23 November–4 December
“In 1.5 hours, to create an empathetic bond, feels like a kind of magic.”
And with that the the first Empathy Talks pilot is done.
On 25 November we ran a 2 hour pilot via Zoom. 4 people joined — 1 as speaker, 3 as listeners. All were friends of ours. Tasman Papworth facilitated and I observed, took notes, and asked debrief questions at the end.
The pilot topic provided by our Speaker participant was: Relationships and influence in education.
Good things in summary–participants gelled, people felt genuinely heard wishes were expressed, the format was tested, and bonds were forged.
There is a lot put on the facilitator of an Empathy Talk. I’d go so far as to say the selection of person makes or breaks the Talk.
- Needs to understand exactly what an Empathy Talk is so they can talk about it with conviction and build trust with participants.
- Needs to do a lot of setting up, explaining, and settling people in, remotely.
- Is under a large amount of pressure to hold space for everyone, including themselves.
The Facilitator role is not an easy ask, and if the participants don’t trust the facilitator I have a feeling the format won’t work. Two of the pilot participants knew our Facilitator very well, so the dynamics were different from the off.
A few other learnings:
- The Talk structure noticeably disrupted the call + response flow of conversation we normally engage in. But this wasn’t a bad thing, in fact it took away the pressure to come up with solutions, which is a natural inclination for many.
“The opportunity to be able to talk about things without having to find a solution feels nice. It takes the pressure off.”
- Comments were directed to the Speaker; this intentional sense of direction stood out, particuarly as the Speaker was granted ‘wishes’ by listeners at the end.
- About 45 minutes in I sensed participants in flow and gelling with each other. Always amazed this can happens in remote space, and in such seemingly quick time.
- The vibe was respect and generosity. The final activity asked participants to “Take a minute to choose a card you think a person in the group would appreciate, based on what you’ve heard about them here.” We trialled IFF Kitbag for this. Words chosen were Magic, Wisdom, Courage.
The session was intense and emotional. It’s not a difficulty so much as something we need to acknowledge in terms of psychological safety. Russkin (also the author of the previous Tweet) has kindly provided me with insights on how this is handled in polarisation + empathy work at CoCreative. More thinking and design iteration to be done here.
Some also felt pressure to come up with something profound when sharing back to the Speaker, given the Speaker had just laid out their internal thoughts and vulnerabilities. The bar and stakes felt high. I wonder if it could be any different?
- Lock those fandangled Miro boards
- Test Zoom breakout rooms beforehand
- Make a plan for a soft exit — help people come out of the space and reorient back into the world
A few weeks to go before experiment wrap, and at least 1–2 more talks hoped for. Will we get there? Ich hoffe es.
Achievement 1: getting the pilot done. Big thanks to Tasman for leading it and being a stellar facilitator.
Achievement 2: wrote this weeknote. Bit late so it’s a fortnight note, but better late than never. Plus these are enjoyable to do, especially picking the gif.