By: Jonathan Browning

Listening is harder than hearing. But harder still is understanding. Listening can be passive – I may listen to what someone has to say and then file it away, making adjustments and reconciling it to fit the parameters of my own experience. Understanding forces me to live outside of my own experience and immerse myself in someone else’s. It’s been difficult for me to stop framing the experiences of others using my personal lens. 

Often, I still want to tie the words of our user to my own experience, in a bid to sort it away. Sorting makes things easier, but the issues that we are tackling aren’t easy. Each interview takes us closer to defining our problem-space, but I don’t think there is really ever a point when the problem-space could be considered complete. However, I don’t think completion needs to be the goal. Even without a perfectly defined problem space, the aha moments still come. Together, those aha moments are what propel us forward. And it seems many of my aha moments have involved connections – whether it be connections between different students or between students and faculty or really anyone. Perhaps feeling purposeful is hard when you don’t feel connected.

Change doesn’t happen overnight and it need not happen all at once. I’m no genie – I can’t snap my fingers and grant a wish, as much as I wish I could. If I could, it would be a lot easier to measure my impact. As it is, I struggle with defining my impact. But, even without knowing my exact impact, I can be empathetic and truly work to understand. And hopefully, through a consistent effort to be better, I can have an impact on people and leave things a little (or a lot) better than I found them.