Michael Reddington shares valuable skills–learned from having engaged in many interrogations–that make you a more observant listener and influential communicator.
- The trick to staying focused and attentive
- The subtle conversation cues to look out for
- How to ask better questions to get better answers
Michael Reddington, CFI is a certified forensic interviewer and the President of InQuasive, Inc., a company that integrates the key components of effective non-confrontational interview techniques with current business research for executives. Using his background in forensics, and his understanding of human behavior through interrogation, Reddington teaches businesses to use the truth to their advantage.
Reddington received his bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from Southern New Hampshire University, and received additional education on negotiation and leadership degree from Harvard University. He currently lives in Waxhaw, NC.
- Book: The Disciplined Listening Method: How A Certified Forensic Interviewer Unlocks Hidden Value in Every Conversation
- Website: DisciplinedListening.com
- Website: InQuasive.com
- Website: MichaelReddington.com
- LinkedIn: Michael Reddington
- Book: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
- Book: Pre-Suasion: Channeling Attention for Change by Robert Cialdini
- Book: Care to Dare: Unleashing Astonishing Potential Through Secure Base Leadership by Duncan Coombe, George Kohlrieser, Susan Goldsworthy
- Book: Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain by Seven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
- Past episode: 341: Decoding Body Language with ex-FBI Special Agent Joe Navarro
- Past episode: 664: Dr. Robert Cialdini on How to Persuade with the 7 Universal Principles of Influence
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Michael, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.
Thank you for having me here, Pete. I appreciate it.
Well, I’m excited to hear your wisdom associated with listening and interviewing. And, maybe, could you kick us off with a riveting story about an interrogation you did and what went down?
Well, could we start off with a riveting story about an interrogation that you did and what happened?
Riveting story. So, now I have to come up with extra drama to make sure we put into the retelling of it. I think the one that jumps first to mind for me was, years ago, I was in the Midwest and I received a call from the owner of an organization that, it’s no overstatement, was in a bit of desperate straits. As part of their operation, they sold firearms. And as part of an organization that sells firearms, you’re subject to periodic audits from the federal government to make sure that you’re doing everything you’re supposed to and securing firearms the way you’re supposed to. And as part of this unannounced federal audit, the auditors who were from the ATF found that two firearms were missing.
So, the agents who, I mean, I wasn’t there. I can’t speak for the techniques that they used, but they were unable, with their initial efforts, to learn who may have been responsible for taking those guns, so they passed it on to the local police who were also unable to determine who was responsible for taking those guns. And the case languished, I believe, if I recall correctly, for eight weeks.
Oh, dear. That’s kind of spooky.
Yeah, for not knowing where these could be. And when you think about why those would be stolen, to oversimplify it, it’s either for money or to be used. So, not that either is good, but we certainly don’t want them to be used. So, about eight weeks had gone by, they reached out to my former company, I ended up having the conversation with them about potentially going out to handle it.
So, I flew out. Met with the owner of the facility and reviewed the employees’ HR files for a couple of hours to, then, get up early the next morning and start the interviews.
And I believe that I had a pretty good idea who was responsible, interviewed some other employees who were able to give me some supportive information. And then when it came down to interview who was the gentleman who was the main suspect at that point, really from our standpoint, it’s important to remember that he has no good reason to tell us the truth, he’s already withheld it several times, could likely believe that he’s going to get away with it, or has already. He’s got to know there’s repercussions for this.
So, as we went through the conversation, the whole plan was to use a technique that he likely wasn’t familiar with, which, this might surprise people, was be nice and show respect and show empathy, and not necessarily give the impression that it’s totally cool to go out and steal guns, if that’s what you want to do, but at least show respect for him and his potential position in the situation. And, thankfully, it worked.
It’s about 23 minutes into the conversation, I asked him, “What’s the most expensive item you ever took from the store?” because my thought was he might admit to stealing something else before admitting to stealing guns, so if that’s what he wants to tell me, we’ll start there. And he exhaled deeply, looked down on his shoes, looked back at me, and said, “It was a gun.” And at that point, we were off to the races.
So, getting the admission to the two guns, it turned out to be the least difficult part of the process. As we were talking about the two guns, he told me that he had one and told me exactly where it was in his house, and told me that he had sold another one. To your reaction earlier, I got to find that. I can’t just say, “Okay, cool. Thanks,” and leave. So, he was far more resistant to sharing the name of the person who he sold the firearm to than he was telling that he had taken the two firearms.
And the empathetic approach that eventually worked in order to get that information from him after a period of, could’ve been 10 minutes or so, of resistance where he didn’t want to share the name, was illustrating to him, without using any names or pointing to anybody specifically, that if law enforcement were sent to recover a firearm and they are uncertain as to how that process might go, they might enter that building with one set of expectations where it could lead to a situation we’d all like to avoid. Considering how much we would care about anybody involved in that situation, the more we can level-set the expectations going in, the more we can ensure that any type of recovery efforts doesn’t go sideways.
At that point, he decided not only to give me the name but provide me with turn-by-turn directions, a work phone number, and a cellphone number to this gentleman. So, once we had all of that documented, we were able to turn him over to the police. I stayed in that town for the next two days because I was teaching a seminar. The schedule worked out perfect. And by the end of that week, I was able to confirm that both guns had been recovered, and both gentlemen had been incarcerated.
Okay. Well, happy ending. Well done. And so, the magic was just being nice and some lay out the situation. I don’t want to diminish your job, Michael, but it doesn’t sound too hard. What’s going on?
When we do a good job, it shouldn’t look too hard, it shouldn’t sound too hard. But, to your point, that belies the preparation and the technique that’s used. I don’t want to use an analogy that goes too far but, oftentimes, if you watch athletes on TV, it looks easy, without realizing the hours of preparation that they’ve put in behind that.
To answer the first half of your question, yes, being nice to people is a core component. If we are asking somebody to share sensitive information under vulnerable circumstances, especially if that sensitive information leads to potential consequences, the single most important thing we need to do is communicate with them in a way where they avoid feeling embarrassed and they avoid feeling judged. Period. That is the most important thing we can do.
If we can do that in a way that helps us build our credibility in the situation while allowing them to save face, and to steal a phrase, violates their expectation. In that situation, he was probably expecting another investigator to likely take a hard judgmental approach and try to corner him into feeling forced to admit. Well, he’s going to have a prepared defense for that. So, if I can go in being nice, not showing judgment and allowing him to save face, yes, that’s a core component where we like to often say, “You will be surprised what people will tell you when you’re nice.”
Okay. Well, so be nice, that’s a great takeaway for work and all kinds of places. I’m curious, when there are in terms of the conversations that occur at work, what are some of the key situations and scenarios you see are most applicable to using your toolkit here?
Thank you for asking. Many. Leadership and coaching conversations. Conflict between employees. Any type of investigative conversation, of course. Sales and business development. Negotiations. Candidate interviewing. For most leaders at any level of an organization, from frontline managers, all the way up the org chart, they spend a considerable amount of their day in conversations with people where their job is to, in some combination, acquire information and inspire a change in behavior. So, any time where we are communicating with people to obtain information, in order to help us make a better decision and/or change someone’s behavior, obtain a commitment to action, these concepts apply.
All right. Well, so we got a couple of takeaways associated with being unpredictable, allowing them to save face, being kind. Any other particularly surprising discoveries you’ve made about listening and conversations over the course of many, many conversations and lots of research in your career?
Yeah, I’ll go with two off the top of my head. The first one is our internal monologue is likely the single most dangerous factor in our conversations. Simply put, if you and I are talking, I can’t have anything more important to say to myself than you have to say to yourself.
So, if you’re talking to yourself at the same time I’m talking to you, you’re not listening to me, and I don’t blame you for that, it’s naturally how our brains are wired, but, unfortunately, in those situations, we trick ourselves into believing we listen because I’m picking up just enough on what’s somebody’s saying that my brain automatically fills in the blanks and makes the assumption that I got the full message.
As that’s happening, I’m likely focusing on what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling, defending my positions, thinking about my emotions, how do I feel, or maybe I’m just completely checked out. So, it’s not a double-edged sword because both edges are negative. Not only am I missing out on your message but I’m compounding that based on where my monologue is taking myself. So, the importance of developing the ability to limit our internal monologue is one.
The second that comes to mind right away is the concept that time is the enemy of empathy. Our brains can’t multitask. So, just like I can’t multitask, I can’t listen to myself while I’m listening to you, I also can’t focus on the intelligence buried within your communication, the layers and the nuances that are so very important to helping me create unexpected value, if I’m focusing on the time, “I need to be out of here in five minutes. I have another meeting in 10 minutes. When this conversation is over, I need to be somewhere else. I wish Pete would hurry up and get to the point so I can just say.”
As soon as I start prioritizing time, how quickly I need to end this conversation, or how quickly I need to learn information, I’m now prioritizing time over value, and my ability to empathize, understand, and connect with somebody is going to drop precipitously.
It sounds like it’s your awareness of time. I suppose you could conceivably just set an alarm. If you only have half an hour, you set an alarm and you just forget about the clock entirely, and it’s like, “Oh, crap. Well, that went beep so I guess we’re going to have to resume this a little later.”
That’s one way. One of the focuses that I took from a career in interrogation, quick backstory without deviating too far, the majority of the conversations I facilitated in my investigative interviewing career were noncustodial, meaning people were not under arrest, they were not Mirandized, they were free to get up and go at any time, and if I, in any way, attempted to impede their ability to leave, I was putting myself and my company in serious legal jeopardy.
So, based on a rather nebulous Supreme Court ruling, we operated under the understanding that we have 60 minutes to get the first indication of wrongdoing, and once we had that, we had a reasonable amount of time to wrap up. But if we have no evidence and not even a tacit admission within 60 minutes, we ought to really start thinking about wrapping this up, transitioning, “Where do we go next?”
So, if I sat down in any interrogation and thought to myself, “I’ve got 60 minutes,” in my head I’m thinking, “59, 58, 57,” all the way down. Now, because I’m focusing on the time, I’m more likely to rush and make mistakes. Now, if I understand that I’ve got 60 minutes, that means I have this window, this timeframe to use to my advantage. So, one of the things that we preach is allow the conversation to come to you, because if we’re not listening, we’re not learning. And if we’re not learning, we’re probably not uncovering any paths to uncover this hidden value.
So, when we let the conversation come to us, really, what we’re doing is, in order to do that well, I should go back and say we really need to understand, clearly, going into the conversation, “What are our goals?” If I know where I want this conversation to end, it really doesn’t matter where you started. It doesn’t matter at all because I can use, wherever it starts, and over time, nudge it and guide it to where I need it to go.
So, as opposed to setting an alarm, if I can understand, “Well, this is where I need to be, so I’m going to allow the conversation to come to me, I’m going to let Pete start it, guide it, get whatever is off his chest or important to him first, and from there I’m going to work it to where I need it to be.” Now, I’m embracing that learning mentality towards goal achievement as opposed to focusing on, “I’ve only got 30 minutes. I need to make sure I get to the point.”
Now, your book The Disciplined Listening Method: How A Certified Forensic Interviewer Unlocks Hidden Value in Every Conversation, let’s hear the big idea behind the book, sort of like the core message or thesis. And what do you mean by hidden value specifically?
That’s how I write into the thesis. So, really, the big idea behind the book is that there are so many opportunities that we have, not only the ability to capture, but have the ability to create in our important conversations, and all the listeners can decide what’s an important conversation to them – business, personal, who they’re talking to, what the potential opportunities or repercussions of those conversations are, but, really, the big idea is, “What do we need to do in order to capture and create those opportunities and stop letting them fall through our fingers?”
And so, with that, The Disciplined Listening Method, ‘if we’re to use the coin analogy, has two sides to the coin. One is that strategic observation side, “How do I really evolve my ability as an observer to pick up on all the nuances of what’s happening in front of me, understand what I’m experiencing internally, and work through that in a goal-achieve mindset framework?”
And then the flipside of the coin is to improve our influential communication, “How do I communicate, how do I ask questions in a way that are more likely,” as we mentioned earlier, “to help people save face and increase their comfort level in sharing sensitive information with us so we gather more intelligence, we make better decisions, we achieve better outcomes, we solidify better relationships?”
Okay. Well, so you’ve got seven core behaviors in The Disciplined Listening Method. I want to dig into a few things you’ve said already, and then we’ll round out as many of the seven as we have time for.
Let’s do it.
So, the internal dialogue, that sounds like a huge foundational starting point right there in terms of if you’re more distracted by what’s coming up for lunch or whatever other interesting thoughts are in your head, then you’re going to have a heck of a time observing nuances, remembering your great questions, and influential communication approaches. So, can you kick us off by sharing, okay, we’ve all got internal monologue, how do we get a bit of control or handle on limiting that?
Great question. A couple alternatives for that. Number one, whenever possible, our preparation and the thoroughness of our preparation will help. Now, this is better prepared for a conversation more than a spontaneous conversation. But if I know where I want this conversation to go, if I’m comfortable with my material, if I’m comfortable with the questions I want to ask in advance of the conversation, then I don’t need to think about those things.
I’m not a musician so I’m going to steal this analogy. But as my musician friends tell me they can’t play guitar and think of the words at the same time. They can think of the words and have the chords on auto, or they can have the words on auto and think of the chords, but they can’t think of both at the same time. So, if I can be prepared with what I want to say, what do I want to ask, where do I need to go, I can work to shut down my internal monologue and really focus on you because there’s got many less variables I’m accounting for. That type of preparation isn’t always available.
During the conversation, the next one, is the intentional effort. So, when I pick up that my internal monologue is leading me astray, when I catch myself focusing on an emotion, or where I need to be in 10 minutes, or what else I’d rather be doing, or what I need to say next, or the point I need to defend next, that’s a checkpoint for me to say, “Wait a minute. I need to refocus.”
The third one is the one that I have found to be most helpful. More often than not, our internal monologue has an emotional component, and when our emotions change, we generally get a physiological indication that our emotions are changing before we realize it in our mind, “Oh, no, my emotions are shifting.”
So, in order to catch it at the earliest piece, what we’d like to do is coach people to try to identify “What are your physical triggers? What are your first indications, physically, that your emotions are changing?” I will admit mine for everybody, which is a bit embarrassing, but it’s curling my toes in my shoes. Often, if I’m having a conversation with somebody and my emotions start to shift, I start curling my toes in my shoes.
So, as soon as I feel my toes curling, I might not rationally understand that my emotions are changing, what they’re changing to, or why they’re changing, but as soon as I catch my toes moving in my shoes, that’s my indication that I need to focus. Now, if my emotions are changing quicker, maybe I’m making a fist in my pocket, or maybe my face is getting red, or my heartrate is beating faster, or my lungs are breathing heavier, any one of these things as well. But, for me, largely, I’m going to listen to my body. And my tell, more often than not, is my toes.
So, for anybody that knows me and listens to this, I can’t wait to watch them stare at my feet from now on when we have conversations. But as soon as I feel those toes moving, I know I need to be focused and limit wherever my internal monologue is taking me at that point because it’s generating emotions that are likely counterproductive to the goals I’m trying to achieve.
Now, when you say emotions change, I mean, I think if the stakes aren’t that high, I don’t know, can these emotions change, just be a little bit from, “Oh, I’m interested,” to, “I’m kind of bored and tired”? Is that like the subtlety or minuteness we’re talking about an emotional change?
Yeah, it could be shifting to annoyed, to bored, to done, like, “I’ve heard enough.” And you’re right, even in these low-stakes conversations, the emotional shifts can be just that. And in that case, maybe it’s not my toes
It could be that I’m looking at my watch, or I’m looking at the door, or I’m starting to play with my coffee cup on the table, or some of these signals we might be sending consciously or subconsciously to our counterpart that this conversation is over. If I’m sending that signal that I’m clearly not listening, which means I’m clearly not learning.
Okay. And so then, you said a few times that you observed something in yourself, and that’s your cue to refocus.
So, now, can we get very precise and granular and specific about what does refocusing consist of? Because I think people, they struggle with distractions of all sorts, of all shapes, and conversations and elsewhere, smartphones and more, so to refocus, for many, it’s easier said than done. How does one refocus?
Literally, for me, it’s by saying to myself, “I need to listen to Pete.” Literally. I’ll go back to the toes, I catch my toes, my first thought is, “I need to listen to Pete because clearly I’m not right now.” So, now as I go back and start listening to you, the next question in my mind, which I know dives back into internal monologue as I’m helping to get refocused here, the next question is, “How does what he’s saying help me achieve my goals?”
Okay. So, then you‘ve got…I like that because the first one, in a way, as far as internal monologues go, it’s a little bit of a splash of cold water. It’s not too intense in terms of you’re not just terrorizing yourself, beating yourself up, but there’s a firmness to it. I’m thinking about my kids, like if I were to say that, “Hey, you need to go brush your teeth.” Okay, that’s escalating on the serious scale.
And then you return to your question. I guess that goes back to the preparation, is that you’ve got a sense for what the goals are, what you’re trying to achieve, which is “I probably best practice for most people and most conversations in work and elsewhere.” And so, there you have it. Now, if this happens again and again and again, well, you tell me, Michael, might you have to give yourself this stern admonition, like a dozen times a minute? Or, what are we thinking?
Hopefully not in a minute but maybe a dozen times in a conversation. One of the things, especially for leaders and getting in in-level in the organization, and it’s true for parents as well, coaches, youth sports, whatever it is, that any time we feel like we have a level of expertise in a situation, that level of expertise can hurt us as much as it can help us.
Because if I believe I know how this movie ends, if I believe I already have the right idea or the right solution, then I’m not listening to learn. I’m listening for the first opportunity I have to convey how smart I am, what my idea has, or to wrap this conversation up as soon as possible. So, if I keep falling into that trap, then, yes, I might have to kick myself back into this conversation multiple times. Hopefully, it’s not 12 times a minute, but, yeah, I might have to, multiple times in a conversation.
One of the things that we like to coach is that if we reflect on our communication experiences, so, let’s say that, over the course of a day, I have a dozen important conversations, could be with customers, internally other leaders in the organization, my wife here at home. And as I reflect on my day before I go to bed, I think to myself, “Ten of those conversations really felt like my counterparts were engaged and had a pretty good idea of where I was coming from, what I was saying, two of them didn’t, that was probably a them issue.”
But if I reflect on my day, and I think, “Well, I had 12 important conversations today, and in 10 of them, the people I was talking to just couldn’t grasp what I was saying, where I was coming from, the importance of my message. They weren’t getting it.” Well, I’m the lowest common denominator in those 10 conversations. So, the likelihood that this is a me problem is now really high.
So, if we find ourselves in any type of repetitive situation, or we feel like we’re not achieving our outcomes, or we’re running into more resistance in our conversations, one of the questions we like to coach to ask ourselves is, “Am I the lowest common denominator? And if it appears that I am,” to your point, “what behaviors do I need to change? How do I need to update my approach?”
Okay. So, that’s some internal monologue pieces. You also talked about observing nuances. Like, what are the kinds of things that you recommend we keep our eyes open for?
Thank you for asking. I’m going to start with a don’t and then get to more do’s. Don’t try to catch people lying. There’s no point. Essentially, everything we’ve ever been told that people do when they lie, scientifically has been proven is not an indication that they’re lying, and realistically is an indication that they’ve become uncomfortable.
Yes. Joe Navarro, we had on the show, talked about this. Like, there’s no telltale sign, “Oh, you touched your nose or your ears or your eyes went in this direction, or you covered your suprasternal notch,” that all these things likely mean there is some discomfort for who knows why. It’s cold. They’re kind of bored. They are tired of going through this again. They don’t want you to find out about something else they’re hiding, which is completely unrelated to the matter at hand. Okay, so right on. It sounds like you got a checkmark there, like forget the deception there.
Yes, and he’s a perfect resource for that. So, as we move away from trying to catch people lying, what we really want to focus on is just that, I’m looking for changes in somebody’s comfort level throughout the conversation. And then with a heightened level of situational awareness, looking to tie their change in comfort to the most likely trigger, “Was it something that I just said? Was it something they were saying?” To your point, “Is the room cold?” “Did somebody just walk in that they’re trying to avoid?” That contextual or situational awareness really is the missing ingredient to accurately identifying somebody’s emotional shift.
But, by and large, without even getting into that level of nuance, if we’re just looking for, to oversimplify it, to somebody who looks happy, sad, frustrated, what does their emotional shift look like? For me, just some basics, and Joe might have mentioned some of these, if I’m having a conversation with somebody and we’re standing up, talking to each other, are their feet pointed towards me and are their shoulders parallel with mine? If the answer to both questions is yes, they’re probably relatively engaged. If their feet are pointing away, or if their shoulders are turning away, or they keep looking away, this isn’t rocket science, they’re probably not so much engaged with me.
For me, another myth, if somebody crosses their arms, it doesn’t mean that they’re closed off or defensive. It means they’re likely either the physical discomfort, could be cold, or their back hurts, or emotionally vulnerable at the moment, and their face might be a better place to look to figure out what the specific emotional vulnerability is at that point in time.
But, for me, especially with the nonverbals, what behavior changes isn’t nearly as important as when the behavior changes. So, if I know that I’m saying something to somebody that might cause a stress or a reaction, that’s where I’m looking for that shift in their behavior that potentially indicates they’re more stressful.
On the verbal communication side, I’ll cut straight to my favorite. My absolute favorite thing to observe for when somebody is communicating to me is if they start saying a word, cut themselves off in the middle of the word, and replace it with a different word in the same sentence. So, as an example, if I’m having a conversation, let’s say, I’m talking to…or I have one of my employees talking to me, another manager is talking to me, and she comes up to me and says, “At this point, I’m really just af– well, I believe that my team is concerned at this point that their ability to be successful is limited with the resources they don’t currently have, or limited by the resources they don’t currently have.”
So, the word she stopped herself from saying is afraid. So, now when I hear her cut that word off, talking about intelligence, I can now be reasonably confident that she is afraid, that she doesn’t want me to know that she’s afraid, that she is now using how her team feels in this situation as a way to likely save face and communicate how she feels in this situation, and she’s going through an impression management exercise, which tells me that my presence in this conversation is generating some stress for her based on some potential consequences that could be real and perceived.
So, I can gather all of that intelligence just by catching somebody replace a word or stop a word midstream, change the word, and keep talking. There are other examples, I’d be happy to give you different things I listen for as well, but, for me, that is, from a verbal communication standpoint, often the single biggest thing that gives me the most intelligence right away.
Well, yes, that’s lovely. I’ve never thought to pay a lot of attention to that, and now I do. So, transformation accomplished. Thank you, Michael.
Yeah, lay some more on us. What else are you looking for?
From a general standpoint, I’m looking for changes in their speed of delivery, how loud or soft they talk, any pauses. Does the pause fit the question? That’s another big one. I’m not so worried about if somebody has a long pause or a short pause. I care, “Does the pause fit the question?” If I ask somebody a question they really should have to think about and they give me a quick answer, they either prepared in advance, they’re blowing me off, or they don’t have the answer.
If, on the other hand, I ask somebody a question that they should have a really quick answer to, and, instead, they take a long time to think about it, “Well, why are they taking so long to think about this answer when it’s something that they should have off the top of their head?” So, it’s not so much “Is it a short pause or a long pause?” It’s, “Does the pause fit the question?”
And the same thing is true with tone of voice. Does the tone match the message? If somebody is portraying a confident message but it has a questioning tone, they’re probably not as confident as they’re portraying. So, I’m sure there are international listeners to this program, so what I’m about to say is going to be geared a little bit towards American English.
If I hear a question mark where a period should be at the end of a sentence, instead of saying, “Yes, I can do it,” it’s, “Yeah, I can do it?” they have that spike at the end of that question mark, I would never go as far as to say they’re lying. I would go as far as to say one of two other alternatives or more likely. One, they’re not as confident as they’re trying to portray that they can do it, or, two, they’re testing us to see if we believe that they can do it. So, that would be another one I listen for there.
Pronoun usage is another big one. Often, if people are trying to distance themselves from responsibility, the pronouns will change in their statements. So, if I get a lot of us-es and we’s in the beginning, and then a lot of them and they’s when the unfortunate part of the situation happened, that could be an indication that they’re distancing themselves. The reverse could be true as well. They could start with a lot of they’s and them’s and then later on, start slipping in some we’s and us-es, which could be an indication that they’re more involved than they were letting on.
Same thing is true with tense changes. If the tense changes in somebody’s story, past tense, present tense, if they go back and forth, that can be an indication. Really, as I pick up on these things and more, what I’m consistently listening for is something that you mentioned earlier, which is the opportunity to help somebody save face. And when Joe talked about not trying to catch people lying, there’s little to no benefit in that, really, what we should be listening to is “How or why is somebody trying to help themselves save face?” and then how do we go about that.
So, literally, earlier today, I was part of a conversation where one of my clients is working on a negotiation where we know for a fact that they’ve been lied to. And the message that I received today was, first, we need them to tell us the truth. And the conversation after that was, actually, we don’t. What we need to do is find an opportunity to allow them to save face and continue the conversation so we get the outcome we’re looking for. If we prioritize, essentially, getting them to confess to previously lying to us, and we don’t have a good way to help them save face with the process, we run the risk of torpedoing what we’re trying to achieve with this partnership.
So, instead of being focused on righting this moral wrong – we’ve been lied to – let’s just accept that we know that it’s happened. It’s unfortunate, we wished we didn’t. It doesn’t say a lot about the other side. But what’s the intelligence within that lie and how do we now help them save face moving forward to get what we want? So, those face-saving opportunities are really what we’re often observing for.
All right. Well, now, when we are doing the influential communication, any key tips you’d recommend there?
For sure, and it all lies in with the concept of helping people save face. We should be going out of our way, literally, regardless of a specific technique, if we start by just thinking, “At the end of this conversation, I don’t want…” well, I’ll just say Pete for our purposes of this, “I don’t want Pete to feel embarrassed or judged. If I just start there, I’ll be in great shape. I don’t want you to feel embarrassed or judged.”
So, we like to say illustrate before you investigate. So, what I want to do is I want to show some illustration of my understanding of your situation, which often, and quite surprisingly, will give people an excuse to answer the question and save face. So, a common example, especially in the workplace, is somebody committed to getting something done and they’re not going to have it done on time.
Well, if I was to approach you, and say, “Pete, where are you on this? Are you going to have it done on time?” you have two choices. One, you can lie to me and say, “Yes,” to save face and hope for the best. Or, two, you can come up with some excuse as to why it’s not done yet, as you try to save face and maybe get some extra help. So, I’m literally going to start there. Instead of just coming up and saying, “Hey, Pete, where are you on this project? Are you going to be done by Friday?”
Now, I want to approach you and say, “Hey, Pete, how’s it going? I know we’ve had a lot of things added to our plate that we didn’t plan on, trying to help the marketing team, the customer change their expectations, even our family has been crazy. We’ve tried to balance remote work and coming into the office. So, with all of these things that we’ve been dealing with, considering how important this project is, Pete, let me ask you. If I had to reallocate resources in order to help make sure this gets done on time, what would be the most valuable thing I could do for you to make sure this project gets done on time by Friday?”
Yeah, you’re right. I’ve got so many openings there, and if it’s really, really under control, it’s like, “Yeah, I don’t really need anything but I really appreciate you asking.” It’s like, “Okay, we can feel very confident that that’s pretty darn truthful because you gave me every opening.”
A hundred percent. And you’re not offended by it, so you’re like, “No, man, appreciate it. I’m good.” But if you really do need help, now there are any number of ways to save face, “Thank you for asking. If this help was available, or that help was available.” And, now, if any listeners are thinking, “Well, what if I don’t want to give him help?” You’re not obligated to at this point. But we’ve given him an excuse to talk about where he is.
Now, if in this situation, you and I can have a conversation, figure out how far behind you are, if there’s a way that you can get it back on track yourself – great. If not, well, depending on how important this project is, I might be reallocating some assets and changing some schedules to make sure it gets done on time. So, that would be another example of really focusing on the goal, successful completion of the project, when I think about asking the question.
Lovely. Anything else in terms of questions you love asking or any phrases, scripts, verbiage, that’s just so helpful again and again?
Yeah, I’ll give you a couple. My favorite way to phrase a question is, “Please walk me through.” When we say to somebody “Please walk me through,” I’m suggesting that my expectation is both chronological order and detail. So, generally, that makes it easier for me to determine when a story is either out of chronological order and/or missing detail. Because of the way that I suggested the question is answered, it makes it easier for me to figure out where potential opportunities for follow-up are within the story.
Along the same lines, please don’t ever ask somebody, “Can you remember?” or “Do you recall?” We can’t prove it that they know that, so they’re going to give us the yes or no, whichever is face-saving for them, and we could get stuck cold in the bag if it’s not true later on, so it’s not a perfect replacement. But I like to replace that with “Please take me back to…” At least, now I’m forcing their brain to kick off a little bit. It’s given me more of a behavioral read as they think of their answer. They might still say, “I can’t remember,” but at least I’ve given myself a fighting chance.
And then, for me, if I am giving an illustration and I’m trying to learn information from somebody, and I’m trying to help them feel more comfortable sharing additional information with me, the closest thing I have to a silver bullet is the phrase “Please correct me where I’m wrong,” which is significantly different from “Please correct me if I’m wrong.”
If I was to say, “Please correct me if I’m wrong,” that comes across arrogant, assumptive, and you probably just checked out. But especially if I’m talking to somebody who, emotionally, morally, based on position or rank or expertise, feels like they’re superior to me in a conversation, there’s a reasonable chance that they would love an opportunity to correct me.
So, if I preface an illustration by saying, “Pete, I’d like to take a second just to make sure that I’m tracking in the right direction, so please correct me where I go wrong. I’d appreciate that.” Now, I almost certainly have a higher level of your attention because I’ve asked you to do the one thing you want to do, so you’re probably more focused.
Now, as I go through my illustration, when I’m done, I’m literally going to stop, and now I‘m going to give you the opportunity to respond. If my observation is on track, you’re more likely going to…more than likely to say either, “You’re right,” or, “You’re not wrong.” In either situation, I have just increased the perception of my credibility, level-set this conversation, and now earn the opportunity to continue asking questions, which I might not need to because you may be so inspired by hearing that illustration and affirming that I’m correct, that you start filling in the blanks.
That also works when we miss. Now, I would never coach somebody to miss intentionally. Any time we risk coming across inauthentic or lying or insincere, there’s ripple effects there we don’t even want to deal with. But if I give this a legitimate shot and I just missed, and instead of saying “You’re right,” you come back with, “Close.” My job is to be patient because I’m willing to bet, after you say, “Close,” you are going to explain to me what I missed because I asked you to correct me.
So, in your explanation of what I missed, or how I didn’t quite get it, or what I don’t know or wasn’t thinking, I am now gathering a significant amount of intelligence without ever having to ask for it. So, I don’t risk creating question fatigue because I’m asking too many questions, and you’re happier to share the information with me because you feel like it was your idea, and it wasn’t forced upon you.
All right. Beautiful. Thank you. Well, now let’s hear about a few of your favorite things. Could you start us off with a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
My favorite quote, actually, I believe ties into a lot of what we talked about today. It’s an old Sun Tzu quote, other people probably use it as well. I believe it goes, “Submitting the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” That’s the quote, “Submitting the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” And not that in any way I’m suggesting everybody we talk to is our enemy, but I am certainly suggesting that getting through conversations without creating unnecessary conflict is, metaphorically, the acme of skill.
All right. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?
I’ll quote three, and it comes down to first impressions, and it really level-sets how I interact with people So, there were three studies from three independent universities, I’m assuming I’m going to get them correct. The first one came out of Princeton, was that we are capable of judging somebody’s intellect, character, and trustworthiness, if I have that correct, within 100 milliseconds after looking at their face.
A similar study out of the University of Glasgow showed that we’re capable of determining the same factors within 500 milliseconds of hearing somebody say the word hello. The third study came out of the University of Colorado, where they found that we’re capable of categorizing somebody, essentially fitting them within one of our previously conceived mental models, as fast as 100-150 milliseconds. So, really keeping in mind that we’re judging people that fast, and we need to be careful, but also that people are judging us that fast. And the literal instant of introduction is so important to set the tone for our conversations.
Okay. Now, when you say we’re capable of, I imagine, is it fair to say, it doesn’t mean we’re capable of doing it well or correctly, it’s just that we can make snap judgments and they may or may not be correct?
Roger that, yes.
Okay. And a favorite book?
I would start by saying I highly recommend people read every word Robert Cialdini ever wrote.
Oh, yeah. We’ve had him on the show. He’s amazing.
Yes. So, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Pre-Suasion, anything that he wrote. I’m a fan of Malcolm Gladwell, and I’m not breaking any new ground there. For me, the best leadership book I’ve ever read, and it’s hands down, no competition, is a book called Care to Dare by George Kohlrieser, so I’ll throw that one on the list as well. I think that’s probably a pretty good list to start. I also like the Freakonomics crab. I’m forgetting their…both the authors are named Steve, but Think Like a Freak and those books. I’m a huge fan of those books as well.
All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job.?
Patience. Give other people the space they need to talk. The more they talk, the more they learn. The more they talk, the more they feel respected, the more they feel that we care about them, the more they feel that we’re invested in them. I know, especially with leaders in a time-compressed world, patience is a four-letter word, but I honestly believe if I had to rank conversational tools that lead to success, if I understand your question correctly, patience is right at the top of the list.
All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really connects and resonates with folks; they quote it back to you often?
That time is the enemy of empathy comes back to me a lot. I’ll give you two more. People react the strongest to what they observe first. Go back to those statistics about how quickly we’re judging people. We tend to carry expectations into every interaction. We tend to commit the level of energy and a focus that we believe is appropriate based on the expectations we carry in. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, people react the strongest to what they observe first. Whatever we say or do first, how that either lines up or violates their expectation, often kicks off their initial reaction process. And with that people will perceive how we communicate with them as proof of how much we respect them.
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?
Appreciate you asking. They can learn more about the book at DisciplinedListening.com. they can learn more about what we do at InQuasive at InQuasive.com. And if they want to learn more about me, the two best places to look would be MichaelReddington.com or on LinkedIn at Michael Reddington, CFI.
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?
Go into as many conversations as you can and allow yourself to be surprised. Go into every conversation, thinking to yourself, “How can this person surprise me?” Our brains are wired to look for information that confirms what we already think and believe, we’re wired to disregard information that conflicts with what we already think and believe.
So, if we can go into our important conversations, and think, “Okay, let’s see how Pete surprises me today,” and not from a point of arrogance, “Let’s see if Pete can surprise me today,” but from like a literal point of curiosity, “Let’s see how Pete surprises me today.” We’ll be surprised, we’ll be able to learn, and then how we’ll be able to use what we learn to impact our relationships.
All right. Michael, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you the best and many great conversations.
I appreciate the time, sir. Thank you. I’ve enjoyed it as well.