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779: How to Unlock Greater Potential through Unlearning with Barry O’Reilly

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Barry O’Reilly shares his strategies on how to unlearn the mindsets and behaviors that hold us back.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key to breakthrough improvement 
  2. How to identify what you need to unlearn
  3. How to overcome the fear of change 

About Barry

Barry O’Reilly is the founder and CEO of ExecCamp, an entrepreneurial experience for executives, and the management consultancy Antennae. A business advisor, entrepreneur, and sought-after speaker, O’Reilly has pioneered the intersection of business model innovation, product development, organizational design, and culture transformation. He works with the world’s leading innovators, from disruptive startups to Fortune 500 companies.

He is a frequent writer and contributor to The Economist, Strategy+Business, and MIT Sloan Management Review, as well as a coauthor of the international bestseller Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scaleincluded in the Eric Ries Lean series and a Harvard Business Review “must-read” for would-be CEOs and business leaders. He is also an executive advisor and faculty member at Singularity University.

Resources Mentioned

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Barry O'Reilly Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Barry, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Barry O’Reilly
Yeah, no, it’s a pleasure to be here, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear your wisdom about your book Unlearn: Let Go of Past Success to Achieve Extraordinary Results. Could you kick us off by sharing a key thing that you’ve unlearned that has proven quite valuable in your own career?

Barry O’Reilly
Yeah. Well, even writing the book is probably one of the best examples. I have a solid history of D minuses in English literature through school. I’m dyslexic. I think if I told my teacher that I managed to write one book, never mind two, that they wouldn’t actually believe me. So, it was kind of, for me, one of the big unlearning I had to have is actually how to write a book.

And as conventional wisdom, I always say that writers sort of sit there by a roaring fire with a perfect velvet jacket on and a glass of wine, and just like tearing out pages and pages of content. Believe me, I tried that but it didn’t work for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Too hot?

Barry O’Reilly
Yeah, not too good. And, yeah, I would sit there for hours just with writer’s block and I couldn’t quite get the words on the page, and it was really frustrating because I felt like I was doing everything, the tips that people told me. And it’s a real challenge. So, then I started to think about, for me, “Well, how can I sort of reframe what I’m looking at? My existing behavior is not working, so, therefore, I need to unlearn. I’m not getting the outcomes that I’m aiming for writing whatever it is, 10,000 words, 10,000 words a day. Whatever I’d set myself.”

So, I started to actually think about, well, reframe my thinking away from just typing as the only way to create content, and I actually started thinking about content. It’s actually really like creating a book is content. And there were suddenly many ways to create content. Typing is just one of them. So, I started to think about other ways to create content. I could record it. I could speak it. I could interview. I could have someone help me.

So, I landed on the idea of actually talking because that was the most natural way for me to share my stories. And what I did is I got a journalist to interview me. So, we would write down, like some bullet points that I wanted to cover in each chapter, and a journalist would interview me, and I would just tell stories about what the chapter would be about. And we would record it and transcribe it using an AI transcription service.

So, we’d speak for 45 minutes, and I’d get in the region of 20,000 words, record it and get a copy of it in text very, very quickly. And the journalist would then sort of go through that copy, edit it really fast, and send me like this sort of early version of a chapter that was sort of relatively raw but it was edited. And it gave me something to react to. It’s like an MVP or minimal viable product or chapter.

And, suddenly, as I would read through it, then I’d be like, “Oh, no, that doesn’t need to go here,” and I’d remember things I’d forgotten to say. So, we got into this iteration really fast. And that literally got me there. I actually unlearned how to write a book by learning how to speak about the ideas that I wanted to talk about.

And the product of that is Unlearn. And then, yeah, many people are often surprised when they realize when I say I didn’t write hardly any of it. I spoke most of it and I got somebody to work with me, and an AI to transcribe it, edit it, and ship it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. So, you unlearned the notion of what writing a book looks like. And in so doing, you found an approach that worked for you, and that’s beautiful. Well, tell us, when it comes to zooming out a little bit and broadly speaking about people and unlearning, any other big surprises or aha discoveries you’ve made while researching and putting together Unlearn?

Barry O’Reilly
Well, the notion of unlearning was the thing that probably struck me the most. So, the first book I wrote was Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale. It was part of our recent series, or the lean series, and it was more successful than I could’ve imagined, to be honest. And when we released that book, a lot of, sort of medium to large scale enterprises or scale of startups were sort of saying, “We’re not a startup. We’re actually scaling our business, so what do we need to put in place to make us successful?”

And, suddenly, I was in the room with like Fortune 500 executives or startups in Silicon Valley that was scaling rapidly to work with them, to help them grow and innovate their businesses. And I was fortunate to spend time with these people, some of the most competent talented people you could ever hope to meet. And what I kept discovering was that while learning new things was hard, what was even harder was letting go of their existing behavior, especially if it had made them successful in the past.

So, the unlearning even in itself was a big aha moment for me, is that the real skill is not learning new things; it’s actually recognizing when your existing behavior and thinking is actually limiting your success, and then how do you find ways to adapt or innovate yourself to meet the sort of changing market or situation that you’re in.

And that was really my big inspiration for sort of writing Unlearn and the stories and the examples and so forth that are captured sort of within it, and have just sort of been really the things that have driven me on continuously to sort of do this. And for many people, it’s interesting because unlearning is sort of an act of, if you will, sort of vulnerability. You have to sort of say that, “What I know is actually limiting my success, and, really, I have to sort of shift out of it.”

And for many people, that’s very difficult because their success is tied to their behavior. Their behavior and actions are tied to their identity. You’re asking someone to change their identity, in a way, and that is extremely difficult for people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you maybe walk us through an example that illustrates the unlearning process that would be helpful for professionals looking to become all the more awesome at their jobs?

Barry O’Reilly
Yes. So, probably sort of one of the classic examples that I cover in the book is working with a senior executive from a Fortune 100 bank, and she took over the role or went into the role, and everywhere she went, first day, people just kept asking her to make decisions, everything from what direction should the company go in, right down to what paperclips they should order. Every single person was just turning to her to say, “What do we need to do here? What do we need to do here?”

And, for her, that was a signal. She was like, “There’s a decision-making problem here. I shouldn’t be worried about what paperclips we’re ordering. That should be people are confident and inspired enough to do that. Like, why is everything from paperclips right through the company direction landing on my desk and everyone freezing?”

Now, the process for unlearning is it’s a three-step process. It’s first about this recognition to unlearn, identifying or diagnosing where your existing behaviors are not working. In fact, the way I defined unlearning is it’s a process of letting go, reframing or moving away from one’s useful mindset and acquired behaviors that were effective in the past but now limit our success. So, it’s not forgetting, removing, or discarding your knowledge or experience. It’s the conscious act of letting go of outdated information and making space for new information to come in to inform your decision-making and action. So, the first step is a diagnosis.

So, straight away, this executive could diagnose that nobody was making decisions, and that is not the outcome that she was aiming for. She wanted to have a high-performing organization where people could take responsibility and have an accountability to make decisions at the appropriate level, depending on the decision to be made. So, that was a signal for her.

And so, I sat down with her, and I got her to say, “Well, let’s describe it. Let’s describe what success would be. If this is the behavior that needs to be unlearned, how could we talk about division or the objective or the outcome you’re aiming for the people would be achieving?” And I got her to sort of write a story about it, write a vision statement for what would be true in the world if they had unlearned this challenge.

So, she wrote down things like people would be making safe-to-fail decisions, that they’d make small decisions to understand. If they had to make a big decision, they’d break it into smaller parts and learn along the way what works and what doesn’t. And this sort of learned helplessness to make decisions would be removed, and all of her direction would be what success is and why it matters. None of her direction would be how to achieve it. The teams would offer opportunities on how to do that.

So, writing this sort of story, it gave her these sorts of outcomes that she talked about, the learned helplessness disappears, her direction of what success is and why it matters. She wouldn’t be saying how to achieve it. And, straight away, we wrote those down in an unlearning statement that would basically say, “The company would’ve unlearned when 100% of her direction is what success is and why it matters. Zero percent of her direction is how to achieve it. Zero percent of people displayed this learned helplessness when making decisions.”

So, suddenly, she had sort of had this statement that would encapsulate this unlearning of decision-making as a problem within that company, and she actually shared this with a bunch of her team to sort of for them to understand as like what would be success criteria for unlearning it. And then the next step is to sort of re-learn. It’s like getting people to try new behaviors to try and move towards these objectives or outcomes that we’ve described.

And so, I always get her to sort of like pick one of these outcomes that she originally had described to sort of focus on. So, there was the learned helplessness, how to achieve a decision, or what success is and why it matters. And we picked actually that this one, zero percent of her decisions would include how to get there.

So, she took this sort of very bold sort of stance. And I often say to people, “If you want to re-learn, it actually means you have to do something uncomfortable,” and people mostly write down like simple things that they would try that they’re used to, like just be quiet for a moment, or don’t be the first to speak when someone offers a problem, or let all the team speak before she did.

But the one she chose was even more uncomfortable. She said she wasn’t going to make any more decisions. So, if someone came to her and asked her to make a decision, her immediate reaction would be, “What do you think?” So, introduce this tiny little new behavior. Now, you can imagine when you’re a Fortune 100 executive, and you sort of announced that you’re not going to make any more decisions. It would cause panic across the company.

But the way that we made it sort of safer, rather than just sort of never make a decision again, she was just going to try it for one day. So, for one day, make it sort of safe-to-fail, she’d think big but start small about trying to conduct this new behavior of not making decisions, and asking people what do they think.

And this is sort of the moment that we call a breakthrough. So, a breakthrough is literally when you start to get this new information, new behavior, new action, and the results that actually give you a feedback statement that you should keep doing what you’re doing or do something different. So, literally, she went into work, I think it was on a Tuesday. I think it was a Tuesday. And every time one of her team came in to ask or to make another decision on something, she sat there and said, “That’s interesting. What do you think?”

And what that did was something really magical. It allowed her to learn. It allowed her to learn about the people and what help they might need. Because some people, when she asked somebody, “What do you think?” would freeze, would be sort of “Ah, I don’t know. I really need you to make this decision. I don’t have enough confidence or control to do it.” So, she could realize straight away that person would need coaching.

But other people, when she asked, “What do you think?” would say, “Well, we’ve got three options. We can do option A, and here’s the pros and cons of that. We could do option B, here’s the pros and cons. Here’s C and pros and cons. I think we should do C, and here’s why.” So, instantly, she could go, “Great. Let’s do C,” because she could see the rigor and the thinking that her team had actually performed, and it gave her confidence to say, “Right, that’s the direction we should try. Let’s do it.”

So, this simple act of just not making a decision and asking people to sort of say what they think sort of revealed all these insights about who is able to make decisions and should be encouraged to make more, versus who was hesitant to make them and needed coaching and support to sort of get there. And instantly then, she just gets this uplift in performance because once she starts doing that, all her teams start replicating that. And then, suddenly, you’ve got this big performance improvement where you can start to eradicate decision-making problems.

So, that’s an example of a sort of unlearning statement and going through the diagnosis of decision-making, the re-learning of actually thinking big and starting small, defining outcomes, and taking a small new behavior, which was not to make decisions, and ask people what they think. And then the breakthrough was seeing this insight or learning from the team about who could respond well and who needed help. And that sort of informed her to keep doing, and that’s literally the cycle of unlearning.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, thank you for that story. That’s really cool. And I’m curious, as we zoom into individuals listening here, are there any key questions or prompts you find super useful to surface, to highlight, to assess, to diagnose, “Aha, I may have an outdated or suboptimal belief or practice or mentality that I would do well to unlearn”? Like, what’s sort of the canary and the coal miner, some key indicators that I should be on the lookout for?

Barry O’Reilly
Yes. And the simple question many people that ask is, “How do I know what I need to unlearn?” And to diagnose, there’s a set of questions that I ask people. It’s basically getting you to think, “Is there a situation where you’re not living up to the expectations of yourself? Maybe there’s somewhere you’re not achieving just sort of outcomes that you desire. Maybe you sort of tried all the things that you can think of and you’re not getting a breakthrough. Or, maybe there’s a situation that you’re avoiding altogether because you just can’t think, ‘How am I going to tackle that?’”

These are all the sort of signals that your existing behavior is not working. So, not living up to your expectations, not achieving the outcomes you’re aiming for, situations you’re avoiding or struggling with, or maybe you’ve tried everything that you can think and you’re still not getting a breakthrough. I’d even ask you that, Pete, and you probably can come up with four or five answers straight away. And these are all signals that our behavior is not actually helping us achieve the outcomes that we’re aiming for. And, therefore, we have to unlearn, we have to try something different.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And as you’ve seen a lot of workplaces, are there some common examples that pop up again and again and again in terms of, “Oh, these are some things that would be great to unlearn”?

Barry O’Reilly
Yes. So, I think like risk-taking is always a big one, like people’s risk aversion, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, trying new things, being willing to fail. These are all decision-making. It actually comes up quite a lot. These are sort of like the commonalities, I guess, that I hear from a lot of people, is how to help them sort of get those breakthroughs, is trying new things that they’ve never done before.

A lot of it is about, I think, when people perceive that there’s risks for both personal and perception, that if they try something and it doesn’t work, how they’d be perceived. That one really comes up a lot, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s juicy. And so then, if I was working on that, how might you help coach me through that emotional stuff?

Barry O’Reilly
Yeah. Well, first of all, it’s just a recognition, people diagnosing that that’s the heart of the issue. Most people sort of write it up as, “My boss won’t let me do something,” or, “We’re stuck in the status quo. We’re struggling to do new things. We don’t innovate in my business.” Like, a lot of people would sort of deflect it off to company not allowing them to do things.

And a lot of it is sort of then helping people recognize, well, first of all, you have agency and you can try. So, how do we make it safer for you to try? Or, you feel safer that if you fail, how you’ll be perceived? And one of the mantras in the book was this notion of thinking big, start small and learn fast. So, it’s important to have a big aspiration or big outcome that you’re aiming for because that allows you to sort of shift your thinking and your behavior, potentially, to get there.

But the way when you’re trying to make big changes is you don’t take big leaps. You take small steps and learn your way through. So, when somebody has a big idea to change their business, what I often say to them is, “Right. Well, write down that big idea.” Amazon has a famous practice where they get people to write press releases to describe what the world would be like if their product was in the market in two to three years’ time, what would be fantastic about it.

Now, with the way that they start is they don’t do a huge big project. They start small. They run some experiments with small customer bases to see what works and what doesn’t, and then sort of grow it from there. So, what I often say to people is if you have a big idea to change the way your company works, don’t expect that you can walk up to the CEO and get millions of dollars of funding and a new team, and then just sort of start working on it.

Do something small to start testing if that idea is going to work. Pick maybe one or two customers and sort of show them a very naïve version of the product that could work or could not, and get feedback and show that it’s working or not. And even if it doesn’t work, it’s okay. You will have learned something from those one or two customers about what success could be or what’s the right product that they’re looking for and iterate it.

So, these are the ways that you can think big and start small, to start tackling uncertainty and be successful as you try new ways of working new products, etc. And so, that’s what we do most of the time is just coaching people how to think bigger but start smaller so they can learn what works and what doesn’t in a safe-to-fail manner. And once they sort of get into that habit, then they’re able to take on these more audacious goals as they sort of see success moving towards it.

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

Barry O’Reilly
No, I think, like the message from me always with this is, like I experienced that I’ve got to unlearn stuff all the time. It’s tough sometimes to recognize the actual reason you’re not being successful is yourself, that you can’t get out of your own way. So, I think a bit of humility, a bit of not trying to beat yourself up too much when you’re not getting the success, I think, is quite important, and recognize that a lot of this is a sort of journey, a learning journey, if anything, a constant iteration and experimentation on yourself. And if you see it like that, it can be a fun journey to go on rather than beating yourself up along the way when things don’t work.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Barry O’Reilly
One of my favorite ones, and people will have to buy the book maybe to find out what chapter was this one, is that something always gives up. Either the problem gives up or the person gives up. But if the person doesn’t give up, ultimately, you’ll get the breakthrough that you’re looking for.

And that was really interesting for me as a notion to sort of think about. It is a little bit of a battle of wits between the problem you’re trying to tackle and the person, or yourself, trying to tackle it. And, really, half of the way to succeed is to keep showing up. If you just keep showing up, something will give. Either the problem will sort of give and you’ll get past it, and, hopefully, before the person gives up because then the problem wins. So, that’s always motivated me to keep being persistent and to keep showing up, and I really enjoyed that quote.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Barry O’Reilly
Well, I think my favorite example in the book is Serena Williams, and her story is just purely phenomenal. She’s sort of an against-the-odds story. And also, the success that she had and continues to have is sort of totally unheard of and a total outlier for the sport that she plays in. She actually is getting better as she gets older, which is sort of unheard of. Most tennis players retire at the age of 27. She’s 40 and she’s still competing at the highest level, getting to finals and being successful. So, yeah, really a fantastic story that I open the book with, and would highly recommend people check her out.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Barry O’Reilly
It’s called Maverick, and it was basically written about a small little factory in Brazil where the CEO, who took over, whose son who took over from his father, started using all these contrary methods to manage people that were much more about empowering people rather than the typical, let’s say, corporate institutional management techniques, and they had massive success. So, I highly recommend people check out that book. It’s one of my favorites.

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

Barry O’Reilly
I like the Shure SMB mic. Sounding good when we’re on podcasts, I think that’s one. One thing I learned, I think, through the pandemic especially, is that it’s really important to have good sound when you’re communicating because when the sound is bad, it makes it harder for people to listen. When you’ve got good sound, it makes it easier for people to listen and more of the information goes in. So, yeah, get a great mic. That would be my tip for people.

Pete Mockaitis
Agreed. And a favorite habit?

Barry O’Reilly
At the moment, well, there’s two. One is making a really nice coffee in the morning when I wake up. That’s definitely, that’s my special time. And then exercising as much as possible. I think one of the things I really learned as well, especially as I work in a venture studio called Nobody Studios, and I work with a bunch of biohackers. And this idea of like persistently improving your whole, both like mental activity, like doing exercises like this, reading, writing, etc. but also the physical aspect of how important it is to exercise and sleep.

We’re actually working on a sleep company at the moment, and it’s just been fascinating to me to realize and learn how important sleep is to our actual performance, in general. So, now I’m somebody who…I used to stay up and think I could get by on six hours of sleep at night, but now if I don’t get eight, I get angry at myself. So, it’s been really interesting to learn some of these habits.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Barry, now you got me curious about, if you’re allowed to disclose, what’s the sleep company and what transformational insights have you gleaned thus far?

Barry O’Reilly
Well, the first one is how important sleep is. I think most people sort of undervalue how important it is. It’s the most restorative process that we have, so no surgery or amounts of vitamins or supplements are going to improve your wellbeing as much as sleep. So, it’s actually one of the most important things that we have to do.

So, yeah, some of the habits that I have had to unlearn was like going to bed late, or a routine to actually optimize when you do go to lie down to sleep, that you get the maximum sleep, that you can get a high-quality sleep at that. And it’s everything from the triggers, simple things that people might say to you, like don’t drink coffee, or don’t have high amounts of sugar, or don’t let your body be in a stress state when you go to sleep because you actually can have negative sleep, which hurts you more.

So, all of these things have been really fascinating to sort of learn and discover. And, yeah, if you follow our venture studio, Nobody Studios, you’ll see the sleep company when we launch it to the public in the next couple of weeks. I’m pretty excited about what it’s going to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate; folks quote back to you often?

Barry O’Reilly
Well, I think just even the word unlearn. It seems to be one of these provocative words that people go, “Yeah, that’s it. That’s exactly what we need to do. We don’t need to learn more things. We need to unlearn some things.” And I think it’s been a fascinating way to connect with people in terms of the interest area, or a way to describe something, or a notion that many people have felt but weren’t able to put word on it. So, yeah, I think unlearn, that’s it. It’s a fun one. Let go of past success to achieve extraordinary results. It’s all in the title.

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

Barry O’Reilly
Yes. So, I’m pretty much Barry O’Reilly on every social platform you can imagine, or BarryOReilly.com. And if you’re interested to follow our studio, we’re at NobodyStudios.com. Go check us out on the web and similarly on most social media platforms.

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

Barry O’Reilly
Yeah, just think big, have a big bold aspiration that you’re aiming for, that something you think could change, but start small. What’s the first small step you can do to start moving towards it? And you’ll learn fast what works and what doesn’t. So, that’s my message to everyone.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Barry, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck with Unlearn and all your adventures.

Barry O’Reilly
Thanks very much. Thanks for having me, Pete.

778: How to Make and Break Habits Using Science with Russ Poldrack

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Russ Poldrack reveals the science behind why our brains are habit-building machines and how to make the best out of it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to make good habits stick 
  2. How to strengthen your brain against bad habits
  3. Why habits never really go away–and what you should do instead 

About Russ

Russell A. Poldrack is a psychologist and neuroscientist. He is the Albert Ray Lang Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. He is also the Associate Director of Stanford Data Science, a member of the Stanford Neuroscience Institute and director of the Stanford Center for Reproducible Neuroscience and the SDS Center for Open and Reproducible Science. Prior to his appointment at Stanford in 2014, he held faculty positions at Harvard Medical School, UCLA, and the University of Texas at Austin. 

He is the author of The New Mind Readers: What Neuroimaging Can and Cannot Reveal about Our Thoughts and Hard to Break: Why Our Brains Make Habits Stick. He lives in San Francisco. 

Resources Mentioned

Russ Poldrack Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Russ, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Russ Poldrack
Thanks. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so excited to talk about habits and brain stuff, some of my favorite bits. But, first, I’m a little curious to hear about your new practice, the hour of whatever, in your lab. What’s the story here? And what has resulted from it?

Russ Poldrack
Yeah, so the hour of whatever grew out of people’s, I think, and especially in the last couple of years, just feeling like we needed time to sort of connect without an agenda, no particular topics or anything. We just kind of come together and talk about whatever we want to talk about. A couple weeks ago, it was about the relative merits of raccoons.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, pros and cons.

Russ Poldrack
Yeah. And sometimes it’s been slightly kind of more academic topics, like, “What happens in an academic conference?” So, it’s a chance for people to just ask any questions they want to ask. And it’s been super fun. I think as we’re all struggling to kind of come back into kind of what used to be our normal kind of social life and social being, and this is meant to kind of be an opportunity to try to help re-engage those parts of our brain that might have withered a bit.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. And so, does someone come in with a topic, or is it just sort of like, “Hey, here we are”?

Russ Poldrack
People do come in with topics but it’s also kind of a random walk at times as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I’m excited to talk about your book Hard to Break: Why Our Brains Make Habits Stick. And maybe before we go into the depths of the book, could you kick us off with some of your most surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve come about in your research here?

Russ Poldrack
Yeah. So, we’ve been interested for a long time in sort of how it is that so many different cognitive functions can be sort of crammed into the little two or three pounds of brain that sit in our head. And one of the ideas that has been around for a long time that has kind of driven a lot of the work that I’d done across my career is trying to understand how, like the brain has different systems to solve kind of related versions of different problems.

And so, one of those is actually directly related to habits. So, if you think about like what are the things that we learn as we go through the world, and I like to use driving a car as an example. So, when you drive to work, you don’t have to kind of think back and remember, “Oh, which pedal do I press to stop the car or to go?” And when we think about habits, those are often what we think about are sort of the different behaviors or the different knowledge that we build up through our experience in the world.

That’s very different than the knowledge of which particular parking spot you parked your car in this morning. That changes every day and you really have to use a different type of memory system in your brain to be able to go back and remember where you parked. And a lot of the work that we’ve done is try to figure out, “How do these different brain systems either kind of work together or even compete with one another?”

So, one of the big early findings that we had was sort of showing that these two systems, the system that kind of develops habits, and the system that helps us create these kinds of conscious memories of the past, like where we parked our car this morning, don’t just seem to be kind of working off on their own, but they actually seem to be competing with one another, such that when activity in one of those sets of brain areas goes up, activity in the other set goes down. They seem to be kind of pushing and pulling against one another.

And so, it really tells us that the brain is this big dynamical system that’s kind of got a lot of different parts that are working at the same time, and sometimes they work together, and sometimes they work across purposes.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, in practice, does that mean if I am exerting some mental energy in one direction, I would expect deficits elsewhere?

Russ Poldrack
In general, that’s going to be true, yeah. And we’ve showed it to work that, to the degree that you’re engaged in, for example, multitasking, trying to do multiple things at once, that that has a bigger impact on the brain systems that are involved in generating those conscious memories of the past, and less impact on the brain systems that are involved in developing habits.

the brain has limited bandwidth, and so it’s almost necessary the case that if you’re focusing on one thing, it’s going to be at the expense of other types of information processing, and that’s going to have an impact on kind of how you do and what you remember.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now could you share sort of the big idea or core thesis behind the book Hard to Break?

Russ Poldrack
Yes. So, I’d say that the big idea is really, like why are habits so hard to change? We all have habits we’d like to change. We all know how hard our behavior is to change. And I think the big idea behind the book is that behavior change is hard for a reason, and that is that habits, in general, are a really good thing. In fact, they’re essential for us to behave effectively in the world. So, if you think about what will happen if we didn’t have habits, we would be deliberating about every small act that we make, which, “Where exactly should I put my foot when I take the next step?” “Which of these ten different loaves of bread at the grocery store should I buy?”

And, obviously, some people still do deliberate about those things excessively. But habits basically allow us to offload a lot of the uninteresting stuff to what you might think of as our brain’s autopilot. When the world stays the same all the time, when we’re driving the same car every day, we don’t need to worry about where the pedals are changing, and all those old details. The habit systems in our brain basically allow us to not have to think about that stuff.

There’s a great quote from the psychologist William James, he actually wrote this in 1890, and it’s one of the most highlighted bits on Kindle in my book, which is, here’s the quote, “The great thing then in all education is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy. For this, we must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can.”

So, it really highlights the fact that, in general, habits are really important to us, and you wouldn’t want them to just go away easily until they become habits that are annoying, and then the stickiest of habits becomes like a real challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so given this, what do you recommend are some of the best practices for establishing new habits, and then, conversely, for breaking ones we don’t want?

Russ Poldrack
Yeah. So, I think when it comes to establishing new habits, the real key is consistency and in some sense, setting up a schedule. So, let’s assume that we’re talking about a habit that isn’t something one necessarily loves to do, like going to the gym. One of the things to think about is to make it as easy as possible for yourself to engage in the thing. One way to think about is don’t let yourself decide whether you’re going to do that thing or not today, but really have it be just part of a schedule.

So, for example, if you wake up every day and say, “Oh, should I go to the gym today?” It’s going to be a lot easier to say no than if you just decide, “I’m going to go to the gym on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at the same time of day, and I’m going to sort of fix that into my larger routine.” And so, the idea is sort of taking away a little bit of your ability to decide not to do the thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, burn the boats.

Russ Poldrack
Sorry, say that again?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, kind of like the burn the boats notion, like, “Oh, we can’t retreat because the boats are gone.”

Russ Poldrack
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Or, other sort of commitment devices or restraints. Okay.

Russ Poldrack
Yeah. Another interesting idea has come from Katy Milkman and Angela Duckworth and others, this idea called temptation bundling, where basically the idea is you give yourself a small reward in exchange for doing something that you don’t want to necessarily do at least until that thing can sort of become more habitual.

So, you might, for example, say, “Every time I go to the gym, I’m going to allow myself to have a little bit of chocolate.” Angela Duckworth and her colleagues did some research where they gave people free audiobooks to listen to while they were on the treadmill, and that actually showed that it increased people’s willingness to exercise. Even something, audiobooks are fun, they’re not like eating chocolate, but even the audiobooks were enough to sort of get people to be more likely to keep going to the gym.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if we’re trying to disentangle or get away from things we want to stop doing, what do you recommend there?

Russ Poldrack
So, I think one of the really important things is understanding what are the things that trigger the habit. We know that one of the things that makes a habit a habit is that it’s triggered by cues in the world. One of these, for example, you walk into a bar, you’re an ex-smoker, the smell of smoke or the other smells of the bar make you really want to have a cigarette. And almost every habit has some sort of thing that can trigger it.

And so, the first important thing is to like try to understand what the triggers are for you. They’re going to probably be different for every person. What are the triggers for you for the particular habit you’re trying to change? And then, one, can you get rid of those triggers? Can you kind of design your life to not encounter those things? Sometimes we can, sometimes we can’t.

If you can, then the more you can do to avoid the triggers, the better off you are because one of the other things that’s so hard about habits is once they get triggered, they’re really hard to stop. It’s much easier to prevent them from ever happening, to prevent you from ever being triggered to do the thing than it is to stop yourself once it’s been triggered.

Now, there are some things that we know that can strengthen one’s ability to stop, and we know that the prefrontal cortex is kind of the brain’s central executive to the degree that humans can exert any control over what they do, it’s the prefrontal cortex that allows us to do that. And there are things that we know that can make the prefrontal cortex work better or worse. We know that stress has a really strong negative impact on the prefrontal cortex and one’s ability to exert control.

Lack of sleep is also a big way to sort of cause the prefrontal cortex to not function well. So, working on stress reduction, improving sleep, exercise, those are all things that we know can help improve prefrontal cortex function. People think that this stuff is all about willpower, but willpower is, in general, pretty weak. And once the habit takes off, it’s very hard for us to actually stop it.

So, one of the things that seems to work, there’s evidence showing in a number of different domains that this can help people change their behavior, is this idea of planning for what’s going to happen when the situation arises. So, psychologists call this an implementation intention. When it comes time to have to stop yourself from doing the thing, what are you going to do?

And so, instead of saying, “Oh, I’m not going to smoke,” say, “Well, when I go to the bar and my friend offers me a cigarette, this is exactly what I’m going to do in order to prevent myself from smoking at that point.” It doesn’t always work but there’s evidence that these types of planning interventions do seem to help people change their behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny, my creative brain just runs wild with that because there can be an infinite number of responses. I’m thinking of like dramatic things, like you can break it into and say, “No, I have conquered nicotine forever.” Okay, that’s dramatic. Or, you can say, “Oh, no, thanks.” Or, it’s sort of like you have your script, or you’re going to, I don’t know, what the alternative to smoking are in terms of I guess there’s other nicotine delivery mechanisms.

There’s like a fuse, I don’t know what it’s called. It’s like a vape. It’s not nicotine or something. So, there can be any number of replacements. And, in fact, I was intrigued you have a chapter entitled “I forgot that I was a smoker” in your table of contents. I wanted to dig into that because we talk about those triggers. It’s kind of like some triggers are internal, like, “Hmm, when I’m bored,” which is sort of happens inside all of us daily, “I pick up my smartphone and see what’s going on in social media,” or whatever, or maybe it is a cigarette or food or drink type situations.

So, when that happens, and the triggers are internal and unavoidable, tell us what are some of the best practices? There’s strengthening of the prefrontal cortex, there’s having that implementation intention.

Russ Poldrack
Implementation intention, yeah. Another thing, so I talk a bit in the book about a bit of what we’ve learned from research on Tourette Syndrome. So, Tourette Syndrome is this disorder mostly in children where the kids have tics, and these could be vocal tics, they could be facial movement. Most kids grow out of them, some people have them into their adulthood.

And there’s a bunch of work looking at what’s called habit replacement, where the idea is like if you have something that, for example, a tic, and these tics, like a person often gets a really strong urge to like to do the thing, especially if they’re trying to prevent themselves from doing it, and finally it comes out.

So, the idea is to have some other thing that you do as a replacement, and that could be, in the context of tics, it’s often like a different movement. But you can imagine finding, for example, if you usually drink alcohol and you want to sort of not drink, finding things that are as close as possible to the thing that you would want to drink but that don’t have alcohol, or as you were talking about nicotine replacement, because those sorts of things can help break that…kind of break the link between all of the cues, like the taste of the thing and the response that you get from, for example, the alcohol.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, that person who forgot that they were a smoker, how did that go down?

Russ Poldrack
Yeah. So, it’s a really interesting case. There’s actually a number of cases where this was an individual who had a stroke and it damaged the particular part of the brain that seems to be really important for sort of storing these types of kind of, I don’t know if you want to think of them as just cravings, but sort of like associations that we have with stuff that we want.

And, yeah, he apparently woke up after the stroke, and suddenly didn’t…after years of waking up every morning and having to have a cigarette first thing, woke up after the stroke, didn’t feel the need for a cigarette anymore. And when he was asked to describe what happened, he basically said, “Yeah, I just forgot I was a smoker.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so, yeah, that has fascinating implications, I’m sure, in your research associated with brain pathways and what’s going on there. Okay. And then you’ve got a particular recipe for stickiness in terms of getting habits to stick. What are the components of this recipe?

Russ Poldrack
Yeah, so the brain has sort of brought together several different things that ultimately result in the fact that habits are really sticky.

So, the first one is that when a habit is developed, it never really goes away. As much as we might try to make it go away, what we’ve learned from a lot of research, especially research looking at rats learning habits, but we think it’s true in all organisms, is that when we have a habit and we want to try to get rid of that habit, what we have to do is, basically, push down the habit and learn a new behavior in its place. And as much as we might think that that old habit is gone, it’s always lurking there in the background. And if we get stressed out, or if the context changes, it’s likely to come back. That’s why we think habits are so likely to come back even many years later.

There’s also this thing that happens as something becomes a habit, our brain kind of moves it from initially relying on sort of parts of the brain that kind of make plans and plan out what we’re going to do, to the parts of the brain that are more involved in just doing actions. So, it’s almost like it becomes more of a hardwired action than something that we’re thinking about.

And another part of that is that we start to do lots of things together. We call this chunking in neuroscience, where initially we would have to plan out what are all the different actions we were going to do, say, to go to the store and go get some ice cream. And all of that becomes, in some sense, one bigger action.

And so, it’s easy for us to not sort of be thinking in the middle of what we’re doing. It’s almost like if the thing starts and it just kind of runs until it’s done. And then the other thing that starts to happen is that our attention starts to get driven by the things that are the sort of things in the world that are related to the habit.

So, for example, if you have a habit of eating ice cream, you might be particularly drawn to any kind of image of ice cream, anything in the store that has those features that you kind of associate with ice cream. And so, all those things come together to make it both really hard to get rid of a habit, and also really hard to prevent it from being turned on or to stop it once it’s going.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so given all of the knowledge and concepts and principles, can you share with us a few of the coolest stories you’ve encountered of folks who have put this into practice and done a fine job of creating habits or breaking habits that previously were eluding them?

Russ Poldrack
So, I think one really inspiring example for me is a friend of mine who, for a number of years, had a significant drug habit, narcotics, and was able to, ultimately, kind of hit bottom, and was able to come back. And I think one of the really impressive things that they used was really working on this kind of protecting the prefrontal cortex by doing meditation and really trying to obtain some kind of respite from all of the urges of the world and the voices that we hear. And I think that the ability to get some sort of mental clarity and really understand yourself like that really helps to think about, “How will I respond when the cues come up?”

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

Russ Poldrack
No, I think we’ve hit all the high points.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Russ Poldrack
Yeah, this is from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Nice. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Russ Poldrack
One of the things that I always like to talk about and it kind of blows people’s minds, and they don’t believe me when I tell them about it, there’s a large body of work in psychology now on what are called flashbulb memories, which are these memories that we all have where something happens. I have one, I was in college when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, and I have this crystal-clear memory of like walking into my dorm room after class, and somebody telling me, “Oh, hey, the Space Shuttle exploded.” And we all think that those are…they’re called flashbulb memories because, for many years, many people thought that they were this perfect recording of exactly what happened.

It turns out that many people get the details of these memories completely wrong. There’s been a number of studies now that have looked at people’s memories. The first one was actually for the Challenger explosion, where they went back, they had people, like the day after the explosion, say, “Where were you yesterday when you heard about the Challenger explosion?” And then they go back months later, and say, “Where were you?”

And the people often give details that are just totally wrong but they’re still so confident in those memories. And it really highlights the fact that memory is not like a tape recorder. Memory is our brain reconstructing a story about the past.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And could you share a favorite book?

Russ Poldrack
Yeah, one that I think is really fun is called How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell, who’s an artist and writer. And it lays out this idea of what she calls the attention economy. It’s like the whole world is just sort of clamoring to grab our attention, and we start to think of like every moment as an opportunity to spend attention on something.

And she makes this, I think, a compelling argument, that we need to take back control of our attention, and that she refers to it as like a revolutionary act, and sort of choose to experience the world in a way that allows us to connect with other people, connect with the world around us. I think about when I was a kid, my mom would make me go to the fabric store with her, and this is before devices or anything.

And so, my brother and I would go to the fabric store with her, and we’d just sit there for 20, 30 minutes with absolutely nothing to do. And that kind of ability to tolerate boredom, like I could never go do that now, but I think that our ability to turn off our responses to the world and to…I think, mindful is a good word for it, to be more mindful about how it is that we’re engaging with the world, I think, is a really important thing.

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

Russ Poldrack
Yeah. So, I think the one piece of software that I use that I think is really useful is, and there’s a lot of things to do this, but I use this thing called Todoist, which is a really lightweight but effective to-do list manager. I like to try to keep my inbox, my email inbox down to one page so I can at least see everything that I immediately have to worry about.

And I’m sure you get as many emails as I do, you know how hard it is to keep everything down to about…I think my page is like 40 emails. And so, having a really good to-do list manager that integrates well with your email system is really important. And so, I find that probably my most important, like small tool that helps me stay on track.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about yourself when it comes to habits? Any favorite ones that really served you well over the years?

Russ Poldrack
I think I try to walk a lot, and I think that that’s a good thing to do both because you can’t be doing other things. Well, you can but I try not to. And I think habits, I’m trying to think habits of mind because, obviously, we all often think about our habits as being actions that we take in the world. But I think habits of mind are just as important, and I think being able to find the sweet spot where you’re almost perfectionist but not quite.
Because I think perfectionism is, at least in terms of productivity, is just a killer. I know so many people who are much more brilliant than I will ever be, sort of people who wanted to go into science but basically their perfectionism prevented them from ever getting anywhere because they were never happy enough with what they had done. And so, I think finding that sweet spot between good enough and perfect, it’s a really hard thing to learn how to do but I think, at least for me, I feel like that’s been a key to success.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, it’s been underlined a bunch in the book, or you hear people quote it back to you often?

Russ Poldrack
I think the important nugget is that habits are sticky for a reason. They’re sticky because, in general, we want them to be. We don’t want to do a handstand and have our ability to see completely rewired. And I think related to that, one of the points that I often try to make about the book is that it should be a message for people to not beat themselves up when they can’t change their behavior.

Their brains were built to do exactly this, and especially our brains didn’t evolve in a world with 64-ounce sugary drinks and potato chips and drugs of the sort that one can buy either at the store or on the street. And so, our brains are really badly overpowered by the world that we live in now, and so I think that finding some compassion for one’s self around these things, I think, is really important.

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

Russ Poldrack
I’m on Twitter @russpoldrack, that’s probably the best place.

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

Russ Poldrack
I think it kind of goes back, actually, to the quote, which is to just find as many chances as you can to do something that you’re afraid of.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Russ, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun good habits.

Russ Poldrack
Many thanks. It’s been great fun.

777: How to Observe and Listen like a Master Interrogator with Certified Forensic Interviewer Michael Reddington

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Michael Reddington shares valuable skills–learned from having engaged in many interrogations–that make you a more observant listener and influential communicator.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The trick to staying focused and attentive 
  2. The subtle conversation cues to look out for
  3. How to ask better questions to get better answers 

About Michael

Michael Reddington, CFI is a certified forensic interviewer and the President of InQuasive, Inc., a company that integrates the key components of effective non-confrontational interview techniques with current business research for executives. Using his background in forensics, and his understanding of human behavior through interrogation, Reddington teaches businesses to use the truth to their advantage.

Reddington received his bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from Southern New Hampshire University, and received additional education on  negotiation and leadership degree from Harvard University. He currently lives in Waxhaw, NC. 

Resources Mentioned

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Michael Reddington Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Michael, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Michael Reddington
Thank you for having me here, Pete. I appreciate it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear your wisdom associated with listening and interviewing. And, maybe, could you kick us off with a riveting story about an interrogation you did and what went down?

Well, could we start off with a riveting story about an interrogation that you did and what happened?

Michael Reddington
Riveting story. So, now I have to come up with extra drama to make sure we put into the retelling of it. I think the one that jumps first to mind for me was, years ago, I was in the Midwest and I received a call from the owner of an organization that, it’s no overstatement, was in a bit of desperate straits. As part of their operation, they sold firearms. And as part of an organization that sells firearms, you’re subject to periodic audits from the federal government to make sure that you’re doing everything you’re supposed to and securing firearms the way you’re supposed to. And as part of this unannounced federal audit, the auditors who were from the ATF found that two firearms were missing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Michael Reddington
So, the agents who, I mean, I wasn’t there. I can’t speak for the techniques that they used, but they were unable, with their initial efforts, to learn who may have been responsible for taking those guns, so they passed it on to the local police who were also unable to determine who was responsible for taking those guns. And the case languished, I believe, if I recall correctly, for eight weeks.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, dear. That’s kind of spooky.

Michael Reddington
Yeah, for not knowing where these could be. And when you think about why those would be stolen, to oversimplify it, it’s either for money or to be used. So, not that either is good, but we certainly don’t want them to be used. So, about eight weeks had gone by, they reached out to my former company, I ended up having the conversation with them about potentially going out to handle it.

So, I flew out. Met with the owner of the facility and reviewed the employees’ HR files for a couple of hours to, then, get up early the next morning and start the interviews.

And I believe that I had a pretty good idea who was responsible, interviewed some other employees who were able to give me some supportive information. And then when it came down to interview who was the gentleman who was the main suspect at that point, really from our standpoint, it’s important to remember that he has no good reason to tell us the truth, he’s already withheld it several times, could likely believe that he’s going to get away with it, or has already. He’s got to know there’s repercussions for this.

So, as we went through the conversation, the whole plan was to use a technique that he likely wasn’t familiar with, which, this might surprise people, was be nice and show respect and show empathy, and not necessarily give the impression that it’s totally cool to go out and steal guns, if that’s what you want to do, but at least show respect for him and his potential position in the situation. And, thankfully, it worked.

It’s about 23 minutes into the conversation, I asked him, “What’s the most expensive item you ever took from the store?” because my thought was he might admit to stealing something else before admitting to stealing guns, so if that’s what he wants to tell me, we’ll start there. And he exhaled deeply, looked down on his shoes, looked back at me, and said, “It was a gun.” And at that point, we were off to the races.

So, getting the admission to the two guns, it turned out to be the least difficult part of the process. As we were talking about the two guns, he told me that he had one and told me exactly where it was in his house, and told me that he had sold another one. To your reaction earlier, I got to find that. I can’t just say, “Okay, cool. Thanks,” and leave. So, he was far more resistant to sharing the name of the person who he sold the firearm to than he was telling that he had taken the two firearms.

And the empathetic approach that eventually worked in order to get that information from him after a period of, could’ve been 10 minutes or so, of resistance where he didn’t want to share the name, was illustrating to him, without using any names or pointing to anybody specifically, that if law enforcement were sent to recover a firearm and they are uncertain as to how that process might go, they might enter that building with one set of expectations where it could lead to a situation we’d all like to avoid. Considering how much we would care about anybody involved in that situation, the more we can level-set the expectations going in, the more we can ensure that any type of recovery efforts doesn’t go sideways.

At that point, he decided not only to give me the name but provide me with turn-by-turn directions, a work phone number, and a cellphone number to this gentleman. So, once we had all of that documented, we were able to turn him over to the police. I stayed in that town for the next two days because I was teaching a seminar. The schedule worked out perfect. And by the end of that week, I was able to confirm that both guns had been recovered, and both gentlemen had been incarcerated.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, happy ending. Well done. And so, the magic was just being nice and some lay out the situation. I don’t want to diminish your job, Michael, but it doesn’t sound too hard. What’s going on?

Michael Reddington
When we do a good job, it shouldn’t look too hard, it shouldn’t sound too hard. But, to your point, that belies the preparation and the technique that’s used. I don’t want to use an analogy that goes too far but, oftentimes, if you watch athletes on TV, it looks easy, without realizing the hours of preparation that they’ve put in behind that.

To answer the first half of your question, yes, being nice to people is a core component. If we are asking somebody to share sensitive information under vulnerable circumstances, especially if that sensitive information leads to potential consequences, the single most important thing we need to do is communicate with them in a way where they avoid feeling embarrassed and they avoid feeling judged. Period. That is the most important thing we can do.

If we can do that in a way that helps us build our credibility in the situation while allowing them to save face, and to steal a phrase, violates their expectation. In that situation, he was probably expecting another investigator to likely take a hard judgmental approach and try to corner him into feeling forced to admit. Well, he’s going to have a prepared defense for that. So, if I can go in being nice, not showing judgment and allowing him to save face, yes, that’s a core component where we like to often say, “You will be surprised what people will tell you when you’re nice.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so be nice, that’s a great takeaway for work and all kinds of places. I’m curious, when there are in terms of the conversations that occur at work, what are some of the key situations and scenarios you see are most applicable to using your toolkit here?

Michael Reddington
Thank you for asking. Many. Leadership and coaching conversations. Conflict between employees. Any type of investigative conversation, of course. Sales and business development. Negotiations. Candidate interviewing. For most leaders at any level of an organization, from frontline managers, all the way up the org chart, they spend a considerable amount of their day in conversations with people where their job is to, in some combination, acquire information and inspire a change in behavior. So, any time where we are communicating with people to obtain information, in order to help us make a better decision and/or change someone’s behavior, obtain a commitment to action, these concepts apply.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so we got a couple of takeaways associated with being unpredictable, allowing them to save face, being kind. Any other particularly surprising discoveries you’ve made about listening and conversations over the course of many, many conversations and lots of research in your career?

Michael Reddington
Yeah, I’ll go with two off the top of my head. The first one is our internal monologue is likely the single most dangerous factor in our conversations. Simply put, if you and I are talking, I can’t have anything more important to say to myself than you have to say to yourself.

So, if you’re talking to yourself at the same time I’m talking to you, you’re not listening to me, and I don’t blame you for that, it’s naturally how our brains are wired, but, unfortunately, in those situations, we trick ourselves into believing we listen because I’m picking up just enough on what’s somebody’s saying that my brain automatically fills in the blanks and makes the assumption that I got the full message.

As that’s happening, I’m likely focusing on what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling, defending my positions, thinking about my emotions, how do I feel, or maybe I’m just completely checked out. So, it’s not a double-edged sword because both edges are negative. Not only am I missing out on your message but I’m compounding that based on where my monologue is taking myself. So, the importance of developing the ability to limit our internal monologue is one.

The second that comes to mind right away is the concept that time is the enemy of empathy. Our brains can’t multitask. So, just like I can’t multitask, I can’t listen to myself while I’m listening to you, I also can’t focus on the intelligence buried within your communication, the layers and the nuances that are so very important to helping me create unexpected value, if I’m focusing on the time, “I need to be out of here in five minutes. I have another meeting in 10 minutes. When this conversation is over, I need to be somewhere else. I wish Pete would hurry up and get to the point so I can just say.”

As soon as I start prioritizing time, how quickly I need to end this conversation, or how quickly I need to learn information, I’m now prioritizing time over value, and my ability to empathize, understand, and connect with somebody is going to drop precipitously.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds like it’s your awareness of time. I suppose you could conceivably just set an alarm. If you only have half an hour, you set an alarm and you just forget about the clock entirely, and it’s like, “Oh, crap. Well, that went beep so I guess we’re going to have to resume this a little later.”

Michael Reddington
That’s one way. One of the focuses that I took from a career in interrogation, quick backstory without deviating too far, the majority of the conversations I facilitated in my investigative interviewing career were noncustodial, meaning people were not under arrest, they were not Mirandized, they were free to get up and go at any time, and if I, in any way, attempted to impede their ability to leave, I was putting myself and my company in serious legal jeopardy.

So, based on a rather nebulous Supreme Court ruling, we operated under the understanding that we have 60 minutes to get the first indication of wrongdoing, and once we had that, we had a reasonable amount of time to wrap up. But if we have no evidence and not even a tacit admission within 60 minutes, we ought to really start thinking about wrapping this up, transitioning, “Where do we go next?”

So, if I sat down in any interrogation and thought to myself, “I’ve got 60 minutes,” in my head I’m thinking, “59, 58, 57,” all the way down. Now, because I’m focusing on the time, I’m more likely to rush and make mistakes. Now, if I understand that I’ve got 60 minutes, that means I have this window, this timeframe to use to my advantage. So, one of the things that we preach is allow the conversation to come to you, because if we’re not listening, we’re not learning. And if we’re not learning, we’re probably not uncovering any paths to uncover this hidden value.

So, when we let the conversation come to us, really, what we’re doing is, in order to do that well, I should go back and say we really need to understand, clearly, going into the conversation, “What are our goals?” If I know where I want this conversation to end, it really doesn’t matter where you started. It doesn’t matter at all because I can use, wherever it starts, and over time, nudge it and guide it to where I need it to go.

So, as opposed to setting an alarm, if I can understand, “Well, this is where I need to be, so I’m going to allow the conversation to come to me, I’m going to let Pete start it, guide it, get whatever is off his chest or important to him first, and from there I’m going to work it to where I need it to be.” Now, I’m embracing that learning mentality towards goal achievement as opposed to focusing on, “I’ve only got 30 minutes. I need to make sure I get to the point.”

Pete Mockaitis
Now, your book The Disciplined Listening Method: How A Certified Forensic Interviewer Unlocks Hidden Value in Every Conversation, let’s hear the big idea behind the book, sort of like the core message or thesis. And what do you mean by hidden value specifically?

Michael Reddington
That’s how I write into the thesis. So, really, the big idea behind the book is that there are so many opportunities that we have, not only the ability to capture, but have the ability to create in our important conversations, and all the listeners can decide what’s an important conversation to them – business, personal, who they’re talking to, what the potential opportunities or repercussions of those conversations are, but, really, the big idea is, “What do we need to do in order to capture and create those opportunities and stop letting them fall through our fingers?”

And so, with that, The Disciplined Listening Method, ‘if we’re to use the coin analogy, has two sides to the coin. One is that strategic observation side, “How do I really evolve my ability as an observer to pick up on all the nuances of what’s happening in front of me, understand what I’m experiencing internally, and work through that in a goal-achieve mindset framework?”

And then the flipside of the coin is to improve our influential communication, “How do I communicate, how do I ask questions in a way that are more likely,” as we mentioned earlier, “to help people save face and increase their comfort level in sharing sensitive information with us so we gather more intelligence, we make better decisions, we achieve better outcomes, we solidify better relationships?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you’ve got seven core behaviors in The Disciplined Listening Method. I want to dig into a few things you’ve said already, and then we’ll round out as many of the seven as we have time for.

Michael Reddington
Let’s do it.

Pete Mockaitis
So, the internal dialogue, that sounds like a huge foundational starting point right there in terms of if you’re more distracted by what’s coming up for lunch or whatever other interesting thoughts are in your head, then you’re going to have a heck of a time observing nuances, remembering your great questions, and influential communication approaches. So, can you kick us off by sharing, okay, we’ve all got internal monologue, how do we get a bit of control or handle on limiting that?

Michael Reddington
Great question. A couple alternatives for that. Number one, whenever possible, our preparation and the thoroughness of our preparation will help. Now, this is better prepared for a conversation more than a spontaneous conversation. But if I know where I want this conversation to go, if I’m comfortable with my material, if I’m comfortable with the questions I want to ask in advance of the conversation, then I don’t need to think about those things.

I’m not a musician so I’m going to steal this analogy. But as my musician friends tell me they can’t play guitar and think of the words at the same time. They can think of the words and have the chords on auto, or they can have the words on auto and think of the chords, but they can’t think of both at the same time. So, if I can be prepared with what I want to say, what do I want to ask, where do I need to go, I can work to shut down my internal monologue and really focus on you because there’s got many less variables I’m accounting for. That type of preparation isn’t always available.

During the conversation, the next one, is the intentional effort. So, when I pick up that my internal monologue is leading me astray, when I catch myself focusing on an emotion, or where I need to be in 10 minutes, or what else I’d rather be doing, or what I need to say next, or the point I need to defend next, that’s a checkpoint for me to say, “Wait a minute. I need to refocus.”

The third one is the one that I have found to be most helpful. More often than not, our internal monologue has an emotional component, and when our emotions change, we generally get a physiological indication that our emotions are changing before we realize it in our mind, “Oh, no, my emotions are shifting.”

So, in order to catch it at the earliest piece, what we’d like to do is coach people to try to identify “What are your physical triggers? What are your first indications, physically, that your emotions are changing?” I will admit mine for everybody, which is a bit embarrassing, but it’s curling my toes in my shoes. Often, if I’m having a conversation with somebody and my emotions start to shift, I start curling my toes in my shoes.

So, as soon as I feel my toes curling, I might not rationally understand that my emotions are changing, what they’re changing to, or why they’re changing, but as soon as I catch my toes moving in my shoes, that’s my indication that I need to focus. Now, if my emotions are changing quicker, maybe I’m making a fist in my pocket, or maybe my face is getting red, or my heartrate is beating faster, or my lungs are breathing heavier, any one of these things as well. But, for me, largely, I’m going to listen to my body. And my tell, more often than not, is my toes.

So, for anybody that knows me and listens to this, I can’t wait to watch them stare at my feet from now on when we have conversations. But as soon as I feel those toes moving, I know I need to be focused and limit wherever my internal monologue is taking me at that point because it’s generating emotions that are likely counterproductive to the goals I’m trying to achieve.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, when you say emotions change, I mean, I think if the stakes aren’t that high, I don’t know, can these emotions change, just be a little bit from, “Oh, I’m interested,” to, “I’m kind of bored and tired”? Is that like the subtlety or minuteness we’re talking about an emotional change?

Michael Reddington
Yeah, it could be shifting to annoyed, to bored, to done, like, “I’ve heard enough.” And you’re right, even in these low-stakes conversations, the emotional shifts can be just that. And in that case, maybe it’s not my toes

It could be that I’m looking at my watch, or I’m looking at the door, or I’m starting to play with my coffee cup on the table, or some of these signals we might be sending consciously or subconsciously to our counterpart that this conversation is over. If I’m sending that signal that I’m clearly not listening, which means I’m clearly not learning.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, you said a few times that you observed something in yourself, and that’s your cue to refocus.

Michael Reddington
Yes, sir.

Pete Mockaitis
So, now, can we get very precise and granular and specific about what does refocusing consist of? Because I think people, they struggle with distractions of all sorts, of all shapes, and conversations and elsewhere, smartphones and more, so to refocus, for many, it’s easier said than done. How does one refocus?

Michael Reddington
Literally, for me, it’s by saying to myself, “I need to listen to Pete.” Literally. I’ll go back to the toes, I catch my toes, my first thought is, “I need to listen to Pete because clearly I’m not right now.” So, now as I go back and start listening to you, the next question in my mind, which I know dives back into internal monologue as I’m helping to get refocused here, the next question is, “How does what he’s saying help me achieve my goals?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then you‘ve got…I like that because the first one, in a way, as far as internal monologues go, it’s a little bit of a splash of cold water. It’s not too intense in terms of you’re not just terrorizing yourself, beating yourself up, but there’s a firmness to it. I’m thinking about my kids, like if I were to say that, “Hey, you need to go brush your teeth.” Okay, that’s escalating on the serious scale.

And then you return to your question. I guess that goes back to the preparation, is that you’ve got a sense for what the goals are, what you’re trying to achieve, which is “I probably best practice for most people and most conversations in work and elsewhere.” And so, there you have it. Now, if this happens again and again and again, well, you tell me, Michael, might you have to give yourself this stern admonition, like a dozen times a minute? Or, what are we thinking?

Michael Reddington
Hopefully not in a minute but maybe a dozen times in a conversation. One of the things, especially for leaders and getting in in-level in the organization, and it’s true for parents as well, coaches, youth sports, whatever it is, that any time we feel like we have a level of expertise in a situation, that level of expertise can hurt us as much as it can help us.

Because if I believe I know how this movie ends, if I believe I already have the right idea or the right solution, then I’m not listening to learn. I’m listening for the first opportunity I have to convey how smart I am, what my idea has, or to wrap this conversation up as soon as possible. So, if I keep falling into that trap, then, yes, I might have to kick myself back into this conversation multiple times. Hopefully, it’s not 12 times a minute, but, yeah, I might have to, multiple times in a conversation.

One of the things that we like to coach is that if we reflect on our communication experiences, so, let’s say that, over the course of a day, I have a dozen important conversations, could be with customers, internally other leaders in the organization, my wife here at home. And as I reflect on my day before I go to bed, I think to myself, “Ten of those conversations really felt like my counterparts were engaged and had a pretty good idea of where I was coming from, what I was saying, two of them didn’t, that was probably a them issue.”

But if I reflect on my day, and I think, “Well, I had 12 important conversations today, and in 10 of them, the people I was talking to just couldn’t grasp what I was saying, where I was coming from, the importance of my message. They weren’t getting it.” Well, I’m the lowest common denominator in those 10 conversations. So, the likelihood that this is a me problem is now really high.

So, if we find ourselves in any type of repetitive situation, or we feel like we’re not achieving our outcomes, or we’re running into more resistance in our conversations, one of the questions we like to coach to ask ourselves is, “Am I the lowest common denominator? And if it appears that I am,” to your point, “what behaviors do I need to change? How do I need to update my approach?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s some internal monologue pieces. You also talked about observing nuances. Like, what are the kinds of things that you recommend we keep our eyes open for?

Michael Reddington
Thank you for asking. I’m going to start with a don’t and then get to more do’s. Don’t try to catch people lying. There’s no point. Essentially, everything we’ve ever been told that people do when they lie, scientifically has been proven is not an indication that they’re lying, and realistically is an indication that they’ve become uncomfortable.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Joe Navarro, we had on the show, talked about this. Like, there’s no telltale sign, “Oh, you touched your nose or your ears or your eyes went in this direction, or you covered your suprasternal notch,” that all these things likely mean there is some discomfort for who knows why. It’s cold. They’re kind of bored. They are tired of going through this again. They don’t want you to find out about something else they’re hiding, which is completely unrelated to the matter at hand. Okay, so right on. It sounds like you got a checkmark there, like forget the deception there.

Michael Reddington
Yes, and he’s a perfect resource for that. So, as we move away from trying to catch people lying, what we really want to focus on is just that, I’m looking for changes in somebody’s comfort level throughout the conversation. And then with a heightened level of situational awareness, looking to tie their change in comfort to the most likely trigger, “Was it something that I just said? Was it something they were saying?” To your point, “Is the room cold?” “Did somebody just walk in that they’re trying to avoid?” That contextual or situational awareness really is the missing ingredient to accurately identifying somebody’s emotional shift.

But, by and large, without even getting into that level of nuance, if we’re just looking for, to oversimplify it, to somebody who looks happy, sad, frustrated, what does their emotional shift look like? For me, just some basics, and Joe might have mentioned some of these, if I’m having a conversation with somebody and we’re standing up, talking to each other, are their feet pointed towards me and are their shoulders parallel with mine? If the answer to both questions is yes, they’re probably relatively engaged. If their feet are pointing away, or if their shoulders are turning away, or they keep looking away, this isn’t rocket science, they’re probably not so much engaged with me.

For me, another myth, if somebody crosses their arms, it doesn’t mean that they’re closed off or defensive. It means they’re likely either the physical discomfort, could be cold, or their back hurts, or emotionally vulnerable at the moment, and their face might be a better place to look to figure out what the specific emotional vulnerability is at that point in time.

But, for me, especially with the nonverbals, what behavior changes isn’t nearly as important as when the behavior changes. So, if I know that I’m saying something to somebody that might cause a stress or a reaction, that’s where I’m looking for that shift in their behavior that potentially indicates they’re more stressful.

On the verbal communication side, I’ll cut straight to my favorite. My absolute favorite thing to observe for when somebody is communicating to me is if they start saying a word, cut themselves off in the middle of the word, and replace it with a different word in the same sentence. So, as an example, if I’m having a conversation, let’s say, I’m talking to…or I have one of my employees talking to me, another manager is talking to me, and she comes up to me and says, “At this point, I’m really just af– well, I believe that my team is concerned at this point that their ability to be successful is limited with the resources they don’t currently have, or limited by the resources they don’t currently have.”

So, the word she stopped herself from saying is afraid. So, now when I hear her cut that word off, talking about intelligence, I can now be reasonably confident that she is afraid, that she doesn’t want me to know that she’s afraid, that she is now using how her team feels in this situation as a way to likely save face and communicate how she feels in this situation, and she’s going through an impression management exercise, which tells me that my presence in this conversation is generating some stress for her based on some potential consequences that could be real and perceived.

So, I can gather all of that intelligence just by catching somebody replace a word or stop a word midstream, change the word, and keep talking. There are other examples, I’d be happy to give you different things I listen for as well, but, for me, that is, from a verbal communication standpoint, often the single biggest thing that gives me the most intelligence right away.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, that’s lovely. I’ve never thought to pay a lot of attention to that, and now I do. So, transformation accomplished. Thank you, Michael.

Michael Reddington
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, lay some more on us. What else are you looking for?

Michael Reddington
From a general standpoint, I’m looking for changes in their speed of delivery, how loud or soft they talk, any pauses. Does the pause fit the question? That’s another big one. I’m not so worried about if somebody has a long pause or a short pause. I care, “Does the pause fit the question?” If I ask somebody a question they really should have to think about and they give me a quick answer, they either prepared in advance, they’re blowing me off, or they don’t have the answer.

If, on the other hand, I ask somebody a question that they should have a really quick answer to, and, instead, they take a long time to think about it, “Well, why are they taking so long to think about this answer when it’s something that they should have off the top of their head?” So, it’s not so much “Is it a short pause or a long pause?” It’s, “Does the pause fit the question?”

And the same thing is true with tone of voice. Does the tone match the message? If somebody is portraying a confident message but it has a questioning tone, they’re probably not as confident as they’re portraying. So, I’m sure there are international listeners to this program, so what I’m about to say is going to be geared a little bit towards American English.

If I hear a question mark where a period should be at the end of a sentence, instead of saying, “Yes, I can do it,” it’s, “Yeah, I can do it?” they have that spike at the end of that question mark, I would never go as far as to say they’re lying. I would go as far as to say one of two other alternatives or more likely. One, they’re not as confident as they’re trying to portray that they can do it, or, two, they’re testing us to see if we believe that they can do it. So, that would be another one I listen for there.

Pronoun usage is another big one. Often, if people are trying to distance themselves from responsibility, the pronouns will change in their statements. So, if I get a lot of us-es and we’s in the beginning, and then a lot of them and they’s when the unfortunate part of the situation happened, that could be an indication that they’re distancing themselves. The reverse could be true as well. They could start with a lot of they’s and them’s and then later on, start slipping in some we’s and us-es, which could be an indication that they’re more involved than they were letting on.

Same thing is true with tense changes. If the tense changes in somebody’s story, past tense, present tense, if they go back and forth, that can be an indication. Really, as I pick up on these things and more, what I’m consistently listening for is something that you mentioned earlier, which is the opportunity to help somebody save face. And when Joe talked about not trying to catch people lying, there’s little to no benefit in that, really, what we should be listening to is “How or why is somebody trying to help themselves save face?” and then how do we go about that.

So, literally, earlier today, I was part of a conversation where one of my clients is working on a negotiation where we know for a fact that they’ve been lied to. And the message that I received today was, first, we need them to tell us the truth. And the conversation after that was, actually, we don’t. What we need to do is find an opportunity to allow them to save face and continue the conversation so we get the outcome we’re looking for. If we prioritize, essentially, getting them to confess to previously lying to us, and we don’t have a good way to help them save face with the process, we run the risk of torpedoing what we’re trying to achieve with this partnership.

So, instead of being focused on righting this moral wrong – we’ve been lied to – let’s just accept that we know that it’s happened. It’s unfortunate, we wished we didn’t. It doesn’t say a lot about the other side. But what’s the intelligence within that lie and how do we now help them save face moving forward to get what we want? So, those face-saving opportunities are really what we’re often observing for.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now, when we are doing the influential communication, any key tips you’d recommend there?

Michael Reddington
For sure, and it all lies in with the concept of helping people save face. We should be going out of our way, literally, regardless of a specific technique, if we start by just thinking, “At the end of this conversation, I don’t want…” well, I’ll just say Pete for our purposes of this, “I don’t want Pete to feel embarrassed or judged. If I just start there, I’ll be in great shape. I don’t want you to feel embarrassed or judged.”

So, we like to say illustrate before you investigate. So, what I want to do is I want to show some illustration of my understanding of your situation, which often, and quite surprisingly, will give people an excuse to answer the question and save face. So, a common example, especially in the workplace, is somebody committed to getting something done and they’re not going to have it done on time.

Well, if I was to approach you, and say, “Pete, where are you on this? Are you going to have it done on time?” you have two choices. One, you can lie to me and say, “Yes,” to save face and hope for the best. Or, two, you can come up with some excuse as to why it’s not done yet, as you try to save face and maybe get some extra help. So, I’m literally going to start there. Instead of just coming up and saying, “Hey, Pete, where are you on this project? Are you going to be done by Friday?”

Now, I want to approach you and say, “Hey, Pete, how’s it going? I know we’ve had a lot of things added to our plate that we didn’t plan on, trying to help the marketing team, the customer change their expectations, even our family has been crazy. We’ve tried to balance remote work and coming into the office. So, with all of these things that we’ve been dealing with, considering how important this project is, Pete, let me ask you. If I had to reallocate resources in order to help make sure this gets done on time, what would be the most valuable thing I could do for you to make sure this project gets done on time by Friday?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you’re right. I’ve got so many openings there, and if it’s really, really under control, it’s like, “Yeah, I don’t really need anything but I really appreciate you asking.” It’s like, “Okay, we can feel very confident that that’s pretty darn truthful because you gave me every opening.”

Michael Reddington
A hundred percent. And you’re not offended by it, so you’re like, “No, man, appreciate it. I’m good.” But if you really do need help, now there are any number of ways to save face, “Thank you for asking. If this help was available, or that help was available.” And, now, if any listeners are thinking, “Well, what if I don’t want to give him help?” You’re not obligated to at this point. But we’ve given him an excuse to talk about where he is.

Now, if in this situation, you and I can have a conversation, figure out how far behind you are, if there’s a way that you can get it back on track yourself – great. If not, well, depending on how important this project is, I might be reallocating some assets and changing some schedules to make sure it gets done on time. So, that would be another example of really focusing on the goal, successful completion of the project, when I think about asking the question.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Anything else in terms of questions you love asking or any phrases, scripts, verbiage, that’s just so helpful again and again?

Michael Reddington
Yeah, I’ll give you a couple. My favorite way to phrase a question is, “Please walk me through.” When we say to somebody “Please walk me through,” I’m suggesting that my expectation is both chronological order and detail. So, generally, that makes it easier for me to determine when a story is either out of chronological order and/or missing detail. Because of the way that I suggested the question is answered, it makes it easier for me to figure out where potential opportunities for follow-up are within the story.

Along the same lines, please don’t ever ask somebody, “Can you remember?” or “Do you recall?” We can’t prove it that they know that, so they’re going to give us the yes or no, whichever is face-saving for them, and we could get stuck cold in the bag if it’s not true later on, so it’s not a perfect replacement. But I like to replace that with “Please take me back to…” At least, now I’m forcing their brain to kick off a little bit. It’s given me more of a behavioral read as they think of their answer. They might still say, “I can’t remember,” but at least I’ve given myself a fighting chance.

And then, for me, if I am giving an illustration and I’m trying to learn information from somebody, and I’m trying to help them feel more comfortable sharing additional information with me, the closest thing I have to a silver bullet is the phrase “Please correct me where I’m wrong,” which is significantly different from “Please correct me if I’m wrong.”

If I was to say, “Please correct me if I’m wrong,” that comes across arrogant, assumptive, and you probably just checked out. But especially if I’m talking to somebody who, emotionally, morally, based on position or rank or expertise, feels like they’re superior to me in a conversation, there’s a reasonable chance that they would love an opportunity to correct me.

So, if I preface an illustration by saying, “Pete, I’d like to take a second just to make sure that I’m tracking in the right direction, so please correct me where I go wrong. I’d appreciate that.” Now, I almost certainly have a higher level of your attention because I’ve asked you to do the one thing you want to do, so you’re probably more focused.

Now, as I go through my illustration, when I’m done, I’m literally going to stop, and now I‘m going to give you the opportunity to respond. If my observation is on track, you’re more likely going to…more than likely to say either, “You’re right,” or, “You’re not wrong.” In either situation, I have just increased the perception of my credibility, level-set this conversation, and now earn the opportunity to continue asking questions, which I might not need to because you may be so inspired by hearing that illustration and affirming that I’m correct, that you start filling in the blanks.

That also works when we miss. Now, I would never coach somebody to miss intentionally. Any time we risk coming across inauthentic or lying or insincere, there’s ripple effects there we don’t even want to deal with. But if I give this a legitimate shot and I just missed, and instead of saying “You’re right,” you come back with, “Close.” My job is to be patient because I’m willing to bet, after you say, “Close,” you are going to explain to me what I missed because I asked you to correct me.

So, in your explanation of what I missed, or how I didn’t quite get it, or what I don’t know or wasn’t thinking, I am now gathering a significant amount of intelligence without ever having to ask for it. So, I don’t risk creating question fatigue because I’m asking too many questions, and you’re happier to share the information with me because you feel like it was your idea, and it wasn’t forced upon you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. Thank you. Well, now let’s hear about a few of your favorite things. Could you start us off with a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Michael Reddington
My favorite quote, actually, I believe ties into a lot of what we talked about today. It’s an old Sun Tzu quote, other people probably use it as well. I believe it goes, “Submitting the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” That’s the quote, “Submitting the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” And not that in any way I’m suggesting everybody we talk to is our enemy, but I am certainly suggesting that getting through conversations without creating unnecessary conflict is, metaphorically, the acme of skill.

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

Michael Reddington
I’ll quote three, and it comes down to first impressions, and it really level-sets how I interact with people So, there were three studies from three independent universities, I’m assuming I’m going to get them correct. The first one came out of Princeton, was that we are capable of judging somebody’s intellect, character, and trustworthiness, if I have that correct, within 100 milliseconds after looking at their face.

A similar study out of the University of Glasgow showed that we’re capable of determining the same factors within 500 milliseconds of hearing somebody say the word hello. The third study came out of the University of Colorado, where they found that we’re capable of categorizing somebody, essentially fitting them within one of our previously conceived mental models, as fast as 100-150 milliseconds. So, really keeping in mind that we’re judging people that fast, and we need to be careful, but also that people are judging us that fast. And the literal instant of introduction is so important to set the tone for our conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Now, when you say we’re capable of, I imagine, is it fair to say, it doesn’t mean we’re capable of doing it well or correctly, it’s just that we can make snap judgments and they may or may not be correct?

Michael Reddington
Roger that, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Michael Reddington
I would start by saying I highly recommend people read every word Robert Cialdini ever wrote.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. We’ve had him on the show. He’s amazing.

Michael Reddington
Yes. So, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Pre-Suasion, anything that he wrote. I’m a fan of Malcolm Gladwell, and I’m not breaking any new ground there. For me, the best leadership book I’ve ever read, and it’s hands down, no competition, is a book called Care to Dare by George Kohlrieser, so I’ll throw that one on the list as well. I think that’s probably a pretty good list to start. I also like the Freakonomics crab. I’m forgetting their…both the authors are named Steve, but Think Like a Freak and those books. I’m a huge fan of those books as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job.?

Michael Reddington
Patience. Give other people the space they need to talk. The more they talk, the more they learn. The more they talk, the more they feel respected, the more they feel that we care about them, the more they feel that we’re invested in them. I know, especially with leaders in a time-compressed world, patience is a four-letter word, but I honestly believe if I had to rank conversational tools that lead to success, if I understand your question correctly, patience is right at the top of the list.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really connects and resonates with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Michael Reddington
That time is the enemy of empathy comes back to me a lot. I’ll give you two more. People react the strongest to what they observe first. Go back to those statistics about how quickly we’re judging people. We tend to carry expectations into every interaction. We tend to commit the level of energy and a focus that we believe is appropriate based on the expectations we carry in. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, people react the strongest to what they observe first. Whatever we say or do first, how that either lines up or violates their expectation, often kicks off their initial reaction process. And with that people will perceive how we communicate with them as proof of how much we respect them.

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

Michael Reddington
Appreciate you asking. They can learn more about the book at DisciplinedListening.com. they can learn more about what we do at InQuasive at InQuasive.com. And if they want to learn more about me, the two best places to look would be MichaelReddington.com or on LinkedIn at Michael Reddington, CFI.

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

Michael Reddington
Go into as many conversations as you can and allow yourself to be surprised. Go into every conversation, thinking to yourself, “How can this person surprise me?” Our brains are wired to look for information that confirms what we already think and believe, we’re wired to disregard information that conflicts with what we already think and believe.

So, if we can go into our important conversations, and think, “Okay, let’s see how Pete surprises me today,” and not from a point of arrogance, “Let’s see if Pete can surprise me today,” but from like a literal point of curiosity, “Let’s see how Pete surprises me today.” We’ll be surprised, we’ll be able to learn, and then how we’ll be able to use what we learn to impact our relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Michael, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you the best and many great conversations.

Michael Reddington
I appreciate the time, sir. Thank you. I’ve enjoyed it as well.