Successful startups create and build long-term relationships. Building long-term relationships requires us to empathise with others.
Starting and sustaining any new business is a huge challenge and requires deep reserves of energy. As a result, startup entrepreneurs typically feel compelled to tell other people what they do because no-one will do it for them. But whilst this personal promotion sounds logical, ‘telling’ people about our work doesn’t help us to understand them – and thus build empathy.
In this enthralling episode, communications and language specialist Derek Utley (81), reflects on his life and how and why taking the time to create empathy with others is a fundamental building block in the development of our business and personal lives.
Learn more about the special guest
A lover of languages and teaching, Derek Utley took up his first post as a teacher of Spanish and French at Charterhouse School in 1963. Nearly twenty years later Derek co-founded York Associates, a highly successful language training and intercultural communications company used by many multi-national organisations. Now retired, Derek is a keen community volunteer leading weekly walks and helping people in the north-east plant trees.
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A bit of podcast author background...
UK-based Peter Harrington set up his first business following graduation in York in 1989. He has since started and grown several companies in various sectors including research, marketing, design, print, educational software and consultancy. Over the last 30+ years, Peter has employed over 1,000 people and experienced many highs and a few lows including burglaries, floods, fire and of course the most recent pandemic.
As well as being the CEO with the SimVenture team, Peter is also an Entrepreneur in Residence at London South Bank University.
Big thanks to LSE Generate, the SimVenture Team and Seajam Moths for supporting the Startup Survival Podcast.
Find Guest details and all Reference Sources
The full podcast series together with additional materials, guest details and hyperlinks to all episode reference sources is available on Peter Harrington's Blog 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to Entrepreneurship'.
Startup Survival Podcast
Series 3 – Episode 7 - Transcript
Speaker 1 (00:12):
Hello, and welcome. Great to have your company here on the Startup Survival Podcast with me, your host, Peter Harrington. So, what's in store for this show. Well, in this episode, episode seven, in this strength of feeling series all about entrepreneurship and emotions, I'm delving into the world of empathy and discovering why startups do well to appreciate and understand this issue. And to help me explore this O-so important subject is my special guest. Derek Utley, Derek has been creating and forging relationships with people from all walks of life for over 80 years. And back in the eighties, he also helped to found a very successful international communications and language company for me. And I hope you too, Derek offers a fascinating spectrum of perspective and insight that people in our everyday lives typically aren't able to provide. Derek will be talking to me about volunteering with local communities. He will also be sharing lessons from working in his own business. What teaching in schools taught him and also what life was like working in a high security prison. And of course, the purpose of our chat is to uncover and understand how and why empathy is such an important emotion for all startups to get to grips with.
Speaker 1 (01:43):
Now, Derek will be joining us in a moment, but before he does, you'll be aware from episodes in all series that I've regularly emphasized the importance of building and sustaining relationships when starting any business, successful startups, build long-term relationships, successful startups appreciate the value of trust and being trustworthy. And to build these long-term relationships, we have to invest time in other people for startups, especially this means being with others, as opposed to just forging relationships through the use of technology, business, worlds are driven by data, but no amount of data will really help you to understand and empathize with your customers. So says Dev Patnaik and Peter Mortenson in their book, Wired to Care. Their text goes on to explain how and why businesses must connect with their customers. Empathetically in order to do better, Wired to Care is a worthy read all about empathy.
Speaker 1 (02:49):
And as we progress through this podcast, I'll be sharing more of the author's wisdom. But unlike the spine of previous episodes, I'll be referencing not one but two texts in this show, edgy, radical podcasting. I hear you think. Well, you see, as part of my research for this show, I also came across the book against empathy by psychologist, Professor Paul Bloom, intrigued and drawn by the title I delved into the text and quickly discovered essential insight. I wished I'd had when grappling with the challenges of growing teams in my first company, back in the nineties, since this episode is all about empathy, I feel compelled to also create room for professor bloom. So, you two can benefit from his enlightening research analysis and guidance more on both books later, but let's get Derek Utley onto the show. Derek has been working with people in a plethora of different places, all his life, as well as being a founding partner in a highly successful international communications and language company. Derek has worked in schools, created and led many volunteer community groups traveled extensively. And as I mentioned earlier, worked in a high security prison. Fortunately for us, since the shackles of COVID are being released, I've managed to meet Derek in person. So, without further ado, delicately welcome to the Startup Survival Podcast.
Speaker 2 (04:27):
And I'm very delighted that you've invited me, Peter, I'm really looking forward to this
Speaker 1 (04:32):
Well, I'm absolutely delighted. You can join me Derek now. Now when, when researching your background and wondering how best to organize my questions. So, I do justice to you as well as the topic of empathy. I decided to be led by my curiosity. So, forgive me for jumping in feet first, but in your retirement, Derek, you chose to teach Spanish in a high security prison. Why did you do that?
Speaker 2 (05:00):
Well, I taught Spanish for quite a large part of my, my life. And I've been to all sorts of different situations, but the thought of teaching in a, a high security prison never even occurred to me. And I thought it was a sort of professional challenge. Could I do it?
Speaker 1 (05:16):
And for people who've never set foot in a prison, can you describe what teaching life was like inside?
Speaker 2 (05:23):
Well, obviously the high security, they committed very heinous crimes. They were a very serious and well qualified criminals, but they were an environment which is the education department, which is sort of, plus I think they get got paid a small amount of money for attending, which is one attraction, but also gave 'em the different sort of Liberty. So, the, the whole negative thing of being in a security prison and being very closely guarded was made a little bit less hideous by the fact that they, they were in a slightly privileged situation.
Speaker 1 (05:58):
Okay. And what was the teaching environment like?
Speaker 2 (06:02):
It was an, an education area with a number of rooms around an open hall, which was patrolled by wardens all the time. The prisons were less in with a given signal. They came in and sat. And what was a conventional classroom desks and chairs.
Speaker 1 (06:19):
And, and how many people were you working with Derek?
Speaker 2 (06:22):
There'd be anything between 12 and 20. I would say
Speaker 1 (06:27):
Uhhuh. Now, since this episode is all about building empathetic relationships, how did you approach the teaching task?
Speaker 2 (06:34):
Well, I had no experience whatsoever of teaching prisoners before. So, I assumed that they would need to have some sort of respect for me. So, I did actually tell them that I had written a Spanish course for the BBC and I showed a film which had my name on it. And this was a way of getting rid of any sort of negative feelings they might, might have towards me.
Speaker 1 (07:03):
And did you struggle to O build relationships with people at all?
Speaker 2 (07:08):
Some more than others, quiet ones were difficult to tease out. And until quite late in my period of teaching there, there was very little antagonism, but in the final stages, there was one particular person who turned up who was very aggressive. He challenged most things that I said.
Speaker 1 (07:29):
And how did that make you feel, especially as you were in a high security prison?
Speaker 2 (07:36):
Quite nervous. Not for my, you know, my safety or my physical. I wasn't gonna be attacked at all, but I felt it was like disappointing that I felt I never really got through to him.
Speaker 1 (07:49):
Okay. So your answers, Derek suggests you reached most people, but not him. Did that feel like a bit of a failure?
Speaker 2 (07:58):
It was a disappointment. Yes. Yeah.
Speaker 1 (08:01):
Okay. So now you went into the prison to teach because you wanted a new challenge. I'm also aware you've spent decades teaching in many different environments. What's your philosophy when it comes to working with anyone in an education setting?
Speaker 2 (08:18):
Well, the, I think the first thing is to find out as much as I possibly can about the people, I'm gonna be teaching. It's the same with the negotiation in business. The important thing is to know where the people you are negotiating with are coming from and what their expectations will be. So, you try and analyse their expectations, that what I try to do with the prisoners and that they were potentially quite dangerous and difficult, but they were in a situation where they were also slightly privileged. So, my position was to find out where they were in those two areas,
Speaker 1 (08:56):
Uhhuh. So, so how did you do that?
Speaker 2 (08:59):
I was more concerned with watching the response that I got to see if it was being successful in the sense of building a relationship in which they could learn something.
Speaker 1 (09:10):
And how did people respond to you and your approach to teaching in the prison?
Speaker 2 (09:14):
I think I was quite lucky in the sense that the teacher they'd had before was rather formal and had, was very good at rules of language, but I was more interested as always have been in the skill of communication in a foreign language. So, it's what you can actually do with the language. And I think I kept stressing that as something very useful, both in speaking and in understanding the language and I encouraged them to do as much as they could as speaking and to tell me how much they understood of the Spanish that they heard.
Speaker 1 (09:46):
Okay. And, and, and as you worked to build relationships with the people you were teaching, did you sense they were showing empathy towards you?
Speaker 2 (09:55):
Yes. A case I remember very, very well was that the rather quiet American and I don't know what his crime, we weren't supposed to talk about why they were there and we didn't. I discovered that he was actually a professional golfer, very good golfer. And so not every time, but very often when I saw him just sort of in breaks or whatever, I would have a word to him about golf and you know, where he'd played or what he'd done, not quite how good was he, that could have been embarrassing, but to evoke the environment in which he'd been outside, which was obviously a very positive one compared with where he was.
Speaker 1 (10:33):
And, and did you get a positive response for showing interest Eric?
Speaker 2 (10:36):
Yeah, I think so. Yes. And I think that's normal for most people. Once you get 'em into an area in which they have achieved or been happy, they're much easier to talk to.
Speaker 1 (10:51):
It's an interesting and valuable learning point. Derek makes, once we have taken the trouble to understand another person, rap rapport and empathy grows sometimes very quickly. It sounds simple, but in all walks of life, so many people in my experience ignore this principle because they prioritize the subject matter or themselves over the person with whom they are talking in business terms. This is how this issue often plays out startups. The world over when in conversations with prospects and customers are often guilty of prioritizing their product or the need to sell it yet understanding and building empathy with the person with whom they are talking is the key issue for me, at least if we ignore or pay too little attention to the principled early phases of building relationships, our chances of creating genuine empathy are severely impacted. Anyhow, less of me, more of my guest. Now we've talked quite a bit Derek about and around the subject of empathy, but I'm keen for you to share your definition of this term.
Speaker 2 (12:02):
I think a very short definition will be to look inside the head of your, the person you are talking to empathy is to suffer or to feel something in somebody as opposed to sympathy, which is to feel or suffer something with somebody together with somebody and therefore to react and try and help them. But empathy is simply understanding the person you're talking to. So you can then later Develop a strategy for getting to know them better.
Speaker 1 (12:37):
Great. And can you highlight an example of empathy from someone with whom you have met or worked?
Speaker 2 (12:43):
Yeah, very simple example. And perhaps not too sort of intellectual is that I once went to a talk given by Peter Sellers in a, a well-known public school in Goding and he came in and he talked and he, he entranced all the all the people there. And somebody stood up and said who is the real Peter Sellers? You know, you do all the Indian accents and the French accent, the clues on all that stuff. And, but what is your real voice? The guy thought for a little bit? And he said, well I'm not quite sure, but for example, on the way here today I, I, he lived near Goole being and he came, came by car and he said, I got a little bit lost. So, I stopped outside this rather posh house. And there's a man there sitting in the garden Suning himself.
Speaker 2 (13:36):
And I said, excuse me, could you tell me the way to Charter House, please? I think it's just down here, isn't it? Is it, is it further along the road or a little bit further, you know, he did the accent, you know, and he said, and the guy said, I think you'll find that if you go a little bit further down the street and then turn left by the hedges, then that's. So, he gave this wonderful imper. He had them in, in tux, and then he went further, and he is got lost again. And he saw this guy digging in the road, you know, he making a hole into Roger, eh, mate. He said, which way, cha as he said, cha as well, Don mate. And if, if you go straight on you, can't miss it, forgive the accent. But it is that he'd seen this person, he'd read him visually and he'd produce something which he thought would not offend the person, but give a very suitable useful answer.
Speaker 1 (14:25):
For anyone too young to remember Peter Sellers was an English actor and comedian who gained worldwide acclaim through his many film roles among them chief inspector, Clouseau in the pink Panther. Forget my accent there. If you want to learn more about his use of accents and comic genius, you'll find clips of Peter Sellers all over YouTube. Sorry, Derek. I thought a footnote might be helpful there. Anyhow. Thinking about your professional experience in business and startup, Derek, why is it important for people to Develop their empathetic behaviour?
Speaker 2 (15:02):
Because you get a far better response. If you're looking for information it's more efficient and practical, but it also makes for a much more pleasant environment, which again, leads off into all sorts of nice things in your private life, in your personal life and in your professional life. So, you're building the basis of a good relationship, and this can happen not just in in business. It can happen in your personal life, in, in political life, in your home life, your family life. You've got to keep on the right side of people by understanding what they're going through.
Speaker 1 (15:40):
Okay. A, a bit later Derek, I'll be asking you about the detail of how we foster better empathetic relationships but let me circle back to something you've just said. So, what's the difference between empathy and sympathy.
Speaker 2 (15:55):
Sympathy is listening to somebody telling you something about themselves or about their relatives or family, and you feel poor. So, you know they've been through things. So, I want to say never mind, or I hope you get over it. You're expressing some sort of a positive reaction to what you've heard, but if you hear somebody talking about a given subject, it could be in business, it could be about their situation that you need to know more about what it is that is driving them or the, the what sort of mood they're in at the moment. And then you can think, well, they've had a lot of trouble with one individual person in their company. And how, and you ask about them, why was this? Do you get involved in their concerns or in their desires in a way which makes them feel relaxed?
Speaker 1 (16:57):
So, empathy is seeking to understand somebody sympathy is doing something about that. Understanding I, is it possible to be sympathetic without being empathetic?
Speaker 2 (17:07):
Yes. Because you might meet somebody who comes into a, a meeting or a, a conversation and blurts out, you know, I've just my catch just died, or I've just seen an accident in the in the street or I've just lost my wallet. And then you can immediately sympathize with a, a sad situation.
Speaker 1 (17:31):
You, you mean do something about it?
Speaker 2 (17:33):
Well, in your speech, yes. You won't go out and find a wallet, obviously, but you can say, I do hope you find it. Or you can say something a little bit more positive. Like, yes, I lost my wallet the other day as well. That is showing sympathy by comparing their fate with yours.
Speaker 1 (17:52):
Oh, okay. So out of interest, if we are too quick to judge a person's fate and we show sympathy without having first understood the person. In other words, we don't show empathy. Are we in danger of patronizing?
Speaker 2 (18:05):
I think so. I think that it, it it's once you've said something which shows sympathy, you have nowhere else to go. You don't wanna carry on talking about their lost wallet or their dead cat or whatever. You want to move on to the purpose of your conversation. So, it's a sort of building a platform or a tool for going deeper into that. Person's mentality or design. It's a form of needs analysis. What does this person need in the sense of what would they need in order to have a good conversation?
Speaker 1 (18:44):
I'll be back with Derek shortly, but as promised, I want to share some of the fundamental learning points from Dev Patnaik and Peter Mortenson's book in Wired to Care. A key text message is the fact that a business can thrive when it uses the power of empathy, really well, Wired to Care, specifically examines how we Develop empathetic relationships with customers and stresses that no amount of data analysis will get you close to how people really feel for any business. Building truthful connections is paramount. And one of the books recommended strategies is to hire customers. When you can't step into their shoes, references are made to the work by companies like Disney, Nike, and Harley Davidson in what they do in this area to help their employees empathize and understand customers. But I sense you are now screaming at the speaker. I'm a startup. I don't have corporate money and muscle.
Speaker 1 (19:46):
Keep it relevant, Harrington. Well, I hear you. Well, here's the good news. Another strategy. The book recommends is for companies of any size to become open empathy organizations. In other words, instead of channelling customer feedback and communications through a marketing team, everybody within the organization is encouraged and expected to form connections with customers. Now, if there are only one or two people in your startup, you can implement this critical philosophy in no time and at zero cost. And everybody who joins your tribe will buy into what you are doing because you've created the norm but try and implement a new open empathy culture in a large corporate organization. And you'll probably be unleashing a tidal wave of expensive resistance. Ironically, some might even accuse you of not being empathetic with the workforce. Now, before I get back to Derek, I should add one final, but very important note. The book makes taking the time to understand and work with our customers, allows us to Develop and see new perspectives. And when customers share new perspectives, they also often share problems, which of course for entrepreneurial startups are gold dust. Because once you know, a customer problem exists, you have an opportunity to consider and create a solution that they may pay money for.
Speaker 1 (21:19):
Derek. I want to ask you about the practical steps for building empathetic relationships in a moment, but since the issue of perspective has just popped up, I think it highly appropriate to get your take on the value of Developing relationships with others. So, listeners are aware you've been happily married for over 60 years. You have many longstanding friendships, and you have the honour of being the most senior guest ever on this show.
Speaker 2 (21:46):
I've recently thought and written a bit about what I call lost friends. It's a very, very sad part of my life because the majority of people just drifted apart quite naturally, some died, and some have been very ill. But I have lost friends whom I've really regretted cause they were people that I, I liked I got on with. And, you know, some of them were sort of widows whom I met when I was in my twenties playing cricket, you know? And so, there's no sort of similarity there, but I have a very, very strong memory of people that I, I missed. My brother is one, and he was a very unorthodox, brilliant golfer. And I respected him for that, but it was the way he dealt with me. When I played with him, he was incredibly sympathetic. He never, you know, I had placed six, six or seven shots on the fairway and get mud over self, you know, and lose several balls and he'd just carry on playing, getting a power and a birdie every now and then, you know, but he never ever complained. And for that, I respect him enormously, very different from me. He, he didn't go to university left school early and so on and had a bad period with his mental state in his mid-twenties. But I, the fact that I missed him so much in retrospect, just think about it. Now, I find that quite encouraging, cuz it means that the relationship we had wasn't based on things like golf clubs and golf kit gear, his clubs were old fashioned. He wore all sorts of Tassy clothes to not deliberately. He just didn't care about that. And I respected that enormous cause I come from my background where people were constantly showing off. So, in fact, you know, very, very reason I sat down and thought how I talked to his widow. I just after she'd had a bad moment and I realize just how much I miss it. And I find that sad, but I also find it very, very pleasing that I had a really, really worthwhile relationship with my brother who was, there's no reason for us having a good relationship.
Speaker 1 (23:59):
And why is that?
Speaker 2 (24:01):
Because we were so different. You see, I was ostensibly and I, I hate the expression. Local boy makes good. And ne my brother wasn't a local boy makes good. He was a very, very good sportsman for which he didn't get an enormous reputation, but he was so very, very different from me.
Speaker 1 (24:24):
It it's clear. People really matter to you Derek looking back again, if I may, what view are the principles that underpin an empathetic relationship
Speaker 2 (24:33):
It's to concentrate on people and feelings and not things and actions.
Speaker 1 (24:42):
So, when you say concentrate, what are, what are, what are people doing?
Speaker 2 (24:46):
They're asking questions, basically. They're not walking into a situation or a conversation or a meeting or a negotiation and blasting out everything that they want to say about themselves and about their situation.
Speaker 1 (25:04):
Now there will be some people listening to this who are saying yes, but I'm a startup. I have to tell people about my business. Are they right to be thinking like that?
Speaker 2 (25:15):
No, I think they're, in fact, I think startup are in people in a very difficult situation in the sense that if they're starting from zero or they're moving up the scale, they're getting a, a much more advanced form of business. They're very, very concentrated on things. They've gotta have good premises. They've got a good financial system. They've gotta have backing. They've gotta have good colleagues, good employees, good premises. And they spend a lot of time thinking about things or people as people, not as, as, as thinkers as it were. And therefore, they come into the start startup situation with all these things very much in their head. And they've, I think they're very prone not to think about the people that they're going to meet and reading their thoughts and using their thoughts as a basis for a good relationship, what we were just talking about.
Speaker 1 (26:11):
Okay. So, without necessarily realizing or recognizing it, are they too self-focused?
Speaker 2 (26:17):
Yes. They're too focused on things and on their situation, as opposed to wondering where the other person is coming from.
Speaker 1 (26:26):
So, the right mindset is to remain curious.
Speaker 2 (26:29):
Yes, indeed. I think curator is a very, is a key word. It's a word which I experienced when I, myself was doing a course, a one-to-one course in Spanish with a Spanish tutor in Spain. And it was about the Spanish empire mainly. One of, one of the courses was, and this lady who was teaching me and my thought was a really good teacher. We sat back one day and said why are we doing this? Cause we started talking about all sorts of strange things about Charles the fifth and about Henry VIII and what they were like, as people, went all over the place and you know, where are we going? What are we doing here? And then we said, I said, I don't know really. I mean, I just like it. And he said, I think the secret, she said was some of us, we're too curious people. And I always hold that. Now as the basis for any teaching situation, we're too curious people. We've, we've seen something we've read about it and we don't know enough about it. Want to know more. And in that case, you see, you have a situation where it's not it's not about teaching is education. Isn't about teaching. It's about learning. And the whole achievement that you're aiming for is to learn. And you only learn by being curious and having a real interest in the subject and the interest in the person that you're talking to. Whereas a bad teacher will come up and have a whole string of facts and figures and historical analysis, and when the plague was, and all that stuff and they'll reel off facts and figures that they've learned. Whereas the main thing is to satisfy the curiosity in the learner.
Speaker 1 (28:21):
There's an interesting parallel here, Derek, you talk about the poor teacher who takes greatest interest in the facts, as opposed to the students. It sounds very similar to the struggling entrepreneur who prioritizes the importance of their goods over the needs of the customer.
Speaker 2 (28:37):
Indeed. Yeah. They're talking about the product or the service, it applies to service industries, particularly and about themselves. And the way in which they do it is often quite aggressive. It enthusiastic, but enthusiasm easily becomes a form of proactive or aggressive form of speaking
Speaker 1 (29:04):
Uhhuh, out of interest from your experience in business, how does enthusiasm become aggression?
Speaker 2 (29:11):
It's concentrating on things as opposed to people, and it's the way in which you do it by overwhelming the person you are talking to with all that you think is important to well, you know, is important to you. And therefore, you assume it's important to them. And this is very rarely the case.
Speaker 1 (29:33):
For me, Derek, this kind of behaviour in business is surprisingly prevalent. Why, why do you think that may be?
Speaker 2 (29:40):
It's the quest of personality, but it's also due to a massive enthusiasm, inspiration to do something which is good. And therefore, they assume it is good and, and will work, but not necessarily unless you have the other element, which is understanding the other person.
Speaker 1 (30:03):
Well, which of course is that critical ingredient. We call empathy. Derek. We've talked a lot about the value of empathy and creating and sustaining relationships. But at the other end of this communication, spectrum lies the issue of loneliness. Loneliness is a big societal problem. And entrepreneurs often talk about being lonely too. I'm aware you do an immense amount of voluntary work with local community groups to bring people together. But before we go there, do you get lonely Derek?
Speaker 2 (30:40):
I do. Yes. And not only when I'm in a difficult situation, but a mood will come over me, I suppose, like everybody. But I found recently, and I've no idea why that I appreciate loneliness. I think I do like to be with other people, but I find now that for example, I go to a co do a course in Spain have done for about five or six years or one to one course. And I live in a student res residence with a, a small basic room. And I'm, I'm very, very happy doing that. It's so different. Maybe it's the difference, which may, I'm always glad to come home. And I, I know I don't have a route with my wife because I like being but I do feel a bit strange that enjoyed loneliness. And I, I find also that I like more and more to stop and just sit and think I've done a, a little bit of I've been lonely myself and I have physical problems and I've done a, a course in hypnotherapy. That's supposed to be, it's more like relaxation. And I find increasingly that relaxation by myself is beneficial. So yes, I do feel lonely, but I feel that I'm actually trying to compensate it or not trying, but actually compensating it by being alone and quiet.
Speaker 1 (32:04):
Fascinating to hear how you are mastering the art of being alone. But as I mentioned, you are never alone. When working with your local community groups, can you say a bit more about what you do and, and, and why you do it?
Speaker 2 (32:17):
Well, one of the things I do locally is that I, every week I lead what is called a health walk, which is one and a half hours and about three and a half miles walk through the village and the local countryside, which is very, very beautiful, very suited to walking. And a lot of people go, there are fairly old, some have had health problems, usual joints, circulation stiffness, that kind of thing. So, they benefit physically from the walk, and they know that, and they're, they're very happy about it and it works. But also, I think that they all realize that they like talking to other, they are actually lonely. So walking is one of many things. Well, one of the, several things I find does encourage people to get together and to talk and to share experiences and even like sharing the fact that somebody else is lonely. Even if they don't use the word lonely, they realize that, you know, I spent yesterday the whole day in, because it was raining. I never went out and I got, you know, they, oh God, that happened to me as well, that they, they have a, they Develop a sort of empathy understanding, which gets rid of some of the loneliness.
Speaker 1 (33:37):
Okay. And, and when you are leading the walks, providing this simple, common ground shared experience, do you pick up on people's change of mood?
Speaker 2 (33:46):
Yes, definitely. And I, you know, I, I, what, I'm very surprised that I've always taught in my teaching. I've always had peers, teaching groups of adults or of children. And I've always found that in every group, there's somebody who is that sort of problem that they're loud or that they're impolite or they're lazy, or they're tired. And they're too quiet. You know, there's always somebody you've gotta think about really hard, but in, in this particular group or in these groups that I leave locally one of the few situations where not only have had no complaints, I can't think of one. I, if there has been one, it might have been very slight and very long time ago. But people actually do say I'm enjoying this walk, they'll come up and say, I'm enjoying for no reason whatsoever. I worry about the fact that I might have done a similar walk two weeks ago.
Speaker 2 (34:46):
And I say, haven't we done this shouldn't we be doing a different walks. There are a variety of walks. And they say, I don't care. I just like walking. I find that really stimulating. And they're getting pleasure from something that I'm a little bit worried about. I even had somebody come up to me the other day and say, Derek, I think these walks are inspirational. You might even have said, you are inspirational. And this is right over the top, but it made me feel really good. And it gave me a feeling of, you know, the whole empathetic thing, good work, because I try not to be dictator. Right. Okay. Be quiet. I'm gonna tell you where we going today and you mustn't turn left through that gate, you know, and be careful when you go over the, the wire, you know, I don't like being the boss. I say, right, we today, we're going north. Which, where is that? Well, in the point, you know, and we have a little game at the beginning and a very informal introduction and that to me, relaxes them and helps them to talk among themselves.
Speaker 1 (35:49):
I love the subtlety of your language, Derek, the skill and the simplicity of what you do and how you do it is enthralling bonding. A group is second nature to you, but for anyone starting a business and seeking to build a team, would you say that empathy has a better chance of being Developed when people are engaged and actively involved in whatever it is the leader wants them to do?
Speaker 2 (36:12):
Definitely. Yeah. Getting them to speak as opposed to you to speak. So, if I stood there and gave them a big lecture you know, they, I think they would get bored and they wouldn't get very much from it. But if I ask them a few questions and, and they jokey questions like, you know why is Merton called Merton? And it's, you know, the origin of the word Naton Mer is and marsh and to is a town. So, it used to be wet round Merton. And on the way there, we're going through puddles, it's that sort of language, which I think a little bit of false air edition, false air edition, and a little bit of joke. Inness, I think helps relax and helps them to get to talk together better.
Speaker 1 (36:56):
And you mentioned the feedback Derek, as the walks leader, as the person making something happen, what brings you joy?
Speaker 2 (37:04):
Very simple. I've I get enormous pleasure from people being happy, but also people being happy who have been unhappy in quite difficult situations. And one case that comes to mind is there's a, a lady there's middle-aged or senior middle-aged. And I know she's hard up because the things that she's said, and she's a widow and she's really quite lonely, but she turns up nearly every week. And if I do something for sponsorship, she will give me more than anybody else in the group. And I find that really encouraging partly because she's doing it for the challenge, but I think she's doing it because she wants to show some appreciation of the walks that I lead.
Speaker 1 (37:55):
Derek. It's lovely to hear how your empathy for and with others has generated happiness, especially in these recent difficult times. Now there's just one final issue in this topic. I'd like your opinion on, if I may, empathy leads us to understand people better, and this can be a window into people's weaknesses and frailties for people like I, Iago in Othello, empathy can turn bad because information in the wrong hands can easily lead to Machiavellian abuse and manipulation.
Speaker 2 (38:26):
Well, I think that use the word Machiavellian. I think that if you're a startup and you are thinking about your first meeting contact with a colleague or with a, a potential customer, if you realize that the way to get into a good relationship is by asking questions and finding out about the person. You must have an interest in person in that person. And you'll realize that it would be Machiavellian and therefore not very productive or useful, if you did try and use the information to exploit them, the kind of person who is empathetic does not become Machiavellian that's what I'm trying to say. And it's not a rule, but it's a trend.
Speaker 1 (39:19):
Derek. I appreciate, I only have you here for a little bit longer, but there is one final element of your rich life that I'd like you to share. And that's your time working within the international communications company. Can you tell us a bit more about what the company did and what you were doing?
Speaker 2 (39:38):
Well, first of all, we did a lot of language work and over the years we did more and more of what came known as intercultural communication which dealt with the problems typically project teams would assemble. And as with Ericson, there'd be a real mixture of people who spoke different languages. And the challenge for us was to make them more efficient by making the communication more efficient, by understanding better what was happening in their colleagues which they could identify as a challenge rather than stereotype them as national, you know, as the, the Italians are very romantic or very frivolous or whatever, and auditors are always terribly serious people because these stereotypes take you away from understanding in a way that helps you to communicate.
Speaker 1 (40:38):
Uhhuh. So having preconceived ideas and stereotypes gets in the way of Developing empathetic relationships.
Speaker 2 (40:45):
Yeah. Developing empathetic relations, also Developing good business. It's, you know, you, you are, you're doing this to make your company more efficient and more prosperous.
Speaker 1 (40:55):
Oh, okay. So, the learning point for anyone listening to this is to be very mindful of not judging people before listening to and understanding them.
Speaker 2 (41:04):
Absolutely. I think there, the word awareness comes to mind that you, you are, you must be aware of the fact that a group of people put together, or two companies push together are going to have clashing ideas, clashing styles, clashing means of communication. And you have to reconcile them, maybe, you know, have a, not so much as a company policy, but a few basic rules about what you do when you're working in teams with different people,
Speaker 1 (41:34):
Uhhuh. And am I right in thinking you worked with Nestle when they acquired Roundtree Macintosh back in the late eighties,
Speaker 2 (41:41):
Indeed. A lot of our work came come from that. It, that was typical where two big companies get together and they, they have preconceptions of the other company and the preconceptions overrule their, the limited observation or study that they make of the people they're dealing with and of the company rule that they're dealing with.
Speaker 1 (42:06):
Okay. And, and from your experience, and I'm asking this question because so many startups have opportunities to work internationally. How much more difficult is it for people to empathize with one another when they are from different countries?
Speaker 2 (42:20):
Well, one yeah. One is national differences. The other is, you know, mainly professional differences, the way auditors, think about human resource people. For example, they will have certain stereotypes in their mind, which they might be aware of and be keen to dismiss, but which they might stay with for all their lives.
Speaker 1 (42:44):
And, and, and out of interest. Did you ever see a relationship sour or head south because people were too quick to judge?
Speaker 2 (42:51):
Not really. I think one thing that I do remember quite well about the Roundtree Nestle combination, which is a huge political phenomenon, is that the English people, the Roundtree people, when they came in contact with the headquarters, particularly in Switzerland, they were amazed about how international they were in terms of language, they would get three or four different national artists sitting around a table and somebody would speak German. Somebody would speak French and they would come in in whichever language they were most comfortable in, or whichever language was the majority of people, whichever language was that of somebody who didn't speak any other language. So, there'd be reasons for, and the flexibility which they had in the use of language and in meeting strategies and meeting conventions was quite, they were really quite surprised and disappointed
Speaker 1 (43:59):
Uhhuh, why were they disappointed?
Speaker 2 (44:03):
Because they found that they were very successful in their own sphere though, that in Britain and they went when they went to Switzerland or when they met Swiss people, they were impressed or quite humbled by the way, in which they could speak several languages. They could have team meetings or board meetings at which of, with different nationalities, different professions who were able to be so flexible in the use of LA the language used and the use of language that it made. Their very parochial company look quite inferior, which it was except that they had some enormously good brands, which Nestle had spotted and wanted to have
Speaker 1 (44:50):
Derek. The, the Nestle situation leads me nicely to my final question for startups, looking to trade internationally and thus Develop empathetic relationships through better language and cultural skills. What would you suggest they do?
Speaker 2 (45:06):
I would recommend a huge degree of curiosity. If you're going to Venezuela to set up a, a company there or to work in collaboration with an established company, you need to know, first of all, about the product or the service, and also about the, the culture of that particular company and the culture of that particular country. It's, it's a big job and nobody can do it perfectly. Nobody can be sure that they've got the right result, but actually making the effort to do so is an enormous realization and a very good start.
Speaker 1 (45:44):
And should people think about learning a whole language. If they're going to work or trade with an organization in another country?
Speaker 2 (45:51):
With speakers of English, we are very, very low under scale of foreign languages. And I've done a lot of work in Scandinavia and some in France and some in Spanish where I, I can use the language, but I find that going to Scandinavia, there are two or three phrases, which bring the house down. And one of them is when you see somebody, you go back and you see somebody for the other, the, the, the second time you say tack for sist, which means thanks for the last, which means long time. No, see, so I come in as an obvious English person, techies brings the house down. So, identify a key phrase that you can use. And also, in Sweden and in Norway, you've had a meal. I think the Norwegian's the same as Swedish. You have a meal, you, everybody goes into the lounge to have the cake and the coffee as the dessert.
Speaker 2 (46:48):
That's another well established, custom, very nice custom. And you, as you leave the dining room, you say tack for Martin, which means thanks for the food, which means that was a lovely meal. Mrs. Jones, thank you very much. It's ways of saying things which are different. And I mean, I might know three or four. I, I, I learned the word for, sorry. I learned the word when I lived in a, a residence in Sweden. It said I can't remember the exact sweedish is som man bäddar får man ligga. I mean, it means, however, you make you lie, and it means make your own bed, you know, make your own bed and lie in. It is like a phrase. I wish I'd learned that one, but, but it's an example of the kind of phrase that you can say and can be massively impressive.
Speaker 1 (47:42):
So, a little bit can go a long way.
Speaker 2 (47:44):
Yeah, it sounds a bit condescending, but it, it is, it's a practical philosophy, a practical technique,
Speaker 1 (47:56):
Derek genuinely, it has been a pleasure and a delight to be able to talk with you here on the Startup Survival Podcast. But as with guests, I must ask if you have a book recommendation tip or takeaway to share with listeners before we say our goodbyes.
Speaker 2 (48:15):
Yeah. And it's one thing I've said several times, and it said in some of your other podcasts has come out in a, a similar, but not exactly the same way. And that is to be curious, and to ask questions, to satisfy your curiosity.
Speaker 1 (48:31):
That's great. Short, succinct, and so true. Well, that's us done Derek, thank you for being so generous with your time and sharing so much practical advice as a special guest on this show.
Speaker 2 (48:46):
Well thank you for having me, Peter. It's been I’m; I'm absolutely amazed how talking about this. Quite basically simple question. How many ramifications it has when you start examining what it consists of and how to achieve it. And I, I felt I've learned much more just by talking about it than I ever have before.
Speaker 1 (49:17):
Well, there you go. An exploration into the world of empathy, with the wonderful Derek Uley. Now you may recall at the start of this show, I mentioned I'd be referencing a couple of books. The second one being against empathy by psychologist and professor Paul Bloom. When I came across this ingeniously titled text, I genuinely thought here was a book making a case against being empathetic, which obviously got my attention. But when I dug a bit deeper, I discovered that this read was highlighting the dangers of relying too much on the emotion of empathy. The author says that empathy is an emotional response that allows us to understand and feel what others are going through. However, by reading the book, you'll discover we are open to emotional bias in if unchecked empathy can allow our feelings to rule our rational thinking. Now in my first 10 years of start up, especially, I like to feel that I was really in touch with my colleagues, but occasionally when someone might talk to me about problems and their wellbeing, I had a tendency to let empathy take charge, and I didn't necessarily do the right thing for the company.
Speaker 1 (50:32):
The details escape me now, but the right thing to have done, would've been to understand the situation and then challenge rather than simply accept what the other person wanted to do. Making exceptions for colleagues, because you feel their pain is typically the easy way out, down the track. When other people in the team discover what's been done, they're left scratching their heads because there are clear management inconsistencies. And this, if I'm being honest, can open a can of worms. So, when you empathize with a colleague, make sure you are not throwing rational, thinking out the window. Anyhow, I recommend you get the two books I've referenced in this episode, Wired to Care by Dev Patnaik and Peter Mortenson and against empathy by Professor Paul Bloom.
Speaker 1 (51:24):
In the next episode, I'm spending time with Dr. Rachel Doern, a UK based academic whose extensive research has examined the emotions and behaviours of entrepreneurs. When weathering adverse conditions, Rachel will be joining me to talk about how entrepreneurs manage their emotions in a crisis, and ultimately offer advice that will help any startup to think more constructively and make better decisions. Don't miss episode eight, but back to the present, because I must bring this seventh episode to a close, thank you, Duncan for all production and Silla for editorial support. And of course, thank you to our special guest, Derek Utley for sharing his thoughts and insights on the world of empathy. But before we close, don't forget your podcast feedback is not just welcomed. It's needed, share what you really like and let me know what needs to be improved and whatever your listening channel of preference. Please remember to rate, review, and subscribe until next time. My names Peter Harrington, and this has been your SimVenture sponsored Startup Survival Podcast. Go well, stay safe. And thank you.