empathy) and propels individuals into action, which is how problems get solved (you can see definitions of compassion here and here). Compassion is exactly why successful entrepreneurs  and product managers are successful.

Let’s look at nurses to understand the difference:

An emphatic nurse would understand all the pain and discomfort her patient is in.

A compassionate nurse would understand all the pain and discomfort her patient is in AND find a way to make the patient’s life less painful (i.e perhaps giving the patient medication).

Similarly, an emphatic product manager would understand their user has a particular pain point. A compassionate product manager would do something about it.

Doesn’t everybody have compassion?

Yes, everybody has some level of compassion but it varies.  Product Managers with a high level of compassion are those Product Managers that fight for their products to be user-focused products. Whenever obstacles present themselves, compassion is what drives Product Managers to figure out how to overcome those obstacles and deliver, not for their boss or the CEO, but for their users.

Compassion is what’s going to motivate that Product Manager and cause them to challenge their team to up their game, resulting in products that truly solve a product and delight their user.

Compassion rules!

How do you find people with compassion

Now that we’ve illustrated the importance of compassion, how do we find people who have enough compassion to make a difference in your team or organization?

Although there’s a lot of academic research on how to measure compassion, especially in healthcare, there isn’t much practical advice (here are some research papers you can look at: The Development and Validation of a Scale
to Measure Self-Compassion and The Development of the Santa Clara Brief Compassion
Scale: An Abbreviation of Sprecher and Fehr’s Compassionate Love Scale).

Measuring compassion (and even empathy) is pretty hard, but here are some questions that can help you distinguish between compassionate product managers and not-so-compassionate product managers:

1. Why did you want to work for us?

A good answer for Product Managers would be discussing the current problems the users/customers have (displaying empathy). A great answer could be for the candidate to display empathy and then offer ideas of how they would solve the problems with the team.

2. Can you give me an example of when you’ve found a hard problem you’ve found and what you’ve done about it?
3. Can you give me an example when you’re working a certain product/feature that would have a significant impact on your users, but kept hitting roadblocks?

I’m hoping these two questions particularly (#3) are the golden questions to figuring out the candidate’s level of compassion since the answers will illustrate how hard the candidates have fought for their users!

My hope is that finding and keeping compassionate Product Managers will help your team excel, making both your stakeholders and users/customers very happy, and at the end, make the world a better place to be in.

What are your thoughts on compassion as an attribute for Product Managers? Should it be continued to be neglected or is it its time to be in the spotlight? Any thoughts on how to distinguish Product Managers based on their compassion-levels?

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