Ani speaks to Frederieke Venderbosch, a cross-cultural effectiveness and inclusion specialist on how curiosity is a building block of empathy, how deep democracy can be used to foster empathy, and how building an empathetic culture does not necessarily only fall onto HR’s shoulders.
You’re listening to A Daffodil For Your Thoughts, a show where we speak to leaders across multiple industries to gather their views and advice on prominent themes and topics within the workplace.
Anirudh Arvind 0:19
Welcome to Single Steps, Fred. It’s really, really exciting to have Frederieke Venderbosch with us today. Fortunate for me, because I’ve worked with this amazing woman for quite a while, and I’ve always admired her ability to lead with empathy. And she’s been kind enough to come on the show and talk to us about building a culture of empathy within an organization. Before I carry on, Fred, how are you and how are things in Netherlands?
Frederieke Venderbosch 0:43
Thanks for having me, Ani. Great seeing you again and speaking to you again. Yeah, I really miss working together in Malaysia and Singapore. I’ve been really well. Of course, not too happy with the lockdown situation. But yeah, making effort to adjust. And I think it works so far. It’s not always easy, I’ll be honest. But yeah, I’m very blessed to find myself with plenty of work, having my health, my family is healthy. So, I think those are the basics that are, yeah, that are really important. And not, this is not the case for everyone, I’m very well aware.
Anirudh Arvind 1:26
Well, I guess that’s what I’ve always admired about you, Fred, super humble for someone has done so much int- so many interesting things. But before we carry on, just a bit of an intro, so Fred, you’ve obviously got extensive experience in the world of talent assessments. You’ve done a lot of work in cultural assimilation, working with executive leaders, and have a really global experience, I think you’ve worked in so many different parts of the world. If I remember correctly, Africa, bit of Southeast Asia, and then obviously, in Europe. And so thanks for spending the time to talk to us today about building a culture of empathy within an organization. But if I could just kind of ask you a question, Fred, what does empathy within an organization actually look like?
Frederieke Venderbosch 2:10
Yeah, that’s a really good question, Ani. And it’s not a very, not necessarily very easy question to answer. And if I think about stepping into an organization where I find that empathy is really part of the culture, typically, it’s something that I feel first before truly realizing that that’s what’s going on. I think it’s something that you observe in the way people behave, in the way they present themselves. I think empathy has a lot to do with people feeling comfortable bringing their person, their individual, their personality, their emotions, everything that’s part of them to work. And of course, it doesn’t have to be there all the time. But they’re comfortable doing that. So I think that- that sense of comfort of showing themselves is there and there’s also a comfort in asking questions and showing interest in one another. And there’s, I think, a sense of curiosity, to learn about how other people are doing, and what their thoughts are, what their ideas are.
Anirudh Arvind 3:21
It’s interesting how you say curiosity. Is that like, like, I would say, like the building blocks to where it’s actually having a culture of empathy within the organization. Having the curiousness to really kind of ask somebody how they’re doing, or what’s going on? Would you say that’s a big part of it?
Frederieke Venderbosch 3:37
Absolutely. And I think the building block to that building block would even be curiosity to focus on oneself, really understanding and also what’s going on in me, right? How am I doing? What bring- what am I bringing to work today, and also recognizing that that won’t be the same every day, and at times, it will be very positive, with lots of drive, lots of success ultimately, as well. And there will be days that are quite different. And understanding and also recognizing that those differences will be there. It’s not something that you can just change and it’s something that everyone faces in the work situation. So I think once you can include all those different aspects in yourself, it makes it a hell of a lot easier to also include that in others, right? So if you exclude like, “Well, I’m not really- I’m not as driven as I normally am.” If you’re excluding that in yourself, it makes it very difficult to then have a good conversation with one of your direct reports who’s not as motivated as they normally are right? Because that’s, that’s not allowed to be there. So including all those different aspects in yourself and then also in others helps to free up the curiosity and that support is also really yeah I think having good relationships in the workplace.
Anirudh Arvind 5:11
Yeah. I mean, it’s really interesting how you say that self-inclusion element, is it right? Because I guess currently now, everything’s changed, correct? I mean, I don’t know what my day is gonna look like tomorrow, you’re not sure what your day is gonna look like tomorrow, considering all that’s happening. At this point in time, especially the way our lives have been upended, I mean, we’re play so many different roles at one particular time, right? We’re having a client meeting, and then we’re attending to, to a kid, or we’re attending to a parent, or we’re attending to a wife or a husband, or whatever it might be. And, you know, at the same point, you’ve got a very demanding stakeholder on the other hand kind of asking you for something urgently, but you just need some time to react and sort of say, which, which is priority, right? Because the lines are so blurred. And I think when we’re in these situations, we just expect other people to understand our current situation. So is there a particular way to kind of actually put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and kind of think about how they would view the situation?
Frederieke Venderbosch 6:21
That’s a good question. I think the first thing that comes to my mind is, there’s also a bit of a risk, right? It’s good to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, which you’ll never gonna get completely right. Yeah, you’re never gonna truly understand how the other person feels or looks at a situation. Or you won’t even be able to imagine all the things that are going on in their life. So that sort of curiosity comes in and asking questions comes in. But I think it can help to reflect for- or place yourself in someone else’s shoes and reflect on a relationship that you have together. So to make our collaboration effective, what would I like to see happen in this collaboration, in this relationship? And then make sure to offer that and to start a dialogue. But I think also be respectful and recognize that the other person cannot fully understand your situation by- when you’re not discussing it. And even then, when you’re not living your life, it’s difficult to fully comprehend what it’s like.
Anirudh Arvind 7:31
But I guess the question then becomes, would you say this is like HR’s role to facilitate these conversations and build this culture of empathy? Or would you say it kind of comes in partnership with, you know, the HR heads and the leadership team working together to- to ensure this is achieved?
Frederieke Venderbosch 7:50
I think this is not something that you can just put with HR. I think HR can definitely play an important role. And also creating a culture of empathy, I think there’s no business where there’s no empathy. At a somewhere in the organization where does people who have strong abilities in demonstrating empathy? And it’s just also making sure that those people get the attention they deserve if empathy is something that you want to make a pillar in your culture. And again, I think by leaders also demonstrating the right behaviors. It’s, it’s very difficult to create cultural change by just talking about it right? We want you to show more empathy. And if that has not happened before, it’s not gonna happen. I think leaders really can play such an important role. And also a very important role lies with those people who have strong skills in this area and them being recognized. Yeah, and then for HR can definitely play a role in facilitating good conversations, right, where we hear from everyone. And I think a very interesting methodology that can be used for this is deep democracy. Not sure if you’ve heard of this.
Anirudh Arvind 09:20
Please enlighten us Fred.
Frederieke Venderbosch 9:24
Yeah. Deep democracy is a method. I think it- the founding father so to say is Arnold Mindell, an American guy and it was further developed in South Africa. And it’s a very interesting method where that supports good decision-making and creating strong commitment to those decisions by making sure that you involve or incorporate the wisdom of the minorit- minority perspective to the majority decision. And basically what you do, or there’s a few key factors, I think, in deep democracy. One is that it’s not about hearing from everyone around the table. It’s about making sure that you hear all perspectives. So the focus is on the ideas. It’s not on the people. And I think that can make it easier for people to feel a bit more free and talk. And- and it’s not about- cause sometimes you see this happen, right? That one, perspective is shared, and everyone kind of repeats it just to make sure that they’ve been heard. And, and this methodology finds ways of people being able to show their support for a statement without having to repeat it all the time. And then a facilitator makes a conscious effort to go and find perspectives that are different. So who else has something to add to what we’ve already heard and who can share something that is completely different from what we’ve heard even. Right, so really setting the scene that it’s important that we get a wide variety of perspectives. And that will ultimately help all of us, right, get into better decisions. And well then there’s a vote. So we do go with majority decision, but then often in businesses, it stops, right? Okay, so this is what we do. Let’s get on with it. In the deep democracy method, it doesn’t stop there. The next step after the majority decision is to recognize towards the minority that we’re not going with their preferred option. Like sorry, for that. We know that you’ll most likely be yeah, dissatisfied or sad or not at least not happy, right, that we’re not going your suggestion and what would you need to be able to commit to the majority decision? So yeah, you take some more time to fine tune and to come up with additional ideas to make sure that the minority can also fully commit to the strategic direction or the that particular decision that has been taken. Yeah.
Anirudh Arvind 12:36
Yeah. That’s really interesting, because I think in so many occasions you will get certain fairly, I would say, influential voices that kind of overpower the other voices in the room who, like you say, may have very strong ideas, may have, you know, extremely, I would say, timely suggestions as well. So, you know, what, what’s the right way forward? And I think sometimes these voices aren’t heard. And like you say, and many times, they may actually be no kind of acknowledgement of the fact that, hey, by the way, this is the direction and just kind of get on board with it, right? But what do you do with those that are struggling to get on board with it?
But I guess the last question I have for you, before I let you go is, you know, currently, I guess now we live in a pretty, I would say a very diverse world where we’ve got, you know, multiple nationalities, different genders, different opinions, different upbringings, which, which are kind of different generations within the workforce, right? And everybody has their idea of doing things or their methodology or preferred way of doing things. But what can we all do ourselves to kind of appreciate that diversity and really kind of understand it from a grass root level, like to kind of really understand if I was an individual working in that capacity? What could I do to really kind of make sure you know, I really get the best out of that situation?
Frederieke Venderbosch 14:05
Great question. I think to really strip it down and to go really back to the basics is to really see if you can trigger your own curiosity. So what can I learn in this situation? What can I learn from this perspective? Often what we are inclined to look for, so what do I agree with, right, when I hear other people, or what do I recognize? And then we include that and we exclude the bits that we don’t recognize or that we don’t initially agree with. And often even when we spend a little more time thinking and reflecting on those opinions or ideas, there are still elements that we would be able to recognize. So that’s, that’s something I’ve been trying to do because, of course I’m also just human. I have my prejudices. When I hear statements or opinions that’s- my initial reaction is to come up with very strong counter arguments. Take a step back and think, so what is it that I would be able to recognize in what this person is sharing? And sometimes it’s the underlying concern that I think I recognize. Some- it can be very different things. But when that happens, when I find something I recognize, I feel a lot of space opening up in my mind. It’s, it creates lots of opportunities it feels like. And it also feels like there’s so much to learn. And we live in such a complex world, right? So we need all the perspectives that we can find.
Anirudh Arvind 15:54
That is true. Fred, that’s really that- I think that that kind of really struck home because it’s true. I think sometimes you kind of go in with thinking, “Oh, that’s the perspective I agree with so makes sense.” But actually, there’s so many other things, so many other elements of the conversation that come up, if you would just take a second to pause and really understand why someone’s saying a certain thing or why they believe a certain thing. So that’s really, really interesting. And like you say, I think we live in a complex world so we could all use a bit more perspectives in life and in business, I’m sure.
Listen, Fred, it’s always a pleasure speaking with you. And thank you so much for being so insightful. And for kind of putting me in reflection mode. I really, really would like to thank you for that. So yeah, we really appreciate you taking the time and adding value to this.
Frederieke Venderbosch 16:50
My pleasure, Ani. Thanks for having me.
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