S07 E05 Esther Derby on Gearing Positive Change

This conversation explores the concept of empathy and its importance in various contexts. The guest provides insights into defining empathy, the possibility of having too much empathy, and practical tips for practicing empathy. The conversation also delves into the role of empathy in product design, overcoming barriers to empathy, and effective communication. Additionally, it highlights the importance of creating a safe environment for empathy and discusses the challenges and benefits of empathy in virtual settings.


  • Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
  • Having too much empathy can lead to over-indexing on others’ emotions and neglecting one’s own needs.
  • Practicing empathy involves actively listening, asking open-ended questions, and seeking to understand others’ perspectives.
  • Empathy plays a crucial role in product design, customer satisfaction, and effective communication.


02:55Defining Empathy
05:46Can You Have Too Much Empathy?
09:28Practical Tips for Practicing Empathy
12:47Empathy in Product Design
15:47Overcoming Barriers to Empathy
22:04Creating a Safe Environment for Empathy
23:57The Importance of Empathy
24:09Empathy in Virtual Settings


Jim Sammons (00:08.473)

Jim Sammons (00:15.773)
I don’t know if that’s a euphemism for drinking or actual snow.

Jim Sammons (00:32.185)
Oh wow.

Jim Sammons (00:45.865)

Jim Sammons (02:55.561)
I’m curious, could you define, like if we were to bump into you in a social setting and somebody is like, I don’t know that I know what that word means, could you tell us briefly like what empathy is and maybe what it is not or how it relates to related concepts?

Jim Sammons (04:00.69)

Jim Sammons (04:07.698)


Jim Sammons (04:43.176)

Jim Sammons (05:46.197)
Can you have too much empathy? Because I remember a discussion a few years ago with somebody who, I wasn’t directly involved, I was just in the conversation and they told another person there, you have too much empathy, you’re over indexing on empathy. What are your thoughts on that?

Jim Sammons (06:13.573)

Jim Sammons (09:28.645)
Yeah. One of the comments I get from listeners a lot is they love the topics we talk about on here, but sometimes they feel unapproachable or they get stressed or anxious between maybe where they think they’re at and whatever our guest is talking about. So do you have any practical tips for somebody who’s like, I don’t know how empathetic I am, or how can I practice this? Is there?

Like, do you have a story or a reflection on like a simple tip that you could give to someone?

Jim Sammons (10:08.859)

Jim Sammons (10:32.157)

Jim Sammons (10:37.117)
Were your fam, was your family teachers?

Jim Sammons (10:42.501)

Jim Sammons (10:52.937)
Well, that checks out then like my friends who had parents who were teachers or in business, they, they had flow charts and, you know, metrics at home before well, well before most of them. Sorry, I did. I just wanted to ask that. Uh, I didn’t mean to detract from your story.

Jim Sammons (12:47.016)

Jim Sammons (12:53.657)
I think the product design people in our audience and in the industry, they have words for this, right? Customer journey mapping and empathy mapping and user interviews and observation. But it could be as simple as you’re saying, which is asking somebody, what do you think of this? Why don’t you want to use it? How could we make it more useful? And I don’t know about YouTube, but I know that sometimes when I read about these ideas, like,

any of those I just rattled off, they might seem big and scary and difficult. And like, I’m going to have to completely go back to school for three months to learn how to do them. And they could start as simple as you’re describing, Esther, like talking to the person who’s going to use that thing and say, what, what do you like about this? What don’t you like about this?

Jim Sammons (15:47.108)

Jim Sammons (16:09.349)
Yeah, I think I’ve heard that before. And it’s interesting, because the when I when I pull on that thread a little bit and say why, it’s normally either what you just said, which is, my developers can’t talk to people. And then sometimes it’s I don’t want the customers to talk to the people doing the execution, because then they’ll ask a bunch of hard questions, or they’re not allowed to. And there’s a number of techniques to just like

start to investigate if that’s actually true or not, or if there’s a bunch of misunderstanding and just false barriers put in place. And I think your comment about jargon is really important because people talking over or under each other is a common problem. And I would be curious what your tips are, but what I’ve seen is I tend to try and help

balance that as maybe the facilitator or the moderator and say, I think you’re too high or too low because people don’t want to be condescended to. And I think some people will see empathy as too condescending and jargon is too high. So it’s really about can we have layman’s terms or, you know, like common language discussions about complex topics with highly intelligent people.

because intelligence is rarely the problem. It’s not about do we have smart people. I tell my customers, I only work with smart people, but just because you’re smart in this topic doesn’t mean you know how to communicate to Esther who’s smart in other topics.

Jim Sammons (18:00.786)

Jim Sammons (18:34.861)

Jim Sammons (22:04.629)
Mm hmm. You know, this question and one of the others in the in the chat is kind of reminding me of something recently, which is I’m doing some work with one company, and there’s a lot of folks from India, and they’re almost never on camera. And a number of, of leaders and other coaches and just other people are like, Oh, why are they never on camera? I want them on camera more and all this. And I said, you know,

I just told a story from my past where people were not proud of their background. They would log into a call, maybe ask someone like you or one of their executives and see this massive American home in the background with opulence. And they were not proud. And I said, it could be just that. Like, how can you make it safe? Let’s not assume that they’re not on camera because they’re not interested or not engaged or not paying attention.

Jim Sammons (23:06.1)

Jim Sammons (23:25.735)

Jim Sammons (23:57.545)

Jim Sammons (24:09.909)
Mm hmm. And it’s a balance because they’re, you know, as trainers, you know, when I’m training, which I’m not always doing, I definitely don’t do it as much as you know, my co host does, but it does make for more difficult training at times. So I tend to, and I’m not saying this is the right answer is I tend to tell people that being engaged is far more important than being on camera. But

I may have a different experience, you may have a different experience, other students may have a different experience if no one’s on camera, because you are missing some of that richness. But yeah, I think I agree with you. It’s not really about camera versus not camera. It’s about empathy to bring this back to your… And the reason I bring this up is to come back to your original superpower is could just be as simple as…

asking someone, I notice you’re not on camera. Here’s why I’ve not been comfortable being on camera in the past, or here’s a story I had and making it about you, or just making it safe to do something differently like that.