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815: How to Get Along with Anyone at Work with Amy Gallo

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Amy Gallo shares how to constructively deal with difficult people at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The massive costs of bad relationships at work
  2. How to build your immunity to criticism
  3. How to work well with eight key types of difficult people

About Amy

Amy Gallo is a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review. She is the author of the HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict and Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone, and a cohost of HBR’s Women at Work podcast. Her articles have been collected in dozens of books on emotional intelligence, giving and receiving feedback, time management, and leadership. As a sought-after speaker and facilitator, Gallo has helped thousands of leaders deal with conflict more effectively and navigate complicated workplace dynamics. She is a graduate of Yale University and holds a master’s from Brown University.

Resources Mentioned

Amy Gallo Interview Transcript

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

Amy Gallo
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you for being here. I’m excited to chat. And we’re going to learn, at last, how to get along with anyone at work. Impressive.

Amy Gallo
Thanks.

Pete Mockaitis
But, first, we need to hear a little bit about you and karaoke. What’s the story here?

Amy Gallo
Oh, my gosh. Okay, so I have a terrible voice. Like, I feel like I could be the definition of tone deaf but I love to sing, so karaoke is where I thrive. And it’s funny, my husband knows how much I love karaoke, he knows how my voice sounds, but when we go to karaoke with new people, and I start singing, there’s a moment where, like, their eyes go wide, and they’re like, “Wait, what’s happening?” because I think it’s probably pretty terrible but I make up for it in enthusiasm. Because I think they’re just sort of like, “Wow, she’s really having a great time, and it sounds terrible.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, in a way, I think there’s a certain beauty to that. I don’t know what virtue I’d pin it on but it’s something good. It says something good about you, Amy. Zest for life, hunk humility, fun lovingness.

Amy Gallo
Yeah. And I think confidence, too, of just like, “You know what, it sounds terrible but I’m having fun, so have fun with me.” And my favorite karaoke song is Don’t Stop Believing by Journey, which can be sung as a duet, and oftentimes I’ve gotten strangers to sing the duet with me, but these were pre-COVID times. I haven’t done karaoke in a long time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, I hope that you get some soon.

Amy Gallo
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
That sounds like a hoot. All right. Well, let’s talk about your latest here, Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People). That’s a nice promise of a title inside that book. Can you tell us, maybe for starters, just to get the juices flowing, any particularly surprising, counterintuitive, extra fascinating discoveries you’ve made along the way in doing your research and assembling this book here?

Amy Gallo
Yeah. Actually, I’ll share two things. One is something I found out in writing the book and something that I found out since writing the book. So, the first one I would say, I knew that social connections were important at work, and I knew that having fractured relationships or stressful relationships or tense relationships with your co-workers was not good, but the depth of research on the impact of social connections, positive social connections, on us as, both in terms of our wellbeing but also in terms of our performance.

There’s this amazing study that showed from a team of professors at Rutgers that showed that people who identify as friends at work have better performance review ratings. So, the whole idea that this is sort of soft, and, “Oh, it would be nice to have a friend at work,” it’s not. This was actually really about productivity and performance.

And then, on the flipside, the research around how terrible stressful relationships are, or animosity in our relationships, both for our productivity, creativity, but also for our health, there are studies that show that having an incompetent manager, for example, raises the likelihood that you’ll have a heart disease. Or, there are studies that show that people who have animosity in their relationships had wounds that were less slow to heal, or were slower to heal.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Amy Gallo
So, it’s actually having a physical impact on us.


Pete Mockaitis
That makes a lot of sense. I think that when it comes to the stress and the cortisol, or whatever sort of your biochemical mediators of that, it seems like more and more research are showing up that when there’s a chronic stress situation and not good healthy outlets, such as sleep, exercise, friends, social support, bad things happen in the body.

Amy Gallo
Yeah, and I think, for years, we thought the way we interact with co-workers, our relationships with them, were sort of icing on the cake. And I think just tremendous amount of research that shows the impact of those relationships make it clear that it is the cake. This is how we get work done, whether or not we’re successful, whether we achieve our goals, is largely dependent on the quality of our relationships with the people we work with. And I think it’s just so clear on the research.

Now, the second insight I’ve had I wanted to share, which has been since I wrote the book, and this is a little bit of insider baseball on the writing of the book, is each chapter. So, the book is around archetypes of difficult people, and each of those chapters included a section of what if you are this person, what if you are the insecure manager, or the know-it-all, what you should do. And the manuscript was way too long, so, with my editor, we agreed to cut those sections out.

And part of the thinking of doing that was that we didn’t think people would actually have the self-awareness.

Pete Mockaitis
“Surely, not I, Amy.”

Amy Gallo
Exactly. Like, who would get to that section, and be like, “Oh, yeah, that’s me,” right? But I cannot tell you how many people have LinkedIn-message me, tweeted at me, called me, my friends have texted me, and said, “I’m reading your book, and I’ve seen myself in that archetype, or I’m seeing myself in many of the archetypes.”

Which is so encouraging because that’s one of the themes of the book, is that we’re all the difficult person at times, and it can be hard to recognize that, it can be even harder to admit it, but the more we do that, the easier these interactions and resolving some of the conflicts we have with people we work with will be.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like a thesis right there. Well, I was about going to ask, what’s the big idea behind the book. It sounds like we hit it. Anything else you want to mention in terms of a core thesis?

Amy Gallo
Well, I think the other thing is we often feel subjected to these relationships, especially if the person we’re having difficulty with is a manager or someone we can’t stop working with because they’re a critical member of our team. And I think one of the other core themes is this is in your control, not that you can change that other person.

I don’t have to explain to people that that’s not going to work. You can’t actually set out making your colleague a different person but you can control your thoughts, your feelings, your reactions, your behavior in a way that changes the dynamic so you don’t have to feel stuck in these challenging relationships. You actually can do something about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is a very inspiring and encouraging, so cool stuff. I don’t have to change someone else. I have some areas or things I can control that will make an impact.

Amy Gallo
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s really cool. Could you maybe kick us off with an inspiring story of someone who there was a co-worker, “Wow, they weren’t feeling it,” and then they saw a transformation and some cool results?

Amy Gallo
Yeah, so I actually will share a personal story. It’s a story I open the book with, and it’s not transformational in that, all of a sudden, this person became, like, my best friend. It just got easier, and I’ll explain. So, I had this boss earlier in my career who was just a chronic micromanager, gossiped about people in the office with me, which made me believe she was probably gossiping about me to others.

She would assign work and then, the next day, assign, like, three more projects. And when you said, “Whoa, what about these other things?” she’s like, “Why are you even focused on that?” It was I really never knew where I stood, and it was stressful. It was just incredibly stressful. And I found myself, about three months into the job, thinking about her constantly.

I would be walking the dog thinking about what I was going to say to her in an email response. I’d be at a birthday party I’ve taken my daughter to, finding myself going over conversations we’d had, and I was like, “Okay, I got to quit. This is not worth it.” And instead of quitting, and I’m not sure what made me do this, but instead of quitting, I was like, “Wait, let me see if I can just change the way I feel about her, and let her stop taking up so much room in my psyche.”

And by sort of re-appraising the situation, seeing it instead of being stuck working with this person, see it as an opportunity to keep this job, which I actually really like, and can I learn something from it, can I learn about the kind of manager I want to be, can I learn about how I handle stressful situations. I stayed in that job for 18 months. She did not change. I want to make that clear. It’s not that she behaved differently. I just changed the way I thought about it, and the amount of investment I put into making that relationship better, because I was so…

Part of what was so hard is that I was set on…I really thought if I could just…well, how do I want to say this? Like, I just thought if I could transform this relationship, if I could show her the way that her behavior was impacting others. And I had a friend who said, “I don’t know she cares.” And so then, I thought, “Okay. Well, she doesn’t care, or I don’t know if she cares or not, so I’m not going to focus on priding myself on being able to reform this woman. Instead, I’m going to focus on priding myself on reforming myself.”

And it really became the beginning of this work that led to this book of just observing relationships, looking into the research around, “How do we deal with stressful relationships?” and what works and what doesn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s a lot of good stuff. And you’ve mapped out eight archetypes, and I want to have a little bit of time on each of them. But it sounds like you’ve got a master key right here that would be applicable to all eight of them, so let’s hit that first. How do we control our thoughts, our feelings, and do a re-appraisal? Are there some super powerful questions, or breathing techniques? Or, what are some of all your favorite tools that can take us from, “Aargh, I want to strangle this person” to, “Oh, okay, that’s alright”?

Amy Gallo
Yup, so a couple things. Number one, I think that there’s a mindset shift we have to make, which is that instead of believing that this relationship is indicative of who we are and what we’re capable of, because that was the problem with my boss is that I was struggling with her, and I was like, “Oh, I guess I’m not good at relationships with co-workers. I guess I’m not good at managing up. Maybe I’m not even good at my job because she seems to be questioning how good I am at that.”

So, rather than thinking of this interaction, this one relationship as indicative of who you are, remember that you probably have many, many more relationships with co-workers, people outside work, that are positive, and let those be a reflection. So, I think that’s the one mindset shift you want to make right at the beginning, is right-size this person’s influence on you, that it’s just one relationship, remind yourself of that, and you’ve got many more that are probably very positive.

The second thing I would say is that you really want to observe your reactions. So, make an effort to really pay attention. When you’re in an unpleasant interaction with a co-worker, think about how do you react. So, for me, sometimes I’d blame the other person, “This is all their fault.” Or, I might blame myself, “What have I done wrong?” Or, I try to completely disengage and just shut down, “This isn’t worth my time,” and I’d dismiss it all.

All of those reactions are perfectly valid in that they’re probably not true but they’re perfectly valid in that they’re your thoughts and feelings. And I really learned this from a professor named Sigal Barsade. She was a professor at Wharton, and unfortunately passed away a few years ago. But she talks about emotions being data not noise. So, rather than trying to get rid of those emotions; pay attention to them and what are they telling you about what you care about.

And then another tool I would really say is try to re-appraise, and that’s really what I was describing what I did with my boss, was instead of saying, “This is a vexing situation I’m never going to get out of. Wow, this feels like a threat,” because, many times, these conflicts or difficult interactions with people can feel like a threat, “What’s the opportunity here? What can I learn from this situation?”

And I don’t mean to put on rose-colored glasses and be naïve while someone’s mistreating you over and over, but I do mean to think, “Maybe there’s an opportunity here for me while I work on improving this relationship. Maybe there’s an opportunity for me to learn something.” And learning might be interpersonal resilience, the development of the skill to bounce back from stressful situations when we’re in them, or bounce back more quickly when we have them, but also to feel less stressed when we’re in them.

Pete Mockaitis
You know what comes to mind here is as you’re talking about a set of skills, boy, any professional could benefit from them and I would like more of myself. And I’m thinking about Dr. David Burns who wrote Feeling Good, Feeling Great, and more, so I’m thinking of those books. And he had a phrase about becoming immune to criticism. That sounds like a nice thing to have going for you. And so, I’d like that, and it sounds like a nice positive, optimistic vibe, to say, “Ooh, this is cool. I have an opportunity to learn some resilience and maybe to become immune from criticism.”

Are there any other kind of facets or angles or slants you want to put on the learning growth development opportunity? I find, when I’m feeling cranky, which might happen in such a context, I’m not as jazzed about the idea of learning, it’s like, “Oh, Amy said I can do some learning to be more resilient,” or, “Pete said I can learn to become immune to criticism, so that’s pretty snazzy.” I don’t feel excited about the learning even though I love learning most of the time. So, any pro tips on maybe just getting a jolt to the system to steer into that happier place?

Amy Gallo
Absolutely. And I will tell you, I’m the same way. It took me months to change this relationship, or change my view of this relationship with my boss. It’s not as if you’re in the middle of being yelled at by a tormentor, or you just had credit for your project taken by a political operator, and you’re like, “What can I learn here?” Of course, you’re going to be angry, upset. That’s where those sort of observing those reactions comes in because you’re going to give yourself some space.

The other thing is you do need to make sure you allow yourself to feel those feelings, and maybe even find someone to vent them to, to sort of get that out a little bit. And just remember, the one thing I do try to remember in the moment when I am so mad, that our brains are mini-making machines. So, they’re going to try to make…create a story around what’s happening. And the story typically paints you as the hero and the other person as the villain. It’s usually not an entirely true story, so allow yourself to feel the feelings, observe what your brain is telling you, and then ask yourself.

One of my favorite things to do is to ask myself, “Okay, how do I know that’s true? Is that true? What if I’m wrong?” And just start to challenge yourself. And that’s going to bring down the threat response or what emotional intelligence experts call amygdala hijack, which is where, when you sense a threat, even if it’s just a threat to the harmony you experience with others in the workplace, we go into that stress response. The amygdala takes sort of precedence over the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for our rational thinking.

And so, most people know this as the fight or flight. So, of course, when you’re in fight or flight, there’s no opportunity to learn. Your brain is like, “Protect, protect, protect,” or, “Defend, defend, defend,” and so you have to figure out how to sort of bring that down. Challenging the story that you’re telling yourself, sometimes going and having food, or deciding, “I’m not going to think about this today. Like, I’ll give myself 15 minutes to think about how mad I am at my boss, or mad I am at my colleague, then I’m going to stop, and then I’ll say how I feel about it tomorrow.”

And I think that I can remember, thinking about being immune to criticism, I actually don’t know. I don’t know that book and I don’t know the author, but I don’t know if we want to be immune to it. I just think we want to be immune to the sort of shame or embarrassment that comes along with it, because we want to be able to hear criticism and learn from it.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. I think that’s a good way to put it. I think immune from the disease, symptoms, if you will, of that, is how I interpret it, as opposed to, “I am oblivious to all feedback always from here on out.” Okay.

Amy Gallo
That’s right. Exactly, “Don’t hear you. Thank you very much.” And I actually had this experience. I remember someone sent me a piece of criticism, actually ten pieces. I remember there’s a list of ten things sent via email.

Pete Mockaitis
“Amy, here’s all the things you’re doing wrong. I’ve done you the favor of consolidating them into a single document.”

Amy Gallo
Well, it’s actually even worse than it sounds because it was after I had done a very visible project. I was actually on video, this live video event, and it came into my inbox, I think, half an hour after the event ended, and it was like, “Great event. Here are ten things you should do differently next time.” And I was so mad, I was red in the face. I can remember, I was shaking, like as if I hadn’t eaten for a day.

I was like just feeling woozy from my emotional response, and I said, “Okay, just close it. I can’t process this in this mode, and so I’m just going to close it.” I went and had lunch. I cried. I’m pretty sure I cried, and then I came back to it, and I was like, “Huh, okay. Like, three of the ten are very valid. Another four probably have some truth to them, and then there’s three I don’t believe. And so, let me, with that frame of mind, actually react to what was said.” And you know what? It made the next one better. It really did.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You’re bringing back memories of the time I…one my early days of speaking, I didn’t know what I was doing, I was like, “I want to be a speaker,” and follow your passion, right? And so, I did an all-school assembly, and it was my first one, and I learned the hard way that that’s a very different audience than the students at a leadership conference. It’s wildly different. And so, I just missed the mark, and the principal sent a note that was brutal. It’s like I heard nothing but negative things.

And so, I chatted over with a good mentor, Mawi, from Episode number 1. Great guy. Mawi Asgedom. And it was so, in that perspective, it’s perfect when he says, “Whenever you get feedback, it’s never completely true and it’s never completely false.

And I found that that’s been a really valuable perspective here on out is whenever you have feedback, some of it, just as you ran down with those ten points, some of it is dead-on, some of it is just bonkers, and some of it is, hmm, we have to dig in and investigate and see some nuance and context for how it applies.

Amy Gallo
Yeah. You know, it’s funny, I’m glad we’re talking about feedback because it is such a core part of interacting with people that we find difficult, which is that, oftentimes, they’re either giving us feedback, either verbally or in an email, like the two that we received, or it’s implicit, they’re not agreeing with the way we’re doing something, or we don’t agree with the way that they’re doing something. So, feedback is such a critical part of both how we deliver it and how we receive it, of navigating these tricky relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s great. Well, now, let’s dig into the eight archetypes. I bet, boy, we could talk forever, like, “Oh, I know someone like this.” But could you maybe give us the name of the archetype, a quick maybe sentence or two for “This is what that looks, sounds, feels like,” and then a quick sentence or two, “And if you’re seeing this, here’s what I recommend you do”?

Amy Gallo
Yeah, okay. So, let’s start with insecure manager, first one, insecure boss. This is someone, and my boss, actually, that I described earlier probably fit into this category, who isn’t entirely confident in their position, and, therefore, will micromanage, will maybe make it impossible for you to do your job by withholding information, or not letting you interact with people in another department, for example, someone who basically is defending their ego through their actions and behaviors.

So, one of the things to remember about the insecure manager is we all have some level of insecurity, it’s a normal thing. If you don’t, you’re in that nice tiny little group of people called psychopaths. So, we all have some self-doubt. What the research shows around insecure managers is that one of the things that works, and I don’t love giving this advice because it’s not fun to do, but is that you really have to help calm their ego.

And that may include giving them some genuine compliments, pointing out things that they do well, I imagine there’s something, because that helps to calm the ego and you help can form an alliance with them in terms of, “How do we actually do this work? How do we move forward? How do you get what you want?”

Okay, so then there’s the pessimist. I think that’s pretty clear that someone who’s just overly negative, shoots down ideas left and right. One of the things that you need to remember with the pessimist is, again, this is not necessarily malicious behavior. It often feels like they’re trying to take you down, and that’s possible. But, more often than not, it’s sort of a disposition, sort of how we view the world. There are people who just are what researchers call prevention-focused. They’re focused on preventing bad things from happening.

And one tip with them is to really make sure that they have a sense of agency, because pessimism isn’t necessarily bad if they’re pointing out important risks that we need to see. But what’s bad is if they feel like they can’t do anything about it. So, you might ask a question when they say, “Well, that will never work,” say, “Okay. Well, what would work?” or, “Okay, I hear you,” and you don’t want to polarize with a pessimist because they think optimists are idiots.

And so, if you’re like, “No, everything is good,” they’re like, “Oh,” they’re just rolling their eyes at you. So, you want to validate that their perspective is…you hear their perspective, and then ask them, “Okay. Well, what can we do to change that? Or, if you had all the resources in the world, what would you do?” Just sort of give them a sense of, “You have power in this situation.”

The victim is the third archetype, and that’s sort of a flavor of the pessimist. This is someone who also thinks things are going to go terribly wrong but they think they’re going to go wrong to them. They’re very focused on how they’re being mistreated. You have to watch out because sometimes people are, indeed, being mistreated, and are, indeed, a victim in the workplace. So, be careful in using this label, and any of these labels when you’re thinking about your colleague because you want to make sure you’re not blaming someone for a mistreatment that they’re on the receiving end of.

One of the main tactics with victim is similar to the pessimist which is to ask them to reframe. So, when they say, “I never get what I want.” Ask, “Well, what’s a time that you have gotten something you wanted?” because the chances are they may see these things as sweeping generalizations, the behavior or the treatment they feel like they’re receiving, but chances are, there’s a time in which they had the agency, had the ability to change something. You want to remind them that they have that in them, and that can really help.

Then there’s one of my favorites, the passive-aggressive peer, and this is someone who says one thing, does another. They don’t feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings in a straightforward manner. This is the question I get asked all the time, “How do you deal with these people?” One of the things you can do is to really focus on the underlying message.

So, they may wrap their comment in a snarky message but they actually have an underlying thought or feeling. And if you can figure out what that is, either by asking some questions, or just by paying attention and focus on that, then you can sort of give them…you’re actually giving them permission to be a little bit more straightforward.

Passive-aggression is often motivated by fear of rejection, failure, an avoidance of conflict. So, if you can make it safe for them to actually say what they believe, then, hopefully, you can nudge them to be a little bit more direct, or, at least, you’re addressing the underlying business issue with them. Even if they’re going to continue to be passive-aggressive, you’ve gotten to the underlying message.

So the know-it-all is the one I identify most with because it’s the one I think I am more often than the others. Someone who confidently says what they believe sometimes without any data to back it up. And this also the mansplainer, the person who talks over you, maybe interrupts. And the know-it-all, I think one of the things that really works is asking for those facts and data.

So, if they’re saying, “This product will never succeed,” or, “Our customers don’t want that from us,” is just say, “Huh, that’s interesting. I don’t have the same understanding. What are you basing that on? What assumptions have you made? Here’s the data I’m working with. Can you share the data you’re working with?”

And what I like about that tactic is it can be confrontational. A lot of the tactics in the book are both subtle, and then there are some that are very subtle and some that are very direct. And this is one of the more direct ones because I think it also puts the know-it-all on notice, like, “We’re not just going to let you do this. We’re not just going to let you proclaim…” and while also engaging them in a conversation about the topic that they’re being a know-it-all about.

And then, sometimes, I think, also, you need a group of allies to help you combat that behavior, especially if it’s interrupting or if they’re targeting specific people. We often hear about, there’s lots of studies, actually, that show that men interrupt women more often than they interrupt other men, for example.

So, then forming a coalition with folks and who you work with to say, “Well, we’re going to call out that behavior when we see it.” And someone might say, “Amy didn’t finish her point. Can you please let her continue, and then we’d love to hear from you?” Something like that so that it’s not just on you to completely combat the know-it-all behavior.

Then you have the biased co-worker, and this is someone who commits microaggressions toward you, exhibits bias in their comments or behaviors. This is an incredibly difficult one to combat, although there’s lots and lots of books and articles and research about how best to handle this. And I will say that the one thing that I think works well with biased is assuming the person has done it unknowingly, which we know a lot of these microaggressions often people aren’t trying to exclude someone.

They aren’t trying to offend someone even if maybe they don’t care, or it may be that they just aren’t aware that what they’ve said is inappropriate or has the impact of being exclusive, or excluding rather, to the person who was on the receiving end, is to ask a question. When someone makes an inappropriate comment, to say, “What did you mean by that?” or even, “Oh, could you repeat that?” because sometimes even making them say it again helps them reflect on, “Oh, wait. How is this actually being heard?”

That’s not 100% successful tactic. And, in fact, none of the tactics, I would say, will be 100% successful all the time. But, oftentimes, that does encourage them to reflect on their own behavior and how it’s being received by others. And now we’ve got the tormentor, and that’s someone who you expect to be a mentor but then ends up trying to make your life miserable.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, clever. Tormentor.

Amy Gallo
Exactly. And I have to tell you, I didn’t know what to call this archetype for a while, even though I had heard tons of stories about this type of behavior. And I went to LinkedIn and asked someone in my network, Mike Gut, and I have to give him credit, he said, “That should be called the tormentor,” and it was perfect.

And that’s someone maybe who assigns you needless work, talks about all the sacrifices they’ve made, clearly think you should make the same kind of sacrifices. And research shows that we actually tend to have, this was very surprising research that we’ve published in Harvard Business Review, that when we see someone going through something difficult that we’ve been through ourselves, where we’re maybe working full time while raising kids or going through a divorce, we have less empathy for them.

And that’s because we either have a little bit of, well, I should say the researchers posit that it’s probably because we have a little bit amnesia about the situation, which is, “Oh, that’s in the past.” And, relatedly, we think, “Well, I got through it. What’s wrong with them? They can do it. Like, I knuckled my way through it. Why can’t they do that too?” And that really informs the tormentor’s behavior.

And, again, this is one that, oftentimes, and a lot of the people I talk to for the book who were working with a tormentor, chose to quit. And I don’t give that advice to leave your job lightly, but I think the tormentor can have a real impact on your psyche. If you’re interested in having a better relationship with them, and maybe you can’t leave your job, then you might think about how you can form an alliance with them.

Give them some sympathy for the sacrifices they went through. Giving someone empathy when they’re tormenting you is the last thing you want to do, but instead of seeing it as generous to them, see it as generous to yourself, which is that, “I’m trying…” this is a strategic move to try to transform the relationship.

The other thing is there’s really great research showing with abusive supervisors, which is what I put the tormentor, that’s the category I had put them in, is that if you can show that they need you, either you have a specific type of knowledge, or you play a critical role on the team. If you can make them aware that they will be dependent on you for something, you can switch the power dynamic a little bit, and that can really help to change the dynamic between you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Amy Gallo
And then, lastly, we’ve got the political operator, and that is someone who…we all play office politics, but this is someone who plays that game really only to benefit themselves, and often at the detriment of others. So, they might take credit for your ideas, they, again, might be someone who interrupts. They’re constantly trying to sort of boost their visibility, their ego, often at the expense of others.

And one of my favorite tactics with these folks is to ask them for advice. It’s a bit of a strange tactic and sometimes can backfire, but to say to them, “You know, you’re really good at being visible or promoting yourself,” or you might even say playing office politics, “What could you teach me about doing that?” And what’s helpful about that tactic is it gets them to reflect on the way they do it, and no one, as far as I know, and when I’ve seen this tactic used, this has never happened. But as far as I know, no one is going to be like, “Oh, well, you have to step on others every moment.” They don’t give you the bad version.

Pete Mockaitis
“I’ve read this great book by Machiavelli, it’s called The Prince, it’s my operating manual. I think you’d love it.”

Amy Gallo
That’s right. They’d say, “Here’s a copy for you to follow as well.” Yeah, no, they don’t do that. Instead, they reflect on, “Hmm, okay. What do I do that’s positive?” And, again, it’s sort of a subtle way to show, “I’m paying attention to the way you’re behaving. You’re about to tell me the good way to do this. Let’s hope you continue to do that.”

The other thing about asking anyone advice, what several studies have shown, is that when you ask someone for advice and they give it to you, they’re much more invested in your success partly because of their own ego because they’re like, “I want to see my advice actually work.” And so, with any of the archetypes, any type of difficult person, sometimes asking for their advice gets them to be a little bit more invested in you and takes down the animosity a bit.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Well, Amy, this is a lovely rundown. Well, not so lovely to live it but very useful rundown.

Amy Gallo
A menu of monsters at work. Here you go.

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

Amy Gallo
Sure. So, the one other thing I want to mention, there is a chapter in the book that’s principles to get along with anyone. Meaning, if someone fits into all the archetypes, I hope that’s not the case, or maybe defies categorization altogether. And one of the principles is one that I return to over and over myself, and I’ve seen really worked with my coaching clients and with the people I consult with, which is to treat any of this, the tactics I’ve just shared, for example, or any of the other tactics in the book, treat it as an experiment.

You’re not going to have ten steps to reforming a passive-aggressive peer. It’s never that simple and distrust anyone who tells you they’ve got the failsafe solution. Instead, choose the tactics you want to try out, try them out for a short period of time, two weeks, three weeks, take notes, see what works. Okay, tweak and try again.

You have to have that sort of scientist mindset both to sort of keep your spirits up while you’re doing this because it’s hard work but also just to figure out what will work for you and your unique situation because it’s always this is a big “It depends” kind of advice area. The advice that’s going to work for one person dealing with a know-it-all is not going to work with someone else dealing with a know-it-all.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Amy Gallo
So, F. Scott Fitzgerald, this is a quote I’ve always found really interesting, and he says, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time, and still keep the ability to function.” And I think what I really like about that is that it is hard to hold conflicting thoughts in your head, especially when you’re navigating difficult relationships because, at the same time, you’re like, “I want to be done with this person. I have no interest.” You might even think, “I hate them.”

And, at the same time, you need to remember, “Well, okay, wait. In order to do well at my job, or in order to survive this week, I need to get along with them.” And so, you’re going to need to hold conflicting thoughts in your head in order to actually survive and thrive in these relationships.

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

Amy Gallo
So, one of my favorite researchers is Julia Minson, who’s at Harvard Kennedy School, and she actually does a lot of work around conflict and difficult conversations with another professor at Harvard Business School named Francesca Gino. And they found, this is actually one of my favorites, they found that more than three quarters of people who were about to go into a debate with someone about a controversial issue, so just in a conversation, not a formal debate, but were going to have a conversation with someone about some contentious concept or idea.

Three quarters of those people predicted that they would win the conversation, which, of course, is mathematically impossible, which just shows you sort of the arrogance and confidence we go into these conversations where we really believe that our view will prevail. And I think it’s important to remember that’s really not the case. You’re going to…

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, inand my brain goes to…I’m perhaps a collaborator, to a fault, “Now, let’s think win-win if we’re going to have a creative solution in which we can, as best as possible, meet as many of our respective needs as one can do by enlarging the pie and whatever.”

So, in a way, I don’t even think about so much as winning and losing. It’s like, “We’re going to go in there and we’re going to do our darndest, and I’m hoping I walk away with this really important deal point, or whatever, and we’ll see what we can do.”

Amy Gallo
Yeah, that is the right mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you.

Amy Gallo
Yeah, absolutely. Well done. Great. Because if you see it as win-lose, like if you go in with the goal of proving that you’re right and the other person is wrong, you have nowhere to go in that debate. Because if the other person shows up the same way, like, what are you going to learn? Where are you going to get to? It’s a simple concept sort of but you don’t want to treat these relationships or these conversations as win-lose. And it’s doesn’t have to necessarily be win-win, but I’d rather go in with, like, “Well, what can I learn?” Curiosity, “What’s going to happen at the end of this?”

Julia and Francesca also did this other study about conversational receptiveness, which I think you actually probably would rate very high on, and it’s the use of language to communicate one’s willingness to thoughtfully engage with opposing views. They studied this quite a bit. And one of the things I really like is that they actually have found in their research that women tend to naturally exhibit conversational receptiveness.

And the reason I like it is because, I’m a co-host of the podcast Women at Work, I look a lot at gender research, and most of it is very depressing and very negative on the experience of what the penalties we incur at work, the behavior we’re allowed to exhibit, but I love that this research shows that we’re just naturally better at this. And their conclusion is if you want to improve the way people at work interact, you don’t put women in charge of some of these difficult conversations. And if you want to train people to be better at conversational receptiveness, focus on men.

So, anyway, that’s one of my other favorite findings.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Amy Gallo
I’m a big fiction reader, and I have lots of favorite books over the year. But one of the ones I read recently was a collection of short stories by a woman named Danielle Evans, and it’s called The Office of Historical Corrections. And what I like about it, as someone who thinks about conflict and relationships all the time, is that every story, ultimately, and most stories have a point of conflict, but these really are about conflict over interpersonal issues but also how political issues play into those personal issues.

And I really read it with that lens of, “How do relationships fall apart?” and then “How do they come back together?” or, “How do they not come together because people can’t actually repair them?”

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

Amy Gallo
My Notes app on my phone. I used to have, like, a photographic memory when I was a kid.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Amy Gallo
Yeah, my Spanish teacher in high school, when we did vocab test for extra credit, I would write the page number that the vocab word was on because that’s how I remember that, and I would picture the page. My memory now is so terrible. I think it’s age, stress, there’s just too much that’s happened in my brain for it to recall those sorts of details.

So, my Notes app has become my memory. And it’s funny, I actually like it because it helps me capture ideas. I actually, sometimes, write the beginning of articles in there because I have a phone with me all the time, but it’s also just funny to look through. Like, I have over, I think, 1500 notes at this point. And sometimes it’s just like a random word, I’m like, “I don’t know what this means.” And so, it’s also entertaining to just go through and look at. So, it’s productive and entertaining.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share, something that really connects and resonates with folks, and they quote back to you often?

Amy Gallo
Yeah, I did a TEDx Talk, and at the end I shared this mantra about conflict. And it’s the thing when someone will say, “Oh, I saw your TED Talk,” and they’ll repeat it back to me, and it’s, “Sometimes people are going to be mad at you, and that’s okay.” And just sort of accepting that rupture in relationship is not only normal but sometimes it’s helpful. It helps you either repair that relationship and make it stronger, or you can learn something about yourself in that in those disagreements.

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

Amy Gallo
They should go to my website which is AmyEGallo.com. I actually have a monthly newsletter I send out with advice about relationships at work, conflict, communication. You can sign up for my newsletter there. And also, you can find my book Getting Along and my previous book as well, which is the HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict.

And if people are interested in gender, women at work, I also co-host that podcast I mentioned, Women at Work, which is put out by Harvard Business Review which you can find wherever you listen to podcasts.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Amy Gallo
Yes. Remember that your relationships matter, and don’t shortchange them. And I mean that not just about repairing the relationships that are causing you grief, strife, but also be appreciative of the relationships that fill your cup. I think sometimes we take those relationships more for granted. Thank your friends at work. Send them a thank you note. Send them an email or a fax message, just saying that, “You know what, I’m so glad for our connection.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Amy, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and much getting along with different folks at work.

Amy Gallo
Thank you, Pete. Thanks for having me.

813: How to Make Time for the Things that Matter with Laura Vanderkam

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Laura Vanderkam reveals the secret to carving out time for what’s truly important.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The right way to do leisure time 
  2. The perfect day to do your planning
  3. How to make your schedule more flexible 

About Laura

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including The New Corner Office, Juliet’s School of Possibilities, Off the Clock, I Know How She Does It, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, and 168 Hours. Her work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and Fortune. She is the host of the podcast Before Breakfast and the co-host, with Sarah Hart-Unger, of the podcast Best of Both Worlds.   

Resources Mentioned

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Laura Vanderkam Interview Transcript

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

Laura Vanderkam
Thank you for having me back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s so good to be chatting again, and I’m excited to dig into some of the wisdom of your latest, Tranquility by Tuesday. But, first, could you share with us maybe your most favorite-st discovery over the last year or two?

Laura Vanderkam
Well, I’ve had a lot of discoveries in the last year or two. Among other things, we moved into a very old home, which is new to us but we did a lot of renovations to it. So, I’ve discovered new things about, like, slate shingles. Who knew that what anyone says to you? I’m sure I’m supposed to come up with some great job tip or productivity-type thing, and I’m about to say slate shingles. You know? There’s a whole artform to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, is there any particular benefit to them being made of slate?

Laura Vanderkam
Well, it’s just that that’s how many used to be in very old houses. So, if you have a historic commission who is monitoring your renovation moves, then you need to replicate what is there. But it turns out that when you see a grey roof, that’s like a slate roof, often it’s a mix of different colors. So, it’s like a mix of purple and green and darker grey and lighter grey. It’s really kind of cool how they create the effect. But, anyway, I’ve learned a lot of other things but that was just on my mind because we’ve been doing a lot of renovations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s fun. Well, also fun is your book Tranquility by Tuesday. What’s the story here?

Laura Vanderkam
Yes, so with Tranquility by Tuesday, I realized, I’ve given a lot of time management advice over the years. Thousands of people, at this point, who sent me their schedules, and I’d weigh in. And, at some point, I realized I was giving a lot of the same advice, that many of the things I was telling people to do were very similar, even though people’s lives look very different.

So, I honed this down into nine of my favorite time management rules, and then decided to test them out. So, I had 150 people learn each of these nine rules, one week at a time. They would answer questions about how they planned to implement it in their lives. They would then answer questions a week later about how it went. I could measure them on various dimensions over the course of the project. And I’m happy to report that when people followed these nine time-management rules, they did, in fact, feel more satisfied with their time.

So, much of Tranquility by Tuesday is out-there observations, what they saw as they were trying to use these rules in their lives and the successes they had, the challenges they faced, and how they overcame these.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Laura, I love that so much. Getting real in terms of, okay, real people doing real stuff on a real program, measuring some things before and after, as opposed to simply pontificating, “So, this is what I think is cool about time management.”

Laura Vanderkam
Well, I read self-help for busy people, and I don’t want to waste anyone’s time, so there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so tell us, what were the dimensions you measured and what are some of the results? So, if listeners, I’m hoping, are already salivating, like, “Okay, Laura, what’s the size of this prize? And I’ll be all ears for the nine rules once I know just how much more awesome my life and job will be.”

Laura Vanderkam
Yes. So, I had this whole time-satisfaction scale which is 13 questions, and in order to turn a qualitative measurement, subjective measurements into some sort of data, I had these 13 statements, and people would say how much they disagreed or agreed with them. So, as an example, one statement might be, “I regularly have time just for me,” or, “Yesterday, I didn’t waste time on things that weren’t important to me,” “Generally, I get enough sleep to feel well-rested,” “Yesterday, I made progress on my professional goals,” things like that.

And you could strongly disagree, in which case you’d put one, or you could strongly agree, that was a seven, or various dimensions in between, sort of disagree, sort of agree, that sort of thing. And so, I could measure how people’s answers to these questions and several others change over the course of the nine weeks.

And on the full scale, so combining all 13 questions, people’s time satisfaction scores rose by 16% over the course of the nine weeks. So, 16% looking at 150 people, that’s a very statistically significant result. Maybe 16% doesn’t sound huge to some people, who are like, “No, no, I want to be twice as satisfied.” But it’s like if you’re getting 16% returns on anything in nine weeks, I think that’s pretty good.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And if it sticks, I’m thinking, “Well, if you’re 16% more satisfied with your time,” and your time is basically your life. Was it Benjamin Franklin? It’s not what your live is made up of days and hours and minutes and seconds. They all come together, and that’s a life. So, if people are 16% more satisfied, that’s like a sixth of them, life or death. You know what I’m saying?

Laura Vanderkam
We didn’t do that math. Well, I did check in with people a month later and three months later. And, in fact, the scores were still elevated, so they were maintaining their increased satisfaction with their time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, 16%, I think that’s a huge lift. Nine rules, that sounds pretty manageable and sensible. Lay it on us. What are these nine rules?

Laura Vanderkam
Well, I can go straight through them if you would like.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Laura Vanderkam
The first one, rule one, give yourself a bedtime. Rule two, plan on Fridays. Rule three, move by 3:00 p.m. Rule four, three times a week is a habit. Rule five, create a backup slot. Rule six, one big adventure, one little adventure. Rule seven, take one night for you. Rule eight, batch the little things. And rule nine, effortful before effortless. Let me know which ones you want explanations for.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so give yourself a bedtime, I think I’m a believer. I’ve had a couple of sleep doctors, and so, yeah, that’s huge. I think do it, I’m on board. I think there’s a clear why. Are there any tips, tricks, tactics that make that easier or more effective?

Laura Vanderkam
Yeah, the reason I chose that as rule number one is because, yes, it is obvious, and also, it’s amazing how many people don’t do it, right? I saw a funny social media post today that somebody said, “I would do anything to get eight hours of sleep, except go to bed eight hours before I need to get up.” Right? And it’s so true.

People have all sorts of reasons of why they don’t get to bed on time. But it just a math problem. You need to figure out what time you wake up in the morning. Many adults, this is a set number, right? You have to get up for work, you have to get up for your family responsibilities. It’s not like there’s a whole lot of give there.

So, if that is set, the only variable that can move is the time you go to bed the night before. So, figure out how much sleep you need, count back from when you wake up, you’ve got your bedtime. Like, really, it’s just a math problem. But in order to make it stick a little bit better, there’s a couple things you can do.

One, most practically, set some sort of alarm for 30 to 45 minutes before your bedtime. So, you remind yourself to wind down. You need to brush your teeth, you need to lock your doors, so whatever it is you need to do so that you’re not remembering all those things right at your bedtime, and then having to push forward when you go to sleep by quite a bit.

But I think the key thing, one of the reasons people don’t go to bed on time is because that’s the time we have for ourselves, right? Like, that’s when your kids are in bed, or you’ve done your chores, or you’ve finished your work, you’re like, “Ah, now I can relax. Now, the world is mine. I can do whatever I want.” And who wants to cut that short and go to bed?

And so, what you need to do is make sure that you are having adequate leisure time, adequate me-time at other points in your life. And a lot of the Tranquility by Tuesday rules are aimed at doing just that, making sure that you have other cool stuff going on in your life, that you have other spots where you are doing things that you’re looking forward to so that you’re not getting to 11:00 p.m., or whatever your bedtime is, and thinking, “Oh, but I haven’t really had any time to relax. I haven’t had any time to do fun stuff. Let me just stay up a little bit later.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, I think that’s so dead-on. You’ve nailed it. And I’m thinking about when my wife had COVID, and I had full-time kid duty as well as trying to keep the business, at least, limping along a little bit, like, “Team, do everything. I’ll try to answer a few questions on email” kind of a situation. I remember it was jampacked.

And when those kids went to bed, it was like, “Man, I should go to bed now,” and yet I had, in that time of like zero me-time, I had the most overwhelming desire to play video games at 10:00 p.m. of my whole life, which was odd for me. I was like, “What is going on?” And that is what’s going on, Laura. Thank you for that.

Laura Vanderkam
You needed that time for yourself. You needed the me-time, I know. And so, and maybe that made sense and it could work for a week while she was recuperating, but if you find yourself doing that long term, well, it’s time to find some time for the video games at some other point in your life so that you feel like you get some fun.

That’s why we stay up late. We want our fun and we don’t want to be denied our fun, and the bedtime is what keeps us from doing it. We don’t do the bedtime, but future us will be so much happier if we do get to bed on time.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And what’s funny, when it comes to leisure, it’s almost like video games are almost like a junk food version of leisure, because I don’t really crave video games much, but then I was. It’s like I want to do the most, I don’t know, pointless, self-indulgent, low effort required of me, kind of enjoyable thing there is, as opposed to, “Let’s have a singing lesson right now.”

Laura Vanderkam
Yeah, or let’s read Tolstoy. That was the other option.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. So, okay. All right. So, that’s exactly what’s going on. Give yourself a bedtime. And in order to pull that off, make sure you’re building in quality leisure time and me-time. Tell us about that. When it comes to making that happen, any parameters in terms of how we schedule that and select what the activity is?

Laura Vanderkam
Yeah. So, there’s two of the rules that I think are really getting at this idea. One is rule number seven, which is to take one night for you. And this can be such a transformative rule for people who are in the busy years of having young kids at home, building a career. Take one night, or the equivalent number of hours on a weekend, whatever you want, to do something that is not work and is not caring for family members. It is enjoyable just for you.

And, ideally, you would make a commitment to something that meets at the same time, every week it gets you out of the house. Because it’s a commitment, you will do it. You will do it even if life is busy. You will do it even if you’re tired. You will do it even if somebody else would prefer you be doing something else.

And so, I’m talking about things like singing in a choir, playing in a softball league, volunteering somewhere regularly, joining a regular social group, bowling league, whatever it is, but something that you are going to go to every single week, that you genuinely enjoy. And when you have this in your life, it can honestly, it can be, like, the structure of the whole week is now around this. It’s something you wind up looking forward to the whole time.

And many people are like, “Well, I want to take one night for me but I’m going to do something flexible. I’m going to do something…like, I’ll just read, or I will take a bubble bath, or something.” But the problem with those is that they can be done whenever. And so, if your boss wants you to work late on Tuesday night, well, you’re not going to be like, “Well, I have an appointment with my bubble bath.”

Pete Mockaitis
“I have my bubble bath schedule, sorry.”

Laura Vanderkam
“The bubble bath is waiting for me.” Or, your kid wants you to drive them to the mall, or you’re tired, or you just seem too busy and too much work, like you won’t do it. Whereas, if you are playing on a softball team, they need a second baseman, like you’re going to show up. And so, because of the commitment, you do this active form of self-care and you wind up so much happier afterwards. So, that’s the first one.

The second one that really helps with this is rule number nine – effortful before effortless. And this is about leisure time. Even the busiest people have some leisure time in their life. The problem is a lot of it occurs in either short spurts, or it is unexpected, it is uncertain in duration, and it may come at low-energy time.

So, at night after the kids go to bed, or you’re waiting for a phone call to start, you could be on Twitter for two minutes or 20 minutes. You can be watching Netflix even if you haven’t planned ahead and don’t have a babysitter. Like, these screen times fits all these constraints incredibly well, and so it winds up consuming the bulk of our leisure time, which is fine. There is nothing wrong with screen time.

The problem is in the abstract, many people they would prefer other forms of leisure, things like reading or hobbies or connecting with friends, and you don’t remember a lot of your screen time, like it doesn’t register that you are getting free time, and so you don’t count it, it doesn’t become part of your narrative, and you don’t really feel rejuvenated afterwards.

So, you want to choose leisure that looks like leisure. Like, you can’t be doing a Lego set and not tell yourself it’s leisure. Whereas, if you are on social media, in your mind you’re like, “Well, I’m only one app away from my email, so, really, I’m working.” That’s the kind of thing that goes through our brains. So, effortful before effortless means when a spot of leisure appears, challenge yourself to do just a few minutes of these more effortful forms of fun before you switch over to the effortless.

So, you’re picking up your phone, read an e-book for two minutes before you open Facebook. Kids go to bed. Do a puzzle for 10 minutes before you start watching Netflix. And one of two things happens. Either you get so into your effortful fun, you just keep going, like you just keep reading the book, and that’s great. But even if you don’t, like at least you would’ve gotten to do both. You will be more aware that you had this leisure time, and that can help you feel like you have a lot more time for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a great theme associated with being in your own narrative inside your head when stresses besiege you, and it feels like you don’t have the time, the energy, the resources, the emotional presence, the wherewithal, the oomph necessary to meet the demands of life and stuff, and then you have an extra level of layer of maybe resentment or irritability, like, “I don’t have any time for myself.” You have sort of an inoculation or a thread of hope to hold on to, which is like, “Well, you know what, I did six minutes of puzzle on Thursday, and I’m going to do it again this Thursday.”

Laura Vanderkam
Yeah, “I have some time, it may not be as much as I want.” But there’s a very big difference between none and not as much as I want, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Laura Vanderkam
None is just defeatist. Like, you can’t do anything with that. That’s when we get into those spiraling thoughts of martyrdom or despair or burnout, all those things. But if it’s “Not as much as I want,” that suggests great questions right there that inspires some problem-solving. Like, “Well, if it’s not as much as I want, how can I make it more? How can I make good choices within the limited leisure time I do have so that I’m doing things that are the most rejuvenating?”

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m also thinking about, when you talked about one night for you, it can be the night, it could also be, as you said, a certain committed hours recurring on weekends. There seems to be a lot of emotional juice associated with the ritual itself, even if it’s tiny, like, “I’m going to drink this amazing coffee and do the, I don’t know, New York Times Wordle, or the Chess.com puzzle of the day, or whatever,” I don’t know.

Like, that in and of itself seems like it we would have a lot of inoculating benefit as opposed to, I guess, what I’m trying to say is the vibe inside is more like, “Ahh, this is the thing I’m doing for me, and it’s rejuvenating,” tranquil, if you will, as opposed to, “Aargh, here’s my four minutes of Facebook. I’m binging on it while the getting is good.” Do you know what I’m saying in terms of like the mindset and the vibe?

Laura Vanderkam
It just feels more chosen, more mindful, more intentional, and that’s really what we’re always getting at here, like making time more intentional, because when it is, you’re more likely to spend it on things that are meaningful or enjoyable. Whereas, when time is not intentional, then you spend it on whatever is right in front of you.

Pete Mockaitis
And there could be, I think, a little bit of, especially for people who like being awesome at their jobs, a little bit of a guilt factor in terms of, “I’m stealing this time for social media or whatever my low-quality effortless recreation, leisure is when I should be doing other stuff,” as opposed to, “I know this is what we’ve intentionally scheduled, and this is the time for my puzzle, or whatever, and it is right and just and proper that I engage in it. And I’m winning by doing so.”

Laura Vanderkam
Yeah. Well, I think people would be so much better off scheduling conscious breaks during the day where they do things that are truly breaks. So, let’s say you’ve got an eight-hour day, you can take a 30, 40-minute lunch, two 15-minute other breaks, go for a walk on one of them. Take the other one to do a puzzle or something. Take your lunch break to call a friend, whatever it happens to be.

But those things are things that are truly leisure, like they are, in fact, leisure. Whereas, people spend all kinds of time on stuff online that they didn’t really mean to but it’s just that it wasn’t necessarily actively chosen and it doesn’t look as much like leisure. And so, we have this thing, this hang-up about putting a flag on the ground, “I’m claiming this time for leisure” because when we’re doing things on our friends, we can even claim, like, “Oh, I have no time because it still looks like it’s something else. Like, we might be being productive,” I don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s hear a few of these other things. Plan on Fridays. What’s the story here?

Laura Vanderkam
Yes. So, planning on Fridays is really, honestly, one of my favorite rules. It’s something I’ve been doing for years. It’s really two points. The first and the most important point is to plan. I think everybody needs a designated weekly planning time. And this is a time where you look forward to the next week, ask yourself what is most important to you in three categories: career, relationships, and self. These are, hopefully, steps for your long-term goals, things you want to focus on in the next week. Ask where they can go. Figure that out.

Look at what else you have to do over the course of the week. Figure out any logistics that need to happen. Figure out any tough spots. See if there’s anything that you are genuinely looking forward to in the next week. But we do that, and look at the week as a whole so we can make broader, more holistic choices as we figure out how to use time mindfully. And doing this week after week, you can really make a complex life go fairly smoothly.

Why Fridays? So, a lot of people plan on Mondays, they plan on Sundays. These are all very popular time for planning. Friday has a couple things going for it. One, Friday afternoon is just often wasted time. Many people who work Monday through Friday jobs are kind of sliding into the weekend by Friday afternoon. It’s really hard to start anything new but you might be willing to think about what future you should be doing.

And by taking a few minutes to plan the upcoming week, you can choose what might be wasted, turn what might be wasted time into some of your most productive minutes. It’s also business hours. So, unlike planning on the weekend, for instance, if you need to make an appointment, if you need to set up a meeting, people are more likely to respond to you on Friday than they are on Sunday, most of the time. If you are managing people, they will probably respond to you on Sunday but you should ask yourself if you really want them doing that.

And then, it’s also, I think, the biggest reason though, some people plan their weeks on Sunday nights or Monday mornings, but even people who like their jobs can wind up with a little bit of trepidation on Sunday afternoon as they think about the upcoming week. And a lot of that trepidation is this anxiety over knowing there’s so much waiting for you but you don’t know how you’re going to deal with it. Like, you haven’t formulated a plan for getting done what you need to do. You don’t have a good grasp on what you do have to do.

If you end Friday with a plan for Monday, you can actually enjoy your days off quite a bit more because you’re not leaving yourself hanging, saying, “Oh, I have to figure that out in the future now.” No. You know. And so, you can relax.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And talk about batching.

Laura Vanderkam
Batching. Yeah, so I think a lot of us feel like we are sometimes drowning in small details of our lives. And, certainly, you can have these at work. There are those random forms from HR, responding to all those invitations, sending a few emails that aren’t urgent, aren’t that important but still have to be done, paying bills, things like that.

We can also wind up with tons of these in our personal lives, and the more people you have in your family that you’re responsible for, the more of these that wind up beating you: filling out that permission slip, signing the kids up for X, Y, or Z, or texting a babysitter for something two weeks from now, all these things we have to do. And it can feel like it will take over your life. Like, you’re never doing anything important but you’re always busy.

And the solution to this is to learn to recognize these not terribly important, not terribly urgent matters and to batch them into small chunks of time so that you can leave the rest of your schedule open for deeper work or for relaxation. So, at work, for instance, maybe you designate a small window in the afternoon when you don’t have a ton of energy to plow through all these tasks. Maybe on the home front, you can look at chores and things like that this way. Give yourself a two-hour window on Saturday where you’re going to get through all those tasks that you’re assigning yourself for the weekend.

And the upside of doing this is that, one, you get some efficiencies. Like, if you’ve got 30 minutes to deal with all these not terribly important, not terribly urgent little things on a workday, you’re not going to belabor that response to somebody, that you’ve only got 30 minutes for all of it. You’re not going to sit there and perseverate over it, like it’s going to get done, so you’re going to be more efficient.

But it also allows you, if you start thinking at some other point on the weekend, like, “Oh, I’ve got to clean my floors. I’ve got to clean my floors.” Like, no, no, there is a time for that. Saturday morning, we’ve got our chore window. That’s when we do it. The rest of the time is not that time. So, you can actually relax and have guilt-free leisure time, which I think is very elusive for a lot of people.

Pete Mockaitis
I see. Okay. And then, I’m curious about the backup time.

Laura Vanderkam
So, the backup slot, the best way to think of this is if people had been invited to any sort of outdoor event, like summer weddings, or maybe not weddings, or graduation ceremonies, or picnics, often on the invitation, they will have one of the most brilliant scheduling concepts ever invented. And I’m talking about the rain date, okay?

And a rain date, what’s going on here is that the organizers are acknowledging that much can go predictably wrong outside. It is right there in the rain date name, but there is no question whether the event will be rescheduled or for when. Like, it will be on the rain date. And so, if you want to go to this event, you’re not going to put anything unmovable in the second slot.

And by having a rain date, you vastly increase the chances of the original event happening even if not at the original time. And I think, in life, we need a lot more rain dates. When people get incredibly frustrated about wanting to do something, you’ve scheduled special one-on-one time with, say, one of your kids. Like, you’re going to go to this amusement park together on a Saturday, and then it’s like pouring down rain on that Saturday, or the kid is sick on that Saturday, or your spouse is unexpectedly called away to another town and you can’t leave all the other kids to go do this. It gets very frustrating.

These things happen at work, too. You set up a meeting with an employee that you’re going to give that celebratory feedback, tell him he’s working really hard, you’re so proud of him, and this is great, you’ve got his back, and people are quitting left and right. Very important to do that. And then, right before it is scheduled to happen, you have a major client emergency, and, of course, it gets bumped. That seems like the responsible thing to do, but we feel very frustrated.

So, if something is important to you, it doesn’t just need one spot. It needs a rain date. It needs a backup slot. And I know people say, “Well, that sounds incredibly unwieldy. Like, it’s hard enough to carve out one slot for stuff that I want to do, let alone two slots.” But, on some level, if it is truly important to you, then that’s what you need to do. But you can also approximate this by building more open space into your life in general.

So, one solution, many people try not to schedule too much other than they’re planning on Fridays because then they’ve got space for any emergencies that come up. If it bumps something from earlier in the week, it can get rescheduled to Friday. If that doesn’t work, maybe it’s like two afternoons a week that you try to leave mostly open, or an hour and a half every day that is mostly open.

But the idea is that if something gets bumped, it has a spot to go. Or, if something amazing comes up that you didn’t anticipate, some massive opportunity, you have the space to take it. You don’t have to shuffle everything else around or push this opportunity forward multiple weeks, in which case it might be gone. Like, you can actually seize it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very nice. And how about the one big adventure, one little adventure?

Laura Vanderkam
So, I have to say this is probably one of my favorite rules. I don’t really have a favorite rule, I like all of them, but this is probably a special one for me because I do think it is lifechanging to be in this mindset, which is that much of adult life becomes very much the same day to day after a while. Like, you get up, get everyone ready, you work, you collect everyone, go to dinner. If you’ve got kids, it’s like homework and bath and put them to bed, and then TV. You do this over and over again, and every day seems the same.

And there’s nothing wrong with routines. Like, routines make good choices automatic. But when too much sameness stacks up, whole years can just disappear into memory sinkholes, like, “I don’t even remember where the time went.” And you don’t remember where the time went because you have no good memories of it. Like, we don’t say, “Where did the time go?” when we remember where the time went.

So, one big adventure, one little adventure is about making memories. Every week, you want to do two things that are out of the ordinary. One big adventure means something that takes three to four hours, think like half a weekend day. One little adventure is something that takes less than an hour, it can be on a lunch break, weekday evening, just as long as it’s different, memorable.

And this rate of adventure is not going to exhaust or bankrupt anyone. It’s not going to upset the routines that exists but it is going to make life a lot more interesting. You’re not going to be like, “Ah, another week. Where did the week go?” You’re like, “No, no, that was the week we went mini-golfing. That was the week we tried out the new gelato place. That was the week we drove to see the colorful fall leaves at the beach.” Just something that would make it a little bit more different, enjoyable, memorable, and then time doesn’t feel like it’s slipping through your fingers.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Well, Laura, tell us, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Laura Vanderkam
Yes. So, I think these Tranquility by Tuesday rules are all designed to be very practical. They’re not rocket science. They are not difficult to do or get your head around it. It’s more about really trying them and seeing what happens as a result. And the way people did this project in my research is that they learned a new rule each week, and I think that’s a good idea. If somebody is going to read through the book, try each rule one at a time. Try to make it a habit, and then you can add the next one, and see how they sort of build on each other.

But the upside of doing this project is I am pretty sure that when you do these rules, you will, in fact, feel more satisfied with your time. That was the results of these 150 people I measured on these various dimensions of my time-satisfaction scale over nine weeks. Like, they do feel better. The rules helped. So, I’m pretty sure that they will for other busy folks as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now can we hear a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Laura Vanderkam
So, one of my favorite quotes is actually very, very short. It’s attributed to Ovid. I don’t know how you say it, but he said, “Dripping water hollows out stone.” And there’s a lot of variations of that “Dripping water hollows out stone, not by force but by persistence.”

But the idea being that when you do small things repeatedly, it does add up. And I’ve been seeing that a lot. I’ve been doing a couple of long-term reading projects since I talked to you last. Last year, I decided to read through War and Peace.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Laura Vanderkam
So, one of my favorites, just because it’s so practical, it fits with what I think many of us have experienced, and I wound up citing this in rule number three, move by 3:00 p.m., is how much people’s energy jumps when they get tiny bits of physical activity. So, this one particular study, they had, when somebody is…a group of people, they rated their energy as three on a ten-point scale, so they’re feeling really weary and not very energetic when their levels were at a three.

They said, “Go do a couple minutes of physical activity.” So, they could go up and down the stairs in their office building, run around, whatever it was. And after a couple minutes of this, they basically gave themselves like a nine on a ten-point scale. And an hour later, they were still at six. So, five minutes, that’s all it takes.

People spend so much effort, money, unhealthy habits, trying to make ourselves have more energy, like, think of the number of people who reach for coffee or candy or cigarettes at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon because that’s how they’re going to get through the rest of the day. It’s like, well, going for a ten-minute walk is not only free. It’s healthy and it is pretty close to guaranteed to work.

I love that. Just one of those little miracles that’s available to us all the time, and yet we don’t necessarily avail ourselves of it as much as we should.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Laura Vanderkam
I have to say War and Peace. It really is a good one. I loved it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a tool?

Laura Vanderkam
And a tool. I am loving right now the fact that my phone works as a scanner.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool.

Laura Vanderkam
In case anyone here has not discovered this yet, if I’m the last person on the planet to figure this out, but maybe I’m not, I’ll share this. When you open the Notes app in an Apple phone, you can click on the picture and then one of the options is scan documents. And you hold up the phone, and it basically takes a scan of the document, and you can do multiple documents at the same time, and then email them automatically to people because it’s right on your phone.

That was such a wonderful time saver. When we were buying and selling our house over the past year because, of course, you have like a thousand documents involved in this that all have to get to the bank and get recorded and such, and I was like just scanning it with my phone, and it was wonderful. It was so much easier than in the old days.

Pete Mockaitis
That is cool. And a favorite habit?

Laura Vanderkam
So, I also, in addition to my reading projects, do a tiny bit of writing every day, my free writing. And I’ve done this in the past and have been a little bit free-form about it, so every day I write 100 to 200 words of something. And I’m always trying out ideas, thinking what might be interesting. This year, I decided to do it a little bit more focused and intensely.

So, I, every day, write 100 to 200 words about a character in the course of one day. So, it’ll be 365 little vignettes about a person over the course of one day. And I’m just seeing what I’d do with it. It’s been kind of fun. So, that’s one of my favorite habits right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Laura Vanderkam
“People are a good use of time.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Laura Vanderkam
So, we worry about how productive we are, how efficient we are with our time, and all that is great, but, ultimately, what we have is the people who go through life with us. And sometimes they are slightly less efficient than we would wish them to be, but, generally, if you are investing in a relationship and you feel that you are both growing closer as a result of the time you’re spending, then probably that was a wise use of those hours.

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

Laura Vanderkam
You can come visit my website LauraVanderkam.com, which I have everything about my books there, my podcast, and I’m blogging usually three to four times a week, so you can read my observations on life, productivity, and everything else.

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

Laura Vanderkam
I think anyone can benefit from tracking their time, ideally, for a week, even a couple days is good. Many people have to bill time for their jobs or they get paid by the hours, so you’re somewhat familiar with how you’re spending your work hours. But try tracking all your time because, partly, it helps to see that there is time outside of work. Usually, even the people who are working very long hours have some amount of time, and that can kind of change your narrative of time that is available to you.

But if you aren’t really sure what your work weeks look like, this is helpful, too, because it allows you to say, “Well, how many hours do I tend to work?” And if you know the denominator then you can decide what proportion you want to devote to different things. But if you don’t know that number, it’s a little bit harder to make those choices in a smart manner. So, knowing where the time goes is really the first step to spending it better.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Laura, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and lots of tranquility.

Laura Vanderkam
Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me back.

811: How to Lead Positive Change and Grow Your Influence with Alex Budak

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Alex Budak shows you how to initiate change at any level.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you don’t need titles to be a leader 
  2. The five influence superpowers
  3. How to build your leadership skills–one moment at a time 

 

About Alex

Alex Budak is a social entrepreneur, faculty member at Berkeley Haas, and the author of Becoming a Changemaker. At UC Berkeley, he created and teaches the transformative course, “Becoming a Changemaker,” and is a Faculty Director for Berkeley Executive Education programs.

As a social entrepreneur, Alex co‐founded StartSomeGood, and held leadership positions at Reach for Change and Change.org.  He has spoken around the world from Cambodia to Ukraine to the Arctic Circle, and received degrees from UCLA and Georgetown. 

Resources Mentioned

Alex Budak Interview Transcript

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

Alex Budak
Hey, Pete, thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be chatting about changemaking, Becoming a Changemaker, your book and expertise. Could you kick us off with a particularly inspiring example of changemaking that you find extra touching personally?

Alex Budak
There are so many. I spend my days surrounded by inspiring changemakers but I’ll tell one story. This is Ibrahim Balde, he was a student of mine in my class at UC Berkeley. He took the class as a freshman. And one of the things I teach in my class is be the ex you wish you had, be the friend you wish you had, be the leader you wish you had, be the mentor you wish you had.

And so, at Berkeley, as a black student, he felt like there wasn’t enough community, not a lot of resources, and so on office hours, we talked about that. And so, in the class, he decided for his changemaker project, he would start a small little pilot program, just a small way to find ways to better support the black community at UC Berkeley.

Over the four years, he was at Cal. The idea grew and grew and grew. And by the time he graduated, it turned into its own standalone startup. It’s called Black Book University. And what I love about it is that we often think that changemaking has to be this big ambitious initiative, and to be clear, Ibrahim was very ambitious, but it all started with a simple idea, leading from where he was, and saying, “Hey, I think that things can be better for myself and for my community.”

He took action and he kept taking action again and again and again, until it got to the point where it’s now a scalable startup that’s gone beyond Berkeley to other universities as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Interesting. And so, is he running that startup? Or are other folks at the helm? Or, where is that now?

Alex Budak
Yeah, he’s the co-founder but he’s got a team around him, but he continues to be involved. And I think it’s super inspiring to see the way that he’s taken the idea and scaled it.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay. Well, so then that’s one discovery right there, is that we can start small and it doesn’t have to be super dramatic, and it’s just one step at a time. It grows. It’s cool. Can you tell me any other noteworthy, counterintuitive, or surprising discoveries you’ve made about changemaking from your work and research?

Alex Budak
Well, here’s the thing, so I, of course, teach at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, but I think the way that we often teach leadership, especially at business schools, is kind of broken. We often like tell the story of the single heroic leader. So, maybe we talk about Lech Walesa scaling the wall, we talk about Steve Jobs pulling the iPhone out of his pocket, and those are important and inspiring moments of leadership to be sure, but so often we see those acts of leadership, and many of us can say, “Well, I’m not actually as outgoing as them. I’m not an extrovert. I’m not charismatic like them. Is leadership for me?”

And what my original research shows and what my experience teaching changemakers around the world shows is that each of us can be changemakers. I think we need to stop thinking of leadership as an act.

Alex Budak
So, here’s a fun one to believe that I found in my research, it’s that leaders might be scarce, but leadership is abundant. There might only be one CEO, only five vice-presidents, but all of us can practice leadership from where we are. We need to start separating acts of leadership from titles of leadership and start seeing that each of us can lead change from wherever we are.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That sounds good. All right. Well, then that kind of sounds like the big idea for the book Becoming a Changemaker: An Actionable, Inclusive Guide to Leading Positive Change at Any Level. Or, is there another core thesis you want to put out there?

Alex Budak
Yes, so the red thread that drives through all, the beating heart of this book is the theme of inclusivity. In the book, I tell the stories of over 50 different changemakers, ranging from a sales associate at Walmart who fought for equal parental leave between both associates and executives. I talk about social entrepreneurs. And I tell the story of a guy who’s just really passionate about composting and wanted his whole team to start composting.

And so, I think that’s the crucial theme, is that changemaking is for all of us. And then, of course, in the subtitle, it’s this idea it’s not change-thinking; it’s changemaking. And so, that each of us can find that sense of agency to lead change from where we are.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so zooming in to the level of professionals who are looking to make some changes in their workplaces, what are some of your top tips or your do’s and don’ts for how we go about making that happen?

Alex Budak
Yes. So, your listeners might be looking at this, and going, “Cool. Changemaking. Sounds interesting but also sounds a little bit fuzzy.” And I get it. So, I set out to do the first ever longitudinal study looking at, “How do changemakers develop over time? And what are some of the key characteristics that the most effective changemakers have in common?”

And I went into it just with curiosity just to say, “Can people develop as changemakers?” and the data are conclusive. Absolutely, yes. We’ve also started to see themes. Things emerge that the best and most effective changemakers do. Now, the one that stands out above all others is this idea of being able to influence without authority.

We often think leadership is about collecting as much power as you possibly can, and then telling people what to do, but we find that the most effective changemakers are those who practice influence. But, again, I think the way that we teach influence is often not really the right way to go about it. It can often feel kind of sleazy or transactional. It’s like the reciprocity effect. Pete, I do a favor for you, then you feel pressured to do a thing for me.

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m sure you’d do the same thing for me, Alex.”

Alex Budak
Exactly. And I want to think about how we can influence more sustainably and for the long term. And so, based on the research, based on my experience, coaching, mentoring, advising changemakers, I drew up what I call my five influence superpowers. These are ways of influencing that are sustainable and for the long term, ways of bringing others into your change efforts. And I’ve seen it working with changemakers, middle managers, senior managers. These are ways you can get other people excited about your change efforts. So, I’ll go through them quickly so we can get a sense of what these five influence superpowers are.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, let’s do it.

Alex Budak
The first is empathy, so being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Patty Sanchez wrote in Harvard Business Review, finding that one in two C-suite executives, when they’re leading change, they don’t take into account how people on the frontlines will appreciate that change. It’s crucial, before you lead change, that you understand, “How might others appreciate that? Are they new to the job and scared trying to make sense of how things work? Are they overwhelmed and overworked? Where are they coming from when they get this change?”

It’s not enough to just be right. How you influence makes a huge difference. I think empathy starts to unlock your ability to engage people in that change.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so then, we take into account how others are impacted, how they’re feeling it. Can you share with us a tip or two or a tactic or approach to get a better view of that?

Alex Budak
Here’s a super popular one which ties into the second of the superpowers, which is safety, making it safe for others to be part of change with you. So, I’m at UC Berkeley, that’s a big bureaucracy. And, as you can imagine, there’s a lot of people who are a bit hesitant to pursue change efforts. And so, one of the things I’ve learned is to lean into empathy, so understand where they’re coming from and get that maybe they’re a bit more risk-averse than I am.

And so, I go to them and say, “Look, I know that this is a risk you’re taking to come along with me, but here’s my promise. If this works, I promise you will get the praise. And if it doesn’t work, I promise that I will take the blame.” That’s a small way you can make it safe for others to be part of your change efforts. That’s all rooted in, first, empathizing with them and understanding where they’re coming from.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And the praise and blame, I suppose we can talk about safety. There’s a number of dimensions. So, one is the social consequences, I guess is the word, associated with how something goes down, if it’s a smashing success or a disappointment. So, there’s the social bits. And then I suppose, to the extent that there is, I don’t know, re-work or extra time, money, effort that has to be applied to fix, to undo, to re-jigger whatever you’re changing, that you’re willing to make it safe for that person by volunteering to be on the hook for all that.

Alex Budak
Yeah, that’s right. You’re finding ways to support them and getting the resources that they need. And that really ties into the third influence superpower, which is vision, which is that when you’re bringing in a lot of different people together along on your work, it’s so crucial that they feel how they’re part of the larger mission.

I like to talk about vision as painting a picture of the future that’s so compelling that people can’t help but want to be part of it with you. And so, part of your job when you try to influence folks is to find ways to help them see how this one little thing that they’re doing, which might feel so tangential, it’s actually core to the overall work the organization is doing. So, leaning into that vision, helping paint that picture, and helping people see that it’s not just busy work. That this busy work is actually leading to something much more meaningful and bigger than themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And what’s the fourth?

Alex Budak
The fourth is relationships. So, this is the classic example of something that is a long-term play. You can’t just try to parachute in and build a relationship and then jump out. But if you honestly get to know people over time, you’ll unlock so much ability to influence and bring them into your change efforts. I think about a buddy of mine who was recently raising money, running a race to raise money for a rare disease that had infected a loved one.

And when he asked me to support him, I was very happy to do so. I jumped in at the chance. But if you asked me, “Alex, where would you rank this disease, and you’re ranking the most important diseases to solve?” It wouldn’t be in my top ten, not that it’s not important. Just it’s not on my radar but I was so happy to support him because of our relationship. He’s such a good guy and I wanted to be there with him.

And that’s a good example of where relationships make a big difference. Someone might not be completely sold on your change effort, but if they’ve seen that you’re a hard worker, you’re competent, that you often have great outcomes, you know who they are as a person, you care about them as an individual not just as a worker, that unlocks their ability to come along with you on your change journey.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And the fifth?

Alex Budak
Fifth is passion, and here’s where authenticity matters because you can’t fake passion. I’m super passionate about helping people become better leaders and stronger changemakers. But imagine I were at Haas and teaching accounting, not that that would ever happen, but if I were trying to teach accounting, my passion just wouldn’t be there because it’s not authentic to who I am. But if you’re truly passionate about a change initiative, lean into that passion.

There’s often pressure at work that we have to sort of be buttoned-up and be very serious all the time, but if we’re truly passionate about a cause, and I find that the best and most effective changemakers often are, sometimes it comes from a personal experience or a vision that they have, but lean into that. Don’t be afraid to share with people why you care so deeply about this, why you’re willing to commit your time, your energy, your resources to investing in it, and other people will feel compelled to be part of something that excites you as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, those are great principles. I’m curious about what are some common pitfalls, traps, mistakes, things to not do as we’re trying to provide empathy, safety, vision, work or relationships and passion? What should we not be doing?

Alex Budak
Yes, and this is one of the great tensions of being a changemaker is that we have to hold these multiple polarities at once, that we’ve got to have the sense of urgency because, if you look at our world today, so many things are calling for change. But also recognize that change takes time, that change doesn’t happen overnight.

I love the words of Matthew Kelly who wrote in the book The Long View that we tend to overestimate what we can do in a day, underestimate what we can do in a month, overestimate what we can do in a year, and underestimate what we can do in a decade. And so, sometimes as changemakers, especially new emerging first-time changemakers, we have this great sense of urgency, which, again, is kind of a helpful instinct, but we tend to want change to happen overnight immediately, and then we tend to give up quickly when it doesn’t come, when we don’t start feeling that traction.

And so, I think it’s crucial as changemakers, when we try to influence others, that we play the long game. You might get a no the first time you try to influence someone. You might have to change direction. You might find that, “Well, hey, I thought that passion is the superpower I would use, but I tested it out and I found, well, actually, vision is really what’s inspiring people to be part of it.”

You’ve got to have a bit of that longer-term view here, I think, especially when it comes to change initiatives, and be willing to test and iterate these superpowers to find the one that works for the right person at the right time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then I’m curious, you have something you call the changemaker index. What is that and how do we use that to help us grow?

Alex Budak
So, the changemaker index is the research that I mentioned just at the beginning of this interview. This is the original longitudinal research looking at, “How do changemakers develop overtime?” If your listeners are curious to take it, you can actually go to ChangemakerBook.com/index and you can see for yourself what the questions are that we asked, and you can see what your greatest strength as a changemaker is. You can be part of the data, part of the research, and get some insight on what you do best as a changemaker.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now I’d love it if we could just hear a couple more examples in terms of going through all five of these principles. Like, someone wanted to make a change, ideally in a professional context, and then we see, “Oh, here’s how they had some empathy. Here’s how they conveyed that things were safe, here’s the vision, etc.”

Alex Budak
So, a favorite case study I talk about in the book is Jon Chu. Jon is the director of the film “Crazy Rich Asians,” a wonderful movie on its own and also important, in many ways, because it’s the first major American motion picture in over 50 years that had an all-Asian American cast. And so, as he’s putting together this film, he said, “Okay, there’s one song that I need for this amazing emotional final scene of the film. It’s got to be the song ‘Yellow’ by Coldplay.”

Yellow, of course, is often used as an anti-Asian slur, and growing up in the Bay Area, he said that that song changed his whole perception, his whole identity on what it meant to be Asian-American, so it’s clear he had to use this song for his film. Only one problem. Coldplay was the biggest band in the world, Jon had his people reach out to their people, and he got a big fat no. So, this is the…

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s like, “It doesn’t matter what kind of licensing or royalty or whatever dollars, we’re just not interested in having our song used in this fashion.”

Alex Budak
Just got a big no. I mean, maybe they were concerned about the implications of the term yellow for a movie, or maybe they just didn’t want to share it with an unknown director at the time. Who knows? So, there Jon Chu was, and he had no authority over Coldplay, to be sure. The only thing he had was influence. And while Jon has never taken my class at Berkeley and, as far as I know, he hasn’t actually read my book, he put into practice all five of these influence superpowers to an amazing end.

So, he had no connection to Coldplay, but he figured what could he do. Well, he could write a letter to them. So, he wrote a letter and it’s the most influential letter I’ve ever seen. So, let’s take a look at how he used those influence superpowers in practice. He starts with empathy, and he started in a counterintuitive way. You could imagine, if you’re trying to convince Coldplay, you come in hot. You come with, “These are all the reasons my movie is amazing. These are all the reasons you should support me.”

He actually goes counterintuitively, he goes, “Look, I’m an artist too, and I get it that you probably get a lot of these requests each day, and you’re probably inclined to say no. I get it. As an artist, you probably are scared of attaching your art to someone else’s. I get it.” What a refreshing way to use empathy. Imagine how many people are pitching Coldplay, and going, “Here’s why I got to use this.” But Jon Chu put himself in Coldplay’s shoes. He understood they must get tens, dozens of these pitches a day, and goes, “Okay, I get where you’re coming from.”

From there, he started building a relationship. Of course, he didn’t have an existing relationship but he used the tool of vulnerability to start sharing a bit about himself. He talked about how, growing up, the song changed his life, changed his outlook, changed the way he thought about what it meant to be Asian-American, talked about the impact that their song had on him as a person. He was revealing a bit of himself, his own personality, his own experiences as a way of building that relationship with the band members.

From there, he pivots into passion. So, he talks about the impact that their song could have on an entire generation of Asian-Americans, saying that he wants all of them to have an anthem that makes them feel as beautiful as Coldplay’s words and melody made Jon feel when he needed it the most. It’s clear he’s not faking it. It’s clear he really, really means it with this song.

And he used his vision. And what I love here is that he makes it clear he’s not just trying to get any Coldplay song or just being able to say, “Hey, look, check out the soundtrack. I’ve got Coldplay on it.” No, he’s got a particular vision. He talks about that final scene in the film and how the song would be used over what he calls an empowering emotional march. He paints the picture for Coldplay so they can understand how he would be using their song, not just so it’s a Coldplay song, but in a very particular artistic fashion.

And then, finally, he ends with safety. So, at the time, of course, he’s an unknown director but he does what he can to make it safe. He mentions how the film had received some early accolades, and also how it’s based on a bestselling book. So, he sends off this letter directly to Coldplay, and less than 24 hours later, he gets the approval. He gets the okay from Coldplay, “Yes, you can use our song.”

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

Alex Budak
So, I want to put forward this idea of micro-leadership. It’s a new concept I put forward in the book. And, like we talked about, where we need to separate acts versus titles. I think it’s crucially important that we, as leaders, break leadership down into its smallest meaningful unit, which I call a leadership moment.

And so, my belief is that we have these leadership moments that appear before us dozens of times per day, little moments when we can step up and serve others in a meaningful way. It might be in a meeting, a colleague has been quiet for the most of the meeting, and you say, “Hey, we haven’t heard your voice here. No pressure, but would you like to share your perspective here?”

Or, maybe it’s having the courage to say no when everyone else on the team is saying yes. Or, maybe it’s been willing to stay late and help a new colleague clean up after their first event. These are all small little leadership moments. And my challenge to you is can you practice what I call micro-leadership? Can you seize these moments that are in front of us?

So often we wait for someone else to give us permission to say, “Okay, now you can go be a leader.” But, instead, the lens of micro-leadership is a lens of agency. It’s your ability to step up and lead from wherever you are, when these moments appear before you, to take them, to seize them, to take that opportunity and to make things better for those around you.

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

Alex Budak
So, my favorite quote and one that’s, I think, inspired me in my career, and I read it when I was eight years old and it stuck with me. So, my favorite changemaker is Jackie Robinson, and he has a quote, which is, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on others’ lives.” And that’s always really stuck with me about, “What could you be doing with your life to have a positive impact on those around you?”

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

Alex Budak
So many of them that I love, but one that I’m a huge fan of is Italian researchers looked at entrepreneurs who are in an incubator in Italy. And so, these are people with startups, people with ventures, and they only did one simple intervention. The only intervention was they took half of them and they taught them the scientific method, so hypothesis testing, and they saw what happens as a result.

Here are the findings. Those that had learned the scientific method were more likely to pivot, so more likely to change directions, make a strategic switch, and also more likely to generate more revenue. So, why is that? The way I teach it in my class at Berkeley is that when leading change, when we’re leading anything new, we tend to put so much of our own identity into it, and when something doesn’t work out, we feel like a failure. It makes us scared to take chances because we know, “If this doesn’t work out, well, that reflects really poorly on me.”

But think about a scientist. A scientist in a lab has a hypothesis. When she tries a test and it doesn’t work, she doesn’t say, “Oh, I’m a bad scientist because it didn’t work out.” No, she goes, “Okay, cool. I learned something from this, and now I’ll try another experiment, and another, and another.” And what we find is that when this is applied to entrepreneurship, or I would say changemaking, more broadly, it helps us take the sting out of failure because we just lean into our curiosity, we say, “I wonder if…” “What would happen if…?” And that allows us to be more creative, to take more risks, and to not take things so personally.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Alex Budak
Tons of books but my favorite, I think, one that I just re-read for the first time in a few years is a book called Life Entrepreneurs. It’s by Gregg Vanourek and Christopher Gergen, and it’s all about how you can use the tools of entrepreneurship not to scale a business or a nonprofit but to build a life that you want, to build a meaningful life. I find that really moving, and it’s a book that I read just as I was beginning my own changemaker journey and one I return to every few years for a bit of inspiration.

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

Alex Budak
So, I love the tool Superhuman which is an email client. Complete gamechanger. I think all of us spend more time in our email inbox than we would like, and this app truly lives up to its name. It makes me superhuman when I’m sending tons of emails. You can set reminders. You can delay emails so I’m not sending emails at midnight. Just a super, super tool and well worth it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Alex Budak
Walks. I’m a big believer in taking walks. My wife and I have a 22-month-old at home, and so you can imagine life is pretty crazy. But she and I both prioritize making sure that each of us get a walk at almost every night. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I listen to a favorite podcast, like this one, or sometimes I just walk without anything in my ears. And it’s an amazing way to get a little bit of physical activity, get a little bit of space, a little bit of fresh air, and a little bit of time to yourself. And so, that’s a habit that I cannot imagine doing without.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; you hear them quote it back to you again and again?

Alex Budak
I think the way I start my Berkeley class, the way I start my book Becoming a Changemaker is with the words, “The world has never been more ready for you.” And that’s my fundamental belief, which is that there’s never been a better time than right now to go lead a positive change. When you look at the world today, there’s all too many challenges, all too many barriers, all too many injustices. You look at the work world, there’s all too many things that need to be changed. But I believe there’s never been a better time than right now for each of us to step up and become changemakers.

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

Alex Budak
So, love to connect with you. Find me on LinkedIn, which is my main social network. Check out the book at ChangemakerBook.com, and my personal website AlexBudak.com.

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

Alex Budak
So, here’s my challenge to you. Based on the research I shared with the Italian researchers, go out and fail at something. Go try something. And even if the risks are that it probably won’t succeed, go give it a shot. Use that scientific method and put yourself out there. I think you’ll find that, like lots of my students when I give them this challenge, they’ll find that failure isn’t fatal. And sometimes, even though we’re sure we’ll get rejected, we actually get a yes. So, my challenge to you is to go practice some failure. Go put yourself out there and see what happens as a result.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. Alex, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun in your changemaking.

Alex Budak
Thanks, Pete. Really enjoyed the conversation.