Logo for Simplicity, A 24 Seven Company

Next Generation Leadership: Compassionate Communications

Leadership for the Next Generation

Click here to download the deck and follow along at your own pace.

My name is Eric Moore. Sometimes you might see me online as the design thinker. And I work alongside simplicity consultants over at Microsoft, helping young or new leaders go to market with interesting communications, product marketing, and overall leadership communication. And today, I want to talk to you about something that's very near and dear to that line of work, but also to what I'm focusing on, which is next generation leadership. And that really is a focus around compassionate and curious communication. How do we not only put empathy forward out into the world? How do we lead with empathy? But how do we stay curious, before we start solving problems as leaders? But before we begin, I want to ask a couple of questions of you out there.

  • What attracts you to consulting?
  • What's the thing that gets you up in the morning to do what it is that you do?
  • Is it financial?
  • Is it flexibility or freedom that you get from it?
  • Or is it fun?

I know for me, it's all of these and so much more. And I suspect for you out there it is, too. But I also want to put a little twist on this question. What is it that you think attracts the clients to you? Is it your experience, your expertise, maybe it's something else like engagement. And arguably, it is all three, but I think it's this last one engagement. That's really critical. And for me, it means taking engagement, and making it equal leadership. Because what you're doing is as a consultant is you yes, you're having an engaging conversation. But you're setting as a model for the people whom you're working with as a leader yourself.

But let's take this a step further, and really unpack what it means to be a leader and what leadership means, at least from these pair of eyes.

We'll start with the state of leadership. Arguably, it's in high demand, we've gone through a tumultuous time in the pandemic, and now we're coming out of it. So there is a real demand for empathetic leadership. Unfortunately, it's in low supply. And you can look around among you and make that argument yourself. But the numbers are showing from HBr to LinkedIn articles. In fact, I took some time just to look at some of the people and thought leaders that I follow on LinkedIn. And they're making it known from Gen Z to millennials to older groups. There's a real big problem leadership and it's broken. Whether it's from hiring people, to dealing with conflict resolution to mindset like Tim Denning puts here. Imagine if we were taught that getting fired, wasn't failure, but redirection. Unfortunately, a lot of leaders don't express themselves in this way. And I suspect they really want to, they just haven't been shown the way. And this is where I think we can come in as consultants and start to set that standard. But let's take it a step further, and really unpack leadership. There are some thought leaders out there on leadership, for lack of better words, like Brene Brown, Julia Gayle, Adam Grant and Simon Sinek, they each come to the table, on leadership in their own unique way. But there's a pattern that emerges among them that I've seen, and they look through a singular lens of empathy. Now, empathy is a big, heavy, overused word that I'm sure a lot of you have seen, particularly if you're active on LinkedIn. But I wanted to spend some time really unpacking empathy and how to drive better leadership. So we go through our little sequence here.

Empathy can be defined in three ways as it is by Daniel Goleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence. Initially, what they came to find out is empathy has three parts. It's either cognitive, it's emotional, and it's compassionate. So let's break down these a little bit further. So you might have empathy. And you think, great, I'm just feeling a certain way towards a certain set of messages that I'm receiving. But what cognitive says is that you indeed understand that perspective, but you don't have to go through the physicality or the motions of what you're hearing, it's most leaders can do this today. And what we're tapping into is taking it a step further, by looking at the emotional component. This is where you might have either experienced a similar situation, or you can feel it emotionally. Compassion takes it a step further, and says, not only do you actually understand the perspective and feel it, but you're compelled to help somebody, in this case, who's ever sharing that message with you.

So, I want to pause here and just share my definition of leadership, knowing how empathy is defined. That is, it's creating a balance between cognitive and emotional empathy, to act without becoming overwhelmed with your own feelings, or jumping into a problem-solving process.

I know a lot of you as consultants out there, that's your job, you solve problems. But leadership can also be in consulting without jumping into a problem-solving process. And I'm going to talk a little bit about what that looks like as we go on. So how do we put empathy to work in the workplace without it feeling awkward or maybe overly emotional? Let's, let's jump in. I've created a model called the real-world empathy model. And it starts with looking at the world in two ways. One is do you have the language of work? How do we speak to our colleagues in a way that is getting work done? Then there's language of life, as we humans will do, will go through work in conflicts or disagreements or arise? And so I like to create a model where what does work language look like? And what is the language of like work like, and how do we cooperate those two. So let's press on. Language of work? Well, for me, it comes in the form of a framework in mindset called design thinking. Now, this funny picture over here is of John E. Arnold. He's a late MIT professor, who taught engineering students to build interesting appliances and mechanical items, in part, some of which would end up in the NASA space program in the early 60s. And what he wanted to do is challenge his engineering students to be a bit more empathetic, what might be called as the Arcturus for empathy case study. Now he knew his students were really talented, they were really good at making mechanical things. But most consumers weren't engineers. They didn't want some overwrought mechanical toaster, they needed something simple and easy to use. So to challenge his students, he came up with a creature an alien creature, from the planets are tourists for and call them methane, Ian's, that's that weird claw that you see there or talent. It's this weird shaped bird that has three eyes and this peculiar little attribute. It likes to be sold to, yes, the methane, Ian's love to just buy things. So he challenged his engineers this case, Professor Arnold, to come up with a way to sell to them a product that they could use. And if you think about it, they only have three digits. They have three eyes. And they're called methane. Ian's because they breathe methane. So the point of this is, is that it gave birth to design thinking. And I'm going to unpack a little bit more of what design thinking means. But it is a process for empathy in the workplace that actually leads to an outcome or a product. So let's take a look.

So I've created the Real World Design Thinking model based on my experience with companies like IDEO, and the Luma Institute, and other service organizations like Fjord and Accenture. So a lot of this is my experience from these different models. And I've tried to narrow it down for this audience here. And the real-world model says, look in design thinking we need to see the world we need to understand the world, then we can make something for the world. Then we have to go off and storytelling. We have to tell the world our story. What is this thing we just made? Let's break this down a little bit further. To see the world means you have to do empathy-based research, getting out there hitting the pavement, watching what your customers do, talking to your customers, stakeholders, whoever that may be, you must take a human centric, empathy-based approach. And all I believe all great leaders take this into account. Next, once you've seen the world, you need to understand it. That means taking all of that research and making some sense of it, you may call it, analyzing it, reviewing it, whatever it is, you now understand the world that moves you forward into making. This is when you start to get into ideation and brainstorming, testing things, designing things, breaking them and doing it all over again. For me, that's mainly the fun part. Once you've made something, and I know for a lot of you consultants watching, particularly in marketing and communications, get to your fun part, which is the storytelling. And depending on the audience, you could be pitching internally, or going outward and doing marketing. This is the language of work. You don't always have to make a product, but it's a service, it may be a project, it may be even as simple as a pitch deck. If you go through this process, you're creating a more empathetic leadership and language of work.

Okay, so you want some proof? Here we are. Design thinking has been used across the world in many organizations successfully. And my favorite story is from PepsiCo, where we have former CEO Indra Nooyi where she adopted design thinking, to challenge the board of PepsiCo to come up with new ways of coming up with new products or just looking at the market differently. And she retired recently or stepped down as CEO as one of the most successful CEOs. But in her case, in 2015, I believe it was she was starting to see the public raised concern about junk food. And well PepsiCo does have a fair amount of junk food as part of the design thinking process. They got out of the building, and they started talking to customers, parents, who were worried about junk food, but understood that it's still part of their life. So they came up with this idea that junk food is fun for you food. And yes, indeed, healthy food was part of that conversation. But even healthy food had negative connotations. Am I going to eat kale and quinoa for the rest of my days. But no. Indra and her team said, Look, we can also make good for you food and have a healthy balance between both. And they increase their portfolio to have products like easy water and Tropicana that had less sugar and less fat content. The point is, is that they used an empathetic approach to leadership and product design. Okay, so what does that mean? Well, at the end of the day design thinking is a collaborative framework. So it's all that work that you're doing throughout the day. But it's also that mindset, how do we lead with empathy, and it uses the designers toolkit, whether it's a product or service, toward solving problems, there's a little bit of creativity in there that you're going to tap into.

Okay, Eric, well, that's great. We understand some language of work. How do we get along in life?

Well, let's talk about the language of life.

Because we're not always going to have that nice, neat path like PepsiCo. So the language of life for me starts with nonviolent communication, by the late great Marshall Rosenberg. And he found himself in the middle of the 1960s era school integrations where he was talking, mediating tough conversations. And he came up with this framework called the nonviolent communication, which we'll unpack here in just a moment. But the term became nonviolent communication, because he was really in the midst of things like Middle East negotiations, and dealing with warring tribes, conflict resolutions, where, frankly, these tribes were killing each other's children's and grandmothers. And it was very sad and tough time. So I don't want to frighten you too much with the term nonviolent communication, you can use the term compassion communication, but really the heart of it is that when you think of some of the words we use, they can sound violent, for example, and this is what I hear every day, almost when I'm presenting new ideas. People will say, Well, I want to shoot down that idea or I'm gonna poke holes in it. I know they don't mean me any harm, but There's just a certain language that we need to keep an eye on in order to effectively communicate in this language of life. So let's get into it. So the language of life or nonviolent communication asks you to first make an observation. This is a comment with no judgment, no feelings, just what have you seen. Next, you can then stick your feelings, I saw a thing, it made me feel a way. And then you make your needs known about what you've just seen, and what you felt. It's only then can you actually make a request of the other person. If they know you've made an observation, they understand your feelings, what your needs are moving forward, you ask them to fulfill it. And oftentimes conflicts is nothing more than some unmet need some unmet meet that you met need, rather, that hasn't been expressed verbally so that someone can help you. So let's take a look. Or for nonviolent communication training, you may make an observation like this. Boy that Janelle is so lazy, and that's why her work is always late. Okay. But there's, there's some problems there because it's making a judgement. It's not an observation that is based on any real fact. Yep, it's true, she may be late. But let's unpack this a little bit further. If we take a look at this observation after nonviolent communication, we can say something like, you know, for the past two weeks, I've noticed Janelle's work has been late. And here's the clear observation paths to projects because it's quantifiable. And indeed they were late, based on whatever the date or time constraint was. So this is the slight little flip. There's no judgment. I'm not calling Janelle lazy. In this case, I'm just saying, Yep. She's been like, okay, now I have some feelings about it. Now, how am I gonna express about someone being lazy? Well, in my mind, I might say, Janelle, I feel like you're lazy, because your work is always late. Well, here's the problem with that. You can't feel laziness. That is an assessment or a judgment of someone else's abilities. I can feel lazy about myself, meaning I'm feeling lazy today. But the point of that is not to project that feeling onto Janelle in this case. All right, so let's ask, what does feelings look like after nonviolent communication? Well, you might say something like, Janelle, you know, for the past two projects, I've noticed your work has been late, and I'm worried about your progress. And here's a key key thing. I'm worried. In this case, I'm owning my feelings. That is my feeling. Again, I can't feel someone's lazy, but I can say I am worried about where she's headed. So these are some key points that I want you to take away, make a true observation and make your feeling known. Then we start to move into the meat. Okay, great. You're upset or you're feeling something? What is it that you really need? So I might say something in the old days, I'm upset by your recent late work to know how embarrassing for the team pretty harsh. But in this example, the sender isn't really expressing a clear need. It could be taken one of two ways. Don't be late. Or don't embarrass the team. But it's not clear. It's still not clear.

So what we would say in the after, is that Janelle, you know, for the past two projects, I've noticed your work has been late, and I'm worried about your progress. It's important to me that our team members grow and flourish. And so there are some clear expressions of needs here. In this case, not only the worry, which is the feeling but the leader is expressing a need to see her grow. Not only her, but of course, the entire team. All right. So now you make a request. Yes, you can say get your work done on time. And that's one approach. But let me give you a twist on this one. Janelle, you better turn your work on time and we're going to have real problems here. I've heard that before. And it doesn't always feel good. And yes, someone has to be held accountable. But there can be a way in done where it's productive. Here in the afternoon. You might say Janelle, please let me know at least a week in advance. That's the request if you're unable to turn in your work, and I'll see what I can do to help you. And that's what true leadership is all about. Making the request but also offering help. But there's another side of this story. That's Janelle says. We've only heard my side of the story. So let's see what Janelle does. Now that she's taken nonviolent communication, and kind of being the brunt of all of this. Number one, she will make an observation. You're right. I have been late recently, I've had multiple IT issues, and access restrictions that coincided with the delivery of my projects, great observation, no feelings are involved. And she's made it pretty clear. Number two, she's expressing feelings. Thank you for bringing your concern to my attention. It feels good to hear you, as the leader want to see me grow and flourish. Number three, the need, I want to grow and to help the team to great. Now, Janelle can't really make a request, but she can accept the request, I will do better to communicate ahead of time and more frequently.

Next generation leadership takes these two concepts, the language of work, in this case design thinking, and the language of life, which is nonviolent communication, and puts them together in order to create that new generation of leadership. I want to leave you with these final next steps, you'll have these leaks all available to you. I have a two-part conversation podcast on the future where we talk about what design thinking is, and some objection handling to design thinking as a way to help you incorporate it to your work and your clients. I've written a book on the design thinking, steps and processes that you can find at the link here. I encourage you also to read Juliet gala ifs book, The Scout mindset, where she really breaks down the different languages of the soldier mindset member shooting things down, and the scout mindset who looks towards empathy and mapmaking to solve problems.

Next Steps:

Listen to the conversation: The Futur Podcast: 2-part series

  1. Design Thinking Defined https://thefutur.com/content/know-your-audience
  2. Design Thinking is not Bulls*t https://thefutur.com/content/what-is-design-thinking

Read the book:

The Design Thinking Guidebook by Eric Moore

The Scout Mindset by Julia Galef

Free resources

Design Thinking Real-World© Guide: https://thedesignthinker.org/rwdtguide

Nonviolent Communication Guide: https://thedesignthinker.org/nvc-guide-resource

About the Expert:

Are you ready to hear from The Design Thinker? Eric is the only communications specialist practicing design thinking to transform quiet leaders across the globe into influential storytellers in the human-centric era. He has worked with leaders and their teams from Microsoft, Accenture, ServiceNow, Pokémon, and Boston Scientific. He is also a regular contributor to Medium.com - UX Collective, Bootcamp, and The Startup.

Reach out to Eric at hello@thedesignthinker.org! About Eric Moore — The Design Thinker

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram