Practicing an Empathetic Perspective

Series 2: Episode 1 | 10 January 2023

Show notes | Transcript

Really good innovators and entrepreneurs have this ability to see things and connect the dots between different views. They are empathetic because they do not judge what it is. Rather, they ask themselves, “What is it? And what can we do with it?”

On today’s episode of the Circuit Breaker Show, Bob and Greg talk about the empathetic perspective in Bob’s new book, Learning to Build. Bob will explain why he does not like personas and why you need them. You’ll discover why the empathetic perspective is more art than science. You’ll also learn why you need diverse perspectives on your team and how different worldviews are connected.

When Bob wrote his book, he studied a lot of good innovators and entrepreneurs. You’ll learn how they anticipate problems before they happen. Greg will address the most difficult aspect of having an empathetic view of people. He will also talk about his experience working in an independent living facility. You will learn why it is easier to practice an empathetic perspective in a group setting than alone. You will see why Greg is known as “Bob’s Whisperer” You will also learn the steps you need to take to adopt an empathetic perspective.

You will discover several skills that are part of an empathetic perspective. Bob will explore some of the obstacles that prevent us from adopting an empathetic perspective. You will learn how Greg maintains an empathic stance with Bob and what is the most important thing you can take away from an empathic perspective.

Join us for this thought-provoking discussion.

Enjoy!

What You’ll Learn in this Show:

  • What is an empathetic perspective?
  • A teaser of a future episode
  • How good innovators and entrepreneurs see problems before they arise
  • The importance of being able to put yourself in someone else’s role
  • The importance of empathetic perspective in the workplace
  • Why Bob always asks unconventional questions
  • And so much more…

Hosts

Practicing an Empathetic Perspective – transcript

Greg Engle 
We realized we’re slap happy today. So hopefully you enjoy this podcast. What I want to really talk about is something that’s in your newest book, which is learning to build. We want to talk about empathetic perspective. So can you give me a brief description of what empathetic perspective is to you?

Bob Moesta
Yeah. So what, what I would say is, it’s the ability to see things from different people’s perspectives, or different lenses, molecularly, scientific lens, a person’s lens, it’s being able to see things in multiple perspectives around a specific topic, or item, or issue, or struggle, it’s the ability to surround something from 360 degrees or 720 degree, all the way around it. To me, good innovators and entrepreneurs have this ability to see things and connect dots between different views. It’s empathetic because they’re not judging what it is, it’s more like, what is it? And what do we do with it? It’s trying to be objective around it to understand, how do they feel? What do they see? What do they hear?

Greg Engle 
And so that would be something like if a company uses segmentation or personas, you want to be able to walk through each segmentation or persona with that empathetic lense?

Bob Moesta
I want to be able to see it, this is why I have a problem with personas is because they’re aggregated from a bunch of attributes. When I try to see what this person sees, they’re not a person, they’re a persona of something. They’re not real. 

Greg Engle
I think the important thing, whether you want to dog personas or not is you need to understand what that persona or that segmentation is, and you need to look through their eyes, you try to get it as authentic as possible. Knowing you still have biases,

Bob Moesta
You’re always going to have some biases, but I don’t want to dog personas. What I’m saying is personas are hard to develop from, and we need personas to help us buy media, it’s how all the channels are now specified by persona or by some set of attributes. A lot of this comes from how we buy media, but it doesn’t necessarily help me develop the product. If I don’t understand how somebody thinks about something, how they approach it, where they are. It’s more art than science in this case because you learn that playing the role of the other persons. When our job is to get their empathetic perspective and bring their view to the table. Not with our bias or as little of our bias as possible and our understanding, what are they thinking? where are they coming from? What are they trying to do?

Greg Engle
We’re going to do a podcast later about decision making and how decisions get made from a customer perspective of what’s the first framework we think you should use, then how are the other ones fit in. But I think with empathetic perspective, we want to make sure we’re talking how it’s important not to ignore different perspectives. 

Bob Moesta
You need diverse perspectives; you need diversity on the team. When I was at Ford, I had to understand what the assembly line people do, understand the service people, understand the end buyer of the car, all those things you had to consider as you went through this. Similarly, we might have different people’s perspective, we can also have different kind of scientific perspectives. We can have a molecular level, a macro level, a micro level, see things through space, through time, look backwards, look forwards. It needs to extend beyond people, but to think about how the different perspectives of the world connect, and ultimately, where are the gaps and where are the conflicts. Good innovators and entrepreneurs can see problems before they happen, because they have this ability to play the role of somebody else.

Greg Engle
In your opinion why is it important to have that because if I’m a good visionary, I can pick something out of the sky and do it. 

Bob Moesta
I think there’s three main reasons. 1 – At some point we’re not all going to agree on everything. Being able to understand where the conflicts are, or where the tradeoffs are that we have to make. 2 – Some perspectives might be more important than others, being able to understand where do we need to prioritize? That gets back to your point, (which we’ll talk about later) is decision making. 3 – When you forget about one of those perspectives, you have a very big problem. I loved the video, it was of them changing the oil on the new suburban, where it just pours all over the transmission. Nobody thought about how we had to change the oil. 

Greg Engle 
Yeah. I think when you do an exercise with empathetic perspective, and you have people in an amnesty, with the human aspects of it, which is different segmentations. You see people have ‘aha’ moments, you see people realize that there are other ways to solve this problem.

Bob Moesta
Yep. This is one of the reasons why I call it a skill because I think everybody has some form of empathetic perspective, when you plan a meal, or you think about a vacation, or you’re going to visit somebody, you’re thinking about what it’s going to be like and who else is going to be there, and what’s the dinner table and what else is going on. This is a fundamental skill, but you need to realize the more you can bring other perspectives into it, and start to see how things connect, that’s when the aha come.

Greg Engle 
Right. And you have to get out of your own comfort zone to do this. That’s probably the hard part for most people, everyone knows they have biases, but understanding when they’re coming out, I think is the skill or the practice people need to have to do this 

Bob Moesta
Can you tell a story, for example when you worked at the independent living facility, you have some interesting ways in which to think about different perspectives of people who walked in the door and how they had no idea what you were talking about. So you would think about the person that was coming in, about the caretaker that was bringing him in, all the different people that were involved. As you’re starting to sell to help them make the progress and it wasn’t about selling to them, it was about understanding where they were coming from and to realize here the tradeoffs they had to make. And so to me, you had some good ways in which to look at it in terms of being able to help make those decisions. 

Greg Engle
I do it empathically so it’s hard for me to break up the story but in that situation, what you’re talking about is, if you think about an independent living facility or think about picking out a place for your parents to go whether it be independent or assisted living or nursing care. There are multiple different things you have to take into account as that person making that decision for your parents, but then also as a salesperson. Hopefully you haven’t gone through this, but if you picture yourself as a child of someone that you’re putting into a facility, you can feel like you’re pushing your parents into a decision, feel like the bad guy, at the same time you can feel like the good guy, there’s all these different things. As a salesperson, you have to understand how to talk to the resident that’s coming in, understand how to talk to the child, or caregiver, you also have to know if there’s problems between different stakeholders in the family. Because a lot of times, unfortunately, siblings don’t see eye to eye, or you might have another relative that thinks they know a better way to do it. So you have to walk people through that, it is empathetic, thinking about it because you have to think about the tour, especially in independent living situation. You’re answering three different questions or problems at the same time, you’re trying to understand the needs of the resident or the person coming in, understand the needs of the caregiver, the anxieties of all those people involved. All in a singular event.

Bob Moesta
That’s right, that’s why it’s so hard, at the same time, if you have empathetic perspective, it’s not hard, it’s about slowing it down and making sure you’re hitting all the right points for all the different parties involved. Again, we all have this ability, but you can use this whether you’re developing product, whether you’re selling, whether you’re buying, or you’re planning something for somebody, or an event, all these skills come together. I don’t want to play out empathetic perspective is a unique skill, I believe we all have it, but I think there’s some people who are really good at it, and they explicitly try to get better at it.

Greg Engle 
I think everybody can do it, I also easier to do in a group than it is by yourself. The reason why I say that is because if you do it in a group, people can call out biases, when you do it by yourself you tend to fall into biases, when you don’t know you’re falling into biases.

Bob Moesta
We do it together, we do just about everything together. 

Greg Engle 
I tell teams I think development is a team activity because different people have perspective. Often not an exercise either, it’s just good listening. When you’re working in a team environment, and you have a junior engineer, and a senior engineer, being able to listen to both and being able to understand the problem from each because they have different experiences, they have different ways to tackle it. One might be more rigid in their thinking, and one might be less rigid. I’m not saying that the less rigid person is the person out of school, sometimes they are the most rigid people, you have to understand where they’re coming from, and what are those things that we’re doing, and listen to both and call each other’s biases out, just in order to solve a problem.

Bob Moesta
I would say is that our unique ability in having done this for so long, I can play you, and say here’s what Greg is going to say and you do the same thing to me, that word around the office you’re the Bob whisperer. I think the reality is the empathetic perspective is being able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, see what they see, hear what they hear or feel what they feel, and then take that information into account as you look at the whole. That’s really the important part of it as you develop product, I would say we’re doing that in jobs to be done, we also do it in teams, we also do it in project charters, we also do it in investments that we make, all those different things we’re looking at, we have all these different things going on. It’s that aspect of being able to think through things more comprehensively, that then actually turns out to be a better solution.

Greg Engle 
I’m going to throw you for a loop now, maybe it’s not. But is there steps and empathetic perspective? Is there steps that you go through? It’s not saying everyone should go through them, but are the steps you go through?

Bob Moesta
For me to get the other person’s perspective I need to know a little bit about them, a little backdrop. I want to ask questions that are not traditional questions to see how they react to things. Because ultimately, it’s how people react helps me understand where they’re coming from. Often you think I ask weird questions, but the weird questions help me get to who they are, where they want to go, and what they’re trying to do. I always got to have a name, a place, and a time, from there I can say with everything around that.

Greg Engle
If I listen and watch you, you’re trying to get into the method, into the person, into the thing, but then also work through, if I’m in this now perspective and I’m trying to solve these problems, (you have to be specific on what you’re trying to solve). Then you set up the context of this situation, once you get to the context of the situation now you have the person and the context, So, what is the solution? And it’s not one solution you should be tested.

Bob Moesta
That’s why I always go why don’t you do this? People think I’m leading people and I’m trying to understand did they go in this with a pinpoint view on what this is? Or did they go in with a very broad view and narrowed it down? You start to realize most people will jump to their conclusion, but what happened in between? And that’s where you’re trying to get their understanding of how they looked at it. The PERT bottle, it’s not here, what am I good at? The first 20 minutes of looking was like, where the hell is the pert bottle?

Greg Engle
If you don’t know what he’s talking about, go back to the last episode and relive that because we’re doing this in a row. It’s one big conversation so go back and listen to shopping verse restocking, it’ll all come mightily clear.

Bob Moesta
We’re going to have way more fun this season than last season.

Greg Engle 
I think what we’re saying here is, you have to first get into character, understand who you’re playing, or who you are when you’re looking at a problem, then you have to look at the context and then you have to look at multiple different ways to solve the struggling moments they have in that context.

Bob Moesta
What did they know? What didn’t they know at what point in time?

Greg Engle
It won’t give you the answer, it will give you a set of answers. That set of answers when it’s put with other people’s empathetic perspective, other contexts perspective, I’ll come out with a better solution that meets multiple different things.

Bob Moesta
That’s right. Most of the time, we’re trying to get to what do people do? That might be what they said, but what did they mean by what they said? What did they do or not do as the main guide for us to understand how to play their role? When we’re adding a feature, we’re doing something else, let’s put ourselves in the role. Can they see what we’re going to add? You start to realize we’ve given them 1000 things; two more things are not going to make a difference. That’s where people most people don’t realize they’re overloading people all the time.

Greg Engle 
I think, an empathetic perspective difference is, you say that everybody has the ability to do it, I agree with that. But I also think you have to practice this a lot because there’s a lot of different skills that go into empathetic perspective. There’s the ability to see the world different ways, the ability to listen, the ability to play things out. There’s a lot of things in empathetic perspective.

Bob Moesta
The other thing is to remove your judgment because you’re trying to say, how do they judge us? Not, how do I judge this? Often people will do say ‘I would never do that’. You need to shut that off, whether I do it or not, is not relevant. 

Greg Engle 
That’s a piece of listening skills which is one of those things that cause us not to listen, I think that’s one of the things that causes us not to listen is our is our judgments, our perspective our things. So, empathetic perspective is a practice to get to that better listening skill.

Bob Moesta
The interesting part is, people who can’t even hear what we hear, we’re trying to help them but they’re seeing the interview, or the customer, only from the view of the product. We move in a triangle, right now don’t worry about the product, let’s talk about what why they did what they did and what they were hoping for. They just magically go back to like, so what do they think of the product? What do we do about this? But we don’t care about the product, what we want to know is if they like something about it, what did it help them do that they couldn’t do before. They’re almost talking to the customer to get their ego stroked from the product perspective, as opposed to trying to understand the problem that they had and the progress they’re trying to make.

Greg Engle 
What what are the things that stop us from using empathetic perspective in your view?

Bob Moesta
I think part of it is we don’t understand where that person is coming from, we don’t take the time to unpack it or appreciate that point of view. Often, we end up either ignoring it or assume we know it, and we both know when we assume you and I get in a lot of trouble.

Greg Engle 
The pitfalls are you have to know your biases, everybody has biases, everybody has trigger points, everybody has things that they hear that throw them into a certain mindset. When you’re trying to practice empathetic perspective, you try to minimize those as much as possible.

Bob Moesta
Give an example; What are three of my trigger words? 

Greg Engle
I don’t know. Not in the context.

Bob Moesta
There are specific words you choose not to use because you know I go off on a rant. That’s part of empathetic perspective. Nevermind.

Greg Engle
This is an example of riffing in a bad way. This is the problem with empathetic perspective, at some level is, we all have different ways we want things to happen. We have to think of those ways we’re making people uncomfortable or not uncomfortable. 

Bob Moesta
Making you uncomfortable by calling you out on the spot?

Greg Engle
There’s not three trigger words you have, there’s hundreds.

Bob Moesta
I know there are and I was wondering if you knew them

Greg Engle
This is this is empathetic perspective, in in a nutshell, I’m very uncomfortable with podcasting, I’m trying to make it as rigid as possible, knowing that you want no rigidity, and this is the problem of knowing when to push them or not to push somebody. Sometimes we make mistakes, even though we’re “experts” in this.

Bob Moesta
My favorite is that you knew it was a trap because whatever the word you were going to say, we’d have said that’s exactly right, and then just go into it. You didn’t even take the bait, that’s the beautiful part. That’s you practicing empathetic perspective, because it’s not three, it’s 100, if not 1000, and any one you would say I would go like, Oh, let me tell you about that word.

Greg Engle
It’s context driven because if you’ve just been through a project where vision was being thrown around, that could be a trigger word, but three months from now, it might not be a trigger word. So it’s one of those things of knowing the person and all that stuff. The big thing that we that we want people to take away is, empathetic perspective is something that everybody practices at different times. We’re probably better at it in our personal lives than we are in our professional lives. That’s one thing that we agree that it’s a skill set that everybody has at some level. It’s when are you good at it, when aren’t you good at it and you have to know yourself. Some people are better at personal than professional, some are better professional than personal, depends on the person. Also knowing your biases, knowing what’s going to get in your way of seeing things a different way, whether that be a personal bias, a product bias, knowing what that is going in is always helpful. So we will often get those biases on the table before we start doing exercises with people. I think if you’re in a team setting the worry of upsetting other people or the argument is also an impediment of empathetic perspective. Just being comfortable, you heard it here, we’re trying to be as authentic as possible, so when Bob throws out something that I’m not comfortable going down, you could feel it, you can hear it. Or when I do it to Bob, you can feel it, you can hear it. But we know we’re comfortable with each other, we know it’s not going to cause a problem, we know it’s not going to be a big deal, we know we’re going to laugh about it in five minutes. We might call each other names, but it’s part of our bond our thing. Know that in a team that happens as well, and you have to get some of those things on the table, it happens here too.

Bob Moesta
That’s right, the real point here is that this is a useful skill, whether you’re developing products, selling, being a part of a team, knowing where people are coming from is a good skill. The more you can double down on it, the more you can understand other people’s perspective, you can figure out how to reduce friction and how to get alignment better and know how to move forward. To me, empathetic perspective is essential to making progress.

Greg Engle 
So I think the this is a little harder one to give an assignment to.

Bob Moesta
Can I come up with an assignment? 

Greg Engle 
Sure, if you think you can.

Bob Moesta
I think the assignment is to think about somebody either in your office or in your house where you’ve been disagreeing for a while and see if you can figure out kind of their perspective on it. Take a moment to listen and understand where they’re coming from, what perspective they have a not judge whether it’s right or wrong, but to come to terms with what is really going on from their side versus your side. I think being able to empathize and understand their perspective on it you start to realize, there’s some things you didn’t understand. I think that’s the assignment I would give them. But you always give better one, so maybe you should do it.

Greg Engle 
Absolutely not. I think it’s a great assignment, only thing I would add is once you do that, take a minute to figure out your own biases to it. Awesome.

Bob Moesta
Thanks for listening to the circuit breaker podcast. If you haven’t already, please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. If you know somebody who’s stuck on the innovation treadmill, please share it. If you’d like to learn more information visit us at Xcel rewired group.com To find out how we work how we can help some resources, some books some software. Join us next time as we trip the circuit breaker to help you recharge, re-energize, and refocus your new product development.

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