Relationships at Work - the Employee Experience and Workplace Culture Podcast

Taking the Right Steps To A More Empathetic Workplace with Rob Volpe

November 14, 2022 Russel Lolacher Episode 41
Relationships at Work - the Employee Experience and Workplace Culture Podcast
Taking the Right Steps To A More Empathetic Workplace with Rob Volpe
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with author, speaker, CEO and empathy advocate Rob Volpe on the steps we can take to create a more empathetic workplace.

Rob shares his thoughts and experience with...

  • Types of empathy 
  • Why we need a more empathetic workplace
  • What gets in the way of empathy building
  • The nature vs nurture understanding of having empathy
  • Where to start when building stronger empathy
  • How to prepare for the steps to empathy

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For more, go to relationshipsatwork.ca 

Connect with me for more great content!

Russel Lolacher 
And on the show, we have Rob Volpe and here is why he is awesome... He's the CEO and Chief Catalyst for Ignite 360, a market research, insights and strategy group. He's the author of TELL ME MORE ABOUT THAT - Solving the Empathy Crisis One Conversation at a Time. Big part of the conversation we're having today. He has many, many, many, many years of experience in research, communications and marketing. He's self proclaimed empathy advocate and speaker. And you can see his insights and experiences quoted in Advertising Week, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune, and a whole lot more. And now he's here. Hi, Rob.

Rob Volpe
Hello, Russel. It's great to be here. Thanks for having me on the show.

Russel Lolacher
I'm stoked. Empathy is such a huge topic that we kind of dance around a bit. And on the podcast, we've got definitely into the and I hate using the word softer stuff, let's just call it the human stuff. And that just keeps getting more and more into vulnerability and feeling of belonging. But empathy is kind of touched on and not enough. I feel. So I'm thrilled to have you here. So we can, we can do a little deeper dive in this.

Rob Volpe
Let's just drive right down the middle. On this empathy thing, the squishy topic.

Russel Lolacher
Yes. But before we do such things, Rob, I gotta ask you the same question I asked all of my guests, which is, what's your best or worst employee experience?

Rob Volpe
Oh, I do love this question. And of course, I have listened to some episodes and have some thoughts. So I have a lot of best moments. I've been really fortunate in my career. A lot of those actually have to do with empathetic leaders and bosses, just supporting me, hearing me and teaching me things that have just become part and parcel for who I am. But the worst moment as an employee, was the last time I was working for somebody else. I realized, as I was reflecting on this, it was a cold March day in 2016. And I was working at a toy company here in San Francisco, where I live, I was in charge of promotional marketing and doing partnership marketing. So we had a couple of different brands. And the goal, ultimately, with any toy brand is to get a partnership with McDonald's and to get into the Happy Meal. And I had been at the company for about two years. And it managed to do that. And we were about two weeks away from our North American first ever Happy Meal promotion to launch. And on that morning, I had received it was like, I forget what day of the week, but which doesn't matter. But I'd gotten an email or a phone call from like the Asia Pacific McDonald's team saying that they wanted to sign up. And there was interest from the European team. And about midway through the day, around 11:30-12 o'clock, I had find a note on my desk from my manager saying see me. And so it's like, are this This isn't good. And the whole leadership team had been in meetings, like all day long. So it's like what's going on, and I walk into his office, and he tells me two weeks before like, the biggest lot, you know, it grabbed the brass ring in the promotional marketing space, he tells me that they're letting me go. And basically, they needed my salary divided in half, they could get some like junior people in place. So I was I was being summarily laid off. And that really, really sucked. Because, you know, it was like we were we had so much momentum. And I felt like I was at this peak of professional success. And to a certain extent it was getting taken away from me, I wasn't going to be able to at least enjoy it at the company I was at. And so I got my severance and went out and actually that I started consulting almost right away. So it really wasn't at that moment was a turning point in my life. It was a not a great employee experience, certainly. But it actually is the last time I've been an employee for for anybody else. And that was 16 year... over 16 years ago now.

Russel Lolacher
Was it just the timing of it? Or was it how it was delivered for you?

Rob Volpe
Both. The timing and just the delivery of it there, you know. And I've now been in that situation where I've had to lay people off. So I know that's not an easy thing to do. But I think the dissonance of the whole thing, because, you know, you contributed a lot. You've got this amazing thing going on. Unfortunately, we need to make some tough decisions because of the state of the business. And I think hadn't been served up a little differently. I think I would have heard it differently. You know, wouldn't have changed the outcome at least but It was definitely just one of those things like it made no sense at the time. But yeah, it was a bad bad employee experience.

Russel Lolacher
I like that you look back on it now, though, considering that you seem to have more empathy for their situation having to be in their shoes, because you've now done it. But at the time, you're like, fuck. So it's such a different experience.

Rob Volpe
Yeah, grrr, I'm never buying their toys again. Grrr.

Russel Lolacher
Rebellion, Rob rebellion,

Rob Volpe
Absolutely. Take my marbles and go play someplace else.

Russel Lolacher
So I'm curious about the origins of your book, because we are going to talk about empathy and flexing and working those empathy muscles today, you went down the path to interview 1000s of people to get a handle on this thing they call empathy, what led you to that?

Rob Volpe
So it really is a byproduct of the work. And it's not even a byproduct, it is the result of the work that we do in consumer insights. So at Ignite 360, and at other firms like ours, we're experts in helping our clients connect with their consumer, their own customer, their client, it can also be their employees, as well, but we're experts at understanding what makes people tick, what's driving their behavior, what are the motivators, and then helping our clients make an empathetic connection to that. And through that process, you know, more and more than, like, 10 years ago, clients are asking us to create these quick empathy interactions for them. So they could quickly get some empathy. And we would do that, and you know, he, we created a, we've got a proprietary board game that people play with one another, you know, a client with their consumer to get to know one another. And then there's questions that are asked within the board game, that facilitate that get to know you aspect of it. And we would do things like that, and the clients would still be sitting in judgment, they weren't able to understand why somebody was the way that they were. And we were like, What is going on? Like, who are these people? And so we started to take some have some curiosity and look at what was happening with our clients, what was getting in their way, and what was getting in our own way, as we were going out and doing these interviews with 1000s of different people annually, to find out about how they are thinking about Hamburger Helper, but also looking at ourselves. And like when I show up at somebody's house, and they're very different from me, what are the things that are getting in my way to get to a place of empathy, and what do I have to do? So we took that we took what we were observing with our clients, our own experiences, what was going on with the literature at the time, there wasn't a lot that was written 10 years ago, is about when empathy was really starting to become a really hot topic. So there hadn't been a lot of social science work that had been done yet, but also consulted with a psychologist, because if we were going to give people advice, I didn't want to give them the wrong advice and damage somebody. So it was out of that, that the five steps to empathy were born. And those are the that's the foundation of all of the training that we do around empathy. And then the basis of the book and kind of the core of the message of the book is things to be aware of when you're having an interaction with somebody, so that you can overcome those in order to reach a place of empathy.

Russel Lolacher
So let's get back to basics here. Rob, what is the Volpe definition of empathy, after all these chats and conversations.

Rob Volpe
Oh, there are so many different. There's so much misunderstanding around empathy and what empathy is. But we often talk about it, it's about connecting to other people to see to be was one colleague, empathy activist, fellow empathy activist Alicia K. Miller, just said to me yesterday, it's to see to be heard to be understood. So it's about connecting with other people so that you can see their point of view or understand their feelings as them. And within that, there's a lot there's actually multiple types of empathy that are being described there. There's the emotional empathy, feeling the feelings of other people, and then there's the perspective taking to see the point of view of somebody else and where someone else is coming from. And as I when I lecture and talk and give presentations on empathy, what eye position is that? It's the cognitive empathy, that perspective taking, that we really need to leverage and use in our day to day life and our relationships at work.

Russel Lolacher
I like that you plug the podcast in there nicely played, I like that my heart gets a little bigger. Why is it so important? Why is that I mean, we can say empathy, we can put it on a poster. We bring that up on the on the podcast is things on a poster, love they when they do that, but why is it actual important in the workplace.

Rob Volpe
Empathy enables the skills that we need to be the people we are or hope to become. That's one of the head. That's the headline on one of the slides in my presentation. And, you know, empathy isn't the be all end all, it's not the endpoint. Instead, empathy enables the communication, the collaboration, the decision, making the trust, building, the forgiveness, the compromise the ideation, all the things that we need to be successful at work to be a better team member, individual, contributor, manager, leader, volunteer, whatever role that you're playing, you need to accelerate these skills. And by incorporating empathy into the way you use those skills, you're going to be better at it, you're going to be more well received by your colleagues, they're going to be more likely to want to work with you, because you're not coming at them from a threatening perspective, or you're not dismissing them or shutting them down from a place of judgment, you're actually coming at it from a hey, I see your point of view, I understand where you're coming from, let me share where I'm coming from. And now let's work together to try to find the solution to whatever the problem is at hand.

Russel Lolacher
I hear a lot of silo busting from what you're saying. We talked about this on previous podcast, and I love that the better you understand what somebody else does, their challenges, and that you care about what they're going through, breaks down those silos because you're like, Oh, they're busy. And then you're like, Yeah, I know, I understand. They're busy, as opposed to why aren't they helping me? You get their work better.

Rob Volpe
Exactly. I mean, look, I would not have been able to have sold a Happy Meal promotion to McDonald's, all those years ago, if I didn't understand what they were looking for, and understand their needs, and present things in a way that it's like, Hey, I could persuade them to buy into this and to license our product. Because I understood what their needs were, I was able to communicate in that way. I use that in I constantly use that it's always understanding Well, where's the other person coming from? What's what's going on with them? And what's motivating them? And so how can I then work with that information?

Russel Lolacher
Other words, get thrown around with empathy that sometimes are thought of as the source words, or they step on each other's toes, like compassion? is the one that comes to mind? Or that's just, you know, caring? So do we need to define boundaries a little better? Or should we just not worry about this so much?

Rob Volpe
Well, I don't think we should get completely hung up on it. However, people do like to have boxes to neatly subscribe things to so I talk about, you know, there's a difference between empathy and sympathy. And somebody else had coined it's a difference between a three letter and a four letter word sympathy is seeing for somebody where empathy is seeing with someone so that more equality versus the dynamic that can happen with sympathy, which leads to a power dynamic ultimately. And then when you get to compassion and care, you you need to have empathy in order to then act on it. I heard in one of your podcasts from earlier this summer, you were talking, I can't remember the guests name. But you guys were talking about compassion in the workplace. And she talked about how compassion really is taking action on the empathy and it's true, you need to have empathy. The empathy will inspire you to take action, if you see where someone's coming from, if you can feel what they might be feeling that can then stir that compassionate reaction that you're going to have which is then actually taking acting on it.

Russel Lolacher
I like empathy as a baseline, sort of, you can't have compassion without empathy. You can't care without empathy. It's, it's you got to start at zero first and zero is being just a better freakin human being. So why is this such a problem? At work? It sounds so simple.

Rob Volpe
Because we live in a world where everybody wants to like be at the end already. They want the result they want the silver bullet. They want the magic and... I mean, there's so many different things that have have led into this, but we're not in a society that is... it's not that we don't care. We care on an individual basis. But we've lost the ability to care on a broader sort of scale. And there's so many things that have taught us that it's okay to be in combat with each other that it's a zero sum game winner takes all rather than working together collaborating and compromising that's not held up as the hero anymore. And you know, just look at politics. Look at the media in general news programs. Look at reality TV, so many of those are about you You're gonna win at all costs, you're the survivor, you're crushing the competition, there's so many things that are coming out where we're not caring necessarily about other people, it's all about ourselves. And then you've got social media on top of it, which is all about validation of self, rather than true caring, and compassion and empathy for others. So you're putting things out, you know, thinking how many people are gonna like this, that's all about validating me not about you are really engaging in conversation. And then you have the way that Kitzur are raised. I'm old enough, I grew up in the 70s, and 80s. And when I was bored, Mom and Dad used to say, go outside and play until it's dark, and don't get in trouble or go up to your, you know, it was raining out or cold, go up to your room, and figure something out. And there were no devices that were handed to us or anything. And so you'd go, and you'd have to figure out what to do. And a lot of times, what happens in that situation is you turn to what's known as creative play, imaginative play, that's all empathy building. So you can be role playing, whether you're playing with action figures, or dolls, or you are playing, you know, cops and robbers or whatever the, you know, Iron Man, or spider man or Wonder Woman, you're role playing in those those cases, and you're imagining what it would be like to be that type of a person, or to be that person. And that's empathy. And that's all empathy building. And so it's important to give children the opportunity to do that, and to flex and build those muscles when they're young. So that as they get older, it's easier for them to access.

Russel Lolacher
But we don't promote on that, Rob. We promote and put leaders in positions after they've checked X box, or they've done a thing that imprints to impress the powerful person. That's how people generally move up. I call it the Michael Scott problem, right? Michael Scott was an amazing salesperson should have never been a manager. But if you, you know, got promoted to that position. So as there are leaders in positions where empathy is, oh, yeah, I should do that is like, you know, in their to do list, what is their resistance to playing and doing these workshops and picking up books like yours?

Rob Volpe
Fear. It's fear, it's misunderstanding. There's a great study from BusinessSolver called the State of Workplace Empathy. They do it every single year. And one of the things that they found this year 69% of CEOs recognize that it is their job, their response as part of their job to build an empathetic culture in their organization. However, 79% of CEOs don't. Or say they struggle to be empathetic. And 77% of CEOs are afraid they're going to be seen as weak, if they use empathy in the workplace. And I've had this happen, as I consult with, with different leaders and CEOs I have I've had them say to me, well, won't I be a doormat won't, you know, if I give up my point of view aren't? Aren't they just gonna walk all over me because I'm seeing everybody else's point of view. To which to say no, empathy is like one other data point. It's like, imagine if you've got a pie chart, and you've got all these quadrants within your pie chart of data or slices in your pie of data points that go into your decision making. And if you're a leader, you're taking into whatever the business situation that, you know, the financial numbers are taking in, you know, the other supply chain issues, the human factors. Empathy is one other data point that informs your decision making. And then it can also inform how you communicate your decisions out to your audience. So what I see is that leaders and it's not just the CEOs as leaders at every level, they just don't have enough understanding. So it's our job to inform and to challenge them to get to the gym, build their empathy muscles up, you know, reading my book, listening to this podcast, and all the others that are out there and other ones that you've done as well around building relationships at work, like empathy is a common theme that keeps coming up. And you just have to understand what empathy is and how to use it and how it shows up.

Russel Lolacher
So you're firmly in the camp of the nature versus nurture side of things, which is you can train empathy.

Rob Volpe
Yeah, well, and as a gay man, nature versus nurture is always a thing for me, but what I believe is that and the science has found that empathy is something that we are born with. There are parts of our brains that light up when we're practicing are experiencing cognitive empathy as well as emotional empathy. And there's actually different parts of the brain and different neuroscientists that have been working on this. So we're born with it, we're born with the ability, the analogy that I use, so people can relate to it, it's like, imagine, you know, a baby is born with, you know, muscles in its legs, that will ultimately enable it to walk and then run. But it cannot do that right away, it needs to have opportunities to strengthen the muscles, so you know, crawling, and then whatever, and then it starts to stand, and then it starts to scoot, and then the baby can, you know, really take off and walk and run. And then, you know, when parents thought things were bad, it just got worse because their child is now mobile. Empathy is the same way that we need to give ourselves opportunities to be empathetic. Kids in particular, but even as adults, you can strengthen that muscle back up. It's not that it's gone away. It's in there, it's just atrophied. So how do you start to exercise the muscle in order to strengthen it back up?

Russel Lolacher
So let's talk about those muscles. Let's talk about the muscles you have to focus on to be a stronger, more empathetic person. Where do you start?

Rob Volpe
Where do you start? Alright, so there's kind of four macro things I want people to be thinking about. One of which is having the courage to do this. You know, it isn't easy, it is, you know, can be viewed as weak, you may be bucking the trend, the boys in the gym aren't going to necessarily go "Yeah, good on ya. Good empathy move there." But you've got to have the courage to try. So that's the first thing is being courageous. Maya Angelou has a great quote, We, she thought, we all had the ability to have empathy, we may not have the courage to display it. And so it is about that courage. And then it's about self awareness, you've got to really be mindful of how you're moving through the world in those moments where you are not being empathetic, as well as when you are so that you can course correct and make changes, then you have to practice and practicing the five steps, which I'll get into in a moment. But you have to continually practice empathy, and have the fourth one is have grace. Forgive yourself, you're human. I mean, like I always ask, you know, people during presentations would be like, Okay, on a scale of one to five, where are your empathy skills, and I never have people reveal that because I feel like it's a personal thing. And I want them to be honest. But I will say, I'm, depending on the day, I'm somewhere between a 3.7 and a four, you know, I aspire to be a five Sure, but I'm judgmental i that my family is born brown eyed and judgy. It's just like who we are. So I'm constantly working on it myself. And other people need to have that grace, that you're not going to get it right all the time. But what's important is that you try. So that's the first sort of thing, you've got to have the courage, you've got to have self awareness, you've got to practice and you have to have grace with yourself. And then it's about the five steps and the thing that you need to practice. And these are the things that are in that moment when you're engaging with somebody. So this stuff is happening really fast. But the first one is dismantling your judgment. That's that casting aspersion that time where you just want to say something or think something kind of nasty about somebody else for no apparent reason you don't like what they're wearing, the way they look, their body shape, you know, can lead to all sorts of different thoughts. That's being judgmental, it's casting aspersions, it's not really doing anything positive for you. Second step is asking good questions. So this is about asking open exploratory questions rather than closed. Yes, no questions. You want to ask questions that are essential to getting at a wide range of answers. So you know, instead of me asking, like, why did you choose that cap today to wear Russel? You might, I might say, What are your feelings about wearing hats? And what hats do you prefer? The answer that you're gonna give me is going to be really broad about your and you might get into your relationship to hats, what you like, don't like about them. Maybe you were cold. This was the first one that was was in arm's reach, versus find to ask you that narrow question, you're only going to give me a very narrow answer. So when you're really working to understand somebody else's point of view, you want to ask that broader question. The other tip that I always love to challenge people with is to remove the word y from your vocabulary. You want to understand why but why puts us on the defensive and it has from the time that we were toddlers and you know, growing up through school and then into the workplace. We're always out ask why. And it's often because of something we've done wrong. So we have, we've developed this reflexive response where it's like, I'm gonna get in trouble, I'm gonna adapt dance my way out of this. Instead, use who were what? And when reframe the question in order to get the why, but do it from a non threatening perspective, non threatening point of view.

Russel Lolacher
It's funny, because "why" tends to come up a lot, especially in the School of Simon Sinek comes up quite a bit with the start with why but to clarify here, he's asking the why of himself, which is about intent, not of the person you're trying to build a relationship with?

Rob Volpe
Absolutely. That's a very positive why, and there are positive wise that you can be asking yourself, I think what we tend to come across though, in everyday workplace is why, why are you late with that report? Why do you miss the Zoom call? Why is your camera off? Why is that kid doing cartwheels in the background? Why, why? Why? Why? Why did we lose a million dollars on that deal? Why, you know, whatever the thing is, and you you just feel defensive at that point that isn't about positive intent, and what your purpose in life is, as Simon Sinek will will posit, this is about feeling attacked. And so you end up pivoting and spinning, and you're not going to give a full, honest answer. When you're asked why. So reframe that. And, and it's a great exercise. It's a fun, actually, it's a fun team challenge. So take this podcast, bring it into your team and challenge people, let's take y out of our vocabulary and you know, put a swear jar together every time somebody uses the word why a buck goes into it, and it goes to whatever the team decides they want to want to spend it on. It's a really, it's a good exercise for people to try to do. So that second step. Yeah, that second step is asking your questions. The third step is to actively listen. So that's really being present and paying attention that's not being on the phone or checking your social media while you're talking with somebody, they can tell that you're not really listening, and you're definitely not listening and the science is shown. While we think we can multitask, we really can't. We're just doing these microswitches micro fasts, switches in focus and attention. But you're really not doing either one of them particularly well. So pay attention, pay attention to nonverbal cues, as well, those can reveal quite a bit, you know, is the person making eye contact with you or their arms crossed? It's kind of the classic if I lean back. I'm all grumpy and closed off, something's going on. And use your intuition. We're, we're an animal, one of the only animals that ignores our sixth sense, like the hairs on the back of our neck or whatever, like, Yeah, I'll go down that dark alley. Sure. That seems like a good idea. Use your intuition. Your intuition is always there. And it's firing while you're talking to somebody, what are you sensing? And lean into that and maybe ask a question based on what you're sensing might actually be happening get beneath the surface. The fourth step is integrating into understanding. And as I said earlier, there's that dissonance that people have of like, okay, well, if I see somebody else's point of view, does that mean I need to take on? Do I give up my own? And the answer is no, it's making room in your head that there is different ways of moving through the world. And that works on some of the most mundane, everyday experiences to the big kind of political, topical societal issues that we have. If you can say, okay, there's another way of looking at things. Now I need to be curious and try to understand, you can get further along in actually reaching compromise or collaboration or just understanding so that you can in step five, use solution imagination. And so that's when you've heard all these things from people. You've taken in all of this, you've done the the four other steps, and now you're actually able to move that into an empathetic statement, or you're able to continue the conversation and build on it, using what you are imagining to be true based on what you've heard.

Russel Lolacher
So say you did the work, you've gone through your steps, you're practicing working out those muscles. How do you show up at work when those around you aren't doing that? How do you ask for empathy from those around you?

Rob Volpe
Great question. So you drop a copy of this podcast or the book on their desk and book your holiday present? No. No? Well, I'm not even going to dismiss that by saying But seriously, no, because no people should like I think some of it is bringing this up, bringing in that why activity is really great. Another activity Around the integrate to understanding that people have fun with is just asking, what's your favorite flavor of ice cream? And so Russel, what is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Russel Lolacher
Oh, it's chocolate. There is no other flavors. I don't know what you're talking about?

Rob Volpe
Okay, well, typically I say chocolate, but I'm gonna say vanilla. Because then what happens, and usually it's really fun. When I'm presenting to a group of people, I'll have them like, turn to their neighbor, and just ask and have that conversation, what's your favorite flavor of ice cream? And very rarely is there a match? Usually, somebody likes pistachio and other person likes chocolate brownies, something or another? And so it's like, alright, well, now imagine that you're going to the ice cream store, and you only have money. In this world of Venmo and PayPal, it makes no sense. But you only have the money for one scoop of ice cream. Decide how are you going to find the common ground so that you can you know, find out? Make a decision? So you're actually understood have to understand why somebody likes chocolate ice cream when you like vanilla? What is it about that? And then think about well, what are the things we could do? How can we find compromise or collaboration. So it's a great exercise, it's a fun thing to do with a team or a spouse, or whomever, to practice some empathy. So in terms of showing up at work, you can bring some of these exercises in, you can bring some of these resources in, you can also start to use empathetic language. So saying that people, I see your point of view and state what it is and ask them to verify did I get that right? Is there something here? Should I restate that, and if the more you do that, you'll start to make it a habit you with yourself and with others, you can also ask them to see your point of view and have empathy with you. So I hope you can see where I'm coming from Russel, vanilla is actually the best flavor of ice cream because it's got this like cool crispness to it. And there's that sort of slight floral note with the vanilla.

Russel Lolacher
Well, if Rob, if this is the part of the podcast, you're gonna start lying, that's fine. I mean, that's if you want to bring false truths, if that's on you. But let's get back to the real reason we're here. I just, I don't want to spread lies too far on this podcast if we can help it

Rob Volpe
Cause chocolate really is the best.

Russel Lolacher
It really is the best. Haha. So what you're saying is, if you if if I'm hearing correctly, is these exercises are great, but there's a lot to having empathy mirrored at work, because, and I'm thinking of the person that's really empathetic, that has just started their job. Because there's a lot of organizations where the empathy muscle is strong, when you're onboarding, it is strong in that first, second, third year, and then you get busy. And then you get more responsibility. And the empathy muscle just gets atrophying and atrophying as you move up the corporate ladder, jungle gym or whatever. I'm just I'm trying to I'm trying to sell empathy up, is what I'm trying to do.

Rob Volpe
Right? Right. So rather than wait 20 years for all those entry level people to get promoted all the way up to the top...

Russel Lolacher
But they might not have no empathy by the time they get there, too,

Rob Volpe
That can get sucked out of them. Yeah, like a sci fi sort of vacuum thing that sucks out all the moisture, and you're just dried, shrivel up on empathetic being. Yeah, so it's really interesting. I gave a workshop on empathetic leadership a couple of weeks ago, and one of the first things I asked everybody was just to tell, right, make notes on leaders that you in business that you look up to, and what is it about them that you look up to them? And I was expecting to hear kind of, and I was ready with my marker. I was ready to hear Who's Who of you know, celebrity CEOs, if you would? Instead, what I got was Joe, my manager when I was, you know, 26. And well, what did what did Joe do? So well? Well, he actually really listened to me, I felt like he cared about me, he supported me, you know, oh, well, then that somebody else talked about Linda and Linda was listening to me. And she really took me under my wing. And I was going through a hard time. And she supported me and helped me get the tools to work through whatever I was doing. The leaders that people look up to in their daily life are real people. And usually it's an empathetic leadership that they're responding to. So I say to anybody that is moving up that ladder, you always have a choice. And this is where the courage piece comes in. Who do you want to be and how do you want to show up? So you have the choice you have the opportunity to be empathetic doesn't mean that you don't have to hit the numbers or that you can't hit the numbers. You're just taking in another data set in your all of your decision making.

Russel Lolacher
Now I like working out sure. Working those muscles. But what if the gym sucks, Rob? Where does culture come into this? Because you can do self work. And we've certainly given some great examples of workshops and individual work. But culture is where you have to display it. And how can that get in the way?

Rob Volpe
Peloton of empathy?

Russel Lolacher
Yeah, your metaphor works, man!

Rob Volpe
Thank you. You know it well, and back to that data I was sharing earlier about how, you know, 69% of CEOs believe it's their job to build empathy in the workplace, but 79% are struggle with it. Struggle with just having empathy. So there's a lot of like noise and clutter happening and tension up at the top. So yes, having an empathetic culture is key. And it goes beyond just Oh, hear, you know, Hey, Rob came in and gave a presentation or a training or something, you know, we've all subscribed to Russell's podcast, those are all necessary things. But it's about what happens. How do you establish that community of practice, as we call it? So how do you get people showing up more empathetically and understanding what that actually means? So you can see that in retention rates, you can see that in loyalty satisfaction, the reason people feeling that they're belonging, people that feel like they have more empathetic leaders and support will be more innovative at work. So when you talk about why is this important? Well, it helps people perform better at work. So you're gonna see some real practical numbers, results from it. But it's about fostering that culture. And it's helping people understand because everyone's coming at this from from different perspectives, because not only are they're the people where their muscles are completely atrophied, and they're on life support. But then there's the highly sensitive person or the empathy that really just connects and feels everything that other people are feeling. And the things that they have to do are different from that person that's on life support that needs just saline, this other person needs boundaries, and needs, you know, the saline in a bath to soak and like release all the energy that they're carrying. So as you think about your organization, you have to always recognize the diversity that you have in your organization, and that people are coming at this from different places, and take the time to level set, and help people understand that this is what this looks like. And then figure out how do you reward the empathetic leader in your organization or the empathetic actions in the organization? What are the things that people could do right now that might support one another? And how does that show up? You know, there's another person I'm going to recommend as a guest for you as Jen Maher from an organization called inspiring comfort. And something they've found in their work is there's this what they call an action gap. So people recognize when others need come to be comforted in some way, but they don't know what to do about it. They don't know how to take it from that I recognize it to actual comfort, and the example and she she lived through this and part of what set her on this path. She was living in Newtown, Connecticut when the Sandy Hook shootings took place. And she didn't have a child in the school, but she was affected. She was a member of the community and she started to help. Well, Newtown had 65,000 teddy bears sent for a town of 250,000 people. So there was this huge national recognition, like we got to do something, but people didn't know exactly what to do or how to do it. So they did what they felt was right and sent this gesture of sending a teddy bear but then suddenly, the town had more teddy bears on it knew what to do with and dealing with their trauma. So you know, it's it's helping model for your organization, what that needs to look like and helping guide them in how to actually respond, how to be empathetic, how to show up empathetically.

Russel Lolacher
How can somebody on a day to day basis, be proactive in their empathy practice?

Rob Volpe
So self awareness is a lot of it catching yourself in the moment making those decisions when you're about to either think or say something that might be judgmental, stop yourself and go Wait, where'd that come from? And whether it's in that moment, you just kind of do some self reflection and analysis or you make a note and come back to it later. But think about where is that coming from? Why am I why do I have that viewpoint? And why does that matter? So make a different choice there. So it's about being aware. It's about actually catching yourself constantly on the questions and the paying attention. And then in the practice of It's using empathetic language. So I can imagine where you're coming from, I can see your point of view I can, I can imagine how That must have hurt for you. I mean, Rob, I can imagine, that must have really hurt when your boss fired you two weeks before laid you off whatever, two weeks before your biggest career success came out that must have really stung. That's very supportive, empathetic language. And I can say, Yeah, you know, Russel, it really does hurt. And you know, even 16 years later, I'm still feeling a little sting from it. Like, it doesn't feel fair. But I'm really glad it happened, because I wouldn't be here right now. So yeah, it's having that self awareness, and it's practicing. And it's using empathetic languages. It's not being afraid to ask somebody, you know, did I get that right? Does? Did I say, Did I reflect that properly? Am I Am I getting where you're coming from? And being open, then if they say, well, actually is more like this? Accepting that and say, oh, okay, so and then kind of repeating that back. It's really critical in that practice. So you've you've got to start using the words and having the mindfulness to make different decisions. Those are kind of the big things and don't use the word why.

Russel Lolacher
Wrapping it up with a question I'd love to ask, which is Rob, what's one simple action people can do right now to improve their relationships at work?

Rob Volpe
Take a moment to ask, how are you doing, really? And listen to the answer.

Russel Lolacher
And be prepared for the response.

Rob Volpe
Be prepared for the response. And if somebody asks, you don't just go "Oh, I'm fine." Answer, talk about it, share how you're feeling and be prepared, that you might actually be supported.

Russel Lolacher
That is Rob Volpe. He is the CEO and Chief Catalyst for Ignite 360. And he wrote a book, I really encourage you to pick it up. It's called TELL ME MORE ABOUT THAT - Solving the Empathy Crisis One Conversation at a Time. My eyes are not that good. I am old, but you can read the title. Thanks, Rob, for being here.

Rob Volpe
Russel, thank you so much. It's been great conversation. I really appreciate it.