The new world of work is upon us because of the pandemic. Things are moving quicker and uncertainty is everywhere. People have to start being more empathetic towards each other in the workplace. When you have a meeting, make sure you are empathetic to those who are attending and who isn’t. If you’re selling, you need to be more empathetic towards your customer. Really get to know and understand their problem. Empathy is something that needs to come front and center in this new world of work. Join Alicia Dunams as she talks to work futurist and author of the book, Empathy Works, Sophie Wade. Learn what empathy means and why it’s so important right now. Listen in for some tips on how you can cultivate an empathetic work culture.
Listen to the podcast here
Empathy Works With Sophie Wade
I am excited to introduce my next guest, Sophie Wade. She is a work futurist, author, and workforce innovation specialist at her consultancy called Flexcel Network, a future of work-focused consultancy that she founded after holding several senior management strategy and finance roles, working in venture capital, technology, and media. Her executive advisory work and transformational workshops help companies futureproof their work environments and attract, engage and retain a multi-generational and distributed workforce.
Over 500,000 people have taken her four LinkedIn video courses on the future of work skills, empathy, and Generation Z. Now, Sophie has authored two. One that we’ll be talking about now, which I’m excited about, called Empathy Works: The Key to Competitive Advantage in the New Era of Work and also Embracing Progress: Next Steps for the Future of Work. Sophie has her own podcast called Transforming Work with Sophie Wade. She has a BA from Oxford University and an MBA from INSEAD.
Welcome, Sophie Wade. It’s so great to have you here.
It’s such a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.
With that, in your book, Empathy Works, you talk about empathy and how it is critical to corporate value, mindset, and skill of improving engagement and productivity overall in the workforce. First, I want to jump in with my main question which is, why did you write this book?
The first book I wrote was to establish myself as a future work specialist because I thought the future work was going to be arriving immediately and obviously, but I was not correct. It took about three more years in a pandemic to bring it on. That was one thing. It was also very helpful in organizing my thoughts but a key thing was I wanted to become a keynote speaker and I needed to have a book and gravitas. I didn’t have a PhD in the future of work. That was the reason for doing that book.
It was extraordinarily helpful for organizing my thoughts and it did its job. Within a year, I was keynote speaking. It was fantastic. What terrified me though, because people said, “Your first book doesn’t have to be good. Your second book has to be good.” That lodged in my mind like, “Okay. We’ll put that one off for a while.” I’ve been starting to use empathy as a headliner. It had often been a solution. There’s a chapter in my first book, which is called Leadership Ego versus Empathy. There was always a thing about it in there, but it became a solution for many different things.
Whether it was leadership, it was challenges between generations and remote working, this decentralized workforce. That had been coming through and then with the pandemic and the elevation of empathy, which I was then already talking about a lot and headlining with it depending on the audience. It was a huge thing for me and then I was navigating change with empathy and how to get through the pandemic with empathy. I launched two courses, which came out at the very beginning of the pandemic. One was Empathy for Sales Professionals and the other one was Empathy Tips for HR Professionals.
All of that was coming through and as the future of work was launched, the arrival of it was accelerated by the pandemic, I thought, “This is going to be tough. This is tough and it’s going to get tougher as we’re coming out of the pandemic. Obviously, not knowing when that was going to happen, but that’s when I said, “This is the time to be writing this and putting all this together because the book is about the future of work, empathy, and the humancentric way to approach this new environment that we’re in. It’s about talent, working together with technology, and more closely.
I want to pull out a few things that you said because, for many years, I’ve been helping people write books. You said that you wrote a book for credibility to get keynote speaking and gravitas, as you mentioned. Within a year, it started happening. With your first book, which was the 2017 Embracing Progress and then you said your first book didn’t have to be good. It got you in these corporate speaking and facilitation consultancy work that you’ve been doing. Empathy and the future of work, which is so interesting because the context creates the content. The context of the pandemic creates the content.
With the Great Resignation and people not wanting to go back into the workforce or rather go back to work after working at home for two-plus years, there is a whole new wave of what the future of work looks like. I love how you are, a workforce futurist. With that said, empathy. Empathy is a word we’re hearing more and more about in the general cosmos. We’re hearing more about empathy, mental health, and mindfulness at work. I would love to start with what is your definition of empathy.
My definition is the ability to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and feel what they’re feeling. Understand, tap into, and get a sense of what the other person is experiencing. There are three pieces to it. There’s cognitive empathy, affective empathy, and empathetic action. There’s an action piece at the end. There’s no agreement among everybody and the difference between empathy and compassion is also not agreed upon. The only thing that I care about is we all do more of it. It’s putting us that it’s human understanding like how can I understand and connect with you better so that we can have a better interaction as a result.Empathy is the ability to put yourself in somebody else's shoes and understand what they're feeling. Click To Tweet
I do facilitation and overall conscious communication and conflict resolution. One of my favorite definitions of empathy is I understand I will never understand however I stand.
You don’t have to agree. You’re trying to get into the shoes. You’re trying to get closer to being able to try and be that person for a moment as you are conversing with them. You can never be that person. You can never totally understand, but the more that you try, that very act in and of itself is going to help the conversation be better.
Yes, and it’s so important in the workforce now and with this turn on empathy with your book, Empathy Works: The Key to Competitive Advantage in the New Era of Work. How do we have this conversation, especially going into a recession that empathy will lead to the growth of the bottom line in terms of revenue?
One way to look at it is Gallup has a lot of data about engagement, and the more that your employees are engaged, the better the bottom line is. In terms of revenue, the top line, the bottom line, and orienting people towards their skills and their strength. That is going to help engagement and increase these numbers.
The question is when you’re going through some very difficult economic times, there’s a lot of confusion. There is supply chain disruption. What’s going on with the workforce? Trying to get them back into the office or not or trying to make a hybrid model work effectively because it’s not that easy. It takes more work to design. The more that we can understand each other, the better it’s going to be.
Even before going into recession, it’s not totally clear that there will be a recession, but let’s assume from what you said that there is. You need every single person engaged and going above and beyond. That’s what engagement means. It means you’re not only going through the motions. You’re bringing your best ideas. You’re thinking about your job in the shower. That kind of, “How on Earth are we going to succeed in this business,” is absolutely what you do in bad times. In good times, fine, but in bad times, absolutely.Engagement doesn't mean going through the motions, it means going above and beyond. Click To Tweet
When we are thinking about empathy, we’re thinking about, “How can I understand you as one of my team members?” Margie, John, and Sam, each one of those people on my team, I need to try and get the most out of them. If I engage them, engaging means they are enjoying their work and they’re putting effort into it. The way to do that is really to understand what resonates with them and what their skills are. How can they work most effectively, whether it’s at home or a third place or sometimes in the office and where can we best collaborate? How can we best collaborate?
All of those things go back to empathy and understanding each person as an individual. We know now that there’s so much research, which shows that one size just cannot fit all. The more that I can connect with each person and recognize them as a person when the work that we’re doing has also changed a lot. Over the last few years, the nature of work has been changing. There’s much more teamwork and much less routine work.
When I’m having to work more closely with my team members and they’re having to work more closely with each other and it’s unpredictable and fast-moving. In the marketplace developments, we’re getting feedback from customers and customer behaviors are changing. What do we do? That is when empathy helps us connect, deal with challenges and deal with conflicts when they arise. It is all the more necessary in difficult times and to get and as we go through this period of flux, getting us to a still dynamic, but more stable and productive place.
The workforce is dynamic. I want to jump into your book now, Empathy Works, which is available. I encourage everyone to go out and purchase it on Amazon, local bookstores, and Barnes & Noble. I’m assuming it’s available in all those places.
Yes, absolutely. It’s an online or physical store. What I would say about it is I certainly talk of the theory of where we are, why we are here, and where we’re going but I get very practical because I think that’s so key. I talk about empathy habits and break them down into what can you do. It’s about leadership that you’re most concerned about, how to make a hybrid work, remote working situation, or new model work. What are the things to think about or how to think about the people that you’re working with? It could be in sales. I do a lot of stuff that has to do with empathy in sales. That’s one of my successful LinkedIn courses. These are the things that are specified in the book so that people can get practical, and go out and do it now.
Let’s jump in. I’d love to hear 1, 2, or 3 lessons in your book and practical applications of empathy working in the workforce. What’s one you would like to share with our audience?
Some tips are meetings for a start. I have huge, be in my bonnet, pet peeve, or whatever you want to say. We have way too many meetings. It’s so unempathetic towards team members to have too many meetings because you’re not saying, “I’m respectful of your time.” I know that you have other things to do and if we don’t have a strong empathy-based culture where there’s a lot of trust in there, you are going to worry if I don’t include you in a meeting because you’re going to be like, “She’s excluded me.”
Whether you’re working from home or you’re working in the office, you are going to be worried. They’ll say, “Honestly, you don’t have to be part of it.” I’ll be like, “Should I be? Am I getting excluded?” That’s why empathy is important as a cultural value and a mindset before you get to the skills. Thinking about meetings from an empathetic perspective, what do we need? Who needs to be there? Do you have an agenda? Have you shared the meeting documents beforehand?
All of these are being thoughtful about the people who are going to come. Do they know why they’re there? Do they have to be there? What information do they need going into the meeting? I have a got a broad understanding of empathy. It’s trying to be respectful, understanding, and thoughtful about other people’s time. When we get there if you’re going to have the most understanding of the people there particularly if it’s going to be a difficult conversation.
Let’s say there are three of us. You’re one of them and I don’t know you that well. Maybe I do some research about you beforehand and I’ve even done some gentle conversations with other people like, “What does she think about this?” it’s because I want to try and understand you, connect with you, and be able to have the most productive conversations.
That requires some preparation to better understand you and then when we open up, I talk about the preparation work and there’s a preamble. It’s trying to connect with you. That’s another piece of it. “I have two dogs. Do you have any pets? Do we connect on some TV programs that we’ve been watching or binge-watching? Maybe I love Miami. Do we go swimming?” Whatever it is, those things are going to help us connect those common ground and shared connections because then you feel and we both feel that we’re both on the same side of the table about certain things.
If we have some things that we don’t agree on, we’re more willing to have a more productive conversation. It is preparing well for a meeting and being thoughtful about who is there. There are lots of apps now where you can record the meeting. You can share it afterwards. There is a great one called Headroom. There are all kinds of different ways to approach meetings now so that somebody else can look at it afterwards. When you get there, having done your homework and then open up thoughtfully and have that social connection. Those social connections are important for being able to empathize or having a productive meeting. Also, following up.
Being empathetic when it comes to meeting and being mindful of people’s time. With mindfulness in the workplace and a lot of people talking about empathy and a conscious workplace, what have you gotten concerned about perhaps is the transactional nature versus the relational? There can be where people are reading books, they’re like, “I have to be empathetic. I had to ask someone if they have a dog or how is their family,” but it’s not fully integrated. What is your thought about this? With all these soft skills that are being taught, people may still be focused on the end game, the results, and the revenue and it can be seen as disingenuous.
Absolutely. It can seem disingenuous. There are two pieces to that. One is that some people don’t find it as easy to connect. In fact, I gave a big speech about empathy to probably about 400 mostly developers. One guy at the end ran up to me and he was like, “How can I connect emotionally when I have ten reports? How can I do that?”
I was like, “You don’t have to connect emotionally every time with every one of them.” Sometimes asking, which isn’t disingenuous. If you’re interested, you don’t necessarily tap into their emotion and what they’re going through because that can be hard for some people for sure but asking is going to get a good response on the other side. You then follow up with, “For sure.” If you’re asking because you’ve been told to ask and you don’t actually care at all, being a manager or a team member, that’s going to be hard and teamwork will be much harder if you have no interest in that human connection.
Generally, empathy is second nature. There’s a Dutch primatologist who said that this is the basis of our human nature. Dr. Helen Rice of Harvard Medical School talks about it as being something that is the basis of human relationships, reciprocity, and cooperation. This is something that is very natural to us. We just haven’t used it in the workplace so much. What I would say is when we can stimulate our curiosity about the other person, like, “I like Miami. She might like Miami in a different way, but let’s find out. Let me ask.” There’s always something.Empathy is the basis of human nature. It's second nature. Click To Tweet
I do remember that I was sitting next to somebody at a very tedious corporate dinner. I was sitting next to this guy and he didn’t seem interested. He was not engaging with me, but I did manage and I’m not quite sure how to get into the fact that his passion was shipping and was looking deep sea researching for sunken ships. I was living in Hong Kong at that time.
When he started talking about this and finding these ships, which had golden oak, he lit up. It was fantastic. It was so much fun listening to him speak. There’s always some way and I do love people. I find people fascinating sometimes with a very small F because it can be more challenging sometimes but I think there’s always a way. There’s always something interesting or a place where you can connect. Had it occurred to me and am I fascinated by sunken pirate ships? No, but it is a fascinating subject. When he started talking about it, it automatically became interesting.
When people light up, it changes a conversation and being able to be human, communicate, and people better is always a good skill. That’s what I love about your book, Empathy Works: The Key to Competitive Advantage in the New Era of Work. I’d love for you to share another practical application from your book. A part of your framework around Empathy Works.
I talk a lot about empathy in the workplace among employees, between bosses and teams, and all the rest of it but very much, it comes to the fore in sales. First of all, we have technology that we can sell to an individual person. Who is your target audience? If you met them in the street, what would they look like? By trying to personify, “Who is that person?” If I’m walking past them, “That is one of my target customers.”
Now, what is it that they like? What bothers them? What concerns them? It’s making somebody out of that target customer profile so that you can connect with them. When you are talking to and you’re reaching out cold calling or whatever it might be, whatever way you’re doing your initial sales, having a sense of who that person is and what their issues are. Also, you find out because then your communications and the messaging are going to be that much more relevant.
Put yourself in the shoes of that person. What are their issues? As you ask them questions, in the book, I shared that there was a person at Workfront who say to all the sales folks, “Do not talk about yourself. Do not mention our product until you understand. Just listen. Wait until you understand what their issues are and their challenges are and then you’ll have a better sense of how our product may or may not fit. If it’s not a fit, it’s not a fit. Something else might be better and don’t waste your time or their time because your time is valuable too.”
That’s all about empathy. It’s listening, finding out what’s going on inside their head, and then it can get much more. Not only about your product or service, but what kind of process do they have to go to sell it? Is it quite convoluted and they might be embarrassed to be talking about that because they want an easy yes. I say yes or no, but let’s say you’re doing sales. Workfront is a big sale there too. It was bought by Adobe, but with SaaS sales, you have a very long process. It’s going to take much longer. It’s going to be a bigger sale. You are going to have to get on board and understand what the sales process is within their organization.
Trying to connect with not only the needs that they have or don’t have for your product or service but how the whole thing is going to work. Once they are converted and able to read that moment, that was very interesting as well. To go to that in terms of when the right moment is to make that conversion step. It does seem to be an emotional moment.
It’s not all the logic. Yes, back up in all the rest of it but it is that emotional moment where you’ve allowed them to see what their life will be like when they have your product. That feels good. All of that is the more that you can connect with them in terms of what their issues are, how they see the world, and then feed into that emotion so you sense the right moment to make that specific, “Should we do it?” Empathy is very helpful for all of that.
Sales is all about building relationships and empathy is an important part of that. I would love to jump in with our Speed Round. In this, I’m going to ask you questions and you’re going to share what’s the first thing that comes to your mind. Sophie, what is your legacy?
I want to change the world with this book.
It’s a beautiful legacy. Change the world with empathy work.
I want the workplace to be more empathetic. I dedicate it to my kids and I say that this is something that I want to change the workplace for them. Going in the right direction, there are so many ways that it can change in a beneficial way, but it’s going to take a while to get there.
I was very impacted by Atlas Shrugged.
A very recent favorite book was A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I have got his new book and I haven’t started it yet, but I’m very excited.
I get to learn how to read for enjoyment. I definitely am nonfiction. All I do is read nonfiction books. That is my favorite.
Because you know that he’s been very thoughtful about setting it correctly in the period with the Bolsheviks, I read it slowly and I read other books in the meantime because I didn’t want to finish it, but apparently, his new book is even better.
Sophie, what are you reading next?
I’m reading Girl, Woman, Other. It is fantastic and I’ll tell you an odd story about it, but I wasn’t traveling with the new book from the guy who wrote A Gentleman in Moscow, which is called The Lincoln Highway. I went to do a bookstore in Dubrovnik where I was on vacation with my daughter and I was like, “They’ll have it. It’s such a popular book.” Instead, they had this book, which I started reading and I absolutely love it. It’s written by an English woman and it is extraordinary. There’s almost no punctuation in it whatsoever. It’s formatted, but there are very few periods, commas, and stuff like that, but it is an extraordinary book.
What are you writing next, Sophie?
There’s a book that could have been my first book, which is Ambition for Life. When I first got into this whole space in 2011, I did a lot of research thinking it was about workplace flexibility, being able to work differently, and being able to have more flexibility. I thought it was a women’s issue and then I did more research and I was like, “No. This is an issue for everybody and technology affords us to be able to work differently so everybody should have it.”
One of the things that came to me as I was doing that work and research is that I do think women get penalized when they come back into the workforce after having kids. They never left because they get penalized so badly because people think that they aren’t ambitious about their work. I realized it’s not about if you want to be ambitious. Ambition meaning successful in that venture. If people are being ambitious about their family and then there are other people who let’s say are often women who want to make the family successful and the rest of it or not that anybody else doesn’t, that their husband doesn’t want to or partner.
You have the person who isn’t doing that who’s successful professionally. My idea has been to be successful across all of your life activities. That’s Ambition for Life. It’s so relevant now and what was so extraordinary for me when I was writing Empathy Works is I started planning it at the beginning of 2021, but writing it in February or March 2021. I saw this evolution, great awakening, and epiphany happening as so many people, particularly in the US, going, “You mean we can work differently where we can enjoy our lives and enjoy our work.”
Now, it’s the moment where Ambition for Life is not necessarily a career. It’s like, “What do you want for your life? What does success look like for you? What do you want your legacy to be?” It’s interesting you asked me that. I have never worked as hard in my life as I did on this book ever. It’ll be a while if I get to it, but that would be the next book that I have done.
This sounds profound and I’m someone who’s excited having worked from home for years and seeing how people are so changed by this opportunity to work from home. I’ve always been able to hold down work, pleasure, travel, and family in a way that’s been very cohesive, I would say. Now, that’s available to us all. I wouldn’t say all of us.
I would say to people who have the ability or the privilege to be able to work from home using technology. Sophie, how can people find out more about you?
There is SophieWade.com and there’s also FlexcelNetwork.com, which is my company, but they’re very much interrelated. I have my podcast, which is Transforming Work with Sophie Wade. It is there to give examples of people who are in the field, who are operating, and sometimes writing books as well as to how this new way of working, living, doing business, and integrating our lives is working. It could be about skills inventory, how to work better in a hybrid situation, or workplace flexibility on the factory floor. It’s talking to people who are living and succeeding in their particular aspects of this transformation. It’s supposed to be helpful, useful, and eye-opening.
Also, people can find you on social media and LinkedIn.
The key for me is Twitter and LinkedIn. It’s @ASophieWade on Twitter and Sophie Wade on LinkedIn.
With that, I’d love for you to leave our audience with one piece of advice from your book or something you want to share with them.
Take the time to develop and deepen the relationships with the people that you’re working with. I find human beings fascinating and I am interested to get to know people and finding out about their experiences. It is both enjoyable, but it’s also very useful in making your work easier, the way that we’re working, and the amount of things that we have to get through. We’re going through some challenging times right now. The better the relationships you have at work, the easier it’s going to be, and the quicker you’ll find solutions.
The quicker you will find solutions by building relationships and you do that by having empathy. Sophie, it is so wonderful to have you here. Thank you.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a delight talking with you.
Thank you everyone for reading. We’ll see you next time. Take care. Be well.
- Flexcel Network
- Empathy Works: The Key to Competitive Advantage in the New Era of Work
- Embracing Progress: Next Steps for the Future of Work
- Transforming Work with Sophie Wade
- Atlas Shrugged
- A Gentleman in Moscow
- Girl, Woman, Other
- The Lincoln Highway
- @ASophieWade – Twitter
- Sophie Wade – LinkedIn
About Sophie Wade
Sophie is a work futurist, author, and Workforce Innovation Specialist at Flexcel Network, a Future-of-Work focused consultancy she founded after holding senior management, strategy and finance roles, working in venture capital, technology, and media. Her executive advisory work and transformative workshops help companies future-proof their work environments and attract, engage, and retain a multigenerational and distributed workforce. Over 500,000 people have taken her four LinkedIn video courses on Future of Work skills, empathy, and Generation Z. Sophie has authored two books on current workplace dynamics: Embracing Progress: Next Steps for the Future of Work (2017) which was an EMBA textbook; and Empathy Works: The Key to Competitive Advantage in the New Era of Work (May, 2022). Sophie hosts popular podcast “Transforming Work with Sophie Wade”. Sophie has a BA from Oxford University and an MBA from INSEAD.
Book Description : In Empathy Works, you find out why empathy is a critical corporate value, mindset, and skill for improving engagement and productivity, and achieving sustained growth as we emerge from the pandemic. Sharing data and insights from brain science, organizational psychology, as well as real situations, stories, and solutions from around the world, the author guides you through the steps to cultivate empathy throughout both the Customer Journey and the Employee Journey―encompassing culture and leadership, managing distributed workers, fostering effective sales teams, and bridging generations.