A conversation with Bre Gentile, Founder & CEO of Dr. G’s Lab

“One of the most common things that I’m hearing is, ‘thank you for sharing’.  It drives me nuts because there’s a big part of me that is just like, there’s no ‘thank you’ needed.  I didn’t share that for your gratitude to be received. I shared that because it was on my mind. And so I think what I fear is happening is we’re starting to have this conversation about let’s listen. Let’s just take time to listen. Without having been trained on what to do after you hear things. And I don’t know if we’re quite ready to really deeply listen without having to know what to do.” -Bre Gentile

In this episode of Control the Room, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Bre Gentile about her unconventional career path transitioning from Academia to tech to Founder of her own lab.  We discuss the amazing knowledge she has gained in trauma and toxic stress research and how she was able to leverage her lived experience to help app designers, UX researchers, and other creatives become more trauma-informed so they build more accessible products. We then talk about using friendship as a tool to develop emotional intelligence, empathy, and deep listening skills. Listen in to learn strategies for developing self awareness and empathy at work.  

Show Highlights

[1:38] How Bre Got Her Start Helping UX Researcher and Designers 

[14:35] Learning To Check Your Ego At The Door

[18:45] What To Do After You Listen

[21:05] Using Friendship As A Research Tool

[28:35] Links between Self Awareness And Empathy

Bre on linkedin

Dr. G’s Lab on LinkedinDr. G’s Lab

About the Guest

Dr. Bre Gentile, better known as Dr. G, is founder & CEO of Dr. G’s Lab where she helps UX researchers and designers be more trauma-informed in their processes. Bre is a Psychologist turned UX researcher who grew up to be a UX designer. She holds 4 degrees in psychology (B.A., M.A., M.S, and Ph.D.) and before making the leap to tech she was a psycho-oncologist supporting cancer patients and their families. Her first entry to tech was working with a startup company teaching chatbots to deliver evidenced-based therapy. From there she went to Google and was part of their hardware UX research team. She left Google to work for a non-profit called the Center for Youth Wellness before becoming a Founder.

About Voltage Control

Voltage Control is a change agency that helps enterprises sustain innovation and teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings.

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Full Transcript

Douglas:  Welcome to the Control The Room podcast, a series devoted to the exploration of meeting culture and uncovering cures for the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power, leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting.

Thanks for listening. If you’d like to join us live for a session sometime, you can join our weekly Control The Room facilitation lab. It’s a free event to meet fellow facilitators and explore new techniques so you can apply the things you learn in the podcast in real time with other facilitators. Sign up today at voltagecontrol.com/facilitation-lab. If you’d like to learn more about my new book, Magical Meetings, you can download the Magical Meetings quick start guide, your free PDF reference with some of the most important pieces of advice from the book. Download a copy today at voltagecontrol.com/magical-meetings-quick-guide.

Today I’m with Dr. Bre Gentile, better known as Dr. G. Founder and CEO of Dr. G’s Lab, where she helps UX researchers and designers and other creatives be more trauma informed in their processes. Welcome to the show, Bre.

Dr. Bre Gentile:  Thank you. Excited to be here.

Douglas:  So great to have you. So let’s start with a little bit of the story about how you found your way into this work?

Dr. Bre Gentile:  Yeah, so I started as a bachelor’s degree in psychology and my mom jokingly was like, “You know you’re never really going to find a lucrative career in this,” and my grandfather said the same thing. And I said, “Yeah, you’re probably right.” So I decided to go into my master’s and I was still at that point following the direct path of going to be a counselor and going to be a therapist. And it wasn’t until I got into my doctorate that I was like, Ooh, this research thing is pretty cool. And I started to really get into research, but it wasn’t that I was into intervention research and trying to figure out what was the best intervention. I was becoming super fascinated by why people were even looking for this intervention and was it actually even helpful?

So there was already this kind of user experience tingle that I had and I started to follow it. And so I got my masters of science as part of my doctorate degree. And then when I came out, all of my colleagues were getting ready to go into postdoctoral internships and get licensed and I was just like, no. This is not for me. And I worked as a psycho-oncologist for two years and I really loved it. But what happened there was, I kept hearing these stories of how cancer patients were really scared to get second opinions from their doctors. And I just thought that is terrible. That is not something you should be worried about. You have cancer, you shouldn’t be worried about whether or not your doctor’s going to give you good care if you ask for a second opinion. And so I started thinking there should be an app for this. And that was like my first delve and first napkin drawing of what an app would be like if cancer patients could pick their doctors or break up with their doctors, similar to like a dating app and what that would look like.

So match with your doctor on things like your doctor likes yoga and acupuncture and agrees with cannabis or whatever it might be, rather than only being matched according to your insurance and where they’re located and their specialty. So, that never actually happened, but what it did was it opened this door to connecting with other people who were in tech. So then, cue mom entering again, she’s a big part of my story. She came in and she said, “Hey, I know this really great startup company. They are training chat-bots. You should reach out to them.” And at that point I had no clue what a chatbot was and the whole idea of mental health tech had not been really booming yet. So I ended up going in with a startup company and I have this one conversation and they’re like, “Yeah, can you create a module or a conversation that is something that’s important to you?”

And I thought sure. What about a conversation for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients? There’s a whole slew of questions that come up before you even get into treatment of like, should I freeze my eggs? All of these different questions. And so I created this conversation and I saw it in action and I was like, “This is the coolest thing. Can I work here?” And they’re like, “Oh, we only have an internship position.” And I was like, “Great, I’ll take it.” So I went back from being done being a student, to back into being a student. Which was totally awesome and that becomes my theme throughout my journey.

So I end up working for this startup company creating lots of different modules and different chatbots. And one of the things I got to do is see the backend of the conversations. And I started to see, wow, either certain users are really wanting to just talk and talk and talk and talk regardless of what the chat bot says. And so maybe we should create a module for venting. So we ended up creating a module just for venting, where after a certain amount of characters, the chatbot would automatically respond, “It looks like you need a space to vent. Do you want to keep talking?” And then on the people would go. And that was my first little taste of user experience where I started to realize there’s an actual field for this. So again, became a student in the user experience field. Ended up getting a job at Google for their UX hardware team. So I was doing benchmarking studies with keyboards and working with the different tablets and things.

And one of the studies that came up for me was looking at different tablets. So we had the Google tablet and then of course the iPad and some other tablets. And during the study, I was also working with key size and key shape and different things like that. But I added a question in there which was, how are you feeling? And every single person who was using one of the products was like, “I feel so stupid. I’m usually really good at typing, but I feel so stupid doing this.” And so I added that into my presentation for the stakeholders. And I was like, “Yes, Apple definitely supremely better. The shape of the keyboard, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And then I added, “And also, people are feeling really stupid when they use our product.” And that landed for one person and that was the biggest cue to me was like, all right, I got to get out here. Nobody’s getting this. This is a big thing.

So I ended up leaving Google, which everybody pretty much looked at me like I broke up with the quarterback, and I said I’m going to this nonprofit organization. At the time, the non-profit founder had just left to become the surgeon general of California. So I was like, all right, this is going to be good. This is my spot. And I went in as a researcher and I think it was my third or fourth day, again, became a student, and I walked into the CEO’s office and I was like, “Hey, we need an app.” He’s like, “Right. Pin that, because we don’t have the money to do it, but now you’re secret’s out and you can’t stay as a researcher.” So I just started kind of rifting, so to speak, with all of these different ideas that we had around adverse childhood experiences and resilience and how can we be trauma informed and what does that even mean?

And then I started creating patient journey maps so that everybody in the organization would understand what it was like for a family who’s going through crisis to come into our doors and receive our service. That was my first cue into service design. And I was like, okay, so there’s a whole industry for that. So I just started delving in and taking classes on the side at eight o’clock at night and in the mornings on Saturdays and just really started to figure out what that all meant. And meanwhile, continuing to take in these experiences of either caregivers in the community or other non-profits in the community and what it actually means to create something and the burden it actually creates when we think it’s helping by saying, “Hey, we have more clients for you.” They’re like, “Nope, we can’t take more clients. We don’t even have enough napkins and snacks and papers for the clients we have. So Nope, that won’t work.”

And it’s like, okay, those little facilitated listening conversations were the next jumping point for me to say, what actually is going on? I have no idea. I have this academic idea of what would be best based off of research, but what’s actually happening? So again, enter my mom. We’re having these conversations and she’s like, “What do you really want to do? What about this is really exciting to you?” So I started to, again, just have these internal conversations and I said, “I really think I need to create something on my own, as well as continuing to work for this non-profit because I love what I’m doing and I love the work that they do.”

And so in November of this last year, I lost my grandfather to COVID who was like my father figure. And I was just like, oh, I don’t want to see or hear anything about COVID. But I still wanted to check in on other news things like sports or fashion or design. So I went into my news app and deselected things like biotech, politics, science. Things like that where I knew COVID would come up. And I thought I’m pretty safe. And I know, I wasn’t. I look in the sports section and there’s the word COVID. And it would hit me hard. And I was just like, gosh. Apple, curse you. You really should come up with a feature that says, what brings you joy today? Or what things do you want to avoid today? Just by keywords. It can’t be that difficult to do. And so I say, that needs to be a feature.

And during this time I went through a mild depression and I couldn’t remember things and I would see text message, read it and think, okay, I’m going to respond later and then forget to respond and then have people be like, “Why didn’t you respond to my text? I saw you read it.” I was like, “Oh my gosh. Again, curse you Apple for not having an unread feature. You have it for the mail. Why don’t you have it for the text?” So it just had these little tiny things that would leverage my lived experience and being like, something needs to be done. I can’t be the only person thinking this.

And the final straw was when I was using an app that was supposed to be for moms and I had my son in my arm and there was a button I was trying to press. And it was all the way in the top right corner and I was like, this button needs to be in the middle at the bottom because I have one hand and it needs to be right where my thumb is. This is driving me crazy. And that was the final straw. I was like, you know what? I’m just going to create a lab. I’m just going to create a trauma informed research and design lab where people who are developing apps or thinking about developing an app can come to me. I can give them advice. I can use their app. I can say, “Hey, I used your app for two weeks. Here’s the insights that I have.” Or, “We’re thinking of doing this, let’s have this different conversation.” All of those things that were bugging me, I decided I was just going to create a space for that. And so that brings me to here today and Dr. G’s Lab.

Douglas:  What an amazing journey. I just want to mention one thing in case you aren’t familiar, have you seen Tina Sharkey’s Unlocking Joy TED Talk?

Dr. Bre Gentile:  No. I’m writing it down.

Douglas:  You’re going to love this. You’re going to love it because the story you told about holding your daughter and trying to hit that button is something that she refers to as receptional design. And concept is pretty simple. Have you designed your system to be well received by the person who is living life in some way? And I love that your work is trauma informed. She doesn’t speak so specifically the trauma, but it’s more around, has the product thought about me and how I’m living and what’s happening and truly trying to make moments of wonder and delight and joy.

Dr. Bre Gentile:  I love it. Receptional design. That’s brilliant. Thank you for sharing.

Douglas:  Yeah. When you said that I was like, oh, I need to make that connection. It’s also when you were talking about the Apple, why don’t they have this filter? It reminded me of a Chrome plugin some years ago when cloud was first kind of catching on and it basically if you turned on this Chrome plugin and extension, it would replace the word cloud with profanity. So any website you went to that it just replaced that word. And so yes, you’re right. If they can build that extension, they can remove COVID from your feed.

Dr. Bre Gentile:  That is hilarious.

Douglas:  But in all seriousness, you bring up a really important point. And I first got exposed to this real quick. Well, I would just say all of a sudden in one of our workshops that we were doing. We were doing some interviews based on some prototypes that were created. And the subject matter was around loss that had been experienced. Basically people that have been widowed. And that’s a very sensitive topic to talk to people about. And even though these services were there to meet them and support them, wow, they could totally be re-triggered by these interviews. So it’s like, I need to do my homework and kind of understand what are some best practices around this? I was pretty happy to find that there was a whole body of work around supporting people through those moments. And I love that your work is so centered on this understanding and putting our arms around what it means to support people that have experienced trauma and how we don’t re-trigger them and how we support them as they continue to live life.

Dr. Bre Gentile:  Yeah, absolutely. That’s huge. The re-triggering part is probably the definitive concept between trauma informed and non-trauma informed. So I love that you brought that up.

Douglas:  I want to also mention that the you’re this back to student was kind of a recurring theme. And when you first said it, or before you even said that I wrote down the word observation, because it seemed like there was a trend in the story you were telling me around this love for observing things and noticing things. Whether it was the fact that the users were venting and that this was a pattern that was happening, or that people were looking for interventions, which I want to come back to in a moment. But this notion of being an eternal or constant student, this kind of growth mindset, I would say goes hand in hand with the field of research and being a researcher. So I’d love to hear you elaborate a little bit more on that for folks that are curious about this field or the importance of that growth mindset.

Dr. Bre Gentile:  Yeah. Well, first of all, I think I just came up with the title of my first book, watch closely, listen deeply. Yes, it really should be part of research. And here’s the sad part. I’ll start with the sad part and then I’ll go into the happy part. This sad part is that when you’re in school as a student to become a researcher, which largely will happen in your second or post-secondary education, you’re taught methods and you’re taught how to do it right and ethically and how to basically make sure that you have clean data at the end of it. You’re really taught very little about the qualitative pieces of research because we’re so kind of on the steroid of quantitative, because that’s the stuff that either shows the story, or if you’re involving other stakeholders, that’s what they really care about. How many conversions and things like that.

But you lose this art of qualitative research, which is really about observing and listening. And there’s really no reaction. But what it makes you do is drop your hypothesis at the door. And as a researcher, that can be really scary because you come in with a hypothesis and this high hopes that you’re going to find all this amazing data with strong power, backed up by lots of different tests that this is actually true. And then you go out and you publish it and God forbid, something else shows up. I remember this happening in my dissertation. I did my dissertation on parental support of parents who have children of diabetes. And what happened was I did the PedsQL, which is quality of life assessment. And what happened is I kept looking at my data because I kept getting this very odd thing, which was that the more support parents had from family, the lower their quality of life was.

And I was like, that doesn’t make any sense. That’s totally going against my hypothesis. What do I do? So I can only run the statistics so many times before I start to lose power. So I ran it one more time and in course it came up the same thing. And then I had to start thinking about what that meant. So I had to drop my ego at the door and be like, all right, well, there went that hypothesis. Now what happened? And the idea behind it was that, too many cooks in the kitchen. Diabetes really has to do with food management, possibly weight management, activity level. And when you have family support coming in, given the sample wasn’t largely Latino, or it wasn’t largely black, it wasn’t largely Italian, it was largely white. And so for that culture, having too many cooks in the kitchen and too much family support made their quality of life go down. And I had to really reckon with that.

And so I had to observe and listen deeply. What actually was going on? And the happy part about all of this though, is that if this is your jam, if listening deeply and observing closely is your thing, you will find a space. That’s the best part about research is that it doesn’t actually, especially right now, thankfully, the flavor of the day is qualitative research. People want to know about lived experiences. People want to hear stories. But we haven’t been trained, I don’t think, in my opinion. We haven’t really been trained to listen deeply, nor have we been trained to really watch closely without coming in with our own response, or planning some sort of response.

Douglas:  I love that. And that speaks volumes to how we talk about facilitating meetings because often the way people show up to listen in meetings is really about how they can prepare their response. The whole point of listening and so that they can come back with a rebuttal that’s the best rebuttal possible or the best contribution possible so the CEO or the leader in the meeting looks upon them with grace. And instead, if we take a different lens and to your point, get better training on how to go deeper and get to a deeper understanding of where everyone is and where the story’s going, we’re better off overall.

Dr. Bre Gentile:  Yeah. And you bring in a great point about using that time of listening to come up with something. And now I’m seeing a lot of, five ways to respond to things. And so one of the most common thing that I’m hearing is, thank you for sharing. And it drives me nuts, because there’s a big part of me that is just like, there’s no thank you needed. I didn’t share that for your gratitude to be received. I shared that because it was on my mind. And so I think what I fear is happening, we’re starting to have this conversation about let’s listen. Let’s just take time to listen. Without having being trained of what to do after you hear things. And I don’t know if we’re quite ready to really deeply listen without having to know what to do.

If you notice, I didn’t say what to say, it’s what to do. We can say a whole bunch of things and totally miss the empathy boat and it’s long gone already. You really only have a small window to hop on that boat. And what’s happening is we’re just listening, knowing that we have maybe three or four statements that we can say afterwards. But we really don’t know, I think as a society, at least that I’ve seen, especially in the research and design field, we really have no idea what to do when our users say, I really didn’t like your product because this and this and this. Okay, thank you for sharing. Come on, get out of here.

Douglas:  Yeah. That brings up to two thoughts, and I’d like to start with this. You were talking about the chat bot earlier and there’s a spectrum. On one end, if we’re going to behave like chat bots and just have a list of five things that we just say based on what comes at us, that’s pretty thin. That’s kind of hollow. But on the other hand, sure, we might learn some things and some behaviors in the moment, but we’ve got to back that up with some action to your point. And there was something that you mentioned earlier in our pre-show chat around the willingness to take the advice. And that could be personally, that could be at the team level. How do we internalize the learning so that it’s meaningful and we can translate that into something that could actually then correct the issue or take advantage of the opportunity before us?

Dr. Bre Gentile:  Yeah. I really love that. And I have been thinking about that a lot. And I think I have one solid answer to that, which is to use friendship as a research tool. And what I mean by that is to really sit with the people. And let’s just use a team meeting as example. To really sit with those people as though they were your friends. And if you’re trying to talk about how can we protect your work-life balance or your life work balance, whichever way you want to say it, but how can we protect that and someone saying, “Well, let’s have a protective lunch hour.” That’s your friend over there on the Zoom or across the table saying they need an hour for lunch. What can you do to support them? You can say, “That’s a great point. Thank you for sharing.”

Or you can say, “All right, I’m going to make note that we don’t hold a meeting from 12 to 1.” Okay. That’s an action that you can do that supports your friend. If you just look at everybody as a colleague, or in the research and design field you look at everybody as a user, you’re not going to take what they say. You’re going to take it as like, okay, we need to work on this and this, but you’re not going to actually take it and say, we need to do this, because they’re not your friend. They’re just your users. And you can design for a different group of users and you’ll just expand your net and there your conversion rate will probably get better.

But my challenge is, what if we actually casted a deeper net rather than a larger net? What if we decided that these people are our people and let’s just go deeper into who those people are and become friends with them. Understand what they’re missing in their life. Understand, like you said, to your point with the TED Talk, how are they living their life? And we can’t do that just by doing basic research to know our user. No, we can’t do it like that. We have to actually have a conversation, an in-depth interview, if you will, and find out what it is that these people are doing in their lives that maybe, just maybe, our app or our product or our service can make it slightly more manageable. And I think that’s the part that I can really just say, be friends with your users, or be friends with your colleagues and really figure out and listen what’s supportive and what’s burdensome.

Douglas:  This reminds me of a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, which is prototyping and how prototypes can take on all sorts of forums. And that doesn’t mean just going into Figma and vision or whatever, and creating a mock-up that’s maybe compelling, but can we simulate all aspects of the situation? So if we’re designing for children, do we walk around on our knees and experience the world through the experience that they’re going to have? For designing for someone in a wheelchair, do we actually spend a day in a wheelchair? I think to your point around thinking about them as friends or as humans, anyway that we can experience even a slight piece of what their experience, will help us relate in those conversations we’re having.

Dr. Bre Gentile:  Totally. And I love that idea of being on your knees to figure out what the child view is like. That’s really awesome. And I know one of the questions that I had as you were saying that was, well, if we’re doing this for trauma and for people who are going through trauma, or people who were a widow, for example, or breast cancer, how do you simulate that? How can we simulate that? And so it becomes this point of again, becoming the eternal student. You have to go back to understand whether it’s through reading or whether it’s through spending the day with a widow or sitting in a breast cancer ward to understand like, gosh, what that looks like and feels like. Whatever it might be, you have to become a student again. And so you go from being the expert in Figma.

You go from being this black belt in Figma to being a total newb, in other words. And you just have to start over because the truth of the matter is no matter how much I read about domestic violence, for example, I’m not experiencing that. So I can not understand what it’s like to get your kid to an appointment on time where you have to take two buses and one of those bus lines is completely erratic. I don’t understand what that feels like, unless I either somehow simulate it, which is still not really going to get at it. Or I actually sit down and become a friend and actually listen and understand what’s that like. I look at their face and I see the sweat dripping down because gosh, they had to take two bus lines. I can hear their inflection in their voice because it’s so stressful.

I can understand how it might be really difficult to be a good parent in that moment and not just scream at your kid to sit down and be quiet. And I also understand how, because of the knowledge that I have, because I’m not just getting completely rid of the actual academic knowledge that I have, I know that the prefrontal cortex goes completely offline during trauma in a crisis. And so it makes sense why she’s reaching for a salty snack and why her weight is an issue. And all of it becomes a big story and not just little pieces of her using an app that might help her. This becomes a story of a person of layered complexity. And I think that is so huge.

And you mentioned it really beautifully when you talk about sitting in a wheelchair. My grandfather, who I mentioned earlier, he actually had double amputee in his late life. And he was like, “I’m going to walk some day.” And I was like, “Okay.” And you know, sure enough, he was able to get two prosthetics and he walked. And I had no idea what that felt like until after he passed. I just put on the little sleeve that would go on his leg before his prosthetic, and it was so itchy and uncomfortable. And he did it every single day for hours at a time. So I still don’t know what it felt like, but I did play a little bit. And so you have to get in the sandbox a little bit.

Douglas:  Yeah. I totally see your point around there’s no way to truly experience it. But I guess my hunger is always like, can I at least get a little sliver to humble myself? And I learned this lesson early on when I was a software developer at a startup and the CEO was complaining, upset, frustrated, about a partner that was doing some work for us and then kind of went a bit AWOL because this partner was starting to have anxiety attacks. And because the CEO had never directly experienced anxiety attacks before, it was really easy for the CEO to dismiss that because it’s a thing that is a little hard to prove. You can’t drive that back. It’s almost slightly idiopathic. They haven’t found root causes. There’s not a blood test you can do. It’s an easy thing just to make up if you were to do such a thing. And so he was kind of being dismissive about it and there wasn’t a lot of empathy there.

And being a young professional, I was just kind of influenced by that. And then some years later I actually experienced a panic attack myself and I thought back to that moment and what that partner might’ve been going through, but wasn’t getting the sympathy from someone they were working with because they just didn’t understand it. And so I think these lived experiences that we have, even though it’s not always about panic attacks, what are the moments we have in life where we’re not understood or we see others not being understood and we can connect to them? How can we mirror those or use those as guides to go deeper into other things?

Dr. Bre Gentile:  Yeah. You’re bringing up a really great point, which is self-awareness. And we talk about it a lot in emotional intelligence as just one of the main tenants, so to speak, as self-awareness and self-management. And you’re absolutely right. Especially in leaders, you see this kind of cutoff of self-awareness because the idea is that you’re managing others. And what ends up happening is exactly what you just shared. There’s no real empathy for it and you just keep chugging along. And I always try to think back to points where I thought I was irreplaceable at a job. And it turns out that I was super replaceable. And I always go back to that moment of I missed out on so many kids plays and I missed out on so many opportunities to pick up my kid or go to the zoo or whatever it was because I thought I was so irreplaceable.

And the truth is, is that it wasn’t that I wasn’t irreplaceable, but it was that I was working for somebody who lacked emotional intelligence. And I think that we need to do more work. And there’s this wonderful person, her name is Angie [inaudible 00:29:45], she’s doing trauma informed leadership coaching. And I think it’s brilliant because what it does is it forces leaders to think about who they are as themselves, the trauma that they may have gone through, the toxic stress that they may be going through, and how that plays out, not only in their own self-management, but their management of other people and their motivation to empathize. It takes motivation to be in this space, to empathize with somebody. That’s different than being motivated to succeed and perform. It’s a little bit different and it requires a certain level of emotional intelligence that I am just fearing that we’re not taught as young kids. And then when it’s finally time to learn it, it’s not that it’s too late. It’s never too late, but early is better. There we go.

Douglas:  No doubt. For some folks, it is too late. It blows my mind how they use the second grade reading level to gauge how many prisons they need to build. So clearly some folks get off on a bad foot and it’s hard to make up for that. Literally if that’s the trend and I can measure it, why aren’t we addressing it?

Dr. Bre Gentile:  Right. And why aren’t we addressing it in first grade? That is the other thing. And it brings me to a really great point, which I’m sure you can understand. In prototyping you see something in the very beginning before the prototype even comes out and you’re like, let’s just see if it works itself out. Or maybe it’s just in my head. And then you’re right, it kind of becomes a little bit too late at some point. And yeah, there’s just something about being preventative. We’re turning our back to addressing so many important things, but definitely I think emotional intelligence and social emotional learning, I think it’s coming along, but if it stops at the eighth grade, you have to start over and we’re not getting that teaching I don’t think in college. Especially if you’re like a business engineer major, science major.

I happen to be a psychology major and we had to do some work on self-reflection here and there, but it wasn’t really until my masters where I actually had to do a family genogram and analyze my family and the relationships that everybody had in that family. It wasn’t until then and gosh, I was well on my way to being a therapist at that point. That doesn’t seem right.

Douglas:  Yeah. I think it comes up in the work we do a ton because not to stereotype, but what we empirically see in workshops is that when a large portion of our engineering and software developer types that have been through schooling around the hard sciences and done that for their career and been really analytical, whenever we’re doing kind of reflective type exercises or solo kind of introspection, they struggle. If it’s purpose work where it’s like, oh, let’s get into the fuzzy territory of what isn’t explicit, when there’s no right or wrong answer, there’s no equation to back this up, I see them struggle. And so I think you’re right. There’s room to exercise that muscle because it’s not that it’s not there, they’re incapable, it’s just it atrophies.

Dr. Bre Gentile:  Yeah, absolutely. And it reminds me of learning to do a pull-up. You don’t just go to the gym and do a pull up. You have to practice it and you do small little increments as you go. And then if you don’t do a pull up and you come back to the gym six months later, you’re like, oh, I did it six months ago, I can probably do it again. No, you can’t do it again. And so it’s a practice. And I think my theory, again, is that if we start teaching emotional intelligence and empathy, and we do it in such a way that it makes sense, we’re speaking the language of developers and engineers, I think there’s hope.

The problem is just that if we come in and we say, let’s teach a course, it’s called empathy and engineering. That’s not how it works. We have to be really intentional about our wording, about how we do it and about the cadence in which we do it. We don’t just hit people with a whole bunch of, here’s how you become empathetic. It has to be really small increments because this is a group of folks that are really used to having very, yes, no, very dichotomous areas in how to really understand something. And this is going to be an area where it’s not going to be that easy to understand.

We can look at a face and think that it means this, but that person is actually thinking something totally different. And then how do we compute that? It’s like, does not compute. That doesn’t make sense. And then we have to really manage what that feels like when we’re wrong. And I think that is the part where designers and researchers and developers, where we really have to get uncomfortable is that we might be wrong. And when we’re wrong, always equates to less engagement, less customer satisfaction, lower performance. It has all of these other negative things that come along with it. And I think that if we start to have that conversation about what it feels like to be wrong and to miss the mark, we might be able to sit for just a little bit longer in this space of empathy and emotional intelligence. I hope, anyways.

Douglas:  Wow. I think that is such a great sentiment to end on. So I want to offer you a moment to leave our listeners with a final thought.

Dr. Bre Gentile:  I love these. My final thought is to really think about friendship as a research tool and as a designer tool. To really understand who you’re designing for, not just because of the demographics, but because you know them and because you took the time to understand them and you have the willingness to truly support them in their life.

Douglas:  So well said. It’s been a pleasure having you on the show today, Bre. I really enjoyed the conversation and I hope it’s not our last.

Dr. Bre Gentile:  Definitely. Thank you. I look forward to it again.

Douglas:  Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control The Room. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive updates when new episodes are released. If you want more, head over to our blog, where I post weekly articles and resources about working better together, voltagecontrol.com.