Kris Shamloo

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The Empathy OODA Loop


Look around, make a call.

The OODA loop is a really powerful idea. Its power isn't that it's the perfect series of steps to take, but that it's some protocol to get you to think critically rather than lazily. Because it is calorically efficient, our default mode of thinking is the lazy-mode so anything that can wake us up just a few more times than normal is a really great tool.

The OODA loop of empathy goes something like this:

  1. Observe: What is going on? Who am I talking to and what are we talking about?
  2. Orient: How is this person feeling and can I try to imagine how I would feel in their position?
  3. Decide: Given what I’ve just observed what should I do or say? What words of respect and kindness would help me feel better if I felt how they felt?
  4. Act: Do the thing.
  5. Repeat!

If you've done a few loops and you realize you are the one at fault: take responsibility, apologize, fix it.

Empathy first principles to be aware of:

  1. It’s easier to be empathetic towards someone who is similar to you. Example: It’s easier for me to have empathy for a male who looks like me than a female who doesn’t. In practice this means the first two steps of the Empathy OODA Loop can require more effort simply if the person looks different.
  2. People desperately want to save face.
  3. Other people are fully realized people with their own concerns, priorities, emotions, and abilities. It is impossible to fully imagine being them (i.e. you cannot simulate one entire brain with only the resources of one entire brain). Luckily, it is possible to imagine being them enough to build a relationship.

Wikipedia article on the OODA Loop