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You Only Get Something Wrong Once - Podcast

You Only Get Something Wrong Once - Podcast



“You Only Get Something Wrong Once ” - Episode 11

Host: Joel Lashley and Al Oeschlaeger

Guest: Alex Hunter

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Download The Transcript Here- You Only Get Something Wrong Once


Since only 2% of the population is truly a natural empath, it is critical to pinpoint strategies to effectively teach empathy to the rest of the population. This week Joel and Al both sit down with Alex Hunter from Dynamis in the UK. Drawing on his wide-ranging experiences Alex shares how he’s learned to hone in on the specific tactics he uses to teach people how to be empathetic. Recognizing your own traumas and stressors and tapping into what Hunter calls “personal resilience” can help you move past the barriers that might prevent a positive interaction.


Al: So, good morning from the United States and good afternoon from the UK Alex, welcome.

Alex Hunter: Hello there, how are you? Thanks for having me.

Al: Yeah and Joel. We got Joel on too here from Milwaukee.

Joel: Hello Alex, hello Al.

Alex Hunter: Hi Joel. How are you?

Joel: Good.

Al: So, Alex as you know, we met back in early December. I was over there to launch the Dynamis partnership, where you’re going to represent Vistelar in the UK and in the UAE. And spent, we spent what four or five days together? Five days together I guess. And we had some nice-

Alex Hunter: Five glorious days.

Al: Yep and then some nice brief discussions about empathy and what you do otherwise in your life. I just thought it’d be great to get together and talk about a full variety of topics. So, maybe just share a brief a sense on how you thought that training went and what’s been going on since. I’ve gotten a couple of things from Jared but not much.

Alex's Background

Alex Hunter: Okay. So I’m Alex Hunter from Dynamis here in the United Kingdom. I live in London, which is an exciting and vibrant city, and no matter what anyone else says about it, although for the five days of training, it was probably the grayest five days last year for you Al, unfortunately.

Alex Hunter: I’ve been involved in conflict management training since about 2003 when I left the army. I was a combat engineer, which to the layman means I basically used to get rid of IEDs and mines and did that kind of work. And we had a phrase that used to go with that which was, “You don’t really get too many things wrong.” Or “You only get something wrong once.” So, that illustrates the mindset in the military. But conflict management as such, doing the five day course, I’ve always said that the problem with teaching concepts only is that you expect people to go away and form their own processes, form their own systems, but stay within the boundaries of a concept they learned time and time ago. And then of course on the Vistelar course we actually get down to the bare bones, the nitty gritty of what needs to be said, when it needs to be said and how it needs to be said. Which I think is the key to making it such a success really because you need to be specific. You need to give people specific things they can do, tactics, specific things that can give them the outcome they want.

Al: That’s an extraordinarily important point is that, as you know, we’ve all been through a bunch of training. You go in, you learn all this philosophy and concepts and then it’s like, “Oh.” You go back and maybe it was a fun class but you go back and say, “Now what do I do?” And we’ve always, from the day we started Vistelar, it was always about we’re going to be the how-to company, which is here’s exactly how to do this rather than just what to do but how to do it. Yeah.

Alex Hunter: Well you need to do that. Training needs to be specific. If we look at, especially in any sort of caring provision, we need to be looking at the larger goal, which is to provide that caring service to the patient or service user. And the problem with communication is communication slips sometimes and can make things seem personal, simply with tone, simply with body language, with very small things. And when we look at larger concepts like teams, so when you’ve got teams of nurses, teams of doctors, teams of midwives, the issue there is that if you’ve got staff teams where they feel maybe something’s personal that impairs the function of the team, that impairs the function of providing that care to the patient or service user.

Al: Yep. Big time. So I think it was early in the week, Alex, where you said that you were an empath. I actually had never heard that word before. And you explained a little bit about the statistics that you’ve identified around how many people in the world are empaths, how many are psychopaths, I think you talked about sociopaths, narcissists. Just share that, I found that very fascinating, share that little stats with us.

Alex Hunter: So, I’ll tell a story if I may. So, very early in my life, in my military career, it was identified in me that I was able to read people’s intentions very successfully. Which from that perspective is great because obviously if we’re watching an area and watching behavior and being able to see what people were going to do in that area gives us a bit of full warning for action that’s bad. So that was identified in me early and then obviously in the security field it became a real talent. There was a unique selling point for me to be able to go and work somewhere and they could rely on me to watch a crowd of people and pick out odd behaviors and essentially be able to spot things that weren’t right.

Alex Hunter: So, from that I got into psychology in a big way and studied, probably a little bit too much, probably obsessionally if I’m brutally honest. And I came across a guy called Ian Tuhovsky who wrote a book called Empath. And the statistics in there broke down to roughly 2% of people, slightly under are empaths, which is to be able to watch and feel what someone’s feeling. And then about 20% of people are highly sensitive people, so they have an ability to look at someone and have a high degree of success in understanding their intentions, what they’re feeling. And then you’ve got 80% of people who are just observing and then basing everything on their own experience of body language, of social norms, natural lines of drift, all that sort of thing. And then when we broke down the percentages for psychopaths, it’s about 1% maybe a little bit more now, sociopath’s again around the 1% sort of angle. And that’s the way it sort of breaks down on very loose terms.

Al: And Joel, did you have a question there?

Joel: I didn’t.

Al: Okay.

Joel: [crosstalk 00:06:41] I was listening intently though. Very fascinated and I wrote down the title of that book because I want to read it.

Alex Hunter: It’s a really, really good book. And again, the fascinating part for me was in the security field, we actually train security officers in behavior detection.

So, we’ll take them through a course and we’ll show them lots of videos and slides. And look at this behavior, look at that behavior. The TSA is a classic example in the States, they do a lot of training on behavior detection. And the issue you find with it is it has to be contextualized. So, just showing a picture won’t be enough to get the person to click that that’s a behavior with an intention or emotion behind it. So, for the training to be really effective in that field, then it has to be done live, so that people can actually soak up the atmosphere as much as anything else.

Joel: It’s interesting. Alex, I read a study many years ago and it was studying if different groups or different professions of classes of people could be good lie detectors. So, in this study what they did was they took people like mailmen, and police detectives, and hairdressers, and doctors, and psychologists, and janitors. And they studied them to see if one group was better than another at being a human lie detector. So, the results were fascinating. They found that at a baseline without significant differences the carpenter was about as good a lie detector as a psychiatrist. All right, there wasn’t big differences. But there was one group of individuals they found were very good lie detectors and they were secret service people, people that protect the president, and what they found was they looked at this group and said, “Did you have any specialized training in how to detect deception and stuff?” And the answer was, “No, not any more than any other group.” But what the theory was that they spent so much time standing, looking at crowds and examining behavior and faces and things that they develop this ability through experience.

Alex Hunter: Absolutely.

Al: Interesting.

Alex Hunter: Absolutely. If we take a baseline as normal, for the use of the horrible word that is normal, once something stands out against baseline, then it’s your experiential sort of bias that tells you what that is there for. In the past what have I seen this behavior lead to? What does it indicate? And the more time you spend watching people, the better you get at picking up where their behavior… What the intention is, what the emotion is.

Joel: Yeah, I really get that concept. I mean not, mine down to the level that you have, but on a macro level to some degree I have just helping people recognize gateway behaviors and things like that. What people mean when they’re behaving a certain way but on the subtle levels that’s more challenging but just as much if not more important.

Al: Alex how did you decide, and when did you decide, that you were in this 2% category of being a true empath?

Alex Hunter: Sorry, again funny story. 2005 I was placed in charge of a nightclub in North London that had a very serious gang violence problem between two particular gangs. And at that point I’m a big guy, I’m physically very capable and I was essentially employed there to be a force multiplier, to counter what was going on with force. And the issue was that in the UK, obviously security officers we don’t carry firearms, the gangs did and if I tried to do force on force, I would have been shot.

Alex Hunter: But knowing that I had a good ability to understand what people are feeling, I decided to go a different way, much to the chagrin of my bosses. And that was to become the middle man, the negotiator, the man who worked things out between these two gangs so that they didn’t bring the violence to our door. And I was successful in doing that I think mainly because I was able to tell who was feeling what and then how I could use that to an advantage to get them to talk. That was the key to me or to me understanding that I had something a little bit different, something that I needed to go and find out about. And then as I say, studying psychology became an obsession more than anything else. And I came across Ian, so yeah.

Empathy, Atmospherics + Iconography

Al: And so I always try to remember the three words you had, you talked about… It was during a break and you were talking about atmospherics, I think, and an icon… You got to say the word. What was it? Yep.

Alex Hunter: Iconography, yeah. How someone decides to display themselves.

Al: And what was it? And I can’t even remember the third one. The third one I think was just empathy. Was it? Understand the people.

Alex Hunter: It is empathy. Yeah, it is empathy. And again, that’s another reason why the course was so good becauseGraphic-2-You-Only-Get-Something-Wrong-Once you’ve clearly defined empathy. And again, when we put our training heads on, it’s very easy to stand in front of a room of people and go, “Right, you need to have more empathy.” But until you’re specific and you give people a clue about what it actually means to empathize with someone, then they’re not going to have any idea about what you’re expecting them to do.

Al: But describe those other terms for me, the atmospherics and iconography.

Alex Hunter: Oh, so the best analogy for atmospherics I have actually, or the best training sort of thing I would use, if you’ve seen the American werewolf in London film from 1980, the two gentlemen walk into a pub and it goes completely silent and they all look at the two gents as they walk in. Well that’s an atmospheric. That’s where you’ve observed an atmosphere and in that case the emotion is very much an anti one, it’s a very negative emotion, and we all have that all the time. Our atmospheric understanding runs all the time. When we’re at home, we feel safe, so the atmosphere is a safe environment hopefully. Where we walked down the street, we’ll be a little bit more alert and you’re starting to pick up on the atmosphere from the people around you. If there’s no one around you, then that’s an isolated atmosphere.

Alex Hunter: So again, you could feel isolated on your own and you might feel fear in a crowd. And the crowd is the best example really, we’ve all walked into a place and gone, “Something’s not right.” And it’s because of the atmosphere, and that’s the collective emotional bias that’s going on in that room. And in the same way we’ve all walked into a room and we’ve all felt positive because there’s a positive atmosphere going on, so. And it’s essentially all your senses pick this up and then make a conscious decision. Is it good? Is it bad?

Al: Interesting. Joel, I think I mentioned that we went to a healthcare threat assessment conference for a few days up in Kohler, which is just North of Milwaukee, and that was pretty much the entire conference was about that. They didn’t use that term but it was all about, it’s from this Gavin de Becker, I don’t know if you know that guy. Yep, very much about that instinctual-

Alex Hunter: Yeah, yeah.

Al: … does this feel right or wrong and relying on your instincts or your intuition. But it’s clear that some people have more and better intuition than others. Right? Is that…

Alex Hunter: Well, you could say it as, and Joel hits the nail on the head there, if you’ve worked as someone who has to observe behavior for a long time, then you form baselines, you form understanding of where behaviors lead and you will have a better eye on atmospherics. If I’ve worked as a receptionist in a hospital for say 10 years then I’ve got a good idea from my experience about where people move, how they move, and what it indicates about why they’re there. So if someone who’s coming in for treatment will move in a different way to someone who’s coming in to visit, for example. And because of that, and is probably happening on a subconscious level, I’m forming all these baselines, I’m forming all these patterns which I then store away and then as soon as I see it again, it reinforces it.

Al: Interesting, yep. So and then the iconography explain that a bit.

Alex Hunter: Well that’s a really interesting one because that’s how we choose to display ourselves to society. The first point of iconography is clothing, then things like jewelry, tattoos, hairstyle an interesting one. And when I’m dealing with my daughters, this is always a fascinating one, because at their age, the teenage years now, iconography become so important because it’s an expression of who they are. But once we become adults, we tend to forget that we express who we are by what we wear, what we have on us, how we display ourselves, so.

Al: Yeah and you were able to… I don’t know who were we… Was it Ian we were standing next to or? And you just looked at him and said, “Well yeah, the boots, the clues or whatever. It’s clear that he has a background in law enforcement.” I mean, it was obvious to you and I didn’t really see it at all but once you pointed it out I go, “Oh yeah. Look at that.”

Alex Hunter: Again, I’ll go back to my military days. There was a famous thing during Iraq from 2003, where we had a lot of plain clothes, sort of covert soldiers out there. And then during interviews locals were asked, “How do you know that our soldiers who are wearing the clothing and you can’t see who they are, how’d you know that they are soldiers?” And they went, “Boots and watches.”

Al: There we go. Yep, yep.

Alex Hunter: The locals didn’t wear boots and the locals didn’t wear diving watches. Iconography says so much. I mean it can be little things that indicate. So, for example I take my girls we go to Waterloo we sit, it’s a very busy station in London, and we sit up and we watch people getting off trains. And the thing that we want to look for is someone who’s uncomfortable in the clothes they’ve chosen to wear because that’s a key indicator as well of behavior. So, if someone’s got off a train wearing a suit and they were uncomfortable, they’re pulling at the collar, tugging at the cuffs, adjusting their dress, looking at their shoes, then that tells me it’s either a job interview or something quite serious they’re going to because they’ve chosen to dress in something they’re uncomfortable in. So, it has to be a very large reason why they’re doing it. And then other behaviors would indicate as well, sweating, breathing and stuff like that. But the iconography is one of the big clues you have because if someone’s dressed in something they’re not comfortable with, it’s almost like a bright lights behind them, making them stand out.

Al: So, in your experience Alex, so how do you take somebody that, you obviously have this natural skill and you’ve developed it over the years further probably by as Joel described, just having a bunch of live experiences. I mean, I don’t know how many dads go and watch people getting off the trains and try to do what you just described, that’s probably a pretty small percentage. But how do you think somebody, in your experience takes somebody that’s just average in this ability and cause them to get better? How would you do that training?

Alex Hunter: Well, the key would be to deep dive them into it. So you need a crowded space where you can take them and they can observe and then you can observe with them and then it becomes a discussion. And then I would set up certain things but the issue you find with that is if someone’s a natural, they will spot the setup because it’s a setup not because of the behavior. So, that’s always the funny issue with that one. But yeah, it requires a deep dive anytime because we’re all, everybody whatever from naught to whatever age you are, you’re observing behavior, your forming patterns, those patterns are laid down and you have an experiential base. So, what happens is you need to put them into a scenario where they watch a large group of people and then they can base on their own experience what they think is the emotion or the behavior and the intent. But then what you need to do is you need to coach it and guide it. So, that’s how I’d do it but a deep dive is the best way.

Al: So, Joel you obviously have done this somewhat naturally over the years also it sounds like. So, how do you relate to what Alex has said?

Joel: I relate to all of it. I mean it’s part of our training as far as the big biker experience, what was his iconography when you walk through the door? He had plenty of iconography from his facial expression down to his boots as you say. And I can relate to everything that Alex is saying. Here in the States, my wife and I like to joke about when we go somewhere, let’s spot the cops today and you can always spot a cop. Sometimes they make it easy for you it’s the polo shirts and attack pants but it’s like their off duty uniform. But that whole study is very interesting to me and familiar. When I thought about what Alex said about when you see someone walk into a hospital you can tell if they’re to visit or for treatment. That’s absolutely true you can always tell. Even know what question to ask when, relevant question to ask when they’re coming [crosstalk 00:21:03]-

Al: Yeah, “Who are you here to see?” Versus, “When’s your appointment?” I love it. So, Alex I want to hear about your resilience training, I think that’s what you call it. But when we enter the class, I’m literally packing up, you call Jared and you got me on the phone and as you know and people that are listening to this podcast, when we describe Vistelar, we say “We address the entire spectrum of human conflict.” And there we’re talking about initial interaction and just discord stuff all the way up to stopping the threat, which is more of what we’re talking about. The fact that a lot of people deal with de-escalation, whatever, but we deal with non-escalation but we also deal with the physical alternatives you might have in a threatening situation. But you talked about this other category of conflict that people might have with themselves. So, give us some more detail there.

Alex Hunter: Absolutely.

Al: I think I got your point, but tell me more.

Resilience Training for Internal Conflict

Alex Hunter: So, if we consider the training that we do for the VDI as everything above the baseline because we’re dealing with other people, then what we need to do is we need to consider below the baseline, which is what happens to us emotionally, what we take away and how we process it afterwards. Because all humans have a thing called would’ve, could’ve, should’ve. I’m sure I spoke to you about it on the course, but that’s we go away and our longterm memory gets hold of something and it then likes to pick it apart and analyze and find a better way. And that’s called a would’ve, could’ve, should’ve and all humans do it. If you are an over thinker then you probably run through that process constantly. So, one or two of your conscious acts are, you are examining something from the past and doing the whole, “I could have done that better, I should have done this, I would have done this if I’d had the chance.”

Alex Hunter: And that’s one of the reasons why I say conflict with the self. Because if you had a stressful event or a trauma, the part that causes the most damage is how you then frame it, appraise it and perceive it going forwards. Because you can either get stuck in that trauma or you can action after the trauma and then that doesn’t always have a positive, you could action in a negative way as well, so. The resilience part is about structures and coping mechanisms so that after a stressful event, in the case of midwives you might look at an infant death, and then how they process it afterwards so that they don’t essentially torture themselves. Because that’s one of the things we find with professionals that would’ve, could’ve, should’ve becomes a process of torturing yourself. And then that leads to low morale and possibly even changing a vocation.

Al: Joel, we talked about this yesterday. Why not expand on that because that’s, the term we use here in the United States is compassion fatigue, I don’t know if that, is that also used in the UK?

Alex Hunter: Yeah.

Al: Yeah.

Alex Hunter: That is used in the UK as well, yeah.

Joel: Yeah. The would’ve, could’ve, should’ve I can certainly relate to in all professions. I mean when you debrief with the police officers, they do a lot of would’ve, should’ve, could’ve but also when you debrief with nurses, although they’re not used to that form of debriefing, it’s usually just technical information and treatment information. When we debrief on, “Are they okay? What did they do well?” We start seeing that coming out. Learning how to better help them manage their emotional state and moving forward would be so valuable.

Al: Alex I think I told you this but when Joel and I went to the  assessment conference, it was about 40 of us there and every meal they did a really good job of getting people sitting with different people and so you could have some long conversations with who you were eating dinner with or lunch or breakfast. And I had an opportunity to sit next to a woman who had, within her hospital, she had convinced senior management to get every single employee to go through what she called a resilience class that she had developed on her own based on whatever, I don’t know where she got the information. It was about a two hour class, I think, hour and a half, two hour class, and separately she also did an empathy class. So, it was kind of like everybody should learn how to do empathy and practice empathy but then there was also then on the other end of the spectrum is how do you stay resilient to when these traumatic events occur. So that is what you do, right? Is that in your training outside of Dynamis you do, is that the right term, resilience training?

Alex Hunter: It’s personal resilience for the clinicians. The focus is on building a structure that gives them the ability to cope after a stressful event in healthcare because lives are at stake. What we’re looking at is stressful events where potentially you’ve lost a patient, where a patient’s outcome has gone significantly wrong. So they’ve remained alive but they’ve not left the hospital in a better condition than they arrived. And when we start to break that down, you have to, I feel you have to give clinicians these structures, you should do, before they even start practice. Because otherwise what you’re doing is you’re building blocks because if there is always going to be stressful situations where you might lose a patient, where a patient might get into a worse condition and if you don’t build the coping mechanisms in, and I’m finishing my shift and I’ve been treating John for 12 hours and he seems to be getting worse, what’s going to be on my mind? What’s going to be my emotional state when I go home? And then how’s that going to affect my life at home as well?

Al: And tell me did I… Say again, what do you call that training? What’s your name for that? Personal resilience for clinicians.

Alex Hunter: It is personal resilience for physicians.

Al: Love it. I’m going to write that down. Joel, expand on that a bit because that it just sounds like this big time is needed. Right. And I don’t think it’s offered much.

Joel: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean it’s needed, it’s part of that holistic approach to what is the problem in healthcare as far as conflict. It’s fresh from the point of view. Are we really addressing conflict within themselves, and I think we’re onto something.

Alex Hunter: [inaudible 00:28:03] the key-

Joel: I think Alex is on to something.

Alex Hunter: The key thing for me is that if someone spent three, four, seven, nine years studying to become a clinician, to become a caring person who’s going to save lives and have positive effects for society, if you don’t equip them to deal with what you’re expecting them to do, then you’re setting up a failure where that person who could make great differences in so many lives will essentially shorten their career because you’ve not prepared them for the stress and the trauma that goes with it.

Joel: Yeah. Shorten their career and also have lifelong effects from it.

Alex Hunter: Absolutely.

Joel: Yeah, one of the statements I hear probably most often after training with healthcare staff, and I would be curious to hear after your training if you’ve heard this a lot too, “Why didn’t I get this in medical school? Why didn’t I get this in nursing school?” I mean over and over again. It doesn’t matter what topic I end up training on, whether it’s workplace violence, whether it’s crisis intervention, de-escalation, non escalation. The mantra has been, “Why didn’t they teach me this in college?” And I think that’s why I wound up teaching de-escalation at a medical college to psychiatrists for eight years. They had been teaching me but they were amazed by it.

Alex Hunter: I think the issue I found with psychologists and psychiatrists is because they’ve deep dove into their subject matter so much, they become so clinical with it that they don’t identify the emotional biases and the emotional after effects as well. So, they become so clinical about their own emotions that they discount them sometimes even.

Transformative Stress

Alex Hunter: So, heading on from earlier I would look at how people appraise or if you’re looking in NLP terms, frame what’s happened to them. So, I’d like to talk about transformative stress and that’s all to do with how you perceive a trauma or an event and then what you do and the action steps you take afterwards. So, that’s one of the key things for me is getting any profession to be able to see stresses of the job and traumas that go with the job as transformative stress. And that’s all down to how they frame and how they appraise it afterwards.

Al: So explain it a little bit further. What’s transformative? What do you mean by that?

Alex Hunter: So, all stress as it sits within us, all trauma as it sits within us, has an effect on our behavior, has an effect on our emotions. But what you can do is you can change how it affects you and how it makes you feel by seeing it as transformative, which is a positive way of appraising it as opposed to destructive. So, obviously a destructive mindset would be one that would probably lead to depression, PTSD, that sort of thing. Because you’re still processing the event and you’re still in that would’ve, could’ve, should’ve, and potentially in conflict with yourself and feeling guilty and feeling like you could have done more, all these sorts of things. Whereas if you transfer it and you make it transformative stress, then it becomes this is what happened. How do I improve? Where do I go to get advice on how to get better? So, the next time I’m better prepared. Where do I take myself? Because emotionally you take yourself if you take charge of your emotions. So, that means essentially getting your professional to take ownership of how they feel and then after a stressful event or trauma, lead themselves towards a positive outcome.

Al: I love it. So, when you talk about these structures, that’s what you’re talking about, that they now have a structure to deal with or at their disposal as to how to respond to these traumatic events. Is that the idea?

Alex Hunter: Yeah. So, I’m very much into my symbolism, and the old stone in the pond and the ripples going out and coming back in, is a really good analogy because the outer ripple I would look at what is your overall mindset? So what is when you go to work are you the, “I have a goal, I’m positive, I know I can handle everything.” Like the Showtime mindset. So, that’s an optimistic and certainly an active optimistic mindset before you even begin. Next thing I would look at is, do you have the self discipline and the tenacity to go after that goal? And again, be able to model your behavior and your emotional responses to achieve that goal. So, after that you require a little bit of tenacity. And tenacity is one of those fascinating things in that everybody likes to think that they’re tenacious, that they will keep going up to the point where they quit and then it becomes, “Oh, I’ve had enough of that.” But I was really tenacious all the way up to that point.

Alex Hunter: And again it’s how you get people to see that we can go way beyond our limits because limits are self set. It’s one of those fascinating things that humans essentially set a limit that’s 40% of maximum effort. If we’re thinking about physical things because we want to have that reserve afterwards just in case. And when I look at it emotionally, if I’m stopping myself at 40%, if I’m boxing myself in, then I’m not giving everything that I could and that means I’m not being the best that I could, if you see what I mean. Hopefully not sounding too arrogant.

Al: No, no, no. No, I understand. I think you and I talked about that. I saw some study a few months ago about how, I think it’s in the us Navy Seals program they say, “When you get to the point where you can’t do anything more, you probably have about 60% left.”

Alex Hunter: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right and it’s being able to tap into that or increase what is your perception of your maximum. That’s one of the key things there and the easiest way to do that is physically, because obviously physical training’s a very easy thing to go and do. But when we talk about emotional range, then it requires a fair bit of reflection and honesty is the key part there because you’ve got to be really honest with yourself about how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it.

Al: So, Alex just give us one example when you, and maybe you already have, but when you say, “you provide in this training some of these structures.” Give me just one example, what a structure would be?

Alex Hunter: So, I’ll take midwives as a classic example because I’ve done so much work with them. We need to set, first of all, what is their professional goal when they arrive and when they’ve left shift. And that is to take care of a pregnant woman, deliver safely a baby, and keep the woman safe. That’s the overall goal. It has to be stated. It has to be in the forefront of the mind and it has to be seen in a positive way. So, from that goal, which you’re optimistic about, then you have to be disciplined enough to know not just how you’re going to do it, but what effects you’re going to have on your patient, on everyone around you, on the rest of the team. And that, again, if that’s self-discipline, because I may not have slept well the night before and if I go in telling everyone I’m tired, telling everyone that I don’t feel good, then what I’m essentially doing is not just making myself feel worse I’m also making everyone else in the team feel worse.

Alex Hunter: So, that’s a social contract, that’s a responsibility that I have and that’s self-discipline. The tenacity angle, humans are minimum effort machines generally in that we look for the path of least resistance. And I’ve always found it fascinating that once you activate tenacity in a person that they will quite often give far more effort towards a goal and it’s just getting them to see that. So, with the lady that would be staying with the lady so that she’s comfortable, staying in the room, staying present with the person rather than drifting off or being on your phone, getting distracted by things that you don’t need to be distracted by. Because again you’re not giving everything that you should to the patient, to the service user. And when I look at the after effects of that for the staff member, if I’ve had a shift and I’ve delivered a baby with a lady and then I’ve come away and I felt like I haven’t given the best I could, this is where we start to enter that conflict situation with ourselves-

Al: Yep, I like it. Got it now, yep.

Alex Hunter: … because I’m not delivering the best of me, then I could initiate guilt, I could initiate shame as an emotion in myself, which is very, very powerful and these things eat away at us. So, it’s getting rid of that by framing everything in the positive way to be tenacious in how you deliver. And then what we do is we look at a moral structure, so ethically, morally, loyalty. Again to a midwife, who are they loyal to? Well at first because we’re human, we’re always loyal to ourselves first, then to our patient, then to our hospital, then to our vocation in midwifery, then to healthcare provision in general. So, you’ve got all these things that you’re loyal to but you could be divided in how much loyalty you give to each one. And then the last one is emotional support.

Alex Hunter: So, I get everyone in the room to identify who they feel comfortable being fully open with, to look at why they’re not comfortable being open with some members of their team. Because again sometimes you find that people would rather talk to a stranger than a friend because to talk to a friend is embarrassing. They already know so much about you and I’m opening up to you now and adding to it and perhaps changing your view of me. And that’s always a really good group discussion to have with any clinicians or any profession because you find so many different approaches to interpersonal support and where people go. With cops for example, it might be that the partner is the… everything gets said to the partner because we’re partners, we’re together all the time. But then if I feel that my partner has a certain view of me and if I open up that view will change then I won’t open up.

Al: Yep, yep.

Alex Hunter: I’ll hang on to it and it becomes again, a conflict within myself and a destructive behavior.

Al: Very, very interesting. So, in your experience, Joel or Alex, you go through that process, and that was wonderful now I have a much better understanding of what you do in your training, but how long is that? What would be a timeframe for a good workshop for you?

Alex Hunter: 20 people a day and I have to frame it-

Al: So, it’s a day long course generally?

Alex Hunter: A full day, yeah. Because I have to set the ground and I have to also, because I expect them to be fully honest with themselves, I’m fully honest with them and that means giving them trust in the first place. So, I tell several stories about traumas in my own life so that they know that I’m open and honest with them and then that gives them the opportunity to be open and honest with each other when we discuss things. Because you have to set the playing field level and I think the only way to get your learners to trust you as a trainer is to trust them first.

Al: Yeah. You said that a lot during the week I remember when we were over there, he said that a lot about, and it doesn’t apply just to this area, I think just having a general trust of your students that they’re going to, yeah. Do all the stuff that you’ve described but I think it relates to every kind of training,Graphic-1-You-Only-Get-Something-Wrong-Once

Alex Hunter: If you think of it as the principle of reciprocity. If I expect respect, I must give respect first. If I expect dignity, I must give dignity first. It’s the same with trust and without that it’d be disingenuous, the seesaws are skewed, the balance is not right. And then certainly in a training context, you end up potentially losing your learners because they don’t trust you, you haven’t trusted them.

Al: Right. 

Alex Hunter: So, why should they trust you?

Al: Joel, what’s your thoughts on all that? And then we should wrap up here pretty quick.

Joel: Yeah. My thoughts on that are, I’m all in, I can’t wait to learn more about it. How we can use it to help people in the healthcare profession and other professions that have to deal with high levels of stress and conflict, high stakes professions.


Al: So, Alex as I expected this was just a great conversation I learned a lot. I got all kinds of notes. Hopefully all the listeners learned a bunch. Would you be willing to do another one here in the future?

Alex Hunter: Absolutely. Absolutely and what we could do is we could nail down parts of it individually and have a conversation about each one. Because again, I love talking about this. I love the fact that no one really owns this, we need to get this out there. And if we’re the ones to get it out there, then that’s the best way forward.

Al: Yeah. Very, very good.

Joel: Alex, I think that’s a great approach and I would also love to have a more in depth discussion with you about the traits of an empath.

Alex Hunter: And fascinating for you and I Joel because of a likeness with our children who are on the spectrum, is can you have an empathic child on the spectrum?

Joel: Absolutely.

Alex Hunter: Because kids who are autistic are penciled holed, are pigeonholed into these categories by their diagnosis and every single one’s unique. And this is it’s-

Joel: Yeah and I couldn’t agree more. And one of the myths about people on the spectrum is that they don’t have empathy and yeah, you laugh and I laugh too. And if they knew my son they wouldn’t think that. And as a matter of fact, I would consider him to be an empathic autistic man. And the old textbooks from the ’60s and ’70s that would even describe people that they would consider low functioning, I hate those pigeonholes too, people on the spectrum. They would describe autism as the absence of the personality.

Alex Hunter: Absolutely.

Joel: But anybody who knows them, lives with them and loves them, knows better.

Al: Joel you and I talked about this and it was when you, I think we talked about how I think there is a general perception that people that are autistic don’t, because of their struggles with social stuff, that they aren’t empathic. They don’t get whatever other people are thinking or feeling and they don’t get jokes and all that kind of stuff. But listen talking to both of you, you both said they’re actually more than likely hypersensitive to people.

Joel: Yeah. Sometimes it’s hard to identify. I remember when Collin’s, my son’s two closest friends were his two cousins of a similar age, and when they were deployed to Iraq it really affected his behavior a lot, so we had to manage our conversation. We had to include him in being encouraged with conversation with the young men when they were overseas to help manage his anxiety and talking with the other veterans in the family.

Al: I came back and actually, I didn’t get the book you’re describing Alex, but I got another book that somebody that the views themselves as an empath has been studying this stuff for 20, 25 years. Can’t remember the name of the book but she actually had a whole section in there about how in her experience autistic, spectrum-

Alex Hunter: I think one of the key things to identify is that-

Al: … kids and adults are actually highly sensitive.

Alex Hunter: … if you look at it from a neurological perspective, especially with children who are on the spectrum and have what is perceived and perhaps diagnosed as a difficulty with social structure or difficulty understanding nonverbal communication. Perhaps they are wired in a way that lets them see beyond what’s being presented. The classic with my daughter is, my daughter knows what I’m feeling and she can express it, she can talk about it, but it’s not what I’m showing. She knows how I’m feeling inside regardless of whether I’m smiling or frowning. She still knows.

Al: I love it. 

Alex Hunter: That’s right. Yeah, that’s right. They see the bare truth.

Joel: And that mirrors my experience is that you can’t hide from them.

Al: Very, very-

Joel: You can’t hide from them.

Al: So, okay I think there’s maybe several more episodes, right? Because I would love to have a discussion just on that, on your experience with that, what the research shows. I could before that next one I pull out what this woman that wrote this book said because it was a very compelling argument that I had never really thought about before. And I don’t think most of the population thinks in that way. I think they would assume that that person on the spectrum is not experienced, so experiencing the feelings of-

Alex Hunter: You’ve hit the nail on the head there-

Al: … and getting what’s going on in the other person. And it’s just not true.

Alex Hunter: … because how do we learn? We learn because we learn a new way of thinking but with people on the spectrum, they have their own unique way of thinking, which means that they can see things that we can’t, they can break things down in ways we can’t.

Al: Yep.

Alex Hunter: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:47:14].

Joel: Yeah and they tend to be very in tune with atmospherics and iconography.

Al: Alex, thank you so much. [crosstalk 00:47:20] I know it’s… we’re going to do this again.

Alex Hunter: And you too my friend-

Al: This was fun. I appreciate-

Alex Hunter: Take care. Thank you.

Al: Yeah. Take care everybody have a great… Yep. Bye=bye. Bye-bye.

Joel: Okay, Alex. Thanks. Bye now.


Allen Oelschlaeger

Allen Oelschlaeger / About Author

Allen is a conflict expert with a focus on creating safe and respectful workplaces. He is a creator of the Confidence in Conflict book series and podcast, leader of the company’s e-learning initiative, and authority on how to best train the psychomotor skill of conflict management. His background includes Wharton School MBA, University of Wisconsin faculty member, and leadership roles in the healthcare industry.