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Webinar: The Magic of Empathy: Communicating in Crisis

Tune in for proven techniques to manage conflicts, de-escalate tricky conversations and negotiate smoothly when tensions are high.


Madeline Schwarz 0:00
And just a little bit more about me listening is my superpower. So my gift is being able to take all of the ideas in your head and put them together in a way that's clear, simpler and more inspiring. And I help people just like get your message across whether you're having a difficult conversation, speaking at a conference, or leading a meeting, and I like to think of my job like cooking. So I take your ideas up here and put them together in a way that makes sense, and tastes good to other people. And you can rifle through the fridge and do this on your own. But without a plan, you often get unpredictable results, and things can be a little bit messy. So what we are going to talk about today is difficult conversations and showing up with more empathy. And this is really key. If you want to inspire other people. You want to build trust with your teammates and clients. And you are in the right place, if you want to be able to de escalate arguments and tricky conversations and remain clear and composed in stressful situations. And I want to start off with a poll. So on a scale of one to 10, I want you to rate yourself. This is an unscientific informal poll, but rate yourself on your listening skills and put your answer in the chat.

Madeline Schwarz 1:52
All right, so we've got everything from three to eight, I've seen seven, eight. So a whole mix of people who are saying they love the sound of their own voice. So they love to talk or that listening is a real strength and their ears are their best feature. And I always like to start there and bring more awareness to listening skills. Because there are two parts to communication, there is listening. And they're speaking, there's what you say. And then there's what the other person hears. And the big problem is, most people are only good at one. And I think too often we overlook listening as an essential part of communication skills. So we are going to look at that today. And Fast Company recently published this article where they said that communication skills are the most in demand skill on job listings right now. So communication skills are no longer a nice to have, they're a must have. And thus, I think we should stop calling them soft skills, and start acknowledging them as essential skills. So today, I'm going to cover five principles for effective communication that you can use in crisis situations in difficult conversations, and just generally in life. And before we get back, we're gonna take another poll, Joanna, if you can launch the poll, I want to hear from the audience about what you find most challenging in difficult conversations.

Madeline Schwarz 4:18
Just give me another couple seconds to vote. All right. So overwhelming answers are managing emotions and not sure what to say. And that is, that's great because I will be sharing techniques to help with both of those things today. And then the third choice is staying present with the other person which is so important in order to get the outcome that you want when you're in difficult situations. So there are a few places where I see people most often get tripped up in tricky conversations. And that is one, we brace for the worst. So we go into the conversation, assuming we know the outcome before it's even started. And this leaves us feeling defeated and angry and completely resigned to failure. So imagine that you're going to ask for more time off or a raise, and you go to meet with your boss, assuming that they are going to say no, what's happening is you're putting all of your energy into what you don't want to happen, and it's shutting off your possibilities for success. So that's the first place where I see people often get tripped up. This second one is that we forget to listen. So we're so stuck in our heads and focus on ourselves and worried about what we don't want to happen that we forget to stay present with the other person, we fail to listen for the cues and questions that we need to answer for them the details that we can supply to that other party in order for them to feel comfortable and be able to move forward. And the third one is that we put off difficult conversations and don't have them at all. And this happens, because we assume that they're going to be painful, so we avoid them. And when we do that resentment just build up and the issue doesn't go away. So it's only causing yourself more more pain to avoid the conversations, there are just so much energy and unmade decisions and conversations that are being had. So my goal for today is to share these skills with you that will help you go show up for difficult conversations. So let's talk about five principles for effective communication. And what we can do instead, so number one, is to be prepared. And whether I am working with people on a conference talk, prepping for a difficult conversation or an important meeting with leaders, being prepared is so important. So I always suggest to people that you spend a couple minutes upfront, planning out what you want to say. So that includes whether you're giving a staff review, and maybe you have to deliver touch feedback, think about what you want the employee to walk away with. And then you can frame the rest of the conversation based on that. It's also helpful to practice what you want to say ahead of time, so do a run through with another person. And short of that if you live alone, and don't have a person to practice with, you can record yourself and listen back to it. You can practice for your dog, your cat, or the pictures on the wall. And yes, I have clients who have actually done that when they live alone.

Madeline Schwarz 8:33
Number two, and is B direct. So the worst thing in a difficult conversation is not getting your point across. You don't want to wine people through a maze, having them wonder what it is that you're talking about. So the reason that it that you want to start with being prepared is you can really practice and get clear on what it is that you want the other party to walk away with. And then you can figure out the most diplomatic and direct way to say it. Because if you think about a situation where you have to deliver bad news, taking longer to deliver, it doesn't make it land any easier. And if anything, it just makes people more annoyed. So though, um, I think of in a conversation that I was having with a client recently about why it pays to be direct. And she's a purchasing manager for a company and she has trouble telling her vendors that she isn't going to purchase from them. She doesn't want to hurt their feelings or let them down. But what she realized as we discussed this is stringing them along isn't good. For either party, it takes up her time it takes up their time. So when she was able to consider this from the other perspective, and the perspective of a vendor, she realized that just telling them upfront really was the most compassionate option. And being prepared and being direct, are really key parts of being able to get your message across. And when I work with people on communication, we really focus on three big areas. So there's the message, what you say, there's the delivery, how you say it. And then there's the mindset. So why are you saying what you're saying? Is it in service to people. And when you put all of those things together, that is what allows you to communicate confidently in any situation, and really how you build presence.

Madeline Schwarz 11:06
So moving on to number three, we want to be attentive. And being attentive means being a good listener. So like I said, at the beginning, listening is a superpower, it's my superpower. And I want to also make it your superpower. And a few ways to listen more attentively, is to really focus on the other person. And I can remember this freelance job that I had for several months, where anytime I went to my boss, with a challenge or a problem, we are having a workflow, a project that I have flagged, I had to stand behind him and watch him type and file emails, while I was trying to bring a situation to his attention. And this was an incredibly frustrating experience. And even though he always said, I'm listening, keep talking, I never felt like I was being heard. So if someone comes to you with something, even if you feel like it's, you know, trivial or you have other things on your mind, as a leader, you want to give that person your full attention, even if it's only for a few minutes. The second thing that helps with tuning into higher level listening skills is to listen with all your senses. So pay attention not only to what people are eating the words that are coming out of their mouth, but also pay attention to the tone of voice that they're using, the gestures that they're using, what their body language says, and pay attention to yours as well. Because if you're, you know, leaning back and crossing your arms, those are signs that you are closed off. And it may affect whether the other person trusts you to keep going with their information. And another way that I like to think of it is don't listen to the other person's perspective. Listen from their perspective. And in order to get into that mindset of listening from the other person's perspective, you can imagine yourself standing up and walking around to the other side of the table and seeing things from their point of view. And a reminder, that you are not listening if you're typing, planning your rebuttal or running through your to do list. Number four, be curious. There's this great article in Harvard Business Review about the business case for curiosity, and why it's vital for company performance. Curiosity improves collaboration. It helps you see different perspectives. And it allows you to respond to difficult situations, less defensively, and more creatively, all good things when you're in tense situations, and also all things that can drastically alter the trajectory of a difficult conversation. So let's talk about a couple tricks to be more curious. Oh, ad from this same article, and this that really blew me away that 24% have employees report being curious at work on a regular basis. So if you can tap into your curiosity, you will really have a leg up. So ways to be curious, be present for the conversation. Pay attention to what's happening in your body. So you might think you're being curious. But if your eyes are squinting, if your brow is furrowed, that's a sign that you're actually being critical. And instead of listening for where the other person is wrong, get curious about where they might be right?

Madeline Schwarz 15:47
And ask questions. And there are two ways that people respond to feedback. And I want to hear from the group put in the chat, if you recognize yourself and one of these people either avoid it like the plague, or they get really defensive. So share with us what your default is.

Madeline Schwarz 16:27
Alright, so defend, defensive in your head. Avoiding avoiding, yeah, and one person Erica says it depends on how the information is presented, or who is giving the feedback from another person. And it's good to know what your default is. Because if you're aware that you normally tend to avoid difficult feedback, or get really defensive, then when you feel it happening in your body, you can recognize that and then decide is that going to get you what you want in this situation. Because both of you avoiding and getting defensive are really typical human responses. They're just your fight or flight response kicking in. But unfortunately, neither is likely to get the result that you want. So this is why we want to use these other skills in order to move things forward in a productive way. And

Madeline Schwarz 17:39
think back

Madeline Schwarz 17:40
to skills that you can use to tap into your curiosity, wanted to talk just a moment more about asking questions. Because questions are a great thing to to use when you feel like you're stuck in the conversation. So when you reach an impasse, and each person has dug in their heels, questions are a way to get out of that situation. Because you can throw it back, you can throw the hot potato back to the other person and ask something like, how do you think we should solve this and you want to be careful about the types of questions that you use? Because if you ask a lot of why questions, it puts people, it automatically puts people on the defensive, and it can feel like you're interrogating the other person. So instead, you want to ask questions, open ended questions that can't be answered with yes or no. And that invite more dialogue.

Madeline Schwarz 18:49
And someone says curious or nosy also comes to mind. Yeah, and so you don't want to go overboard with questions. But asking questions, allows each person in the conversation to take responsibility and instead of it being entirely your job to figure out how to get out of this situation, you are suddenly like collaboratively entering a discussion about how to problem solve and move forward, together. And so let's move on to skill number five. And that is to be empathetic. And here I want to focus on something that skill called tactical empathy. And tactical empathy is using empathy proactively. What you want to do when you're in a difficult situation and a tense conversation, if you want to acknowledge and validate whatever the other person is saying, and this is the skill that I wish was in every employee handbook, and that I have learned about her So acknowledging and validating doesn't mean you have to agree, but the other person, and in fact, this is one of the best skills that you can use in a situation where you don't agree and where you have opposing views, whatever the other person is saying, you want to acknowledge their reality. So allow them to think what they think you're not going to change what they think in that moment, especially by telling them why they're wrong. So you just want to acknowledge their their reality. And the way to do that successfully is to take AI out of it. So what we often do is, when someone comes to you with something that they're upset about, we say, I hear you, or I understand, and I can't tell you how frustrating it is to, to have someone respond to my anger with I hear you, and and in a conflict situation, often the other person is thinking you don't understand. So what you want to do instead is use neutral language like it's understandable. Or it makes sense that you feel that way. Tactical empathy is a skill that I learned from Chris Voss, who was the head hostage negotiator for the FBI for 15 years. And it's two parts. So whatever the other person says, you want to paraphrase back to them, using neutral language like it's understood, it's understandable that you feel that way when X, Y and Z happened. And it gives that other person permission to feel the way they feel. So other things to do to activate your empathy, or you need to manage your own emotions in this situation. And this is where tactical empathy and curiosity can work really well together. Because when you feel your emotions bubbling up, let's say, you know, the place where you go, when you are about to get really defensive, or shut down entirely and avoid the situation. Just ask yourself questions in that moment, like, what does it feel like in your body? What's happening in your face? And and label that feeling for yourself? and ask yourself what the other person might feel like in that situation? And why what why is it possible that they are and that they are right, in that situation. And so often we we listen in conversations just for the things that are wrong. So this is what our brain is doing. When the other person is talking. We are tracking like, Oh, that's wrong. That's wrong offense, number one, offense number two, offense number 24. And instead, what we couldn't be doing is listening for common ground and taking their reality as truth. Another guideline here is to listen more than you talk.

Madeline Schwarz 23:31

Madeline Schwarz 23:34
these are the five skills that will help you navigate difficult conversations and stay composed and clear. And I love the way that Chris Voss defines empathy, which is empathy is paying attention to another human being, asking what they're feeling and making a commitment to understanding their world. So I'm going to pause here and ask you to put in the chat if one of these five principles stands out for you. And I'll just review them again, which are to be prepared to be direct. Be attentive, be curious, and be empathetic. So curious, yeah. See a couple people listing curiosity being prepared.

Madeline Schwarz 24:45
Mm hmm.

Madeline Schwarz 24:50
being empathetic empathetic Yeah. And another thing to remember about being empathetic is, it's different than having sympathy for someone else's plate. And when you take yourself out of this situation, you can really and walk around the table like I was talking about earlier, you can picture what that other person feels like. So just to share a personal experience, last year, we were at a rough patch with our seven year old, where he was constantly complaining that we treated him badly. And the typical adult adult response was, if you only knew how good you had, and that, of course, didn't solve anything and only incited more anger in him. And when I was able to put myself in his shoes and take, we treat him badly as his truth, I was able to get really curious and ask different questions, and then have a real conversation about it. And what we found out was, he thought we treated him badly, because we didn't let him take candy and treats to school in his lunch. And then we didn't let him watch TV. And so once we had that information, we could collectively problem solve for that situation. So think about doing that in a professional situation, and how when you listen really Curiously, you can find out the actual information, the problem behind the problem, and solve for that together.

Madeline Schwarz 26:51
And I just wanted to share an example from a client who used all these skills and how, you know, we we may think that as leaders that doing more talking, being more persuasive, is the answer. But instead, when we're able to step back, and improve our listening skills, and have the self control, to not jump in with our own ideas, and let our team and coworkers bring solution bring their solutions forward. It can really motivate teams. And so this leader at Philips and Susan said that her team was really thriving, and that she was sorry, she was surprised at how motivated they were with less direction. And I have a resource for you. So if you want more information on these skills, and you want templates on how to use tactical empathy, how to actually put acknowledging and validating into practice and and what kind of questions to ask, When you want to be curious and show up with more empathy. I invite you to grab this free resource, the four skills to master tricky conversations. And now we have time for questions.

Johanna Pulgarin 28:27
Well, and thank you so so much for your presentation. So far, lots of really great pieces of advice there. And I really enjoyed how everyone has been engaging in the chat box. Thank you, everyone for doing that. Please take this time to send in your questions via the chat as well, Madeline, I did include the link to that offer that Malin just shared in the chat box as well. So if you have a moment, copy that URL, it's also going to be in an email that we send out from elevate to all registrants too. So keep an eye out on your inbox for that additional resource. Let's look at some questions.

Madeline Schwarz 29:11
Okay, great. So the question is, is there anything you can do to encourage others to be more empathetic with you? Yes, um, first for empathy to other people. And you may already be doing this, um, but when we put out the energy that we want, it'll eventually come back to us and and not necessarily right away. Um, but but that is the first place to start because unfortunately, like we can only control how we show up to these conversations. We can't control how the other person shows up. And so letting go of the outcome, like doing all of your homework, being prepared, getting in the right mindset. So that you can show up with the energy that you want in this conversation, but then letting go of the outcome, I think that's where it is, it is most likely that you will get empathy back from the other person. Because sometimes we we might think we're doing that. But really, our brains are being sneaky. And we're not actually being that empathetic, because we are trying to control the outcome and script the conversations. So this is where we're focused on our rebuttals when the other person is, is speaking. And so letting letting go of control a bit there so that we can be present and just show up and fully listen to what the other person is saying. Makes it easier for us to then ask the good questions and collaborate and problem solve together. So Cindy asks, we are taught to take notes during meetings, I find it difficult to listen in the meeting and take notes at the same time. Any suggestions?

Madeline Schwarz 31:02

Madeline Schwarz 31:03
what I find interesting about this is that you're being taught to take notes in meetings. And I find that interesting, if that's like a company wide policy. I don't know what field you work in. But I think sometimes note taking is relegated to women. And so I would just pay attention to and ask whether everyone is splitting the note taking responsibilities, or is everyone taking notes at the same time. And I'm personally I'm a big note taker, I find it helpful to write down what other people are saying. And, and that can be a way to control that impulse to respond before they're finished. But if it's not helpful for you to take notes, and you find that you're better able to listen, and you're able to remember things, maybe you want to experiment, and just focus on listening, and then write down any important notes afterwards. All right, so the next question from Dion Trey, hopefully I'm pronouncing your name right. I'm sorry for not? Can you give a practical example of being curious in a workplace? I'm having a hard time with that one? Sure. Yeah. So um, in my professional career, when I was managing design teams, and big retail design and build projects for multinational clients, I was the one in charge of the deliveries, the schedules of when we would be delivering design, design concepts. And this was often a little bit of a tug of war with the design team. And so, you know, it was my responsibility to keep projects on track timewise, and yet, I'm going to the design team, and you know, talking about deadlines, there was often a lot of pushback around like, Oh, well, we can't have that by this time. And that's a place to be curious. So if someone is telling you something like, Oh, I can't meet this expectation, whatever it is, whether it's a timeline or something else, but if someone's telling, you know, telling you, they can't meet it, like instead of just, you know, coming down part and saying like, nope, there's no flexibility, it has to be done by this time. That's a place to get curious and wonder why and ask, why. Or a better question would be like, how can I help you make that happen? Or how can we work together to make that happen? Because often, it's a matter of the creative team having too many projects on their plate. So when you're trying, when I was a project manager and trying to move up deadlines to to meet client needs, it didn't mean that any other projects were moving off their plate. So that's where, you know, I as the project manager, then had to negotiate with other people within the company to see like, which projects we could push in order to free up the designers time to work on that. Does that answer your question? If it didn't, feel free to ask another question. Okay. So I'm going to go on to the next question. How do you handle when someone regularly says you said something you didn't remove a key word from a sentence that completely changes the meeting? Yeah, so this is an interesting one. Certainly a frustrating situation. But what I think can be helpful there is to use the acknowledge and validate format fair, so acknowledge why they might be upset if they heard one thing Because, you know, their their feelings and assumptions are based on hearing one thing when you actually said something else. And so first acknowledging, like, why they might be feeling the way they did before you then try to explain yourself and correct them of No, I actually said this, it just, it can take all of the the wind out of the out of the argument and then, um, you know, de escalate the situation so that you're in a more neutral place, and then hopefully after you've heard them, they will be in a better place to hear you. When does asking curious questions cross the line to interrogation?

Madeline Schwarz 35:46
I think it's in the, the tone of the questions, the pace of the questions and the type of questions. So if you batter people with a series of why, why why questions? Why is it late guiding you do this? Why yet? That can feel a lot like interrogation. But if instead you ask questions that start with what and how, and you slow it down, so that you give people a chance to answer the questions before you move on to the next one, then I think you move away from that interrogated feeling. And it turns into more of a collaborative conversation. Any other questions that I can answer? I'm so glad I pronounced your name, right. All right. Well, if you have other questions that you think of, after this session, I know sometimes questions come up later, when we go and try try out the skills, I would love to hear from you, you are welcome to email me, or get in touch on LinkedIn, I encourage you to grab that resource with four skills to master tricky conversations because it gives you more and more detail and templates on what we talked about today.

Johanna Pulgarin 37:28
email and thanks again for for taking the time to be here with us today. Really appreciate it. And really appreciate all the information that you shared, I'm actually trying to copy and paste the link to your website and your contact info in the chat box as well. So that we'll have that. And again, all these links will be shared in an email to everyone who registered for this webinar. So if you're missing it in the chat box, no worries, you'll find it in your inbox tomorrow. The recording for this webinar will also be on our website tomorrow. So keep an eye out for that if you miss anything or you want to go back and be played some of your favorite parts, you can rewatch the video there. And I hope to see you all at an event coming up. Thanks, everyone.

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