155: Managing Defensiveness for Stronger Collaborations with Jim Tamm

By May 15, 2017Podcasts

 

 

Jim Tamm shares how managing defensiveness ensures collaborations remain cool and effective.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why managing your defensiveness is a hidden key to effective collaborations
  2. The 3 biggest drivers of defensiveness
  3. How to stay curious – instead of furious

About Jim

For 25 years Jim was a judge dealing with collective bargaining disputes. He has mediated more school district labor strikes than any other person in the United States. Now he teaches collaboration skills in the Talent Development Program at Harvard, the International Management Program at the Stockholm School of Economics and the Leadership Academy of the University of California. His book Radical Collaboration has been on Amazon’s top seller lists for collaboration, negotiations, and organizational psychology books for 11 years.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jim Tamm Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jim, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Jim Tamm
My pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. I enjoyed seeing your TEDx Talk. But could you start us off by sharing a bit about your background before was in law. You were a judge for years. How does that kind of carry over to your current area?

Jim Tamm
Yeah. Well, my story starts back in the 1980s when I had been a judge there for a number of years in California, and I had jurisdiction in collective bargaining disputes which were pretty hostile environments most of the time.
And when I worked for the state we kept seeing the same organizations coming through our system over and over again with litigation and we’re trying to figure out why some organizations had so much conflict and so much litigation, and other organizations seem to be so much more collaborative and so much more effective and we never saw them. Because these conflicted organizations, these were costing the State of California just a huge amount of money not just in judges’ salaries but primarily in lost productivity.
So we had, a small group of us got together, within the state and we got a big grant from the Hewlett Foundation, of Hewlett-Packard, did a lot of research and then based on that put together a program to try to teach the more adversarial organizations how to be more collaborative. And the results were just wildly successful.
The number of people that described their working relationships as conflicted and adversarial dropped by almost 70%. The number of people who said they had a high trust in their relationships increased by 50%. The measurable conflict, things like unfair labor practice charges, request for mediators or fact-finders, we reduced that by 70% in over 90 organizations which just saved the State of California a huge amount of money, so much so that the state legislature setup a non-profit foundation to keep offering the training to public sector groups.
But if you look at those differences at reducing the conflict in organizations and increasing trust that just makes a huge amount of difference in the quality of the work life for the people that were living in those situations. Now, most of this was done in school districts too when we first started out so it not only made a difference in the quality of life for the employees but I think it made a huge difference for the students in the quality of their education.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. I live here in Chicago and there’d been a number of strikes here with strike of public schools and it’s a bummer. I think about the kids. Like, man, they’re sort of losing out there.

Jim Tamm
It’s tough. I believe that I have mediated more school district labor strikes than any other person in the United States. And one of the benefits that we saw through this project in California is that, all of a sudden, the students had role models for how people could solve problems without going to war or destroying the neighborhood because if there’s a school strike that causes chaos in a neighborhood.

Some of the strikes that I mediated, I can think of one and 50,000 kids out on the streets for almost five weeks. I mean, that does real damage to a neighborhood. So not only do they become more effective at work but they set a good role model for students about how they ought to be more effective in resolving conflicts and building relationships.
So, after that, I ended up writing a book about that experience and my life changed at that point. My world went from California to the world, and I started teaching in different universities. I teach at the Stockholm School of Economics, and at Harvard in their talent development program, and the Leadership Academy at the University of California, and NASA and a few places like that. So I get to see a wide range of people using the skills that we came up with and it’s very heartening for me to see the impact that it has.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so perfect that’s why I’ve wanted you on the show so much, is that is a critical set of skills that can make all the difference in the world, and it’s highly applicable whatever your industry or your function. You’ve got to have to have that.

Jim Tamm
The skills that we found to be essential are very general skills and they work whether you’re talking about an R&D center or a higher education, or whether you’re talking about heavy manufacturing and mining, or the public sector, or the private sector, or a non-profit. They are just general skills that help people be significantly more effective at collaboration.
And they work not only in different kinds of organizations but different kinds of cultures as well. They’ll work whether you’re talking about Uzbekistan or whether you’re talking about Japan or Mexico or the U.S. or Sweden. It’s very general skills so people can learn these skills in a very short period of time and practice them and without a lot of effort. This is not rocket science or brain surgery and it can make a big difference in an organization and a big difference to the individual as well in a very short period of time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m all in. I’m excited. I’m intrigued. So lay it on us, Jim. What are the keys here? How do we make that happen?

Jim Tamm
Well, I think the biggest thing is getting people to be better at managing their own defensiveness.

Pete Mockaitis
Managing defensiveness.

Jim Tamm
I think defensiveness, more than anything else that I’ve ever seen in my career as a judge, causes more problems than anything else. In 25 years, dealing with other people’s conflict in the workplace, I almost never had to deal with pure legal issues. People were almost always before me because somebody would start feeling vulnerable and then they would get defensive. And when we get defensive our thinking becomes rigid, our IQ drops about 20 points and we simply become stupid.
And then not only are we terrible problem-solvers but we invite everybody else in the room to become a bad problem-solver. And then what you end up with is a whole room filled with people who can’t solve a problem which, in my history, the technical term for that is litigation and it’s very expensive.
So I think if people can get a better understanding of what their attitude is, what their defenses are, and they can do a better job of not getting triggered whenever they get into a conflict situation, that’s probably the single most important thing that they can do.

Pete Mockaitis
Managing defensiveness. I think a lot of folks will say, “Well, I’m not defensive,” you know.

Jim Tamm
Yeah, everybody tells me, “You know, I’m not defensive but the people I’m surrounded with are terribly defensive. How do I deal with them?” Nobody wants to admit that we’re all defensive but this is a human condition. We’re all going to get defensive at various times. And we’re not expecting that people are going to eliminate ever being defensive because this is a human condition.
What we’re trying to do is get people to become more aware about what defensiveness really is about, and then start noticing their own defensiveness at an earlier point in the process before it’s too late to do anything about it because there are things that you can do to try and notice your own defensiveness earlier. And then if you notice it then you can take some action and be more effective so you don’t get as triggered, so you don’t get as defensive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So then could you maybe give us some typical maybe defensiveness responses that, I guess, are stealth or you’ve got to go under the radar because you don’t think you have them that could be indicators for us?

Jim Tamm
Sure. Well, first of all, let me talk about what defensiveness is because most people think that we get defensive when somebody has done something to us and we need to defend ourselves from that. But that’s not what’s going on when we get defensive. What’s really going on when we get defensive is we’re trying to defend ourselves from fears inside of us that we don’t want to feel.
Typical fears that trigger our defensiveness are fears about our own significance, our competence and our likeability. So, for example, if I started worrying about my competency for doing this show today and it’s not going well. Well, I don’t want to feel incompetent, so maybe one thing I could do is I might start blaming you, “Well, this is a stupid show. And why should I have to do this?” and blah, blah, blah.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you.

Jim Tamm
Yeah. Well, people think that I’m defending myself from the other person but that’s not what’s going on. We’re really trying to hide fears. Our defensiveness helps us hide our fears from ourselves. So, for most people, that’s all unconscious stuff. We’re not aware that we’re getting defensive. So, for most of us, what can be more helpful is we start noticing our outward signs of defensiveness because those outward behaviors are usually easier to spot at a much earlier point in the process.
For example, I’ve noticed that when I get defensive I start talking louder, I start breathing faster. Now, if I know that those are my signs of defensiveness, when I see those behaviors in me then the alarm bells can go off, “Ding, ding, ding. Hey, Jim, pay attention. You’re doing that thing again.” And even though I may not feel that fear inside of me I can pay attention to those defenses.
So one of the things we try to do is we try to get people to create their own early warning system. And we’ve got a list of 50 different signs of defensiveness. There are things like loss of humor, or high charge of energy in the body, or sudden drop in IQ, wanting the last word, playing “poor me,” withdrawing to deadly silence or sarcasm, not wanting to negotiate, blaming, mind reading, all those kinds of things.
So we have people go through and try to pick out what their own signs of defensiveness are and then we have them start paying attention to those. So when they see those they can start doing things that will reduce the damage that their defensiveness causes. For example, just noticing it is a big deal. They acknowledge that they’re getting defensive. They check any assumptions that they’re making. They notice their self-talk.
If you’re going into a meeting and you notice that little voice in your head saying, “Oh, this is not a good time for me. I’m going to look stupid. They’re going to think I’m not very competent.” So if you go into a meeting with that way it’s certainly going to undermine you and you’re bound to get defensive. So start noticing the self-talk and then come up with your own little action step.
If you know that when you start getting defensive you have a sudden drop in IQ, maybe you can go hide in the bathroom for five minutes and let your brain catch up with the rest of your body. If it’s flooding with information to prove a point, maybe you just shut up for 10 seconds. If it’s withdrawing to silence, maybe you do just the opposite. You ask a question or you tell them that you’re getting defensive.
But if you can start noticing when you’re getting defensive at an earlier point in the process by paying attention to your early warning signs, and then you come up with an action plan, it’s a way of significantly improving your effectiveness whenever you start getting defensive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s nice. So you said that we’re not defending ourselves from a person or a situation but rather we’re trying to prevent the feeling of an unpleasant or uncomfortable emotion. It seems like defensive behaviors, if that’s something you do as a reaction, and then defensive, I guess, motivations are things you want to avoid. Can you share a little bit more about the things you want to avoid? And I’m thinking that there’s even maybe an internal thought reaction like, I guess, you’re, “Maybe it’s me. I’m narrating my experience.”
I guess if someone is putting me in a spot where I might react defensively, play with information, something that might do. It’s like, “Well, you know, A, B, C, D, E facts. I’m not wrong or dumb.” That seems what they might do, but I think even before that, I’m probably thinking something like, “This guy thinks I’m dead wrong.”

Jim Tamm
Yeah, for some people it might be a thought process we go through, you blame the world, you blame the external situation. For other people it might be a physical sensation. You notice your breathing is a little bit faster. You don’t quite notice why. But, say, you do notice that your breathing gets faster, your hands get a little sweaty, you have some rigidity in your shoulders, those are the kind of precursors to getting defensive that if you really spot those that’s when you can take the action.
If you start getting anxious, if your hands get sweaty, if you start breathing faster, and you spot it then maybe you can do something like maybe some kind of a visualization to calm yourself down, to slow down your physiology, because some people have a physiological early warning signs. Other people have a mental early warning sign.
If you notice that you start blaming other people, or if you start being very negative versus very positive, what you usually are but when you get defensive you get very negative. Those are the kinds of things that can tip you off that you’re becoming ineffective. Because anytime we get defensive we are becoming ineffective.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then what we’re defending against, let’s recap a bit, some of those emotions, incompetence, and what else?

Jim Tamm
Significance, competence and likeability are the three biggies that come up all the time. If you think people don’t like you, you tend to get defensive. If you don’t feel very important in a situation you tend to get defensive. If you’re feeling incompetent and feeling humiliated, it’s very easy to get defensive. And so when you behave in this defensive way, what it does, it eases the fear of the anxiety because it hides the underlying fear.
Now, unfortunately, that’s a lot like putting whip cream on dog poop. It may look a little bit better but it doesn’t deal with the underlying issue. So that’s why we’re trying to get people to better understand what their defensiveness looks like. Now, we’re talking about sort of triage, first aid to stop the arterial bleeding.
If people get defensive all the time then it’s very helpful for them to go back and start looking at self-esteem issues, “Where did you first develop this? How did that come about? What are the types of patterns that you see when you do get defensive?” And you dig a little bit deeper that way. But what we’re talking about right now is just sort of the first aid, “How do you get through a difficult situation or a difficult meeting?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess I’m thinking along those lines, like in some ways, I think your fear could be right. It’s like, “Sure enough, you are not significant to this conversation. You don’t have any competence to speak here. Some of these people really don’t like you.” I guess I’m thinking that might be true but that’s not the end of the world.

Jim Tamm
That’s right. And if you know that that’s the case, for example, I don’t know anything about sailing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jim Tamm
So I know I’m not very competent about sailing. When I go out on a sailboat I am not about to take charge of that sailboat. I don’t feel humiliated by that but some people, if they’re in a situation like at work, especially, it’s important for them to feel competent or significant or likeable, whatever their trigger might be, because it doesn’t feel safe not to feel that way. And so that’s when the defensiveness would come out.
But just because you’re not competent or you’re not significant, there’s a lot of times in my life where I’m not that way, and who cares. I have a strong enough self-esteem that it’s not going to undermine my behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I guess that’s where I’m driving at. Maybe this is naïve or idealistic or impossible with the human condition but it seems like the dream place to be would be to have a healthy sense of self-confidence, self-love, self-esteem, whatever kind of rootedness such that you’re kind of unshakeable by this stuff. Is that achievable and how can we get there? Or am I dreaming too big?

Jim Tamm
No, no, that’s exactly what we’re hoping for.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jim Tamm
For example, when I was a judge, at the end of every case somebody was ticked off at me, somebody thought I was a bad judge or incompetent. But I knew I was a really good judge. I never got overturned, I knew the law, just solid. I had solid self-esteem there. But when I made the shift to becoming a consultant and I’m standing in front of a group, and I knew that I wasn’t very competent at that because this was a whole new skillset for me, if somebody wasn’t paying attention to me there then that undermined my self-esteem, that undermined my self-image and I would tend to get defensive. So if you do have that solid base there you’re much less likely to get defensive and it’s much less likely to cause problems for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m curious that if you’ve got some pro tips or strategies for building that base, I can recall a time – let’s see, I shared this somewhere before, but, hey, we’ll open it up a little bit – in which I was in college and I was part of the Model United Nations, and I was a poor navigator, we didn’t have Google Maps on our phones at that time. I’m 33.

Jim Tamm
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
And so I remember I gave someone, I gave them the wrong call in terms of which way we should go because there’s 90, 94, the highway, it splits around Chicago and I was getting new to that, sometimes it’s the same, sometimes it’s different. And then the person driving sort of snapped the map out of my hand and said something like, “You will no longer be responsible for this,” and it really got me in terms of like a self-doubt thing.
And so I went so far as to, in a notebook, record all these victories, successes, compliments, achievements to restore a sense of self-esteem or self-confidence that I thought I had lost from my glory days of high school, homecoming king, valedictorian, blah, blah, blah, and it really kind of helped.

Jim Tamm
Yeah, and it probably would’ve helped just as much, or maybe even more, for you to just come to terms with the fact that you didn’t know that area very well.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, probably.

Jim Tamm
You know, it’s like, “All right. This is not a big deal. You made a right turn instead of a left-hand turn. You’re not going to get executed for that.” It’s like, “All right.” But because your self-esteem was wrapped up in that, that’s what caused the reaction. It wasn’t that the other person, that there was a big deal that someone pulled the map out of your hands or that you made a wrong decision. It was that you were judging yourself more than they were judging you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think, in a way, that’s why we’re really getting deep here. I think the terms at the time I was really kind of investing a lot of myself in the student organizations and leadership and writing a book on student leadership. And I was like, “Well, I am the rock star student leader. And if I can’t even tell our driver which way to go to get to the conference then maybe I am not very good at this or anything.”

Jim Tamm
Well, it’s the same situation I was talking about when I was a judge or a new consultant. If somebody wouldn’t listen in class I knew that I wasn’t very good at what I was doing and so that made me feel less competent because what they were doing, them not listening to me, was reminding me of my own fears, and so I would take it out on them, “You’re an idiot. You’re not paying attention. You should go outside and leave,” blah, blah, blah, that kind of stuff.
But that’s all defensiveness on my part. That didn’t have much to do with this other person not listening very well. So if I can understand that when you get your button pushed, the tender spot that’s inside of you is the button that’s being pushed. It’s not what the other person is doing to you, it was your own self-judgments about not being a good leader that was causing your button to be pushed. It wasn’t what the other person pulling the map out of your hands.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m with you. So then, once we kind of faced the triage, the managing defensiveness in the heat of battle, what are some steps to take in sort of when you’re not on the frontlines to build that sort of health mental awareness, self-confidence? I think one thing is to actually get good at the thing. But beyond that, are there some psychological things that one should do internally?

Jim Tamm
Well, I think, yeah. First of all, know what your skillsets are. Try to improve the skillsets. There are a lot of things that I could do when I was a new consultant. I could practice standing up in giving speeches. I could videotape myself. That’s always that I can improve. So, depending upon what the skillset is that you’re trying to build, there are easy ways that you can do that.
Beyond that, I think it’s helpful for you to notice what your attitude is towards yourself as well. We have a thing called a red zone and green zone. A red zone is a very adversarial type of attitude. It’s very conflicted. It’s very harsh. It’s judgmental. And then as opposed to a green zone attitude which is more supportive, more collaborative, less conflicted. And we talk about those type of cultures in organizations. But people can have those attitudes towards themselves as well.
So if you have a very red zone attitude towards yourself, every time you make a mistake and you start beating yourself up, guess what’s going to happen? You’re not going to start noticing whenever you make a mistake because that’s a painful experience for you. It’s like trying to get a turtle to stick its neck out by pounding on the shell. If you beat yourself up every time you notice that you want to do something differently that’s a not a very good way for you to encourage new behavior.
So you need to be a little bit less judgmental towards yourself, or we all need to be that towards ourselves, a little bit more accepting, it’s like, “All right. Well, I made a mistake. I wonder what that was about. How can I avoid that in the future?” rather than, “Oh, I’m an awful person.” So having that kind of a self-attitude will make a difference. And then if you start noticing that towards yourself that’s going to make a difference in the way you treat other people too whether you have a red zone attitude or a green zone attitude.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Thank you. Well, you’ve got so much good stuff to share, maybe I’ll just kind of focus on a couple of pieces before we hear about your favorite things.

Jim Tamm
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s your take when it comes to when you’re doing this collaborative stuff for doing a better job, when it comes to really listening and understanding other people and what’s going on there?

Jim Tamm
I think there’s probably several things that you can do that are very helpful. Number one, start noticing what your own attitude is whether it’s a red zone attitude or a green zone attitude. And just doing that yourself over time will make a difference. At the Stockholm School of Economics where I teach in their international management program, several years ago, or every year they had to do a class project.
But several years ago they took on this issue, the red zone/green zone, and wherever they were in the world, several times during the day, they had to write down in a little notebook whether they had a red zone attitude or a green zone attitude. They didn’t have to try to change it or do anything else about it. They just had to notice it.
Then they collected all this data and they analyzed it. And what they found was at the beginning of the project, more often than not, most of the participants were operating in their red zone. They had an adversarial conflicted attitude. Simply by paying attention several times during the day, by the time they got to the end of the project, more often than not, most of them were in the green zone, and they were behaving differently. They were significantly more effective at collaboration because they had a different attitude. So that’s one thing you can do is just start paying attention to your own attitude.
The second thing is start being aware of when you’re getting defensive at an earlier point in the process. This is what I was talking about earlier. Know what your signs of defensiveness are. Know what you can do about it. Come up with an action step. Sometimes it’s a visualization. Sometimes it’s a sentence that you say. But be able to spot it and then do something about it.
And then I think another thing that’s very helpful is we found one of the really essential skills at being good at collaboration is being able to negotiate your way through conflict in a way that supports relationships rather than undermines relationships. And a process that we like, and we call it interest-based negotiations, it has different names. Sometimes people call it win-win. I don’t particularly like that name because sometimes you don’t win. But at Harvard they call it principled negotiations.
Basically what you do is instead of looking for solutions early on, what you try to do is put your energy into understanding what the underlying interests are of all the parties. And if you have a really good understanding of what all the interests are you have a much better chance of finding a solution that meets as many of the interests of both parties involved in any kind of a dispute or any kind of a difference. So that’s a great process to use. Just become better at negotiating your way through conflict in a way that supports relationships.
And then, of course, being better at listening too. Listening is such an important skill. I think it’s one of the more important skills that we have for building depth and intimacy in relationships. And if people are bad listeners, boy, it sets other people off. They do not like it. And if you’re a good listener, people really open up to you.
Listening is more than just keeping your mouth shut but that’s a pretty good start. So if you do that, if you have a curious attitude rather than a furious attitude, “Why are they saying that?” summarize what you’re hearing and play it back to them to check for understanding, those were all really great tools that are going to help you in those situations.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, for the great listening, it’s shut your mouth, have a curious attitude, rephrase it, synthesize, summarize what you’ve heard. When you say curious versus furious, are you thinking of Curious George versus Furious George, the little monkey?

Jim Tamm
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. That’s the difference between a red zone attitude and a green zone attitude. A red zone attitude is furious. If somebody makes a mistake you get furious, you get upset. Versus, if somebody makes a mistake you get curious and you wonder, “All right. How did that happen? Did I play any role in that? Did I contribute in any way? What can we do to change that in the future?”
That’s why organizations, red zone organizations versus green zone organizations are so much less creative because in a red zone organization, if you try something new and it fails, people get blamed. In a green zone organization they get curious and they’re wondering, “How can we avoid that in the future? How can we not make that same mistake over again?” And so red zone organizations, when a culture is that way, they’re not very creative and not very effective.
There’s a massive amount of research showing that red zone, or the green zone organizations will almost consistently outperform more adversarial red zone organizations, and they tend to be much more effective, they tend to have lower turnover, much more profitable. Just massive amount of research on that.

Pete Mockaitis
I buy it. Curious versus furious, that is quite a term of a phrase. And, I hope, maybe can you trademark that? I would.

Jim Tamm
That’s good. And it’s not easy to do also, too. When you get triggered, to not get your button pushed is not something you can just talk yourself out of. It takes some training. It takes some, “All right. I’m getting upset here now. I’m getting angry. What’s that about? Let me see if I can figure that out. Why am I getting angry?” Because anytime you have a strong reaction, that reaction is coming from inside of us most of the time anyway. Maybe not anytime but most of the time the reaction is coming from inside of us. So if you get curious about that that’ll be a big help to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so now I’m thinking and wondering, if someone finds themselves in a situation where there’s a lot of sort of red zone or adversarial exchanges from a boss, a manager, key colleagues, I guess our sphere of influence is finite, but not zero, what do you to try to help encourage or shift the mood of others?

Jim Tamm
So first let me talk about what not to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jim Tamm
The least effective thing that you can do in that situation is point out to the other person that they’re getting defensive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jim Tamm
That’s like pouring gasoline on a fire. If you’ve ever been feeling defensive yourself and somebody points that out to you, you know how unproductive that is. So, first of all, don’t do that. Second of all, what you can do is, for you not to get triggered, for you to stay with this green zone attitude, don’t go into the red zone because you are always more effective dealing with someone who’s in this adversarial red zone attitude if you can stay in the green zone, if you can stay centered yourself.
You know, we’ve all seen these pictures of the aikido master fighting 20 people around the room, and the master can do that as long as the master stays centered and doesn’t get angry, doesn’t get upset, just stays very present. If they start getting upset or angry they’re going to lose it, they won’t be able to do it. So you stay centered.
Another thing then is put more energy into listening because a lot of times people go into this red zone adversarial attitude if they’re not feeling heard. So use all those listening skills that most of us have been taught and most of us ignore. And then the other thing is this interest-based approach to negotiations is a really helpful thing. And instead of rushing to solutions you put your energy trying to understand what all the interests are of all the parties, and you don’t start looking for solutions until each side can articulate what the interests are of the other side to the other side’s satisfaction. Those are some good things that you can do if you’re in that situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Thank you. Well, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Jim Tamm
If people are feeling defensive I would encourage them to take a look at… I did a TEDx Talk on defensiveness and that’ll give them a good outline. These 50 signs of defensiveness that I talked about, that’s listed in the Radical Collaboration book. There’s some articles and things like that on the RadicalCollaboration.com website. So if people are getting defensive and they’re trying to figure things out in relationships there are some resources for them out there that they can take a look at.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, great. Thank you. Well, so now, can you start us off by sharing a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jim Tamm
Sure. This was written by Mary Parker Follett. She was born in 1868 so it sets the date a little bit, but, “We have thought of peace as passive and war as the most active way of living. The opposite is true. War is not the most strenuous life. It is a kind rest-cure compared to the task of reconciling our differences. From war to peace is from the feudal to the effective, from the destructive to the creative way of life. The world will be regenerated by people who rise above these passive ways and heroically seek, by whatever hardship, by whatever toil, the methods by which people can agree.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about a favorite study or a piece of research?

Jim Tamm
I guess the favorite research is done by Kotter & Heskett, Jim Heskett, John Kotter. They’re both Harvard professors.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve had Kotter on the show, yes.

Jim Tamm
Did you really?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jim Tamm
Well, they’re great. They’re great. I don’t know whether we talked about his book Corporate Culture and Performance but they did an 11-year study, they started with over 200 corporations all listed on the New York Stock Exchange, big global organizations, and they were looking at organizations that had clearly-defined company cultures that were either… they called them enhancing, supportive or non-enhancing, non-supportive. And they fit very closely into this concept of red zone/green zone.
And over an 11-year period, the more collaborative cultures outperformed the more adversarial cultures significantly. The green zone or the collaborative cultures, their net income improved 756%. The red zone, unsupportive organizations, improved 1%. The stock price was up over 800% more in the collaborative cultures, revenue over 500% more. So it’s the most detailed and supported research study over time showing that a collaborative environment and collaborative individual that is skilled at collaboration can make a big difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Jim Tamm
Well, probably I would say Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher, Bill Ury. I used to say it was the best book on the subject. Now I think it’s the second best book on the subject but it’s still a favorite of mine. I like Radical Collaboration better because it includes some other skills.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

Jim Tamm
You know, I suspect you were talking about a different kind of tool but my immediate reaction to that was my favorite tool is a chainsaw.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, nice. I’ll take it.

Jim Tamm
Well, I had a vacation home and we had some partners in there and I noticed that there was a difference that one of our partners was a paintbrush and chisel person, and I was the chainsaw and sledgehammer person. And I thought, “It’s just good to know what kind of a person you are.” If you’re talking about business tools, I would say the internet and email is probably the most helpful thing. It’s both a blessing and a curse though.
It’s everything. It creates everything painfully fast and we don’t have time to think much about it. People want instant responses. So I miss the days when cutting and pasting was actually cutting with a pair of scissors and pasting something where we could sit down and have time to think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours that helps you be effective?

Jim Tamm
I think noticing an attitude. And then anytime that I have any differences with people I try to ask myself, “What are the interests of everybody involved here?” Those two things make a huge difference, I think, in effectiveness.

Pete Mockaitis
And whenever you notice the attitude, do you mean your own internal attitude?

Jim Tamm
My own attitude whether I have a red zone attitude or a green zone attitude. Am I feeling adversarial? Do I have a chip on my shoulder? Or am I more generous with both myself and other people?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And is there a particular articulation of your message, a nugget that tends to get re-tweeted, or folks really nodding and taking notes when you say it?

Jim Tamm
Well, I think probably that nothing will help you be more effective at collaboration or resolving conflict or building relationships more than better managing our own defensiveness. Of all the things that I’ve seen, years and years of working with people in conflict that’s the single most important thing I think that people can do to improve their effectiveness – better manage their own defensiveness.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Jim Tamm
The Radical Collaboration website, RadicalCollaboration.com. Certainly the book Radical Collaboration goes into all the training that we’ve done and the skills. There’s a set of skills, there’s about five skills and the book goes into all of those. They’re all pretty practical things so people can get a lot out of just reviewing that.

Pete Mockaitis
A particular set of skills, I’m thinking Liam Neeson right now. So thank you. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Jim Tamm
I think start paying attention when they get defensive. There’s a lot you can do about it but everything starts with self-awareness, everything starts with noticing it. So start paying attention to that. If you do that then there’s lots of resources out there whether you’re talking about the TED Talk or the website or books or whatever. But you can’t do anything about it unless you start noticing. So be on the lookout for when you’re getting defensive. Start noticing your reactions. And if you do that it’ll help you a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Jim, this has been so much fun. Thank you for making this time and keep on rocking.

Jim Tamm
My pleasure. Nice talking with you, Pete.

2 Comments

  • Jenna Warner says:

    Hi Pete-
    I’ve been an avid listener for about 3 months. Recently, I began listening to older podcasts that sound particularly interesting. I found this one about defensiveness to be excellent. This spoke directly to me and my tendency to take things too personally. I shared this program on my FB and LinkedIn feeds as well as with colleagues.
    I am grateful for the stellar guests and high value information that you provide.
    Best,
    Jenna

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