Empathy is defined as the ability to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference. Put simple: it is the capacity to place oneself in another´s position. As a Product Manager you have to put yourself in the position of many different kinds of people starting with your own customer as probably the most important. But not less crucial is to develop a certain understanding of the people around you: a marketing manager ready to launch the next campaign, a busy sales person, the new intern, a creative designer, the data driven BI team, your engineers ready to code… It´s not hard to see that this requires a huge amount of interpersonal capabilities. At the same time that you try to take in another´s person perspective you are asked to act as mediator between parties e.g. your stakeholders´ demands and your customers´ needs, you have to negotiate and represent interests while taking yourself out of the center and never losing your customer out of focus. You can manage all of that if you talk to people and be a good listener.
Active listening is the strongest enabler to uncover hidden needs and drill down to the core of peoples´ aspiration. People love to talk, especially about themselves. The best way to get feedback to a product idea is to let people talk. And instead of asking them too many questions about how they like the button color and the drop-down field just let the conversation develop and flow. It is your gateway to understand, and consequently influence, their feelings and behavior that allows you to address their concerns in the most effective way.
But listening does not only provide you access to the roots of customer needs, but also helps you in the daily business when taking decisions. Product people are expected to drive decisions that affect design, technology, strategy etc. How are you supposed to have the encompassing knowledge to take those decisions? Don´t worry: listen! Ask questions, lend an ear to your conversation partner and stay humble to ideas that do not meet your own. This is probably an easy one for naturally curious people.
Curiosity in my eyes is the key trait of being a great Product Manager. It´s naturally given to every one of us, though some are keener on exploring things than others. A curious Product Manager will probe for more information and details, and will not stop asking questions. This helps enormously to get a better understanding of a complex situation. Curiosity is also about continuous learning. Inquisitive people are researchers, explorers and constant self-learners. They seek for information, stay current on trends in technology and always have one eye open on the competitors around them. Curious people do not accept the status quo and settle in with given facts. Stay eager to understand and learn more.