How to Become an Empathetic Leader
This is a game that we're very excited about called empathy telephone and the way this is going to work is similar to sounding board. We've already done sounding board, where we were trying to really kind of just maybe be the sounding board with one word. Just kind of knock that one word back across the table tennis net, if you will. With this game, not unlike telephone, which I'm sure you've played as a kid, we're going to try to absorb as much as the person says and repeat it back. So do you know the game telephone? Have you played any kind of iteration of it? I'm sure you have. Areena, have you done that?
I've done some. I'm not sure it is the same thing--
As what you are saying.
I was seeing that you were like, "Go on." (laughing) This game of telephone. You mean texting? What's happening? So basically, what someone's going to do is they're going to talk about something that's challenging or frustrating for them to another person. And then that person is going t...
o try their best to repeat it back because sometimes when someone comes to you with a problem, they want you to just listen. And sometimes when they come to you with a problem, they may want you to help them solve it, maybe not solve it for them. But in this particular interpretation of how we want to empathize with someone and be inclusive around someone that maybe we work with or is a friend, we're trying to come to an understanding more than anything. And a great way to let someone know that you understand is to let them know that you heard them correctly, which is easier said than done because if you're not present, and you're not actively listening, and you're not taking in what they're saying and feeling, and you're running through "how can I fix this? Or "oh, that never happens to me. "Gosh, that must be terrible." Whatever weird thoughts you have, you can't quite hear them. You can't quite absorb what they're going through. So that's all this exercise is really about. And I would love for two people to get up and help us try it out.
And the great thing, this is really putting together some of the other things that we've done today.
It's very simple. One person's gonna talk about something. And the other person is just going to hear them and repeat those words--
They're making eyes at each other.
As best as they can.
There's a eyebrow peer pressure.
Areena and Alba, give them a round of applause. (applause)
So let's pull.
Getting the stools again. I love that.
Let's pull the stools out. They're here.
It's nice to, I'll have you guys sit for a bit.
So let's define who is going to be the person who is sharing something and who is going to be the person who is kind of playing a little bit more of the empathy telephone game and repeating back what they said. So who would like to share first?
What would you like to do?
I don't know.
What do you feel more comfortable doing?
I don't care (laughs).
All right. Alba--
You will have to assign.
Let's have you share.
And what do I do?
Thank you for being so polite to each other. So I would love if the nice people in the booth, we could have a minute on the clock. We have a timer and if we could have that in the next few seconds, that'd be fantastic. Great.
What do I do?
So she's going to speak about something for a minute, maybe less. It doesn't really matter. Just wanted to give you a point of reference. And then you're going to then say something along the lines of it. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I want to give you some prompts that may help you. After she's done speaking, even if you don't get to a minute, Alba, I want you to say, Areena, something along the lines of, "If I'm hearing you correctly, you're saying" or "you're feeling" or "what you're going through is" and you're just gonna try to say almost exactly what she said. The goal of this is not to memorize it and there's gonna be a buzzer that goes off if you get a word wrong. It's just to practice something that's very simple but actually pretty challenging in the moment, which is, "Did I hear what they said and did I understand "what they said they felt or am I getting anything "from the way that they're speaking "that is telling me how they're feeling?" So we're gonna do that where you're basically gonna share and then you're gonna kind of pitch back or share back to her. And then we're gonna do it again in a smaller increment of time just so you can say, "Yes, yes, again, "what I am feeling and what I'm saying is" and you're gonna kind of go down to a smaller increment of time trying to come to an understanding. We're not trying to come to a solution together. You just want to feel heard. And you want to hear her correctly. And that's really all this is about. So does that make sense to the two of you?
All right. So a minute on the clock. You don't have to use the whole minute, but it's just there as a point of reference.
So I have a son and a daughter. And my daughter has two. My daughter and her husband have two little boys that I'm very involved with. I'm involved with both my children as well as these two little guys. And my daughter is seriously considering moving to a different location. They live about 10 minutes from my house. And I take care of one of my grandchildren one day a week and I take care of the other one a few hours another day. I'm a little worried about that. I'm worried about the situation that she has. She, I think, the house needs repairs, and she's done a lot to it.
Wonderful, thank you. That was a minute of her sharing this. So now put a minute back on the clock for you to just try to tell her you heard her and you don't, again, have to get it all correct. You're just trying to understand.
So you live very close to each other. And the proximity gives you the opportunity to spend a lot of time both with your children and with your grandchildren. And you enjoy it a lot?
That means a lot to you. And the prospect of them moving away makes you feel quite frustrated and upset because you worry it will impact the ability to spend more time with them.
Great. So that's 30 seconds. We can stop the timer. So you can respond however you'd like. Do you feel like she understood what you said?
I feel as though you understood the situation really well. I don't feel frustrated at all. I feel mainly worried about what it will be like. Will I be able to be as close and be such a active role in my grandchildren's lives?
Wonderful. So let's pause for just a second. Which is why it's important in this exercise and in the context of this class that we really just repeat back what they say because that is when we go a little bit off track with what we're trying to do when we're trying to just be there for someone. As that sometimes we are projecting onto them a way that they're feeling based on how they're feeling or how they said something. So no one has done anything wrong. This is all about trying to come to an understanding and being an empathetic person. But in this context of this particular exercise, do your best to just try to say what they said. Because if they said it, they mean it to a certain extent. And maybe their body language or their emotions are contradicting what they're saying. But we're not here to say what that is right now or try to get into the psychology of it. We're just trying to practice what it feels like to just repeat and say, "If I heard you correctly, you said." And then that person can say, "Yes, you heard me correctly." And there is a feeling of empowerment from just being heard correctly, but it's a hard thing to get really good at. We just have to practice. So let's do it one more time. And let's actually flip roles. Let's flip roles. And let's put 30 seconds on the clock if we could. Thank you. And you're going to tell her about something that's challenging for you. And then you're gonna try your best, Alba, to just say, "If I'm hearing you correctly, "if I'm understanding it right," whatever you want to say as the prompt. And just try to use the words she used. It's not gonna be memorized, again, but don't add any emotions or any kind of feelings or project any kind of attitudes onto it. So go ahead.
Sometimes I'm being asked, I don't live in San Francisco, I live nearby and people all assume that I spend a lot of time in San Francisco. However, it's not easy to do because coming to the city is so difficult in terms of finding the parking and finding the spot in a reasonable distance from where I want to go. And the parking in the city is getting ridiculously expensive.
Perfect. Thank you for sharing. Now, let's just repeat it back to her.
Coming to this city to do things, participate in things is a real challenge. That's what I'm hearing. And part of what I heard is that it's difficult, more difficult for you, because of other people's expectations that should, that it's casual or easy. While for you, because you live outside the city and have to deal with parking and things, it would be nice if there were more understanding from others.
All right, give them a round of applause. Very good. (applause) You can take a seat.
Did I get it?
Let's chat about that for a second. Very good job. And it's funny, this is essentially, a twist for the reasons in this class on a child's game. But it is incredibly challenging. We are really, really, really wired to try to put our experiences into someone else's or fix things, and there's nothing wrong with that. We all do it. But in this game and in this exercise, it really teaches you just hear it and just say it back as well as you can. But let's talk to them first. How did it feel to share something and have someone kind of repeat it back as best as they could?
It felt great. I really appreciated it your listening and being there. It's always a little challenge for me to be self revealing and so that was hard in front of the whole group, but I really appreciated being heard. And I appreciated having you reflect back and then being able to refine what my feelings were. And having you there to listen to that. I appreciate it.
Wonderful. How did you feel?
It was hard for me to find the point of frustration. To share. But it was interesting when Alba was reflecting back what she heard. And when she said about expectations from the other people, at that point I realized that yes, that's probably what makes me more frustrated, not just the parking itself, but the expectations. It's probably some underlying things which was happening, but I didn't really put it in words. And now it gives me a different dimension to think of that frustration for myself.
Great, thank you for sharing. Let's talk to you just for a second. What did you hear? Did you feel like they did a good job of just being present, listening, and as best as they could repeating back what they had heard without trying to mold it into something different? You felt like they did pretty well? Yeah? Thumbs up--
From the empathy machine. (laughing) Wonderful.
Also, I really appreciate. I want to amplify something that Alba said about the opportunity then to correct the feeling or to even just say we're close but that's not quite what I meant. If that's what I said, that's not what I meant. And that opportunity to refine it with someone in a way that wasn't emotionally charged was really nice to see and experience too. And I think how nice that would be to share that with someone and be able to just say, "That's not quite what I mean." And it isn't that the person misinterpreted. It may be that that's how it came out of me. So I love that opportunity to refine. And then we talked about imagine what happens if you're my coworker, my colleague, and you bring this to me, and now I have to go share that with someone else. It's really important that I heard you correctly so that if I'm representing your voice to someone else in a different situation, that I'm really representing those feelings and that experience in a way that isn't my interpretation of those, that's really accurate. It really holds that in a steam. That I'm saying this is what I heard and this is what I understood so that I can share it up the ladder, perhaps, or with someone else or work towards solving the problem within the group that we're working with.
Yeah, I think that's a fantastic application, the most practical application in the workplace, and also a very objective way of communicating with people that you work with because we all have our own things that we bring in, and the ways that we feel about situations and it's really, really difficult to kind of take yourself out of that equation sometimes. But just use this to practice just really hearing someone for what they said and not trying to write that script yourself 'cause it's actually pretty challenging.
It's pretty challenging to give it back to them in the way that they said it. So thank you so much.