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Michael Ventura: Applying Empathy


About this workshop

The work of strategy and design firm Sub Rosa is rooted in the practice of applied empathy. In this workshop, Founder & CEO Michael Ventura helps us explore the different aspects of empathy, identify our empathic archetypes, and ask ourselves probing questions to unlock greater creative thinking.

Michael Ventura, Founder & CEO, Sub Rosa

Michael Ventura is the CEO and founder of Sub Rosa, a strategy and design firm that has worked with some of the world’s largest and most important brands, organizations, and start-ups, including Johnson & Johnson, Pantone, Adobe, TED, Delta Airlines, and The Daily Show. Michael has served as a board member and adviser to a variety of organizations, including Behance, the Burning Man Project, Cooper-Hewitt, and the UN’s Tribal Link Foundation. He is also a visiting lecturer at institutions such as Princeton University and the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Applied Empathy, his first book, was published by Simon & Schuster in May 2018.

Full Transcript

Empathy is one of the most widely used and least understood words in leadership. I’m Michael Ventura, founder and CEO of Sub Rosa, and the author of the book “Applied Empathy.” Today we’re going to talk about not just what the word empathy means, but how to apply it to be better leaders, problem solvers and relationship builders.

So before we begin, one of the things I’d like to ask you to do is to really think about the definition you have of empathy. Take a moment. If you’ve got a pen and paper, write it down and just log your perception of empathy as it stands right now, I’ll give you about five seconds to do that. So what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna suspend that definition for the next 40 minutes. We’ll come back to it at the end, but I’d like you to see how that definition evolves over time. As we start to pick apart the idea of empathy and see all the ways it comes to life.

Before we begin to talk about what empathy is, I’d like to talk about what it isn’t. It isn’t about being nice, being sympathetic, being compassionate. Those are all wonderful things. And I hope we have lots of them in our lives, but those are actually side effects of empathy. Empathy unto itself is something very different. And before we get into all the details of the “what” a little bit about the “why.” Why empathy is important to me? Why I’m here sharing it with you? For me, empathy was the unlock for my entire business. When we started our company 12 years ago, we’re a strategy and design practice. We work with big, complex organizations to help them solve interesting internal and external problems. And in doing that work, one of the things that we encountered was that our best work was always made better by perspective taking, by getting out in the world and practicing empathy. And our worst work, the stuff that failed or the stuff that wasn’t, didn’t feel as good or wasn’t as effective, that stuff often was practiced without a lot of empathy, it was practiced by sitting in a room, shutting the door and saying, “Wouldn’t it be cool if?”

And so, as we started to learn more about the value of empathy, we started to really invest in how to learn and teach it. And so what I’ll share with you today are some of the things we’ve picked up along the way in order to make empathy a more embodiable and ownable practice. It’s important to remember that empathy is human. One of the things that people talk about when they talk about empathy is that it’s a gift. And that some people have it and other people don’t, and I’ve got a lot of it and you don’t have enough of it. And so we think about empathy in this way. That feels very God-given. And while yes, some people do have more of it than others. Everyone has the capacity to practice empathy. And I want that to be made clear because I think people sometimes feel like if you don’t have it, you can’t get it. That’s not the way we view it. There are plenty of ways you can practice it. There are ways you can change it, how you show up in the world, how you interact with people and the environment you operate in, in order to encourage empathy, to be more a part of your life.

So it’s important to just talk about the three main types of empathy. There are three psychological sort of subsections of empathy. The first is what’s called affective empathy. Affective empathy is essentially golden rule empathy. It’s about doing unto others, as you would have them do unto you. And the challenge with that is that it’s not always right. And so what happens when you practice affective empathy is sometimes you’ll get it right, but you may also get it wrong. So let’s say for instance, I’m in a room, I look across the room, I see you over there. You look sad. I say to myself, “Well, when I’m sad, “I wanna be consoled.” So I walk over, I put my hand on your shoulder and I say some comforting words. Well, what if, when you’re sad you wanna be left alone? That practice has actually just failed. Because even though I was practicing affective empathy, it was coming along with all of my bias. It was coming along with what I would want, not what you would want. And this is why empathy sometimes gets a bad rap. Because when people think about empathy, they think often about affective empathy and affective empathy can be right, but it isn’t a 100% foolproof. We’re not gonna spend time today going into more detail on that because that’s not really the foundation that we’ve built this work upon.

The second is somatic empathy. This is the physical feeling of the emotions of someone else. So think about this, like a spouse who has sympathy pains when their partner is pregnant or a doctor or a nurse who’s new to their career and is starting to really encounter all of the trauma and all of the loss that comes along with that territory. And they’re embodying the emotions of folks or one that probably everyone has felt at some point in their life. When you see someone slam a hand in a door or a drawer and you wince, right? That mirror neuron effect of you seeing someone else experience something and then feeling it in yourself, that’s somatic empathy. Really hard to train, doesn’t have a lot of businesses applicability, and won’t be something we’ll dig into today.

The third type is cognitive empathy. And this is really the foundation of our work. Cognitive empathy is about perspective taking. And I like to think of it as the platinum rule, as opposed to the golden rule in that do unto others as they would have you do unto them. And the only way you’re going to know what they want is by asking, is by having a conversation, by listening, by adjusting what you would do normally for yourself and actually meeting them with what they need at the moment. That’s the practice that we built our work upon.

And that’s what I’ll share with you now. So applied empathy is about self-aware perspective taking to gain richer, deeper understanding. This is really difficult to do perfectly. So don’t be discouraged as you begin to practice it. If it doesn’t feel natural, self-aware is super hard. It’s not the kind of thing that you can snap your fingers and be wholly self-aware. If we were, we’d be on some mountain top somewhere, we wouldn’t be here today. But we can practice becoming more self-aware. We can start to become aware of our unconscious biases. We can start to become aware of the things that have held us back in the past, our fears, our anxieties, and by working through those, we’re able to help others.

Think about a time in your life, where you’ve encountered someone who was going through a really difficult time. And it was something you had already dealt with yourself. I would imagine in those moments, you felt really empowered to offer some support because you had done the hard work for you. Whereas sometimes you might see someone who’s going through a really hard time and you haven’t dealt with that. And usually in those instances, people offer some platitudes, maybe they try to change the subject or make them laugh or kind of move into something else because they’re not comfortable in that space. So the more work we do on the interior to practice empathy for the self, the more empowered we are and capable we are to practice empathy with each other.

So why do we need to apply it? We call it applied empathy. There’s a reason for that. Applied empathy is the practice because empathy unto itself is neutral. I could spend hours getting to know you. I could ask you smart questions. I could really start to understand what you’re made of, what makes you who you are. But then I do nothing to change my behavior. I do nothing to actually engage with you in a different way. Then all that time was wasted. It’s only in the application of that understanding that the rubber meets the road. That’s where true empathy as a practice really begins. But it’s important to also note that empathy is neutral. Until we apply it, it sits in a neutral state. And so we can apply it for good. We can build deeper, better relationships. We can start to become better collaborators, partners, friends, or we can use it nefariously.

And we won’t be talking about how to do that, but I think it’s important to always call this out in this work because, particularly cognitive empathy, can be used in a negative context. So think about a good sociopath. A good sociopath is good because they know how to manipulate you because they have good cognitive empathy. And so, while we don’t wanna train that in people, we always bring this up because particularly when we go into organizations and we’re talking about how are we going to elicit this understanding? How are we going to understand the people around us, either our consumers or our employees better. We have to be transparent about how we’re going to actually use that information and what we’re going to do with it and make sure that there’s a tacit agreement between both parties that we know this information is being gathered so that we can be better together. Think of it as sort of like GDPR for empathy. We wanna make sure that we’re actually practicing something that is transparent to both parties. And that has a positive gain for each of us.

But it’s not easy. This is probably the most important slide that we’ll look at today. It’s one of the things that I have to constantly remind people of, because when you start to practice empathy, you start to encounter the difficulty in the extra amount of time. Meetings will take 15 minutes longer because people have been talking and sharing more. You might have to have an uncomfortable conversation more often than you’re used to. You might have to change something about yourself that you’re not so up for changing, but that hard work pays dividends down the line.

The more you do it today, the better off you’ll be in the future. And so practicing that, getting into a rhythm of doing empathy for both the self and for others on a regular basis starts to build that muscle. But are you willing to address what comes up? This is one of the things that we always tell our clients as we work with this, because it will stir the pot. It will bring up stuff about your company culture. It will bring up stuff about yourself and your leadership. It will bring up stuff about your relationships with others. And if you’re not willing to address that, don’t start the work. Be prepared, get your mindset ready to go in to be doing some stuff that’s going to be a little shadowy sometimes it’s gonna kinda stir some stuff up that you might not wanna deal with, but ultimately that’s what’s going to build a better leader. That’s what’s going to build a better collaborator. And it starts with yourself.

For me, one of the most fundamental ways we’ve learned as an organization to practice empathy is by being our own best client. By turning that lens inward and working on our interior as individuals and as a team in order to get better at working with people outside our four walls. One framework we use to describe this is the difference between climate and weather. So think about climate as sort of the baseline foundation of who you are. These are things that are a part of you for your whole life, or at least have been a part of you for a long time. I live in New York city. So just like by way of analogy, our climate is pretty consistent year over year, we’ve got about five months of winter. Sometimes it snows, sometimes it doesn’t, but we’ve got about five months of winter. Then we get a really wet two months of spring. Then it becomes a 100% humidity for three months in the summer. And then we get a dot of fall that’s perfect and beautiful. And then it goes back into winter again. And that’s our cycle year over year, that is the New York climate. You can pretty much set your watch to it.

So what’s your climate? What are the things that you can set your watch to? What are your beliefs? What are your fears? What are those fears that have been persistent for a while that you’re trying to overcome? What are the attitudes that you show up in the world with? What are some of the habits, good or bad, that are a part of you? Those are your climate. They’re not weather, weather is something different, weather is transient, weather is moving in and out of our lives. It depends on circumstances, different relationships, events that are taking place, cycles in our lives, cycles in our work.

This moment right now, in COVID-19, is a weather moment. We’re all in quarantine, but this is not forever. And so that weather pattern is something that we all acknowledge as being transient and moving through, but we still have to figure out how to deal with it. So when you encounter a challenge with someone else, or perhaps even in a challenge with yourself, it’s important to ask this question, is this a climate issue or is this a weather issue? Is this something that’s fundamentally different between us that we’re just wired as different people? Or are we kinda similar, but we’re actually just encountering a weather pattern. That’s screwing us up a bit and we need to kinda work through that.

So that altitude shifting helps to really build context for where the empathy needs to occur. Do we need to have empathy that we are fundamentally different and we have to understand how to still work together in this way? Or do we have to have empathy for the situation that we’re both dealing with and that are probably going to be dealing with it in different ways, but we need to work together. So it’s just a helpful tool to think about that. And so one way we’ve helped people turn that lens of empathy inward on themselves to start to understand if this is climate or weather or what it might be is a framework we call the whole self. And the whole self is based on a lot of other wisdom that predated us.

You can see in the whole self, the Maslow pyramid, the hierarchy of needs. You can see if you wanna go into more esoteric realm, chakras, in this. There’s a lot of different references we looked at, because what we wanted to study was interior mapping techniques. What did people use to understand the interior world before and how can we use those to inform a practice of empathy so that we can slice and dice? Because if we say, “let’s do some self-work” that’s way vague. And no one really knows what we mean when we say self-work. There’s a lot of ways of doing self-work, going to the gym is self-work, journaling is self-work, meditation is self-work.

What do we mean? And so what we tried to do instead was slice up the interior into different pieces so that we can really understand it in its component parts. So there are seven that we’ll go through in this exercise that we’re about to start. The physical self is the first one. This is what grounds you and roots you. The emotional self. These are the emotions you’re feeling. The emotions that happen around you. The inspired self. This is what gets you out of bed in the morning. What you really care about doing. The communal self. This is how you show up for other people and who shows up for you. Intellectual self. This is about your progress, where you’re going, how you’re making your next move. What you’re trying to skill up in. The mindful self.

I start with presence. How do we just stay present with one another? And then the aspirational self, big picture, life purpose. If we’re lucky, maybe at the end of this, you’ll have a better sense of what that is. Maybe you already know what that is, but hopefully as we go through these exercises, you’ll start to get an unlock into some of the ways in which we might work together. So now we’re gonna talk about how to bring this into practice. And so we’re gonna start with the physical self.

The physical self helps us explore the power of our presence. It’s really how we command our body. It serves as the foundation for more cerebral pursuits. And so this practice is going to begin with fully inhabiting our bodies. So get comfortable in your chair or on the floor or wherever you are. And if you’re in a chair, sit up nice and straight, kinda really perk your spine up. Make sure your feet are flat on the ground, relax your eyes a little bit and just start with a long, slow, deep breath breathing in about seven seconds of an inhale, holding your breath at the top for another seven seconds. Really feeling your lungs expand and make your exhale as you exhale longer than seven seconds, maybe 10, maybe 12. That nice long, slow, deep breathing, just kind of help settle the mind, kind of get us on our body.

And when you’re ready, I’d like you to just bring your attention to your feet. I want you to feel your feet on the ground. Notice the texture of the ground. Notice how your feet feel. Feel each toe. Feel your ankle, the arch of your foot. In your own time, what I’d like you to do is to start to move up your feet, moving into your shins and your knees, your hips, your low back and in your own time, eventually reaching the top of your head should take about three minutes. When you reach the top of your head, just stay there and then I’ll let you know the next step in the exercise. So now that you’ve reached the top, take another long, slow, deep breath, seven seconds in, hold for seven seconds, exhale for longer than seven seconds. On that exhale, feel your extremities, feel little points in your body where you may have spent time.

What was uncomfortable for you? What didn’t feel great? This is where we’ll start to use our journals. So if you can take the time to really think about the different awareness you have for your body after taking that three minute journey up, where there parts of your body that were painful? Was it uncomfortable to sit there for three minutes? Was your mind distracted? Did you notice any new insight about yourself, about your physical self? Have you had an old injury that you haven’t worked on? Is there something you’re not happy with about your physical body that you’re dealing with right now, journal it all take as long as you need.

And at the end of it, what I’d like you to do is rank it on a scale of one to 10. When you are tuning into, when you’re empathizing with your physical body. I wanna understand 10 is like I know my body. I know how it ticks, and I know how it operates. A one, this is really foreign to me and I’m not terribly sure what this is. So log that after you finished your journal entry and then we’ll get into the second exercise. The next self we’re gonna talk about is the emotional self. The emotional self is what connects us to all the prevailing feelings and reactions. They give us a means to achieve greater self-knowledge. And so with this one, what I like to do is to, it’s a purely journaling exercise and it’s focused on understanding our prevailing emotions.

So again, take somewhere between three and five minutes, whatever works for you and what I want you to think about. And you can put this in the context of work, or you can put this in the context of your whole life. What is the most common emotion you feel? And I want you to really dig into that emotion. I want you to journal about, what is it? Where does it come from? Is it an emotion you want to feel? Are you in charge of it or is it in charge of you? Does someone trigger it or do you command it? And really kind of dissect it, almost like a scientist. What is this emotion and where does it come from?

Take your time to write some journal entries. And at the end, again, like before, rank it on a scale of one to 10 once you’ve completed. The next self we’ll talk about is the inspired self. The inspired self is what sparks our inherent desire to make, to do, to solve, it’s the creation engine for us. And so with this one, again, another journaling exercise as we go into that interior, and we start to have empathy for the self. One of the things that I’d like to do is to zero in on what was a time in your life that you felt truly inspired, that you were in that flow state, where you were really kind of generative and excited and electrified by the work you were doing. For some people, it might have been this morning, it might have been two days ago. For other people it might have been when they were five in the playground, but whatever it is, go back to that place and start to write about what that experience was like, detail it. Where were you? If you can remember what you were wearing, who was around, what did it smell like? Explain that story to yourself.

Once you’ve done that, what we want you to do is to start to dissect. What would you need to do to feel like that more often? Do you need to change your job? Do you need to change relationship? Do you need to work on something that’s kind of been stuck or stagnant for awhile? Are you doing it already? If so, congratulate yourself. That’s a really good thing. Not everyone feels that way all the time. So really dig into those two aspects, telling the story to yourself and then understanding how to do it more often. And then again, on a scale of one to 10, rank it. The next self is the communal self. This is how we understand who we interact with in the world and how our individual strengths contribute to the community that is around us.

And so for this one, I like to think of it as sort of like a two sided scale. On one side of the scale is who you give the most of your energy, the most of your work to, and what is it people want from you? Do they want leadership? Do they want attention? Do they want work product? What is it that you give and who does it go to? On the other side of that scale, you’re gonna write about who recharges your battery and what is it you get from them. Now, the important thing with this, after you write both of these down, is to think about the weighting.

That’s why I talk about it like a scale, because if you give this much, but you only get this much back, that’s not sustainable. We want it to at least be equal. Maybe if we’re lucky we even get more than we give and we have more capacity to be giving. So we wanna dig into this a little bit and understand who are the audience is you give to and what is it they want and who recharges your battery and what is it they give you to be recharged. Once you’ve done that, again, on a scale of one to 10, rank it from easiest to hardest.

The next self is the intellectual self. This is the part of us that learns, it processes, it articulates ideas. This is the one that really expresses through language and logic and reason and cognition and things like that. And so for this one, I think a sort of task of making progress. So what I’d like you to do in this exercise is to use your journal, to talk about what are the skills you’re trying to develop? Where are you at? If you took a snapshot of you right now and were to read this snapshot five years from now, this would be an accurate depiction of where you feel you’re at in your personal progress. Skills, are you trying to learn a new skill? Are you trying to learn a new language. Are you trying to change jobs? Where are you at in your relationships? Are you happy? Are you working through something in a relationship? Did you just get out of one, and working through that? Really just take a snapshot intellectualizing this moment in time and use it as a bit of a mile marker for the future.

Again, when you finish this, you can rank it on a scale of one to 10. 10, super easy, I know where I’m at, I know what I’m doing. A one, this was hard for me to drop into. I’m not too sure I have a sense of this self.

The next is the mindful self. The mindful self is how we raise our consciousness to the present moment. If you’re a meditator already, you’ve probably practiced some form of mindful meditation. For me, presence is really the foundation for a lot of this work and particularly for this self. And so how do we figure out how to be more present in mind? And one way we’ll do that is by just practicing, doing nothing for three minutes. So I’m going to set a timer. And in three minutes, when the timer goes off, you can open your eyes and then begin journaling. What was this process like for you? Did you learn something? Was there common thoughts that kept coming up? Were there things that were distracting you? Was it easy to just sit in silence for three minutes or was it unbearable?

I did this with someone a few months ago and he said, “This was the longest three minutes of my life.” It can be long for some people. It could be gone in the blink of an eye for others. Practice doing nothing for three minutes and then describe the experience. And of course rank it one to 10. Lastly, we’ll talk about the aspirational self. This is the big picture stuff. This is our life’s purpose. We get a short amount of time on this planet. What are we gonna do with it? If you already know what that is, you’re ahead of the curve. This is not something that’s easy for people to really zero in on, but for us it’s really the fundamental foundation from which to show up in the world and to help guide and lead other people.

And so we talk about it across four spectrums, Origins, Callings, Heroes, and Wayfinding. And so there’s a four part journal entry to finish this off. The first is a bit of your origin story. Think about what were some of the foundational things in your early childhood that helped make you who you are. Those might’ve been pleasant things. Those might’ve been unpleasant things, but they’re part of your foundation. They’re part of your origin story. Spend a little time, just kind of highlighting. You can do it in a bulleted list. You can do it in long form.

What are some of the components of your origin story that you’re still carrying with you, that have made you who you are. Next we’ll talk about callings. What is your calling? Do you have a sense of what your calling is? Do you have a sense of what people think you do really well? Do you have a sense of what you do really well? Do you know what that is? Really zeroing in on what are you called to do? Some people talk about their calling as the thing that bothers them the most that they see in the world that needs fixing. That’s what they need to go do. That’s their calling. Spend a little time on that.

The next one will be heroes. for this living, dead, someone you actually knew, someone you don’t know, fictitious, real. Who are your heroes? When you hear that word, who do you go to? Who’s the person that you say, or thing or animal, whatever it is that sort of works for you. What are the things that you go to? And you say that is a heroic reference point for me.

And then the last bit will be wayfinding. North Star. Do you have a sense of what that North Star in your life is? Do you know that thing that guides you when you get wobbled, when life gets crazy, when you get thrown a curve ball, do you know where you go back to, to reorient? Writing down some of the detail around that. Once you finish those four, zoom out a little bit, try to look at it objectively, see if there are any themes. See if there are things that are common across all four, there might be things that you can draw lines to and connect to. You might be able to start to see ways that your purpose manifests through those four subsections, ask yourself a little bit about what you’ve discovered. And then again, rank it on a scale of one to 10.

So give yourself some credit. That was a lot of introspection. That was a lot of self interior. analysis that you just went through, what I’d like you to do is look at the journal, look at your scores. Where were some of your eights, nines and tens, if you had them. Where were your some of your ones and twos and threes, if you had those or were you middle of the pack for all? Everybody’s different. I’ve seen people, who’ve had tons of one’s and two’s, and three’s. I’ve seen people who’ve given themselves all tens.

Being honest with yourself is a really big part of this process, and also understanding where you need to invest in putting in some additional work so that interior work can get done, so that interior can work guide what you’re going to do next, because as we said earlier, that self empathy allows you to have empathy for other people. If you work on fixing these things inside you, you’ll be much more empowered and equipped to work on these things with other people.

Well, now take a breath because there’s a lot of stuff. The big, deep breath in big, deep breath out. We’re gonna move into a second exercise. This is about empathy for others.

We have a framework we look at, which is the four points of distortion. Four ways that conversations can go awry when we’re practicing empathy with other people, things can go off kilter. And usually when they do it happens in one of these four places. What I meant, what I said, what you heard, what you understood. So when something goes wrong, it’s helpful to ask yourself, “Where on this journey did it go awry? “Did I know what I wanted to say “but I communicated it poorly. “Did I know and communicate it well, “but I did it at the wrong moment. “When that person wasn’t in the right head space, “maybe it was an email “that should’ve been a personal conversation.” Whatever it is.

But if you dissect conversations and interactions through this four-part lens, you’ll start to see where things go right. And often where things go wrong. In order to get better at this, we developed something we call empathic archetypes. There are seven different archetypes that help us really zero in on how we can show up in the world to elicit understanding from other people. So unlike a Myers-Briggs or a StrengthsFinder or one of those sort of tests, that’s gonna type you. This is not a typing tool. What we’re here to do with this, I think of it more like a gearbox in a car.

When you’re driving you know what gear to be in at what points. In the same way, good empaths know what gears to be in, to elicit the right level of understanding from other people. So I’ll tell you briefly about each one, and then we’ll do an exercise to focus on these.

The sage is about being present, being in the moment with people. They know that by signaling that they’re here with you, people will give them more information. They’ll understand you better because they are telling you they care. And they’re here to learn about you. The Inquirer, great question asker, know how to ask that question that unlocks a deeper, more meaningful truth. The convener is a great host. They know how to hold space. They know what the right temperature and lighting and all of the little nuances of a room need to be to put people in the right mindset to share and feel safe.

The confidant is an excellent listener. They listen to genuinely hear you. They’re active listeners. They see listening as a practice. The cultivator commits. They know that point on the horizon, that point in the future, and they know how to pull it into the now to inspire you to help you work through challenges here so that we can get there together.

The seeker is daring. They’re confident, they’re unafraid. They know how to take risks. They know what it feels like to come up to that threshold and what it takes to walk through it. And they can help others do that too. That understanding for transition and change is really a valuable part of their skillset.

And lastly, the Alchemist. The Alchemist is an experimenter. They’re a prototyper. They don’t view failure as failure. They view failure as an opportunity to empathize, to understand, to know something more deeply.

So across all seven of those, I’m sure you heard a couple that seem familiar to you. That seemed like a way you show up in the world. And there are probably others that aren’t so familiar that feel a little more foreign. And so what we’re gonna do in this next exercise is to put those into practice.

So we’ve developed this deck of cards that we call Q&E questions and empathy now, because we’re remote. We’re not gonna be able to actually use the deck of cards, but what we’ve done is pulled some questions from the deck and we’ve included them in this presentation so that you can at least reference a couple from each archetype. And there’s two ways we can do this. One is that you can pick from this list, archetype that you would deem as a strength and an archetype you would deem as a weakness or an area you’d like to improve.

And you can work on this as a journaling exercise independently. I would highly recommend you do this with someone else, even if it’s six feet apart or via some form of virtual communication. What I’d like you to do is once you’ve picked your two and your partner has picked their two, if you’re working with a partner is you’re going to have a timer set and you’re gonna have a four minute response to the following questions.

This is an example of what the cards look like. On the next slide I’ll reveal the questions. But before I do, I wanna explain something about your response. Four minutes sounds like a long time. It is. And there’s a reason for that. Most of us have good quick two or three sentence answers to a lot of things. It’s actually what happens after that quick two and three sentence answer that actually gets to the really good stuff. So if you’re on the listening end, if you’re on the receiving end of a response to one of these questions, it’s your job to keep it going for four minutes. If they give you three sentences and then stop, you’ve gotta ask a follow-up question, you’ve gotta poke and prod. Why did you do that? Was that always the case, or is that new for you? Are you learning how to do that?

Use those followup questions to understand, to go deeper, to poke and prod into the place where you can learn about this person in a more deep way. What you can’t do, as listener is insert yourself into the story. Oh, that’s really interesting, let me tell you about a time when I was seven and that happened to me. Mm-mm, can’t do it. Really focus on using that four minutes to go deeper with that person to help them expand into the question. And it’s okay if you leave the question and kind of end up somewhere else four minutes later, the question is a doorway. It’s not the destination.

So now we’re gonna begin by working with your perceived strength. On the next slide I’m gonna show you seven different questions. One for each of the archetypes, you and your partner will both decide which one you’d like to ask each other. So you’ll pick your archetype question. They’ll pick theirs. You’ll ask them their question. They’ll ask you your question. Each one should take four minutes as we’ve described. And so here are the questions. One of you pick your question and begin to go first. So now you’ve had eight minutes of really deep dialogue hopefully, you’ve probably learned something about this person you might not have known before. These questions are really valuable unlocks.

Now we’re gonna do the same on the weaknesses, on the areas you’d like to improve. On the things that don’t feel as familiar to you. So again, if you’re using your journal, you can just pick one and start writing. If you’re working with someone else, you’ll both pick your questions. You’ll each have four minutes and you’ll be able to go deeper together. Again, remember don’t insert yourself in the conversation. Just use it as an opportunity to go deeper with them.

So that was 16 minutes of conversation. How often do you have 16 minutes of conversation that perhaps goes as deep as what you just did with that other person? Probably not that often think about your colleagues. Think about the people you work with. What would it be like if once a week you spent 16 minutes talking with each other in that way, it’s really valuable unlocks a lot of understanding about who these people are that we spend so much time with. Take a big deep breath, wash it off a little bit.

And we’re gonna wrap up. So where do we go from here? In the beginning of this conversation, I asked you to think about your definition of empathy. I asked you to define how you perceived it today. And I would wager most of you talked about how it’s a practice of understanding other people and you weren’t wrong, but it’s not right either. There’s more to it than that. That exterior empathy is absolutely a fundamental part of the practice. But as you’ve seen, there’s a lot of interior empathy we can have too. And that interior practice helps us be better.

When we want to go out into the world and practice this with other people. We can also have empathy for circumstances thinking about climate and weather for example. What from the past are we aware of? And do we understand, and how does that understanding inform and shape the present? Where are we going in the future? Thinking about some of the whole self archetypes. Some of the things like aspirational or the intellectual self, what you’re trying to do next, how do we have empathy for those and start to orient ourselves in the present so that we can get there more effectively. So that empathy really does go in all directions and you can expect results.

One of the things that comes up a lot when we do this work, particularly in large organizations, is people are like, “Yeah, but how are we gonna know it works? “And what’s the ROI “and how do we make sure we can measure this?” And you can, but what we’re not gonna measure is empathy. What we’re gonna measure is the knock on effects of empathy. What has empathy created in this organization by practicing this? What have we gotten better at? And so one thing that we look at are decisions, decisions start to become more understandable, more inclusive.

You understand why an organization is making certain choices, because you’ve been a part of the process because they’ve asked for your opinion, because they’ve listened to you. You start to feel like you’re a part of the culture and the tapestry of the company. And when you can do company surveys, employee surveys, annual reviews, you start to see the feedback change because people are really feeling like they’re part of the DNA of the company. Teams start to become more collaborative and productive. We start to see the emergence of high functioning teams.

It’s sort of like in a sports analogy sense that no look pass ability. When you’re really working with a team that you know, and intimately well, you don’t even need to look at the field. You know exactly where they all are and you can throw the ball and they’ll catch it. That seems sixth sense starts to emerge. As we train this into teams, into managers, into leaders, we can start to see how that sixth sense emerges and teams work more efficiently together.

And companies become more responsive and resilient. They’re not just my optically focused on what’s happening inside their four walls. They know what’s happening outside them too. And they’re able to pivot and adjust and modify their plan in order to get there together. And now’s the time.

We live in a world that is becoming more and more polarized. Our differences get put on the media every day. We talk about them and us and us in them and all the chasms that start to push us further and further apart. And I’m not here to tell you that empathy will solve everyone’s problems.

I am not here to tell you that it will save the world, but it will start to build bridges. It will start to make connections where those chasms live so that we can get closer together, so that we can meet in the middle, so that we can build a practice of understanding and connecting more deeply with ourselves and those around us. Thank you.

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Kelli Anderson
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