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Season 02, Episode 29

How To Have Empathy At Work And Train Your Team To Use It

with CEO & Founder of Sub Rosa

About the Episode

In this episode, I chat with Michael Ventura, CEO, and founder of Sub Rosa, during our Training With Empathy event we hosted in April. We talk about the concepts from his book, Applied Empathy, and how to have empathy in the workplace, and how to make empathy a trainable skill. What I liked about this episode is that he fully breaks down why empathy is today’s most talked-about competitive advantage, and he explains how to train your team for it.

Sub Rosa is a strategy and design firm that has worked with some of the world’s most iconic brands and organizations; including Adobe, Delta Air Lines, Google, Goldman Sachs, Nike, The TED Conference, and The Obama Administration.

Michael has served as a board member and adviser to a variety of organizations including Behance, The Burning Man Project, The Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and the United Nations’ Tribal Link Foundation.

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Full Transcript

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Chris:

Difficult people are the best teachers, because I believe me, I’ve got a handful of them in my life every day, too. And one of the things I look at with when I have a difficult relationship to dissect that and to understand that a little bit more either, what makes them difficult? Is it something they’re doing? Is it something you are doing? Is it something in between? There’s something we call four points of distortion and this is four ways the relationship could go awry. What you meant, what you said, what they heard, what they understood.

Chris:

Hey everyone, I’m Chris Ron’s CEO, founder, and CEO of train UIL. And this is process makes perfect. As always, we’re talking with experts in process creation, automation and delegation. Basically the people that know how to make business easier. You just heard from Michael Ventura, Michael’s the CEO and founder of sub Rosa, which is a strategy and design firm. That’s worked with some of the world’s leading brands and organizations like Adobe, Google, and Nike. He’s also the author of a book called applied empathy, the new language of leadership. Now, before we had Michael at our event training with empathy, I read his book and it was a couple of weeks before the event that I bought the book and read it in the days before the event. And this was one of those books where I highlighted almost everything. I sent it to our head of people. We had bullet points for our next strategy meeting with the team and it was so useful. So what I love about this is you’ll hear him hear Michael, talk about how to actually make empathy, a trainable skill. How do you bring empathy into the workplace? He goes from defining it to giving so many examples of his client work. And it’s really an interview. You won’t want to miss hope you enjoy it.

Speaker 2:

Can this business thrive without the owner, you got to start putting systems and processes in place. If you don’t use the systems, the business will break. We’re always looking to buy back our time. You cannot say something once and expect that it actually is received. This is two way a big motivation in that for me, is creating a job for myself that I really enjoy it. This is how you to discover your vision.

Chris:

This is process makes perfect. I didn’t prep you for this or tell you about this, but I wanted to start with kind of a funny story, which plays into this topic really nicely. So, um, you know, when we talked earlier, we loved the book that you have because the idea of training, empathy, you know, first you want to infuse empathy in training when you’re introducing people to a company, but then you can also train empathy as a skill you said in the book, it’s a, it’s a muscle that can be trained, right? Yep, absolutely. I think it’s, it’s one of the, one of the most overlooked aspects of empathy that it can be trained. So six years ago, going back six years, I have a friend named Kyla that does these, um, you know, disc assessments and these kinds of surveys. And one of the things that she had me take came back with all these different items and empathy was one of the items on the list that I actually got like a quantifiable number on.

Chris:

So I want to share my screen. So this is a little vulnerable, but okay. So in 2014 that my empathy score came back as a seven out of a hundred. And I was like really upset about this because I feel like I’m an empathetic person. I remember talking to my, my wife and at the time we didn’t have kids. We, I, I had, I don’t think had any employees. I was a solo consultant and I knew that it was something I wanted to work on. So I took it again last week I emailed my friend and I took it again last week. And so now we’re a different company. I have two kids, they’re 38 employees and so much different thing. And I feel like I’ve worked on this a lot, but it, it is a skill that you need to really build. And it’s. So I thought I’d be a little vulnerable and share this as kind of a lead in, I think.

Michael:

Great. I mean, it’s a, it’s a perfect proof point that, you know, you put in the effort and you get a return on it.

Chris:

All right, cool. So the, the word empathy has been thrown around a lot. You know, it’s in the news, people are talking about it. As people are working from home, it’s just a hot topic. So you start in the book by defining empathy. So I would ask you, how do you define it? What is it exactly

Michael:

Sure. Yeah. Um, sometimes I like to define it by what it’s not first. And so what I usually tell people is empathy is not sympathy. It’s not compassion, it’s not being nice. Um, those are all good things, but those are side effects of empathy. And if you’re practicing empathy, the likelihood that you will be compassionate, sympathetic, nicer to people is higher because you are able to have that perspective that you didn’t have before. So empathy unto itself fundamentally is about perspective, taking about truly getting into the mindset and the shoes of someone else and seeing the world from their vantage. But there are three main types of empathy there. Uh, the first is affective empathy within EY and affective empathy is what I like to think of as sort of like golden rule empathy, right? So this is do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Michael:

And the challenge with effective empathy is that it’s not always right. The answer isn’t always the right answer. And the reason for that is because it’s based on perception. So if I perceive that you’re sad, I’m looking at you from a distance and I know that you’re going through something. And I think you’re sad. I go over and do what I would want you to do to me when I was sad, which maybe is to console you. And so I can sell you. And you’re like, actually, like I need some space. Can you get away? Because your version of what you want someone to do is different than mine, right? So effective empathy, doesn’t always connect. The second type, somatic empathy is physically feeling the emotions of someone else. So you hear about this sometimes when a spouse has sympathy, pains, when their wife is pregnant or nurses who suffer empathy, burnout, because they’re feeling the emotions of their patients all the time, super hard to train, doesn’t always ladder into like a successful business or leadership skill.

Michael:

Um, so not necessarily an area we tend to spend a lot of time. The third area, cognitive empathy is where the foundation of applied empathy really begins. And I think of that as more like platinum rule. So instead of the golden rule, the platinum rule being duet do unto others as they would have you do unto them. And the only way you’re going to note that answer is you can’t guess if you’re guessing it’s effective, if you really need to know, you have to ask. And that act of inquiry, that active listening is where empathy really begins.

Chris:

I love that. I think when I first got married, I was doing effective empathy and now we’re, we’ve been married 10 years. So now I’m starting to get better at it, but it’s just, you know, one building block at a time. So, so have, have you always known that you were great at this or you were, you were clued into this or, or, you know, where did this concept and this theme of empathy come from that that has driven your career? So, uh, I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 23.

Michael:

And throughout that whole journey, I think one of the things that makes entrepreneurs at least have staying power. I don’t know if it makes them successful all the time, but at least keeps you above water is the ability to adjust and base your decision making on things outside of yourself. You’re you obviously, as an entrepreneur have to trust your intuition, trust your gut, trust your skillsets, but also being able to perspective, take on your client’s perspective, take on your employee’s perspective, take on all of those different constituent groups and understand what their needs are. And then use that to inform your decision making. That’s sort of been like a fundamental process. I’ve always included in, in my leadership and in my work, I haven’t always gotten it right, but I think even in getting it wrong, you’re still building the muscle. So your earlier point about the score, right? I might not have always had the right answer, but that perspective taking as it started to become more habitual, as it started to become a bit more ingrained in me, I was able to use that more, more readily, more deathly to inform decision making. So it wasn’t something I like, you know, I don’t think I, I would say I was born with some like over-indexing empathy skill. Uh, I think we’ve all got it. But like we said, it’s a muscly train and if you’re not training it, it’s going to atrophy. Like anything else.

Chris:

Do you think it ties to being introverted or extroverted? Or is there any correlation or not really?

Michael:

Not that I’ve come across. I’m a high functioning introvert. Like I, I am like, I can get up on stage and do a keynote. I can go in front of a client or a board and give a big presentation and I can do it, but I don’t recharge that way. You know, everyone always says that extroverts recharge by being in those environments when I’m done with that, I need to like be quiet for a little while. I need to recharge the battery in a different way. So for me, even though empathy requires dialogue and perspective, taking and inquiry and active listening and all of these types of things, um, it’s hard work and it for introverts might be even harder, but it doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

Chris:

How, how does someone’s perception of whether they’re an empathetic person affect their ability to grow this as a skill? Do you have to want this or feel like you are empathetic?

Michael:

I think that you have to want it in so much as anything you’re going to practice. You have to care about doing, think about anything you’ve kind of phoned in, in your life. You’re never going to be as good at it as the person who like wakes up thinking about it, goes to bed, thinking about it. So in that regard, yeah, I think that there is, there’s a degree of sort of investment that you have to be willful about and commit to. But I also think that it is one of those things that you can see the returns on pretty palpably. Yes. You could like put caps on people’s heads and like track their brain activity and tell them when they’re in the empathic centers of the brain. That’s not what we’re talking about. I like to look at the knock on effects of it. So, you know, you use the example with your wife. I have this, I have the same example. I’ve been together with my wife now for nearly 15 years. And we are, uh, we’re in as well as my pal. [inaudible] says we’re in our second marriage as a, as a, as a couple because our first marriage was kind of awkward and clunky and kind of figuring out how to be together as a couple and how to communicate the right way. And then we evolved into where we’re at.

Chris:

And so we actually prepared a poll, and we’re going to put a poll up on the screen because I’m curious where everyone is coming from, whether you consider yourself to be an empathetic person. So it should pop up on your screen. Everyone, you can pick one of the options, and we’ll see the results of this survey. Ooh, really interesting. All right. I don’t know if everyone can see the results or just me, but, um, it looks like it’s shaken out to be over 50% of people feel like that’s me. I’m very, I’m empathetic. So, of course, you’re interested in the topic and you joined us today. Depends on the day is like 37%, not really 5% and that’s not me 2%. So for the people that don’t feel like they’re empathetic, hopefully, the rest of this content is really informative for you. Um, let me, there we go. Viewing poll results.

Michael:

I love the 2%. If I could just talk about that. Perhaps the 2% is, is where I have to spend most of my day, because when we go into a large organization and talk with them about empathy, the 2% of people who don’t have believed that they are empathetic, or they don’t perhaps even believe that empathy is important to their business [are] the folks we need to convince the most, right? Because, um, you know, for us, if you don’t value this and you don’t see this as an important part of your, your culture, the way your organization communicates to the world outside, um, it’s going to be an uphill battle. And one of the ways that we have, we have been successful is in showing how relationships be them personal ones with your colleagues and your, and your teammates or arms reach ones like your customers improve just by practicing these simple things that, that are, um, seem like common sense, but still don’t have an everyday application in our day-to-day lives like active listening, like the right kind of inquiry, you know, these types of just the day-to-day work.

Michael:

So, you know,

Chris:

The book for anyone that hasn’t read the book or seen it, it’s very practical there’s exercises, and it gets right to work on helping you work on this, this skill. Um, I want to start with the story in the book about, uh, about working with GE, because to me that, you know, when you think of empathy and working on this, and you know, that you, that you do this work, you would think you’re, you’re consulting people. Teams are, you know, you’re teaching people to be better, man, but I very early in the book you learned that this applies everywhere. So can you share the GE story, what you did with them? Yeah,

Michael:

Yeah, sure. So, so this goes back a few years ago, GE had asked us to take a look at their medical imaging business, and that means everything from MRI machines and cat scan, and x-ray out to mammography and the whole sort of suite of imaging products. And they said, we’re third in category at the time Phillips and Siemens sold more machines than they did. And they wanted to be first. They wanted to figure out a way to grow the business. And so they said, we think empathy might give us a window into seeing how to change this business, but we, but we don’t know much more than that. And your job is to kind of run around and figure out where we might evolve our business, using those sorts of insights, that empathy will help you derive

Chris:

Away. Sounds like the most fun job ever. I was reading this and feeling like it was like a school project that you just got to do whatever you want.

Michael:

It is. I mean, they’re not always as open-ended of a brief as that one, but that was, I mean, it really was a, it was a special leader at GE at the time who helped us really kind of dive into this. And they said, look, we don’t want you to think about the whole imaging category, cause that’s too vast. So we’re going to focus you in on mammography because we’ve got some good pipeline products coming down, but, um, you can’t change the core product, the core product. If we came up with a better way to detect breast cancer today, it still would be seven years before it goes through FDA approvals and trials. It gets into hospitals and impacts their bottom line. So focus in on mammo five months, figure out how we can grow our business. And that was the brief. And we started to practice these things.

Michael:

I’ve talked about. We have these different frameworks and tools and resources that we’ve developed as part of the applied empathy toolkit, where we can elicit understanding from folks. And, you know, 50% of the project team were men and the 25% of the 50% who were women, 25% of them had never had a mammography themselves, right? So we weren’t coming from physical, personal one-to-one experience with this. And we went and talked with doctors and patients and cancer survivors. And we heard a bunch of interesting stuff. We went and talked with people who had never had one. We walked, went and talked with people who were afraid to have one because they had one and found out they had cancer. Now they don’t like going anymore because that memory of that is so much, you know, so much more significant all of these different facets. And what we came to find was that even though the machine has a component that makes it sort of memorable for many people, 87% of the people we talked to, number one memory they have of the experiences pain, the way the machines work for folks who have never had one, cause there’s a panel here.

Michael:

And a panel here compression comes down, breast tissue gets then light travels from the top to the bottom scans for cancer cells, more complicated than that. But that’s the high level. The, uh, the second biggest complaint that we started to hear from people because we couldn’t change compression. As GE told us, you can’t change the machine. Second biggest complaint. Everyone said time. And again, as we talked to the people, the room was just so cold and we heard the room was cold. We heard the turnaround time on the test takes too long. We heard, um, you know, I, uh, just even the appointment-making process is nerve-wracking the gown, you know, all of these soft science things, all of these things that surrounded the experience. And so we started prototyping with them and tweaking them and changing them. And we brought women back who had been screened 60 days prior, and we screened them under new conditions.

Michael:

So we gave them a different gown that was designed to be a little more modest. And the appointment-making process felt a little more like little, a little less, like you were kind of just hurting cattle through a hospital, but a little more considerate of the fact that this is an emotional experience for these folks. And we were able to tighten the turnaround times so that your results would actually come back to you within 24 hours. But the most astounding thing was the temperature. So we asked, gee, why is the room so cold? And eventually, you get to the engineers at GE who dictate that. And the engineer says the average, uh, the optimal temperature for the lifespan of the machine is 64 degrees Fahrenheit. And so that’s why the rooms are so cool. And we said, yeah, but 64 degrees is really cold. And these women are in these paper gowns.

Michael:

Maybe we could do something about that. What would happen if we increase the temperature of the room by 10 degrees? And they said, well, 10 degrees won’t really have much of an impact. It’s just not optimal. And so what we realized in that moment is that everyone was operating from their perspective. No one was taking perspective, no one was going into the shoes of the patient and saying, yes, but what could we do to make their experience better? And so now that we knew that it wasn’t gonna hurt the test to increase the temperature, we increase the temperature and did all those other things. We said, we were able to cut the complaint of pain down by half. Once those people were given a better experience because psychologically it was less tiresome. It was less painful for them to go through it. But that wasn’t the most astounding finding.

Michael:

The most astounding finding is we were able to increase the effectiveness of the test by almost 12%. And that was incredible. Yeah, it was amazing. And frankly, something, someone else should have discovered long before us, I think, but, but, but what we came to find was why that happened was because when you’re warm and you’re relaxed and you’re treated the right way, compression actually got the breast tissue thinner, so it could find more cancer cells. And so it was such a pleasant surprise that helped us understand that that perspective taking can genuinely shift whole industries. It can, it can shift the trajectory of someone’s life, you know, and that really gave us the courage and confidence to practice this. What I love about,

Chris:

Oh, that story in that case study is that when people feel like they’re not empathetic, they’re probably not thinking in terms of that sort of creativity of how do I talk to customers understand a customer’s experience? And if you can put yourself in your customer’s shoes, that’s what you need to do to innovate and create better products. And that is practicing empathy. Right? Absolutely. All right, guys, taking a quick break here to ask you for a quick favor. If you like, what you hear on the show, please take a moment to review us on Apple podcasts or wherever you’re listening to the show. And if you snap a screenshot of your review and you send it to me at Chris [inaudible] or at train you on any social media platform, we’ll send you a free Process Makes Perfect tee shirt and some other swag. We’d love to hear what you think. Okay. Back to the show. So, so how do you recommend that people immerse themselves in something? Because there was another story in the book about college students who designed a course for Princeton and some college students were walking around town and really couldn’t put themselves in a non-college student place. So, so what recommendation do you give for someone who is not their customer can identify with them?

Michael:

Yeah. So I think one of the first things is those college kids. When they first went out, they practiced affective empathy. They stood across the road, and they looked at people who weren’t them, and they assumed what the problems were of those people. And when they came back in and we told them to go back out and now go ask questions, go actually inquire. Um, that’s when the shift happened. So I think one of the first easiest steps be the best question-asker like really be unafraid to ask hard questions because those hard questions will lead to the kinds of truths that allow you to perspective taken away that you couldn’t just by perceiving. So great question asking is a great place to start. Another is we work with a lot of large organizations on how to train this into their culture. And one of the things that you have to do in order to do that is to change how people’s measurements are actually, how people are evaluated at the end of the year.

Michael:

Right? So when you have your three 60 reviews or things like that, are you including a measurement and a series of questions around how empathic is this leader? Do they have conversations with you? Do do, do you feel like they connect with you? Do they, you feel like they understand what it is you do. And so if you’re not, if you’re not tracking that you’re not incentivizing the right behavior shifts. And so a lot of organizations that we work with once they shift the performance criteria, they see the uptick much faster versus just like standing on a stage and the CEO saying we need to be more empathic. So there’s a difference in sort of how the incentive structures are aligned.

Chris:

That’s such great advice. So in the book, you know, you’ve got so many questions. I think that was the one thing I took away. As I’m highlighting, I PI highlighted probably a hundred different questions and pasting them into our Slack channels and saying, we need to put these in the surveys. And so the quickest win, I think for anyone here is if you’re not asking questions of your employees or managers of your customers, of just your vendors, of anyone that’s in the ecosystem of what you’re doing, where can you ask more questions? Because if you start to ask questions, like you said, you understand different perspectives. So I really enjoy that. Now, shifting a little bit people, um, I guess, need to practice this themselves. And part of what you recommended is this physical awareness of kind of stopping, being present. So can you share the story around that?

Michael:

Yeah. So everyone thinks about empathy as a perspective on someone else, but the easiest person to practice on is the person you’re with 24 hours a day yourself. And so we developed a framework, we call, uh, the whole self and the whole self has seven different selves inside it. You can think of it almost Maslow Ian in some ways, right? Like we’re kind of building up from a base into sort of more, a higher order aspects of the self. And we’ve developed a set of different questions and exercises and things you can do to tune into that. So like one that I do with almost every client, when we talk about all seven, the first and most fundamental is the physical self. How well are you aware of your physical body? So everyone who’s watching just for one sec, put both feet on the ground, sit up nice and straight in your chair and just take one slow, deep breath, really inhale. Get up to the top of your breath, hold it for a second or two and make your exhale longer than your inhale. Nice and slow.

Michael:

And now it’s yourself. You can get comfortable again, ask yourself, when’s the last time you took a break. I like that for some of you, it might’ve been this morning when you, we had a, you know, a morning practice of some sort for others. I did this at a workshop a couple months ago, and a CEO came up to me afterwards and said, I don’t know if I’ve ever taken a breath like that. And was like, I’m just like panting my way in and out of conference rooms all day, just kind of in like a fight or flight mode. And you know, and if we’re not taking care of that self, well, then we’re far away from being able to talk about our intellectual self or our mindful self, or, you know, some of the other selves. So having empathy for our interior world helps us appreciate the complexity of the interior world of everyone else around you.

Michael:

We all have complex ecosystems inside us that we couldn’t begin to understand because we barely understand our own. Right. And so once you start to see that it makes the practice of empathy, that much more valuable. One of the most practical tests I thought people could take away from this was the, uh, the door, the opening, the door test. Yeah. Oh, so yeah, that’s a great one. So, so a quick version of that is I was in my mid twenties panting my way in and out of conference rooms like that CEO was, I was just sort of like on the go all the time. And I had a spiritual teacher at the time, the amazing man named Gilberto, he since passed away and Gill had this big, deep voice. And he would say these things that sounded so profound. And one of the things he said to me was, um, I think you’re asleep all day long.

Michael:

I think as you’re walking around the world, you’re, you’re somewhere else. You’re thinking about the meeting you were just in, or the meeting you’re going to, and he said, are you left-handed or right-handed? I said, I’m right-handed. He said, I want you to walk through every door you go through for the next week, by opening it with your left hand, I was like, that’s the easiest test in the world. No problem. We’ll see you in a week Gill. And I go to leave his office. And of course I opened the door with my right hand. And for the rest of the week, there were moments where I would walk through a door, take two steps, and then look down at my hand and be like, I did it again. And then over the span of a week, over a span of a couple of weeks, I started to get better.

Michael:

With the left hand, I started to be more present. I wasn’t thinking about the meeting I was going to or something else. I was literally just at the door and opening the door and I was using my left hand and I like came running back into Gill’s office. And I said, “Gill, I’m doing it. I’m opening doors with my left hand,” and [he] said, “great switch back.” And then it began again, because once you get into the pattern, you have to realize that you’re now falling asleep in that pattern again. And you have to continue to push and become more self-aware. And so that was sort of a good early exercise and just kind of being present.

Chris:

So as I read that, I got through that chapter and I’m in my home office and I put it down. I was reading on my iPad, [I] put my iPad down and I’m thinking, Oh, this is cool. I’m going to, I’m going to do the left-hand test. And I’m walking out of my door and I grabbed the door with the right hand. And I was like, how could I, I’m thinking about this test? And I, and I did it wrong. So it is really hard to be present, to be aware.

Michael:

Um, I know even right now, people are

Chris:

Being tested with, you know, the recommendations to wash your hands all the time and don’t touch your face. And I find myself being more aware because of those recommendations of not doing those things. So everyone’s getting a little taste of it,

Michael:

I think. Yeah, absolutely. So as a company grows, how,

Chris:

How does it become harder to be empathetic? You know, I think with a small company,

Michael:

It’s, it’s, you know, you’ve got these

Chris:

Great familial relationships and as you grow, um, you know, you might introduce more structure and it feels like there’s this tension at play. So, so how do you work with that?

Michael:

Yeah. So you know that as those organizations grow your ability to know everyone becomes harder obviously, right? And so that you can’t do what you did for 50 people for 5,000 people, because it’s not, you’re not going to be able to spend the same amount of time with everybody and have that perspective. So you have to figure out ways of gaining perspective through other means, right? So if you’re in the sea level of an organization, you have your direct reports, you’ve got to make sure you’re really investing in them and understanding them. But yet you’re also empowering them to understand their direct reports and their direct reports, direct reports, depending on how much hierarchy you have in the company. That’s a top-down way of thinking about it. There’s also a bottom-up way of thinking about it, which is how are you as an organization, availing yourself to the entirety of the company, to hear their perspective.

Michael:

You know, whether that’s through Slack, whether that’s through a weekly stand up, whether that’s through, you know, whatever, whatever tools, resources you might have, whether it’s through surveys, how are you pulse checking the org and, and benchmarking and understanding how things are changing over time. And so that top-down and bottom-up both are really critical, but not to be overlooked is the middle out, right? There’s that, that critical middle layer of every organization, once it gets to a certain size, those people are the bricks and the mortar, they’re holding everything together. And if you’re not investing in those people and understanding where their pain points are, but wheels fall off the bus. I can’t tell you how many clients we’ve worked with in the past 18 months where the, the sort of the, the focus of the challenge has been help us make our managers better managers, because they have too much to do. They’ve got to manage up, manage down, manage laterally. It’s a tough gig for anybody and they, and they don’t get any love. Managers are only, you only know what a manager is, is what a manager is doing when it’s not going well, very rarely do managers get praised when it’s going well. It’s like when the wheels fall off the bus, everyone points at the manager and that’s an unfortunate circumstance. And so how do you shift that? So that they’re actually the heroes. They are inside a lot of organizations,

Chris:

Right? Yeah. It’s tough for managers. And actually, I got a, I just saw a comment in the chat here. Somewhat. Holly says, I think I have a broken empathy button. I’m empathetic with people to start, but then if you disrespect me or show indifference, I lose empathy. So how, how does that work? Where, um, you know, you’re navigating the relationship with maybe some direct reports. Is, is it difficult to maintain your empathy if you have some run-ins with people?

Michael:

So I think two things on that one let’s remember in the beginning, empathy is not about being nice, compassionate or sympathetic, right? So you can still have perspective, even if that perspective has changed due to their behavior. If you’ve now said, okay, well, this person has done a particular thing, and now I don’t respect them the same way. It doesn’t mean you can’t still perspective take, right. And I know you’re going to talk about this later, but radical candor talks about ruinous empathy and ruinous empathy is, is when we’re letting empathy to get the best of us, right. When we’re just kind of over empathizing with things. And so one thing I often remind people of is that empathy unto itself is neutral. Right? I can take a lot of perspective. I can ask you the right questions. I can get to know you really well until I use that information.

Michael:

It’s remaining in a neutral state. It’s what I do with that, understanding that matters. So I might take that understanding and really invest in our relationship because now I understand where you are and where I’m at and we’ll work together to get there better. I might use that. And in a nefarious way, you can look back to the news. In 2016, with Cambridge Analytica, Cambridge Analytica was able to change people’s news cycles and their ultimately their behavior through deep understanding through cognitive empathy, right? They couldn’t have changed the behaviors of voters if they didn’t know their behaviors and their patterns, right? So that you can’t do that without empathy. So with empathy always comes in my book, a code of ethics. What are you going to do with the understanding you’ve just gained? And will you use it to help build a better relationship, a more collaborative relationship, a more inclusive relationship, great. Sign me up. But if you’re going to use that to manipulate, to, to modify or to sort of, you know, behind the scenes, do something that the person is unaware of, that’s that’s nefarious, but that is still, you know, you can’t deny that that is also cognitive founded in cognitive empathy.

Chris:

Yeah. So I guess detaching, it is the main thing, right? Like you can be empathetic and understand someone and ask the right questions, but then how they behave and how you treat them as a result of that behavior is different from your understanding right there. They’re two separate,

Michael:

Maybe a great example of that would be the Nike case study. How, you know, you were you’re understanding customers totally separately from how you were applying it in the product. You want to share that example. Yeah, sure. So, so with Nike, we were launching this shoe called Flynet, which was a, a shoe that was designed to feel the sole of your foot, like the Palm of your hand. So from a product engineering standpoint, these engineers were, had like cracked the code. They figured out how to make the sole of your foot. So sensorial that it was actually able to connect in a meaningful way. Now, if you’re a competitive marathoner, you know, that’s really valuable because you can feel your pronation and you can feel all this other stuff, but to a lay consumer, when you hear it, you can really feel the sole of your foot, like the Palm of your hand.

Michael:

So what, like, what does that, what does that do for me, if like, if I’m not a competitive athlete and that self-aware of like my mind-body connection and how my foot pronation is helping me, you know, shave a 10th of a second off my time. And so we had to shift get into a whole other place of teaching people, how their, how their feet and mind are actually talking to each other to add some other value to the story. So it wasn’t about becoming an ultra-competitive marathoner, but it was, Hey, your body’s telling you, giving you information all day and maybe you’re not being aware enough to notice it. So we built this 4,000 square foot pitch-black box, and we brought in people, and we had them take their shoes and socks off. And we had them, we hooked a little brain monitor onto their head and to their arm.

Michael:

And we sent them through this labyrinth. And we said the only way you’re going to get from the start to the finish is to let your feet guide you. Your feet are going to be your eyes. And the textures of the floor are going to change. And when you go from grass to gravel and gravel to wet rocks and all of this other stuff you’ll know you’re on the right path. And people weave through this thing, it takes them sometimes five minutes, sometimes 15 minutes. One person had to go in and get, ’cause they got, got lost. But when they come out [on] the other side, we downloaded all of that brain activity that they had while they walked with their feet as eyes. And we put it into this big database that showed you where your brain activity was. Sometimes you were in this really alpha meditative state.

Michael:

Sometimes you were in a fight or flight kind of erratic state. And so we would ask them. So when you were on this portion of the maze, um, you were standing on grass and you seemed really calm. What was going on in your mind? They were like, Oh, it felt like, you know, it felt like I was in Central Park, but the grass felt really good. It smelled really good. You good in there[?] Great. And then, you know, when you were gravel later on, you were really erratic. What was wrong there? And they were like, well, I was kind of getting lost. I was a little trapped in my own head. I didn’t know if I was going to get out of there. And then we said, okay, where do you run? Every day? I run on the highway. I run, I run on the runners paths in West side highway, in New York city.

Michael:

And we’re like, well, have you ever run in central park? And then like the light bulb comes on. They’re like, Oh, that’s why this is valuable. I can actually be in a different mindset if I’m letting my mind in my body, talk to me. And then all of a sudden that, that empathy for self going back to that, that case, um, really switched on for them. And they realize the value of this product. So, you know, sometimes it’s about teaching something through an unconventional means in order to kind of hit that light bulb moment. Other times it’s about training so that you can do that for yourself and others.

Chris:

So that’s such a cool example. And I know you flew through the story, but that idea of this experimental experiential thing to collect empathy and collect, understanding really hyped up the launch of that product got you a lot of press, but it also was beneficial for the company, right? And that you could share those findings with them. So for companies that are watching that, can’t do things on such a large scale. What are some simple ways that they can introduce empathy into their workplace or with their customers?

Michael:

One of the easiest that we’ve done for a lot of companies over the years is to build a customer advisory board. Um, so you know, you can go survey customers and you can send them a digital survey and things like that all the time, but there’s nothing more valuable than an even in this remote way. We are all now working, um, even more so like get 20 of your customers on a Zoom for 45 minutes, you know, give them a free product as a thanks. Give them some cash as a thanks if you can afford to do that. Um, but you would be surprised how willing customers are to tell you because most people don’t ask. Right? And so when you start to ask and you start to open the doors, we were working with a big media company and they’re in sports media particularly. And we said, we need to build a fan advisory board. And there were like fans, but like we sell to advertisers. And I said, yeah. And who do advertisers sell to? And, and then they realized, Oh yeah, we need to understand the fan. And once we built a fan advisory board and they could talk with them about the kinds of content, they were creating, the ways they were distributing the content, it made the advertising more effective, but it made the relationship between the media company and the fans really meaningful. Hmm.

Chris:

I love that. I, I wrote down build customer advisory board is something we should do. I know we’ve got a list of beta testers for our product that we go to from time to time. But I think it’s a big list. Not someone we’d get on a Zoom call with so great suggestion. Um, alright, so we’re, we’re coming up to the top of the hour here. I would love for anyone to submit questions that they have for Michael. He is a visonary when it comes to empathy. So please, um, if you have any questions, put them through, otherwise, I’ll keep asking my own questions, but let’s see I’m ed says, what will you advise me to do in developing my empathetic skills when I am working with difficult people and how

Michael:

So difficult people are the best teachers, because it, and I, believe me, I’ve got a handful of them in my life every day, too. And one of the things I look at with when I have a difficult relationship to dissect that and to understand that a little bit more either, what makes them difficult? Is it something they’re doing? Is it something you’re doing? Is it something in between? There’s something we call four points of distortion, and [these] four ways the relationship could go awry. What you meant, what you said, what they heard, what they understood. So when you’re dealing with a difficult person, it’s helpful to kind of break that down by those four points and understand where is it breaking down? Because I know what I mean, but maybe I’m not saying it the right way. And so therefore they’re not hearing it the right way and not understanding it.

Michael:

And so by following that path, it depersonalizes it a little bit. And it starts to just look at the challenge itself, not the people, because look, we’re not all gonna like every single person we interact with, but if we understand them, like I know there are certain people that I work with who one-on-ones to give tough feedback is always more valuable than in a group setting. There are others where like they thrive on that group, dynamic of everyone talking and knowing that as a leader and as a manager helps you build better, more meaningful relationships. So I would start there. It’s just like, what’s making it difficult because you can have a difference of opinion. But like, if they’re, if you know why they’re so hard to deal with, maybe they’re adversarial, maybe they’re, you know, um, confrontational what’s triggering that.

Chris:

Hmm. No, that’s, that’s a great point. So the, the four points, I guess someone asked to say it against the four points of distortion, what you meant, what you said, what they heard and what they understood. Correct. That is gold. Because I think when I’ve found myself in an emotional response, when I’m like, I can’t believe they just said that to me, if you go through that filter in your head, it almost delays your own emotional reaction. So I think that’s a really cool way to think about it. Okay. Let’s see. Um, Jennifer says, one of the things I’ve struggled with is convincing CEOs, how important this is to incorporate into their business and approaching business from this perspective, any tips on how to show value?

Michael:

Yeah. So I would go to the, what are the knock on effects of doing it? If you say like, we just need to be more empathic for the sake of that, or because it’s the right thing to do a lot of CEOs, aren’t going to see that value. And so what I point to is that your relationships with customers get better. So therefore sales improve, um, the emergence of high performing teams occur. Once we start training this into our teams, our teams get better, they work better together. They better output, they better utilization. So you can start to measure those things, not measured. Don’t stop at measuring empathy is now a thing for us, but measure what empathy has helped us accomplish and create a baseline and look three, six months out and see how that baseline has evolved based on the training.

Chris:

Great suggestion in our last session today is actually called the ROI of kindness. So for understanding, ROI of CEOs thinking ROI, definitely stick around for that. I’m from Penn. He says, how do you take a break to collect your thoughts while still showing empathy or not appear appearing to not care?

Michael:

Have you stepped back? Yeah. I mean, one great way to do it is to ask for that beat, right? To say, like, that was a lot of information. I just, I need a second to kind of process it. Let me come to you either in that moment or in a day from now or in an hour. But, um, instead of it being opaque and trying to like hide all of your processing, just say like, I gotta, I gotta process that a little bit. Give me a second to do that. If someone rejects that, I, I mean, I would be surprised because what you’re asking for is, is an opportunity to understand them better and who doesn’t want to be understood better. Yeah.

Chris:

I love that. I remember example myself. I had an employee, one of my first employees who I loved wanting to move to San Francisco with her husband. And she came in and told me she was going to be moving on and, you know, leaving the state. And I was just distraught. So I asked if I could walk around the block for a couple of minutes. I was like, I want to, I want to talk with you about this, but can I go for a walk? And then we’ll come back and talk. And, and, uh, it helped me a lot. So I liked that suggestion. Um, Louise says, could you give an example I could use for my restaurant to implement empathy to my front-of-house employees.

Michael:

So I guess I’m, first of all, I’m sorry that you’re probably going through what you’re going through right now. And a lot of friends in the restaurant business, and it is not a good time to be in the restaurant business. Um, so you know, the, the thing that I think front of house people have to do is balance the, the art and science of service in a really complex way, right? Like th the, the, to appreciate the complexity of taking orders, bringing things back, getting them, getting to the table on time, all of that, that’s the science of it. But then there’s also the art of it. Knowing like when to, uh, check on people and make sure their food’s okay. And when to, you know, bring around the dessert menus and all of this stuff. And I’ve actually a lot of my friends who are restaurant tourists, we’ve talked about this because they’ve said that the best GMs of their restaurants are the ones that help them really understand the art side.

Michael:

Cause if you don’t have the science, you’re not going to last very long in a restaurant it’s like that. Stuff’s got to get to the table on time and then orders have to be right. But it’s the art. And so appreciating that it takes two sides of the brain to be a good front of house person and understanding that, you know, there might be some tips and skills that some of your best people have that aren’t being shared with some of your other folks and making them not just an example, but also empowering them to be a trainer and to say, Hey, you know, let me show you two or three things I’ve picked up over the years. That really helped me. And that like that does, it goes miles in, in cultivating the kind of leadership you want from your team. Yeah.

Chris:

Yeah. And that’s great. I think that’s a great way to wrap up here. As you know, there’s going to be some people in everyone’s company that are really strong at this and others that need to work on it. And if we can showcase the strengths and the people that are doing a really great job, it can reinforce that behavior. So we’ve got a ton of other questions coming in, but we will save all of these. We’ll answer these throughout the next few sessions. Mark said he just bought your book. It’s going to help a lot in his relationship. So that’s awesome to hear. Um, but Michael, thank you so much for coming on. I know it was short notice and this was a great discussion. Really appreciate

Michael:

You. Yeah. I appreciate you, Chris. Thanks. And thanks everybody for the questions. Have a good rest of the day.

Chris:

Hey, thanks for listening to process. Makes perfect. If you’re listening on your earbuds on a run in the car, we also have a version on YouTube. So if you want to see this in color video with me interviewing all these great guests, check it out on YouTube, just search Chris Ronzio and you’ll find my channel on there. If you found this helpful, we’d love for you to leave a review or rate the podcast. If you found the information valuable, please share it with a friend, a family member or anyone else you think could benefit from the information. Remember to connect with me at Chris Ron’s EO on all social media platforms or the company at train fuel. That’s Trainual like a training manual everywhere that you want to follow us. Thanks again for watching or listening. And we’ll hope to see you next time.

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