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4 Ways to Better Practice Empathy in the Workplace with Rob Volpe, Ignite 360: Show Notes & Transcript

Post | Jun 06, 2023

Welcome back to Marketing Smarts! From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini (that’s us) comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. We deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from our combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. We tell it how it is so whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.

In this episode, we’re talking how to better practice empathy in the workplace with Rob Volpe. Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and your other favorite podcast spots – follow and leave a 5-star review if you’re exercising your Marketing Smarts!

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Marketing Smarts: 4 Ways to Better Practice Empathy in the Workplace with Rob Volpe, Ignite 360

Empathy is one of those behaviors that can make or break your relationships. How do you make sure you’re practicing empathy in the workplace? It starts with getting over the judgment, understanding and appreciating other people’s motivators, seeking to find common ground, and asking good questions. We wanted you to learn from one of the brightest minds studying empathy, so we welcomed on Rob Volpe. Rob is the CEO of Ignite 360, an insights and strategy firm, and is the award-winning author of Tell Me More About That: Solving the Empathy Crisis One Conversation at a Time. This episode covers everything from practicing empathy to asking questions. Here’s a small sample of what you will hear in this episode:

  • How do you better practice empathy in the workplace?
  • What’s a curious breath?
  • How did Samsung change cell phones?
  • What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?
  • How do you avoid leading questions?
  • Why should you consider other people’s motivators?
  • How do you get over the judgment?
  • What does wine have to do with finding common ground?

And as always, if you need help in building your Marketing Smarts, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at:

Check out the episode, show notes, and transcript below:

Show Notes

What is Marketing Smarts?

From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. They deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from their combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. They tell it how it is so whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.

How do I exercise my Marketing Smarts?

Thanks for listening to Marketing Smarts. Get in touch here to become a savvier marketer. 


Please note: this transcript is not 100% accurate.

Anne Candido 0:02
This is Marketing Smarts – a podcast committed to helping you become a savvier marketing leader, no matter your level. In each episode, we will dive into a relevant topic or challenge that marketing leaders are currently facing. We will also give you practical tools and applications that will help you put what you learn into practice today. And if you missed anything, don’t worry, we put worksheets on our website that summarize the key points. Now, let’s get to it. Welcome to Marketing Smarts! I’m Anne Candido and I am April Martini. And today, we’re going to talk about empathy in the workplace. So for those of you who are still here, and didn’t just cringe and turn the episode off, we’re glad because empathy is one of those behaviors that can make or break your relationships. And as we’ve preached multiple times, relationships are really the key to business. And you heard me right, when I called empathy a behavior, it is not a characteristic, even though a lot of us have said it or identify with it via characteristics, which means that it can be learned and practiced. Yes, this is a

April Martini 1:07
huge mind shift for many as we are more familiar with characterizing ourselves as a naturally empathetic person or not. So this episodes focused on the practice of empathy, which includes busting some of those myths that I think exist in all of our heads. Just like the one we just busted on empathy being a behavior. But first, let’s define empathy. So so everyone is on the same page here, you know, we like to give our definitions empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In contrast, it gets confused with sympathy, which is more about feeling sorry for someone we are not talking about sympathy on this episode is all about empathy.

Anne Candido 1:50
Right? And yes, I’ve said before, empathy is about putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes, which means having conversations with someone, sympathy is about buying a card and sending it in the mail. So both are important, they’re just a little bit different. And so today, we have a special guest to join us in discussing this topic. And that’s Rob Volpe. He is the CEO of Ignite 360, and an award winning author. So Rob is great to have you, you want to introduce yourself,

Rob Volpe 2:15
thank you. And in April, it’s so great to be here. Yeah, and I hope people didn’t flee and run away when they heard empathy. And but there’s so much misconception about it. And hopefully, we’ll be able to break that down and give people the tools to practice empathy in the workplace, which you need if you’re going to be successful in marketing, or business or life in general. But yeah, so I’m Rob Volpe, CEO and Founder of Ignite 360. We are an insights and strategy firm, also do some training, empathy is part and parcel to the insights role. If you’ve ever done any marketing research, or consumer insight work, you know, like, you’ve got to understand where your consumer or your client or your customer is coming from, in order to build better products and services and marketing campaigns for them. So empathy is part and parcel of what we do recognize, though, that there’s an empathy crisis. And so we set out to do something about that, not only within our own projects, but then also providing training and then, you know, empathy does expand beyond and extend greatly beyond the insights world. And so I wrote my book, Tell Me More About That: Solving the Empathy Crisis One Conversation at a Time, which came out last year. And my goal with that book was to try to demystify some things about empathy and entertain people as they’re being informed and learning more about empathy. So the books filled with a lot of my own personal I’d say, misadventures of going out. And you know, when you do ethnographic research and qualitative research, you are meeting people that are different from you all the time. And you’ve got to work really hard to get to a place of empathy to dismantle your judgment to make sure you’re asking the right questions, etc. So I am filled with some great tales. And I put those into the book because I thought, hey, people should learn from my mistakes and learn from my own experiences. And yeah, the results are just one of several Benjamin Franklin Awards from the Independent Book Publishers Association. So the publishing industry has said, Hey, this is one of the best self help books from last year, which was very meaningful for me because it told me that yes, I did write something that was not only informative, but that people want to read. It’s entertaining.

Anne Candido 4:32
Wow, that’s awesome. Congratulations. Thank you. Thank you. I’m looking forward to hearing some of these stories. And I think too, as people are listening to the context, even if the story is is focused in a specific setting, think about it in yours. And so these should be highly translatable, and we’ll try to connect some of those dots to along the way. And with that, let’s get into four ways to better practice empathy in the workplace. The first is to get over the judgment and this is so much easier said than And because many times we don’t even realize we’re actually judging because our judgments are based on so many ingrained beliefs and values based on how we were raised the environments in which we live. And then other influencers that we like to talk a lot about, like religion, government, education, all these are kind of framed what our judgments might be. But when judgment rolls, the aura, in these situations, these environments becomes one of leveling. So it’s who is better than whom, and this is when ego starts to rear its ugly head, because we start to want to level ourselves up. But the other side could also happen, whereas we have an inferiority complex, and we felt like we were level down a little bit. So the judgment can really be very, very disastrous in these opportunities to create connection, which is what empathy is all about. So how do we become aware of something that we currently have no awareness of? So what I like to say is, whenever you are tempted to quickly dismiss a person or POB, their feedback, you need to ask yourself why. And you guys all know when that starts to creep in, we get some of those those little feelings, right? We’re just like, oh, the iro of like, oh, my god, is that person talking? Again? Is that person ever going to be quiet? Why is a person even here? Like, we know what those behaviors look like? And we know what we’re thinking. But you need to ask yourself, Why am I thinking that? Why am I feeling that? And then you need to actually acknowledge your response without judgment, right. So that’s the first way of becoming aware. Now, if you’re looking for a place of where to start to realize where this is happening a lot, that’s in meetings, meetings, or judgment zones, this is where a lot of these things happen. I mean, so you walk into these meetings, and just the way the room is set up, right, who sits at the head of the table, who sits on the sides of the table, who’s relegated to the back of the table, there’s an element of judgment there, then we start to regulate, and we start to moderate on the feedback of everybody else to say, Oh, does this put us at should I listen to that person did this person who has something good to say that they have the right experience that they have the right age or maturity, they come from the right function, all of this starts to kind of weigh in our head about whether or not we should judge these people’s point of view, their contributions is something that’s valued and have value. But what does that famous saying that we always say? It’s like, oh, good ideas can come from anywhere, right? If you’re sitting in a space of judgment, they can’t. And that’s just really the truth of the matter. Which is why when people go into these meetings with call brainstorming meetings, or creative discussions, or whatever meetings they are, and they all say, oh, no, everybody has value in this room. And but everybody walks out going, yeah, there’s just no way. That’s because judgment is at the core. So Rob, I’ll turn this over to you, what do you have to say about this, I know, you’re gonna have a lot to say,

Rob Volpe 7:50
and you did such a great job getting into this and explaining it for people. And I think there’s a few things that people should understand and be willing to maybe embrace around judgment, we’re born to be judgmental, and make a judgment. And then all of those stereotypes and the biases and past experiences are the things that kind of rear their ugly head. And that’s when you need to really have that awareness. So one of the key things to just getting to a place of empathy, and practicing empathy is just self awareness. Like, you gotta have this sort of metacognition, like what’s going on in your head, and like you’re about to make that reaction to somebody and stop yourself and go, Where’s that coming from? A really great tip that your listeners can practice and they can start right away. And we could actually do it right now. Which is to take a curious breath. And a curious breath is like, we’re just going to count a three, we’re going to inhale through our nose and exhale out of our mouth. Okay, so 123, inhale. And now exhale out of your mouth. So what’s happening to felt feel better used to feel like there’s a shift that will happen and where this comes from, in our, in our brains, when we’re presented with stimulus, there’s actually a gap between stimulus and response, there’s this little tiny space. Now, typically, if you’re having that rapid back and forth, that space between stimulus and response is really small. But if you want to get in there and try to change things and turn things around, you need to expand that space. And taking that curious breath can do that. So it’s literally you’re in a meeting, somebody is saying something you vehemently are opposed to it, instead of just bang going back at it. Take a breath, take that curious breath and try to reset so that you’re more curious that you’re open and consider it and then respond and maybe ask a question, to clarify or get more information before you just go and you know, swap the idea down or, you know, try to move the meeting along or something. So curious breath is really important here. Additionally, like getting over the guilt that we all have, then we feel bad like, Oh, I’m being judgmental, and that’s awful. We all do it, just put that aside, get over get over the guilt. It’s about progress and practice, we’re never going to be perfect. I mean, I’m I often when I’m giving keynotes, I’ll ask the audience to just give themselves a self assessment, like on a scale of one to five, one being the lowest five being the highest. And I’ll ask the two of you, but like my audience, you won’t answer you just keep this to yourself. Where Where would you be on your empathy skills from a scale of one to five, one being low five being high, I and I say like, I’m an empathy activist, I’ll give myself a 3.5, maybe on a really good day a four. And that’s because we are all a work in progress. And things are going to come up that are going to spark judgment that you weren’t anticipating, maybe you didn’t sleep well enough, maybe you’ve got extra pressure from your the boss, you’re not hitting the numbers, or whatever is going on. All of those things can can affect how we ended up showing up. And so you’ve got to be aware of that you got to forgive yourself, but take the action to correct that. And then people have to understand it, as a lot of folks will go well, hey, I’m, you know, I’m supposed to make judgments. I’m leading my organization or my team. And that’s what I’m supposed to do. And yeah, absolutely. You’re supposed to make a judgement. What you’re not supposed to do is be judgmental about it. And the distinction there. It’s like, I made a judgment to wear a yellow shirt on this call. And you guys pointed out that Oh, my match the post it notes on the wall behind me, which is true, was not in my consideration. But yeah, absolutely. You could though be judgmental about it. Maybe you don’t like yellow or you don’t think it makes me look good, or whatever the thing is, you’ve got something against yellow or against, it’s a look cost you and maybe you’ve got something against that, oh, I’m bougie because I got the alligator on my

Anne Candido 12:09
colors. That’s the thing that I’m judging.

Rob Volpe 12:13
Exactly, exactly. But and that’s a great example, like that could be a very, you know, buried unknown bias that you’ve got that all of a sudden, you just like, Well, yeah, because you don’t like what I’m wearing, or the way I look, you can start to hold that against me. And you, you know, it’s a tragedy, because then you’re not hearing what I’m really saying, and what’s going on. So those are all things that we need to dismantle. And it’s a lot. And so that’s where the self awareness comes in and understanding With practice, you’ll get better, and you’ll make progress.

April Martini 12:48
I think there are so many good points in that. I mean, first and foremost, the idea that we are born to be judgmental, I think is something that people really do need to lean into more because it allows us to give ourselves some grace. I mean, you know, then the other part of what you said around taking a deep breath and taking a moment and you know, thinking about what’s going on the the piece that I feel like I’m always working against and on is the narrative that happens in my head. And that is from a place of judgment a lot of times, right, because I’m trying to take things in and assess what’s going on. And you know, get through life as a human being, which is why I love what you said about we’re built this way. And this is how we are. And then the other side of it of those things that come in that you just can’t predict. So this is a really stupid example. But as we were drafting this episode, it it just happened. And so I am on the trail in our neighborhood where we live, and it crosses several busy streets. And inevitably, there’s always safety concerns, right? There’s the stop the crosswalks, and all the lights and whatever. But there’s so many times where people are running lights. And so I was coming back from a walk and I’m in my head and I was listening to my book and I have good energy and and whatever. And then somebody runs the red light, and I’m trying to crossing the street and you know, the four letter words start populating in my head. And so I also do a lot of the breathing stuff. And so I kind of took a step back and took a deep breath and repositioned it in my head to say how many times have you run a red light? Maybe if you think about it from the perspective that he didn’t mean to do it. He got flustered. It is a little bit of a weird intersection. There was some construction going on, if you can reframe it from that perspective. Number one, it served me better because I have the mind space in the energy to go back to what I was doing. But number two, I think it just proves the point of how we can help proactively manage this judgment that’s just inherently in us.

Rob Volpe 14:48
Yeah, and I love the way you responded to that and had that moment with the driver running the red light. And there’s also just like you don’t know what type of day that person’s having Are what prompted they may have legitimately needed to get to the hospital needed to was late for and not, I guess legally, there’s no legitimate reason to run a red light. But there was something that motivated that person to make the choice when that went yellow to floor it and get through it versus, and we don’t know what that was going on with that other person. So that just having that that gets you to empathy, and you can kind of, you know, maybe forgive that person or understand, okay, something else was going on. I’m glad I’m okay and safe. And now let’s, let’s move forward. But I think that’s so critical. When you’re talking about meetings, even, you don’t know. And that’s why it’s so important to check in with your teams, like the people that you’re leading, even if it’s a cross functional team, they’ve come together for a meeting, spend a few minutes just saying, Hey, how is everybody how was your weekend, what what’s going on, and try to hold space to hear those things. That’s one of the bigger challenges people have had the last few years is there’s been more call for empathetic leadership. And really, it’s about just listening and making sure you’re recognizing the point of view of others. And it becomes another data point that you’re taking in, it’s like, okay, if you know, this person is really stressed about something else, maybe your boss has had a bad day and you go into a meeting and your boss’s there, that’s gonna give you perspective on how they’re reacting or where they’re coming from, and whatever they’re saying, in your meeting, versus just taking it and getting offended, or, you know, I’m imagining that there’s some big ugly boss, or they’re having a bad day, ranting and raving and our rah rah, but if you have an understanding of where they’re coming from, and what they’re experiencing, doesn’t, you know, excuse, bad behavior, or whatever, but it gives you perspective, and you can take that curious breath. And you can say, Okay, tell me more about your feelings on this, let’s, let’s kind of get more to the bottom of it. So it’s using all of those empathy tools to dismantle your own judgment, and then try to hear other people and understand where they’re coming from, and then speak to them, recognizing that position that that you will run really great meetings, we actually, that ignite 360, we just launched a training program called the ignition engine. So it’s all online training. And when we surveyed people about what do you want to learn how to do one of them is how to run effective meetings. And so that became one of our launch modules. Because it’s so challenging for people, especially now that we’re on teams, or zoom, or whatever we’re doing, or it’s a hybrid, how do you talk to half the people in the room and the other half on a call and all that? Yeah, that’s

Anne Candido 17:40
a really fantastic segue into our next point, which is to understand and appreciate other people’s motivators. So I think you just hit this one really, really well, which is that if we want high performing teams, which is kind of what we talked about, or you just alluded to, with regards to why we even have meetings, then we have to really understand where people are coming from and what their motivation is, for their just being in that space. Right. And so we spent a lot of time talking about creating highly functional teams and another episodes, if you guys are really interested in that you can go to that episode. But when we talk about how to do this, that the big thing is to make sure that our goals are bigger than any one member can actually achieve on their own. Because when we do this, it gives us a better appreciation and more empathy towards what other people are also trying to do and how what they’re trying to do is also going to influence and impact us. And when we do that we can realize then we’re all in this together. So it’s they’re all in this together mentality. And we need all of us in order to achieve succeed, and be able to bring that impact that we want to the business. And that also helps us kind of bring a little bit more respect into what other people’s functions might be, what other their, how they’re rewarded in those things that are important to them, also then becomes important to us. Because if we only focus on our piece of the pie, the only thing we can actually achieve is whatever we can do on our own. And here’s like the biggest mythbuster of it all is that you need other human beings in order to achieve your goals and dreams. And that’s I think the thing that’s always like the most common like surprise when we were coaching people and they’re like, I can’t get this, I can’t get that nobody’s giving me this and nobody’s give me that I’m like, Well, you know, then you need to actually build relationships with people in order for you to actually achieve your goals and dreams, which means you need to be more empathetic to where they’re coming from to so that you can form more mutually beneficial relationships. And that usually gets me like the big like deer in the headlights slug, because you’re like, oh, wait, and I’m in marketing. I’m supposed to be like delivering marketing campaigns. But now my sales persons out there creating whatever sales materials they want to create for whatever customer they have. And I’m like, well, and I said, Well, you know, I say, you know, that’s actually a Freudian slip, because this is actually a situation I happen to be a PNG, but that being the case. So I would say, tell on yourself, I’m telling myself again. So I would say, well, listen, I said, Well, if you’re creating your own sales materials, why aren’t they linking back to the marketing materials? Well, because your marketing materials aren’t helping me sell the business? Well, that’s a big aha, if I’m now empathetic to what they need in order to deliver their business, I can now create materials that are more beneficial for the entire whole versus going off and running marketing campaigns that I think are fun that I think generate this and that any other but may not be the best in order to deliver what is best for the business as a whole. That doesn’t mean that the salesperson shouldn’t be empathetic to me as well and share, hey, my customers need this, I need this in order to close my leads, can you help me generate what I need in order to do this and so that we can create more mutually beneficial materials that then the business can then generate impact from? So these are the conversations that you have to kind of be careful again, it’s about asking, like, why am I rolling my eyes? Why am I like so mad at my salespeople? When they’re not using my marketing materials? It’s like, well, there’s a reason for that. Ask them, why aren’t you using my marketing materials? At the salespeople are like, I’m always creating my own sales materials. These marketing, people aren’t doing anything for me, it’s like, Well, did you ask them or tell them what you need. So have those conversations, they really helped to build awareness, as you were saying, Rob, and then coincidentally, just kind of flipping on the other side here. There’s another important dynamic where this happens a lot. And these are for high achievers, and they want to rise up in the company. And they’re like, my boss is holding me back. Right? We hear this all the time, too. So our big question to all these folks and okay, and yeah, that’s it was in an question again, it’s like, Hey, what is your boss thing? What is what did they need? What is their motivator? And I’m like, they want to look good. And then the coach, my coach said, well, then do that. Okay, but, but but but but it’s like, well, in doing that, don’t you also make yourself look good? I’m like, Yeah, I kind of do. And so then it becomes, again, a situation where we both have an outcome that benefits us both. So what do you have to say about this one room?

Rob Volpe 22:36
A man?

Anne Candido 22:40
You know, privacy, according to an okay, yeah,

Rob Volpe 22:43
no, it’s so true. Like, I think about that tension between marketing and sales, or I’ve seen it marketing and R&D, like depending on all like, just all of that

Anne Candido 22:55
insert any function,

Rob Volpe 22:56
insert any function, and you know, you it’s not driven solely by one function, one individual, it truly is a team. And when you think about, you know, I think about sometimes brands or businesses as organisms, and they are very kind of living and breathing. And, you know, it takes a lot of different cells to make up the organism and arms and legs and organs and senses and all of that. And a business is the same way. And you’ve all got to be working together and in the same direction, which means you’ve got to understand what’s motivating everybody, because each one is doing their own jobs. One of the stories I’ll sometimes tell when I’m talking with marketing, or product development, teams, Samsung back in the day, and this is way back in the day, I’m old enough to remember when we had cell phones that actually needed to have antennas. And the antennas weren’t built in. They were like, dangly things stuck out and, and there was a product manager, apparently, at Samsung, who was like, you know, what, why this doesn’t need to be out here because it can break it can all of the things what if we could get it tucked in? Well, I think he had initially had some conversations with the engineers, and they kind of poo pooed it and now now whenever we’re what we’ve got is working just fine. And then he took the time to understand what was really going to motivate the engineers. So where are they coming from? What are the things that are going to get them excited. And by doing that, by taking the time to understand their perspective, he was able to then change the conversation and put it in a way to challenge them, but it would meet their kind of objectives criteria, what they get bonused on whatever the thing is, even whether it’s personal motivation or organizational function, motivation, understanding that Samsung was able to then create those engineers designed the first cell phone that had the antenna internalized. They went on and sold like 10 million units and became the marketplace leader. This is like I think the late 90s. So they did a tremendous job moving forward, because they took the time to understand what was going to motivate the other people, and then use that in the communication to get them inspired and get everybody continuing to move in the right direction. And that creates that win win.

April Martini 25:21
Yeah, I think it’s, it’s such a good and telegraphic example. And I think one of the things that can be really hard is we talk about and you said, the expression of walking in another person’s shoes. And really, what does that mean? It is a lot harder than it sounds. And it’s because we have to first get over whatever our knee jerk reaction was, because it wasn’t the way we were thinking or seeing things or whatever. But you know, Rob, in the beginning, you talked about qualitative and ethnographic research. And one of my big soap boxes is about insights. And what is a true insight versus what is an observation. So I won’t go any further than that, because we could spend the rest of the time talking about that.

Rob Volpe 26:03
We’ll save that for another episode.

April Martini 26:05
Yes, but I think where this can fall flat, or be troublesome for people is not stepping in enough. And so as you were talking through your example, and and uses this term around figuring out what the other person’s currency is, and it’s now something that’s become regular in my vernacular, with everything from my children, to my husband, to you know, everybody

in my life doing.

But it’s this whole idea of really taking the time to unearth what their motivators are, and then why. And so we all come from different places, we have different experiences, and you talked about, you know, what education you have, what ethnicity you are, what political party you are, you know, there’s all these different things that make up who we are as individuals, which makes this exercise really difficult. But if you actually do take the time to go far enough to understand where the other person is truly coming from, it can get you on the path to whatever you want to achieve. And it’s not in a manipulative way. Because the first time that I heard this concept, I was pretty young. And, you know, April was also told, you know, you need to learn to be a little more empathetic early on, so I’ll tell on myself as well. But I couldn’t get past this, because I felt like it was very either contrived, or, like it was done using my powers for evil or something. But once I could get to the point where I could actually use it as a tool to see the other person across from me as a 360 degree person sitting in front of me and start to unearth some of that, it became a really effective way for me to be able to not only get on board with where people are coming from, but move things forward for them and for myself.

Rob Volpe 27:52
Yeah, and presuming you don’t use these tools for evil and your your moral compass is there? Yeah, it isn’t. And people get upset around that. Because like, empathy is used in persuasion. That’s one of the skills that empathy enables and empowers. And it’s not a bad thing, it just means, hey, I understand what’s motivating you or your pain point. And I’m going to then use that to help persuade you that I am your partner or to build trust or whatever influenced you that, hey, this might actually be the way to go. The other person can still make a judgement and say, you know, no, they may end up being judgmental, if they don’t like the way you’ve said something or the fact that you wear a yellow shirt that day or whatever. But you use empathy and all of your communication and it actually just makes you better at what you do. And then hopefully, you do have the moral compass to use your powers for good and not evil. But yeah, Empathy helps you with that all the time. And then every every function.

Anne Candido 28:57
And I like the analogy of using I think about businesses as organisms, and I want to be in the mitochondria. Because they look like little pieces and they bring the energy to the cells. So mitochondria. All right, you can pick whatever you want to the next point. Okay, okay. Well, actually, the next point is actually a really good reiteration to what you just said, Rob, which the third way of being able to better practice empathy in the workplace is to seek to find common ground. Right. And this is, like I said, an extension of the point, but it directly addresses some very common myths. And Rob, you and I talked about this on our initial call, which when people think about empathy, they think about what they are sacrificing or losing as a result. So they have to concede their point of view or give in in order to be empathetic or that if you’re empathetic, it means you need to let people walk all over you and you don’t get to have a strong presence and nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, their whole reason for empathy is to really understand and appreciate that other people’s point of views are as important to them. as yours is to you, right. And that’s really the crux of this. And if we can understand that, then we can look for opportunities to find common ground, like you were just talking about, where there’s not win lose scenarios mean, we don’t have to have people lose in order to for us to win. Now, notice, I didn’t say Win Win, although we have said win win. And I know Rob, you said win win. And that’s fine. If you can kind of win win scenarios that is the absolute like gold standard. But a lot of times are not win win situations. And that’s what a lot of people struggle with, then empathy, it’s like, oh, well, I need to lose in order for somebody to win or somebody else needs to lose in order for me to win. But if we could just get to a place of common understanding, common respect alignment, where every fun feels compelled to get in the boat and row, we’ve achieved common ground. So we just have to make sure that we can put that right definition in our mindset, we can approach this a little bit differently. And this comes from acknowledging two key truths, right, and you’re gonna call me the optimist. But I think this is just like, in general, that people generally have good intentions, like, it’s very few people who come out with just the intent to just like, blow everybody up. Yeah, right, literally or figuratively, and people are generally coming from a good place, if we can really internalize these things, then we can actually try to find a way to appreciate what other people are bringing to the table, that is beyond maybe what our current perception or current conception of the situation is. Now, that doesn’t mean that we’re not, we have to be naive. And we don’t have to understand that there’s a dark side, I mean, we all have a little bit of a dark side, right. And it doesn’t always mean that people’s, whatever they’re doing is good enough, or that’s there, even if it’s their best that that’s good enough. But we can actually then engage with the right intentions to pursue a solution that works for everybody, even if it’s not one that everybody necessarily needs to have in order to feel like they’re actually quote, unquote, winning. Right? What’s your thoughts here?

Rob Volpe 32:03
Oh, so many. There’s thinking about two different chapters in the book. One is actually in the dismantling judgment section. But this is within the five steps to empathy. This is all about integrating into understanding making room in your head, that there are other ways to move and view the world. And instead of thinking, because there is a lot of fear that people are gonna have to give up their own perspective, to see the point of view of somebody else, it’s like, Nope, just gotta make a little room in your head that, Oh, okay. There’s another way of thinking about these things. And one example that I write about in the book is when I went to the NRA gun show, with some clients on behalf of some clients, and and went with a couple of colleagues, to try to understand why people got carry concealed permits and how they chose the accessories that went along with it, the client was an accessories manufacturer. And you know, I’m a lefty from San Francisco. I’m a gay man. So you can imagine walking into the gun show in St. Louis, with, you know, all the regalia that you might expect, really put me into an uncomfortable place. But I had to dismantle my judgment, asked her questions, do other things. But then when it got into this, I was really listening to what people were saying and trying to make room in my head that, hey, these people have made a choice, they want to have a firearm, and that is their right to do so. So what’s behind that? So get deeper, remain, take the curious breath, remain curious about it, and dive in further. Now in this case, like I was doing research, so I’m just asking the questions. I didn’t have to get into a debate necessarily about it. But I was able to get curious and understand some of the root drivers and the chapter is called fear. So that gives you a clue to what I was uncovering. And then another chapter in the book in the integrating to understanding section is about marijuana usage and legalized marijuana usage. And we got onto that topic because my coo Lisa Osborne had been doing an in home interview with a client from a major food manufacturer based in the midwest. They were in Colorado, marijuana was legal at the time, but what they weren’t expecting was that the brands champion for this very healthy organic natural five ingredients or less food product was going to have a bong sitting in her living room. And the clients had a little bit of a pearl clutch Oh my sort of moment when they saw that ad, so she had to spend some time helping them understand integrate into their understanding that the reason why they buy that food product is like only one part of who they are. But there’s so much more than that. So we got curious and ended up doing our own study on people that were using recreational marijuana and why and it’s fascinating. And so the chapter goes into that, but it’s about making room in your head and understanding that a really great exercise that we can do right now. It because it’s hard for people they go, Oh my god, I don’t want to talk about, you know, guns or abortion access with Uncle Leroy, because of all the reasons you might expect. But no, but here’s so let’s not worry about the bigger thing. Let’s talk about ice cream. And we’ll use the ice cream exercise. And this then has apple screen. Nope. Not at all.

Anne Candido 35:42
Does it still work?

Rob Volpe 35:43
Yeah, it does. Because the very least and you and I are gonna play that April, April

Anne Candido 35:50
in the dust a little bit, but

Rob Volpe 35:51
we are going to the ice cream store. We only have money to buy one scoop of ice cream that we’re going to share. So we have to figure out what the flavor is. And so to start, it’s a share of like, what’s your favorite flavor of ice cream? So an Do you have a favorite flavor of ice cream?

Anne Candido 36:09
It depends on my mood. But it’s like chocolate chip is probably one of my biggest go twos.

Rob Volpe 36:14
Okay, and April like if your arm is twisted to go get ice cream or sorbet or anything kind of cold.

April Martini 36:20
I can do sorbet and lemon sorbets.

Anne Candido 36:22
That’s not real ice cream.

April Martini 36:24
You said sorbet. I like lemon sorbet.

Rob Volpe 36:26
If they they often have it at the ice cream store. I’ve seen it Häagen-Dazs and Baskin-Robbins and all that. So okay, we’ve got lemon sorbet, we’ve got chocolate chip, I tend to go into a chocolate sort of space. So like deeper, darker, richer chocolate. But it does depend on my mood and the weather and all that but I could hang with a chocolate chip. So now what I want the two of you to do is just ask yourselves, like, what is it about that flavor? So again, we’re being curious and open and trying to understand he would ask each other. What is it about your favorite flavor that you like so much? So go ahead and do that for a moment.

April Martini 37:03
What is it about your favorite flavor that you like so much?

Anne Candido 37:06
I like the cleanness of the vanilla, with the contrast of like really rich chocolate chips. I only like you know, generally graters like that’s the only one because it has the right contrast of that.

Rob Volpe 37:19
Like, how about for you?

April Martini 37:21
I was waiting for her to ask. So for me, I do not like the feel and aftertaste of anything milk

Anne Candido 37:33

April Martini 37:34
So that’s ice cream, yogurt, etc. So the lemon sorbet, the reason I like it is it has more of like an ice type quality. And I’m not actually a chocolate person, I’m much more of if I’m going to eat candy, it’s going to be more citrusy, for example. So that lemon, there’s like a freshness and a lightness that I find very different than ice cream.

Rob Volpe 38:02
So what you would do is continue this conversation and I think you’re kind of far apart and it’s gonna take us a few minutes to get there. For the sake of the listeners, we may not go all the way down the

Anne Candido 38:14
line, Robb we would have had a much more productive conversation about why we could have gotten there quicker.

Rob Volpe 38:19
But tell well tell me what’s your favorite wine?

Anne Candido 38:21
Well, this is what we’re in the summer is white in the winter, it’s red.

Rob Volpe 38:26
Okay, yeah, but the menu has like 20 options. So

April Martini 38:30
we go with so we’ll go with red because we just came out of that season. So I like a red that is a little bit bigger and bolder, generally speaking, and has a little bit of a bite to it. So like a malbeck, like some of those flavor profiles.

Rob Volpe 38:45
Okay, and how about for you?

Anne Candido 38:47
Similar, but I also will go a little bit lighter than that at times, especially if it’s a little bit warmer out is that as well. So consider like a rose a kind of already white, so,

Rob Volpe 38:58
okay, but you could do you can hang with them all back. Yep, I can hang with them all back there. But so if we’ve got a vino volo, or wherever, we have a wine that you guys could agree on. So the ice cream is to kind of circle back into that, that then is an example of when you’re talking to Uncle Leroy and you’ve got bigger it’s bigger issues than just a frozen dessert that you’re gonna share. And so what you want to do in those situations is continue to ask each other questions and find that common ground. So what is the thing that you can agree on? Like I did hear both of you talk about a desire for refreshing, like and I think you had talked about that refreshing light flavor, the vanilla and then April you talked about non dairy because the dairy felt too heavy, so the sorbet itself, so you continue to start to work on that and you use that understanding of like, okay, it isn’t about digging in, and winner takes all I’m right, you’re wrong. It’s how do you use what you’re learning? meaning and understanding about each other to find the common ground, where you could start to collaborate or compromise and reach a solution because you only got money for one scoop and one cup, or cone if that’s your thing, but it’s like one flavor, one scoop. That’s how you start to use empathy. And it’s an example of using empathy to start to find the common ground. So you have something around refreshing each one of you. And then you could continue to build on maybe run through like, Okay, well, what about Raspberry? What about, you know, all the other sorbet flavors? Is there a stracciatella? sorbet, which is a chocolate chip sorbet, might that work? Is there a topping we could throw on that would hit some of that balance that that ends looking for? You would you would continue the conversation that way. And so when you’re having you know, you’re seeing uncle Leroy at the family barbecue, or the reunion or whatever, and you get engaged in the conversation, you keep asking questions. And one a great one, the title of my book is, tell me more about that. Tell me more about where you’re coming from, and listen to the answer and continue to be curious. And you’re gonna probably take a lot of curious breaths, don’t hyperventilate while you’re doing it. But you take the curious breaths just to give yourself that little bit of distance and widen the stimulus and response space so that you can get to common ground, you know, with with the gun episode and fear. That was the thing that I was hearing from people. I mean, we’re talking really base, the most primal emotion of fear, big, bad, scary world out there. And a lot of things can happen. So did all of that research, came back to sunny San Francisco having lunch with other liberal lefty friends. And mentioned Oh my god, I just had this amazing week, I was talking to all these gun owners. And they said, Well, I’m afraid of what’s going to happen out there with all these people running around with guns. And I was like, Ah, so you’re afraid. So fear is like it’s at a really basic level, we’re afraid of what might happen. Gun owners are afraid of just the world in general, they don’t know what’s going to happen. And other people are also afraid of the world. But in particular, people with guns because they don’t understand the training or the controls, or some of the other safety, who is getting the gun. All the things that you hear coming up in conversation right now with, you know, the mass shootings. So once you understand that, how do you then approach it and start to go, Okay, I hear where you’re coming from, let me share where I’m coming from. So you’re asking somebody to have empathy with you on that, and recognizing, hey, we’ve got that common ground there. And so I would challenge the two of you to go for an ice cream together, and I want to hear what would happen. You got up and you’d have to come out with something you can’t be like, Oh, the wine shop down the street?

Anne Candido 42:54
Well, we’ll report back, Rob, that might be a little bit of a longer

April Martini 43:00
cover it in the episode today. I have some unpacking to do there. Now. But I think the common ground thing, I mean, a couple of things that I took away is cluing into allow for the mindspace. Because I think that that’s huge in a really good first step and something that I think whether you’re a visual or verbal learner, you can understand how that might work inside your brain. And then, on the other side, seeking out the common ground, enough to realize that you can align motivators is basically what I’m hearing you say, right? So I had a boss one time who tried my patients like no other. And what it took was, I love your thing about tell me more about that. I knew that I was not going to be able to and it took several conversations, respond appropriately, because we were at such odds with each other. But once we did the exercise, and I tell me more about that wasn’t exactly it. But I was sitting and listening and asking and asking and asking and really employing a lot of the research techniques that I had been trained in over the years, we finally got to the place where we both really did want what’s best for the business. And so anytime I had those sorts of triggering moments, I would go back in my head to remember, fundamentally, you’re after the same things to now what are you going to go and do about that? So yeah,

Anne Candido 44:24
yeah, that’s a really good one. I also like, you know, the other person doesn’t have to be wrong in order for you to be right to. So I mean, your hair, your hair can hold multiple, quote, unquote, rights. And that doesn’t mean you know, that only has to be one. So I think that’s a really good lesson for us to learn to because we’re so intent on making people see our point of view and for our point of view, to have to be the point of view, that is quote, unquote, right? And therefore everybody else has to be wrong. So and I think I mean, that’s a really it’s this whole the all the questions, I think it’s a really Good set up for the last point, which is to ask the questions, right? I mean, Rob, obviously, this one is all you because this is basically what your book is about. But just to kind of set this up, which is the point about not assuming, right? So when we assume things about other people, and we assume their attend, and we assume that they’re not in a for the right reasons, that’s just kind of creates that environment that it’s really hard to find a common ground, it’s really hard to be empathetic, and really, to build those relationships that we need both for ourselves to survive and to achieve our goals and dreams, and then our businesses as well. When you think about, you know, asking good questions. I like that, because it’s a little bit more active than saying, just don’t don’t assume things. I mean, we say that all the time. But asking good questions, makes us feel like we’re in the actual process of engaging. So I like that a lot better. So Rob, I’d love to hear a little bit more about what you have to say about how do you ask good questions. What are the good questions, obviously, tell me more is one that definitely works. We use it a ton, but love to hear a little bit more of your your point of view on this one?

Rob Volpe 46:11
Yeah, so a couple of big things. So one is asking more open rather than closed questions. So it’s not a yes, no, maybe. And try not to ask a leading question. And a leading question is one that’s designed to basically reaffirm your worldview or your position, and might lead the witness so to speak. So if you think about a courtroom drama, when lawyers are objection, leading the witness overruled, or sustained, whatever, that’s when that that lawyer that’s interrogating asking the questions is trying to get the witness to say what they want to hear, instead of the truth, or what is actually right and true. And we when we’re talking to people or colleagues, if you’re going to try to understand find common ground understand their point of view, you’ve got to ask open questions. An example of a leading question would be, how do you think the skills you’ve learned on this podcast are going to apply to your job? I’m assuming that people are going to picked up skills from this podcast versus how do you think asking the question is, how do you think you might use what you heard on the podcast today? Because somebody might say, Oh, I’m just made me hungry for ice cream or wine? Or

Anne Candido 47:28
ice cream with wine?

Rob Volpe 47:31
Or ice cream? Wine flavored ice cream? Yeah, yeah. So there’s, which might be our solve actually doesn’t have alcohol in it? That’s the question. Just enough? Depends, I guess, on the time of day, so yeah, I wouldn’t be assuming that somebody is going to take skills away, you want to just ask openly Hey, what do you think of the episode and what you hear? And how might it apply to your job and then hear what they have to say? The other really huge one that can be game changing for people is to eliminate the word y from your vocabulary. Y is the thing we all need to understand and want to understand. And we have to understand why something happened. However, from the time that we were little kids and our caregiver or parent asked us, Why did you draw on the wall and marker. And suddenly, we learned very quickly, if I don’t give a rationalized answer to this punishment will be involved in some form, either physical, emotional, or whatever. So I better give a really good answer. Well, that continue to follow us through our childhood into school into adulthood, whether it’s a romantic relationship, or work, people are always asking us why it puts us on the defensive. If you just reframe the question and use who, what, where, when, or how, and ask the question in a different way, you’re gonna get a much more authentic open response, instead of challenging somebody with the word why? Because whenever you hear the word why there’s a little bit of like, shrink back, or what should I say? I don’t want to get in trouble. I hope this is the right answer. versus, you know, hey, tell me what was going on with that report, too. I noticed it took a little longer to get in, versus Why are you late on this report? Well, obviously, I added some tone to it. But the way you hear those two questions, you’re gonna answer very differently. And you need to understand from your teammate, your direct report, whomever, if they’re having issues, maybe there was something in that report that they were struggling with, but if you ask it as a why, they’re not going to be able to answer it as honestly. Yeah, I

April Martini 49:52
totally appreciate that. I mean, why feels like an accusation. And it’s based on all the things you just said of how we grow up and how we live Learn to internalize things. I also liked the point about being a little bit more collaborative in the way that you ask. So the Tell me more, or tell me how this happened or helped me understand that those types of things, I think, set a proper tone for people to be more open and vulnerable and honest, quite frankly. I mean, I see this already with my kids. When I say to your example, why did you use a permanent marker that now stain the counter? Right, the shrink back? Versus we’ve talked about this before? Explain to me why you thought that was the option or whatever, you know, that’s a silly example. But I do think it is through the proper lens of empathy. And also, I think it’ll get you to the honesty and openness much faster, which then allows us to be a lot more empathetic in total.

Rob Volpe 50:58
Yes, totally. 100% a plus. Yes.

April Martini 51:03
Like me, I got the gold star there. All right.

Anne Candido 51:07
Now, I also think I’m good questions tend to also relate to how people feel about certain things, too. Right. So can you tell me a little bit about how you’re feeling about that. So that helps to get to some of the motivators that we talked about before. So that’s another one that I’ve used before. I feel like because it’s the one to put in your arsenal, your toolkit is a good question.

Rob Volpe 51:27
Right? And back to that example, I gave you the grumpy boss or whatever. That’s a great question. Hey, tell me a little more about how you’re feeling about this, or how you’re thinking about this decision or situation that’s facing us versus going. Why did you say that in the meeting?

Anne Candido 51:43
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. No, I love this. This has been a fantastic conversation. So our last segment, is really to talk about a brand that’s leveraging their marketing smarts or not. And when we have a guest, obviously, we bring the guests on, because they are. And so Rob, we’d like to turn this last section over to you and just have you wrap up, wrap us up. Give us any other insights. And maybe we missed any key points you want people to take away too, obviously, tell them where they can find you where to find your book.

Rob Volpe 52:13
Yeah. And thank you guys for having me. This is awesome. And I can’t wait to hear what you get for ice cream whenever that happens. So yeah, I mean, I think yeah, brands that are struggling, the big one right now that struggling with empathy, in particular is Bud Light. And the controversy that’s been going on with them with the promotion with Dylan Mulvaney, the trans actress, and then the response from the social conservative fan base. And I think there’s empathetic failure happening where they didn’t understand didn’t necessarily, and I will not on the inside. So I don’t know, officially, but my observations are, they weren’t anticipating how other sides were going to respond in such a highly charged environment that we’re all living in right now. And then their messaging out afterward has been kind of mealy mouthed, in my opinion. It’s not supporting one side or the other. They’re trying to walk down the middle. They’re not necessarily doing it with empathetic language. They’re like, we didn’t mean to cause a big, you know, conversation, instead of saying, you know, what, we believe in all Americans and the right for all Americans to, you know, celebrate their successes and their achievements, whether it’s, you know, a year of a new identity, or it’s something you know, they’ve had a hunting trophy prize, something I don’t know, I’m being really stereotypical there. But there was that lack of empathy, like they didn’t elevate the conversation up, which is, I think, the opportunity for them. And now, two marketing executives have been suspended. And they’re tripling their advertising budget I’ve heard for the summer to try to make up on the last volume that they’ve had, I think sales were down 17 or 21% for the month of April. So yeah, empathy challenge there. And that’s a really hard one for them. I’m not I don’t want to just bash them for the sake of bashing them. I think they’re in a really difficult situation right now. So I think they’re there. They’re working through that. But I want to leave you with where people can find me to continue that conversation and start others. Please find me on LinkedIn. First of all, Rob Volpe, you’ll see empathy activists like right there at the beginning, would love to connect people they’re also on Instagram and on TikTok, I’m @EmpathyActivist, put a lot of content up there as well. The book is available where ever you buy books and on your preferred platform. So there’s a hardcover. There’s an audio book that I narrated. There’s also an e book. So Amazon, your local bookstore, Barnes & Noble all the places and then to learn more about me, you can go to We have a link to The Ignition Engine there, which is that training that I had mentioned. And you can also learn more about me and my own personal page, which is currently five steps to

Anne Candido 55:10
Awesome. And why don’t you tell everybody what the name of the book is? One more time

Rob Volpe 55:13
it is called Tell me more about that solving the empathy crisis one conversation at a time.

Anne Candido 55:20
I love it. It’s up there. I got it. Oh, Rob, it’s been a pleasure to have you. So thank you so much for joining us for this conversation. It’s been a joy and I think we all got a chance to exercise and practice some empathy and me and April take that and we will take on they will get back to you. But just to recap four ways of better practice empathy in the workplace, or anywhere, including the ice cream parlor, I guess. So, first, is get over the judgment. Whenever you’re tempted to quickly dismiss a person their POV or feedback ask yourself why then acknowledge your response without judgment. Second, is understand and appreciate other people’s motivators. We can’t achieve our goals and dreams without the help of other humans. So we must understand how we can create mutually beneficial outcomes in order for everyone to succeed. Third is a seek to find common ground, other people’s point of views are as important to them as yours is to you. So therefore, the best path to success is to work for common ground vs a win-lose scenario. And finally, ask good questions. Or the flipside is that don’t assume but be curious with the intent to learn about others and what that will say go and exercise your marketing smarts.

April Martini 56:32
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