5 Steps to Empathy with Rob Volpe – Episode 58

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What are the 5 steps of empathy and how do they apply to your business and personal life. Author and CEO, Rob Volpe joins Sarah Panus to break down empathy on this episode of the Marketing With Empathy podcast.

THIS EPISODE AT-A-GLANCE

  • What is the crisis with empathy?
  • The importance of empathy in your business & career
  • What are the 5 steps of empathy?
  • Two sides of judgement
  • The significance of empathy
  • Rob’s work with your team
  • What is one takeaway you’d like share?

Full Podcast Transcription

Rob Volpe:
Outwardly, you’re needing to use empathy in business in order to be more persuasive in order to communicate and help people connect to your brand. And empathy is critical to that. It’s about how you’re putting yourself forward, and then also understanding the people you’re trying to connect with so that you can connect with them authentically. 

Sarah Panus:
Hi, my name is Sarah Panus. I have spent the last two decades driving digital content for billion dollar brands. Now I help content marketers build winning brand storytelling strategies and reduce feelings of overwhelm and confusion. Join me as we discuss strategy, creativity, confidence, and building a better connection with your audience. Think of this as a creative content marketing jam session mixed with chicken soup for the soul. This is the Marketing With Empathy Podcast. 

Sarah Panus:
Hey, Hey, Kindred Speakers. Welcome back to another episode of Marketing With Empathy. Today, we’re gonna dig more into empathy. Surprise, surprise! We’ve gone through brands, people. But now we’re gonna talk with an expert who has written a new book that dives deeper into the five steps of empathy. And the book is called, Tell Me More About That: Solving the Empathy Crisis One Conversation at a Time. So joining me, is my guest today Rob Volpe. He’s an observer of life and a master storyteller who brings empathy and compassion to the human experience. As CEO of Ignite 360, he leads a team of insights, strategy, and creative professionals serving the world’s leading brands across a range of industries. As a thought leader in the role of empathy in marketing and the workplace, he is a contributor to Entrepreneur’s Leadership Network and frequently speaks on the topic at conferences, corporations, colleges, podcasts and with the media.  He is a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and lives in San Francisco with his husband and 3 cats. Welcome to the show Rob.

Rob Volpe:
Hi, Sarah. Glad to be here. Thank you for having me on the show. 

Sarah Panus:
Oh, I’m super excited. Um, you know, you and I first connected on LinkedIn actually, where, um, you had reached out to me cause we both had empathy in our titles and we were like – Hey, we should probably know each other. 

Rob Volpe:
Totally, totally. I’m so glad we did. I’m glad you accepted. And I’m glad we’ve, uh, started to have such awesome conversations. 

Sarah Panus:
Yeah, me too. Me too. It’s been really great getting to know you. And so, you know, congratulations are in order because you just launched a brand new book. Um, and it is called, like I mentioned in the intro, it’s called Tell Me More About That: Solving the Empathy Crisis One Conversation at a Time. So congratulations, first!

Rob Volpe:
Thank you. Thank you. 

Sarah Panus:
I think I like make a cheers noise. I can make happy clapping right now. Um, it’s a big, it’s a big deal to be launching your book, but I’m, I’m curious, you know, with that title, solving the empathy crisis, one conversation at a time. Tell us more about that. Like what is the crisis with empathy right now? 

What is the crisis with empathy?

Rob Volpe:
Yeah, so, uh, it there’s been a decline in empathy skills for decades in our society. And I think for me, the big kinda alarm sounded, uh, 12 years ago now in May of 2010, um, I was standing in an airport watching CNN airport channel, waiting for a flight to wherever I was going, possibly Minneapolis, cuz I, I travel there quite a bit and I saw this, uh, a news story and this thing come across the ticker that said, “study shows college students have 40% less empathy than their peers from previous decades.”. And it was a study outta the University of Michigan, a study of studies. It was a meta analysis and they looked at at campus life surveys from 1979 to 2009 across like seven, I think it’s 76 Universities. And they found that starting in 2001, there was this 40% decline in empathy skills, being able to see the point of view of your classmates and it had not gone up. 

Rob Volpe:
It wasn’t just like a momentary blip that you could attribute to, you know, nine 11, which was happening in that year or some other political event or, or world event. This was a sustained issue and, and problem. And so, you know, there, I am standing in the airport going, okay, we’ve gotta do something about that because you know, this is a study showing what happened 10 years earlier. Like, oh my God, these people are out in the workplace now. They’re managing people, they’re parenting, they’re doing all these things and if they don’t have empathy and they don’t have the ability, the strength to connect empathetically with people that impacts the way we function as a society and as a contributing member to society. The way we communicate with each other, the way we collaborate, the way we make decisions and have critical thinking, the way we get to a point of gratitude or trust, forgiveness, compassion. 

Rob Volpe:
Empathy is critical to all of those things. And so it was like, oh my God, this is, this is a big issue. I look around me and in this airport, there’s like a group of people sitting at the bar having a drink and other people racing for their flight. So it was this very Cassandra moment where I was like, oh my God, nobody’s listening to this. And I’m like all of alone. And then over the years, over those pre, uh, subsequent years, I started to really pay more attention to empathy and you know, Ignite 360 does a lot of qualitative research. So we’re really in the business of getting to know how people think and feel and helping our clients make that empathetic connection. And so I started paying mention to myself and, and the times when I’m able to connect empathetically with somebody, but also, and more importantly, the times that I can’t and what was getting in my way and what was getting in my client’s way and what would we have to do in order to get them to get to that point. 

Rob Volpe:
And I also started looking at the research that was out there that found that empathy, you know, it’s something that we are born with. It is an innate skill. Like, you know, any of your senses, you are born with that ability, but you’ve gotta actually turn on the empathy skill. You’ve gotta actually flex and use the muscle to make it strong. So on understanding that it started to become like, okay, we’ve got to help people understand how to be empathetic because what was happening. I think, you know, there were some other people watching CNN that day. And, and I think it probably got picked up in the newspapers and you started to see more articles and, and commentary about, we need to be more empathetic but where people were taking that to was well, here’s what we need to do. We need to go, you know, watch the TV shows that the people we wanna understand are watching, or we need to go eat in the restaurants. 

Rob Volpe:
We need to have their experiences. And that is absolutely true. You do need to do that if you want to understand somebody else, however, if you’re going in with judgment, you’re never gonna be able to, to experience it from anybody else’s point of view. Um, Scott Cook, who’s the CEO of Intuit. He said, once that you’ve gotta take off your own shoes before you can put on the shoes of somebody else. And empathy is all about seeing things from the point of view of somebody else. But if you’re wearing your own shoes, you’re never gonna fit into somebody else’s shoes. Um, so yeah, and you, you, you see the empathy crisis playing out in so many ways in society. I mean, the big obvious one is the political polarization that’s, that’s been going on for years, but continues to just seem to get worse and worse and worse. 

Rob Volpe:
Um, the bubbles, you know, you hear people talk about the bubbles that we’re in thanks to the algorithms of, of social media. Uh, that’s protecting us. It’s creating walled gardens where we’re not having to be exposed to, to others. You’re seeing it in, uh, the great resignation right now, as so many people are leaving their jobs and finding other jobs. And part of that is because they’re not feeling like they’re getting support empathetically, like their managers, their bosses, the leaders of their organizations don’t understand them. There was a study. Uh, one of the studies that came out last year found that, um, 90 percentage Get Z will stay at a company. So people that are like 18 to 25, 26, they will stay at a company if they feel like they’ve got empathetic support from leadership, but only one in four total employees feel that their organization is sufficiently empathetic. 

Rob Volpe:
So there’s a huge, huge gap there. And, and there is a scramble amongst leadership and HR teams to really bring empathy back into the conversation. Um, and, and as a skill start to train people, and then you’ve got, um, marketers and people that are in all the different marketing services and creating, you know, content and communications, advertising PR as well as products and promotions and, and all the things. Empathy is, is, should be a critical, basic skill for the job. You need to be able to see the point of view of somebody else. Um, so yeah, there’s, there’s this huge issue. We just did a survey, uh, at Ignite 360. I got the data back recently, and it was a study of about a thousand us adults, 18 plus. And we just asked the question, um, the, are you able to easily see the point of view of others? 

Rob Volpe:
31% of people said, did not agree with that statement? They either said no, or they couldn’t agree with it. 31%. That’s like one third. So one third of the people that you’re interacting with on a daily basis are unable to have empathy. See the point of view of other people that is a problem, that number, and that’s, that’s just self-reported data. I would imagine that number is actually even higher. One of the common misperceptions people think empathy is all about feeling the feelings of somebody else. And that’s true if you’re talking about emotional empathy, but there’s also cognitive empathy, which is the perspective taking. And I remember when I was kid, my parents always telling me, well, see it from their point of view, see it from the other side. Um, and I think that was slowly training me in cognitive empathy skills.

Rob Volpe:
As you said, I’m in a unique position because of the exposure that I get to humans and to human behavior and understanding it, and also that bridge and being that bridge and connecting my clients to their consumer so that they’re able to see the point of view of their, their consumer so that they can create better marketing campaigns, digital content, um, create new products, create new services. Um, that put me in a unique situation where we were able to start to go, wait a minute, what is going on? What are these steps? How do you get there? How do you actually get to empathy? What do you be need to be mindful of in the moment? Um, and so that’s when the, the five steps got developed. 

Sarah Panus:
Um, you did a really great job setting up empathy and the importance of it. You know, when we think about business and our career, I can see with, with, and I just wanna like really connect the dots for people listening before we discuss the five steps of empathy from your book. Why is it important to infuse empathy like into your business and into your career? Like what the, from a results perspective, why is that connection so key?

The importance of empathy in your BUSINESS & Career

Rob Volpe:
Yeah. So, um, everything that we’re trying to do in business, you’re trying to sell something to somebody else. You know, it’s a capitalist society, you’re creating products, you’re creating services, you’re creating communications that are gonna sell those products and services. You need to understand where your consumer is coming from, what their point of view is. That’s empathy. You need to have empathy with them. You know, you might need to have it on a deeper emotional level. What are they feeling? And what’s that mean? And how do I then utilize that in, you know, a, a campaign message, or is there a product that I can create? So outwardly you’re needing to use empathy in business in order to be more persuasive in order to communicate, um, and, and help people connect to your brand. Um, and empathy is critical to that. It’s about how you’re putting yourself forward. 

Rob Volpe:
And then also understanding the people you’re trying to connect with so that you can connect with them authentically. Um, within the workplace, you need to understand where people are coming from and what’s going on in their lives. The, the pandemic, I mean, one of the, you know, positives of the pandemic is, is this, uh, increase in recognition of like, Hey, I need to understand what other people are going through. Like, you know, parents working parents, you know, in white collar jobs where they’re suddenly working from home and they’ve got their kids suddenly at home, that they’ve gotta entertain. You need to have some empathy to understand what’s happening and why, you know, why is there somebody doing cartwheels behind you on that zoom call? Well, my kids are home from school today and this is what’s going on. Okay? So empathetically, and this isn’t about feeling what they’re feeling. 

Rob Volpe:
Although you can imagine what a mom might be feeling with a six year old doing, you know, tumbles behind them like it’s the Olympics. Um, but you can understand like, all right, she’s distracted. She’s not gonna be able to focus or we need to cut this call short. So how do I like, you know, kind of get, get through what we need to get through? Or even just understanding like how people are doing. It’s one of the, the pieces of guidance I give people a bad habit from last year to, to let go of is not asking people how they’re doing. We need to be taking the time. Like, you know, if you, if you’re having a one on one with your manager or with a, a direct report. Take part of that time, you know, it can be two thirds of that time. 

Rob Volpe:
It just kind of depends on what’s going on, but check in and find out how they are doing and not about like, Hey, how’s that project coming along. You can get to that, but ask them how they’re doing. Like, how is their life going right now? How are they feeling? Um, the, the pandemic has created so many levels of anxiety and stress for every single person. If somebody says, no, this hasn’t affected me, I’m pretty sure they’re lying. Um, it has affected all of us in some way, and we need to connect and understand how it’s affected people, because it shows up differently for all of us. Um, but you need to take the time to listen and understand so that you can then, uh, collaborate better. You can work together better. So empathy here, you’re using it for, you know, decisions that you might make about your team, the way that you’re collaborating, the way that you’re innovating and ideating on things. 

Rob Volpe:
Um, you’re gonna be able to forgive somebody if they’re late on something, if you understand where they’re coming from. And it doesn’t mean I, I was talking to a CEO the other day. Who’s really concerned that, well, if I’m empathetic, am I gonna be a pushover? Are they just gonna like walk all over me? No, not at all. It’s gonna make you a better manager and a better leader, because you’re gonna at least understand where people are coming from, but you still have to apply the needs of the business to the, you know, to, to the decisions that you’re making. But the situation with the employee, the empathy that you have with them can now help in, uh, fuel what that decision ultimately is. You’ve got a new data point to consider. 

Sarah Panus:
Great. Okay, good. Thank you for that overview. I agree completely with everything you’re saying. So let’s dig in, then let’s dig into your book. And I, um, tell us like first, what are the five steps of empathy? 

What are the 5 steps of empathy?

Rob Volpe:
Sure. So the five steps, um, the, the first one, the biggest one, the one that always gets in the way it’s like a brick wall for, for many of us is judgment. And so the first step is to dismantle your judgment. By doing that you’re then in, you know, that’s about your, your biases, your past experiences, stereotypes that you may be holding onto. It’s the things that prevent you from moving further forward and, and taking anything else in because you’re applying those stereotypes to others. The second step is asking good questions, and this is about not asking closed questions. And closed question is something that can be answered with a yes, no, or a, maybe you wanna ask open question that allow people to elaborate on how they’re feeling and thinking and that, and, and, and that gives them the freedom to go in whatever direction they may go. 

Rob Volpe:
Um, if you’re asking a leading question, it’s going to get you to a place that’s affirming your own biases or affirming what you want to it, to be the outcome. Instead, you want to understand, you know, instead of, Hmm, which shade of white do you think we should paint the office? A question might be, what color do you think we should paint the office? And, you know, some people may love white and may answer that. But by asking that in a very open non-leading way, people are gonna give you their true opinion. You may end up hearing that they don’t want paint at all. They want wallpaper. I don’t know. Um, and you certainly wouldn’t know that if you narrowed the question down to just what color of white or what shade of white do you want? Um, so that’s asking good questions. Next, is actively listening. 

Rob Volpe:
So step three, you’ve got to be, um, obviously listening with your ears, but you also need to be listening with your eyes and your other senses. What are the things that are happening around you? Um, you know, what’s the body language, the non-verbal cues that somebody is giving you. It, you know, and it in homes and, and I write about in the book, it’s about paying attention to the environment that somebody’s in. Um, I was on a call not too long ago with somebody I’d never met before. And I noticed that he had, it was right after the holidays. And I noticed that he had a shelf, he had all these nutcrackers, and I was like, that’s fascinating time. Like, what are, tell me about those nutcrackers. And we ended up having a 20 minute conversation about holiday rituals and traditions. And he’d started getting nutcrackers from his parents when he was like eight years old and it just became a thing. 

Rob Volpe:
And now he is in his mid forties. And so he’s got quite a lot of nutcrackers that he’s gathered and he’s started giving them to his son and extending the tradition on. And that’s all because I was paying attention. I was actively listening to everything else that was happening, not just the, Hey, how are you? Great to meet you, blah, blah, blah work stuff. Um, that gave me a much richer portrait of him as a person. And because of that, we have a stronger connection and I’m now able to collaborate and work with him better be because I know something more about himself and I know where he’s coming from. So that’s step three, step four is integrating into understanding. So, you know, in that case, um, you know, that, that guy in that example is collecting nutcrackers, but maybe I don’t like nutcrackers. Maybe I like to collect vintage Christmas ornaments from the 50’s, little bubbles on trees. 

Rob Volpe:
If I wasn’t integrating into understanding this about making room in my head, I may like those vintage Christmas ornaments, but not everybody will, there are other ways to like things or to celebrate holidays or not celebrate holidays. And it’s just making room in your head to understand that yes, that’s okay, there are other ways of doing things and thinking about things and we should embrace and explore that rather than let judgment get in the way and shut it down. That fourth step of integrate to understanding is a big one where judgment comes back in and finally, then you’re using your solution imagination. So you’re starting to step the shoes of the other person. So this is where you’re actually getting to a place of empathy. You’ve got all the judgment behind you. You’ve asked the questions, you’ve been paying attention, you’re listening. Uh, you’re integrating it into understanding, and now you can start to venture back, uh, outward to the other person and imagine what it’s like to be them, um, and try to actually make that connection. And all of that is happening in the moment when you’re having a conversation. So these are all things that are like, kind of just happening subconsciously in your brain or should be. And if you find yourself running into trouble and getting to empathy, then you ask yourself, well, what was going on? 

Sarah Panus:
Great, thank you. That’s a good outline of the five steps of empathy and, you know, for people listening, obviously then the next question is, well, how do I do that? Like, what tips should I do? Like, how do you, I mean, some of these things take time, like judgment dismantling judgment. That’s a big one, right? To be aware of and to kind of think through as an example. Um, I know you’re you go into more details in the book, right. So folks listening, I don’t wanna give away everything from the book, cause I want people to read the book too, but, um, what would you say, like in quick, just top line for one of those areas that you’d like to highlight in terms of how to unpack it a little bit more?

TWo sides of judgement

Rob Volpe:
Yes. Um, yeah, I would love to, um, the first thing around judgment, like empathy that is cognitive and there’s emotional empathy, there’s two sides to judgment as well. Judgment. There’s making a judgment, which is the, Hmm. Should I walk down that dark alley at night? I’m not sure, so sure. That’s making a judgment and call and then there’s being judgemental and that’s the casting aspersion. So, you know, the kids, when I was growing up, calling me gay, they were being judgemental. Um, it’s all those things that you’re getting in your way. Um, and it’s really about having awareness of it and catching yourself when you’re doing it. And at asking yourself, wait, where’s that coming from? And is that clouding how I’m thinking or feeling about somebody? And the other thing is to be, um, be gentle with yourself, be forgiving of yourself and understand that this, this is not just a check the box, I’m done. 

Rob Volpe:
This is something that is a lifelong journey and a lifelong practice. And, you know, I, I suppose I should be the most empathetic person in the world, but, and I’m honest about it in the book. And I write about it. Like my family is filled with people that are judgemental, um, and a lot of shoulds and coulds and you need tos, um, in our conversations with, with folks. And so I’ve had to, I, I constantly have to work on it and be aware and like, where is that coming from? And even if I’m having a reaction, you know, the I’m driving down the street and somebody cuts me off or does something they’re not driving fast enough. I can jump to being judgment and, and thinking awful things about that person. But that’s just being judgemental. I’m not having empathy with, well, maybe they’re trying to get some, maybe they’re late. 

Rob Volpe:
Maybe, you know, there’s, there’s an emergency or maybe they’re, you know, nervous, cuz they’ve never driven in this part of town. Therefore they’re, they’re going more slowly. That’s the empathetic response. The non-empathetic response is, you know, shaking your fist, honking the horn and you know, ultimately leads to road rage and all sorts of bad outcomes. Um, but it it’s about having that awareness that you’re doing it. And if you can start there and just catch yourself just once, just once a day, catch yourself being judgmental and change the dialogue and figure out how do I talk about this? Or think about this from a non-judgmental perspective, how do I take the judgment out of it? And then where does that lead you? 

Sarah Panus:
Mm, beautiful. Thank you for that example. Okay, we’re gonna take a quick commercial break. So stick around folks. Uh, Rob and I are gonna continue our empathy conversation after this break.

Commercial break

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The significance of empathy

Sarah Panus:
Okay., Rob. Based on your career, you’ve had of conversations with people as part of your marketing research career. In one part of the book you described the experience of speaking with people being like Christmas morning, and I liked what you said. You said, quote, “you know, you are going to be given a gift, but you don’t know what that gift will be”. I just loved that. Um, and it made me curious, what’s one of your favorite examples from the book that really illustrates the power of empathy. 

Rob Volpe:
Oh, there’s so many.

Sarah Panus:

I’m sure I know. There’s so many, it’s hard. Just one of your favorite doesn’t have to be best. 

Rob Volpe:
No, I know. I know hard of course. Um, but thank you. Yeah, I, I just always, I mean, I, I think I’m like one of the luckiest people with what we do professionally again, to go meet other people and go into people’s homes, strangers, you know. Um, and it is like Christmas morning, you don’t know what you’re gonna get. One of the stories that comes to mind for me in the book, um, there was a woman in Texas that we went to meet. Um, and it was 9:00 AM, um, hot humid, Texas morning there. I don’t know if you know, Sarah, there’s a theme with me and humidity in the book. Not a fan, not a fan. However things seem to happen to me on human days. So, um, anyways, we’re standing outside of this woman’s house. She’s living in a attached unit in a, a ranch home, um, in the suburbs and we’re ringing the bell and there’s no answer, we’re ringing the bell and there’s no answer. 

Rob Volpe:
There’s a dog barking inside and there’s still no answer. Like obviously the dog can’t answer at the door. Um, but there’s a dog yapping and barking constantly. And I’m just basically like, well, no, one’s home. I’m just gonna lean on the buzzer. Um, and at the same time, I’m also texting a colleague who had done the pre-screen and scheduled the interview. Cause it’s like, well, you know, occasionally the respondent will get confused. They’ll go to the facility or an emergency as come up. I’ve had that happen as well. And finally, um, I think it was like 23 minutes after nine o’clock and the interview was supposed to start at 9 23 minutes after nine, the door opens and this young woman emerges, um, glistening wet hair, slicked back towel wrapped around her and she’s like, oh, I’m so sorry. I overslept. And you’re thinking, you overslept? Did you not hear the bell? 

Rob Volpe:
Did you not hear the dog barking? And, and then she’s like, oh, come on in and I will get dressed? And then we’ll get going. And you’re like, okay, no, like I had, uh, two men and a female and a female client and then a female videographer. And I was just like, no, there’s not gonna be three guys coming into your house that like, while you’re getting dressed, that she does that. Um, we’ll wait out here while you get dressed and then let us in. So does that a few minutes later, we start the interview and I could just tell, I mean, the, the conversations we were having in the, the carport area, while we were waiting for her to answer the door and then waiting for her to get dressed, my clients were just briming with judgment. Like, you know, who is this girl, what the heck is going on? 

Rob Volpe:
And, and you get to the place where, and again, this is judgment as the brick wall, they were ready to just dismiss out of hand anything and everything that she had to say before, she even got to say it, that is being judgemental. And, and I recognized that and I was like, and I, you know, saw it to myself. I was like, okay, I gotta get beyond this. Um, and I recognized what was going on. And so as we sat down and started the interview, I was like, all right, I gotta unpack whatever just happened in the last 25, 30 minutes so that we can get beyond it and get to that place of empathy. Um, and so that hopefully my clients are able to also understand it. And so, um, I noticed the t-shirt that she had, her name’s Iris, I noticed the t-shirt that Iris had put on. 

Rob Volpe:
And it was, um, a science Olympiad t-shirt from about seven, been her eight years earlier. And she’s 24. I knew that. So I’m like doing the math, like, okay. So she was in high school at the time. So this is either like an interesting find at a Goodwill store, or this is something from her own personal collection and maybe she did the science Olympiad. And so I asked her, and instead of asking a leading question, I just said, tell me about your t-shirt. And it turns out that she had participated in the science Olympiad. And I was like, okay, that’s really interesting. And then she goes on and tells us about her. Um, the, the reason why she overslept and that she’s got a sleep condition. And she, I forget the name of the, the condition, but effectively the, the neuroscientist found that she is like 45 seconds or 30 seconds away from narcolepsy. 

Rob Volpe:
Like if she fell asleep, 30 seconds faster, she’d be considered narc. But instead she has some other hybrid condition. What it means is that when she falls asleep, she is out and you cannot wake her up. So dog barking us ringing the doorbell, she was sleeping right through it. It was finally, I think the phone that she keeps right under her ear ringing at the top of its volume, when my colleague was calling to find out what was going on, that that started to, to raise her from her slumber. So here she is, and she’s explaining all of these things and she’s so articulate while she’s doing it. And she’s got this science Olympia t-shirt on. And I’m like, there’s more to your story than, than we’ve like heard. Um, and so I asked her like, you know, okay, so when you were doing the science lumpia, like, what did you wanna be when you grow up? 

Rob Volpe:
And currently she had, had mentioned that she’s a, uh, she was working customer service, second shift customer service for some online firm. And I was like, that’s not lining up with the science Olympia. So I asked her like, what, what did you wanna do when you grew up when you were back in high school? And she told us that she wanted to be a doctor. And she’d started on a pre-med program in college, but the, her sleep condition had, um, had appeared at that point and started to manifest and she couldn’t stay awake. She said that when she’d sit down to study, she’d fall asleep and, you know, she’s not taken a 20 minute disco nap. She’s actually out for three or four hours. And so she wasn’t able to keep up with all of the work. And so that really resonated with me. It resonated with the clients and we just had such a better appreciation of what her life was like and what she was going through, that we were able to forgive the fact that she overslept because we had empathy with the fact that she has a condition and that it would cause her to sleep and she couldn’t be aroused, um, to, to come answer the door. 

Rob Volpe:
So, she sleeping through things. Okay. We understood that, that cleared the way for the clients to actually listen and to hear what’s going on. And when we went back, um, ultimately, and put the insights video together, when we told the story of the research, um, it was Iris, that was sort of the star of that video because she’s so perfectly articulated all the insights that we were. Um, they, they just resonated throughout the study with all the participants, but she said it best. And had we stayed in a place of judgment. We wouldn’t have even heard what she had to say, let alone feel like she was a, a solid interview that we could bring into the debrief session and make videos out of and, and do all of that. So that’s an example of empathy at work, um, and at work, you know, doing both, both jobs, um, and it’s just because we took the time to dismantle our judgment and then listened to what she had to say so that we could get beyond it. 

Sarah Panus:
Yeah. I mean, how often we have just like the clutter of loudness in our own brains, and it just prevents us from just hearing and just like stepping aside. That’s an amazing example to, to illustrate how impactful empathy is in our day to day. That’s amazing. 

Rob Volpe:
Thank you. Yeah. It’s, you know and the book is filled with those stories. 

Sarah Panus:
So let’s kind of dig a little deeper there, too, just to share more about what you do at Ignite 360. Um, you know, it’s, it’s what you do is, you know, you’re talking with folks, you’re doing a mix of finding the right story through market research and empathy skills. So how do you describe the work that you and your team do? 

Rob’s work with your team

Rob Volpe:
Yeah, so we are about our mission is to elevate human understanding in order to help our clients unlock potential and realize business results, like move the world forward. So we do that through a lot of qualitative. We also do quantitative work as well, but it’s a lot of listening and asking good questions and helping our clients navigate and make that connection. Um, so that they’re able to then understand because, you know, yeah, it’s one thing for me to go out and do the research or my team to go out and do research and come back and go, Hey, here’s what it’s saying, but if we can’t help you connect with it, empathetically, you’re gonna be a lot less likely to take action on it. So, you know, one thing that I, I like to say is that, you know, insights and strategy is what we do, but inspiration is what we deliver. And it’s really about that inspiration to our clients so that they understand who that consumer is, what the site is and then what they can do about it, so that they’re prepared to take action and they walk out of the meeting room or, or hang up off of the teams or the zoom and they immediately start to put it, uh, put it to use. 

Sarah Panus:
Yeah. And you have a pretty good roster of brands that you’re com that you’ve worked with through the years. Can you share a few examples of brands that people listening might recognize? 

Rob Volpe:
Uh, yes. Um, we’re really fortunate. I mean, and I will, I will give a shout out to General Mills as our, it was our first client, 11 years ago, and one of our largest clients and continues to be to this day. Um, and then the, the good folks at General Mills took us with them as they moved on throughout their careers. So now our client roster is everywhere from in the, the CPG space. We work with, you know, General Mills, Nestle Hershey, Kraft, uh, in technology, we work with Microsoft, we work with Amazon.

Rob Volpe:
Uh, we work with some smaller tech startups. We work in the healthcare space with some device manufacturers and some healthcare, uh, hospital networks. Uh, we work in travel and entertainment. We work in financial services. Um, and, and, and, you know, it’s interesting cuz some, some people kind of go, well, why are you spread out like that? 

Rob Volpe:
And it’s like, well, it’s the 360 of the human experience. You know, Sarah you may buy Cheerios for example, but you might also be using, you know, a Microsoft product word or PowerPoint or, or something like that. You might also be banking at Wells Fargo or capital one, which are two of our clients. You might be, um, traveling on United airlines. You might be doing all of these other things and, and they’re all you, and it’s the understanding the so much more of you. That’s gonna enable me to connect with you and communicate better with you and, and show you that I understand and show why Cheerios fits in your life. 

Sarah Panus:
Okay. Well, we’re just so ready to wrap up. So before we end, um, I have a question, one last question for you, which is what’s one takeaway that you want to leave my listeners with today. 

What is one key TAKEAWAY you’d like share

Rob Volpe:
I want people to understand and embrace the fact that you are all born with the ability to have empathy. There’s a great quote from Maya Angelou that we all have the ability to have empathy. She just thinks that we are afraid or we, we don’t have the courage to display it. And I challenge everybody to have the courage, to have empathy and to get connected with their consumers and with their colleagues and with the other people that are in their lives and just try to see their point of view. 

Sarah Panus:
Beautiful. Okay. Rob, how can people connect with you online? Where do they find your book? Like give us all the details. 

Rob Volpe:
Okay. So the book is out wherever books are sold, hard cover and ebook. There is an audiobook coming in may, but the hard for the ebook are out. So Amazon Barnes and Noble, independent book sellers, all the places, um, you can definitely find out more, uh, if you visit five steps to empathy.com, that’s the number five steps to empathy.com. Um, also you can access all of that information by going to Ignite 360’s website, which is ignite-360.com. You can find out more about the work that we do. You can find out about the empathy programs that we have. The book information is also there. Um, would also love it. If people, uh, were interested to connect with me, you can find me on LinkedIn just search Rob Volpe, empathy activist. And you will find me, uh, you will find me through a link and I’m connected to Sarah, to you as well. Um, you can find me on Instagram and TikTok as empathy activist. You can find me on Facebook as Rob Volpe empathy, a, uh, I am on Peloton as empathy activists. So if there are any Peloton people and you want to get on a class with me at some point or gimme a high five, and I can give you a high five back. I’d love that too. 

Sarah Panus:
I love the Peloton. You’re the first person who’s mentioned that as a handle. That’s fantastic. It’s such a great community example. Yeah, 

Rob Volpe:
It is. It is a community and you know, we’re limited in how we can interact with each other, but let me tell you when I’m doing a workout and I get a high five from somebody, it just, you know, it is that hand on your back. That just gives you a little bit of support. So yeah, if you are a Peloton, uh, subscriber, please find me there. Empathy activist. 

Sarah Panus:
Oh, lovely. Well, thank you so much for Rob for joining. This was a great discussion. 

Rob Volpe:
Thank you, Sarah. This was awesome. I really appreciate it. 

CLOSing remarks

Hi fives for finishing another episode. When faced with an obstacle, you’re the type of person who gets better instead of bitter. I hope you feel creatively inspired and invite you to check back often for more goodness from me and my guest. If you want more actionable advice and inspiration head over to kindredspeak.com for show notes, all discount codes from today’s episode, and to sign up for my newsletter. Subscribe now to the Marketing With Empathy Podcast on Apple podcast, Spotify and wherever else you get your podcast. And if you’d be so kind, will you please leave me a review. This helps my podcast get noticed by others. Keep smiling.

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ABOUT SARAH PANUS

Sarah Panus is a brand storytelling marketing strategist, Minnesota mom, and owner of Kindred Speak, LLC, a remote consultancy that helps corporations attract upper-funnel leads that drive bottom-funnel results through storytelling.  Her mission is to add value to the world by humanizing brand+consumer connections. Her online courses teach content professionals inside corporations think like Editorial Directors for their brand to drive stronger results while enjoying their jobs more.  She’s spent the last 20 years helping brands including Sleep Number, Starbucks, Nestle Waters, Christos Bridal, Game Crazy, Cone Inc, and others, speak a kindred language with their audiences, driving brand advocacy and millions in revenue and brand engagements. Learn more at www.kindredspeak.com. Follow Sarah on Instagram and LinkedIn.