EPISODE 476: Women in Sales: Mindfulness Development Practices for Sales Professionals with Amy McCae

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Women in Sales virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on February 17. 2022. It featured an interview with Mindfulness expert Amy McCae.]

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AMY’S TIP: “Take the two-minute challenge and practice some version of mindfulness for two minutes sometime during a transition period during the day, because it will train your brain. Think about it too, before you send that email or text when you’re ticked off, if you pause for two minutes, or if you pause for two minutes before a sales call. I pause and I have a specific ritual of things I do, such as before sales calls, I pause and do this very specific mindfulness-based practices and intentions, and before clients, all of it.

Then the other thing would be is use acknowledge, appreciate, and ask as a way to have conversations, because that’s going to allow someone to be validated. It’s going to be compassionate. It’s going to be curious. It’s going to open up space for you to have the sales conversation that you want to have, acknowledge, appreciate and ask, and be mindful.


Gina Stracuzzi: Today we are going to be talking about empathy and being an empathetic leader, which is more important than ever. I would like to take this moment to welcome my guest, Amy McCae. She’s an executive coach who specializes in empathy. Welcome, Amy.

Amy McCae: Thank you, Gina. I’m honored to be here. I appreciate the time and looking forward to our conversation. I help busy people find more time for fun with family and even themselves without costing productivity in the business. I founded my business after spending most of my 20s chronically sick. I had nine different urologists. Then I had a day that I was too sick to take care of my – she was a baby, and I just said, “I’m not going to do this anymore.” I discovered fitness, nutrition, and meditation, and was inspired to share that, all that I learned with other people. Now I have, I think, 16 or 18 certifications related to mind, body stuff and focus on things such as leadership, emotional intelligence, and wellbeing, so people can live happier and healthier lives.

Gina Stracuzzi: I would imagine that your services are in critical demand, because if we thought there wasn’t a work-life balance before, I think it’s even worse now. People everywhere you talk to, “I have never worked harder in my life. I work until 9:00 or 10:00 at night, and I’m still responding to emails at 11:00.” It’s not as if somebody is trying to be more important, feel more important than they are. It’s just invaded our personal space, there is no division anymore. Finding that balance and being empathetic to yourself, I think would probably be crucial skills.

Amy McCae: Absolutely. Without empathy for yourself, it’s useless. It absolutely has to encompass you as well. I think sometimes that gets left out. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that empathy was a bad thing, and that’s not the case. Empathy’s not a bad thing. Empathy without boundaries, proper boundaries, devastating. I can see where it would be hurtful, because if you’re feeling someone’s feelings, then you end up being a victim or a martyr or something like that. I think that can happen, but empathy should be an empowering thing.

You have a knowledge that somebody else doesn’t have. You’re tuned in and it’s a skill. It is absolutely, we’re actually born with it. Technically there’s mirror neurons, and that is the reason why you’re able to be tuned into somebody else’s emotion. We’re designed technically to be empathetic. I think we lose it because, especially our generation, we certainly weren’t taught emotional intelligence and we were taught strategies, and procedures, and goal setting, and end result, and to work towards those things. That’s not where we’re at now after the pandemic. Everybody’s like, “Yeah. That’s not really working for me anymore. That’s really not satisfying.”

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, and I think probably women were more, I don’t want to say victims of that, but more they didn’t give themselves the same grace that they would give other people. They would expect a lot more of themselves than they would a friend. A friend might come to them and say, “I’m just exhausted and I’m working too hard.” You might say, “Take some time for yourself. You deserve it. You’re going to be better at everything.” Then yet we don’t necessarily do it for ourselves.

Amy McCae: Well, and the pandemic statistics on what happened to women is really – I don’t have them in front of me, so I can’t quote specific ones. But it basically set us back from being equal in the workforce to like a whole nother generation. It was that many years, like another 30, 40 years to us being equal because we stayed home to homeschool too. I did too. I had to start all over because everything shut down. People didn’t want to come in person. All my speaking events were canceled. Everything was just changed, and they sent my kids home.

Even yesterday, when I was talking to you guys, my 10-year-old was home that day, but we still had to do homeschool and stuff. There’s always that. Women, I think took the hit and did it. We tend to run the whole household, including the children. We tend to be the CEO of the household and have to delegate the tasks. We still have to oversee all of that getting done, even if it’s asking for help, we still tend to be the ones doing it.

Gina Stracuzzi: If you have small kids, there’s only so much they can do. If you have a partner, they could be equally as busy and it has really had a dire impact. We are actually going to be holding some round table discussions about what is happening in the workplace and trying to maintain the equity goals, and the inclusion goals, and diversity goals of companies in the midst of this mass exodus of women, because of everything you just talked about. But going back to what you work on the most, I’d like to ask you what your definition of empathy is, because one of the things that we have come across is people have different views of what being empathetic means. If you could share with us what it means to you.

Amy McCae: Well, let me first say, emotional intelligence is the capacity to recognize and understand your own emotions as well as the emotions of another person, and then make a conscious decision based off that information. There’s different domains of emotional intelligence and empathy happens to be one of them. Empathy is essentially the ability to feel, to sense another person’s emotions. An example would be, you’ve walked into a room before and been like, “It feels awful in here.” Well, that’s because you’re picking up the energy of that room or the people in that room. Or you’ve walked away from a conversation and went, “Oh my gosh, that was freaking amazing. I feel so much different.” Well, that was because of empathy. You felt you were tuned into that person’s emotions.

This is where the confusion comes in, so this is my easiest way to explain it, is empathy is what allows you to feel compassionate, and compassion is what drives you to act. Think about if you feel another person’s pain, for example, or even their happiness, but just in sales, you’re trying to solve someone’s problem. You want to have pain points or whatnot. If you can feel that, it’s what moves you to act. That impacts all relationships, including a sales call. Being able to make a conscious choice based off that is a really empowering place.

Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s talk about its role in leadership. Some of what you and I were discussing yesterday was the role of empathy and emotional intelligence in selling and being able to pick up on your customer’s pain points and needs and reading between the lines. But let’s talk a little bit about what that means in leadership and in sales leadership.

Amy McCae: The saying is, “Know, like, and trust.” I’m not going to buy from someone that I don’t know, like, and trust. Well, when you are leading a sales conversation and you are empathetic, you will be able to validate that person’s emotions, and every single person I know wants to be validated. They want confirmation that what they’re saying matters, or what they’re feeling matters. Everybody, it doesn’t matter, how they feel after they walk away after a conversation with you is going to resonate with them longer than anything else. I can teach and talk forever and ever, but if I don’t make some emotional connection, I don’t know if I’m going to have the impact. It’s a true impact.

If you are empathetic and understanding their pain, you know how to ask the right questions. I know sales is a numbers game and I just stray away from that, because what you’re trying to do on say a sales conversation is to ask questions and find out, “Would it help them make a decision?” You want to help them make a decision, so you ask questions for them to make a decision. If you can feel their pain, not just know it in your head, you’re going to make a different decision. I’ll give you an example.

My oldest was little and we went to buy a new car. Had this car salesman had an ounce of emotional intelligence and empathy, we would’ve made a much different decision, because I literally felt trapped in this room. My child was getting hungry and tired. Years ago, 15, 20 years ago, when you had to buy a car… I bought my last car two years ago and I didn’t even have to go in the dealership because of COVID. In a way, I had to spent six hours there 20 years ago.

Gina Stracuzzi: I know, it was terrible.

Amy McCae: It was terrible. But I felt very trapped and I walked out. My now ex-husband was like, “What is wrong?” I’m like, “I’m not doing it.” I walk away from a sale. It was a good deal on the car. I would’ve gladly went and paid more had he understood where I was at. Had he said, “I can see you’re feeling restless. What can we do to help you out? Can we have this conversation later? I’ll hold this deal for you while you go eat, or while you go home, or have a conversation.” There were lots of questions he could have asked and lots of things he could validate that. But I was like, “I’m done. I’m not going to do this.” That’s an example of being empathetic in sales, is he just could have paid us a little bit of attention to it.

Gina Stracuzzi: Now, that is a really wonderful example. Something that pretty much everyone can relate to, especially anybody with children, because when they’re little and they’re hungry or uncomfortable, there’s just no denying it. To not even say, “Can I get him a cookie?” or something.

Amy McCae: Something. He was only worried about the sale, he was concerned about his numbers. He had a deal ready, wanted to have this deal done. As a woman, we are physiologically designed to respond to our children’s needs. I read an article once many years before I even had children that said, “When a baby cries, men have like three physiological things. Women have like 150,” or something. I wasn’t even capable. I wasn’t even physiologically capable of having the sales conversation with him. My body was going, “Get me out of here. I have to take care of this child’s needs.” Had he paid attention…

Gina Stracuzzi: Most of the people that will be listening to this that are keyed in right now or will listen as a podcast, they’re not going to have their babies with them, their kids. What are some of the other key things that you can watch for, or that could be happening in a room that you should be picking up on if you want to make sure that you are reacting in an empathetic way? Are there telltale signs of somebody whose needs aren’t being met?

Amy McCae: Restlessness, eye contact. Those are big thing, physical things. It’s more for me, I just tune in, like I could look at someone and know to some degree what they’re feeling. It’s kind of what physically goes on, but it’s more about kind of what energetically is going on, that mirror neuron thing. It’s intuitive. Women are much more tuned into this and do this more naturally than men. But I found men are very curious and want to be a lot more. For years, in my early years, I had a lot more male clients than I did women. Now there’s probably a pretty good balance. But I find that you have to be in this kind of mindful present state in order to tune into that.

We have constant thoughts about what’s going on next or regrets about the past. If you can be present, and kind, and thoughtful, and just be mindful, be here now, then you can tune into what’s going on with that person and you just know. It’s a sense, it’s a knowing, a feeling, you’ll start to feel and then you just ask questions. The way to solve that is to ask questions, is to be curious. I always highly recommend being compassionate and being curious. Those are just two things. Just don’t be such a cool person, be nice and ask. We talk about this like we’re in kindergarten, but we adults don’t do it. We don’t.

Gina Stracuzzi: Maybe we need to resurrect that book, what is it? Everything I Need to Know In Life I Learned In Kindergarten.

Amy McCae: It’s true.

Gina Stracuzzi: We need to do a new edition of it. What you were saying there makes me think of an article I read last week, and attention spans have been dropping drastically for the last 20 years anyway. But apparently, through the pandemic, since we are now just online, online, online, it has gotten abysmal, just abysmal. People, their minds start to wander after three, and four, and five seconds. I would think that that would have a great impact on our ability to use our EQ skills and to engage our empathy if we’re not even paying attention.

Amy McCae: Absolutely. That is an excellent point. What I’ve seen is lack of focus and anxiety as well. Steve Jobs said he didn’t let his kids play on iPads. Adult shouldn’t have them either. It messes with our brainwaves. We should be mindful of the amount of time we spend online. I know I get anxious and my jaw gets tight when I’ve been online too much.

I know after a certain point during the day, I’m like, “I’m done,” or if I reach that fuzzy head or whatever. I’m aware. I think sometimes I find it afterwards, but what’s happening in this pandemic issue is anxiety. Lack of focus and anxiety. If we want to develop empathy, what’s going on when you’re stressed? You can be stressed sitting on a computer. I find it anxious. I drive in a car, your amygdala’s activated, it’s a part of your brain. It’s the stress part. It’s a fight, flight, or freeze response. It’s in this part of your brain. What you want to do is be able to deactivate that so that you can use your prefrontal cortex, which is here. That’s where all higher levels of thinking, empathy included, come from here.

We have to figure out how to get people, and even in a sales call, someone’s stressed and anxious, has problems, we want to move them out from that emotionally charged place so that you can make conscious decisions and be empathetic. But that originates in this part of your brain. You have to practice focus-based, attention-based practices and be self-aware and mindful of say your time, of your body, and things like that in order to really develop that.

Gina Stracuzzi: Something else that I’ve been reading about too, and I would think that this is something that is going to take some reintroduction. I’m pretty good at reading people’s body language. When we first went virtual, I was having a hard time. Like, “What are they thinking? What’s going on?” Because I wasn’t in the presence of them and their physical movements. Now, the reverse is happening, where people are like, “I don’t even know how to be in a room with other people to just network and share ideas.” It’s an interesting kind of reverse problem. I wonder if we’re going to have to revamp our skills all over again.

Amy McCae: I had a really difficult time truly feeling someone else’s emotions online initially. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t do this. I cannot. I can’t make sense of this,” but it got easier. Groups are still hard online for me. Small ones are fine, but if you get more than 8, 10, 12, I’m over-stimulated by it. I can’t do that well. I don’t know if we were meant to as humans. It’s going to be a practice, like anything else. I do question if we were truly designed to do that.

In November, I went to an in-person event and I was so excited. Then I get to go to one on Friday too and again, I’m so excited. A month ago, it’s a women’s networking group here in Omaha. Boy, I had a lot of anxiety walking in. I had to really sit there. I sat in my car for a couple of minutes and thought, “Boy, I have a lot of anxiety. I’m not sure I know how to do this,” but I did the things I normally do. I tune into my breath, and my body, and thought about my thoughts and said, “Okay, how are you feeling? Just go do it.” It was phenomenal. I’m speaking on Friday. It was good.

Gina Stracuzzi: I think most of us just head to the bar, get a drink [laughs].

Amy McCae: It happens. There are days, I will not deny that. I do enjoy a glass of wine or vodka sometimes.

Gina Stracuzzi: It’s interesting too with empathy, and you started the conversation with that we’re all born with that. I have a friend who every once in a while, I love her and she’s one of the best people I know, she just gives, and gives, and gives, but I wonder sometimes if she even has an empathy gene. Because she will tell you somebody died and then say like in the next breath, “I wonder what kind of headstone they’re going to get.”

Amy McCae: She’s disconnected, for sure.

Gina Stracuzzi: Yeah. Yet she is such a generous, kind person. I think some people maybe are more in tune to it, is that it, or nurturing?

Amy McCae: I had some experiences that tuned me in rather suddenly, kind of shockingly, in my early 30s, and so I just went on a quest to figure it out. I thought that I was a little bit crazy and I thought, “Well, I don’t really understand what’s happening here,” so I did. I just went and did a bunch of research and learned a bunch of things on the brain and quantum physics basically, and physiology and things that go on. I just went and looked for the science and I was like, “Well, you’re supposed to.” Then I realized I’ve always been this way.

It can be so overwhelming to feel, this is why people think it’s a negative thing, it can be very overwhelming. Because then you’re like, “Is that my emotion or is that theirs?” Empathy isn’t taking it on and feeling it for them. It’s feeling it, knowing it, knowing yours, and being able to make a choice. “Do I help them? How do I help them? What questions do I need to ask?” Those sorts of things. That’s how that works best.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, coming full circle on this, that’s really important in sales. It took a long time for all of us to get used to the virtual environment. Selling was particularly awkward for people who were so accustomed to being across the desk from other people, and not being able to get that read on it. Now we have the reverse, again, a little bit of what we were talking about, in that now sales conversations are happening again in person. Are there easy reads for people who might want to, like books, or where you get information? Do you send your clients to a certain place to help them think about reengaging their empathy and getting reacquainted with it in a live environment?

Amy McCae: Daniel Goleman wrote the most books in regard to emotional intelligence. This stuff is always wonderful. Mindfulness actually trains that part of your brain, it’s neuroscience. We have probably 40 years’ worth of proven neuroscience that says mindfulness-based practices help to deactivate the amygdala. Actually, we have proven nine aspects of wellbeing that are developed through mindfulness-based practices, because of what it does to the prefrontal cortex.

There’s a book called Search Inside Yourself. It’s Google’s emotional intelligence training program. It’s their leadership program. It is perhaps one of my favorite books of all time. It’s a very simple, easy read. I did it as part of my mindfulness teacher training. I wanted to focus on emotional intelligence and communication, because those are two things that were always lacking. I knew I needed to work on it, so I figured the perfect time would be to do it and have a coach to help me with it.

I was able to access the videos and I had hoped to go do the training, but now it’s all online and I’m not sure online, that’s not going to be my personal preference to go learn something that deep. But the book is enough to get anybody started on mindfulness and empathy, because it talks about mindfulness and self-awareness and why they’re so common, and it gives all the things. It has all the practices that you would ever want to do in the book. Even on communication, but it’s their leadership training. It’s what they do.

Gina Stracuzzi: This is something that we teach in the Women in Sales Leadership Forum and it’s something that we address quite a bit. I love finding new pieces on the topic that we can introduce. Let’s talk about mindfulness for a few minutes. How does mindfulness play into empathy?

Amy McCae: It’s the neuroscience part, because you’re rewiring your brain. One thing you can do in the emotional intelligence piece, naming what you’re feeling, it’s called affect labeling in psychology, we call it mindful emotions. It is name it to tame it. When you name what you are feeling, you begin to rewire your brain from that state of fear, panic, anxiety. Whatever it is you say, “I’m afraid,” and it’s like this awareness, like, “Oh, I’m afraid.” Then there’s more deeper levels of this. You ask questions.

Gina Stracuzzi: Like, “What are you afraid of?”

Amy McCae: And whatnot. But the main thing is name it to tame it. That is the phrase that’s most commonly used. It was coined by Dan Siegel, who’s a neuroscientist and researcher and brilliant. But a couple of these guys coined that phrase, and they basically talk about that. If you had your hand to your brain, that’s your prefrontal cortex or amygdala, what you want to do is not flip your lid. Name it to tame it. You want to get to hear your prefrontal cortex, that’s your cortex, so don’t flip your lid, and you do that by naming it. That’s one of the specific emotional-based mindfulness practices, but all of them, mindful breathing, body scans, all that stuff, they’re rewiring your brain to not use that part and use the prefrontal cortex. We have to practice though. That’s always a thing. People don’t always practice.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, even just that tip there could be still valuable, because if you’ve now gotten accustomed to doing sales calls over Zoom or whatever you use, and now suddenly you’re going back in person and you’ve that trepidation, like what you were feeling for your first live networking event in ages, if you can name it and then ask yourself a few questions like, “What am I really afraid of? What’s the worst that can go wrong?” Those kinds of things, that could be incredibly valuable to take your energies down.

Amy McCae: No more stress, you’re managing your stress. Mindful breathing actually does the same. It deactivates your sympathetic nervous system and activates your parasympathetic nervous system, so you’re no longer stressed. You have these built-in abilities, you just have to use them and remember to use them. Sometimes when you’re all stressed and anxious, you don’t care.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, this has been a fascinating conversation. We always ask our guests to leave our listeners with one piece of advice that they can put into action right away to help them on the path of selling better. Do you have any last thoughts?

Amy McCae: Well, I think I always say take the two-minute challenge and practice some version of mindfulness for two minutes sometime during a transition period during the day, because it will, again, begin to train your brain. Think about it too, before you send that email or text when you’re ticked off, if you pause for two minutes, or if you pause for two minutes before a sales call. I pause and I have a specific ritual of things I do, like before this podcast, before sales calls, I pause and do this very specific mindfulness-based practices and intentions, and before clients, all of it.

Then the other thing would be, I want to add this because communication is so lacking, is use acknowledge, appreciate, and ask as a way to have conversations, because that’s going to allow someone to be validated. It’s going to be compassionate. It’s going to be curious. It’s going to open up space for you to have the sales conversation that you want to have, acknowledge, appreciate and ask, and be mindful.

Gina Stracuzzi: Acknowledge, appreciate, and ask. I like that very, very much.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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