Do you have genuine relationships at work? What’s the line between being authentic and being rude?

For this week’s blogpost and podcast, I’m interviewing Jennifer Yost, noted psychotherapist on the subject of genuine relationships and authenticity, especially as it relates to the workplace and the IT help desk. I hope you enjoy it!

Learn more about Jennifer’s work in genuine relationships and other areas at www.integratehealing.com.

Transcript

Don:

Hello, and welcome to The Compassionate Geek videocast and podcast for IT professionals who care about improving customer service and communication skills. My name is Don Crawley, and today we’re talking authenticity. We have a special guest with us, a long time friend and colleague. Jennifer Yost is with us. Jen is a licensed psychotherapist, she holds an MA and LMHC. She’s also a state-certified Reiki master. She’s been working in the healing arts as a counselor, a teacher, and energy intuitive for over 18 years. She’s also founder and producer of The One Gathering, an annual celebration of goodness and light. And it is such a delight to have you with me today on The Compassionate Geek podcast and videocast. Jen, welcome.

Jennifer:

Thanks for having me, Don.

Don:

I want to talk with you about authenticity today. We’re talking authenticity because it’s a buzzword that’s become very popular since Oprah Winfrey read a book on authenticity. And so for the last several years, it’s been a popular buzzword that has been bandied about in business circles and frankly, everywhere else, wanting to achieve a greater level of authenticity, who we are and what it’s all about. And in fact, I just recently read an article in the New York Times where there’s a professor of communications studies who said that authenticity has become a fad word, which means that it’s a risk of losing its meaning. I think I want to start by asking you to define authenticity. What is authenticity? How is it relevant? How do you use it in your work with clients and what is the objective when you’re trying to work with somebody to become more authentic?

Jennifer:

I define authenticity as being true to yourself. There’s lots of reasons that we have that blocks us from being true to ourselves, whether it’s insecurity, whether you’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings if you really say what you mean or what you want. And I help-

Don:

The paradox there is that when you do that, ultimately you end up hurting them more, don’t you?

Jennifer:

If you say what you truly mean or want?

Don:

If you don’t say what you truly mean or want, yeah.

Jennifer:

Yeah, yeah, totally, because then it’s a falsehood.

Don:

Right.

Jennifer:

And then ultimately, eventually it comes out and then we have a big mess.

Don:

Yeah. And wouldn’t have been a whole lot easier to have dealt with it originally? But it’s true. It’s difficult sometimes to say the things that we really mean out of fear of hurting somebody or fear of being misinterpreted.

Jennifer:

Correct.

Don:

Isn’t that a part of relationships, that give and take, trying to figure out how that works? Whether it’s a marriage relationship or a business relationship or a friendship, there’s a lot of that that give and take in that process of trying to figure it out, how do you work that out, especially in business?

Jennifer:

Oh, business. Well, I’m thinking of, I have a business partner and it’s a partnership that’s really based on some strong authenticity because our work is centered around teaching this, so we have to practice what we teach. So to keep that relationship how I like to term clean, it’s a lot of sometimes we have to have some uncomfortable conversations about things where you are putting it out there as to what you think on your side of things and working it out.

Don:

When you say an uncomfortable conversation, we can imagine that’s where you have to offer some maybe perhaps negative feedback to somebody or you have a concern about what direction the relationship is going or whatever. But are there rules for how you have an uncomfortable conversation?

Jennifer:

Well, rules. Let’s see. I don’t think I’ve ever had a per se rules set, but I think I know what’s helpful is saying I statements.

Don:

Okay. Go on with that. Tell me more.

Jennifer:

“I feel this because of this.” Being respectful but at the same time being assertive. It’s a balance, and I think it’s also a skill that is developed over time as you get more comfortable with you first. I mean, you really need to be know yourself in order to be authentic, I also believe.

Don:

When you say using lots of I statements, that’s as opposed to you statements. Give me an example of a you statement that wouldn’t work.

Jennifer:

Let’s see.

Don:

I’m putting you on the spot.

Jennifer:

I’m trying to come up with example. “You talked over me the whole time and I can’t believe you did that” versus “I felt like I didn’t have any space to contribute to the conversation.”

Don:

That makes a lot of sense.

Jennifer:

It feels very different, doesn’t it? You versus the I.

Don:

Sure does. Yeah. And so in the first scenario, “I’m starting to get defensive. I get my hackles up and I’m ready to go into battle with you,” and in the second one, “I’m more willing to listen to you and to think about maybe seeing it empathetically from your point of view.”

Jennifer:

Correct.

Don:

So let’s take it and talk about authenticity within the context of IT. And I know that that’s not your field, but suppose that we have a situation where we have IT people who are providing technical support, and so they’re dealing with end users and customers who are calling in for help. One of the things that we talk about a lot in the training is the importance of being authentic, and that’s driven by concerns about people reading from scripts and saying, “I am so sorry. I am here to help you. I don’t blame you for feeling that way,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Don:

We all agree that that’s phony. I don’t think anybody would argue with that. And yet I understand the motivation behind a company requiring help desk people or customer service people to read from a script because they want to make certain that those words are said. So the challenge, then, is how do we make them authentic? Are there ways that we can make them authentic? Are there ways that we can make them believable so that they’re not off putting and yet still get them said?

Jennifer:

So what you’re saying is if someone’s required to read from a script, how to make that a little bit more personable or authentic in this case?

Don:

Yeah. I think that there’s really two questions, and maybe I didn’t do a good job of expressing myself. The first question is if you as an IT person are required to read from a script, how do you make it more authentic? How do you make it more believable? And the second question is if you’re a manager and you’re requiring your people to read from scripts and you’re hearing this phoniness, is there a better way to do it? Is there a way that we can teach people to express those feelings authentically without requiring them to read from a script? Let’s go with the first question, and then we’ll go to the second.

Jennifer:

Sure. Well, I think if I’m just imagining myself being hired as an IT customer service person and if I was given a script, I think first what I would do is get really comfortable with what that script is about, the content, and then really, okay, so, and I also know what it’s like to be someone who has IT problems to call up someone. So I think empathy comes in because I think we’ve all had those experiences where we’re frustrated and then the person on the other line is they don’t get it. They don’t seem like they care. So what would it be like to just imagine being really frustrated? Because we can all relate to that emotion, right?

Don:

Oh, sure. Yeah. You bet. So if I hear you right, and I think this is great advice, I wish I had thought of it myself, the first thing is to spend some time with the script to understand the motivation behind it.

Jennifer:

Correct.

Don:

So it’s not just a matter of showing up and sitting down in your cube at your desk and reading the script for the first time, but really to think it through, to even practice it the way an actor might with a script and try to get behind the motivation. This is really sounding like an actor working on a script, isn’t it?

Jennifer:

Well, yeah, but getting really [inaudible 00:08:17] it so it’s just second nature. And then also bringing the feeling or the emotion into if you’re dealing with someone who’s really enraged.

Don:

That’s the empathy part.

Jennifer:

Yeah.

Don:

And to remember that that nobody is an expert on everything. And so when somebody is frustrated or angry and they call us on the help desk, what they really want is help. They want empathy. In fact, there was a customer service trainer who once said that people don’t want customer service. They want customer empathy. So put yourself in my shoes.

Don:

I think those are two great pieces of advice. Spend some time with the script and practice it, get to know it, understand the motivation behind it, and then approach the interactions, the customer or end user interactions with empathy. That’s great. Thank you for that.

Don:

So then the second part of the question is you’re a manager and you have IT staff who are providing customer service, who are working with end users, and they’re currently using a script and it’s coming across as being read-y, and you want to get away from that. So how do you work with them to develop authenticity without requiring them to read from a script and still get the empathetic words and phrases, the “I’m sorry that happened to you,” “I don’t blame you for being upset.” How do you make that work?

Jennifer:

Maybe I would do role playing, have some sort of training with the particular employee that’s having difficult difficulty, or maybe there’s a whole training for a group of new hires where you have some scenarios, and maybe it’s not even IT scenarios, but some sort of trainings around scenarios that would provoke because I think when we call up for customer service, we’re kind of peed off.

Don:

A lot of times that’s true.

Jennifer:

Maybe I do some sort of training scenarios around that to help in getting the employee just more jelled with what they’re there to do instead of being a robot.

Don:

So have them do a role play where maybe they switch roles. In the first scenario, Person A is the caller and Person B is the tech support rep, and in the second scenario they switch roles and they actually see what it’s like. And they use known scenarios so it’s something that is common at that particular business. They call and say, “Hey, I’m having this problem with my printer and what can I do about it?” or “I’ve got a report due in 20 minutes and the computer’s locked up. You got to help me.” And how do you deal with that empathetically, and you try to put yourself in that position.

Jennifer:

Yeah.

Don:

Those are great ideas.

Jennifer:

That’s what I did when I was trained to be a counselor. That’s how we did it.

Don:

It’s interesting. People hate role play, at least in my experience. It’s a very uncomfortable place for them and I understand that, and yet it’s so incredibly valuable. And what I’ve found in working with IT people in the customer service training is that if we can get them to buy into this idea of actually doing the role play and see the value and they spend five minutes in the exercise or 10 minutes, whatever it is, that they come away with a realization of what they’ve been doing wrong and sometimes a validation of what they’ve been doing right, and then they’re able to carry that into the workplace, and it’s very, very effective. So a roleplay is a great way to help people in the second scenario where you want to get them away from that script. Thank you for that.

Don:

The next question is just in general, when we’re dealing with our colleagues, say, who are also our customers, because we define customer as anybody that we interact with, so when we’re dealing with our colleagues, sometimes we’re forced to deal with people that we don’t particularly like, people who maybe feel differently from the way we do. Maybe we get at odds with them. That’s just the nature of human relations. And yet it’s in both party’s best interests to figure out a way to make it work without sacrificing your integrity, your self respect. And so suppose that you have two people who are at complete opposite ends of the political spectrum. That’s a common thing that people get into arguments about today. How do you make that work in the workplace so that everybody can get along and accomplish the goals of the organization, be authentic, and still be respectful?

Jennifer:

Well-

Don:

I just laid a big chore on you, didn’t I?

Jennifer:

Sure. Well, maybe when there’s people at odds, I think trying to figure out what is the common goal here? What are we all trying to achieve? What do we all want?

Don:

You look for commonality.

Jennifer:

Yeah, and focus on that. Unless your job has to do with something with politics, we have to learn how to keep those out of the workplace.

Don:

The rules for polite conversation. No religion, sex, or politics, right?

Jennifer:

Yeah. I mean, and agree to disagree. Respect each other and know that that’s that, but we’re here to reach our quota, [inaudible 00:13:33] must work together in how we do that.

Don:

I heard a speaker a couple of weeks ago say, and they were talking about a very controversial issue here in Washington state, and it doesn’t matter what it was because there’s controversial issues everywhere, but she said, “I’m not going to tell you how to think about it. What I am going to tell you is to remember that there are really good, decent people on both sides of this argument.” A lot of times we vilify people who feel differently from the way we do on pick your issue, whether it’s politics or whatever. And the reality is that the other people probably are not villains. I mean, there’s no denying that sometimes that happens, but fundamentally it’s just people who feel differently than we do, and maybe they’re right.

Jennifer:

And there’s reasons for it. Everybody comes from a different background, has different life experiences that all goes into their value system and in their viewpoints.

Don:

If you were brought in as a counselor to help settle a rift between two important employees at an organization, suppose this organization had two people who are critical to its success, you can imagine where I’m going with this, and the managers couldn’t figure out a way to get them to work together. They were at odds all the time. They had different political or religious or whatever views. What are some of the things that you would do in a meeting with those two people?

Jennifer:

Well, first maybe I would start with what do they want again? What do they want to accomplish here? And really, what are you in the office for? What are you doing here?

Don:

What’s the point of us being here?

Jennifer:

Yeah. You guys, you don’t have to be best friends, you don’t have to go to coffee together. But what I do need from you is to figure out how we’re going to get from A to B in our objective, our professional objective. And maybe there is some empathy to be had between the two to kind of help and figuring out, well, I bet these two employees are feeling the same emotions about each other and about whatever it is they’re disagreeing on.

Don:

So you might get them to agree about how angry they are at each other.

Jennifer:

Right. And again, redirecting them and refocusing them to the task at hand, what you’re here for. I don’t know about you, when I’ve worked in office settings or whatnot, I’m not there really to make friends. I’ve certainly worked with people. I couldn’t stand, but I had to figure out how to go underneath that and stay focused on why I was on the job.

Don:

Yeah. What’s the objective. Yeah.

Jennifer:

Right. And then if it’s really not going to work, then you find a different job.

Don:

Got to make some hard choices there, don’t you?

Jennifer:

Yeah.

Don:

Jen, this has been very, very helpful. I really appreciate your input. Is there anything that you want to say in closing concerning authenticity, especially in the workplace?

Jennifer:

I’m glad that you’re putting this video out there because this is one of the things that is a pet peeve of mine. When I call and even hear pages turning from their script they’re reading.

Don:

I don’t blame you for feeling the way you do.

Jennifer:

Yeah. And I think that just being authentic, in being kind-natured towards another human being is a compassionate way to be just separating yourself from the person’s anger towards you because it’s really not about you as the customer service person.

Don:

No. They’re frustrated with a situation or who knows what? Yeah.

Jennifer:

Yeah.

Don:

Excellent. Jen, thank you so much for agreeing to talk with me today. I appreciate it and I look forward to having a coffee or reconnecting with you offline here soon.

Jennifer:

Yeah. Thanks, Don. It was fun.

Don:

So I hope this has been helpful. For The Compassionate Geek, I’m Don Crawley. I’ll see you next time.


Help your attendees build stronger and more genuine relationships with customers and coworkers. Include a breakout session on emotional intelligence in your next conference.

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