Empathy and the Future of Work with Sophie Wade

Reading Time: 14 Minutes

In today’s podcast, we’re joined by Sophie Wade as we discuss the importance of empathy in the workplace.

After the Interview:

About Sophie Wade

Sophie Wade is a work futurist, international keynote speaker, author, and authority on Future-of-Work issues. She is the host of the widely popular Transforming Work podcast and 450,000 learners have taken her four LinkedIn courses which cover Future-of-Work skills, empathy, and Gen Z.

Sophie is the Founder and Workforce Innovation Specialist at Flexcel Network, a Future-of-Work consultancy. Sophie’s executive advisory work and transformative workshops help companies futureproof their work environments and attract, engage, and retain their multigenerational and distributed talent. She helps corporations maximize the benefits and minimize the disruption in their transition to talent-focused new work environments.

Read the Transcript

Allison: Welcome back to the Deliberate Leaders Podcast. I am your host and executive coach Allison Dunn. I’m very excited to introduce our guest. Today we have with us Sophie Wade, who is a work futurist, international keynote speaker and author of empathy works, the key to competitive advantage of the new era of work.

Sophie is the founder and Workforce Innovation specialist at Flexcel Network, which is a future of work consultancy that provides advisory work, transformative workshops to help company’s future proof their work environments, and attract, engage and retain their multi-generational and distributed talents. That’s hard to say all in one.

Sophie: I know sorry about that.

Allison: That’s OK Sophie, welcome to Deliberate Leaders, we’re so happy to have you here with us today.

Sophie: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Allison: Absolutely. I just love to kick these off with a deliberate conversation, what would be your number 1 leadership tip for our listeners?

Sophie: Listen.

Allison: Tell me more.

Sophie: I really think that we are moving from a command and control, I see sort of commodity and control to coach and really, it’s less about ego of the person than the organization and when we’re sort of thinking about culture, and connectivity, and those type of things and so really listening to your team and the people above you, but also the people in your team to really get a sense of how you can best lead them. It’s more about oversight than sort of direction these days. That’s what I, listening really connects with communicating better, and all those types of things. That’s would be my first, the first one, I would say.

Allison: Fantastic. If I was going to give a superpower skill to any of my clients, my family members, my children, it would be the ability to really listen to what someone else is saying and be in the moment of the words and what’s being said, even if it’s physically, in some way, so, such a great tip. Thank you very much.

Our topic on the table today for this podcast is the Future of Work Empathy in the workplace. I am an empath so I feel like it’s something that is just incredibly natural for me and so I’m just curious is empathy, something that can be learned?

Sophie: Yes, it can and I don’t address it much in the book, but empaths certainly can have a challenge in stopping people from really draining their energy or potentially bulldozing them because it’s a question of boundaries so I feel for you as an empath, because you can really take on, other people’s problems and challenges but yes, it can be learned. It is something that is really innate to us.

There’s a Dutch primatologist, called Frans de Waal. He talks about the fact that it’s sort of second nature to us, we just don’t, we haven’t used it in our professional lives. We use it all the time in our personal lives but we don’t haven’t typically used that in our professional lives, it’s been much more transactional. I think about going from transactional to more experiential and thinking, leadership and management, and cultures, were really thinking about what the relationship is how the other person and the interaction goes, rather than just of, the being worse, something that exchanges hands or that this is like a, kind of like a deal to be made, it is much more thinking about the long term effect of the interaction and that tends to be really, truly the most beneficial way to handle it.

Allison: OK. Is there a go to question as like a fellow consultant or coach as to have someone if they’ve made a statement that is more transactional and less relational and very matter of fact, how you can encourage them to then shift into like long term impact empathy?

Sophie: I think one way is to ask more open questions. Asking and checking, particularly when you’re doing the listening, asking to check that you did understand what the other person said that you’re not assuming that you knew what they said, because that’s really again, what do I think, what’s my reaction? What would I say in your shoes? No. What would I say, if I were you in your shoes? And so listening, asking sort of open questions, so it’s basically a question that doesn’t lead to a yes or no answer.

If it ends up being more open, like, so what else might that be? Or did you? Is this what you meant? Really trying to draw out more information and checking, and leading sort of, it’s really a question of keeping that conversation going that ends up helping, build longer term interactions and relationships between people.

Allison: Fantastic and those are great, go to questions. I appreciate that. We talk about, just generally, how people deal with their emotions, some people just simply don’t find it easy to deal with their own, and for the emotions of others. I’ve seen it scenario after scenario.

Does your book, give some guidance on how to help them improve the results or the empathy and then the handling of the emotions, whether it’s theirs or someone else’s?

Sophie: Yes. I do say that empathy starts with you. I mean, it’s about other people, but it starts with you and unless, you have an understanding of yourself and how you handle your emotions, then it’s going to be very hard or is it, this is first step, it is something that you need to do in order to really empathize well, with other people.

I think recognizing, when there’s an elevated emotional state, your own, or your cheeks feeling flushed. Do you feel agitated? Recognizing when you have those some emotional volatility, and taking steps, which I do talk about in terms of breathing, box breathing, to just bring that emotional level down, so sort of having some control over that and then, obviously, part of empathy is really recognizing emotion and others, and then checking that you got it right. Like, somebody might look like they’re frowning, but it could be that they have indigestion, it could be who knows what it might be, it might be a trouble with their internet but checking. You’re detecting and decoding, but making sure that you are actually correct about that.

I think those are sort of elements in terms of understanding emotion. Yes, I did. Actually, in the book, I talk about a story when I gave a big speech about empathy. The first one was really the headliner and it was a lot of technology with a lot of developers, software developers, people in the software industry and the guy came up to me at the end, and he was seemed relatively panicked about the idea of having to handle a lot of emotions, and he has 10 direct reports. It was all overwhelming to him and I just said, it’s OK. You don’t have to feel into it every single moment and with every single person, but if you just ask, ask about people’s kids or hobbies, or just the first step of asking, checking in with them, understanding how they think about the world. You don’t have to go all the way but a lot of the way will really help the interaction be better, and the other person feel valued and heard and all the rest of it. It doesn’t, for people who do find that sort of emotional connection harder, totally get it, totally understand, and it’s OK.

Allison: I often find that the way you start the conversation is the way it goes so if you want it to go good, you start with, something personal and something warm and inviting to open that up.

Sophie: Yes.

Allison: Future of work. This is obviously a super-hot topic nowadays and I’m just curious.

Where are you in suggesting whether we accommodate employees flexible work requests, and then helping people understand whether or not they’re feeling taken advantage of or whether they will take advantage of it?

Sophie: The future of work, which is mostly technology driven, there have been some societal developments, for example, now we have 66% I think it is of families with kids have both parents working so there are some family developments like that. A lot of single parents with kids so we need some more flexibility baked into the system or enabled in the system to allow for a new sort of societal demographic makeup, so that’s one thing but with the bar has been raised. We’re now working at a faster pace. It’s so much more technology and work is also not linear and static and easily predictable for 10 years out as it used to be. We’re working in different ways, we’re having to work much more closely together and as a result, we need to understand each other more in order to be effective so the bar has been raised on workers.


If I’m a leader, and I want my people, my team, and my group, my division, whatever it is to engage, to really step up to the plate and do the work and give, not just go through the emotions, but do give them best ideas and be thinking about work when they’re in the shower, like really, being engaged in what they’re doing, I’m going to need to help them perform at their best. We now understand much more clearly, I mean, people were working remotely and had more flexible hours prior to the pandemic, this is not, something completely new but now we can see that there are different options, and we can work differently and do different tasks better in different places. We’re all different, and that’s the key. It’s not even about working from home, it’s about giving people the opportunity to try and work out and helping them work out where and how and when they work best and what they might be doing and what skills they need to be using so that we can all, meet that bar that has been raised.

Absolutely, I definitely think that flexibility, which also includes people who have fixed place jobs, fixed location jobs, and they can be given flexibility too, isn’t necessarily obviously working from home, but they can have, different hours, they can maybe share tasks, and there are other ways to give them more autonomy over their work.

As for, will people take advantage. There are people who are lazy in the office, those people are probably going to be the same people who are going to be lazy at home. Now that said, so those people, they need to be encouraged and sometimes it’s a question of, they’re in the wrong job. There are people who just hate their job and if you can try and find a job that suits them, they may not be as resistant or just, hesitating in putting any effort into because it’s just not their thing so that’s one thing.

I also think that when we can, really lean into the different aspects of work, or we can be helped to be applying our skills and really, looking towards our strengths and doing stuff that we enjoy more. We tend to just do a lot more work. Do better work too, and that can is really helped by being in the location that suits each of us best but we also haven’t known. For the most part, when we didn’t have any options about where we could work. We didn’t try and find out. I mean, consultants, entrepreneurs obviously do know, freelancers, typically do know, I imagined with being a coach, and you’ve been in many different surroundings that you know, have known for years, a lot about how you work best and where you don’t. I think helping a lot of people who have been only working in the office, help them succeed is very important. It is harder to manage people who are working in different environments, and if you have a distributed team, so I think that is something that needs definitely some coaching.

Allison: I would agree.

Can you explain some successful ways to think about the hybrid working model, and how you can tie that directly back to business performance?

Sophie: I think, if in a team, you focus on outcomes, and there’s a lot of clarity about exactly what each person is supposed to be doing. One of the things prior to the future work, really, we haven’t really focused on how we work. We were all in the same boat. We were all, how to be at the office, how to do this, how to do that and so we didn’t come to sort of say, well, when do I work best? Am I totally asleep at 9 o’clock in the morning on a Monday morning meeting, which is why I’m just like never on it? How can I do my best work?

If we focus on results, and if we pay attention to both ourselves and the people that we’re working with, I might say, well, Mary, might maybe she knew needs to go or John maybe needs to go pick up kids. Mary isn’t great in the morning. Let’s all try and work out how and where and when our work. We can sort of adjust for how we’re going to perform at our best, and when we’re focused on results, that is one way to help nudge people to doing that, and talking to them and sort of sharing what they have observed and when they have been, find that they’ve even been in the flow so there’s a lot of need to pay attention to, when you work best.

For example, when I was writing my book, I became very aware that the best times for me to for writing were between 6 and 9 in the morning, and also at the end of the day and the reason was, is that, even if I had my email shut down, which I mostly did, I would be distracted once it became 9 o’clock, because I knew  that people will be sending me emails, so my brain started thinking, even if I didn’t have the ping, and all the rest of it, I knew that things were going on as like, ‘oh my god’ what’s going to be coming in, what do I have to be thinking about, and I just stopped concentrating in the same way so really recognizing where and when, and how that you’re going to do your best work.

When you’re working with others, what the best way to work with them, in terms of benefiting from asynchronous and synchronous tools and modes, can really help us be more effective and then when we focus, we do focus on results. It allows people to focus on the outcomes rather than where people are.

Allison: That’s good. That’s great guidance.

Who did you write the book for? And congratulations on the launch of it, actually.

Sophie: Thank you. I mean, really, it’s focused on 28 to 48 year olds, really, basically, the rising leaders. I think it’s harder for people who have been managing and leading their company’s net divisions, for decades to really change how they’ve been working. Not that I don’t think they can’t be empathetic, absolutely but this is really about a mindset, it’s about looking, thinking about each employee individually, and really trying to nudge them to do their best work so somebody has the mindset, to be thinking about work like that, to be thinking about their team members, they’ve been doing that likely already.

However, everything is changing so much. The book is really trying to give a framework, it’s not just about sort of teaching empathy. It’s really about looking at the future of work and the scenario that we’re in, and how to frame that so I talk about the customer journey and the employee journey as a sort of human centric system so one is external but does it also include everybody in your ecosystem. One is external, and the other one is internal but everything needs to be consistent in how you’re treating people, you can’t just be treating, we all know that now, that you can’t just be treating your customers well and then, not be treating your employees well. It just doesn’t work like that. That’s really sort of the framework, it’s thinking about things and having a human centric orientation and then utilizing the fantastic and sophisticated technologies that we have now, to be able to work as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Allison: Is the customer journey, and I understand that they’re individualistic, right? It can’t just be one plan fits all but is that actually like, would you suggest a company map those out so that they’re clear on what that is, or to be fluid?

Sophie: The customer journey is, I look at slightly different to the employee journey. The customer journey really is a very powerful way of focusing the entire company, on how to serve the customer and now we can actually focus on a customer of 1, right?

It used to be this huge blanket, a TV ad or whatever and now it can be something that’s very specific. We could actually recognize the person in the street like, ‘oh, yes, that’s them.’ That’s a key way of not having marketing and sales, and technology and all the different elements of the business. Trying to work out how to serve the customer in different ways, because it could get extremely fragmented. If we’re all, if everybody every division is really looking at how best to serve the customer, and yes, it certainly can be changing because new technologies come in because our customers are changing their behaviors and the person who we were serving in 2019 may be very different to who actually going after, who’s our target audience now. There’s been a lot of changes and I know that my behaviors have changed over the course of the last 2 years. I used to go to the gym a lot. Now, I don’t know and I think, well maybe I should. I don’t know.

Allison: Right.

Sophie: If I’m somebody’s customer and obviously lot many different ways, how is my behavior changing so that does need to be fluid in the sense of not moving around a lot but everybody really agreed on what it means and how best to do it and then keep iterating, as we understand and checking in be quick, particularly because, we’re in a period of inflection, a lot of changes happening. It also could be so needing to do those iterations. Also, because, your competitor might suddenly implement some new technology that’s come along, then your customer expects that from you, then you have to implement it, what does that change for you so there’s a lot of stuff going on.

I think that customer journey is something that is very specific to each company, depending on where the people are located, where the customers are located, how they’re going to do it. It’s a very interesting, there’s a lot to it, it’s a really interesting way of being able to hone everybody in on and figure out the best way to do it and that may have changed a lot over the last couple of years.

Allison: Is their structure for that inside the book?

Sophie: I focus more actually on the employee journey but I look at the customer journey I talked a lot about in empathy for sales professionals, in terms of how to be, interacting all the way along the different elements but I’m not focused on the customer journey. In fact, there’s very little written on the customer journey but it is, a very helpful way to, as I said to focus people in but there’s a lot of, helpful information about selling with empathy, because that’s one of my big courses on LinkedIn that over 400,000 people have taken.

Allison: Yes, that’s fantastic. I saw that in your bio and as far as like numbers, 450,000 people don’t going through that training is pretty incredible. That’s an amazing resource and I’m going to include that in the show notes.

Sophie, tell us about your podcast, and then what is the best way for our listeners to connect with you.

Sophie: Thank you. My podcast: Transforming Work with Sophie Wade. It’s really connecting with people and help sort of asking them to share whatever pioneering, interesting, innovative way that is relevant to the future of work, that is, they have transformed what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, that is going to help anybody listening to be more effective. It could be about asynchronous working, it could be about how to develop deeper relationships, it could be thinking for companies thinking about how to deal with a great resignation, both from a sort of, employer point of view as well as talking about the employees.

I just recently interviewed somebody about Holacracy, which is this, very interesting self-management practice. It is really how to think about things differently now there at this moment that we are needing to forge a new way forward craft and you design. Design our work, definitely design our companies differently. It’s just supposed to be, it’s a huge range of different perspectives, but all helping people trying to navigate this changing world.

Empathy Works is available online, and it’s an e-book as well. I also, I narrate the audio book, and you can find more information about that @sophiewade.com and my company is Flexcel network, flexcelnetwork.com.

Allison: Outstanding Sophie, I am encouraged my listeners to go and listen to your podcast and follow you and just so appreciate our conversation today. Thank you.

Sophie: Such a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much.

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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