323: The Surprising Power of Seeing People as People with Kimberly White

By July 20, 2018Podcasts

 

Kimberly White breaks down why seeing people as people dramatically increases productivity at work and in life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What you miss when you see people as objects
  2. How seeing people as people turbocharges problem-solving
  3. Three ways to change the way you perceive people

About Kimberly

Kimberly White is the perpetually amused mother of some very theatrical children, and the lucky wife of the funniest person she’s ever known. Her nine months of research for The Shift included dozens of hours working alongside nursing home employees in offices, showers, vans, patient rooms, kitchens, and one very creepy basement.

Kimberly earned a degree in philosophy, studying under C. Terry Warner and serving as his longtime research assistant. She was editor of her department’s undergraduate philosophy journal and copy editor for Epoche: A Journal for the History of Philosophy. She has also worked for the Arbinger Institute as a group instructor and as a first-draft editor of Leadership and Self-Deception.

Kimberly’s family recently moved from Harlem to the village of Pawnee, Illinois, where they have gloried in mid-western sunsets and accumulated pets at an alarming rate.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

 

 

Kimberly White Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Kimberly, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Kimberly White
Thank you Pete. I am so glad to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well I think this is going to be a fascinating conversation on all sorts of levels. But first and foremost, I want to hear about your synesthesia. My wife also has it. Tell me how that works for you.

Kimberly White
For me it means that numbers and letters of the alphabet have colors in my mind. It’s consistent over time. But I also have concepts, so like days of the week and places that I’m familiar with and certain holidays appear in my mind in color and also located in space around me that they always appear whenever I think about the concept or the letter or the number. It’s kind of fun. It’s kind of interesting.

The only thing about it that’s proven to be a drawback in my life is that somehow I don’t know how these things develop, but I must have been young when I learned about east and west because the color I have in my head for west is the same color I have in my head for right, as in the right side of my body.

When I’m trying to get directions and people talking about east and west, I always confuse them because the color for west is the same as the color for right, when of course, when you’re reading a map that should be on the left. But I’ve learned that if I’m getting east and west directions, I have to stop and write it down because my brain is going to confuse that. There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
That is fascinating. With my wife, numbers seem to have a color and a gender to them.

Kimberly White
I’ve heard of that.

Pete Mockaitis
As a result, they’re so much more meaningful to her and she’s able to memorize numbers rapidly, whereas I rely on this old school technique of turning each of the numbers into a letter, turn those letters into a word, link those words. I’m thinking hard for like five minutes to memorize a sequence and she just has it in less than one minute.

Kimberly White
Yeah, because it brings in more of the brain. Yeah, mine has not really proven to be helpful, just interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s also interesting to me is you recently made a move to central Illinois, right?

Kimberly White
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s Pawnee, Illinois, not to be confused with Pawnee, Indiana, the fictitious home of Leslie Knope in Parks and Rec.

Kimberly White
No and that’s what everybody asks me. All I can say is a) I wish and b) my Pawnee is much, much smaller.

Now, what’s crazy is we moved here from Manhattan.

Pete Mockaitis
That is crazy.

Kimberly White
We actually lived in Harlem. It was the biggest city. It’s all very cosmopolitan. And everybody’s a doctor or an artist or an opera singer. Everybody has tiny, little tiny places to live, but sort of big jobs and big dreams. We moved out here to farm country and it’s like being in a different country, but it’s great. It’s a great different country. We’ve been very, very happy here.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. The motivation for the move was just to have just less distraction and to be able to do more writing?

Kimberly White
Partially that and the money.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Kimberly White
I love New York, but it is so expensive to live there. Rents just go up and up and up. We just we got priced out.

Pete Mockaitis
I think beyond just the sheer income versus outgo, it would just irritate me. Writing checks that large ore paying this much for a drink or for milk or whatever you’re buying, like, “This is ridiculous,” grumble, grumble.

Kimberly White
It’s really true. I would be happy – if I saw a gallon of milk for five dollars, I’d say, “Hurray, it’s only five dollars.” This was two years ago. I’m sure milk is seven dollars now. It really did wear on you after a while, but there were lots of great things about the city too. Wonderful people.

New Yorkers get a really bad rap. It’s mostly deserved, but there are really, really good things about New Yorkers. They’re very loyal.

I’m always telling people who wanted to go visit, they always want advice from somebody who’s lived there, I tell them, “Do not be afraid to ask somebody on the street for directions. New Yorkers are really friendly that way. But don’t stop in the middle of the street and block them from walking. Then they’ll be really mad.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh right, walking too slow. That’s the cardinal sin.

Kimberly White
Don’t walk too slow. Don’t do that. Just don’t. Don’t do it. Don’t stop at the top of the subway stairs. Don’t do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy. Well, that’s a lot of fun. That’s the backdrop.

Kimberly White
There we are.

Pete Mockaitis
Then I’m going to get some more backdrop. You have a good bit of experience collaborating with the Arbinger Institute. Can you orient those who are not yet familiar? What’s this organization all about?

Kimberly White
The Arbinger Institute is a management consulting company. They’re a philosophy. They’re management consulting approach is based on the work of a philosopher named Terry Warner, who founded the company decades ago before I was involved with them.

Their approach is to teach leaders and managers how to see the people that they’re responsible for, and the people that they work with, and the people that report to them as real people not just as sort of cogs in the corporate machine.

They have found over the years that you can do a lot to improve productivity and avoid infighting and the sort of battles that develop between different departments and so on just by taking this approach.
I worked with them in college. They have a very popular book called Leadership and Self-Deception that was written about that time. I was involved. I didn’t write the book but I looked at the first draft, edited it. I was involved with the first couple of drafts of that book. It’s still worth reading today. Your listeners should check it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh absolutely. It is worth reading. I heard several guests cite this as one of their top, top books. It’s like; I’ve got to check this thing out. I actually listened to the audio version. I still hear that guy’s voice in my head sometimes, like, “You’re in the box. … going to get out of the box.”

Kimberly White
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s really powerful stuff. I was intrigued just because it’s one of the few books that I know of that doesn’t have an author listed as the person, but it’s like the entire organization.

I always try to figure out this is a great book. Who should I get to talk about it on the show? Well, it’s like I don’t know because there’s not an author I can snag. You’re sort of like behind the veil of mystery as an editor.

Kimberly White
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s something special.

Kimberly White
I know. Yes. It’s very interesting. They did that on purpose. They were very considered about that. They have a few other books out now. Usually they are primarily written by one person in the company, but they all sort of collaborate together and work on it together.

They made the decision – and this is a very Arbinger thing to do. They made the decision to have all of their books be authored by the Institute and not by the individuals so that the credit for the ideas would be shared. There wouldn’t be one person, for example, who’s doing all the podcasts. That was their point.

You’ll notice in my book that I’ve written we had the same sort of issue. It’s primarily a profile of one company and they didn’t want their name to be primary. They wanted the stories and the insights to be sort of more universal. More important, they didn’t want to feel uncomfortable offering the book to their competitors and other people in the same industry. They just wanted the ideas to stand for themselves.

That’s why there’s this veil of mystery, as you call it, is to keep it even and to keep the focus on the ideas and the work and to make it as accessible for any one person as for anybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool and that’s interesting. It just really feels like it’s really based upon true values. I think it just makes it, well, I guess from a marketing perspective, all the more intriguing. It’s like I’ve got to see what this is about.

Kimberly White
You can tell that they’re really living what they preach. They have the kind of collaborative relationship that they teach other people how to have.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. You’re telling me that the name of the organization is not the real name of the organization?

Kimberly White
It is not. That just stands for Healthcare Group.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got it. The mystery continues. Cool.

Kimberly White
Yeah, such a mystery.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s sort of the backstory. Then can you orient us a little bit. We talked about the main principle or concept is people as people. Can you give us a little bit more background on just sort of the conceptual piece and then I want to hear how it came alive for HG. I said the box a couple of times, could you maybe unpack just a couple of those foundational concepts?

Kimberly White
Yeah, let’s clarify all of those. Especially because the subtitle of my book is How Seeing People as People Changes Everything. The question I get all the time is how else am I going to see them. Obviously they’re people. It does bear talking about.

The point isn’t that Arbinger or I, anybody thinks that anyone really doesn’t know that people are people and thinks of them as subhuman or anything like that. That’s not what we’re talking about.

But the point is this, when I am focused and kind of obsessed with my own interests and my goals and the things I’m trying to accomplish and my fears and my dreams, when that’s the only thing that I’m caring about and thinking about, then the people around me only enter my thoughts in so far as they have an impact on the things I’m trying to accomplish. I don’t think about them beyond that.

If I’m trying to get a promotion at work, then my coworkers, I only even see them as far as they impact that. She might be a competitor, someone else who’s trying to get that promotion. That’s all I see. This is a person I’m competing with. How do I drag her down? How do I make myself look good in comparison to her?

He might not be in the running for the promotion. He kind of likes me and maybe he’ll say something good about me to the higher ups, so I only see him in so far as I can use him for that purpose. Now, the reason we say that seeing people like that is like seeing them as objects is because it reduces them to functional.

Pete Mockaitis
Only if you’re there.

Kimberly White
Yeah. Objects, they come from the factory. They’re supposed to perform something. If I’ve got a pen, it came from the factory. It only exists for me to be able to write with it. If I can write with it, then I’m happy with it. If my friend at work will praise me to the higher ups, then I’m happy with him. I don’t think any further about it.

If my pen is broken, then I’m mad and I’m frustrated and maybe I’ll throw it away. I might lick it, shake it, whatever, because it’s just an object. What I don’t do with a pen is think “I wonder what happened to make the pen feel bad. I wonder if I can talk it into providing-“ no, because it’s not a person. It doesn’t have feelings. It doesn’t have thoughts. It’s just an object.

But I find myself treating other people that way too because-

Pete Mockaitis
You lick them. You shake them.

Kimberly White
Yeah, you lick them, you shake them, try to get them to do it and see how – and if they don’t do what I want, then I’m just mad and I get rid of them.

But the person who’s a competitor for the promotion for me in the office, that is not why she exists. She doesn’t exist to compete with me. She has her own life. She grew up somewhere. She has perspective. She has a culture she came from. She had hurts when she was young and triumphs and all of these things have made her the person she is. She has her own goals and her own reasons.

There are just thousands of things inside her mind and in her life having her act the way she does and bringing her to this point. But when I’m only thinking about myself, I don’t see any of that in her. All I see is “I want a promotion, she might get in my way,” just like she was a pen that wasn’t producing ink.

When we see people as objects like that, the problem is obviously, that’s not fair to her. She doesn’t exist for me. He doesn’t exist for me. It’s not fair to people. They don’t like that feeling of being seen like an object, but it’s also false. When I see somebody, just a thin sliver of what they’re … me and that’s all I care about, then I’m missing a lot.

She might have a very good reason for wanting this promotion. She might … fit for the promotion than I am or maybe not, but I don’t know. As long as all I can see is that she’s a competitor, like an object competitor, I can’t see anything else and there are bound to be important things that I’m missing.

That’s why in the Arbinger materials, you’ll find them talking about being in the box because when we see other people as though they were just objects, our perspective is so limited that it’s like being locked in a box where we can only see a few things. I can only see the stuff that matters to my goals. I can’t see anything else. It’s a way of being blinkered.

In my book I talk about it as being kind of blind because we miss so many important and crucial things and it leaves us unable to solve problems and build relationships when we’re seeing others in that shallow object-like way.

Pete Mockaitis
When you talk about being blinkered and blind, what this is reminding me of is some study that I think it looked at brain scans associated with people who are looking at pornography.

What was sort of troubling there is that sort of the same parts of the brain associated with using an object or tool like a hammer or a saw or something were being activated and lit up sort of in that context when they were looking at images of people, which is really spooky that there’s some sort of physical or biochemical stuff happening just inside of us that’s there.

Blindness really does seem like an apt terminology because it’s kind of like a physical dysfunction or disability.

Kimberly White
Yes, there’s just so much we miss. Nobody has ever studied the Arbinger term specifically, but they have done studies and they’ve shown similar things when you’re part of an in group and there’s an out group that you have a conflict with, like racial groups or gang members from different affiliations that you find, again, the same thing.

You find different regions of the brain activated for the people that you’re seeing as objects and as enemies than for the ones that are part of your in group and that you care about.

Like I said, this specifically hasn’t been studied, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it would show up in a brain scan because we do, we get so blinded and so blinkered when we are self-absorbed and not seeing the people around us as people.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m right with you there that it doesn’t sound like a pleasant way to live and experience collaboration and interaction with people. But if that were enough for the hardcore achievers, what are some of the results or performance impacts associated with making this mental shift?

Kimberly White
Oh gosh, it’s so crazy because I think it’s easy to hear something like this and think, “Hm, yeah, but having to get to know people, that takes time and I’ve got to earn money and I’ve got a deadline,” as though seeing people as people is going to take more time and it yields uncertain benefits.

But it is absolutely the opposite. I have seen so many cases where seeing people as objects has led to all kinds of conflict and wasted time. In my book, it’s primarily focused on the healthcare industry.

One thing that’s very, very common in health care environments is the management – it being responsible management – will sort of look at their budget and all the things that are going in and out and notice that they spent a lot on supplies, gloves and adult briefs, and wipes and things like that and will say, “Hey, I think we’re using too many. Let’s try to restrict this a little bit and try to save money on our supplies.”

The problem is that the nurses and the nursing assistants who have to deal with the patients face-to-face, one-on-one, that’s a horrifying idea to them because what are they going to do if somebody needs  a change or they need their wound looked at or they need to be rolled over and the nurse has run out of gloves. You can’t even touch a patient without gloves. There’s so many things they wouldn’t be able to do.

The nurses become panicked and the first thing they do – and this is so common – they’ll sort of sneak the supplies out of the closet and go hide them around the patient rooms. They’ll hide them in places so that each individual nurse knows that she has enough supplies for her patients. But they all do this because they’ve all been told we’re cutting back on supplies.

Then management comes and they look at it and they go, “Wait, we’re still overusing our supplies,” and they yell at the nurses and they give them lectures. They have a big in service meeting to talk about how important it is. The nurses go, “Oh my gosh,” and they hide more stuff because they’re afraid of losing their supplies and not being able to care for their patients.

This happens so frequently and things like this happen in every business as departments feud for resources and as reports try to sneak things from their boss if they feel like budgets are being constrained.

This problem only arises because the management isn’t trusting the nurses to be responsible with the supplies and the nurses aren’t trusting the management to purchase the amount of supplies they truly need, so they’re back and forth and everybody is upset and angry.

You end up spending a lot of time, and meetings, and a lot of emotional energy trying to solve this supply problem that should be going toward your actual product, which is taking care of the patients, taking care of their rooms.

When you get leaders who are willing to back out of that conflict and say, “We’re on the same side here. Let’s work together to talk about things where we can save money. How many supplies do you realistically need? I’ll make sure you have them,” then you don’t have those problems. That hording issue completely disappears when the people trust each other.

Now, no nurse, no janitor, nobody who’s on the housekeeping staff, none of these people are going to trust leadership that doesn’t value them. If I know that my boss basically just sees me as an object, I am not going to trust him. I’m not going to trust her. I’m going to feel like those nurses and I’m going to feel like I need to hoard my resources and hoard my stuff.

When you can really see people as people as a leader, you get so much more productivity, so much more cooperation, so much more openness from the people that you’re working with because people can tell that the difference. They know. They know when you’re seeing them as an object. They know when you don’t matter to them.

You can save all kinds of energy and money, frankly, because you don’t need to spend that much on supplies if everybody is being honest about where they’re going.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. You talked about resources in different environments. I’m aware of an employee who it’s kind of challenging to type all day at a laptop, so this person wants to use speech software.

They have speech software, but the laptop is underpowered in terms of RAM or hard drive space or whatever is necessary to run the thing and making the request to get the computer you need to do the work is just nightmarish in terms of the policies and the standards.

Kimberly White
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
You can have me operating at sort of half-power, which is going to amount to 30 – 40 – 50 K a year of lost productivity.

Kimberly White
Of loss, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Or you can pay 500 bucks to get me a RAM and a hard drive update and I’ll be a happy camper.

Kimberly White
Right. I’ll be happy. I’ll be pleased. I’ll get my work done instead of gripping about my computer. I think so many, especially business leaders and managers, underestimate how much time is lost in complaining and in gripping and in just sort of being unhappy.

Here’s a little experiment for you. If you think about somebody that you don’t like, somebody that’s irritating and drives you crazy. Just think about how much time you’ve spent in your life just basically sitting and thinking how annoying that person is or complaining to somebody else about how annoying they are. Calling your mom, “Oh, did I tell you what so and so did today.”

We actually spend a lot of time on that and not nearly as much when we trust and value people. That doesn’t take away from our work. We don’t devote the same kind of energy to it. We tend to devote that kind of energy into working together.

I was in a building – this is in my book too – where I met two nurses. They’re both male. They were just so happy in their job. They were so happy where they worked. They were so happy with the way they were treated by management and they created this entire environment where all of the employees were supportive and helpful.

One of these guys actually had a second job in another facility that actually paid him more per hour, but he wouldn’t give up this job because it was so pleasant. He enjoyed it so much. Talk about productivity increase, talk about engagement, talk about motivation.

We spend so much time and energy trying to get employees to feel engaged, to be motivated, to be committed, to reduce turnover, all of these things. People will stay where they’re happy, where they feel valued, and where they know their feelings and their hopes, and their dreams, and their perspective matter, especially when they feel like they matter to the management.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. I’m thinking of another instance in which an employee shared all sorts of input on sort of the process and the use of contractors and how they could do a better job executing a certain area of work.

Then one or two days later, they started up doing the exact same old process with the exact same problematic contractors, threw this person into a meeting and is absorbing this with not a word of acknowledgement about the exchange.

Like, “Hey, I know what you said about the contractors and we’re really working on that, but it’s … right now, so we’re going to have to go with who we’ve got because we can’t get someone else quick enough,” just 20 seconds.

Kimberly White
That’s all it would take.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, “Hey, I heard you.”

Kimberly White
Right. But here’s the thing and here’s why the Arbinger approach and the stuff I talk about in my book I think are so important, it’s because that kind of thing, just being willing to take the time to explain what’s going on kind of arises naturally when you really see the people around you as people.

When you care about your coworkers, when you care about their feelings, you would always make those clarifications. You would never just ignore them. That’s how we treat the people that we care about. That’s how we treat our friends.

It’s in this environment where we just see our coworkers as objects, as other cogs in the machine that you end up kind of either feeling awkward about it or not knowing how to bring it up, all these sort of things that people end up doing that stops them from saying what they really should say. Those sorts of things arise in an environment where we see people as objects.

When we care about people, when we know them – this is one of the things that this company HG in the shift did so well – is they trained their leaders not in some process that made employees feel valued, not in some procedure that would make people think that they mattered, but they would literally tell them.

When a manager went into a new building for the …, he or she was instructed for the first 30 days or thereabouts they weren’t allowed to do anything except get to know the staff and the people. They weren’t allowed to change processes. They weren’t allowed to make new plans. They weren’t allowed to change their suppliers. They just spent all of their time getting to know people.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny. I’m imagining myself as that manager, like, “What an awesome month. This is just going to be fun.”

Kimberly White
Right?

Pete Mockaitis
“I can just get to know people. I cannot stress about lots of stuff.” It’s almost like having an extended vacation, hanging out with cool people.

Kimberly White
Right. Although, I’ll tell you. They continually had a problem that these managers couldn’t stand not to be solving problems because they’re managers. They wanted to go in and fix problems, so they had to make it so that they’d have to report on who they met that day and report on what they learned about people.

They’d also have to report on problems that they saw but didn’t fix because otherwise they’d go around fixing problems, which is I think just sort of a manager thing. But they would do this. They would legitimately do this.

Thirty days later – I mean just imagine. If you worked for a bad company – a lot of the time there would be these bad healthcare facilities that were losing money and they failed health inspections and they were not pleasant places to be in.

Then HG would come in, buy the facility, bring in a new manager and turn them around. That’s how they grow. That’s how they earn their money.

Now if somebody comes in, which is typical in the industry and in most industries, if a new boss comes in and just says, “You’re doing this wrong and that wrong, and this process is bad, and this person is bad. I’m going to fire a bunch of people, bring in all my own guys, tell you guys that you’re all doing it wrong.” The employees that stay just feel so insulted by that.

You might as well come in and say, “Everything you’re doing is wrong. You’re stupid,” because that’s how it feels. We got a new boss and he hates everything I’m doing. He thinks everything I’m doing is wrong. He’s firing my friends. It’s really demoralizing. It’s really, really difficult. It’s hard enough to get a new boss even if he’s great.

They would send these people in and they would spend 30 days just getting to know people. At the end of 30 days, you’ve got a staff that isn’t thinking, “He thinks I’m dumb. He hates me. He’s got all these new processes. We tried that last year. We already know it didn’t work.” They don’t disdain him. They are fond of him.

They know that he knows them. He can greet them by name because he spent all month getting to know people. He knows who has kids. He knows who works a second job. He knows who’s going back to school to get a nursing degree.

When you’re in an environment like that where people know each other and you know the boss cares about your job. When I say everybody, I mean everybody: the kitchen, the housekeeping staff, everybody. If you wash dishes in one of these facilities, the boss knows you.

Thirty days later, the boss would say – and this is the second important piece to the HG approach – the boss would gather all of his department heads and the leaders of the facility and ask them what they thought they needed to work on in the building.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Kimberly White
Now, instead of this new guy coming in and telling them all of the things they’re doing wrong and giving them a new process, he’s saying, “What do you think we can do better?” You know what? They always know. The people who are in this building, they know why it’s not making money. They know why it’s failed the health inspection.

They can feel perfectly free just to say, “I think our billing is inefficient. I think this process is too slow,” because they don’t have to feel defensive about it because nobody is attacking them.

I couldn’t find anybody who said there was a big problem that the leader had identified that the staff didn’t identify. They always get it.

Then the leader too. Now he’s a guy or she’s a girl who not only knows everybody on her staff, top to bottom, but also she has proven to herself that they know what they’re doing, that they know what the problems are, that they’re smart about identifying problems and solutions.

When she goes forward as a boss over the next years, she’s doing it with people that she trusts, that she values, that she knows, and people that she knows she can count on.

That kind of a work environment, where the boss isn’t pretending, doesn’t have an initiative, doesn’t have a binder that he’s looking at to try to make you feel good, but where the boss genuinely values you and can go into the kitchen and speak to the dishwasher by name and tell him he’s doing a great job.

The amount of dedication and hard work that these people put into their buildings is incredible. They work longer hours. They do more. They go out of their way. They do things that aren’t in their job description. They cover for each other when they’re on vacation.

I saw business behavior I would not have believed and I saw it all the time because people want to be friendly, people want to be helpful when they feel safe, when they feel like they matter, and when they know that they’re a real person to everyone around them. Then they treat each other that way. It kind of spreads.

That it’s not just – you bring in one boss who’s willing to make that 30-day effort to get to know people and treat them like they’re intelligent and like their input is good input, then everybody else becomes more willing to treat their coworkers that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a beautiful picture that you’re painting. It’s inspiring. It’s a beautiful thing. This just sparks so many things.

When we talk about sort of efficiency, many things came up. One, people are going to work at a lower wage when they’re just feeling great about the environment around them. Two, you’re coming up with all of these solutions and I’m thinking about my management consulting days. One month of a manager’s compensation is less than one month of Bain & Company fees.

Kimberly White
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
To come up with a bunch of solutions.

Kimberly White
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
In a way it’s massively efficient if it’s like we’re looking for leveraged approaches to getting solutions, we can hire the consultants or we can hire a manger who does nothing but get to know people for a month. It sounds like odds are strong you may come away with a bigger ROI on that month there than you would with a consultant or other solution finding approach.

Kimberly White
Yeah, HG is convinced that their financial success is largely due to this willingness to invest initially.

Like I said, so many people want to come in, snap their fingers, make a bunch of changes in the first 30 days, first 100 days.

In fact, I met a woman who had worked for a different company doing exactly that, going into facilities. She had 100 days to turn them around and make them profitable. She was a powerhouse. She was so fierce. She did that and made a ton of money. But she heard about HG and their way of doing things and got hired with them. When I … that she doesn’t make as much money … fixer.

But the reason she made the switch because she would go to these big meetings with the executives at the previous company and she had made them millions of dollars. She is so good. She had made them tons of money. Not one of them knew her name, not one of them. Over at HG, they all did. Even the executives made sure to get to know people and meet them. It’s a top down all the way thing.

There you go. She was making tons of money, more money than they could afford to pay her at this other … company. She left and they got her skills because she would rather be in an environment where she was valued.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. What you’re painting really does sound like a paradise, but you’ve got a chapter called The Paradise Delusion, so what’s the other side of this coin?

Kimberly White
Yup, yup. Oh my goodness, so yeah, we’re talking here about all of the good stuff and it behooves me to say none of this means that they didn’t have problems at HG. They still had turnover. You just always are going to have turnover in healthcare. They would still have government restrictions coming.

They dealt with things. None of this means that you’re not going to have problems, but you’re never going to have different departments needing or wanting different things. It just means that when those things happen, when you have people who really value each other, they can work it out in a way you can’t if everybody’s just an object to each other. You beat heads.

But as paradise delusion is concerned, the thing is very often when we are seeing people around us as objects and we’re unhappy and I would suggest that if we’re seeing the people around us as objects, we’re invariably going to be unhappy because objects are so stifling.

I found in my personal life as I went into HG and … these people and saw these friendly, familial work environments where people cared about each other and so on, it made me feel so much worse about my home life, which was very unhappy at the time.

I began to think, “Oh, I wish my husband would be like this person at this facility. I wish that my kids were as well-behaved as these people at this facility. I wish that my neighbors and coworkers were as … as these people.”

I called it a paradise delusion because I became convinced that what I needed to become happy in my life was to be surrounded by people who were going to be kind to …. I think that’s not at all uncommon when we’re unhappy, to feel like what I need is different people, different, nicer people who are going to value me again.

The reason that’s a delusion is because for one thing it’s never, ever, ever, ever going to happen, that there’s anybody on earth who’s completely surrounded by people who are always nice to him or her all of the time. Can’t be done. We are human beings. Nobody is nice all of the time. No group of people are all going to be nice all at the same time. It’s just never going to happen.

The second thing is when I think that paradise means everyone is going to be kind to me; I’m only thinking about myself. I’m thinking about what I want. I’m thinking about how I wish my husband would treat me, but in all of that – and maybe he is doing things that are unkind – but in thinking that way, I’m not sparing any mental energy to wonder what my husband wants.

What does he want from a spouse? What would he like for me to be doing? Does he want a nicer spouse? See that never crossed my mind. All I was thinking about is how I want other people around me to be different. I never thought about how they might want me to be different.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. Well, so let’s get zoomed in shall we in terms of an individual professional in the heat of battle, if you will, in their workplace. What are some of the real keys to making the shift?

Kimberly White
Okay, first of all you have to be present with people. You have to be around them, especially if you’re a leader. You can’t get to know people if they’re always in their offices and you’re always in your office. You have to get to know people and take effort.

Usually that will mean asking questions. Where did you go to school? How do you like your job? What are you interested in? What do you do for your spare time? You can ask questions of people and get to know them.

There’s no way a person can be a real person for you if you don’t know anything about them. You have to start there. You have to start with finding out about them so that you know what’s relevant and what bothers them in their life.

At HG, you’ll see this in the book, they train their leaders to ask people

Kimberly White
“What makes your job hard for you?” because it validates them in the fact that there are things that are going to be hard, but then as a leader you know what the difficulties are. Instead of sitting back frustrated that people aren’t getting things in on time, you can just find out why is it hard to get things in on time. Then you know. Very often you can do something about it.

This works in personal life too. Why do you always forget to bring the milk home? Instead of just being mad and yelling at the person who isn’t doing what they’re asked, “Why is that hard?” You might find out there’s something you can do about it. You might find out there’s something you didn’t know that was going on in the background.

Asking questions is absolutely the first step. You get to know people and particularly find out if there’s something that’s irritating to you or something that’s a problem from your perspective, find out from them why it’s difficult. It’s a very, very humbling thing to do.

The second thing is to pay attention. You can’t fake caring about somebody. You can’t fake that they’re valuable to you. You can try and people see through it. It’s a waste of time, so don’t bother.

Ask the questions and pay attention. Watch people. Is this a cheerful person? Is this a grumpy person? See what’s going on. Then if there’s a change, you’ll notice it. If there’s a change, you’ll see it.

None of us want to be that person who … ten years later they suddenly woke up one day and said, “Oh my goodness, I never noticed how much he changed. I never noticed how much she had changed.” We need to pay attention as we go and notice the changes as they happen.

The third thing I would say is to always be willing to consider whether I am the problem because I don’t know what the problem is, you see. It’s quite possible that it’s me.

Talking about the paradise delusion with our coworkers or spouses or neighbors, we can be very irritated by something that they’re doing and wish that they would change and wish that they would be better, but we can never solve these problems and improve these relationships until we’re willing to recognize what we are doing that’s irritating to them.

When I am willing and able to say, “What am I doing that’s a problem for you?” that opens up the possibility of truly being able to fix these relationships that can’t be fixed as long as the only problem I’m willing to recognize is the one that they’re causing me.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, there’s just a lot of profundity here to sit with. I think I’ll be listening to this episode multiple times and I recommend listeners do the same.

Kimberly White
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s a few more pieces I want to get if you have some time.

Kimberly White
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
You say it’s possible that our worst employees can actually be the best. How does that work?

Kimberly White
Well, it goes back to the blindness we were talking about. When we see somebody as an object, we don’t really know what they’re capable of.

Some of the time, my experience has shown, that a person who is being a bad employee, who is acting out, who is resistant to instruction, all these things that make an employee difficult to deal with, very often those are people who react very … against being treated like an object. Very often these are people who are just very resistant to that feeling and can’t … that feeling.

Then when they’re treated well, when you begin to get to know them, and understand them and see where they’re coming from, there isn’t anything wrong with them as an employee. Their devotion to the work is great. Their knowledge is great. Their skills are wonderful. They just were so troubled by being treated like an object.

This is a funny story in my book. The founders of HG, their company, it became a running joke for them. When they would purchase a new facility and go in, they told me that invariably, invariably, the previous owners would tell them, “Well, watch out for so-and-so and so-and-so and so-and-so because they’re such trouble.” They’d give them like five names.

He said invariably when they went in and stated doing things this way, seeing people as people and started off by getting to know them and doing all that that most of those people on the watch-out-for list turned into their best employees.

We can’t make judgments about people while we’re seeing them as objects because there’s no way of knowing how much of their behavior is just a reaction to the very fact that I’m seeing them as an object.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s powerful. I have to ask, even though it feels a little too silly from the heavy, powerful stuff we’ve had, but you’ve got a chapter that has poop in the title.

Kimberly White
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I can’t just walk away from that. What’s the story here?

Kimberly White
No, you can’t. It’s the poop chapter. I couldn’t believe my publisher let me do that. I’ll tell you why. It’s stilly, but it’s also profound I think.

This story is in the book too, but I was in a facility early, early on, the very beginning of this research, before I understood a lot these things that we’d been talking about. I learned it from these people. But I was in this facility and I was talking to a nursing assistant who didn’t speak very good English. I remember her so clearly.

Now, nursing assistants are the ones who change beds and for people who are incontinent, they change the briefs. They’ll help people to the toilet – somebody who needs to be rolled over or helped out of bed, they do all that sort of very close and physical work.

I had developed a habit of asking everybody that I met what was the best part of their job and what was the worst part of their job. I was asking this woman, “What’s the worst part of your job?” She paused for a minute and she told me that the worst part was when her patients pass away, which was just astonishing to me. I didn’t know that the people who worked in these places cared that deeply for one thing.

But the second thing was I knew what nursing assistants did, so I knew for a fact, we all know, that it’s got to be like changing the diapers and doing the poop and the diarrhea and stuff. That’s got to be the worst part. I asked her, like maybe she’d forgotten, “What about the diapers and stuff?” She looked at me like I was crazy. She said, “No, no, that’s for their dignity.”

I realized that for me poop was just this gross thing that I didn’t want to touch and that made me not want to work in healthcare because you might have to see some of that stuff and that’s yucky.

But that’s not what it was for her. Because the people that she cared for were real people to her, she didn’t see it as yucky, gross poop. To her it was well, these people, their bodies are failing them. I can help keep them dignified if I assist them with the toilet, if I keep them clean. I’m making them clean and safe and happy.

It wasn’t remotely the worst part of the job to her because it was what real people, people that she cared for, it was what real people needed.

The point of that chapter and the point of talking about poop at all is just to show how different everything, everything about other people looks when we can see them as they really are.

An object person, yes, their diapers are gross, but a real person with a life history who chats with me about their kids and tells me stories of the past and maybe tells me jokes, with that person if their body is aging and doesn’t function for them, it’s not the same thing at all. It becomes a sense of I want to help clean them up, make sure they don’t feel embarrassed.

It’s even the feces is different when we see people as people.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. This is just so good.

Kimberly White
Thank you. Thank you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you share a little bit when you’re in the midst of things, I think that many of us want to, we aspire to care about people regularly and then we get caught up in our own stuff and we get defensive and such. Do you have any tactical tips for when you’re in the moment, in the heat of it, what are some great ways that you can kind of quickly bring yourself back to a caring position?

Kimberly White
Oh my gosh. You’re asking the wrong person. I am so bad. But there’s a chapter about this too. It was one of the most disappointing things – one of the hardest things, but it turned out to be wonderful about learning all this stuff and this shift and seeing people as people.

It turns out I’m still just kind of me. I’m still just kind of a jerk. I can still fight. I can still see people as objects. I didn’t just magically turn into a fairy princess who scatters flowers around. It was very disappointing. I thought I was going to be better.

I actually think the first thing to do is just to remember human beings have faults. The other people around us are going to have faults. We shouldn’t condemn them for that and neither should we condemn ourselves. We can always fix the situation later. You can always apologize. There’s no sense in getting depressed when we find ourselves doing the jerky thing that we know we’re prone to do.

The second thing is when it’s a relationship that’s pivotal in your life, a spouse or a coworker or something that’s likely to come up a lot, then I would really, really recommend spending time –

We were talking before about the amount of time we spend griping about people that annoy us, try to spend an equal amount of time or even any amount of time thinking about the person that annoys you the most and what in their life, what pains and sorrows, and frustrations might be leading them to behave in a way that you find so difficult.

Then you have that place to go to. In the moment when you find yourself frustrated, you’ve already thought about that person as a person and instead of trying to generate that when you’re already upset, which I can tell you I don’t do very well, I don’t think most of us do.

But if I’ve already thought about it and already found a way to see that person as a person, and even please, taken some steps to show them, steps of kindness, to demonstrate the caring that I have, then when I find myself irritated, frustrated, grumpy, I have that mindset present to me. I can go there.

I can remind myself, “Okay, take a deep breath. Remember that she just got over being ill and she takes a medication.” “He was really disappointed last week at his performance, no wonder he’s stressed right now.” You can remind yourself of the things you know about the person that will make them seem human to you.

We do not have to just fall back into that, “He’s so annoying.” “She’s such a brat,” kind of way of thinking. We have the power because we run our own minds, we have the power to remind ourselves of the things we know about the person that are real, that are true, and that are human.

Then if you can’t do much in the moment, don’t be afraid to apologize. People love to get apologies and to make an acknowledgement of what I’ve done wrong. Nobody ever minds, ever, ever, ever will mind hearing, “I’m sorry. I messed that up.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Kimberly White
You’re quite welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell me, Kimberly, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Kimberly White
Oh, we’ve had such a great conversation, Pete. I think we’ve covered everything. I just want to emphasize again how much power we have over our own lives and our own relationships.  The seeing people as people stuff, that’s not only for people who were born cheerful. It’s not only for people who were born calm. That is a decision we get to make in every moment of our lives.

Am I just going to sit back and think about myself and everybody around me gets to be an object or am I going to say, “Wait. What’s he thinking? What’s she thinking?” It doesn’t take any skills. It doesn’t take a degree. It doesn’t take a particular upbringing. That is just a choice we get to make. It’s a choice that will change everything in our lives if we’re willing to make it.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Kimberly White
Well, it was just so powerful to me. One of the founders of this company was talking to me about motivating employees. He said that he’s against trying to motivate employees. He said this, “Leadership is like a fire.  A good leader doesn’t come in and blow on the flame and take credit. He sees the flame that’s already there and clears away debris to let it grow.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful, thank you.

Kimberly White
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Now how about a favorite book?

Kimberly White
The Remains of the Day. Are you familiar with that one?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know a lot about it, but I know the title. It’s ringing a bell.

Kimberly White
Yeah, and they made a movie of it. No, it is a story about a man who devoted his whole life and made tremendous and painful personal sacrifices thinking he was on the right side of history and it turned out he was not and sort of had to confront that in his old age.

I just am so moved by the human experience and just the disappointments we all have just because we’re flawed human beings. We don’t have to have lived the perfect life. Humanity isn’t about getting it right. It’s just about being human.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Kimberly White
I like to eat a chocolate smoothie in my bed and read with my door locked. I will read anything. Mostly I read non-fiction. But the chocolate smoothie just puts that over the edge, I’m telling you. It’s like ice cream without the guilt.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with people when you share it?

Kimberly White
You asked great questions and brought out all the good stuff.

One thing that resonates a lot with people is this little tidbit. Before I started working on this book, I was headed for divorce. I was so unhappy. I thought this was going to be the way to make the money I needed to be independent and split. Now, I am happily married to the same man.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Thank you.

Kimberly White
In case you’re wondering, does this really work? Yeah, it does actually. It really, really, really does. It’s not just pie in the sky. It’s not just quotable quotes. Life can be different. Life can be better than we tend to think. Humans are awesome. Ordinary people have so much capacity and so much greatness inside them. We’re surrounded by it. We can produce it and we can see it in others and it’s just miraculous.

Pete Mockaitis
If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Kimberly White
I would point them to my website, KimberlyWhiteBooks.com. That’s books plural. My book, The Shift: How Seeing People as People Changes Everything is available at all major book sellers. For leaders, I recommend 800-CEO-Read. For everybody else, go to Amazon and you probably will anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Kimberly White
Yes. If you want to be awesome at your job, start by finding out where you’re not awesome. If you’re not willing to … and fix them, you can never be awesome at your job. Find what it is, fix it, and ask somebody at work. They’ll be able to tell you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Kimberly, thank you so much for taking this time and sharing the goods. It’s powerful stuff and I’m excited to see what transformations emerge from it. Please keep doing the great work that you’re doing.

Kimberly White
Thank you so much. It’s been just delightful to be with you.

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