For that matter, you should cultivate empathy as a person, in your day-to-day life. If you’re not already an empathetic person, outside of design, it’s hard to become one at work. You can’t just say, “Okay, now it’s time to be empathetic.”
Don’t Feel That You Must Master All of UX Design—It’s a Big Field
Creating a user experience encompasses many disciplines, including information architecture, content development, interaction design, visual design, and usability. Don’t feel like you need to know everything right away. Just start somewhere. I suggest that you begin with usability-test facilitation because it will instill empathy in you. (See above.)
Over time, you will develop a familiarity with multiple disciplines in User Experience and will probably gravitate toward one or two of them. I have never subscribed to becoming a specialist. Insects are specialists. Neither do I consider myself a generalist—a word that tends to imply mediocrity. You know, the “jack of all trades, but master of none.” I’m certainly not a master of all trades. Rather, there are multiple design disciplines I’ve worked hard to cultivate and refine over the years. And, after a while, you’ll do the same.
Learn Business Basics
For a UX designer, selling your work is part of the job. When you present your designs, it’s important to communicate how they solve the business’s objectives. Take the time to learn about your client’s or company’s top business priorities. Learn about sales and marketing, cash flow, revenue versus profit—whatever matters to the company for which you work. Once you’ve gained a working knowledge of business basics, you’ll be able to help your company be more successful.
The current tech bubble aside, the goal of most businesses is to become and remain profitable. Understand how the work you do ties directly to profitability.
Present Your Work
One of the best ways to gain the respect of your leaders and peers and rise quickly in the working world is to speak publicly about your work. As a UX designer, you must be an effective public speaker. All UX designers need to present their designs to stakeholders, but you can go a step beyond that and do brown-bag presentations at work or speak at a conference.
I am an introvert by nature, so public speaking has never been an easy thing for me. In fact, I avoid it like the plague. I really should force myself to do more of it because, when I’ve had to do it, I’ve always found it very rewarding. (My fears weren’t as crippling as I’d believed.) If speaking publicly is really a non-starter for you, write regularly about your work—or design in general—whether through your own blog or for an online publication such as UXmatters.