Why it is important for chefs to show empathy. Blog by performance psychologist Mike Duckett

The Staff Canteen

For his new blog, performance psychologist, Mike Duckett looks at how and why we should be emphasising with other chefs and customers alike.

If you can’t sense what other people are feeling you’re unlikely to be able to win their hearts and minds. To be able to sense when someone on your team is feeling sad or in some way a little bit ‘down’ could make you stop and think before you get tough with them. The time is not right.

mike duckett fearAs we are taking a stroll around Daniel Goldman’s Competency Of The Stars, from his early book Working with Emotional Intelligence, I was going to focus purely on this critical ability of good leaders; Empathy. Then I got to thinking about how useful it is to be able to empathise; it is involved in virtually all human interactions. It involves listening and doing that with empathy can make a huge difference to people. That took my mind back eons to when I was working with teams of sales people who needed to have the confidence to carry on when a customer raised an objection – it struck me that you don’t have to be a salesman to need to be able to persuade others towards what you think is the right idea.

There must be times when you are faced with someone who just resists you when you ask them to do things a certain way, or when you present them with a new idea. Let’s say your proposition is that ‘we put miniature Yorkshire puddings on the lunch menu’.

Chef says, “no way are they going on my menu, I hate the things”.

You might now be tempted to list all the reasons you think it would make sense; i.e to push back against the resistance. Not a good idea as we all hate pushy sales people.

A very simple conversational process that was/is taught to sales people to prepare them for what we can call ‘customer resistance’, hinges on the ability to empathise with the customer. The process looks simple - just 4 steps – but in fact can be tricky because true empathy isn’t easy nor is it easy to fake. Here it is:

Find the real reason they are resisting

People rarely tell you the real reason straight away. Perhaps because they are afraid it sounds weak or maybe even they don’t know, they’re just feeling resistant. You must find the real reason, or they’ll never buy your idea, and this is only done through asking some questions. So, the obvious one would be, “OK what specifically do you hate about them?”

Now you get some kind of answer, maybe “I think they are too stodgy for our lunch menu”.

Your temptation here is to argue your belief that they aren’t too stodgy – but wait for the crucial step!

Empathise with the ‘customer’

Now you must work hard to put yourself in their shoes and understand why, if you were them, you’d also think they were too stodgy. Equally important you also need to demonstrate to them that you can understand their point of view. You can’t do this by just saying, “I understand BUT…..”. To really convince them that you’ve heard and understood they have a valuable point (from their perspective) you need to paraphrase what they have said, something like, “You’re right; I can see why some are stodgy and completely inappropriate for what you’re trying to do with the menu”.

Do this well and they will feel that you are in fact on their side of the table and it’s not a game of table tennis, knocking the idea back and forth with one of you defending and the other attacking.

Answer the point

Now - and only now – is your opportunity to present your point of view AND it involves that small word ‘AND’............not ‘BUT’!
If you now say, “but that’s why my Yorkshire’s will be the lightest you’ve ever tasted” you’ve lost all that goodwill from the empathy stage and you’ve ‘butted in’ your point. Listen to the subtle difference when you say, “and that’s why my Yorkshires will be the lightest you’ve ever tasted”! You’re still working with them and not against them.

Resolve the issue

To check if you’ve sold your idea you need to ask something like, “so will it be OK to prepare some for a tasting?”

If you get another ‘no’ and more resistance you know you’ve not uncovered the real reason yet - so you start back at step 1. Of course, you’ll need to time this right as to whether you can do this straight away or wait a bit and that again involves sensing the mood i.e. having empathy.

P.S. If you want to remember the steps, notice they spell FEAR – don’t be afraid to make your case!

Mike Duckett
Mike Duckett

Mike Duckett has a degree in psychology and is a member of the Occupational Psychology division, the Sports Psychology division & the Coaching Psychology Special Group of the British Psychological Society. He holds a diploma in Hypnotherapy & Cognitive therapy and is a certified NLP coach.

With over 20 years experience he was one of the pioneers of applying performance psychology to coach people in the hospitality industry to get the best from themselves, in areas such as creativity; leadership; optimism etc.

As a certified NLP Coach and ANLP Accredited Master Practitioner, Mike has clients ranging from world renowned chefs, restaurateurs & sommeliers to up and coming staff in both the kitchen and front of house. You can see more of Mike's blogs atcoachforsuccess.wordpress.com

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Editor 11th October 2017

Why it is important for chefs to show empathy. Blog by performance psychologist Mike Duckett