Brain Science – Episode #26

It all begins with empathy

exploring the 3 types of empathy & compassion

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Have you heard the phrase, “Put yourself in their shoes?” In this episode, the conversation focuses on the “HOW” and why it all begins with empathy. Empathy is the key that enables access to another person’s perspective and emotional state. It is also a fundamental aspect of building and sustaining relationships with others. The fascinating thing is that there are 3 types of empathy: cognitive, social, and empathic concern. Plus there’s a counterpart component called compassion that moves us to take action.


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Today we’re gonna revisit the topic of empathy, and in particular, this idea that it all begins with empathy. All healing, all relational struggles, all societal struggles, all the ways we are against one another. The way that we come back to center is by empathy. So did you know it all begins with empathy, Mireille?

I do. It is such a critical thing and I actually– it so reminds me of this early experience with my husband… So we had gone to this sort of training for premarital counseling, and it was a whole-group event, and one of the exercises is that they had everybody do is actually have partners switch shoes. So my husband put on my shoes, I put on his, and he often references back to that and he says, “I should have known then.”

Oh, boy.

Right? [laughs]

It’s like what you hear all the time, walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes kind of thing. You literally put on somebody else’s shoes, and you get their perspective.

Yes, and so in working with couples a lot, part of what I actively try to help them do is see things from their partner’s perspective… It really changes even how we feel when we can see things from another person’s perspective.

Yeah. The reason why I think it’s really important for us to camp out on this idea that it all begins with empathy is because, in many ways, as you said here, even relationally, with husband or wife or spouses or partners or whatever, in these relationships, seeing eye to eye requires this ability to see from somebody else’s perspective. And so in all facets of life, all the challenges that are faced out there, if we don’t slow down enough to take time to understand, listen - and we’ll go through a lot of these different things to give this perspective of empathy - but slow down enough to listen and to really see things from somebody else’s eyes and… Like, there’s no healing. There’s no healing, that’s possible unless we do that.

That’s exactly it, and that empathy is defined as really giving us access to another person’s internal state by recreating a representation of that in the observing person. And so when I talk about healing, I think of it from a relational perspective, of goin, “I could see how they could see it from that perspective,” but that doesn’t mean that’s my perspective. Hence why it is recreating this representation in the observing person.

[04:29] Yeah, it’s hard too. I mean, this is a learned behavior. You have to practice; you have to show up and practice.

It requires some other things; compassion is a result of some of these things as well. I mean, just maybe this is where things go awry, is that it does take practice, it does take learned behavior. Empathy may be a natural thing that occurs between humans, but to truly understand the concept and to deploy it in your life consistently, to keep putting it out there, to keep trying, to keep showing back up again, it takes a desire. You’ve gotta wanna be empathetic to people.

I’m having flashbacks of cheerleading days, like you’ve gotta will it to want it. [laughs]

You’ve gotta will it to want it.

Right? But it does, and I think it’s hard. You talked about that this is a learned thing, but that it’s something we all do throughout our lives… But it is very much a skill. So all of us might have personality traits or characteristics that lead us to being more empathetic naturally, but that doesn’t mean it’s a fixed state, and I think that’s why these conversations are so valuable, because there’s so many things in our lives that we can build, if we put forth effort relative to that. I think one of the challenges for many people is navigating it. How do I manage relationships with others when maybe they are less empathetic or unempathetic?

Yeah. Well, it goes back to relationships generally. When involved in a relationship, if you think I’m in this relationship because I think at some point, this person will change or I can change them, well, you have to accept people for who and where they are, and not think, “Well, I love them because the future version I can make them or they will become, not because of the person they are today…”

…and that’s where things get off track too, because if we’re in that zone, we’re thinking like– that’s not empathy at all; I don’t know what that’s called. I’m not a psychologist; I have no idea what to term that, but it’s not okay. I want to love the people I love because of who they are, not because of who they will be, or who I think I can make them be.

Yeah. Well, so in order for our listeners to understand, we’ve talked about empathy in other episodes, but we want to do a deeper dive relative to relationships and understanding this in a broader, deeper way. So it was psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman who broke down this concept of empathy into three different categories. So they describe it as there’s cognitive empathy, emotional empathy and then compassionate empathy.

Cognitive empathy is really the sense of perspective-taking that we’re talking about, and it’s the ability to understand how a person feels and what they might be thinking… But it doesn’t necessarily engage one’s emotions. So it’s much more of a rational and logical process. So I think about it like, “Yeah, yeah, I get it.”

Right. Yeah, yeah, I get it. That’s good; I get that.

[07:58] Right? Where that feels a bit flippant, and so it’s more ethereal or distance– disengaged from, actually. So this is a way in which I can say - and I have to create this caveat, in that one of the things as we begin to do research around a topic is everybody utilizes different language, and so researchers are talking about this and going, “Well, is cognitive empathy really empathy, or is that more relative to what some might call just perspective-taking, and others might call it theory of mind, and then we can just tunnel down?”

Right, go too far, yeah. Well, I think, from a layman’s perspective, someone who’s not trained in psychology, really aside from my curiosity, I can see how this is a variation of empathy… And Daniel’s right. I mean, I can see that, because it may not be the full picture of what we see and know and try to describe as empathy; it’s a sliver of it, and with this sliver and two other slivers, you get to build upon the full picture of empathy. It’s like multi-pane glass; it’s all the window.

Yeah, sure. Good analogy. So I think of it– one of the things or ways in which cognitive empathy can be helpful is the way in which it helps us communicate more effectively… Because if I have an awareness of where another person is at, it helps us shoot information or relay information to that person in a way that is going to be best received.

Right… Which is a skill. I mean, it’s totally– it is empathy; it’s a variation of it. It’s definitely something you can get better at. And relaying information in a way that’s best received, imagine the opposite - relaying information where it’s not well received. I mean, we need that as part of the empathetic process. Being and showing empathy and having compassion. If that was the missing component, would you have the full picture of empathy? That’s what I mean, would you have the full picture? You probably wouldn’t.

Right. Yeah, and this is why in other episodes, we’ve talked about understanding what’s beneath the iceberg of an individual, and how that makes a difference. If you recognize where they’ve come from, it allows you to take a different perspective, and then can relate with them differently.

Right. The next one’s probably the one that people identify with most easily. Emotional empathy.

That seems like the real empathy, right?

“The real Slim Shady”, the real empathy… I don’t know.

Right? [laughs] Well, it really helps build emotional connections with other people, and a lot of research around empathy has been focused on pain or negative emotions, because it’s this way– I think of commiserating… Or I know, having been through graduate school and all the hurdles you’ve gotta jump through, there was a sense of shared empathy, which looked like camaraderie of like, “Oh, you know how bad that sucked, too.” Like, “Oh, yeah, I got it.”

Yes. You connect more with them because you felt the same pain, and so you love them more and want them to feel less pain because you felt the same pain, and onward you go through connecting deeper, because you have similarities. That’s what we all do; we connect on similarities, right?

So if you connect on the pain level, or maybe even the healing process… That’s why even grieving folks, the people who have lost loved ones, they get together for grief share or grief meetings and things like that, and they share a story. So sometimes hearing somebody else’s story is healing to you, because you’re not alone… And that’s what– we all don’t want to be alone, we need companionship, and so you meet with your companion in empathy.

Yeah, and this is why it gets a little murky even in talking about it, because having that perspective-taking is a valuable aspect to feeling the emotional connection. I’ve been where you’ve been, and I know that you can get through it. I’ve encountered hardships and I got through it, and so let me help bolster or boost you, as you face this hardship or challenging thing that you’re trying to navigate.

[12:30] Yeah, and you often even wonder “ Did I go through that just to help others who go through it after me?” and what a burden that is, but also a blessing. It’s like, “Well, great, I will help these people because I’ve been there too”, and you almost do it grudgingly, but at the same time it’s very fulfilling because you get to have, for some reason, whatever you went through, whether it’s grief and loss of a person or maybe it’s somebody in business who failed significantly and tanked, and they can reach to other future founders or other makers, like “Don’t do these things” or whatever… Unfortunately, they had to go through the mess to learn the things to pass on the knowledge. So there’s that resentment of that, but it’s still healing because it wasn’t in vain.

Yes, yeah. Well, so even getting at that - it sparks this thought in me relative to when this emotional empathy doesn’t work so well, because the healing hasn’t happened. Some people will talk about make your mess your message, which there’s merit in… However, ideally, there’s some healing that happened first, because otherwise, this emotional sense of empathy allows me to over-relate with somebody else as if like, “Oh, yeah, I’m back there in it.” So I can be overwhelmed by my own emotions in a way that then I can’t respond in a helpful way. I mean, can you imagine from a therapist’s perspective, if you shared something really upsetting and saddening with me, and then I started crying? [laughter] That wouldn’t be so good.

I didn’t sign up for that. You’re supposed to listen, not feel.

Right, and it doesn’t mean though that– sometimes that isn’t warranted in the sense of not falling apart, but like “Wow, that pain is so heavy.”

So it gets at this other component relative to our own ability to modulate our emotions as we empathize with another.

Yeah, it just occurred to me that the challenge you face personally, you face personally as a human, has got to be pretty hard to be both therapist for a timeframe of the day, or maybe on-off switch. How do you modulate the professional Mireille who has to sit there and not cry when you hear a super-sad story, because I’m sure you hear some very terrible things…

…and to not be emotionally involved, but be clinically involved, but still be human, like to show up… I mean, I can only imagine the challenge you face relationally because of the work you do and have to do in the way you have to on/off or show up in certain ways… Because you’re right, if you showed up to work today, sat down with somebody, heard a really sad story and started crying as a result– I’m sure you have emotion involved, but you have to be very purposeful with how you display your involvement, because you’re there for a purpose and your purpose is therapy, and therapy is a process.

It is. I mean, it’s a skill I’ve cultivated over years, and ideally, this is why – I mean, people go to school and learn for themselves and really practice, experimenting with themselves relative to what habits work. I think the research relative to the amount of mental health professionals who exercises is ridiculously high.

Is that right?

Yeah, because you barter that energy of like, “I’m gonna exchange this negative for the positive, and it helps my own physiology, and to hold more emotions.”

[16:18] Yeah, because emotions– what is it? Emotions are motions? What was it?

Emotions are energy.

Emotions are energy. That’s it. Yeah, I was trying to go back in my mind, what is it that we said…? Emotions are energy, they have to go somewhere… And that’s the thing with even outcry, or whatever it might be. The display of energy after an emotion may not always be warranted, but it’s justified in terms of like, “It’s got to go somewhere.” It’s got to go somewhere; it’s like a lightning rod, like a lightning bolt. It’s got to go down. It’s gotta hit the Earth somewhere, or something.

Right, and this is why– so I always talk about my line of work as it’s an incredibly social field. I’m interfacing with people all day, but it’s also incredibly lonely, because I’m not bartering that in a verbal way with other people. Recognizing and being aware of myself, what I can handle, what are my commitments, responsibilities, what can I bring to the table, how much can I allocate, and do I need to reallocate where I spend my time, the things I get invested in, and that sort of thing…?

But part of what you’re even talking about relative to this is that third aspect of empathy that Goleman and Ekman talk about, which is compassionate empathy. And this goes beyond simply understanding others and sharing their feelings, but actually moves us to take action to help in whatever way that we can.

Yeah, because the true definition, the-full encompassing - not the true, but the full encompassing definition of empathy is not just simply being able to feel and communicate with people in empathetic ways, but being able then to desire to not only understand somebody’s pain, but want to take an active role. It may not be solving the whole thing, but solving some of it; a role in alleviating that pain, changing that pain, which does require a non-sedentary action. It requires motion of some sort, emotion of some sort, involvement of some sort, relation of some sort.

Right. Compassion - it doesn’t just stop at the emotion, but moves to motion. Here in my area, there tends to be a fair amount of homeless people, and so you encounter them in one way or another and going, “Here’s water, here’s food.” I’m motivated and moved to respond to them in a way, and interestingly enough, there isn’t necessarily a verbal exchange other than maybe it’s them making their need known. But that, I’m like not just, “Oh, that’s really sad or too bad,” i.e. the emotional empathy, but I’m going to be compassionate and go, “What do I have that I could share with you that might buffer the pain that you’re encountering?”

And you may not solve the whole problem.

It may be that day’s problem. It may not be, “Here’s what gets you out of homelessness and into stable housing, stable job, stable relations, community, etc. This may be one action that takes you one step closer, or remind you that it’s still possible.”

Right, and so talking about this compassionate empathy, I can’t help but pull in some of the neuroscience relative to it around mirror neurons. Mirror neurons, as we’ve talked about before, are an interesting thing, in that they’re actually connected with the motor systems in our brain. So it’s not surprising that when I feel a significant sense of empathy for another, that my body is motivated to move in response to that.

[20:03] Right? So it involves this prediction around “I’m presuming this is where your emotional state is”, and then I can imagine that this might be something that would buffer that, and I then want to respond with an action to that.

I pulled this from Psychology Today, it says– it’s one on mirror neurons and addiction, but this is applicable here. It says, “Instead of our brains using logical thought processes to interpret, and as you said, predict other people’s actions, we understand others, not by thinking but by feeling, and mirror neurons appear to allow us to make sense of other people’s intentions as well as their actions, as well as interpret facial expressions, etc.” So it’s like– it’s the whole reason why whenever you yawn, I might yawn, or whenever you scratch your chin, I might scratch my chin, or you laugh, I might laugh. It’s this whole feel, think, but then act as based upon that.

Right. Yeah, because that’s really how– it’s like this emotional resonance. I resonate with another person in terms of perspective and where they are. So I mentioned this earlier, but it is so important to recognize that whether and to what extent we can empathize with other people has to do with situational and relational variables, as well as motivational factors.

Right, because it’s easier to have empathy for people that, I suppose, matter to you. Is that an easy way to phrase? I mean, I know it’s just a little not compassionate maybe to say it like that, but they just– people matter who don’t matter. I mean, just in terms of the closeness.

Yeah, closely affiliate– like, if I’m an affiliate. You’re affiliated with me, you’re in my in-group, and so this is supported by other research relative to the role of oxytocin in both empathy and attachment. If you aren’t familiar with oxytocin, it’s a feel-good neurochemical that helps with attachment. And so it’s not that surprising to go, “I would be more prone, so to speak, to have more space or room to empathize with somebody with whom I’m connected in some form or fashion.” So similarly, the research does show that we can have less empathy toward out-group others.

Yeah, and that probably is a good indication too that there lacks empathy for people or for situations or scenarios for which we don’t have emotional buy-in… Because the proximity, the in-groups, as you’d mentioned, just aren’t there. They should because we’re all human, and it’s really– I don’t know how to describe it except for that the world that we live in individually has… Like, our bubbles have grown.

Back in the day, before the internet, before we were so connected– we’re such a hyper-connected species now, whereas before, we weren’t. Our worlds are so much bigger than they had been before. Not that that makes us more or less, but it’s grown our opportunity for empathy, maybe beyond our capacity, I don’t know. There’s studies of how many in groups you can have. You can really have 12 good friends or a certain number. There’s studies on this stuff that we can probably pull some research from, but that is essentially– you have a limited number of people that you can truly care about, which means empathy. So at some point, we get to a finite resource that can only go so far before we encounter problems.

[23:51] Yeah. This is again going back to allocating resources. I often have said that I can’t be a first-responder in all aspects of my life. So knowing that my career, my job is primarily helping people through hard emotional stuff, then I can’t go and do that in the same way in other facets of my life, simply because I’m trying to help in a way that is really helpful over here. But holding that awareness, and then I can make different decisions relative to that. One of the things is really going – when we talk about motivational factors, like “How can I really learn about somebody who is very different than I am?”, because that’s how I can build more empathy of like “Wow…!” And guess what I always discover. There’s some little thread in which I can relate and then I build upon that. I didn’t know you had that shared interest, I didn’t know you lived there, I didn’t know you visited here, I didn’t– pick something.

Right. Well, what’s interesting more so is that that’s all back-story.

We’ve talked about that, the importance of back-story, and I think that’s what it all takes, is willingness to learn about somebody else or some other group of people that’s the other, that’s not you, that seems dissimilar, seems alien potentially even to you, not at all like you, but yet are. Be willing to slow down enough to care, to listen and to hear why, how, when, what, all the W’s when it comes to understanding the story… But the point is getting that back-story from people is the critical component to building this thread, as you’d mentioned, to seeing the similarities to build upon in the first place, and you can’t get to a position of empathy unless you take that time or have that desire and ability– and it takes action, it takes purposeful listening, it takes intention.

Right. Yeah, and so we talk about this relative to relationships from a general perspective, but what if we move it over into this specific lane relative to work? Because work relationships are somewhat of a different breed, in that everybody comes with their own back-story, and very much like group projects when we were in school, you don’t get to pick always who you work with.

Right. Like, “That’s my partner? Come on. For real? Can we do this again?”

[laughs] Right? What role does empathy have and why does it matter in the workplace?

I don’t know. What role does empathy have and how does it work in the workplace? Is there a rulebook for empathy in the workplace? I would say that if you show up on a team– when you take a job, when you join a group, you’re joining the team, and there’s some social contract of joining and being a part of and playing a role in a team.

Sure. So from my psychology language, much of how I think about work relationships is like family systems. So there are systems at play in work environments. Sometimes those are more functional and sometimes they’re more dysfunctional relative to aspects of power, productivity, expectation, flexibility… And so everywhere we go, there’s systems. So if you’re in a work environment and that system doesn’t necessarily work for you, or there’s something that feels really aversive, upsetting or abrasive, that you could start to go, “Hmmm, I wonder what it would look like…?” Is there a high degree of empathy, shared understanding that facilitates more teamwork and team goal over just the individual goal or productivity?

[28:10] Well, we had an awesome show on the Changelog a while back. David Kaplan. He runs the software engineering team at Policygenius, and he reached out to us, had a great idea to share.. I think you might be teeing off this generative culture idea that he shared with us. This term generative culture was coined by a sociologist named Ron Westrum in 1980 actually, and he was researching complex technological systems in the organizations that produce and maintain them. Long story short, he identified these organizational cultures. They range from pathological to bureaucratic to generative…

And while on this call with Dave, it was really interesting to find out - you might be on a team that you sign up for, as we just said, like “Hey, you signed up to be on this team”, and realize that you’re in a pathological system that may be completely against the way that you operate. And there’s different attributes associated with pathological, bureaucratic to generative, and the idea was that you wanted to be in a generative culture, which is a hybrid of many of these. And as you had said, they all relate back to relational and how they work, and it’s top-down, not so much like – the organization didn’t just decide; it was somebody who was at the top, generally - the executives, the founders… It could be a small company, it could be a large company, whomever; somebody defined the DNA of relationships in this organization, and that’s what set the culture off. And when people speak of culture, that’s generally what they mean, is “How do people treat each other in this organization?” That’s culture.

Right. And I would say what’s tolerated.

Right. That’s even better.

Right? Because is there cooperation? This generative team culture is that people are trained, risks are shared. It’s not like you’re out there as the sole person, and if you don’t meet the demand or perform accordingly, you’re the one who’s going to take the fall. Failure leads to inquiry, or I would say in that, that failure leads to learning, instead of punishment. So there’s this sense of process and sharing together, “We’re all in this together.” And I always say, “I don’t need 12 goalies on a field. I need 11 players, and that everybody does their role.”

Right. Yeah, I don’t have it in front of me, but I once wrote, “I am a cog,” and there’s a well-known book by Seth Godin; I’ve read it, I love the book, it’s a great message… Except I disagree, somewhat. And the book he wrote was called Linchpin, and it was about being a linchpin in your organization, and my theory was that you can’t be a linchpin, because it goes against the need for the team. I’d go with more so into the post, I’m not being so eloquent about my message here; I’ll link to in the show notes, but it’s more so that I’m like, “I’m a cog. I’m here for the mission, for the team. I serve my individual purpose, because at any day, any given moment, for whatever reason, I can need to be replaced.” You know what I mean? So it’s not that I’m irreplaceable/linchpin (a linchpin is irreplaceable), it’s that I want to serve the best purpose I can for my team, for my team’s goal, for our collective needs. I don’t want to show up and do that every single day and do it well.

Right. Yeah, and I think that recognizing and going, “I care; the perspective looks like we have this common goal, and I’m going to sacrifice in this way or bring this to the table, or if my teammate is struggling, I’m going to support them because it all converges to or towards that goal.” And this is why empathy is so important, because who struggles with the same thing? Nobody.

[32:21] Everybody. I would say, everybody, wouldn’t you say?

Well, everybody struggles in terms of work.

Okay. I was misaligned then. Everybody struggles, but not with the same thing.

Yeah, in the sense of what a task that I can find is super easy– I mean, I can look at it in terms of organization. Some people are super-organized, and they can track all the things, and they bring it, and that’s not challenging for them. Whereas other people are like, “Well, it’s somewhere in my house, or it’s somewhere in my office, or somebody’s got it”, but there’s a value that all of us bring in. So going, “Well, I’m so irritated or annoyed that this person can’t perform *like I would*” Right? Then that’s lower empathy, which then isn’t going to move me to act or respond towards my team member in a helpful way to complete a project.

So we have a clear understanding of empathy, at least to some degree. We understand how it plays out, especially in the workplace, but what about whenever you’re trying to be empathetic with someone or expect empathy from them, and they can’t give it to you? What do we do there?

Yeah, awesome question, because it’s like–

It happens.

And you’re like, “Why are they not showing up in these ways? Why when I respond in these ways, they don’t respond back in this normal or expected manner, or whatever it might be what others do?” and it’s like, “Why aren’t they showing up?”

Well, I can go way to the extreme of looking at it relative to the mental health issues that interfere with people’s ability to empathize. Is that helpful?

Somebody doesn’t have to meet clinical criteria for this to be an aspect of how they interface in their relationship, because not everybody– like all things, there’s continuums, and so some people might be further on down the road than others… But when people have this characterological style - and there’s more to it than this - but one key diagnosis wherein the lack of empathy is hallmark, is what we call narcissistic personality disorder. But if we zoom back and go on the continuum, just narcissism in general… And the reason that I would say people with this issue have a hard time empathizing - it’s sort of this defensive way of managing their own fragility.

A narcissistic individual I think of is someone who thinks very highly of themselves, they need the attaboys. “Nobody’s as good as me, other people are inferior”, and this general lack of empathy. “I feel inferior or small or fragile, so I struggle with managing my own emotion relative to myself. So I’m going to perceive it as a threat to have to give credence to another person’s perspective that isn’t my own. So I am going to fiercely and rigidly protect myself at all costs”, and that vicariously inhibits the working together or collaborating in a helpful way.

Yeah, I had to look it up too, because I was like, “What exactly is narcissism?” Even googling it, I kept landing on the personality disorder part of it. It was all about the clinical side; it was not just what is narcissism, generally, and I finally found definition. Personality qualities include thinking very highly of oneself… So some of this is repeating what you said, Mireille - thinking very highly of oneself, needing admiration and believing others are inferior, and then finally, lacking empathy for others, which is what we’re talking about. It’s like, when we’re trying to interface with different people, you may be hitting that brick wall.

[36:21] And like you had said, it’s a wide spectrum of narcissistic behavior disorder. It’s a wide spectrum there; we all probably have some aspect of narcissism in our life at any given moment, I don’t know, maybe you can answer that. But that you might be hitting a brick wall with somebody and you’re thinking “Why?” and maybe you can start to evaluate this person a bit more, like do they tend to think very highly of themselves or do they need admiration? I even had to question myself on reading this definition. I’m like, “I like admiration sometimes. I enjoy it, but do I need it?” So I think, even asking for myself, like “I like it when I do great things.” If I achieve a goal, I love it when I get a response from the people I’m working with… Not so much praise, but I guess, just feedback.

So we have to really consider this definition and the people we’re working with in life. The reason they can’t show up maybe it’s because they’re in this spectrum.

Yeah, so one of the ways in which you can think about it is people with narcissism - you can often walk away feeling ashamed, or that sense of not good enough like, “Goodness gracious, nothing I ever do lives up to what they expect, or I just feel so belittled in my interactions.” And sometimes, remember, language can be nuanced. If I were to say, “That’s okay” or “Yeah, that’s okay…” There’s nuances in language which can still convey this sense of belittling or shaming… Because it is this “You are inadequate and I am amazingly adequate, and how about you just tell me about how amazing and adequate I am and then we’ll be fine?” [laughs]

I’m not that person. Okay, cool. Thank you for– that’s not me. That’s definitely not me.

Right? But you can see when you’re talking about company cultures wherein there’s this significant power dynamic, and that it’s a top-down way in which it interfaces, where this can become problematic. Because I also– that other quality relative to narcissism is seeing people more as things than as humans. Like “You are a thing. I need thing number one to do what I need it to do so that we’re okay, and then I need thing number two– you are just an object to meet whatever productivity needs I have. I don’t understand why you have a problem. Just do it.”

Yeah. “What’s wrong with you? Why haven’t you moved already?”

“I should have this thing back. We should be done with this thing.” Whatever, yeah.

Well, the question that we got to ask ourselves is if you’re in that situation, particularly the workplace, what can you do? What do you do? Well, maybe you quit. That’s maybe the easy button, or the hard button, depending upon which perspective you’re taking. But Darren Murph, actually, he was on the Changelog recently, and he’s the Head of Remote at GitLab, and he shared something pretty profound… It was one of their values, the no ego rule. And there’s a book of similar title we talked about on the show, it’s the No Butthole Rule, basically. It’s this idea– and I like their version of it better, because it’s like, “If you don’t bring your ego, you can’t bring your narcissism, you can’t bring this perspective”, and it sets the tone, as you’d mentioned before, in terms of culture, generative cultures. It’s like, “This is the rule we play by. It’s what we don’t allow, it’s what we allow” kind of thing… And I love that they brought this, like, “You know what, to begin to solve this problem in particular, this rule is in place, or this value is in place and we as a company, as an organization, hold this value, and everyone who joins this team understands that we all hold this value. So you join this team because you also hold this value”, and it’s very clear.

[40:06] Yeah, but see how at the top they set the standard, and then reinforce it in terms of their responses or behavior. And so, power is a component of day to day lives, but it doesn’t have to be a construct that’s binary like, “If you have it, I don’t” that everything is zero-sum. “Well, you had more so I don’t have as much, so now I’m going to get on my gerbil wheel and try to muster back up to the same level of power”, and meanwhile, you teeter-totter back down… And you can see how that would never work well in terms of outcomes, because you need– we all work better together; because more people collaborating can create bigger, better, broader things.

Yeah. One thing that I can’t help but say is what this does for them in particular is– we talked about this before in prepping for this call, is when you encounter these kinds of people, these egotistical people, these narcissistic folks… Not that they’re bad people; I don’t want to remove them from my life, but I can’t solve their problems, I can’t help them personally. So I need to personally reduce, restrict or omit them, and that’s what this no– I almost said no… The name of the book– that’s what the no ego rule does, is it literally omits them in this case. But the idea is if you’re encountering these types of people in your life, and while you can understand that you can’t solve their problems personally, maybe you can give them some pointers - I don’t think they’ll take them - but you can reduce, restrict or omit.

Right. And so recognizing that they can play a lesser of a role in your life… And ironically, you could actually be empathetic to them and go, “You know what–” I mean so many things I think about, like my phase of life with kids movies, but it’s like in the movie Ferdinand… At the very end, he’s like, “I’m not a fighter.” That’s the whole message. Sorry, guys. I’m gonna wreck it. “I’m not a fighter.” And so when the Matador has full rein to slaughter him in the arena, what does he do? He sits down, and he doesn’t use his power, which, ironically, is what?

His power.

His lack of using his power is his power.

Right. So I’m not going to engage you in a way in which it has to be a battle relative to you getting the attaboys that you need like, “Go ahead, you can have them. But I’m gonna work hard and do my job because it’s important to me, because it’s important to the product or the task or other people in my life.” So you just give them less weight as it relates to your own emotional world. Does that make sense?

You deflate their balloon, essentially. You don’t you don’t allow it to have the air to be the balloon.

Yeah, like they can go ahead and they can do that. So it’s figuring out how to work alongside. Usually, where this is a challenge for people - there was something that was awry way earlier on in their life, and so if you could see it as just impoverished coping… They just didn’t learn a better way, and now it’s pretty more embedded and harder for them to change; like, come join the human race.

Sometimes their power is derived from the reaction, particular reactions, and if your reaction is not at all a reaction that fuels their sense of being the way they are, you’re not giving fuel to the fire, essentially; you’re sort of like taking it away.

Right. And so think about how can you apply that in your daily life? Asking yourself questions is an awesome strategy relative to reflecting, and even you can ask your board of advisors, those five people, three to five people like, “Give me feedback. Can I be more adept or relate better to you or other people in my life in being more understanding emotionally?” Giving your perspective credence.

I think it’s important that people recognize that part of empathy involves hearing somebody else’s perspective that you might think is impaired or inaccurate, but it’s filtered through their lens. So I can’t say that somebody else’s lens isn’t right; it’s a lens that was built, and this is why it’s so amazing with how much our brains can change and what skills we can cultivate if we so choose. That’s where the fun stuff happens, and I can only imagine the domino effect that comes when one person decides to make that change in their life, and then in their work life, and then in a broader, bigger scale that influences people for that shared greater good. And isn’t that the fun stuff?


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