Case Study: How can managers demonstrate empathy and advocacy in a professional setting?


developed with

Craig Williams, PhD.
Sarah Larkin Birdsong, LMHC


HTC Vive
Oculus Rift


July 2017


Empathy, active listening, and empowerment are what make up a supportive response. Mastering these skills greatly improves interpersonal communication in emotionally complex situations. This simulation places participants in the role of a manager whose direct report, Julie, has been mistreated by her male coworker. The goal is to respond to Julie demonstrating empathy, active listening, and empowerment. 


Process and results

Thirteen users completed three 15-minute virtual reality sessions over the course of three weeks. Between sessions, an empathy coach would review their performance, highlighting positive and negative moments. Prior to the upcoming session, participants reviewed their feedback as well as examples from each other. All participants made significant improvement between the first and final sessions, with most seeing an increase from below average to above average skill comprehension. Not only that, but a majority wished to continue the training, finding it meaningful and engaging. Graph: Participant skill comprehension over time.


  • Empathy intervention
  • Behavioral skill training
  • Sexual harassment
  • Inclusive management

about craig williams


Craig Williams is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto working with Wil Cunningham and Jim Coan (University of Virginia). In 2017, he completed his PhD in psychology at Stanford University with Jamil Zaki. His research examines interpersonal emotion regulation –– how we manage our own and other individuals' emotions through social interaction. To this end, he also studies the motivation to seek out other people and communicate our emotions. His approach combines behavioral, psychometric, psychophysiological, and neuroimaging methods.

about sarah larkin birdsong


Sarah Larkin Birdsong has worked as both a diversity & inclusion and learning & development consultant and coach in the tech space. Making the workplace validating by optimizing its members’ creative potential is her primary professional objective. She is also a therapist, writer, and public speaker on the subjects of leadership, communication, and workplace best-practices.