How does empathy affect our decision making? We often think we are making decisions based on intellect but in reality we make many, if not all, decisions based on trying to feel or trying not to feel certain emotions. If you look forward to all of your emotions what will that do to your decision making?
"When you have empathy with someone, they are more likely to be open because they feel that you are with them, and you can't do anything to show it to them. You are just empathetic, and it just occurs."
Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment, where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease.
My name is Brett Kistler. I am an adventurer, entrepreneur and a self exploration enthusiast. I am here with my co-host, Joe Hudson. Joe is a business coach who has spent decades working with some of the world´s top executives and teams developing a unique model of human patterns that underpin how we operate with ourselves, each other and the world. A good entry point into this model is a mindset called VIEW, vulnerability, impartiality, empathy and wonder.
Through understanding and cultivation we learn to easefully drop into the VIEW state of mind, deepening self awareness and increasing our connection with the world around us. To learn more about this podcast or courses, visit artofaccomplishment.com
Brett: When we imagine a professional environment, we often see a world where emotions are held inside and remain unseen by others, filtered out as distractions. We might focus on the business stuff, that is the logistics and agreements that seem more relevant than the feelings behind them. Even in our personal lives, intense reactions from others can feel like a distraction from the connection that we want.
What if learning to be acutely aware of others' internal experiences, can give us more useful information than the words they speak? How can our personal and professional relationships change as we learn to notice and address the hurt behind an angry attack or the fear behind a hasty agreement? This is the practice of empathy, the E in VIEW. Joe, how do you define empathy?
Joe: It's so hard. Empathy is so much of a feeling, more than it is an intellectual understanding, but I would say it's being with somebody’s experience without losing yourself in it. That's what I would say empathy is. It's not watching somebody's experience and it's not wanting to change somebody's experience. It's being with them in the experience without losing yourself in it.
Brett: Give me an example.
Joe: Oftentimes when I'm working with clients, for instance, they'll be all agitated around something, and I'll just ask a simple question like, "Is this yours?" Recently there's some COVID anxiety that one of my clients is feeling and I was like, "Is this yours?" They just immediately dropped. They're like, "No, it's not mine." That's one way. That's why, kind of when you're in it.
The other way to define kind of what it isn't so to speak is, you see this all the time with babies crying. Baby starts crying and some people get instantly annoyed and some people can be with that crying, and that's really a deep expression of their capacity to have empathy in that moment. There's actually something biologically that happens too after a baby cries for an extended period of time. For a man, their testosterone increases. In those first couple of minutes of crying, our capacity to empathize with that child or be agitated by that child is really kind of that linchpin.
Brett: Okay. You said earlier this question, is it yours? What do you mean by that?
Joe: Yes. Oftentimes, highly empathetic people go beyond empathy, the way I would define empathy. They would go beyond it and then they're not being able to tell what's their emotional state and what's another person's emotional state. This really happens to people who were children of alcoholics or children of abuse, people who had to survive by knowing the emotional state of somebody when they walk into the room. They can very much get lost in the other person's emotions and think that they're theirs.
We have these things called mirror neurons in our brain, and they basically allow us to feel the state of other people on some level. Sometimes when we're feeling somebody else, we forget that we're feeling them, that it's not us that's feeling that way. In a weird way, we start feeling that way, so then it's really even more confusing because then you're like, I'm feeling it. If you ask yourself the question, is this mine, and then that can clarify a lot.
Brett: Yes. That makes a lot of sense. The idea of mirror neurons is a little bit interesting. The way I see it is, that basically our entire system, all of our consciousness is mirroring our reality in some way, mirroring and correlating perfectly with it and then losing ourselves or are we correlating with it and being with it and experiencing it and learning from it?
Joe: Yes. Mirror neurons in neurology is such a mystery still. What is it that allows-- Is it some form of mirror neuron that allows a whole bunch of birds to know how to turn at the exact same moment? There's something particularly around mammals, where most mammals communicate without any words, and so they're really relying on their ability to sense the experience of the other animals.
Brett: Yes, social nervous system. Tell me how practicing empathy will benefit us. What does this do for us?
Joe: Well, one of the great benefits is, that if anything that you have a hard time empathizing with, means that you have a hard time with that emotional state for yourself. That's fantastic because our decision making process is really based on emotions. If I take the emotional center of your brain away, you cease to make decisions, it would take you half an hour to decide what color pen--
We're really making decisions based on trying to feel or trying not to feel certain emotions, whether we like it or not, whether we think we're being logical or not. If that emotional center of your brain gets taken away, you still have all the intellect, you still have all the rationale, but you still can't make the decisions.
It really helps us clarify our decision making, it really allows us to help us be with our own emotional-- and to discover where we're having a hard time being with our own emotions. If you think about your life in this way, if you think about how much of your life has been decided by, "I don't want to feel like a failure," or "I want to feel like a success," or "I don't want to feel unhappy," how many decisions have you made based on that criteria and to be able to be with all of your emotions, what will that do?
If you look forward to all of your emotions, what will that do to your decision making and how does it change your emotional state? If I have sadness and I don't want to feel it, it feels very different, than if I have sadness and I want to feel it. Those are a lot of the things that'll benefit us on an inward perspective.
Externally, obviously, people like it when other people are with them. If you think about your friends and the people you feel closest to in the world, you can find that they're more able to be with you than people who you don't particularly like. If you look at your friends and you say, what is it about your friends that you want to have changed, oftentimes, it fits into the category of their inability to be with you or see you for who you are. There's that whole thing, too, where it's just, we want to be empathized with, most of us want to be empathized with. It just creates a deeper connection, more loving, more capacity to love.
Brett: Yes, it seems like the first half of what you described as feeling into our emotions to find out where our thoughts and rationale are coming from, and then in others being able to see behind that, too. If somebody is presenting you with a solution or an idea, whether it's a business context or in a relationship, to be able to see behind that, what the feeling is that that's coming from can allow you to address a deeper root cause or need.
Joe: Yes, at least it gives you the capacity to do it. Sometimes people get upset if you do that. [chuckles] It's like, "Wow, it really doesn't seem like you're angry, it seems like you are hurt." "No, I'm not." You know that kind of-- but generally, it goes pretty well and people want to deal with the underlying thing.
So many logical arguments are really not at all about the logic. It's not really about the tactics or the facts. I mean just look at most public discourse. It's not really about the facts. It's about the emotional state of people and their fear, and what they need and what they want and what they are angry about. Yes, to be able to connect with people on that level and to not tell them that they need to be different, but to actually be with them, it's a huge capacity. It really allows you to have a much deeper authentic relationship or communication with people.
Brett: I think the public discourse is a great example, because a lot of people get so triggered around other people believing different facts than them. I think that that's really just coming from a lack of feeling seen, a lot of that.
Joe: Yes, or feeling that they are out of control in their world, or they are helpless or that there's forces beyond them that are controlling them or so many emotions are happening there.
Brett: Earlier you said this a couple of times, "To be with somebody in their experience without losing yourself." How do you prevent that?
Joe: The easiest way to do it, I mean it's just a really simple way. Just put some attention in your own body while you're with somebody. If you happen to be that type that has that deep empathy and you lose yourself in the person, the traditional way people do it is, they become defensive, just whole level of defense, and they are like "No." That works, but it doesn't allow you to be empathetic. It just prevents you from getting lost in them.
To be empathetic in a successful way is to maintain a certain amount of your awareness in your own body. Like right now when you're listening to me, you could also be paying attention to the bottom of your feet or you could also be paying attention to how the sound of this podcast feels in your inner ear. Then that allows you to be with yourself while listening to me and being with me and my experience. It's about as easy as that, just putting some attention in your own body.
The other more intellectual way is to just be aware of when it's happening. I think that's the biggest challenge for most people is that they just don't know when it's happening. A great sign that it's happening is, if you buy into the story of whatever anybody is saying. Let's say you have a friend and they are like,"Oh, my boyfriend, and dah, dah, dah, dah, and the world and my boss and dah, dah." If you're like, "Yes, you've been victimized and we need to do something about it." Pretty much you're in them now or just the opposite. "These people are bad and dah, dah, dah," yes, then you are in them if you buy into the story.
If you are with them emotionally, but you know that the story that they are telling is true within their context, but not true within everybody's context, then you're pretty much not lost in them.
Brett: Yes, this sounds very non-intellectual and a lot of people are going to want to try to understand this more. What would you say to folks who want to understand or analyze emotions or just have that tendency or just want to analyze this process?
Joe: [laughs] Yes, you are screwed is what I would say. [laughs] I mean we can tell you a good story. We're doing it right now. We are telling you good stories about it, but it's not going to really help. Empathy is a felt sense. It's like, say, you close your eyes and you know where your left foot is. That's called proprioception. It's knowing where your body is in space. How do you describe that logically? You can describe what it is logically potentially, but you can't really describe how to do it logically.
Similar with going to the bathroom. How do you know when you are done going to the bathroom? Where is the logic? Are you measuring something? Are you timing it? There's just a felt sense, "Oh, that's done." It's the same thing. Empathy is a felt sense and felt sense can't really be described by the intellect with any kind of accuracy. It's like looking at color. How do you describe seeing green? It requires a label that is arbitrary.
Logic isn't really going to do any good here for that, and it's why it's so easy to dismiss things like empathy and energy or whatever words people are using. There's a felt sense to it, and I think you find this in a lot of things, prayer, or meditation. It's really easy to dismiss those things even if you hear the logic behind them, until you feel them. Then once you have a felt sense of what prayer can do, whether you believe in a God or not, or what the felt sense of believing in a God is like, and what the felt sense of not believing in a God is like.
All those things, they are a very felt sense. You can argue it night and day, but it's why nobody changes their mind on this stuff until they have a change of felt sense. If you want a logical conversation about empathy, go and feel people. Go and be empathetic and stay in yourself while you do it. That's a far better way, just experiment.
Brett: That is true across all of these VIEW podcasts. These are all pointers, intellectual pointers to something that you ultimately need to feel into and experience.
Joe: It's why oftentimes in these conversations they could be logically contradictory. It's because we're just creating frameworks that make it easier to feel into or realize something. It's not about telling it like a truth. [chuckles] It's not like there's one way, or there's something that's right here. There's just, “How do you want to be?'', is the question and that question isn't answered with logic.
Brett: Just feeling our way beneath any fear response we have, which brings me to another question. We have been talking about losing yourself in the other person, not being empathy as you are defining it.
Losing yourself in another person sounds a lot like the flight-fear response that we've discussed before, like fleeing from your experience into theirs to try to fix it. Then you'll dive into a story about why they have that experience. Then you'll create some idea of who's the abuser of the tyranny or the victim. I imagine there's something equivalent that we do in the fight-- in the freeze responses as well. How do these other forms of fear impact our ability to be present with others in their emotions?
Joe: Yes, if you think about it from an evolutionary sense, we have fear. If you are really scared, it's really not time to empathize. That part of your brain goes offline and your fear response comes online. If you are in flight, like you said, you're looking at the world around you, the environment, and the actors in that environment, and you're trying to figure out how to manage those.
If you are in fight, then immediately that emotion that you're starting to feel in your system is going to make you angry and you are going to try to stop it, like the angry person on a plane when the kid starts crying, and the freeze response is the disassociation. It's like a checking out. You can just watch the eyes kind of haze over. It makes sense when we are in fear, it's really hard to have any empathy at all.
Brett: How do you prevent this fear response, or let it pass through you? What do you do with this, when you know a deep bodily patterning to fear in a particular business context or a relationship context?
Joe: Yes, you feel it. That's the trick to all of this stuff. It's like, how do you feel the emotion? When I say feel it, I don't mean be taken away by it. You know there's just some saying that I heard the other day, it was beautiful. I think it's from some supreme court judge. I don't know, but it said, "I wouldn't give you a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I'll give you my whole world for the simplicity on the other side of complexity."
What it's speaking to, is that before we start our learning process, things are pretty simple, then we start learning processes that get really complex and somewhere along the line, it gets very simple again. With emotions, it's very simple for a two-year-old, "I feel angry, and so I'm going to yell at you or punch you."
Then there's the complexity of actually learning what those emotions are, what's happening, identifying them in your body, feeling them, expressing them in a way that doesn't hurt people, letting them move without resistance, finding out that they're very similar to one another, finding out that you can love all of them. Getting to the other side is, "Wow, you just have emotions again," and they're just fluid, except for, you're not run by them. You're not controlled by them. You're not hurting other people with them.
The only way to do that is to actually learn how to feel the fear. If you have a fear response, feel it and invite it in. Don't put it at anybody. Most fear is not wanting to feel something, which is pretty cool when you think about it, like "I'm scared that I'm going to get fired," but if I told you, "Hey, if you get fired, you're going to feel awesome," would you be scared of [chuckles] being fired anymore? It's really us not wanting to have emotions that we're at the core very scared of. When I say feel the fear, I mean welcome it. I really mean like invite it in, breathe it in.
Brett: What's a good way to tell in the moment, if we're working on empathy and how do we tell if what we're feeling in the moment is true empathy and not one of these coping mechanisms or distortions? Another one that comes up is sympathy. There's a lot about how sympathy and empathy are different and often confused.
Joe: It's a wonderful question. The main thing is, are you putting yourself outside-- It's not quite outside, I guess it's above the other person. The differences in, when you're putting yourself above the other person, like subtle ways. Like you want to fix them, but for you to fix them, you have to be less broken, or you want to help them not feel it, which is assuming that you're not feeling it is the better solution.
Brett: That means buying into another story and being that story like, "Oh, yes, fuck that guy."
Joe: Exactly. It's just you're with them. When you're with somebody the way that we all want to be with, it's like we're supporting. We are with, but we are not saving. There's this great phrase that, I think it was from an Aboriginal community or a native community in South America, and says, "Hey, if you're here to help me, no, thank you, but if you're here to work together on our mutual freedom, let's get to work." That's really the essence of it.
Brett: Another thing that happens a lot is that being empathic is often associated with being manipulable or easily taken for an emotional ride. How could it be that deepening our empathy in the ways that we've been talking about makes us less likely to fall into a fear response and abandon our needs or our boundaries?
Joe: You get that fear a lot from people, they're like, "Oh, if I empathize, then I'm going to fall for them." I think that what they're thinking about that person who's fully into the other person's reality and they've lost themselves in it. If you do that, you're more likely to be taken advantage of. If that's what the person wants to do on the other side or is capable of doing, but in all cases, we don't want to feel something, if we're allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of, "I'm going to sell you this magic pill and it's going to make you skinny in two days." If you buy that, it's because you don't want to feel something anymore or you definitely want to feel something.
There's something that you want to feel or scared of feeling to allow yourself to be taken advantage of. To have empathy, it really requires you to be willing to feel whatever is arising for yourself and that other person. It actually prevents you from getting taken advantage of, because you're welcoming of everything and you're not trying to get rid of it. It doesn't matter whether you're non-empathetic or like, "I'm not going to feel that person." That means you don't want to feel shit. It means that you can be taken advantage of pretty easily. Just look at the most non-empathetic people on our planet. They are the most likely to be manipulated by politicians or authorities or advertising.
Then the other side of that is someone who's totally like in that other person's world. Then they're going to sacrifice themselves for it, but if you're actually like, "Oh, I can feel you, I can be with you, and whatever you throw at me, I can feel I can be with." What makes you need to do anything that is contrary to your truth?
Brett: It seems another example of that is in a business relationship where somebody is coming at you with a bunch of emotion and making you responsible for something that you're not responsible for. If you're with them in that emotion, but you're like buying into their full story, then you're going to think that they're entirely right. You're going to lose your boundaries and be taken for a ride.
Joe: Absolutely. If somebody thinks that you're bad and you get locked into their emotion, then you start thinking you're bad, that's exactly a great place where you're going to be taken advantage of by somebody who doesn't think they're taking advantage of you. It's by somebody who feels like they're a victim in that moment typically.
Brett: Back to what you were saying about the people who are the least empathic are the ones that are most likely to be taken for a ride. Many of us simply don't seem to feel emotions in others as much as we'd like. When we start doing this kind of work is when we start to notice this.
When I started to work with you, I experienced certain emotions and others when we were doing exercises. I was watching them as an ant colony. I could see and recognize the patterns, but I wasn't in it with them. Like, "Oh, I didn't have an alcoholic father. That's not my problem." I can see what that does in you, and now I can see your problem. I think I can try to analyze how to fix you. How can we tell the difference between observing someone's experience in a non-empathic way and genuinely being with them?
Joe: The body is the telltale sign here. I think I remember that when we were working together and you're doing that, and I believe I came up and shook you a couple of times. Then you could feel a different way. There's a rigidity that happens in the body when you are trying not to feel, no matter how you're trying not to feel, whether it's by creating distance or disassociation, which is somewhat of what you were doing, being the watcher or wanting it to stop, any one of them. It just creates rigidity in the system. This often happens in the belly, shoulders, jaw is locked oftentimes when I do a workshop, like this one. I'll walk around and I'll hit people's jaws, so that like tap their jaws to remind them they're holding all this tight, or their belly is really tight.
That's the main way, is to keep your body loose and you'll have to feel it. Our feelings are a muscular thing. Our feelings live in our muscles. If you're the person who was told you can't get angry and you are not angry, all the time now, and anytime anger comes up, you either give it to yourself or suppress it really badly, your muscles have to contract in such a way and become distorted in such a way. It's why there's a whole science behind just watching how somebody walks into a room, you can tell a tremendous amount of their upbringing.
Once you know what you're looking for and you've experienced it yourself, the way a person's face is, you can tell what emotions they want to feel, or they don't want to feel. By the way they hunch their shoulders, by the way they tuck their butt, by the way that they hold their lips, how they purse them when certain things come up. It is why we have body language and it's why we have micro-expressions.
Brett: Something I've noticed over doing this work is, that I've started to detect when somebody is disconnecting from me in a conversation. I can roll back a little bit and recognize that I had actually disconnected from them, then they're responding to that. It's as though the feeling for them is the difference between being with a good friend who's there with them and their experience, and being with a shrink who's psychoanalyzing them.
I think that happens a lot for people who want to be there to help others. A lot of it comes from wanting to deal with their own pain, their own history. I think this happens a lot in therapeutic communities where people take the therapeutic role, but they're really analyzing and they're not being empathic.
Joe: It happens definitely in some places there. It happens just with a lot of people who find themselves like the savior or helper of their group of friends. You'll see a lot of that happen. The truth is what-- Sometimes what that is, is they're trying to manage their life by managing other people's emotional states. [chuckles] If you feel happy, I'll be happy. If you're not angry, I'll be happy. If you're in a good mood, I'm in a good mood, and A, it doesn't work and B, you can't change people's emotional states and C it's just far more enjoyable to be with them in the emotional state.
Brett: Which comes back to that self empathy thing we're talking about, like, as I've experienced my ability to actually have empathy with others has directly grown from my ability to actually feel that equivalent feeling in myself.
Joe: That's right, that's exactly how it works, is our capacity to love the parts of ourselves is directly correlated to our capacity to love the parts of other people and other people in general.
Brett: Sometimes being empathic with somebody and holding a highly charged emotion can leave us with a sort of static residue in our system. It can linger or put us on tilt. It takes time for integration, or just leaves us feeling that thing for days. For some people, this is really strong, the empaths.
The self-identified empaths will just avoid certain situations, because they are like, “I just can't handle that energy.” How can we navigate this and be deepening our empathy without closing ourselves off or avoiding situations, especially if we are frequently going from one high energy interaction to another in business or something else?
Joe: Yeah, I had to learn that really the hard way. For me, when I started coaching people and you know the depth in which the coaching can happen. I would go from that to a conversation with negotiating lawyers over points on a contract, and then back into a coaching session. I had to go into these big, highly charged things, one right after the other, and similarly when I do the seven day really deep retreats, it is like one emotional baseball bat after another in the best possible way.
Brett: With real baseball bats sometimes.
Joe: Right, but obviously not hurting anyway. It is something I really had to learn. The main thing is avoid it, and the way you avoid it isn't by not feeling the emotion. It is by being in your body. It's just putting some of your attention in your body while you are with other people and their emotions so you're not losing yourself. That's a huge thing.
If you do that, as you get better at that, that takes care of about 70% or 80% of the problem. Then the other stuff, it is really about grounding. It's about staying grounded, realizing what's yours and not yours. Your body and your breath is the best way to do this. Releasing whatever emotion residue you have, letting the tears flow, shaking it off, grounding yourself in the different ways people can ground themselves. There are some tai chi moves that can do that, yoga moves that ground you.
Brett: Just asking, “Is this mine?”, that was a really good one from earlier.
Joe: Yeah, is this mine? There are some things to calm the nervous system down, different breaths. There are all sorts of things you can look into. If you go into any kind of system that says how I ground, no matter what kind of system from functional medicine to this, you can find those things and they work really well.
My personal favorites are deep breath, walking barefoot, sitting in silence, meditation. Those things, I feel very grounded in those things. Massage will help me feel grounded probably quicker than anything else.
Brett: If you are going straight from a sprint planning meeting where everybody got in an argument, started yelling at each other, and you are carrying that energy straight into a performance review. You really want not to take that out on the person you are reviewing. You have got like five minutes between them.
Joe: First, I wouldn't buy into the story you have to. I would say I am not prepared for this meeting right now emotionally, and I would rather give you the actual emotional attention you deserve. Let's postpone it. That's one thing, obviously. For instance, if there's a big fight in the sprint meeting, I would probably enjoy it, because I could be with the anger and energy, and I would say look at all these people who really give a shit. They really care. They really want it done right, or they wouldn't be fighting.
Brett: Way better than a bunch of apathetic checked out people.
Joe: Exactly, and because I would be enjoying the tension, it would also change the dynamic in the room, the anger, because so much of the fighting that happens is based on a level of resistance, because unresisted fighting feels very much like clarity and decisiveness and a deep care.
Again, staying in your own physical sensation is a huge part to prevent it, but I mean literally just shake your body for two or three minutes between the meetings can work. Taking deep breaths can work. Getting in touch with what's aware of your emotional state instead of your emotional state can work. Yawning 10, 20 times in a row can work. Having a quick cry. Crying doesn't take very long. It can be a minute or two. All of those things can work.
Brett: Can you tell me a couple of stories about how empathy transformed a situation for you in a business context, something like this or different?
Joe: I remember a time when I was fundraising. I can't remember, somewhere in like the $10 million range of fundraising. I just noticed that I was with the person who I was talking to and I noticed that they were getting distant. I just said, “Wow, I notice you are getting distant. I notice something turned you off. What happened?” That is what allowed for a far deeper conversation about what they were looking for, what about my attitude had scared them. We could address it directly. I got to learn that I was objectifying the person probably a little bit more than I would want to. They could learn that they were in a past deal, not in the current deal in front of us.
That's a good example of one. Same thing, raising money, I have been able to empathize with the people on the other side of the table to realize they have objectified me or they see me as an employee rather than a partner. I don't want that. I think investors who see their investees as employees, they are dangerous. You can sense it by the way that they keep a distance from you or how they hold themselves emotionally with you instead of the way somebody who holds you as a partner. That has prevented me from having some really bad investors that way.
Another example is selling. Oftentimes you see in a sales process a customer goes into resistance, and the salesperson tries to convince them, which puts them into more resistance instead of saying be like, “I notice something is not working for you. What's going on? If this isn't working for you, I don't want you to do it. If it's not working for you, there's a potential there's a misunderstanding so I would like to clarify it. But I don't want you doing something you don't want to do, because then I just have an unhappy customer, and that's not good for business.” You can't really do that unless you can feel the person.
Brett: What are some other examples, like working with peers, for example, or within a team?
Joe: For instance, I hear something from managers all the time. They are like, “We all had alignment, and then nobody did it. We all agreed. We all sat in the meeting. We all agreed and nobody did it.” I always say, “In that meeting did you feel like they were excited?” “No.” I am like, “Okay, what stopped you from saying I don't feel the excitement in the room. What's preventing the excitement?” You can't do that with anything beside empathy.
If you are addressing the emotional reality instead of just the intellectual reality, because people, like I said, make decisions based on emotions. That's why people can all agree to something in a meeting, but if they are emotionally resistant, they are not going to go and do it. You can feel into that resistance, feel into where the excitement is, feel into what's being held, where the rigidity is in the room and clarify it. That makes things far more--
It's the same with product development. Kind of a famous thing where people spend a lot of money on a focus group, and then the focus group goes, “This is great!” Then the product fails, or vice versa has happened too. It is because they are asking them about emotional decisions through the intellect. Sometimes it works, but it's not a perfect translator. It's really feeling your customer. It's really feeling, what makes it important for them to buy it.
Henry Ford said, if I gave my customers what they wanted, I would have given them a faster horse, but you put a person behind the car, and you see them drive it and what happens to their face, and you see the way people look at them and what happens in their faces. It's pretty clear who is going to buy what.
Brett: I've always thought that one was interesting, the faster horse thing, because it's not really what they wanted. If you asked them what they wanted, if you asked them the solution that would have solved their problem, they might have bought a faster horse, but really what they wanted was better transportation.
Joe: Exactly. That's the exact point. The intellect is limited in its capacity to see what the emotions want. Transportation was horse and feet at that time, so that was the limitation of the intellectual part of it. But if you looked at the emotional experience, then you know there are other solutions.
Brett: I think this happens in product research all of the time. The research will be conducted in some way where it is like, what do you like better, the red plastic or the blue plastic, and you will get an answer. You will have a meeting where there's a graph that shows how much of the market wants this versus the other thing, but you missed the deeper question and the deeper emotional connection to the product.
Joe: That's exactly right. It's why there's a felt sense to great design. You see something designed with beauty and you feel it. You go, “That's beautiful!”, not just beautiful as in looking, but the design is elegant, and there's a felt sense to that. It makes it appealing to us. There's no way you are going to use the intellect to describe that, unless you have been trained in design for years.
Brett: How will we see our lives and our work change as we deepen our ability to feel our emotions and empathize with others? Some of these good examples are good examples, but what are some other things that would happen in our lives?
Joe: Decisions become more clear, because we are more likely to feel emotions and be happy to feel emotions. We start caring for people instead of care taking them, meaning we are not trying to make them feel better. We are just being in support of them and therefore we get that in return as well. You get more people who are happy to be with you. You also see the people around yourself, and you become more and more empowered. As you stop fearing all of these emotional states, then you just stand in your truth more and more and more. There's just a deeper level of empowerment that happens, for you and for the people around you.
One of these things, I was working with a CEO of one of the companies, and he tended towards care taking. Obviously, because he is care taking, there are a lot of people that fall into that victim thing in this company, and there was this victim mentality in the company because he felt responsible for them. As that changed for him, as he could be with people instead of taking care of people, all of a sudden the decisions that could empower them could start to be seen.
Instead of coming in and saying, “Here's how we are going to fix the world.”, he would say, “How do you want to fix the world? Clearly, you are unhappy. How are you going to fix it?” He would empower people to fix their own problems, and it changed everything for his company.
Brett: You can just use my name when you are talking about me.
Joe: That wasn't you. You were not the person in my mind when I was saying that.
Brett: I know, but I just felt it as like yeap, that's exactly been my journey. What else happens? A lot of times when we do these kinds of practices, there are shifts in our lives that are short-term uncomfortable or destabilizing. Is there anything like that that would happen with practicing deeper empathy?
Joe: As the emotions start to get felt and the resistance isn't worked through, it can be a bit turbulent. It's not the emotions that are uncomfortable. It's the resistance to them. There can be a little bit of turbulence. There can be moments of tears where you would prefer there weren't tears. They don't happen very often. They are pretty rare. People are like I am going to be crying all over the place. It is like I cried at this one place, and actually somebody came up to me and said something sweet. Yeah, it can be a little bit turbulent.
There's also this idea that if I allow my emotions, then they are going to take over me and control me. It's the projection you have been controlling your emotions, so you think they are going to control you. It doesn't happen like that. I have seen anybody at all of the thousands of people I've seen go through this process, I've never seen any of them who are like, “I am controlled by emotions now.”
Brett: Damn you, Joe.
Joe: Exactly. It has never happened. I would say that. The biggest thing is what we have really harped on, on this talk-- If you empathize with losing yourself, that can be really damaging. Learning how to be in your own body while you are empathetic is so critical. I just even recommend for the rest of the week, put some of your attention into your physical body during every conversation. See what that does to your world. It will rock your world, if you do that for every conversation for a week. It will just rock your world.
I just say it's important to take it slow. I would say if the emotional tube is kinked, just be gentle with the unkinking. Take it slow.
Brett: There's the wisdom in taking it slow, and there's also another side of that, that I can see. A lot of times these emotions are stacked on each other. You get beneath one of them, and you let yourself feel it. You might get yourself to feel the anger, but then if you don't feel the hurt underneath the anger, then a completely different thing starts controlling you. You get the disruptive thing going on in your life, and you are entering another pattern. There's like being gentle with yourself and taking it slow, and then there's being curious about how far down it goes and what's beneath this one I am not feeling.
Joe: I would definitely agree with that. To think there's an end is no good. It's not going to be servicing your journey at all, so seeing it as endless, being curious about it, being vulnerable with yourself about your emotional state, being impartial with how you feel. You can use all of those tools, and use it for this empathy. It might upheave and you might find yourself bawling, crying and shaking. All of that can happen while being gentle with yourself.
Brett: What are some ways empathy can go wrong? What does it look like if we are trying to be empathic, we aren't quite there so it is shallow or it is false? How could it be used directly as a weapon if somebody starts using these practices and they are like, “I could actually use this to manipulate people? What happens then? How does that look?”
Joe: Creepy, you can see it. The difference between a good interviewer and a bad interviewer is one is using real empathy and one is faking it, and you can tell. It makes your skin crawl on some level. It might work for some people, but it is only going to work on a small percentage of them where empathy creates connection consistently. You can use empathy as a tool. They do all these skills that are based on that, mimic their body language, nod yes when people speak, and blah, blah, blah.
Brett: Mirror the last three words of the thing they said.
Joe: Use their name in the front of sentences, and blah, blah, blah. You can do all of that stuff, but if you are not in empathy, it comes off as false, fake, and gross. We have all been with that person, but if-- you could do all of that stuff with deep empathy and then it's actually quite appealing. It is really the empathy that is appealing.
I think the reason those tools work when they do work, sometimes is, because they actually hack the mind into empathy.
Brett: They are disarming, and if the intent is to disarm, then it can get you closer to it, to disarm yourself that is, not to disarm the other person as a trick. So what are a couple of summary bullet points on how all of what we have discussed would apply to a VIEW conversation and practice with the rest of this course?
Joe: One of the things is you can ask questions. You can ask how, what questions that are based on nonverbal cues, on empathy. “Wow, it feels like you distanced yourself right there. What happened?”
You can say, “It looks like you don't agree with that. What's going on? What's happening with you right now? How did that feel?” You can ask questions like that, and people generally stay up on the intellectual and won't ask questions on the moetional.
Brett: And in a curious way. “I saw you disconnect there. I saw you disconnect there. I know it. Tell me.”
Joe: Empathy as an attack. That's right. Also, basically, you'll notice that, when you have empathy with someone, they are more likely to be open, because they feel that you are with them. You can't do anything to show it to them. You are just empathetic and it just occurs.
Like I said earlier, there's this creepy thing where people know you are managing them, and when they do, they back off. You don't have as much data. You don't get as much truth. You don't get to see the problem as it is. You don't get their ideas for solutions. With empathy, you get all that stuff. You get more data, and more ideas for solutions.
Brett: Or the solutions you get from them are actually their solutions to get you to stop managing them.
Joe: Exactly. Also, if you are in empathy, you can catch yourself being partial. If you are using empathy and you see somebody have an issue with you, you can be like, “I was being partial. I will catch my own partiality from being empathetic to their response to me.”
Brett: Like the way I was describing earlier, when I catch somebody rolling back, you are like, “Wait a minute, I see what I did there.”
Brett: As you close, I would love for you to tell us about an impactful experience you have had, that caused the deepest increase in your empathy for others in the shortest amount of time.
Joe: I want to give you two. The first one was, I was having this experience where I realized where I really just did not want to be with people who were having meaningless conversations. It was so annoying. “I was driving 65 miles an hour.” “Really, 65?” “Yeah, 65 miles an hour down to Santa Barbara.” Uh, it was so frustrating for me. I was like “What is it that I don't want to feel? What is it that's happening for them, for me that I don't want to feel?” I just opened myself up to it. It was awkward. I would be weeping in these conversations that were seemingly benign.
After two or three weeks of that, maybe a month of that, the personal recognition that came through it was so critical to my sense of self, that I had to be valuable. The idea that I might be spending time where I wasn't valuable, it was so hard on my system I didn't want to feel that kind of sense of worthlessness. That was an internal thing. Then to have the freedom to be worthless. “Oh yeah, I am happy to be worthless, and I am happy to be of value.” Having that freedom was tremendous.
Then my capacity to immediately be with people who were having that level of conversation happened, and what I realized is, even in that level of conversation, there are different forms of connection going on. There are different ways people are connecting that aren't verbal, that aren't about the immediate intellectual thing that's up front.
This one wasn't as quick, but it was bigger for me, which was getting in touch with Hand in Hand Parenting, which is really one of the main tools I learned empathy from. One of the tools in that is, it is called Parenting by Connection, and it allows parents to be deeply connected with kids, kids to feel deeply connected. The thought process is when kids feel connected, they naturally want to behave in a way that´s enriching for themselves and the family. All of the tribulations that we feel from children is just them being out of connection, and so how do you get them back into connection?
One of the tools, they have five very simple tools. One of the tools is, stay listening. It's like allowing the kids to have temper tantrums, and being with them in that temper tantrum and even encouraging it to move through and making sure it doesn't get stuck. I was not good with a lot of my emotions when I started doing Hand in Hand parenting. I got good with them really quick.
All of a sudden, I have a tremendous amount of emotional freedom I didn't have before. All of a sudden, my decision making got so clear, because I couldn't be with my child's temper tantrum until I could be with my own. I couldn't be with my child's anger until I could be with my own or their tears until I could be with my own. That process of empathizing and being with my children gave me so much more freedom.
Brett: How did these two stories impact your ability to have value for people?
Joe: I don't care. I mean if I were to look at it, seemingly I am more able to be more valuable to them, because I can be with them in a deeper way now, and I am not judging them or myself. That seems like that's probably more valuable. The bigger answer is it doesn't matter to me anymore.
Brett: I love that paradox, the driving wound of your first story to just not caring anymore, actually having that impact.
Joe: It was a great conversation. Thanks so much, Brett.
Brett: Yeah, thank you.
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