Love as an Empathy Strategy

EPISODE 30

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Empathy is at the center of everything we talk about at Love as a Business Strategy. If you don’t have empathy for the person sitting next to you at work, you are potentially missing out on untapped potential and innovation. In this episode, we explore what true empathy looks like in the workplace and why you should start practicing it now.

 

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Feel the love! We aren't experts - we're practitioners. With a passion that's a mix of equal parts strategy and love, we explore the human (and fun) side of work and business every week together.

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Jeff Ma
Director

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MohProfile

Mohammad Anwar
President

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ChrisProfile

Chris Pitre
Vice President

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frank_danna

Frank Danna
Director

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Jeff Ma
Hello and welcome to Love as a Business Strategy, a podcast that brings humanity to the workplace. We're here to talk about business, but we want to tackle topics that most business leaders shy away from. We believe that humanity and love should be at the center of every successful business. I'm your host, Jeff Ma, and I'm a director at Softway, a business to employee solutions company that creates products and offers services that help build resilience and high-performance company cultures. I'm joined today by by President and CEO at Softway, Mohammad Anwar. Hey, Moh.

Mohammad Anwar
Hey.

Jeff Ma
I think he just cranked out a hey, I think that was him.

Mohammad Anwar
I did say hey, yes.

Jeff Ma
We have Chris Pitre, Vice President. What's up, Chris?

Chris Pitre
Hello.

Jeff Ma
And how's it going, Frank? Frank Danna.

Frank Danna
Hi.

Jeff Ma
Okay. All right. these intros are getting better and better with every episode, guys. So each episode, we dive into one element of business or strategy and test our theory of love against it. And I'm a huge fan of today's topic. I'm really excited to get into this, we're talking about empathy. And we've done a couple of episodes in and around empathy, like specifically empathetic leadership, we had the Platinum rule. But we can barely get through an episode of any kind without using this word I feel. So you know, I'll be honest, when I have some conversations around empathy and about empathy, particularly in business, you know, I'll get the question at times, like, why does it really matter? You talk to people who don't really think about empathy regularly. They don't, it's hard to understand where the connection really is. And that's what I wanted to talk about today about where it belongs in the workplace. It sounds like a lot of extra work to worry about empathy in the workplace, does it really make a difference to the bottom line? And I want to ask those questions today and get to the bottom of it. And so I'm gonna need your guys's help. And before that, I'm going to take a look at these icebreaker questions. And I believe they are in this or that format. So let's start with Chris. Chris, crunchy peanut butter or smooth?

Chris Pitre
Smooth. Smooth.

Jeff Ma
Yes, that's it. We got it. We got his answer. I'm moving on. Mohammad, coffee or tea?

Mohammad Anwar
Coffee.

Jeff Ma
Oh, this is gonna be a quick icebreaker guys. I feel like the ice is definitely being broken with these.

Mohammad Anwar
No, I do like ice. I do like iced coffee, too.

Jeff Ma
Fair enough. Frank, music or podcasts?

Frank Danna
Music, Jeff. Spotify just did their...

Chris Pitre
On a podcast, you're gonna choose music? Okay.

Frank Danna
Yeah. Yeah. I'm trying to be honest. Yeah, Spotify just gave me my unwrapped. And it said, like, I've discovered 532 new genres of music. And I thought that's weird, because I can only name like three genres of music. Christmas, country and trip hop. And so I don't know where these other 530 some odd genres came from, or even if those genres so yeah, I'm a fan of music.

Jeff Ma
Thank you for spicing up the icebreakers

Frank Danna
You're welcome.

Jeff Ma
Let's let's dive in. Let's talk about empathy. And I want the the headliner question to be very straightforward. Why is empathy important in the workplace? So I'll start with, oh, let's say, Chris.

Chris Pitre
Okay. So empathy in the workplace is paramount to building a culture where teams, individuals, and even leaders come together to do the impossible. I think, when you have empathy, which is really just the ability to, you know, put yourself in someone else's shoes, but also think about how they would respond or react or might interpret things, and come accordingly or adjust accordingly. That that allows for an organization or a team to, to really tap into everyone's full potential. Because I think it's easy to forget that we all have a different perspective, even though we might have the same goal or the same vision. And that is rare for a company and any sort of maturity around empathy or you know, even a larger loftier vision to come in and have everyone truly empathize with the person sitting to the left and the person sitting to their right. And I think that if we talk about empathy in the workplace, it really starts with the ability to just think beyond yourself and outside of yourself, and see what's happening to others and with others around you.

Jeff Ma
So that baseline definition of empathy, I get that when you apply to the workplace, maybe do we have an examples of what that looks like? Like, what is having empathy look like in the workplace?

Chris Pitre
Yeah, I think for me, I always go back to when we started, when I started working at Softway, and having to interact with India. I worked in a previous organization where we did have an Indian office, but the interactions were few and far between with me, but coming in a Softway. And, you know, you, you really don't think about what's happening on the other side of the phone, or on the other side of the call. And it wasn't until I actually visited India, that empathy became sort of, you know, a very crystal clear picture of Oh, now. Okay, got it. Right. So when I was, before I came to India, and when I was working with the team in India, the way that calls took place, is it was a constant, asking them to repeat themselves. Because, you know, for whatever reason, they have an accent, you know, I'm not used to listening to an Indian accent. But once you go there, and once I went there, I was able to sit down. And you know, for me, it wasn't necessarily the accent, it was getting to meet people and know who they were to really start empathizing with them, when I went back to the US, and understand what they were trying to say over the phone. And it wasn't an accent issue anymore. It was really the idea of say, Oh, that's Sunil. He's trying to say this, this and this. And, you know, you start listening, versus trying to interpret and I think there's a difference. Yeah. And that empathy kicked in once, I was actually able to go over and meet them and see that they were real people with lives, and the same cares, and the same worries and frustrations and whatnot. And I think that that was the biggest eye opening sort of moment for really looking at myself and saying, am I really being empathetic, if I'm very quick to just say, the accent is what's keeping me from truly taking away what they're trying to say. Or if I think of them as humans, who just have, you know, a different way of communicating, I can still listen to them and take away what they're trying to communicate.

Jeff Ma
Do any of you guys have another great example of like empathy at play. Do you guys have an example of like, when empathy was missing, or lacking and what that looks like, specifically?

Frank Danna
I think for me, you know, there have been moments where and working in teams over the years, and really, this is for me, a lot of the empathy happens in a team setting, or empathy or lack thereof. But when someone is struggling, and you see this complete disconnect from the the individual for a number of reasons, and you don't see people leaning in and desiring to really understand what that person is going through, recognizing how that person is feeling, that sense of belonging is gone, that individual feels like they're no longer part of the team, like they no longer have a role to play. And so they begin to distance themselves. And it happens, you know, it happens gradually. But what I've noticed is that when when teams aren't being or individuals aren't being empathetic to others, people will stop seeing themselves as part of what you're trying to build inside of an organization. And as a result of that, people begin to feel like they're not really a part of what you're building. And so, you know, in teams that I've worked on, we've had situations where, when folks were struggling or dealing with something, and the people around them wouldn't rise to the challenge me included, wouldn't come and say, you know, what, I need to put in the extra effort to understand what they're going through to, to work through this together. Those folks began to lose interest and distance themselves. And it actually had an impact on the work product on the thing we were trying to deliver, because there wasn't enough care for that person. I mean, the way I look at it is, instead of putting names to faces, you're putting lives to people, you're putting real lives to the people that you're engaging with. And if empathy is missing, you're missing that opportunity to connect and build belonging.

Mohammad Anwar
I think from a business standpoint, I think every decision that you make in a business place can have the value added to it by having empathy. It's as simple as you know, if you're looking to do a marketing campaign, trying to understand and having empathy towards the consumers or the visitors or the people who would see your ads or how would they how would we position our advertising or messaging from a standpoint of the problems that we think our target audience is going through, down to how we build technology products, how we build technology solutions, That requires us to have empathy to understand the situations of the users, what kind of environments they're coming from, what are their lives, like? What are their situations in the moment, and you are able to even build technology solutions or products. And that requires empathy. Come down to internal communications with your employees. Like, if you're a CEO who's trying to speak to your organization, all the way, last seat, last row, you have to be able to write communications that make sense to them that are, you know, applicable for them for where they are seeing the organization, not from your lens, but from their lens, and being able to tailor your internal communications from that standpoint, I mean, there's applicability of empathy in all aspects of business, how you work with your clients, how you interact with your employees, how you make marketing decisions, how you make business decisions, around finance, around food, even, like, what do you order for food, when you're going to lunch, meeting your customers that requires empathy. All of these things require empathy. So I think empathy is like a core foundation that has a huge place in the business world. And it's something that's a skill that can be acquired, that can be groomed that can be, you know, the muscle of empathy can be improved. And it has a huge beneficiary to a business place by being empathetic in almost every aspect of your business.

Jeff Ma
How do you do that, Moh? How do you build that muscle? How do you train your empathy?

Mohammad Anwar
Well, I think it's just a constant exercise of being able to put yourself in other's shoes, no matter who they are, I think very missed out on practicing it fully is when we become very selective or exclusive to who we want to practice empathy with. I think everyone has the ability to be empathetic. Sometimes you're selfishly empathetic only towards people that you resonate with, that you feel like you are more alike, or that are your close friends, and have relationships with and you're very selective. And when you're selective in your practicing of your empathy skills, you are limiting your opportunities to practice more and to exercise it with the diversity of the folks people from all elements of diversity around you. And and the more you expose yourself, like how Chris mentioned, going to India, meeting, the people understanding different cultures, understanding different people, their situation, their lived experiences, experiences that you go through, by meeting a diversity of folks around you, which is beautiful in itself is what helps you continue to build that, that muscle that empathy muscle. And I think that that's the starting point, you want to get better at empathy, you got to start being inclusive. And when you're being inclusive of everyone around you, no matter where they're from, what their background is, what their ethnicity is, what their race is, what their religion is, what their dietary restrictions are, and you start paying attention to all of these things, you start to build this muscle of becoming more and more empathetic.

Frank Danna
I was gonna say, for me, it's, and I definitely agree with you, Mohammad, I think it's also the ability like how you begin to build that empathy muscle also stems from recalling something that helps you understand how someone is feeling, because their situation may be different. But you can have an emotional link to the emotion they may be feeling. So if they're going through something, you know, maybe they're upset, maybe they're, they're angry, you could say, you know, Listen, I've never been in this exact situation before, but I know what it feels like to be angry and know what it feels like to be frustrated. And being able to link up to to understanding that emotional experience that someone's going through, will help you recognize that person as a person. Right. And I think that's where that inclusion aspect begins to come in. Because you're saying what you're feeling right now, even though I may not have been in this exact situation, I felt it too. And so now you're starting to take on that burden alongside of them. And you're starting to support them in where they're feeling what they're feeling, and it becomes a shared experience. And as you do that, as you continue to move through that and practice and practice the idea of recalling an emotion that someone else has engaged in, you begin to build experiences that you can then speak from and that help people feel like you're engaging with them on a real a real level. And so I think that's that's also something that can help is just saying, you don't have to have gone through every single thing someone has gone through. But all of us have felt the pain of loss. All of us have felt the frustration of defeat. And we can link to that emotion and help us connect with people more as a result.

Chris Pitre
And I think going back to the episode, love as a platinum strategy, I think my sister was the guest on that one. And she brought up the idea that, you know, being able to read the room is a tall ask for some people. But when you walk into a room, let's say it's freezing, you could use your own sort of experience to say, like, I'm freezing, I wonder if everybody's freezing it freezing before you go and just adjust the temperature, you can just say like, Hey, is everybody comfortable? Is there anyone that is too cold or anything like do we need to change like, and sort of include everybody in that. And even that approach, where you're still coming from your perspective and how you're feeling. But before you do anything about it, you're roping everyone else in to make sure that, hey, if I'm cold, surely someone else could be cold. Maybe this could be a bigger problem beyond myself and right, and just starting from that lens. If you know that whole reading the room, and emotional intelligence is not your strength, just starting in there helps you build towards that muscle of empathizing and including everybody, as you try and make you know, or bring solutions forward, that could potentially benefit you but could also benefit others.

Jeff Ma
One, one practical challenge I have that many people could relate to is, you know, I think a lot of team structures and business kind of setups have a lot of daily stand ups. I think these are sometimes frowned upon and people despise them and are never are not looking, Moh's laughing. Because, yeah, but something I challenged my teams with is, you know, what, what is what is the value of your daily standup? And I think most of them are just like, oh, here's my update, here's what I worked on. But I think empathy is like the great silo buster, right? empathy is where you can ask yourself did this daily standup generate any empathy? We talked about building, you know, T-shaped personas in our agile environments, we talked about, you know, highly efficient teams, that starts from a place of empathy, in my opinion, because when you have a daily standup, that's more about sharing, and collaborating, and really understanding what others are going through. Like me personally, sometimes I don't connect to the creative process. And I, I lack empathy for that process. I'm just like, why can't you just draw it? You know, or just, you know, can we just throw it in like this? And be and it frustrates people, they're like, no, we can't just do that, we have to have intention behind it, we have to make it right. And so if we talk about that, in our daily stand ups, if I'm willing to be able to say, why can't we do this, and we have an environment where they can say, no, we can't because of this, and I'm learning how the process works. I'm understanding how they think and how it makes them feel, we get real, this extra tangible value, out of a meeting like a daily stand up, or an engagement similar to that, that is really valuable to the end to the to the bottom line to the final product, right? Where later on down the line, when we're trying to solve big problems, I already have that empathy for the creative process, I already have the understanding of how my team likes to approach it. And we get through problems so much faster, and we get to solutions, without even realizing it. And I think that's where the power of empathy can really shine in a really practical setting. So we talked about these ways of kind of approaching empathy. I know we touched this in the beginning, but I wanted to maybe just hit on it very directly here about what specific outcomes, does this unlock? What is what are we unlocking when we achieve levels of empathy for our teams, but also maybe to, you know, our, our stakeholders or clients into the products we make? We've touched on this a little bit, but maybe, Frank, I think you said something about this earlier around products. Can we just share a little bit around what we're unlocking with empathy?

Frank Danna
So I think it does, it does unlock a lot of things. And one of the the interesting and and, you know, weird kind of things is that empathy unlocks care and compassion, which unlocks more empathy, right? And as you are, and specifically from the the product side, or the customer experience side, when you are bringing an empathetic approach to how you're developing products or how you're listening to customers, you are then creating a better customer experience, because the customer feels valued. They feel like they're they've been heard. And when you're building products, you're building for the individual and the actual humans behind the product that you're developing, not what you think would be good, but what you've learned about the individuals you're trying to engage with and recognizing what they will actually be able to benefit from it. So when it comes from that perspective of understanding how empathy can actually lean into and help produce better products as a result, that connect directly with your clients, or with the individuals using your products, and then the customer experience that you have, I mean, we've all been in rooms where you can tell, and we've done this in the past, that our solution for a customer was not one that we thought a lot about, that there were that was not specifically focused on the needs, wants and desires of this of this customer. It was, you know, either done in haste or not done holistically and not really thinking about what the customer is going to get out of it the best thing for them. And you can tell that the customers left wanting, or on the flip side, when you walk in, and you're prepared because you've listened to them. And you've seen these insights that you've been able to garner that you know are linked up to actual issues they're facing. And when you share them, they ask you, were you in the room last week when I had this meeting talking about this exact same thing? Was it like were you a fly on the wall? Were you linked in to Alexa, like what's going on? And it's this, it's this connection that's created when we're willing to be empathetic to their particular needs. And that only happens when we're listening. That only happens when we put aside our egos, we put aside our wants and desires and say, yes, we have we have expertise in this space. But that's going to be built from the perspective of what the needs are for the particular customer. And I think that ultimately is built from empathy.

Jeff Ma
You might be going this direction, but Chris, I really wanted your take on clients in particular, because I consider you someone who's like really, really attuned to this, when you deal with sales, when you talk to prospects and things like that, like, how do you approach like applying empathy to this? And what are those types of outcomes?

Chris Pitre
Yeah, no, I think, in a sales, conversation, our a sales environment, the one thing that's always sort of my self talk before I walk into that room is that this is really not about you, Chris, right. So when I'm going in to meet a customer, especially for the first time, I'm there to try and absorb as much about them as I can. And I'm not trying to judge it, I'm not trying to sort of make sure that they hear my opinion, or that they hear what I think they should be doing. I'm really trying to understand not just what they're saying, but also what they're not saying, you know, all the dynamics that are happening in the room around me, there's more than one person in that room. And really using that to inform, okay, beyond what they're asking for, there's some other unmet needs that they really need, in order to have a solution that's going to be effective. And as a salesperson, it's my job to uncover those things. And also observe those things, to ensure that the teams that's going to come into this customer, from my end, are fully tapped into, hey, the client says this, but here's what they actually mean. And let's make sure that we're actually talking to that when we go back in front of them, you know, and also, when you're in a sales environment, especially for enterprises, sometimes the people who are not at the table are sometimes the people you really have to look out for, and really have to understand, and being able to sit in that and actually ask those questions without offending the client that's, you know, present or, you know, whoever's are presenting the conversation from their end, and understand and try and help them understand, hey, I know you're the decision maker, but unfortunately, you're not the end user. And so you might be thinking about, you know, the person that has to operate this at the end of the day, how can we get in front of that person or that team to make sure that their needs are heard, and the solution that we come back with is actually going to be adapted and adopted to ensure that it is successful. And I think that takes a high degree of empathy, to know that sometimes it's beyond the people that are in front of you, that you also have to worry about, but who also have sometimes, you know, the biggest challenge and taking on what you're trying to recommend or propose. And looking beyond the decision maker and those in power is sometimes difficult for many salespeople, because they're just trying to make the deal happen. They're not thinking about the delivery of whatever you're selling.

Mohammad Anwar
I agree and take it back to your question, Jeff, I think any business outcome that you're looking to achieve can be tied back to empathy, whether that's building new cost containment strategies, or initiatives or new technology initiatives to unlock innovation, or just employee engagement, customer experience, patient experience. I mean, I can almost say every single business outcome that you can put on the table, we could attribute it back to the value it can be brought. From empathy, and coming from a place of empathy, that's what I would say.

Jeff Ma
Moh, for you, could you help also understand like, we I think we have a lot of bias in this podcast where we're all constantly thinking from like a leadership lens, and constantly kind of really, you know, our own experiences, but where does empathy sit? Let's like, you know, from the context of last seat last row from like person to person, on teams, like, where, how did how do we practice that? What does that look like?

Mohammad Anwar
So empathy, you're absolutely right, I think we emphasize a lot on leadership. But every single individual inside of an organization can benefit from practicing empathy, and to to their own job satisfaction, their own decision making, even down to a team environment, where if every individual is able to have empathy for each other and practice empathy, then they can be beneficiaries of a high performing team or a team that they come in, that they're happier to work at, and better job satisfaction down to delivering better products for their customers, right. So empathy is a is a trait or skill set that is, you know, required at at all levels of the organization. And it's applicable for every single individual, no matter where you sit inside of a function of a business, you can practice it, and it can bring a lot of benefits to you, and to the people around you and for your business as a whole.

Jeff Ma
Yeah, so, you know, empathy being something we talk about all the time, I wanted this episode to be a little bit of different angle, right? I think we often I mean, we usually close episodes with, you know, how does love tie into this? What is you know, the business application, business application and empathy. As we've said before, very clearly, empathy and love are almost the same word. Sometimes, in certain contexts. There's so closely connected. And I wanted this episode to be almost the tactical and practical kind of side of things of why empathy, you know, how it tangibly exists. And so to round out this episode, I guess, for the audience, I think, if you're looking to get practical with empathy, right, as we've said, kind of the summary of what we've been saying, you know, first, you can start by diversifying your experiences, right, you can try to find more opportunities. Because when you when you empathize with your best friend, that's not really hard to do. But when you empathize with someone that's you're uncomfortable with, or someone that you dislike, even now, you're talking about real, real growth, right? And speaking of that, the next step could be having a curiosity and a growth mindset. Whenever possible, right? A desire to learn will yield empathy from those for those around you when you're really seeking to understand and not just to impose your own ideas, or, you know, try to get your point across when you're really trying to really understand those around you. And finally, we've said it maybe a million times, listen, I think it really comes down to listening. And I won't get into it, but there's different levels of listening. And our favorite, the highest most powerful tier of listening is known as empathetic listening, where you're not waiting to get a word in, you're not just kind of nodding your head, and, you know, thinking and thinking about something else. And just really, with no intent of, you know, imposing your ideas just trying to absorb. And I think these are ways that you can really start practically applying empathy to all the ends that we just talked about the benefits. Did I missed anything?

Chris Pitre
No, I was gonna answer that audibly. No.

Jeff Ma
Everyone always nods their head here on like the podcasts like, okay, just so I hope this was helpful. I hope this was, I know, it's a good reminder for me, because this is not always easy, for sure. And so, for the audience, I hope you can give us your feedback on how this works. And if you have any other tips or advice that we might have missed here, because empathy is tough, it can be tough. So with that, I want to thank Mohammad, Frank, Chris, for this conversation. And here at Love as a Business Strategy, we're posting new episodes every Tuesday. And we really appreciate you joining us for this journey that we go on every week. And if there's something that you liked, or didn't like you'd like us to cover instead, let us know at softway.com/LAABS. And please also consider leaving us a review, and subscribe and all that good stuff. We really appreciate it. So with that, thank you all and see you next week.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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