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952: How Wonder Eliminates Stress and Improves Wellbeing with Monica Parker

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Monica Parker discusses the surprising benefits of wonder—and shares easy ways to experience more of it in your life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How wonder helps us at work 
  2. Easy ways to experience more wonder 
  3. How society discourages wonder—and how to overcome that 

About Monica

A world-renowned speaker, writer, and authority on the future of work, Monica Parker has spent decades helping people discover how to lead and live wonderfully. The founder of global human analytics and change consultancy HATCH, whose clients include blue-chip companies such as LinkedIn, Google, Prudential, and LEGO, Parker challenges corporate systems to advocate for more meaningful work lives. In addition to her extensive advocacy work, she has been an opera singer, a museum exhibition designer, and a homicide investigator defending death-row inmates. A lover of the arts, literature, and Mexican food, Parker and her family split their time between Atlanta, London, and Nice. Her wonderbringers include travel, fellowship with friends, and Trey Anastasio’s guitar.

Resources Mentioned

Monica Parker Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Monica, welcome.

Monica Parker

Hi, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m excited to hear your take on wonder and how it can help us be more awesome at our jobs. But for starters, could you tell us what do you mean by wonder?

Monica Parker

Yeah, sure. So, wonder as a word is something of a shape-shifter. So, you have wonder as a noun and wonder as a verb. Of course, wonder as a noun would be perhaps a wonder. It might be something that’s a catalyst for awe. And then you have wonder as a verb, to wonder, which would be perhaps how we might describe curiosity.

And so, my definition of wonder seeks to link those two concepts. And so, the way that I describe it, it starts with openness to experience, then moves into curiosity, then into absorption and awe. And it’s actually a cycle that, as we experience it, the more we experience it, the more likely we are to experience it in the future. And so, that’s my definition of wonder.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, that sounds pleasant. But can you tell us how that helps us be more awesome at our jobs?

Monica Parker

So, it starts by making us more awesome as humans. It makes us more creative, more desirous of studying the world around us. It makes us more humble, less materialistic, more generous, better community and team members. People who are higher in the composite elements of wonder are more likely to perform better in work and school, and build healthier relationships.

And recent evidence shows that wonder makes us less stressed and feel like we have more time. It’s basically what would be described as a pro-social experience. So, it simply makes us want to be better, more tolerant humans. And that’s just the psychological benefits. Physiologically, it also decreases pro-inflammatory cytokines and lowers our blood pressure. And the research shows a direct biological pathway between wonder and better health.

Pete Mockaitis

Fantastic. So, tell us, that all sounds swell, I’m wondering, is this teachable? Are some people naturally have the wonder groove going and others don’t? Or how do you think about someone who is not as wonder-y becoming more wonder-y?

Monica Parker

Sure. So, it certainly, because it has to do with our brain, there’s going to be natural elements of it that we have a higher propensity towards. So, pretty much the way our personality works is that about half of it is based on our genetics and the other half is based on our experiences up to about age 25. So, there’s no question that some people are going to be naturally may have higher openness, may be more prone towards curiosity, but it’s absolutely something that we can train ourselves to see as a mindset, and we can engage in activities that help us become more wonder-prone.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, I would love to hear a tale perhaps of someone who was less wonder-prone and went through some work and had way more wonder going on as a result.

Monica Parker

Sure. I can tell you some of the things that I find most exciting about this research is how it helps people who are, I think it’s fair to say that we’re dealing with a mental health crisis in America, as well as many other places. Forty million Americans right now are being treated for anxiety. Globally, 280 million people have depression. And so, one of the most exciting pieces of research that I’ve seen was working with people who had PTSD and who had trauma backgrounds.

After taking a whitewater rafting trip, which would certainly be wonder-inducing, they found that those people had a significantly reduced PTSD symptoms and, in fact, benefited for as much as two weeks after that experience. And so, what we know is that when people experience wonder, they become more better able to deal with what life throws at them.

And some of the research shows that that can be as simple as looking at some beautiful trees that give you a sense of wonder. Another piece of research shows that just three minutes looking at a particularly awe-inspiring grove of trees made people exhibit more helpful behaviors for the week following.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that’s fantastic. I’d love it if you could share with us some of these other quick yet super effective interventions. Three minutes of tree-looking for lasting benefit sounds right up my alley. What else can we do, Monica?

Monica Parker

Yeah, so the first is what I described, slow thought. Really, we are in such a rush all the time that we stop seeing what is around us. So, the more that we can engage in slow thought activities, and particular activities that help slow down our brain. So, we all have sort of that chattering monkey mind. So, these are things like meditation, chalk this up for again, another reason why we should all be meditating, things like narrative journaling, even a gratitude practice or prayer.

Any of those things that helps quiet down the brain and helps us engage in more slow thought, which, mind you, God rest his soul, Daniel Kahneman who just passed away, also talked about the power of slowing down and certainly how that can be effective in our work lives as well. Another way is to really open ourselves to novelty and new ideas. We get stuck in such the same rut of doing the same thing over and over again that we miss the wonder in the familiar.

So, the more that we can shake our noggins up a little bit and introduce new thinking and new places, new spaces help, and even just taking a wonder walk. And you might ask, “What’s a wonder walk?” Well, a wonder walk is you decide it is. It’s really a brilliant example of the power of priming. You tell yourself that you’re going to find things that will give you a sense of wonder on that walk.

And research found that two groups of walkers went walking for 20 minutes. One that was primed that they would find things to feel a sense of wonder about, the other group was not. And the group that went on a wonder walk had stress reduction benefits for the following week.

Pete Mockaitis

Fantastic. Now just how potent is stress reduction benefit are we talking here, Monica?

Monica Parker

Because it’s something that is so subjective, it’s hard to sort of give a specific definition of that. But what we do know is that it’s significant enough that it lowers people’s pro-inflammatory cytokines. And pro-inflammatory cytokines are those markers of disease that generally happen. If we’re actually sick, our body will release them as a mechanism to make us well, but frequently they will be released when we’re under stress.

And so, the stress reduction is significant enough, not just for the individual to sense that sense of stress reduction, but for the physiological changes to occur as well, where the pro-inflammatory cytokines actually reduce as well. And those are markers of conditions like heart disease, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s. And so, it’s pretty significant.

Pete Mockaitis

Fascinating. Well, while we’re talking medically, do you have a sense on the optimal dosage of this nature goodness or wonder experiences?

Monica Parker

To be fair, the more the better. The key, I think, is setting a mindset. And with practice, we can do that such that we start to see wonder in the quotidian. We really shouldn’t have to look for it. We should simply be able to find it. And that might be in a perfect autumn leaf. It might be this time of year, in the flowers as they’re starting to bloom. 

And so, really, it’s how much you’re willing to be open to it and find it in your life. But the more the better, there’s no question. But I would say like most things, a good practice would be if you can focus on doing one of the mind-setting activities for about 20 minutes in a day, then you will start to build the skills that will allow you to see wonder throughout your day-to-day life.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s just what I was thinking. When you said the word open, that really resonated for me because sometimes I am having wonder-y days and it’s a lot of fun, it’s expansive, it’s relaxing, it’s cool. And other times, everything is irritating and it’s kind of the opposite. And instead of being amazed at a leaf, I might be annoyed that the leaf is stuck to my shoe and crunching it all along the way. Do you have any sort of SOS or emergency stop-drop-roll kinds of things to shift us closer to the wonder mode?

Monica Parker

I’ll tell you, it’s probably one of the stop-drop-rolls that you’ve heard from a lot of other people because it’s what works. The first thing is to just take a big breath. We know that breathing helps quiet the amygdala. We know that it helps with our vagus nerve health, with vagal tone, which is one of the things that helps us stay calm. And so, really just taking a break to take a deep breath is probably the first SOS element. And I find that having a little mantra helps to just say there is wonder there, and then, hopefully, your eyes will be open to what you can find in your sphere that will give you that little bit of a wonder nugget.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And, Monica, you’ve got a lovely tidbit, five elements of wonder. They all start with the letter W. Could you walk us through these?

Monica Parker

Yeah. And so, these were a little bit what I started to describe at the beginning. So, I call them watch, wander, whittle, wow, and whoa. So, watch is the word for openness. Openness to experience is the personality trait that’s associated with the best, outcomes as a human, be it physical or mental.

And so, moving from openness to experience, we then, when we’re very open, what happens then, we become curious about something, and we become deeply curious. This is the watch element. And when I talk about curiosity, there’s really two types of curiosity. I’m focused more on the deep curiosity. You have surface curiosity, which would be sort of like Google searching to settle a bet, or maybe smelling the milk to see if it’s gone off. That’s not the kind of curiosity we’re looking for. We’re looking for the curiosity for the joy of the exploration. And this type of curiosity really starts to engage our brain in a different way.

We move from being deeply curious about something to becoming absorbed. That’s natural. We might find absorption in a flow state, but we might also find it from just being hyper focused. And this is where we call whittle. So, this is where we’re paring back attention. We’re really keenly focused on where we are hyper present. And then we move from whittle, if we’re lucky, into the fourth and fifth stages, which are the wow and whoa, and these are two stages of awe.

And the reason that awe has two stages is when we study the dynamic of awe as an emotion, it really does have sort of these two elements to it. The first is where we experience something that feels so vast. And that can be physically vast, like the Grand Canyon, or emotionally vast, like seeing your child take their steps for the first time. Our brain is shocked by that. And that’s sort of this wow moment. But then afterwards, our brain actually has to accommodate to understand what it is that it’s just experienced. And this is the whoa, where it’s sort of like mind blown. And those two elements together define the emotion of awe.

And after that, now our brain is in a hyperplastic state where we can embed all sorts of good stuff. And that brings us back to openness. So, now after that experience of the whoa, we are more open and, thus, more likely to be deeply curious, and then more likely to become absorbed and so on and so on. And so, I really do see it as this upwardly beneficial cycle that we can experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that is lovely, indeed. Well, could you make it all the more real for us by sharing several stories of individuals who experienced some of the stressed, overwhelmed, overloaded, “Aargh” kind of a vibe to regularly incorporating more wonder and the results they saw from doing so?

Monica Parker

Sure. So, one of my favorite stories, and this may not be something that everyone can directly, I guess, connect with, but it’s about a gentleman named Steven Callahan. And Steven Callahan was a famed solo sailor, and he actually went on a solo race and ended up becoming a castaway. He spent 76 days adrift on the Atlantic Ocean and actually wrote an incredible book about that. And I had the opportunity to speak to Steve.

And what he said was that he was certain that it was his sense of wonder that gave him the alacrity to be able to survive being out adrift at sea, because he said that there were moments where he had such a sense of crisis and panic where all hope felt lost, but he was so overwhelmed by the beauty and the power, even the horror, in a sense, of the sea and of nature, and what that could do to him. That that moment of feeling like a small part in a bigger system, and being, in a way, almost helpless actually gave him the strength and the ability to see more clearly in order to take every single day and engage in the activities that would get him to be eventually saved, which he was 76 days later.

And, in fact, strangely, many people report that. I interviewed a gentleman who worked with people who were at the end of having had experiences like this, or having been in plane crashes, or even having been kidnapped and held. The day that I interviewed him, he had just been speaking to someone who had been held in a hole in the Baltics, and then was saved. And what he found is that people who are able to have a greater sense of wonder and then convert that to a sense of purpose survive these intense cataclysmic experiences.

And he said that if there was one thing that he would advise people to do, it would be to, first, find a purpose and, second, find their sense of wonder, because he said that those are the keys to being able to survive any kind of crisis, big or small.

Pete Mockaitis

And it’s interesting when you said, “We had someone who’s a castaway, stranded.” And you said, “And many people share this,” like, “Wow, a lot of castaways.” But I hear what you’re saying in terms of crisis situations, kidnappings, etc. And even in a day-to-day professional environment where there’s less life-or-death stakes.

Monica Parker

But our brain thinks it’s life or death.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, and all those elements associated with how creatively, resourcefully you can operate really do. It makes all the difference in terms of whether you’re feeling like, “Oh, wow, cool ideas are coming to me, creative ways to use these resources,” versus, “Aargh, we’re screwed and there’s nothing I can do. Aargh.”

Monica Parker

Absolutely. And that’s where we start to get into one of the benefits of engaging in the slow thought. We know that one of the challenges that we’re confronted with in work environments is something that’s known as action bias. So, when we are, as professionals, usually, we are confronted with a situation where we really don’t have control, I think we saw a lot of this during COVID, we want to feel like we can exert control.

And one of the challenges is that society actually benefits that. Research shows that we will rate our leaders more positively if they made decisive decisions, even if those decisions later were found to be poor. And so, we have this real desire to act when sometimes we should just pause. And this is a little bit of wonder mixed with a little bit of Daniel Kahneman, which is to say that when we have the opportunity to slow down, we should.

And that is one of the things that Steven Callahan found being adrift. It’s one of the things that I heard from so many different scientists that I spoke to, that slowing down and allowing our brain to engage with what we’re really experiencing rather than catastrophizing or feeling the need to act, simply to act, really helps us make better decisions. And we see that in action bias, day in, day out in work environments. And we see that in more severe environments like being adrift at sea or, yes, being kidnapped by a terrorist organization.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, Monica, tell us, any other top wonder do’s or don’ts to share before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Monica Parker

Yeah, so one of my other wonder do’s is to make sure that we’re getting enough sleep. Add that onto one of the challenges. When we’re sleep deprived, our attentional control really goes out the window and we become more ruminative. It becomes really much, much harder for us to become present. And also daydreaming. You mentioned earlier that some days you feel like you’re really on the wonder train. And some of that, daydreaming has gotten a bit of a bad rap.

There was a piece of research that came out, and they said, “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” But actually, there is one type of daydreaming that’s really good for that, and that’s called positive constructive daydreaming. This is when we cast our minds forward and create in these play future scenarios. And that’s really, really good for us. So, I would encourage good night’s sleep, and then when you want to, allow yourself to have a good daydream.

Pete Mockaitis

Now, let’s see, I’ve read that paper, “A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind.” Let’s see, that’s Killingsworth and Gilbert.

Monica Parker

Correct.

Pete Mockaitis

And what was interesting, as I dug into the data, what I found was it seems like, yeah, being present to what’s going on around you is a winning happiness strategy. So, go mindfulness, go presence, that’s great. However, if you were daydreaming in positive territory, the happiness results are pretty comparable to simply being present. But the problem is our wandering minds tend to go into unpleasant territory, and that’s just no fun.

Monica Parker

Correct. There are two other types of daydreaming, one which is just poor attentional control. That’s something that really plagues people who are non-neurotypical. So, those of us who have ADHD certainly struggle with that. And then the other is that this catastrophic daydreaming, where we’re imagining something that’s really terrible that’s going to happen, or something stupid we did in the past.

But we daydream almost 50% of our day. It’s something like 43% of our day we’re daydreaming, so there must be some benefit or our brains wouldn’t do it. And so, it’s really about finding a way to harness that and create it into, you know, make it one of your slow-thought activities as opposed to something that just becomes distracting and ruminative.

Pete Mockaitis

Absolutely. All right. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Monica Parker

It is by Albert Einstein, and he says, “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe is as good as dead. His eyes are closed.”

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And could you share a favorite study or experiment a bit of research?

Monica Parker

I think one of my favorites that I haven’t mentioned really reflects on the power of mixed emotions. So, they took a group of widows and widowers, and they found that those who remembered their deceased loved one, the both positive and negative elements of their partner, were better able to manage their grief. And so, that really is just a, I guess, support to say that mixed emotions, like curiosity, like wonder, like awe, where there’s a little bit of positive and a little bit of negative mixed, are really, really good for our brains and we should try to do more of it.

Pete Mockaitis

Ooh, that’s powerful. And I’m reminded of a conversation. We had Susan Cain on the show talking about her book, Bittersweet. And, yeah, that hits hard.

Monica Parker

Existential longing, that’s another one, that’s another mixed emotion. Very positive for us, and it helps us to have better emo-diversity or emotional granularity. And the greater emotional granularity we have, the healthier we are. But really having those mixed emotions, fight it out in our noggin, is good for tolerance. It’s the anti-polarization. There are so many benefits.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite book?

Monica Parker

I love Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. It’s a great dose of wonder, a little bit of historical fiction, and, yeah, I just think it’s a fabulous book that everybody should read.

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite tool, something you use to be more awesome at your job?

Monica Parker

Yeah, for me, one of my favorite tools, believe it or not, as terrible as they are, I still choose to see some of the positive of social networks. I’m global, my network is global, and I really do curate Instagram such that I find it to be an incredibly helpful tool for me.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite habit?

Monica Parker

Sleep. Sleep, sleep, sleep. Always sleep.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Monica Parker

I have a line in the book that says, “Wonder shared is wonder multiplied.” And I love that because it reminds us that wonder is not just a solitary experience, that it’s something that we can share with others and help it grow. We can share it in the moment or we can express it to others after we’ve experienced it. But every time that we share it with others, either in the moment or after the fact, multiplies the benefit and bestows that benefit on those that you shared it with.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Monica Parker

They can find me at Monica-Parker.com. And I have a weekly newsletter called Wonder Bringers that they can sign up for where I share other wonder nuggets.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Monica Parker

Yeah, my challenge is to follow wonder. And the best way to do that is to slow down. So, I guess I’ll put those two things together and say slow down and follow wonder.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Monica, thank you. This is fun. And I wish you many moments of wonder.

Monica Parker

Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

951: The Three Sentences that Improve (almost) Every Conversation with Chris Fenning

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Chris Fenning shares how to master the first minute of conversation for clearer, more concise, and more persuasive communication.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to capture your audience’s attention in 15 seconds
  2. Why meetings feel like a waste—and how to fix that 
  3. The one question that’s ruining your reputation 

About Chris

Chris Fenning makes it easier for us to communicate at work. He helps experts talk to non-experts, teams talk to executives, and much more. Chris’s practical methods are used in organizations like Google and NATO, and have appeared in the Harvard Business Review. He is also the author of multiple award-winning books on communication and training that have been translated into 16 languages. Find out how Chris can help you at www.chrisfenning.com 

Resources Mentioned

Chris Fenning Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Chris, welcome.

Chris Fenning

Hi, Pete. I’m really looking forward to our conversation today.

Pete Mockaitis

I’m excited as well. We’re talking about conversations today. Your book is called, The First Minute, which I love. It could really be like an action movie with a title like that, Chris. Tell us, what’s so important about the first minute of a conversation? Or is it just a catchy title?

Chris Fenning

Well, I’ve been told it’s a catchy title. The reason for the title is the whole book is literally about the first minute. So, it is quite an important thing. And you asked what it is, well, and why is it important? It’s important because, if in a work situation, if you’re at work and you’re communicating with other people, if you get the first minute wrong, you will pay for it through the rest of the conversation, your reputation can take a hit, and people may not want to communicate with you again in the future. But if you get it right, you can get people’s attention, keep their focus, and get their message across all in 20 to 60 seconds.

Pete Mockaitis

Chris, I love a very clear value proposition. There we have it. Okay. Cool. So, could you tell us a cool story about a professional who saw a transformation in terms of their first minutes were a little bit rough, but then they worked your magic, Chris, and on the other side, they saw some cool things? Do you have some tales like this?

Chris Fenning

Yes. There’s one person who really comes to mind, and she was a junior project manager at a time when I was a director in a large PMO. We were running big, big programs for a large American health insurance company, and this junior project manager had incredible potential but she was new in her role. And part of her role involved presenting to a senior leader, and this leader was a tough nut. They had very high standards, they expected everything to be in detail, to the point and complete, which is kind of a contradiction to do all of those things.

So, this junior PM did her best, and to prepare she did what many of us do which is include all the detail, help educate this person so they could really understand the message that was coming next. And, of course, that’s a crash-and-burn situation, because the more detail you put up front, the longer it takes to get to your point, the further you are from the value of your message.

And so, in working with her, we employed some of the things from The First Minute and also a technique that say only give three updates and then ask a question. And what happened is she went from delivering all of the detail up front, “Oh, let me tell you about this. This is what has happened and this is why it’s important. So that, blah…” and then she would get to her ask. She ended up coming in, and saying, “Hi, today I want to give you updates on three things. They are A, B, and C. What I want from you is a decision, some advice, and I literally don’t know what to do with the third one, so really looking for some help there. Let me start with topic number one.”

And she framed the conversation beautifully so that instead of feeling attacked and under pressure by that senior leader, the leader said, “Oh, great. Actually, I want to talk about number two. Can we go to that first?” And they had a conversation instead of this long, drawn-out introduction that led to the leader being frustrated because it wasn’t what they wanted to know.

So the impact for the junior project manager wasn’t just more effective communication in those meetings, which is an important thing. The biggest takeaway for her was her confidence went through the roof. She went from being scared going into these meetings, spending hours and hours preparing, and feeling that she would never be good enough going in – and these were her words – to after using these methods a couple of times, and seeing the impact, she felt confident.

Her preparation was cut more than in half, and she enjoyed giving the status updates, and ended up having a good relationship with that senior leader. So, it enabled her to shine in her role. And she went on to be a senior PM and do great things.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, Chris, I love that so much because what you’ve just demonstrated there doesn’t sound too hard to do, “What is your first minute?” I think it sounds like, “Oh, high stakes first minute. It’s a make or break. I could lose it. I could screw everything up. I need to dazzle them with a startling statistic, or a hilarious tale, or something in order to grip them in our TikTok-addled world of whatever.” But what you did is you just basically just set up a nice little preview, like, “Hey, this is what we’re going to do and kind of what I want.” And it’s like, “Oh, I can do that.”

Chris Fenning

Yeah, you’re exactly right. None of this is complicated but it does take deliberate effort to apply it over time. None of it is rocket science. I can say that, my background is rocket science. This isn’t it. This is definitely simpler than rocket science, but we need to remember to do it. And you gave a really good word there. You said it’s a preview of the conversation, and that’s exactly what it is. The method that I just described in the book is called framing, and it’s the first 15 seconds, maybe 20 seconds. And if you frame your message, you’re setting up your audience to pay attention and know what you’re going to tell them, and understand why it’s important to them.

And that preview addresses three questions that we will have if somebody starts badly. And the questions are, “What are you talking about? Why are you telling me this? And what is your point?” And you can avoid those three questions if you deliver a very simple preview, a simple framing in that first 15 to 20 seconds.

Pete Mockaitis

I love that because what you’re describing there is exactly what’s in their head in terms of like, “Wait, what are we doing here exactly?” And I’ve heard, and I think it’s so well said, that great copywriting, like, if you’re writing words to be persuasive like in a sales situation, is joining the conversation that is already in your prospect’s head. Like, they’re having this conversation with themselves, and you’re just joining right there where they are, meeting them in that zone, that spot, and it’s like, “Oh, perfect. This fits right here.” As opposed to, “Ugh, I’m annoyed, I’m irritated, or I want to change the channel. Get this away from me.”

Chris Fenning

Yes. Yes. One of the differences with that, so in that sales environment, you want to meet your audience with the problem that they’re having, with the goal they’re trying to achieve. When we’re at work, we’re in the other sort of advertising space of pattern interrupt. What we’re doing is interrupting someone else’s day, interrupting their thoughts so that they focus on what we want to talk about. And that’s always a tough sell anyway because people have got their own stuff to do.

And so, we have to go about it in a way that, very quickly, shows the other person the value to them or the importance to them, which is why the second thing in the framing is intent. The first part is context, “What is this topic? What are you talking about?” The second part is intent, which is, “What do I want you to do with the information?” And the third is key message, like, the point of what you’re trying to say.

And the reason that intent is so important up front is, until we know what to do with a piece of information, our brains literally don’t know how to process it. And because we’ve interrupted someone, whether we’ve bumped into them in a corridor, or even in a planned meeting, they’re thinking about something else, we say “Right. Now, Pete, I want to talk about this topic.” If I don’t tell you exactly why you need to pay attention, your brain is not going to be able to understand what’s coming next, and it’s because of something called working memory or sometimes called short term memory.

Now this isn’t, “Where did I put my keys? And what are the names of my kids?” This is the, where our brain receives information, it has to work out which part of the brain to fire up to do something with it. Because if I tell you a funny story, one area of your brain will engage. But if I asked you a question, a different area of your brain will start fire up and pay attention. And until your brain, at a subconscious level, knows which part to engage, it just gets stuck in a loop saying, “Well, what do I do with this? What do I do with this? What do I do with this?”

And if we don’t give our audience a clear instruction, “Hey, I need your help. Heads up, you need to know this. I’m about to give you an instruction,” so that’s very clear intent. If we don’t say that, your audience is just going to be wondering, “Why are you telling me this?” right up until the moment that we do.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good. And, Chris, I appreciate that new context in terms of bumping into them in a hallway or corridor because I was thinking, “Here we are at this meeting. It’s like, this is on the calendar. It has a title. We kind of know update about this project. We have some sort of sense for what it’s about,” but there’s still questions hovering around.” In the context you’ve set out, there’s even more of a wide-open field for, “Wait, what are we…? What’s going on right now? What are we even talking about?” So, that’s good.

Chris Fenning

And we start conversations in our own heads before we actually start the conversation with the other person. If I saw you across the office, “Oh, I need to talk to Pete about this. We’ve got this team meeting next week. I’m missing this critical piece of information. Oh, Pete, great, I’ve got you. So, blah…” and then I launch into the detail because I’ve already started that conversation in my head 10 feet away.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s true. Yeah, that’s really good to remember. I think, often, we’ll just sort of say something like, “Hey, can you send me the link?” “Can you give me the info? Do you have the newest data?” It’s like, “Wait, link, what link? What info? What data? Like, I really do need much more.”

Chris Fenning

“Can I talk to you about next week?” “Sure, I’ve got 39 meetings. Like, which one?”

Pete Mockaitis

Totally. All right. Well, let’s go into some detail. We got the context, the intent, the key message. You even gave me some seconds there. So, how about you give me a rundown of what do you mean by context? How many seconds is that? What’s a great example of context setting versus a poor example of context setting? And then do likewise for intent and key message. No pressure.

Chris Fenning

Absolutely. So, in terms of seconds, we’ll go with sentences instead, one sentence for each of those three things. One sentence for context, one for intent, and one for key message. If you want to get really tight, you can do it as bullet points because sentences can really run on. So, thinking in bullet points can help.

So, we start with context, and that’s, “What is the topic or the theme of the thing I’m going to talk to you about?” Now a good example would be, “Hi, Pete, can I talk to you about next Thursday’s team meeting?” I’m very specific on time and the event. If I said, “Hey, can I talk to you about next Thursday?” I’m thinking about the team meeting, you might be thinking about the meal we’ve got planned in the evening. And I’ll say, “Well, I’m struggling to get the location locked down.” Well, now you’re thinking about the place we’re eating and I’m thinking about the place that we’re meeting.

Rhyme aside, that is a very common type of misunderstanding because we’re not specific on time and event. So, clear context, “I want to talk to you about next Thursday’s team meeting.” You now know everything else I’m going to say relates to that and you’re not guessing with one sentence. Then it’s intent, and we’ve covered that a little bit, it’s saying what you want the other person to do, “Hey, Pete, I want to talk to you about next Thursday’s team meeting. I need some advice.” And you now know I’m going to ask for your help. Or, “Heads up, something’s changed.” You’re now preparing to adapt to whatever that change is.

So, you’ve got a very clear indication of what should come next and what to brace yourself for, and it’s not always bad things. I could say, “Hey, Pete, I want to talk to you about next Thursday’s team meeting. Funny story…” You now know I’m going to engage in a, hopefully, funny story at that point. And that gives you the option to say, “Oh, well, actually, I don’t have time for a funny story now. Can this wait till later?” So that sort of gives you an out, because it’s very clear what I want to talk to you about.

And the third part is that key message, which is the headline, the most important thing you want to put across. And one of the best ways to understand the value and importance of a headline is, imagine you were reading an article, a newspaper, a blog article. If you start on paragraph seven, how long does it take you to work out what that article is really about? Do you get it straight away? Or are you still sort of working it out as you as you go through and adjusting your ideas as you go through the rest of the article?

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, I’m still figuring it out.

Chris Fenning

And as we go through, we sort of adjust what it may be about as new information comes along. But if you start with the headline and the first paragraph, assuming it’s a well-written headline and first paragraph, in most articles, newspapers, and so on, the headline and the first paragraph tell you what that article is going to be about. And that makes it easy for you to understand all the detail that comes afterwards. And that’s why you have a headline, and your key message is the most important thing you want to put across.

In the military, it’s often “Bottom Line Up Front” or BLUF is an acronym that’s quite commonly used. Put the most important thing at the front and then you can explain it, justify, expand it afterwards. But don’t put all that info first because you’ll lose the audience and they won’t know what’s important. So, you start with context, “This is the topic I want to talk to you about.” One bullet point, one sentence, then the intent, “Here’s what I intend you to do with it. Here’s why I’m talking to you about it, why you should pay attention,” another one sentence or one bullet point, and then the key message.

And we’ll be nice, you can have two sentences for that if you really want to expand it out. But very, very short, and it’s not about compressing the entire conversation into those 15 seconds. It’s about previewing, it’s about framing, which is the name of the technique, so that you can then go on and have that conversation, and your audience is not thinking those three killer questions, “What is this about? Why are you talking to me? And what is your point?”

Pete Mockaitis

Well, so we talked about the first minute, but, Chris, it seems that we’ve accomplished this within 15 seconds. Do you have pro tips on the other 45 seconds? Or what do you think about there?

Chris Fenning

Yes, otherwise, I mean, the first 15 seconds just wasn’t as catchy as the book. So, in the first minute, there are some other things that we should do, and I want to put in a caveat at this point. Like, all great models and methods and everything that we learn, there’s always a caveat, there’s always an exception. And what I want to make it clear is, for anyone listening to this and thinking, “Okay, so when I start a conversation, the very first thing I say is context, intent, and key message.” I’d say, “Hold on. First, please be a human.”

So, when you interact with people, have that human connection, have that relationship-building, like, “Oh, hey, Pete, I heard there was a storm in your area last week, and there were some fences damaged. Is your garden okay? Do you have anything, any issues there?” Have that type of conversation. And then at the moment you say, “Oh, by the way, I want to talk to you about…” when you switch to the work, that’s when these methods begin. Otherwise, it’s very robotic and we can come across as a very formulaic way of communicating. So, be a person first, but when you start talking about the work, that’s when these methods begin.

Pete Mockaitis

And I was going to say, with regard to the human versus work perspective, it’s funny because there’s, like, a whole spectrum there in terms of you might have something you need to share with a friend or your spouse, and this could actually be quite helpful in terms of getting things framed up, so they say, “Oh, okay, I understand,” to make for an effective conversation. But on the flipside, they might say, “Dude, why are you talking to me like that? We’re just pals here. There’s no need for this.” What’s your thoughts on that?

Chris Fenning

Yes. My thought on that at the moment, as I’m picturing my wife, who recently said, “If you context, intent, key message me one more time…” so, definitely, definitely some limitations on it. However, it comes down to situation, to topic, to your particular style, your friend’s style, and so on. If you’re in a friendly, friend-based situation, you’re chatting to your pal, but you’ve got an urgent situation that you want to talk about, then this can help you cut straight to the point.

On the flipside, if your style with them has always been more casual, well, then be more casual. You can adapt the style, but just know that when you start talking about the important thing that you want to communicate, the longer it takes you to deliver those three pieces, the more confused they will be and the more likely they are to make assumptions about the reason for their conversation or what the topic might be, and so on. So, the quicker you frame that up, the less assumptions there are, and the less risk there is for the rest of the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis

Understood. All right.

Chris Fenning

So, the rest of the first minute includes one major piece and two small steps that can make the difference between you being polite or not. And the major piece is a summary. Now, this is useful if you’re about to explain something that’s big, or if you’re giving a status update, for example.

So, when we talk at work, we don’t have time to put in all the details. We have to summarize a much bigger piece of work, or a much bigger topic, or something that is more complex than we can fit into a conversation. And a way to do that is to deliver a summary in the next 30 to 45 seconds that make up the second part of the first minute, and that summary uses a method called goal problem solution. So, the overall structure of the first minute is frame it in that first 15 seconds, and then you can summarize your big message, and then you can have the rest of your conversation.

Pete Mockaitis

So, goal problem solution, are we hearing some of that in that 45 seconds then?

Chris Fenning

Yes, you are. Yes, and it’s a really, really good way to summarize or set up almost any topic at work. Let’s give an example. If I was giving you a status update, you’d say, “Hey, Chris, you promised you’d deliver this edited podcast episode in the next week. Where are we with that?” And I could say, “Well, my goal is to get it to you on Friday. The problem is my laptop died yesterday, but what I’m doing about it is I’ve borrowed a laptop for a friend and I’m making up some hours over the weekend. Would you like to know any more about any of those pieces?” So, I’ve summarized an entire situation. I didn’t say, “Oh, the dog knocked over my water, and the house nearly burnt down because there was an electrical fire.” I didn’t go into all that detail.

Pete Mockaitis

Sorry to hear that, Chris.

Chris Fenning

It was a tough day for the dog.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah.

Chris Fenning

And that’s what we add in. We tend to add all of that detail, we tend to add things that are chronological, things that happen in the order in which events occurred, and that’s a very natural way of telling stories and communicating, but it’s not a very effective way of doing it. And so, using goal problem solution gives you, as a listener, some critical information.

First is the goal, and that’s, “This is the thing that we’re trying to achieve.” In this case, in the example, trying to deliver an edited podcast episode, “Hey, I want to deliver this.” Now you understand what the whole topic is. It’s sort of an expansion on the topic. “Well, the problem was my laptop died. I haven’t been able to do it.”

And then I move on to a solution, which is forward-focused, and I’m looking at what I’m doing about it. I’m telling you the solution to the problem so we can achieve the goal, and the goal is what you care about. So, by doing all of that, I’ve condensed everything into a short summary, and then I finished it with a question, “Is there anything about that you’d like to know more about?”

And that gives you the opportunity to go, “Yeah, what happened with the water and the dog?” And you can expand on the problem, you can clarify what the goal was, or you can probe what the solution is going to be. You get to make those choices and it’s gone from being a very long monologue into a short status update followed by a dialogue where we both get to talk.

Pete Mockaitis

And I’m curious, with regard to problem, I mean, sometimes there just aren’t any problems. You know, the goal was, “I would get you this podcast by Friday, or whenever, and so my team’s working on it. And we should have no problem getting that done.”

Chris Fenning

There you go, that’s your problem.

Pete Mockaitis

I mean, so if there’s no problem, we just skip it, and that’s that?

Chris Fenning

That’s that. When it comes to status updates, if everything’s on track, just say everything’s on track. And that is one of the hardest things to do. I imagine a lot of people listening to this are thinking, “Well, my status update meetings are, we’re all in a room, and we go around the table, and everybody lists the stuff they did in the last week, and that’s the status update.” And that’s so painful and not efficient and, generally, doesn’t give value to everyone else in the room.

There are lots of reasons why we do it. There’s an innate human need to demonstrate value or a belief that we have to show we’re doing work otherwise people might not see we’ve got value in our roles. But in those situations, imagine if the updates – because nothing was going wrong – if your update was just, “We’re trying to achieve this goal and everything’s on track. Is there anything you like to ask me about?” If that was the update, how short would those meetings be?

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, that would be delightful. I think you’re really nailing something here with regard to meetings and the time they take, is folks want, I don’t know, sometimes we want someone, somewhere to say, “Good job,” and to know that, “I’m doing real things even if I’m working remotely,” or, “This is ambiguous knowledge work with lots of collaborators. I promise I’m actually doing my job.”

Chris Fenning

Yes.

Pete Mockaitis

Like, to be seen and heard and acknowledged, and that’s our humanity, and it results in long meetings. So, there’s our trade-off.

Chris Fenning

It is. It does. Now there’s a way that we, as the person speaking, can help find a middle ground, and it’s what I’ve been doing through this is always ending with a question, “Now here’s my update. Is there something you’d like to go into more detail about?” Or if I gave an update and everything was okay, so, I’m working on this super important project, but everything is on time, on budget, no risks, no issues, that utopia that very rarely exists.

But let’s assume that everything’s going well, and I said, “Yeah, we’re on this project. Here’s our next milestone. Everything’s on track. But can I take a minute to tell you just a couple of the great things my team has done, or a couple of the great things that we’ve done that has helped us stay on track?” And then the rest of the room can either say, “No, we don’t have time,” or, “No, we’re not interested,” or, “Yeah, sure you’ve got a couple of minutes to do that,” and you’re asking for permission rather than just taking time out of that group environment.

Pete Mockaitis

I like that a lot because you are asking permission, and, too, if I’m hearing that, I think that you’re a swell person who wants to give credit to your team and it’s not about you, “Can I tell you how amazing I am?”

Chris Fenning

That’s a tough one.

Pete Mockaitis

So, that’s really cool. And I’m feeling, like, the tug, like, the right answer is, “Of course, I should say yes, but I could also set parameters. Like, how about 40 seconds?” And then away we go. Or, “Chris, I think we all know that your team is full of rock stars, but tell them we appreciate them, and let’s move on.” And so, there we go.

Chris Fenning

Yes, exactly that. You’re giving everyone else in the room permission to say no, which comes back to, I mentioned there were two little things we can do to be polite in the first minute. And one is a time check and the other is a validation checkpoint. Now the actual semantics on those are less important than what they are. The first is, at some point in your first minute, preferably near the beginning, ask if the other person has the amount of time that you need. And here’s an example of how to do it badly, “Hey, Pete, do you have a minute?”

Pete Mockaitis

One minute?

Chris Fenning

And the reason that’s bad, yes, is most of us can’t organize our own thoughts in a minute, let alone have a conversation about whatever it is we want to talk about. So, if you ask for a minute, you better darn well need just a minute, because otherwise you’re setting yourself up to miss your own deadline. And I laughed while I said it, but this is a tiny but important reputation hit.

Because if I asked for a minute and then take five or ten, I’ve either badly misjudged it, I can’t time manage, I lied, I didn’t care, there’s all sorts of very, very small impressions that I give through that one statement. And if I keep doing that, over time, I’m becoming…I’m demonstrating that I’m less reliable. So, don’t ask for a minute. Ask for the actual amount of time or more than you think you’re going to need.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. Well, Chris, lay it on us, I’d love example, example, example, in very different professional contexts, maybe even some personal contexts, just to mix it up. We’ve got some nifty tools: the context, the intent, the key message, and a goal problem solution. Lay it on us, here we are at work, we got to say some things, say it for us in the format.

Chris Fenning

All right. So, we’ll go with somebody who works in a call center talking to their team leader because they want some time off. So, a great way to do it would be to go up, and say, “Hi, I’d like to talk to you about vacation. I’m looking for permission because I want to take next Thursday off work.” That’s the context intent and key message.

And then I could say, “Look, I’m trying to keep a good work-life balance, and I need to use my vacation by the end of the year, or I’m going to lose it. The problem is we are stacked as a team. I know that the call center volumes are high and it’s tough to take time off. So, what I’ve done is I’ve asked someone else in the team if they can cover my shift so that I can get this time off. Is that okay if I have the time off for next week?”

So, there was a lot going on in there and it would involve, in that case, finding someone else to cover a shift and so on, but in that situation, you can deliver a lot of information but in a very short period of time. And then the manager would have questions, “Well, when and who is going to cover you? And do they have the right qualifications? And what do you mean there’s a problem with using your vacation time?” There are all sorts of ways a conversation could go, but it’s been set up very clearly in the first place.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. How about another?

Chris Fenning

All right. It’s a different situation. You’ve got a merger and acquisition, small company being purchased by a large company, and there’s a problem, in this case. One of the managers in the small company is nervous about their, perhaps, nervous about their job. It’s a very different situation and quite emotive. And they could say to their new line manager, “Hi, I’d like to talk to you about the reduction of roles. I’ve got some questions. I’m actually a little bit concerned about what my position will be in the new company.” That’s the framing with the context, intent, and key message.

Then on the goal problem solution, “I know that our goal is to bring these companies together, and there’s going to be some downsizing. The problem is I’m really uncertain about what’s coming and it’s affecting how I think about what we’re doing next, and I’m struggling to deal with all of the integration activities we have. What I’d like to do is take some time with you to understand what that future hierarchy is going to be, and understand what my role in it might be.”

Now that’s a hard one to do. There’s a lot of emotion in there, and there are lots of different ways to approach it, but it very clearly lays out the conversation, and hopefully takes that emotion out at the beginning of the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s beautiful, and it comes across way better than, “So, are you going to fire me or what?” It’s, like, that may be the burning question that you have, but you are covering that and other bases, so you give even more good context and information if they, in good faith, engage you fully and candidly in that dialogue so it’s good.

And I think that it may be a good meta-lesson there is if you have, I don’t know, fear, resistance, trepidation, associated with saying a thing, for whatever reason, like it’s vulnerable or it might seem unprofessional, that’s what you want to know, “Am I going to get fired? Is this going to reduce my power? Am I still going to get paid my full bonus?” Like, “Oh, I feel so selfish, like not a team player, like they have these, you know, but this really is on my mind.”

I think that, in some ways, Chris, just taking the time to think through it with these key steps or ingredients can go a long way in bringing a little bit of peace and courage so you feel like you can go there instead of just wondering and keeping silent.

Chris Fenning

Oh, yes. Yeah, absolutely. Having a structure to help you plan a difficult conversation is so valuable. So valuable. And let’s explore the…we’ll give a slightly different example on that “Fear for my job,” and then I’m going to give a very everyday example of the start of a conversation that people have got, “Oh, yeah, I can see that in my day-to-day.”

But in this example where I’m worried about my job, “Am I going to get my bonus? Am I going to get my severance pay? Will I have a job next month?” I have a very clear goal for me. My goal is to find out whether I have a job. The problem is my boss is not telling me, so my solution is, “Go and demand from my boss.” That’s my internal version of goal problem solution.

Now I need to take a breath and think about it from their perspective and the organization’s perspective. So how can I find, how can I get what I want, get what I need, but talk about it in a way that isn’t just, “Me, me, me. I need to know my stuff. And you’re all bad and you’re the reason I can’t have it”? So, my goal is to find out, but the goal of the organization is to have a smooth transition with these two companies coming together.

My problem is I have no idea what’s going on, the company’s problem is there’s uncertainty about what’s coming next, and so the solution happens to be the same, “Can we please have a conversation and get clarity on what the time frames will be for knowing or what the announcements will be, or help me understand the process?”

So, your personal goal and problem are probably not going to be the things that come out of your mouth when you’re in a workplace situation. You need to find a way to frame them from the perspective of the organization, from the other individual, so that you can find that common ground, and it takes the conflict out, because as soon as you can find a common goal, in this example we want the organizations to merge together well, that’s a common goal. You get the other person going, “Yes, we do. I understand. We’re on the same page.”

And then you can introduce a problem that hopefully the other person will be like, “Yes, I want to help solve that problem because we’re trying to achieve that goal that benefits us all.” So, that little bit of preparation using a structure can help you find that common ground with the other person.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And you said you had one everyday example?

Chris Fenning

Yes. So, a goal problem solution for an everyday example is, “I’m trying to set up next month’s town hall meeting or our next month’s team meeting. The problem is I’m struggling to get approval from some of the individuals that are being invited. Can you help me get there, get in touch with their team leader, and get their approval?”

So, it’s a common goal, “I’m trying to get people to come up to next month’s or next week’s team meeting. The problem is I’m just not getting the feedback or interaction. So, as a solution, can I enlist your help, Mr. or Mrs. Manager, to get that interaction from the other team and get the feedback that I need?”

So, it doesn’t have to be a big topic. It’s still about finding that common ground so that the manager knows, “This is what we’re trying to achieve. Yes, I agree that’s important. This is the problem standing between us and that goal. Yes, I understand that that’s important,” and then you’re talking about the solutions. So, it can be big, it can be small, so it works in a great range of circumstances.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, now after the first minute, I’d love it, you’re big on being concise, any pro tips on keeping things succinct, concise, as you are speaking beyond the first minute?

Chris Fenning

Yes. Three points at a time and then a question. So, if you’ve made three separate points and haven’t paused for the other person to ask a question or interject or provide feedback, you’ve gone on for too much.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Chris Fenning

So, that’s one. The second is plan what you’re going to say. If you get the first minute right, you’ll get to your question, you’ll deliver the most important piece of information, you’ll have summarized things so that you actually don’t need a lot of what you might expect in the conversation. You’ve already stripped out the detail, you’ve already stripped out the backstory, and if the other person doesn’t need or want it, they might just say, “Yes, okay, here’s the answer to your question,” and you’re done. So, plan for a really solid first minute, and you’ll probably find that your conversations are all a lot shorter.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Chris Fenning

The last piece is the validation checkpoint. If you’ve done a great first minute, and I framed it and I’ve asked if you’ve got time, “So, Pete, I want to talk to you about this thing. Do you have five minutes?” and you’ve said yes, and I’ve given a summary. Once I’ve given that summary, I just want to check, “Is this, like, are you the right person to help me with this? And can we do it now?”

Because having heard the summary, you might think, “Actually, this is a much bigger topic. I really want to give this attention. Can we schedule time later?” Or, you might say, “Actually, no, I’ve realized I don’t have the info you need,” or, “I’m not the right person,” and you can redirect me. So, validate that the person you’re talking to has the ability and the availability to talk to you at that moment.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, now could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Chris Fenning

My favorite quote comes from my dad, actually, which is, “If you want to do something, don’t talk about doing it, go and do it.”

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Any favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Chris Fenning

Yes, there’s a piece of research that blows my mind every time I hear about it. There’s an experiment about our inability to read emotions from text, and it was called “Can we communicate as well as we think?” and it’s by Kruger, Epley, Parker and Zhi, and they published in the Journal of Psychology. And they did an experiment where they sent people text messages that was sarcastic, and tried to get people to understand whether they were sarcastic, and it was 50/50.

And then they did it with their spouses, and it was still 50/50 as to whether people got the sarcasm. We just can’t interpret emotion from text. And it’s a brilliant piece of research, and it comes up so many times in things that I read and teach as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, Chris, thank you for that, and props for having a specific citation. Extra credit for you. Extra credit. And a favorite book?

Chris Fenning

At the moment, my favorite book is, Thinking 101 by Woo-kyung Ahn. And it’s blowing my mind about my own biases and the way that I interpret and think about things. It’s really challenging the way that I approach problems and think. It’s a very eye-opening book.

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Chris Fenning

Calendly. I couldn’t do this job efficiently without Calendly. It’s product placement, but playing calendar tennis with people, “Do you have time here? What about 10 o’clock there?” and juggling time zones. Calendly makes it so easy.

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome at your job?

Chris Fenning

I don’t do it as often as I like, but my favorite habit is going to bed on time. It sets up the next day, the next few days. And if I don’t do it, I really pay the price.

Pete Mockaitis

And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; you hear it quoted back to you often?

Chris Fenning

The thing that comes back most often, and this is the most highlighted phrase in the book from Kindle, so Kindle’s very nice, it shows you what people are highlighting, and 900 people have highlighted that framing should take no more than three sentences and be delivered in less than 15 seconds. Now for some reason, that is the piece that resonates with people, and I completely agree. Three sentences, 15 seconds. That’s all it takes to set up a great conversation.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Chris Fenning

My social hangout is LinkedIn. Come find me there. And my website is ChrisFenning.com.

Pete Mockaitis

And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Chris Fenning

I do. If you want to be awesome at your job and stand out, take 30 seconds to prepare for an important conversation. In fact, take 30 seconds to prepare for any work conversation. It’ll help you get clear on your message, you’ll have shorter conversations, and you’ll get the results that you want.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Chris, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you many fabulous conversations.

Chris Fenning

Thank you, Pete.

949: How to End Miscommunications, Unclarity, and Endlessly Repeating the Same Conversation with Marsha Acker

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Marsha Acker reveals how to break free from the cycle of miscommunication and misunderstandings.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The root of misunderstandings and miscommunications
  2. The four actions of every conversation
  3. The more effective way to disagree with someone 

About Marsha

Marsha Acker, CPCC, PCC, CPF, is the host of the Defining Moments of Leadership podcast, the founder and CEO of TeamCatapult, and the author of two groundbreaking and thought-provoking books:  The Art and Science of Facilitation and Build Your Model for Leading Change (a workbook). Marsha has an international presence and reputation as a facilitator of meaningful conversations, a host of dialogue, and a passionate agilest. She coaches leadership teams to grow their collective leadership and to build the capability of achieving true, sustainable behavior change through dialogue.

Resources Mentioned

Marsha Acker Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Marsha, welcome.

Marsha Acker

Thanks, Pete. I’m happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m excited to talk to you, hear your wisdom. And first, I got to know, your pitch claimed you had the answer for “Why do organizations have the same conversations over and over again without getting anywhere, feeling frustrated?” So, I’m just going to put you on the spot right from the beginning. What’s up with that and what do we do about it?

Marsha Acker

Well, I think that so much of what we do every day is about having conversations with one another, and I think many of us would look at conversations and communication as not something that we need to go get any kind of development around it because we already do it. I mean, we do it all day every day, and I think many of us likely think we’re good at it.

But what, in the work that we do, I have found there’s a model that we use to help all of us look at the structure of conversations, and the structure can actually predict the outcome of the conversation. So, maybe a quick litmus test would be to think about “How often do you feel like you have the same conversation over and over again?”

Like, you had a conversation a couple weeks ago, and now you’re back in a conversation, and you’re starting to have that kind of Groundhog Day moment where you’re going, “Hey, wait a minute. I think we’ve been here before.” So, a lot of times I think many of us have those moments, but we don’t really know what to do about it. So, real quick, I think what we could do is, if you want to play with me for a moment, we could lay down a little bit of the theory, and I can tell you a story about how I apply it.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes. Well, I guess, first, I want to tee up the stakes here. Is it, in fact, possible to exit this? Because I think it was Dr. John Gottman who was talking about married couples, he’s like, “You’re going to be basically having the same couple arguments for decades until you die,” which, in a way, was heartbreaking. But in another way liberating, like, “Oh, okay. Well, then I guess we’ll need to figure out how to disagree in an effective, loving kind of a way.” But are you suggesting that, “No, we are not doomed to this fate”?

Marsha Acker

I think that if we notice that we keep coming back around to the same thing, the way I think about conversations is there’s likely something that, each one of us is thinking, but not really saying, or not saying it in a way that the other person can hear it.

And so, that leaves both of us, in some way, kind of leaving the conversation with a piece that we’re thinking but not saying. And I think that’s part of the work to do, is, “Can we be in the conversation and actually be authentic and be effective in how we’re communicating with one another?”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So, is it your premise that should we find a means of effectively articulating the unsaid, then we will escape the groundhog loop?

Marsha Acker

I think when we’re able to really fully name what’s happening for us, yes, because we can escape the groundhog loop because both of us are able to work with new information or new data that comes into the conversation. So, that’s partly what enables us to change the nature of the outcome.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. And so, you said then, in order to pull this off, you want to cover some conceptual territory?

Marsha Acker

Yes.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, go for it.

Marsha Acker

So, it’s work that comes from David Kantor in his theory of structural dynamics, theory of face-to-face communication. And, basically, what it says is that everything that we’re saying can be coded, and if we can code a conversation, that’s partly what will allow us to change the nature of it. So, there’s quite a bit of depth to it, but the very simplest way to start is in action. So, really, everything that we’re saying can be coded into one of only four actions, everything in conversation.

So, the four actions are, one is to set a move, which is to set direction in a conversation. So, move often points. You just made a move when you said, “Let’s hear what you have to say about the theory.” That would be a move. The second action is to follow. So, the follow gets behind or supports what’s happening in a conversation.

The third is to oppose. So, oppose offers correction. It says, “Hey, hold on. Stop. Wait a minute.” And then the fourth is a bystand. And a bystand offers a morally neutral comment about what’s happening in a conversation. So, to bystand, I might say, “I’m noticing I’m really engaged in a conversation right now.” It just puts some data into the conversation.

So, someone could make a move and say, “Let’s go get ice cream.” Someone could follow and say, “That sounds good to me.” Third person might say, “Nope, don’t like it, don’t want to go.” And a fourth person might say, “Well, I’m noticing we have two different ideas about what we’re going to do. What do we want to do next?” So, it’s sort of prompts for a new move.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m fixating on the, I think, did you say innocent? Or maybe I just added that myself, because innocent bystander tends to go together, like in comic books or something, “Innocent bystander.”

Marsha Acker

Yeah. No, just to bystand.

Pete Mockaitis

To bystand, you said that it’s just an observation. It doesn’t have judgment to it. But I got to know, in some ways, I don’t know, it almost feels like it can, like, “I’m noticing that your eyes are dimming and you are growling.” It’s sort of the implication is almost, like, “You’re behaving angrily and inappropriately in this context.” So, I don’t know, maybe I’m missing too much detail.

Marsha Acker

No, it’s great. So, here’s what’s really great about it. So, what you’re naming is, a lot of times, I think in conversation, what happens is we say one thing, so we voice one thing, and if you were just simply coding the conversation, you might code that as a bystand. But I’m on the receiving end of it and I’m going, “Hmm, that doesn’t feel…” like, I’m not experiencing it as a morally neutral statement because it feels like it’s loaded up behind it.

And so, a lot of times when that’s happening, what we’re doing is we’re saying one thing but we intend another. So, I’m speaking a bystand, but I’ve got judgment behind it, and so I’m really intending an oppose.

Pete Mockaitis

I see. Okay. Levels and layers.

Marsha Acker

Well, that’s the tricky part. So, I’ll tell you a quick story. My daughter, when she was much younger, I called it our Groundhog Day conversation, but it would be the, “Get your shoes on, please” conversation. And I would make a move, and I’d say, “Hey, Lauren, the bus will be in here in 10 minutes. I need you to get your shoes on.”

And her response will be, “Okay.” Walk away. Come back. “Bus will be here in five minutes. Need you to get your shoes on.” “Okay.” Five minutes later, at the door, and when I would turn around and say, “Lauren, the bus is here. Let’s go.” And there’s a little girl at the end of the hallway screaming because she says, “I don’t have my shoes on.”

And so, we had this pattern. I was making moves, and she was voicing a follow. She said, “Okay,” but she intended an oppose. It’s not what she meant. And it sets up this pattern of we’re saying one thing but we mean another. And it creates what we call, in the structure of coding it, it creates a covert action. So, what happens is the oppose, both in your example of you are bystanding, but what’s really behind it is a covert opposition.

My daughter was doing the same thing. She would voice a follow, but she would intend an oppose. Now, you know, why is that? Well, somewhere along the way, I might have laid down the expectations that “You’re not allowed to tell me no,” or, “I need you to do something different.” So, what I learned was that was really much more about…she’s a teenager now and we can still get into this pattern because every time when…so what happens is that we’ll have one or two of these actions that we can tend to do more in our behavior, particularly in different systems. So, in my home space, I’m often the one with her making moves, and I’m sort of expecting her to follow. But what’s not helpful is that she’s quite independent, even as a little person, definitely as a teenager, she’s quite independent.

And so, one of the ways that I started to change our stuck conversation, our stuck Groundhog Day conversation, was I stopped being the one making all of the moves, and I’d start to enter that conversation differently with the intent to give her the space to make the move that I could follow. So, our conversations would sound a little different, I would start to do more bystands, and I would say, “I’m noticing it’s 10 till 7:00. The bus is going to be here in 10 minutes or 15 minutes. What do you need to get done?”

And she’d think about it for a moment, and she’d be like, “Well, I need to put my shoes on.” And I’d be like, “Great. So, do you know where your shoes are?” So, I started to bring more bystand into the conversation and allow her the space to make a move. And it took a little bit more conversation in that way. But eventually, what she would come around to do is say, “Well, I need to get my shoes.” I’m like, “Great. So why don’t you do that? You’ve got 15 minutes. So, when do you want to do that?”

So, where I could, I began to shift the conversation, and it helped to change the nature of how we were engaged in that conversation. And I use that because I think it’s just such a really simple example, but it happens so often in leadership teams, across our workplaces. Particularly in American business, I think we have managed out or trained out the voice of opposition.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s intriguing on so many levels. And you said this happens thousands of times. I was like, “Yes, I have asked my children thousands of times to put their shoes on.” What’s intriguing in a number of dimensions, like one, just general coaching principle. If you pose a question and they think about it, then that is more active and engaging and more likely to feel rewarding. Like, “Oh, I figured out that I need to get my shoes.” And then they did, and like, “I’m taking care of things.”

It’s funny, my kids right now, they’re five and six, and one and a half, but the five and six-year-olds, it seems like they’re relishing these little tastes of independence. They could say, “I’m going to make some toast.” All right, you go for it. And so, they’re into it. They really just plow through bread because they enjoy making toast and it’s delicious.

But I think, even more than that, they like that, hey, they can’t use the stovetop on their own, they can’t use the oven on their own, but even the microwave can be dicey. But the toaster is like, “Okay, I push the button and then I walk away, and then there we go.” But in many ways, I think, Kwame Christian said, he was on the show, he’s awesome, Negotiate Anything is his podcast. In many ways, we have an inner toddler within us, and so that’s strong.

And I’m intrigued by, when you say covert action, with the shoes, I think that sometimes what’s going on is that they’re thinking, “Well, I’m not opposed to putting on shoes. But at the moment, I’m very engaged with this little mouse character or whatever.” And so, I think that’s funny because covert action makes me think of, “Okay, I’ve got a spy who’s like sneaking into enemy territory.”

But I guess that, too, can run a whole spectrum associated with, “How much am I willfully saying yes when I mean no because I’m hoping they’re just going to shut up and forget about it,” versus, “How much am I like, ‘Oh, yeah, sure. Cool, yeah. Sure, I mean I’ll get to that soonish, so it’s fine, yeah’?”

Marsha Acker

What I’m often going for is wanting leaders to become more aware, more self-aware, of their behavior, how does their behavior, it’ll likely be different how we behave at home, talking to our children versus how do we behave in our leadership team, versus how do we behave in our development team when we’re collaborating with eight, ten peers.

I think it’ll be different, there will be spaces. And I think a lot of it happens, it gets laid down for us at a very early age, in our formative years, we develop. One of my childhood stories is not to oppose because it’s rude. And so, that got laid down very early on for me. The way that translated into adult and business life is oppose has often been my least used. It’s been the one for me to work on the most. Regardless of the role that I was in, it would be the one, kind of unconsciously, that I would use some of the other actions.

Or, sometimes I’d just make a new move. If I didn’t really want to directly oppose you, I’d just change the subject, which is another pattern that sits underneath of this. Or, many teams fall into the place of they’ll just agree, they’ll say, “Yes,” or, “Sure.” Or, they’ll say, “Sure,” and then they go out of the room after they finished talking to you, and they tell six other people what they really think of your idea, but they don’t bring that conversation in the room.

So, ultimately, what I’m all about, because I think it’s what changes the nature of the conversation, is, “Can we bring the offline conversation online? And can we be more aware of what our behavioral tendencies are, and where we go to say one thing, but we actually intend something else?” and catching sight of the difference between the action and the intent.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s intriguing. And I guess, as you have this language and you can start to view conversations in this way, that’s intriguing. So, your goal is to get the offline, online, and get it in there. I think sometimes I follow, maybe often, I follow, I use the words okay, and I do the thing. But internally, I’m thinking, “This is so stupid.”

And I don’t know if that’s valuable, but I guess I’ve also had the internal conversation of, “But it’s pointless to bring this up because it’s not going to affect anything. So, the most efficacious, expedient thing for me to do is to just comply, even though it’s going to result in a worse outcome, but fine.” And I guess maybe sometimes there’s a time and a place where that’s just the reality, and so live it, but go ahead.

Marsha Acker

You and many, many, many, many other people. I watch it over and over. And I often say to folks if you’re in a group of people, and you’re not going to be with them for an ongoing basis, you’ve stepped in, somebody’s made a move, you’re following, like the juice doesn’t feel worth the squeeze, so you just say, “Yep, I disagree or I see it differently, but I’m willing to do it.”

I think doing that intentionally is one thing. Doing it out of a habit is another. And I think those things that you are thinking, what I would offer is those things that you’re thinking are actually quite valuable. But it definitely takes a system, like it takes a group of people that you’re working with on an ongoing basis. Because I think what matters is not that it happens one time or in one moment or with one group, but when it gets to be a stuck pattern, like when it’s a Groundhog Day conversation.

Because I think that’s where you’ll, if you talk to people, all the things that are in the news today about quiet quitting, and people are just burnt out, and they’re tired, and they’re exhausted, and they don’t feel connected, and it’s super hard to connect on Zoom. I hear all of that, and I go straight to this model of, “Yep, because we’re not having the real conversation.”

And people get really exhausted, “At the end of the day, if all I’ve done is have surface level conversations, I’ve not really been able to say what I think, I don’t think anybody wants to listen, so I just sort of fall into this victim mode or this apathetic mode, and I get into doing this sort of I’ll just show up and do the thing until I can do something better.” Like, none of us want to work in that kind of setting or in that kind of situation.

So, I always bring it back to, “Well, I wonder what the pattern is. I wonder which of these actions is being voiced and which are missing,” because those patterns, like things that keep recurring, there will be data in that. And so, I’m a huge advocate for teams, leaders at any level, building the muscle of, “Can we have the real conversation? Can we bring the real conversation online?” And it takes time. It’s not a one-time fix.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good. So, that’s the main thing is having the real conversation. This reminds me, we had Amy Edmondson on a couple times, talking psychological safety. Any pro tips for how we can have the real conversation more often? One, so we got some coding, we got some awareness, that’s cool. Anything else in terms of building our own conversational courage and/or creating an environment where people feel more comfortable speaking up?

Marsha Acker

Well, I think the work is highly correlated to Amy’s work. Actually, Amy Edmondson and David Kantor worked together at Harvard, so both of their theories are quite distinctly linked. It does take container-building or creating the space. I often say sometimes it can be just helpful to introduce your team to the four-player model as a way to name that, actually, we need all four of these actions in a conversation in order for them to be effective. So, sometimes just all of us starting to gain awareness that we need all four and be watching for when we’re not hearing one of them. So, I think that’s one way.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s great. That’s pretty simple. You just highlight, “Hey, this is what’s up.” And then someone might say, “Hey, I noticed that nobody opposed anything over this whole three-hour meeting. That’s interesting. All just coincidentally in unilateral consensus agreement? What are the odds? Or is someone not saying something that needs to be said?”

Marsha Acker

And, actually, Pete, what I love about what you’re doing is that you’re doing it with a little bit of humor, and I think that that is key to some of this work is to find a way to make it light and humorous, rather than…I realized really many years ago as I was starting to introduce this model to teams and leaders, so they’d take it and they’d be so excited, and then go off to the next meeting, and it was like, “You, you have made too many moves. You need to stop that,” with a bit of finger pointing.

And I was like, “Well, that’s not really what we’re after.” Like, it’s a model to create awareness, but I don’t think it’s really effective if we use it to sort of poke people in the eye with. So, I love the way you’re sort of tongue-in-cheek saying that.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you. And when it comes to opposing, I’m curious, do you have any, because I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I imagine for many, that might be the spookiest of the four to step up and do. Any pro tips or any magical words or phrases that are great for opposing? I imagine you’re like, “No, you’re wrong!” is probably not the best way to do it.

Marsha Acker

Well, actually, there is. Well, so two things I’d say. One is we likely all know someone who’s really good at it, so just think about the person. It won’t be hard for everyone. It is definitely based on our behavioral model, like our viewpoint of how we grew up and how we think about the voice of oppose and what it does. So, likely there’s at least one person usually in each group. We sometimes load them up and we call them the devil’s advocate or the naysayer, which I’d encourage everybody to just stop using the labels because I don’t think they’re helpful.

But if you find someone who’s really good at bringing oppose, you can just watch and listen. Sometimes, though, for people who are stuck in opposition, the thing that will be challenging for them is to make a new move. So, they can be really good at opposing, but not good at the suggestion.

So, a really effective oppose, like a way to bring a really effective oppose, is to actually start with more follow and bystand because those are the actions of more inquiry. They’re also the places that, so if you’ve made a move, and you’ve said, “I think we need to switch all of our computers out, and go from Macs to PCs.” And if I want to oppose that, if I just come right back and say, “Nope, I disagree,” it’s helpful because it’s a really clear oppose, so that’s great.

But really, if I just say no, and I push back without voicing anything else, then we’re kind of stuck because now you’ve got an idea and I’ve got an idea, and we’re actually put ourselves in this debate or clash about, “Which one of us is going to have the winning idea?” So, a more effective way for me to oppose that might be to start with a follow, so what’s something about what you’ve suggested that I actually do align with.

So, I might say something like, “Pete, I really appreciate, and I actually share your value about keeping us up to date in technology. I’m with you on that.” I might bystand and say, “You know, I’m noticing that that would create…it would be really expensive. And it’s the first part of the year, we’re not quite sure where our revenue is at.” What’s my clear oppose? “I disagree with doing all of them right now and in this time frame.” But my new suggestion, my new move would be, “What if we looked at it, doing it five at a time?” or something like that? So, what’s my new suggestion? Then it would be back over to you.

And now what’s happened is I’ve actually put some of what I’m seeing, what I agree with, into the conversation, and the idea is that now we can continue a dialogue because I’ve put new data in, and it gives us something to build off of.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good. Thank you. All right. Well, in your book, Build Your Model for Leading Change, you spend a good portion talking about self-awareness. And I wanted to hear your perspective on why self-awareness is important for change, when, really, Marsha, it’s the other stupid dummy heads who are the problem.

Marsha Acker

I know. I think life would be so much easier if everybody else would change, and then the world would work according to how we view it and what we want to do.

Pete Mockaitis

Exactly.

Marsha Acker

Yeah, I’m a big proponent of self-awareness. And I think that there’s so much to be gained from even just building on…so one aspect of Build Your Model for Leading Change is having a way to look at behavior because I think that behavior drives, like everything that you and I’ve been talking about, behavior and how we’re showing up in communication. Everything starts and ends with how we work with other humans.

And knowing, “Why do I do what I do? And where did I learn to do that? And why do I have such an affinity for following and bystanding in a conversation? And, more importantly, where can I grow my leadership range? Where can I expand my behavior so that it’s more effective?” And I think the way to go about doing that is through getting to know ourselves in various ways, and how we change based on the different contexts that we’re in, because I think context matters.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, so you actually delineate seven critical junctures of functional self-awareness. Could you give us the one-minute version of what are each of these critical junctures?

Marsha Acker

So, the junctures actually expand on the theory of structural dynamics. And without going through each of them, what I would say is they’re about “Where are you able to identify what you do? Are you able to expand your behavioral range? And are you able to notice, kind of growing the muscle for noticing in the moment, when the conversation isn’t working, like, when you’re clashing with someone?”

There’s another piece of it is “Beginning to understand when the stakes rise for me and how my behavior changes when the stakes are high.” We talk a lot about what’s happening today in leading from high stakes, which I think many of us are doing, and how when we’re not at our best, so, “How do we lower the stakes?” And then I think the big piece of it is, “How do we expand our tolerance for difference?”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, sure thing. Well, I’d love it, so there’s a lot that we could dig into. Could you share with us, I believe, was it Tasha Eurich, we had on the show, who says, “You’re not as self-aware as you think,” is her assertion? Can you tell us, is there a particular zone in which many people overestimate their self-awareness? And how do you recommend we get after that?

Marsha Acker

I watched many leaders believe, like even if we just look at the four actions, many leaders believe that they are good at communicating, number one, with others, and that they are being clear in their communication. And I think the biggest gap that I watched people discover is where they’re not being clear. So, just the small examples, like we talked about today, where I think I’m saying to my daughter, “I need you to get your shoes on.”

Like, I think I’m communicating, but really, I’m doing something entirely different. It happens to me all the time, even with my own team. I’m fascinated. I’ve built a structure where we can give one another feedback in the moment about that. And so, I think it’s noticing when I think I’m doing one thing, but I’m actually doing something else, and it’s being interpreted really differently than what I intended.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, could you give us an example of a common way this unfolds?

Marsha Acker

So, we have a monthly team meeting, and often the purpose of that monthly meeting is really for us to carve out some time and actually slow down our conversations so that we can talk about how we’re working together. And so, I had come in with a move around some reflection questions that I was actually teeing up for everybody to think about as we led into the conversation about thinking about how we were working together as a team.

And I have a colleague who would have agreed that the purpose of our meeting is to align on how we’re working together, talk about how we’re working together, but this particular person at that moment wanted to be involved in creating the agenda for the conversation, not to have me come in with some pre-canned questions. And so, the feedback to me in that moment was, you know, I hold on, “I think we set out with the intention to have a conversation about how we work together, and I feel like I’m being driven to your agenda, not a collective agenda that we would create together.”

And I think the stakes were pretty high for that person because it’s risky to say that. I think it’s really risky to name it. I, in that moment, so the stakes were pretty high for me in that moment because I kept thinking, “It’s not what I intended.” I felt quite misunderstood, and I felt like I was being accused of something that was really not my intent at all.

And so, it was in the moment of actually being able to park any further forward movement and talk about where the mishap was, where the misunderstanding was, that we were able to take what was a fairly high-stakes moment, and then I began to realize, “Okay, so it’s not so much an opposition. It was an oppose but not necessarily the intent, but it was definitely an oppose to how I started it off.” And it became a really, really fabulous conversation afterwards, so that sort of friction moment led to a much deeper conversation about how we work and where some of that pattern, even that dynamic that showed up, how it shows up in other places. But it was really challenging, and I am fascinated by the number of times that I watch that happen in teams.

So, when teams have the ability to name it, high stakes are happening all the time for us, and it either leaves us to keep talking about, like, I think about it, it’s like moving deck chairs around on a sinking ship versus talking about what’s really going on.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, it’s intriguing. And it was cool that they voiced it, and so you got to go there. And I remember, it is fascinating, one time I was coordinating in this leadership conference, and I just said something like, “All right. Hey, guys, now we’re off to the sketch session,” and then one of the volunteers, their mom, I heard this third hand, their mom said, “Oh, I think Pete just lost Matt as a volunteer for next year.” I was like, “What? What? I just said now we’re going to walk over here.”

But apparently, for Matt, it was rather an important tradition that he – I think he was dressed in a costume of some sort – like, I marched them over, and that was one of his favorite things, and I’m like, “I had no idea.” I looked at the clock, I said, “Oh, it’s time for us to go there.” And then I was completely oblivious that that mattered. And had I known, I’d be like, “Oh, well, let’s wait for a moment for Matt to return with his costume.” Just kind of a goofy camp kind of vibe.

So, you’re right, like we can just be utterly clueless about such things and, yeah, that’s really eye-opening to make sure that we’ve sort of built in those checks associated with asking questions in that context, like, “Hey, what’s the most important for your volunteer experience this weekend?” It’s like, “Okay, good to know.”

Because, I mean, hey, they’re volunteers, right? I owe them everything in terms of when this event occurred, I want to make sure that they’re getting what they need. But I was like, “Oh, I just didn’t make the agenda in terms of the weekend.” So, I’m just rolling the dice, basically. You don’t know who you’re alienating and why if you don’t take the time to get the info.

Marsha Acker

And I love your example because, here’s the thing, none of us will ever be able to plan or attend all the places that we could just make a mess. And unless we have people around us who have the communicative competency to really raise their hand and say, “Hold on a second. Like, that’s not what I thought we were doing,” or to say it rather than go out of the room and stew about it. We will never know, and I don’t think we can ever plan for all of that.

So, I think about navigating all the change and the turmoil that exists today. Like, we’ve got to have people around us that can say, “Hold up, we’re about to go over the edge,” or “I really see something differently here. I think we’re about to miss something important.”

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. Well, Marsha, tell me anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about your favorite things?

Marsha Acker

No, I think we’ve covered a lot, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Marsha Acker

It comes from James Humes, and he says, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.”

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Marsha Acker

I ran across this research, actually, a couple of weeks ago, and it really resonated, still along the same lines, but it was done by ZipDo. So, I think you could go to Google and search it, it was done July of last year. They found that 85% of employees at all levels experience conflict to some degree, and that 60 to 80% of difficulties in organizations come from strained relationships. So, I found that information fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite book?

Marsha Acker

There’s a book by William Isaacs, it’s actually been around for some time, called Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Marsha Acker

A journal.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite habit?

Marsha Acker

I wake up each morning before everybody else, I have a nice cup of coffee, and I journal.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Marsha Acker

I’m known for saying this phrase a lot, “Awareness precedes choice, precedes change.”

Pete Mockaitis

And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Marsha Acker

You can find me on LinkedIn, Marsha Acker, so I’m happy to connect with folks. And then you can read about the book at BuildYourModel.com, and you can also find me at TeamCatapult.com. And if you go to TeamCatapult.com, there is a Re-D-Room, so re, dash, d, dah, room, you can download a handout about what we’ve been talking about today.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Marsha Acker

Find a way to elevate dialogue.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Marsha, this has been a treat. I wish you many enriching conversations.

Marsha Acker

Thanks, Pete.