On the program we discuss themes of connection making and culture shaping, delving into how to create meaningful change, from a business standpoint and a human perspective. I’m Veronica Collins and I’ll be your only host today as my co-host, Kevin Gilbert is away on paternity leave, introducing another great human to the world. Kevin will be back later this summer and we’re really looking forward to having him return to the show.
Today I’m happy to be talking with our Director of Engagement Strategy Ceri Rees. Ceri describes her career path as “unorthodox.” Her Masters degree from Oxford is in biochemistry and she also holds a Masters in theology. Ceri worked in academic administration, branding and innovation before coming to Domain7 where she applies her remarkable strategic skills to deftly steer our projects towards success.
Today we’ll be tapping into Ceri’s mediation training and skill set to unpack how we communicate: a topic which Ceri describes as “one of life’s great joys and one of life’s great challenges.”
Ceri, I’m so happy to have you with me on the show.
Ceri: Thank you so much.
Veronica: I want to start with a quote I found in a profile piece that another Domain7 writer created last year. And she opened the piece on you, saying, “Ceri is the kind of person every organization needs at least one of. The kind of person that asks hard questions while being completely nice and helpful about it.”
I was thinking that is such a good description of the energy you bring to our team and the role you play. But I was wondering about that balance. I know I’ve heard you talk a lot about the importance of balancing empathy and assertion and it seems to be a blend that you do carry into your work. Is that a natural bent that you had from day one or is that something you intentionally cultivated? Was there one or the other that you grew up kind of identifying with more?
Ceri: The first thing I want to say is that’s very kind of Dee to write that, and we’ll see how many people would agree with it. I would say, I’ve always had a sense of kind of a balance of curiosity of what I wonder was going on for that person when that thing happens. I’m predisposed to believe the best of people. If I can interpret a range of reactions or responses as, you know, willfully out to harm me ,or just a mistake or an error of communication, I will always assume the best in that. But I would also say I’ve worked in more recent years to add, kind of actual skills to what has been a somewhat kind of natural, innate kind of direction.
Veronica: That takes a certain amount of, I know we talk a lot about psychological safety on the show, and at Domain7. It seems like that would take a certain amount of internal psychological safety to assume that the other is out for your best interests.
Ceri: I actually…you know it’s funny. I often say it looks very highly evolved of me to be able to say that kind of statement.
Ceri: I would actually say, it’s probably in earlier years been a mark of self protection.
Ceri: Because if I can choose that you intend to hurt me or I can choose to believe the best, it’s actually in my protective self interest to believe something else. And this, we’ll get into this more as we go in, but actually, learning to be able to say … to be assertive and to say, “that set of reactions or responses was hurtful to me, I’d like to have a conversation about that,: has been more of a learning for me. And again, not to necessarily impede intention to a person but to get curious and say, “I wonder what was going on.” Whereas my natural tendency is to say, is to kind of swipe it away, pretend it didn’t happen, choose to not be offended and move on.
Veronica: Yeah. So much vulnerability in that. It takes a certain amount of strength. I know vulnerability comes up a lot in definitions of empathy. Would you say there’s also a vulnerability in assertion then? In asserting one’s self?
Ceri: 100%. Absolutely. And I think it’s so much easier to be, not on the defensive, but to be accommodating. And if somebody has had a challenge with you or a difficult situation that they’d like to talk about, the instinctive response for most of us is, “I’m so sorry. I won’t do it again. How can I make it right?” That’s not a bad response or a bad reaction but I think creating that space to actually have a broader conversation, ’cause we can short circuit the process there. We can short circuit the real issues and the real listening that needs to happen as we have a conversation, as we dial up that.
Because you might come to be with a certain expression, “Ceri, I was really frustrated with you when we were working on this project together.” You know, whatever, whatever. And if I just say “I’m really sorry about that, I won’t do it again,” then I’m missing what you’re …. what maybe is more important to you. And I’m missing the opportunity to really hear you well and for you to know, Ceri’s heard me, she’s understood me. Because I’m speaking back to you and saying, “ it’s really important to you Veronica, that a value of yours is that people show what they’re going to deliver on time.” And those activities, taking the time to really explore that conversation, will help me understand you better. It will give us a much deeper sense of resolution and then I will understand better what I’m really apologizing for and how we’re really going to set this forward in the future. But also within that, for me to have the willingness to say, “Hey, Veronica, when we worked on that project together, I want to acknowledge the challenges that you observed, and also that I need to bring forward there were some challenges for me too. And I’d like to have a conversation about that.”
Because most of us, it’s so challenging to do that because it’s awkward and it’s uncomfortable and we just want to escape as quickly as we can. And so to actually pause and say “what is going on for me in this process here, do I have something to bring forward?” is actually really critical, I think to a true collaboration. Because what will happen otherwise is I will leave all the ground with you and accommodate everything to you and to your needs. And I’m not bringing my needs forward in there.
Ceri: And so where we get to, at the other end of that conversation, might be a great spot for you. But will have left a whole bunch of things undone or unsaid for me. And we’re actually not that much better place next time around than if we’d had the full conversation. And I also think as well, the act of vulnerability and bringing forward my own stuff, helps other people to continue to do that themselves.
Ceri: Sometimes we actually have to create that safe place where people go, “oh, Ceri’s a place where I can say hard things and that’s not going to break our relationship. We can have those conversations together,” and I’ve had some kind comments on that. In a project context to have that give and take of respect and mutuality, of wanting shared goals, shared understanding and in the midst of that, in times of disagreement, there’s times we have to have the harder conversations. But we’re willing to go into those tough spaces together.
Veronica: It’s so interesting because I feel like it’s counter to what a lot of us were taught growing up, which was, if somebody says, “I have a problem,” you apologize and you don’t then bring up your own issues with them at that moment. But I think there’s a seed of truth in that idea of just deal with what they brought up and just say you’re sorry. And that is that an attempt at hearing the person and you’re making them feel heard.
Ceri: You never want to get into tit for tat. You know, “he said, she said.” You did this, well I did … That’s not really what we’re talking about.
Veronica: Come to think of it, three months ago, you …
Ceri: Yeah, exactly, but you know what? I mean, hopefully if you’re having a collaborative conversation, you know, not only have you experienced a difficulty with me, but actually what you’ve realized is that mutual interaction that we had together wasn’t working well.
Ceri: And that’s where you want to have a conversation about …
Ceri: And so that’s what you’re bringing to me. And then when I step forward and say, you know, I noticed that with you, I noticed that was tricky. I’d like to have a conversation about that too, because I also value this relationship. Let’s have a conversation.
Veronica: Maybe we could define what we mean when we say empathy versus assertion. I feel like empathy is a really trendy word right now thanks to Brene Brown, and I love Brene Brown’s work and I love the word empathy. But it can be a word that we think we know. And there’s … It’s a meaty word. There’s a lot to it. So how would you define empathy?
Ceri: Yeah, that’s a great question. It almost feels like a space where angels fear to tread, I think for that reason. So I feel a bit nervous and a bit hesitant. But you know, I think it is around this authentic desire to see the world through another person’s eyes. To be able to step into their shoes and to see what they’re seeing. To be able to hold my own perspectives loosely enough, long enough to get curious about who you are and what you’re seeing and what your experience of the world really is. What’s been interesting to me in some of the training that I’ve done, there’s been a distinction between empathy accuracy and empathy compassion. Where empathy accuracy is that capacity to kind of know instinctively what you’re feeling as we’re recording this podcast and you’re nervous about the computer and recording and is it doing all the things and how that might feel for you. Being able to name that weight of expectation, whatever it might be.
Ceri: And then the empathy compassion piece, being able to sit with you in a way that really helps you understand that feeling of compassion that I have towards you. And it’s interesting for me because I naturally can do the first very well. I seem to just instinctively get, “oh, I expect this person in this situation is feeling x and y.” I can name that and they go, “yeah, that is what I’m feeling. I hadn’t even realized.” Where I’m needing to continue to learn and grow is in that doing that in such a way that communicates also compassion. That “wow, that’s a really weighty place for you to be.” And that’s … Other people will have so much empathy in the compassionate sense of things and that maybe you not always be quite so in tune to what’s really going on to that person that you go in a different direction.
Veronica: Right. As someone who would maybe lean a little bit more towards the compassion side, I can see times when my compassionate response has started out of the gates, kind of, before I’ve taken a full view of what of the complexities that could be going on. Which, then the danger is very well intentioned assumptions, which can be correct or can be incorrect.
Veronica: So we’re talking about empathy first and I feel like that is the one I’m more comfortable with. Like, at Domain7, our mission is to build a more empathetic and connected world. And you know, again, empathy has been a buzzword. I feel like it’s trickier to think about assertion. I feel like it’s a less explored area and perhaps because, you said the other day I believe, maybe it’s linked, for some of us, to the idea of aggression.
Ceri: It’s very Canadian of course, to value empathy in the first instance. At Domain7, even more so we’ve put the value right at the core of who we are and what we’re about. So I think that’s exactly right. And it has the appearance of being kindlier, friendlier, lovelier, softer, fluffier. We’re happier there. Where as when we think of assertion, we can often go, as you say, towards that picture of the aggressive person from dominant culture x, no need to name it. But we see that and we start to think, oh it’s people asserting their rights and being … verging on bullying, that’s where that can go.
Whereas I think assertion, that’s why I love this idea of holding the two together intention. It doesn’t ever lose that sense of empathy. It doesn’t ever lose that curiosity of who you are. It doesn’t ever lose curiosity about other ways of seeing. I always hold my own experience loosely, but I’m also not afraid to own it.
Ceri: Assertion is stating our needs, communicating our needs in such a way that keeps lines of communication open.
Veronica: Oh, I love that.
Ceri: Because you know what? If I shame you or if I accuse you, or if I burden you in some way, of course, lines of communication are going to shut down. If I put things onto you, you should do this, you did that …
Ceri: All of those things, that’s going to close down communication. But if I can stick to my language, my experience, if I can stick to a neutral language, this is what happened. This was the … Just describe actions and effects. Say, this is the effect it had on me and then get curious because you were just talking about your body language or what we can read from people. And it’s one of those things, you know, often times an action is all we can read. That’s the only …
Veronica: It’s the only clue we’ve got.
Ceri: It is the only clue we’ve got, but there’s actually the kind of intention/action consequence. The intention and the consequence live very much in a private realm. I judge myself by my intentions. I judge you by your actions. And that can be very problematic. And so how can we then, even as I’m assertive around my experience of something, never the less get curious about your intention.
Ceri: What did you have in mind when that incident occurred? What were you trying to communicate?
Ceri: I think that those are some of the pieces that kind of really help us when we start speaking and living into ideas around assertion.
Veronica: So, I wanted to go back to this idea … I think you said the other day, “How I see the world will shape how I act.” We’ve been talking a lot about assertion and my experiences with, what I would have termed assertion. And I was wondering about the word, conflict. It’s a very loaded word. How do you help people even come close to that word and engage with it? What are some of the understandings that you see people bringing to it?
Ceri: You know, that’s such an interesting question. And when I’ve led some workshops with some members of the D7 team, for example, I always begin with getting people to just draw emojis. When you hear the word conflict, what do you hear? Of course, most people have frowny faces, anxiety, kind of sweating eyebrows. It’s not comfortable for most people in our culture.
But I think that the trick with conflict is to see it as kind of a neutral thing in and of itself. And really the trick then is to say, “Does conflict in this instance, are there ways that we can engage that will lead to more flourishing? And are there ways that we can engage that will diminish the relationship that we have together? And so, I think conflict in itself doesn’t have to be either good or bad, but it’s what it can lead to, what it can open up, how you’re willing to engage, the skills you have to engage it, that will really impact people. And I think you’re probably referencing some of Nate Booth’s work on the belief cycle.
Ceri: Beliefs that we have about the world will lead into meanings that we associate to those beliefs. And then we see a certain action. We become very focused on it. We add layers and interpretation and then it becomes a very much a reinforcing cycle there. I think trying to help people see that conflict can be more of the canary in the mine.
Ceri: That becomes a flag for us to say, “I think there’s some things that we need to press in to here.” And it might be a small, trivial thing. We had a misunderstanding of communication. Okay. Let’s talk about that.
Veronica: Yeah. I think you talked about shame earlier? I feel like sometimes as soon as I hear the canary, there’s a shame flooding that can happen of like, uh oh, what’s going wrong? What did I do? Or anger can be another one if you don’t feel it’s you, if you feel it’s someone else. I think you said this the other day, that you have a certain amount of seconds to catch yourself before a biological response kicks in?
Ceri: Yeah. So, just the biochemistry of that, going back to my olden days. When we have an anger response in particular, then our body is flooded with testosterone. A biochemical level, the testosterone will suppress levels of oxytocin in our bodies, which I think is the hormone that helps nerves connect and mothers have empathy with babies. That process is about four seconds long. So, if the testosterone really is flooding your body, like your actual physical capacity to now have empathy with me is literally diminished. And so, if in that window, you can catch that and go, “I’m having a reaction and now I’m going to self manage,” then I think that’s in a very different place. But what’s interesting to me in what you just said there, it made me think of just comfort with emotion in general. And the ways in which emotions can be a signal to us of a need that’s not being met, rather than even having to necessarily be a source of conflict.
So, “I’m feeling very anxious. And what that is a signal to me of is, I’m needing clarity about something or I’m feeling very angry about something. What I’m looking for is justice.” That there’s this kind of equal and opposite relationship that’s going on. And I think the more that we can become comfortable with… you and I have an interaction. I got very angry. I get curious about my own emotion. “Huh, I’m feeling angry. I wonder what that’s an indication of? Oh, it seems to me that we haven’t had an equal distribution of workload here. Can we have that conversation?”
And so, I think that comfort with emotion in general is this foundational piece then to be able to engage conflict constructively rather than destructively. Of learning to read the emotions that both I have in my own self and that I’m receiving from you in a constructive way to help us move towards ultimately an understanding of what’s really going on, what values are being transgressed for each one of us and what a solution is going to be that’s going to ensure that both of our needs are met.
Veronica: Interesting that you used the word “curiosity,” which I feel like is the opposite of judgment.
Ceri: Right. And using that to your advantage. So, this isn’t exactly a conflict situation, but I was on a call with a client a few months ago. And I realized I was feeling anxious. But it wasn’t really my anxiety. So, then I think, okay, actually what I’m really sensing is anxiety in the room at large. And, of course, the instinct is, “this is awkward, this is uncomfortable, how can we get off this call as quickly as we can?” But that’s not going to move us forward any and whatever is causing that underlying anxiety is going to stay there. So, instead, I said, “I’m sensing a lot of anxiety in the room. I’m wondering what’s going on?”
Veronica: Which feels very brave.
Ceri: Yeah. You know, it is. And it doesn’t feel that brave to me anymore. I guess because I’ve become more used to doing it. But you’re exactly right. It’s not what we’re, in some ways, used to doing. And particularly, because what we want to bring is solutions.
Ceri: So, “I think you need this.” “I think you need that.” “I think you need something else.” Whereas, setting all of that aside and actually saying, “Before we get there, I’m wondering what’s going on? I’m curious what’s going on?”
Ceri: In this particular instance, four or five specific needs came up that they were anxious about. This and this and this. And we all breathed a sigh of relief and I said, “That’s great. We can help you get those things.”
Veronica: We can address that, yeah.
Ceri: And that the anxiety meter dropped from about a 10 to about a 4 or 5 very quickly. But it takes that curiosity of, what is going here and can I be comfortable enough to name it? And then create the space to listen, to ask questions, to explore and to say, “Is there anything else?” And the next thing comes.
Veronica: Yeah. I feel like I’ve heard a lot about curiosity in recent discussions in how to deal with polarized views, right? But I find that when I try to practice that best practice of deep curiosity, really asking open questions, trying to figure the person out, sometimes I’m sad to say, I’m doing it because I know I should.
Veronica: But I’m actually not feeling it. I’m trying to be curious, but I don’t actually feel curiosity internally. I’m wondering about this. When you know that you should be curious, but you don’t feel it. How does one bring one’s self to some of these practices that maybe we know we should do but hard to internalize.
Ceri: Well, I might get curious about myself. Why am I not open to this other person’s view? What is at stake for me?
Veronica: Yeah, why this situation or this view?
Ceri: Yeah or this person or this moment in time, could simply be this moment in time. And wisdom is actually then to say, “you know what? Then let’s not have this conversation, or let’s not have this conversation now, or I need to come back to this, or I need to take some time.” Or, you know, one of those things. That can be a really great example of assertion, saying what I need in this moment but in a way that reinforces the collaborative relationship which is that I value you and I want to, not agree with you, but understand where you’re coming from. And I’m not in a place where I can do that right now.
Veronica: Which is actually, when you say that, is a huge relief in a way because it’s like-
Ceri: I’ve watched your shoulders..
Veronica: My shoulders just dropped, yeah. Because there can be this desire to do the right thing and sometimes I’m just not capable of being that vulnerable in this moment or for some reason I’m not getting there and I don’t want to fake it. And when you said that, what I heard is the person opposite from you is you trust me enough to say, “I really wanna do this right, and I just can’t do it right now. I want to come back to this.” And that feels like it could build trust and allow the other person to even just provide some compassion to you.
Ceri: Exactly, which goes back to the earlier conversation about the value of assertion. Is that if I never make my needs met, you never have an opportunity to empathize with me and we never have that opportunity to really build that relationship, the cooperative relationship, that we want to have together.
Veronica: I want to come back to something you said earlier, you used the word “collaborative” when you were talking about conflict, I believe. This idea that a curiosity about what’s going on for me, what’s going on for you, can lead to a potentially collaborative way of addressing conflict. And I know you’ve done some work around, some study around different conflict styles, and collaborative I believe is one of those. What are some of the different ways that people can address conflict?
Ceri:Yeah, interesting question. So as you say, there are a number of ways that many of us just habitually will resort to. Collaborative model, competitive model, a more avoidance style. I shouldn’t say model, these aren’t models necessarily, they’re just more styles. Avoidance styles are more accommodating and each one of those styles will have a different value set based on their relationship and how high you prioritize the relationship, so if the relationship is of high priority to you, it might push you to be very accommodating.
But on the other axis, if you can think of this as a 2 by 2, is then kind of needs and interests and how well not only mine, but also your interests being met. So an accommodating context, you might have a very high priority on relationship, but actually your needs and interests are perhaps not being met as much because you’re not bringing yourself forward. You’re not accommodating that. You could have a similar thing with an avoidant context, that I don’t really value the relationship much, I’m just happy to walk away. My need’s not being met, but I didn’t buy the relationship anyway, I can walk away.
Veronica: Right, doesn’t mean that much to me.
Ceri: Yeah. Competitive environment, I might score very high on getting my needs met potentially.
Veronica: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yep (laughter)
Ceri: But at what cost to the relationship? And so I think that collaborative model is my preferred model. It’s not my always response, and it’s not necessarily always the right response. There probably times and places where your wisdom is to step away. You know, someone’s in a abusive relationship, don’t collaborate, get out of there. But, yeah you know I think the collaborative piece is very interesting, I think as well because one of the other pieces we can slip into kind of compromising.
You know, I don’t know, using example salary negotiation. One person says one number, another person says the other, we split the difference or, you know, when I’m working with clients we’ve gone through the exercises figuring out how long the project’s gonna take, it’s more than they had in mind, okay we’ll split the difference.
The difficulty with that, it seems kind of like this is working right you know you’ve got fifty-fifty, but actually the danger is that we miss the opportunity to get some really important needs met. And we miss the opportunity to press into that and to say what is it that’s important here for me to understand that is deeper than just dollars and cents. That is around actually the workload of what is being asked of me or what activities we’ll undertake. And so I think that collaborative approach really enables you to press into that and say that we’ve got some ways to go here, we’ve got different senses here. These are the sets of things that are important things to us, these are the sets of things that are important to me, how can we negotiate that, how can we navigate that?
And it might be that what’s important to me is important to you and we can say, great that’s easy. And then if there are things that are shared values for us, shared importance, can we think of creative ways that neither of us had thought of before to actually address some of those things. And I think that’s what the collaborative approach really affords you when you spend time understanding people’s needs and interests, that results in, kind of lays the foundation for creativity.
Rather than me thinking I came into the room, I already know what I must have, I already know the answer. Can I get beneath that and hold that lightly, engage with your needs, bring mine forward honestly and vulnerably, and come to a place that neither of us ever imagined.
Veronica: It’s kind of a difference between like negotiating, like I keep these points you can have these points, versus like discovering a new way to sort of tackle the problem together right? And I’m thinking about a user researcher actually, her name is Lynne Polischuik from Automattic Design and she wrote this post about an interesting client story where they completely misunderstood their audience and then had to redo the project and she said, “When we only evaluate solutions we may be prevented from solving the right problem.” And it made me think of what you talk about with compromise, because I do think that compromise is a bit of a lazy solution, and its, like you said, going to solution right away. Right? Like, well this is a simple formula, fifty-fifty, to solve it, but you’re solving kind of the wrong problem.
You’re not solving the reality of what’s happening for both of you, you’re almost more solving the perception of fairness between you, which feels like missing the point. But it’s, again, something that we’re all used to doing. I feel like growing up it’s like: “Well, you compromise a little bit,” and this is what we bring into adulthood.
Ceri: Yeah and you know what I think you solve there is the discomfort in the moment. This is awkward, no one likes having conversations about money or whatever the topic is, can we all just get out of the room as quickly as we can.
Veronica: Can we agree to disagree?
Ceri: Yeah, right.
Veronica: Which I guess is not a compromise, it’s something else all together. It’s not avoidance.
Ceri: You know what, it’s simply not empathy when we agree to disagree. I think that we’ve missed something there of being able to see, I can see how this is for you. I may not be in agreement, but I can see how this is for you.
Veronica: Yeah, and I think that’s why people, myself included, might revert to agree to disagree is we don’t want to be forced to agree with something that we don’t, but is there another way to engage that complexity?
Ceri: And we fear that if we demonstrate empathy towards you that that will be interpreted as agreement with something that we don’t in fact agree with.
Veronica: That’ll be compromising our values.
Ceri: Yeah, I think that’s a real blocker and hindrance to us. Even I think of some personal relationships and, you know, people make different decision that you may or may not agree with and when we get so bound up in “do I agree with this, do I agree with what you’re doing, do I agree with your position,” it actually stops us from having empathy and saying “I wonder what the world looks like for that individual, I wonder what they’re experiencing and what an opportunity that is to go deeper into a relationship when we can ask those questions.”
Veronica: That’s beautiful. Ceri, before we close today I wanted to leave our listeners with some practical suggestions of how to engage. Like this can be a lot to sort of take on and feel like okay, I want to be empathetic and assertive, I want to be curious and collaborative and that’s a lot to think of in the moment. Do you have some sort of practical suggestions that people could put into play today, tomorrow, if they encounter tricky conversations, or tricky relationships at work, at home?
Ceri: Yeah, you know there’s a few different things there, and we’ve spoken about this a little bit, but there’s a whole bunch of things around internal readiness, and then some things around externals skills and tools and I think of the internal piece just, even that self awareness, “do I know what’s going on for myself? What is it that’s wound me up, that’s bugging me, that’s challenging for me and why is that?” If I can’t do that work myself I’m not going to be able to bring it forward.
How am I doing on comfort with my own emotions? How am I on comfort with other people’s emotions? I think asking those questions of ourselves really proactively can be helpful. I’ve heard people talking of doing a body scan if you’re going into a negotiation or a client meeting or whatever it might be. Do a scan of yourself, “how am I feeling, how am I doing as I walk into this room?” Because if I suddenly start feeling something else very different than that, probably that’s the mirror neurons, the empathetic connection that’s going on and it might not be my stuff at all, it might be other people’s in the room, and then I can actually ask the question like that story I shared with you. “I’m sensing a lot of anxiety, I’m wondering what’s going on for you.”
So I think that there are some real pieces around, you know, my own internal readiness, what understanding do I have of the situation, and then there are some external tools of the kinds of language that will be helpful to us. I think that there are models that you can work through, we don’t need to talk through all of that but I saw a list of disjunctives, kind of language that you could use, words that would be kind of fire starters if you will, this is language that will help you, and I saw this list and I thought, “My goodness, it’s a wonder I’ve ever had a fruitful conversation in my life.”
But, it’s this list of disjunctives that, you know, can be very challenging for people: when we use the language of but, however, nonetheless, with all due respect. You know that will be a flag to people, that will bug people, and I think learning to use different language—it’s almost a cliché to use the language of “yes, and.” I think it can really change the tenor of a conversation, which is that I’m hearing what you’re saying and I’m also wondering about this other thing, has a different feel. I’ve seen this happen in a client meeting, and then someone says, “But.” And it feels as though everything that’s gone before has been entirely discounted which, again, isn’t the intention.
I think paying attention to the words that we use can be really, really helpful. Asking open-ended questions, affirming or acknowledging emotion that we’re hearing from people. Those kinds of things I think go a really really long way and then asking those open questions or wondering what’s going on for you, I feel like I’ve said that too many times in this conversation Veronica, but I feel like so much comes back to that. I’ve had conversations with other colleagues who are saying, “I’m really trying to learn when someone says something that I totally disagree with just rather than saying I totally disagree saying tell me more about that.”
Veronica: Interesting, yeah.
Ceri: And I think yeah there’s real wisdom there. Sometimes it can be small shifts in language that can actually really go a long way.
Veronica: I think BreneBrown said, “An empathetic response rarely starts with the words “at least.” You know, somebody tells you something difficult that’s happened you say, “well at least…” And she calls it “silver lining it,” you know? It’s a small example — how many times do we do things like that?
Ceri: And I think with that, if I’m in listening mode, the sentences then that if I’m listening to you and I want to communicate to you that I’m hearing what you’re saying, my words need to begin not with “I,” but with “you.” Because what my whole focus is about in that moment is about you and what’s going on for you. You’ve probably seen this, and I definitely know that I’ve done it, I’m sure, someone’s trying to empathize and they say, “Oh I completely know what you mean, I’ve had that exact experience.” And then suddenly the conversation is no longer about you, and the goal and the intention is empathy, but it actually does something very different.
So when I’m in listening mode my words, my comments begin with “you.” When I’m in speaking mode, it’s important that my words begin with “I,” because then at those moments, you know, “you should mow the grass tomorrow, you should do this, you, you, you…” You’re gonna feel very put upon, when I’m really meaning to say is, “I would like us to mow the lawn tomorrow.” Those kind of shifts will make a huge, huge difference to always use a language of “you” when I’m listening, and the language of “I” when I’m speaking and bringing something foreword.
Veronica: And again, it’s it’s that awareness that you were describing of what’s my stuff, what’s your stuff, and what am I trying to accomplish here which we can get a bit muddled with, right? That’s beautiful, and it’s taking it back to what we started with, the balance of empathy and assertion. Empathy: you. Assertion: I.
Ceri: Yes. Yeah, and both of those things always being kind of two sides of the one coin. That really empathy without assertion will just be, kind of, a bit flaky, but assertion without empathy can be too much. Whereas actually if you can bring the two together I can empathize with you, I can really hear you well, I’m in a much better position to then be able to bring forward what I need to bring forward as well.
Veronica: Thank you so much Carrie for your time today and for being willing to unpack a topic that I feel is very packed.
Ceri: Well the good bit is is there’s always room for lots of practice.
Veronica: Yes, life as practice right?
Ceri: Exactly, yeah. Thanks for having me.
Veronica: And that concludes our episode for today, thanks for tuning in, I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation and will join us for upcoming episodes as we continue to tackle the complex challenges we face as digital makers, and simply as human beings in this moment in time. You can find upcoming episodes at domain7.com/podcast where you can also sign up for our newsletter. You can find us on Medium at The Connection and follow us on Twitter @domain7. You can also drop us a line with ideas or feedback, I’m Veronica@domain7.com, and my co-host is Kevan@domain7.com. Thank you for listening.