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241: How to Have More Fun While Achieving More with Dave Crenshaw

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Dave Crenshaw gives his expert insights on the importance of scheduling in fun, meaningful breaks, and shares practical tips on setting up your own personal oasis and managing your time.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why having fun is critical to your success
  2. How to build your own oasis
  3. Perspectives to switch from a culture of now vs. the culture of when

About Dave 

Dave Crenshaw is the master of building productive leaders. He has appeared in Time magazine, USA Today, FastCompany, and the BBC News. His courses on LinkedIn Learning have received millions of views. He has written four books, including The Myth of Multitasking which was published in six languages and is a time management bestseller. As an author, keynote speaker, and online instructor, Dave has transformed hundreds of thousands of businesses leaders worldwide.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dave Crenshaw Interview Transcript

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

Dave Crenshaw
Thanks, Pete. Glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, first and foremost, I think we need to hear a little bit about you and Chuck Norris. What’s the backstory?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, for those unfamiliar, Chuck Norris facts are jokes that have been making a round the internet for, gosh, close to 10 years now, and they’re just statements of just ridiculous strength and power that Chuck has, things like Superman wears Chuck Norris pajamas, or Chuck Norris makes onions cry. And they’re fairly popular, and Chuck heard about these and put together The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book.

Well, in The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book he cites me and my book, The Myth of Multitasking, and it’s under the Chuck Norris fact, by the way, “Chuck Norris can kill two stones with one bird.” So, that is the connection and there are lots of things that I’ve done. I’ve been on Time Magazine, BBC, all these different places, but there’s nothing that will ever be as cool as being mentioned by Chuck Norris in The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book.

Pete Mockaitis
That is cool. And so, I guess Chuck was on board with your perspective in that multitasking or switch-tasking, if you will, is a thief and suboptimal and etcetera.

Dave Crenshaw
Yes, he does not believe in multitasking, and he believes in focusing on one thing at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, it feels like there’s a Chuck Norris fact.

Dave Crenshaw
There is actually. So, when that happened, I sent that out to my social media followers, and said, “I’ll give my books and The Chuck Norris Fact Book to somebody who can come up with the best Chuck Norris fact about multitasking.” And the winner was, “Chuck Norris doesn’t multitask. It’s never taken him more than one punch.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we’re having fun. And so, I want to talk about your latest book The Power of Having Fun which is a compelling title, and I’m so intrigued to get the details on this about what I read thus far. So, could you give us your view? What’s sort of the main idea behind this book and why is it important now?

Dave Crenshaw
Sure. The first thing that I want to say is that I am a productivity expert. I help build productive leaders. So, when I’m talking about The Power of Having Fun I’m coming at it primarily from a productivity standpoint. And what I’ve learned, it’s sort of the cousin to The Myth of Multitasking. The Myth of Multitasking is about what you shouldn’t do. You shouldn’t try to do multiple things at the same time.

Well, The Power of Having Fun is about what you should do. If you want to be more productive you must make having fun a top priority in your schedule. It is something that you should put in your calendar and protect just as much as you protect an appointment with your most important client, with your boss, with anyone who is critical to your success because it is critical to your success.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Dave, this is a message I love to hear because I’m subject to some of those, I don’t know, guilt things about not doing or achieving enough, or “should I be having fun in this moment” type things, so I love this thesis. So, could you back it up a little bit? Like it almost sounds too good to be true. Like, why? Why is having fun this important?

Dave Crenshaw
Sure. Well, I can back it up. The first thing that I want to say, though, before I go into any kind of studies or research or science behind it, is I am less interested in the research of others and more interested in the research or the experiment of you. What that means is sometimes we get all lathered up with all these studies and statistics.

And what really matters is, “Does this apply to you?” So, rather than taking my word for it, and going, “Well, that’s what everybody should do,” I would encourage people who are listening to this to test it, to put it into application into your life, maybe just for two weeks, and try that experiment because, ultimately, that is the most powerful proof that I can offer.

And what I believe you’ll find is what many of my leadership clients have found which is that when you make fun a priority you get more done, you’re more productive, you’re happier, and you’re more creative.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah, I’m with you there that, certainly, like that’s where the rubber meets the road and sort of the ultimate bottom line there is not so much that it worked for this population of people studied over at the University of such and such. But is it going to work for you?

Dave Crenshaw
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But just so that the listeners get fired up, and me fired up, about doing such a test, could you share some of that research or data that suggests it’s extremely probable that if we do this test we will like what we see?

Dave Crenshaw
Sure. Well, my favorite one is it comes from a study, and this is the actual study title, The Role of Dopamine in Learning, Memory and Performance in a Water Escape Task.

Pete Mockaitis
Water escape. I’m thinking of Harry Houdini right now.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, yeah. This was published by the University of Washington not too long ago. And what it was is a study to show the role of dopamine in how well a mouse could learn and perform over time. So, what they did was they had two different groups. They had a group that had naturally-occurring dopamine in their body, and then a group that was deprived artificially of dopamine occurring in their body.

Now, if you’re not familiar with what dopamine is, it is the motivation-inducing chemical that your body naturally creates when something enjoyable happens, like having fun, like taking a break, whatever is fun for you, reading a book, going for a walk, playing video games, whatever it is, your body releases a little dopamine into your system.

Pete Mockaitis
Like even the dark side of fun.

Dave Crenshaw
That’s a whole different topic though. Here’s the thing, when mice had dopamine in their system, naturally injected, they learned faster and better. In other words, their performance over time improved, they got better and better at escaping from this little water task that they had setup.

The mice, though, that had been deprived of naturally-occurring dopamine, their performance got worse over time. In other words, the more they did it the worse they got at it. They didn’t perform better, they got slower, they made more mistakes. Now, here’s where it comes into our world. We aren’t mice in a maze but many people treat ourselves as if we are.

We deprive ourselves of having fun which creates that naturally-occurring dopamine, which means that when we do that, we’re getting worse at our performance. Every single day that you persist at your desk with skipping those vacation days that you should’ve used, you’re not getting better. And, in fact, the research backs that up as well.

Project Time Off found that when people take more than 10 days of vacation a year they were more likely to receive a raise and get promoted than those who did not take all their vacation days.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. That’s good stuff. That’s good stuff. And do you have maybe one more you can lay on us with regard to research or studies. I’m feeling it.

Dave Crenshaw
So, well, I’m going to shift gears just slightly because it does relate. One thing that I talk about in The Power of Having Fun is the need to not just have an oasis is what I call them. An oasis is this fun break that you schedule in your calendar. And one thing that I found was that when couples take time to go on a date once per week, and that is also part of having fun.

When a couple has that time, according to the National Marriage Project, they are 3.5 times more likely to report being very happy in their marriages compared to those who did not spend that time together. And additionally, if they just had one dedicated time per week, they reported higher satisfaction in communication and sexuality in the bedroom.

And that is so critical because of other studies that show, that talk about the work-home resources model. In other words, when you’re happy at home you are more likely to succeed at work. And if you have people in your life that you care about, if you want them to be successful at work or at school, spend time with them. Not only will you both feel better about your relationship but you both will succeed more in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I like it. I dig it. So, convinced. So, let’s jump in, then. When it comes to fun, I mean, fun is fun. We like it. We’d like to have some more of it. And so, I’d like to get maybe a bit of perspective when it comes the work time versus fun time, although, hopefully, work is fun but dedicated fun, rejuvenation, non-work time. Is there sort of like a sweet spot or a ratio? Or how do we think about kind of the relative application of precious time between the two?

Dave Crenshaw
Sure. So, I define an oasis as something that is brief and recurring in your schedule, and you want to have oases of different scales. You want to have a daily oasis, a weekly oasis, a monthly oasis and a yearly oasis. Let’s knock down the yearly first or cover it. That’s usually what people refer to as a vacation, all right?

So, we want to make sure that we’re keeping that and having that, but that’s not enough. It’s too far in between. We’re depriving ourselves for far too long a period of time. So, we also want to have once a month, perhaps a half-day or a day that we take that is reserved in advanced just for us to relax and enjoy ourselves, do something that’s fun.

Then once a week, you have something that’s a little shorter, maybe one to two hours once per week that you relax and enjoy this oasis. And then, finally, you have a daily oasis that’s occurring once every day that’s in the neighborhood of 30 minutes to an hour, and that can be anything from watching your favorite Netflix program to working on a hobby, whatever it is that you find enjoyable.

But all of these should not be something that you fit in the seams. The problem, the mistake that many people make with having fun is they do it after everything gets done. They say, “Well, once I do this then I will be able to have it.” But instead we want to have a clear commitment in our schedule of when that’s going to occur.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, when it comes to the scheduling, any pro tips for scheduling well?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, the first thing is just to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Dave Crenshaw
That sounds so basic yet I’d worked with executives all around the world and I’ll tell you that people are not using their calendar the way that they should. There’s way too much – gosh, what I’d say? Just kind of going with the flow, and that’s not just a problem with having fun, it’s a problem with time management in general. So, you want to get in the habit of using that calendar as a time budget, a commitment in your calendar.

The next thing I would say is try to find natural ebbs and flows in your day. So, there are typically times in the day where you’re going to have more downtime, you’re going to be more relaxed, or not as many interruptions. That’s usually a good time to schedule one of these oases.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m very intrigued by something you said there with regard to you see this with lots of your clients, there’s calendar misuse, there’s way too much going with the flow. Can you expand upon that a little bit? What do you mean by that? And what’s the superior alternative?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, what I mean by that is we are driven by the culture of now.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Dave Crenshaw
The culture of now says, “If someone asks me a question, I have to respond to it now. If I’m going to do something, I need to do it right now.” You know, I got a neighbor who does, just kind of as a side hobby, does T-shirts for people. And she said to me, this is almost before, she said, “If someone wants me to do it, I don’t want them to tell me the date by which it gets done. I want them to tell me, ‘I need this tomorrow.’”

Pete Mockaitis
They’d want that.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, they’re driven by the adrenaline. But the problem with the culture of now is that it contradicts itself. You cannot do it all now. And if you’re allowing all the inputs to come at you at once you are setting yourself up to try to multitask which is going to really screw things up. So, the superior method is to move to the culture of when.

The culture of when relies upon the calendar, and says, “I am going to work on this project, and this is when I’m going to do it. I’m going to respond to your quick questions, and this is when I’m going to do it. I’m going to make these T-shirts, and here’s the time that I have dedicated in my week to making T-shirts.” That is far superior, it helps you live a more relaxed and less stressful life, and creates opportunities for having fun as well.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Dave, I’ve seen this in my own life, and I think that in some ways it’s just a matter of getting real about what are the commitments that are actually are you committed versus what resources or time do you really have available, and thus what is actually going to get done versus what is not going to get done.

And to be in the driver seat for actually making those decisions as opposed to, I don’t know, sometimes I feel like a crazy person just like, “Oh, the next thing. Oh, the next thing,” as opposed to getting real, like, “No. In fact, you’re overbooked, you’re overcommitted, overscheduled, and it’s an impossible fantasy to believe that all of those things will be done. And so, it’s sort of like endure the pain now of realizing it ain’t going to happen, and then just decide to schedule, budget the time in a way that is most aligned with your highest order of objectives.

And I know you’ve heard of this and I’ve shared it, but from time to time, you know, everything is sort of descends at once and it’s like, oops, it’s time to take a step back and recollect and get real about the time allocations.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, and when you talk about that one thing that really comes to mind is how so many people right now are wearing the busy badge as a badge of honor, “How are you doing?” “Well, I’m really busy,” as if that means that we’re being successful. And the reality is the busy is a white flag of surrender not a badge of honor.

It’s showing that you cannot control your time. What really matters is what results are you getting. In fact, I teach people, I teach my clients that if anyone says, “I’m busy,” to follow up by saying, “Great. What results are you getting?” And what you’re trying to do is shift your mind away from perpetual motion to productivity.

Productivity is not about perpetual motion. It’s about finding your rhythm, and The Power of Having Fun reinforces that, because so many people feel that taking a break to have fun is not productive but in fact it’s part of that rhythm. Taking that downtime is giving you the ability to really perform at maximum levels when you go back to work, and that’s really what rhythm is about.

If you think about rhythm in a song, there are periods of high intensity, there are middle periods that are sort of drifting along, and then there are silence, and all of those things come together to make a beautiful piece of music. It’s the same thing with our personal productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I dig that. Well, so then, yes, back to having fun, you know, and these oases. I’m curious then, it seems like we have our own intuitive sense for what we like to do, what we find to be fun. But I’d love to know are there some kind of particular components of these oases that make them extra-rejuvenatingly awesome?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. Well, and it’s interesting. You would think that people could figure out what’s fun for them yet, gosh, a lot of very successful executives that I worked with, when you ask them, “What do you do for fun?” there’s a very long pause.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “I forgot. I haven’t done it much.”

Dave Crenshaw
Right. Right. So, one of the steps in The Power of Having Fun is discovery, is going through that process. And one of the things that I did in the book was kind of fun, was I surveyed 500 children from all across the US and asked them two questions. The first question, “What do you like to do for fun?” and number two, “What would you say to an adult who has forgotten how to have fun and be happy?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, nice.

Dave Crenshaw
And the list that was generated that I put in the book, of all the activities that kids like to do for fun had a purpose. It’s not just, “Oh, this is cute. Look at what kids say.” What I’m doing is asking adults to answer the question, “What did you used to do for fun?” When you were a kid you knew how to have fun. If someone says, “What do you do for fun?” there’s no hesitation. You got a list. My kids have a list of things that they can do to have fun.

And so, what you can do is you don’t have to act like a kid. Personally, I believe adults should like adults. I know some people have a different philosophy on that. But what you can do is find the adult equivalent of what you used to do as a child. So, for instance, I used to like to play with Legos, so perhaps building models is a way to do it. Or maybe doing more advanced Legos, or building something else, right?

Or if you like to play outside, you like to run around maybe you can start doing mountain biking, or walk the dog, or whatever it is that’s enjoyable to you. So, you call upon the wisdom that you had when you were a child to figure out what to do for fun as an adult.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s good. That’s good. And so, then, so you’re reflecting back, “Okay, when I was a kid what did I like to do and what could be some grownup equivalence?” Any other sort of pro tips in the discovery phase?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, another thing that you want to do is make sure that you’re focusing on something that is constructive not destructive, and that goes back to your comment about sex and drugs and stuff like that. It’s important to recognize that when I talk about having fun I am talking about things that build you up and make you happier or don’t have negative consequences.

And one example of this is one female executive that I worked with. She determined that for her, one of her little moments of fun in the day was to enjoy a piece of chocolate, it was just to sit and savor that and enjoy that. And for her that’s not a problem but if somebody else has an eating disorder, using food as a potential reward is not what I’m talking about. So, in that case you’re going to want to find something else that builds you up.

You also want to find things that are well within your budget or free. We’re not talking about spending lots of money and it is not necessary to spend lots of money. Another female business owner that I worked with, for her, her daily oasis was to go for a walk, and she put it in these particular terms. She said, “I want to go for a walk down the hill, go see Bessie the cow,” which there’s a cow pasture near where her office was, “and pat Bessie on the nose and talk to her a little bit and then come back.” For her that was enough of an oasis.

So, let’s make sure that it’s constructive, that it’s cheap to free, and that it is, as I mentioned before, that it’s brief.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. Well, so now, working through your stages here, we sort of naturally organically covered it, we got the permission to play because we’ve seen, “Hey, there’s real research that the dopamine is going to make you better. It’s powerful.” Getting to the bottom of what’s fun and scheduling it. When it comes to putting it on the calendar you said, “It’s key just to do it instead of going with the flow.”

Dave Crenshaw
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And to acknowledge the ebbs and flows and rhythms of when you can do that scheduling. I’m curious, are there any kind of patterns you see in terms of beginning the day, end of the day, lunch, or are just kind of tend to make a lot of good sense for a lot of people?

Dave Crenshaw
Usually, I see this right around lunch or at the end of the workday or in the evening. Those are kind of the three major places where most people put their oasis. Typically, in the morning people aren’t ready for it yet. They want to go to work, they’re ready to do work, but there’s nothing wrong with taking that break in addition to lunch.

And notice that I emphasized that it is not lunch. Lunch is what you need to fuel your body then the oasis is what you need to fuel your emotion and your energy. Two separate activities. But those are typically the three major places where people end up scheduling it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then how about protecting that time you’ve scheduled. How do you do that effectively?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, so protection, stage four, that’s about looking at some of the things that could get in the way. So, the perspective that I come from as I say, “You want to think of these as different diseases that can creep into your life and you want to inoculate yourself against them. You want to have a strategy to prepare yourself against them.”

For instance, let’s talk about the busy bacteria, right? We talked about how busy is a problem. And so, one thing that we want to do is get in the habit of scheduling buffer time in our day. And buffer time is basically scheduling space for nothing. And that sounds like, “My gosh, who is this guy telling me to schedule time for nothing? How can that be productive?” And I will tell you that it’s one of the keys to being highly productive especially in our day, in the 21st century.

You know, back 34 years ago when people talk about time management and productivity, it was about maximizing every minute, every hour that you had on your schedule. In the 21st century, we have a radically different problem. Our problem is time protection and time reclamation. We are going to get interrupted because of the pace of technology, so we must have extra space in our schedule to accommodate for those interruptions not scheduling our calendar to a razor’s edge.

So, how does that relate to having fun? Well, if I’ve scheduled my calendar right to the minute and then fun comes up and I’m behind because I got interrupted earlier in the day, then what happens? “Oh, well, this doesn’t matter. I need to take care of work, right?” But if we have that buffer space, and if we’re living well within our means in terms of the schedule, we will feel that we have enough time to have fun which we should.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. And so then with the buffer space, so you schedule time for nothing. So, it’s interesting, I guess I’m thinking about my email inbox and how it lately has been expanding. And so, then when you say schedule time for nothing, it’s not even scheduling time for inbox clearing which I’ve been thinking, “Maybe this is what has to happen if this is ever going to go down,” but rather to just nothing-nothing.

And so, I’m wondering though do you have like a game plan in terms of, “Okay, if I schedule time for nothing, and then in fact nothing comes up, is there like the backup statement or is this just like, I will sit in silence?”

Dave Crenshaw
Oh, no. Of course, if that time comes up and you don’t have anything then you could use it to help check your inbox or do whatever you want to do. But the thing is when that happens then you feel like you’ve got extra time rather than feeling like, “I can’t keep up with all this. It’s too much.”

And, by the way, what you’re bringing up in terms of just getting your inbox to zero, again that’s a different topic I cover in my course Time Management Fundamentals on LinkedIn Learning. And in that I take people through the entire process of creating a time management system so that you’re bringing your inbox to zero on a regular basis.

And that sort of highlights something that I mentioned in the book which is having good time management, having solid principles that you’re living is an important component of making sure that you’re having this oasis in the day. Because if you’re completely out of control with your time management, if you can’t keep your desk organized, if you can’t keep up with the papers and the email and everything that’s coming at you, then, yes, what I’m asking people to do to have fun is going to become a very tall order.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, the final stage is just enjoying the oasis. How does one enjoy fun all the more?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, so this one is a really fun one. Whenever I think about this principle of enjoyment I think of one client that I had, and she told me how she was on vacation. She was at a beautiful tropical location, she’s sitting down enjoying the surf and, well, the surf and the sand is around her, she’s got a tropical drink next to her, and then she’s on her phone scheduling, planning her next vacation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Dave Crenshaw
And she said, “Holy crap, I have a disease.” And so many people have this disease. When fun things happen to us they’re unable to take them in. I’ve experienced this in the past where you have something wonderful happen to you and it just bounces right off of you, and that’s so much a symptom of the multitasking world that we’re living in, our inability to feel it yet we must take time to allow our body to take it in so that we can get that precious dopamine in a positive way.

So, here’s the three-step system that I talk about in the book I gave to this client, and it’s head, heart, mouth. And it’s always helpful to actually point to the body parts to reinforce this in your mind. You point to your head, you point to your heart, you point to your mouth, and here’s how it works.

Head. You intellectually acknowledge something great that happened. So, new instance of my daughter giving me this wonderful thank you card. I intellectually say, to my mind, “That was great to get a card from my daughter. That was enjoyable.” Now that sounds very clinical, and it is. It’s designed to be.

Pete Mockaitis
“I enjoy this experience.”

Dave Crenshaw
Yes, exactly. And it’s supposed to be like that because what you are doing is you’re stopping your brain and saying, “Whoa, don’t move to the next thing. This was good.” Okay? Then we go to the emotional aspect of the heart by asking a question, “How did this make me feel?” This creates an open loop that the brain must close.

So, now I have to think about, “Well, it made me feel really good. It made me feel like I’m a good dad that my daughter would take the time to write this card to me,” whatever it is that comes to your mind. And then we move to mouth which is an acknowledgement, a verbal or written, some sort of external acknowledgement.

So, you can say out loud, “This was great to go on this vacation.” Or, in the case of this card that my daughter gave me, I’ve made another card for her and gave it back to her, and said, “Thank you so much for doing this.” I’m a very practical guy. This isn’t touchy-feely stuff. This is brain science.

What you are doing is you’re strengthening the neural pathways of enjoyment. You’re strengthening your enjoyment muscle and you’re restarting your ability to actually feel good when good things happen to you. It’s a simple principle but it’s powerful. If you practice it over and over, it will completely change your perspective on what’s happening around you.

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

Dave Crenshaw
Well, just if you’re curious about it and not sure if you want to buy the book, you can dive in by taking, there’s an assessment, a free assessment you can get at PowerofHavingFun.com. It’s a 21-question assessment called the Fun Scorecard and you can check your score and find out how well you’re doing in terms of having fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Thank you. So, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Dave Crenshaw
It’s probably not going to be what you expect but I do mention this in the book, and the quote is, “Blessed is he who expects nothing for he shall never be disappointed.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Please elaborate.

Dave Crenshaw
Well, so much of happiness in life comes from a matter of expectations met or exceeded. And where people get themselves into trouble is they set expectations or even just kind of go with the flow and create expectations that other people have for them without really being conscious about it. And instead, if you go through life with saying, “You know what? I don’t know what’s going to happen. I can’t expect what’s going to happen,” then when great things occur, you are more likely to be happy and more likely to be successful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I dig that. So, now, at the same time, Dave, I’m wondering about like, you know, should we call them standards that we have for ourselves or colleagues that we work with?

Dave Crenshaw
Oh, yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in a way a standard is kind of like an expectation, like, “You have met my expectations or you have exceeded my expectations.”

Dave Crenshaw
I look at it a different way.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Dave Crenshaw
I use the word values. I use the word vision and values. A vision is where I’m trying to go           in my life, it’s a place that I’m trying to accomplish. And I do think that we should set our visions high. And values are the ways in which we live our life. But you said an interesting thing which is other people not meeting that standard, and if you make your happiness dependent upon other people meeting your expectations you will always be disappointed.

You cannot control the actions of others. Even if you’re a boss and people are getting paid to do stuff, you cannot control their actions. All you can do is get them excited about the result that you’re trying to get and get them on your side. There’s a very big difference, and a kind of – this is a whole other subject – of hinting at the difference between managing and micromanaging.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Dave Crenshaw
You mean besides mine?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Dave Crenshaw
You know, I’m a big fan of 7 Habits by Stephen Covey. That was probably the book that really inspired me to do what I do. So, yeah, I think there’s a lot of great wisdom in there that I lean on still to this day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite tool?

Dave Crenshaw
You know, my favorite tool of the moment, there are lots of tools right now. I’m really enjoying my Google Home Mini and I use it in my office, and I’ve got all my lights setup to it and all sorts of things. And I’ve found that it saved me a ton of time.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. What activities were you doing that have been displaced?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, if you do as much video as I do, you see I have a whole setup in my office. So, now, in fact let’s see if we can even get it to do it. If you can hear it in the background, say, “Okay, Google. Turn on everything.”

Pete Mockaitis
Neat things, huh?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, so it turned on my whole setup in my office, and I find myself asking it questions all the time, and it’s super convenient. So, again, I’ve got lots of tools that I love to use but right now that’s the one that I’m thrilled with.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And how about a favorite habit?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, it’s going to sound like it’s redundant but, honestly, my favorite habit is what we’re talking about, and I didn’t mention what my daily oasis is. I’m a geek and my daily oasis is to play video games for 30 minutes at the end of each day. And that habit, I cite as one of the reasons why I am successful and, perhaps more importantly, why at 5:00 o’clock each day when my children come into my office, I am able to focus on my family and be present with them for the rest of the night instead of continuing to think about work.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And is there a particular nugget you share in your courses or your trainings that seems to really connect and resonate, getting folks nodding their heads and taking notes and such?

Dave Crenshaw
Boy, I’ll just call the first thing that comes to mind, and it sort of dovetails with what we’ve been talking about. And here’s the principle: you can do anything you put your mind to doing just not all at the same time.

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

Dave Crenshaw
Well, again, you can find out more about the book at PowerofHavingFun.com and you can also reach me, I’ve got my blog, I send out a new video every week at DaveCrenshaw.com

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action that you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, try this, try The Power of Having Fun for two weeks. Measure where you’re at right now. On a scale of zero to ten, how much energy, how much focus you have at work? Then schedule a daily oasis every day, short ones, just 30 minutes for two weeks. Do it and then re-measure where you’re at, and let’s see whether or not the experiment works for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Dave, thank you so much. This has been a real treat and it’s fun, and it’s license for more fun, so win-win. So, thanks for all that you’ve shared and good luck in all that you’re up to. I hope that you just keep rocking and rolling and spreading this good word.

Dave Crenshaw
Great. Thank you so much for the opportunity, Pete. Appreciate it.

240: Mastering the Art of Connection with Michael J. Gelb

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Michael J. Gelb walks us through the power of connectedness, the importance of being aware of the people around you, and practices that can help your internal wellness.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why uber-busy global leaders make time for face-to-face interactions
  2. How to consciously spread positive emotion
  3. Practicing the opposite of stress response

About Michael 

Michael is the world’s leading authority on the application of genius thinking to personal and organizational development and a pioneer in the fields of creative thinking, executive coaching and innovative leadership. Michael co-directs the acclaimed Leading Innovation Seminar at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business and is on the faculty of the Institute for Management Studies.  He brings more than 30 years of experience as a professional speaker, seminar leader and executive coach to his diverse, international clientele.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Michael J. Gelb Interview Transcript

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

Michael J. Gelb
My pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, before you were writing influential books, I understand you had a career as a professional juggler who performed with some pretty big names. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Michael J. Gelb
I worked my way through graduate school as a professional juggler. I used to juggle in Harvard Square. I once made about $80 in quarters in three hours.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael J. Gelb
I used to do children’s parties, and I lived in England for a while. And my buddy, who was the science editor for Reuters news service in Europe, he and I used to get together and practice our juggling in Hyde Park. And one day a fellow came up to us and said, “Hey, how would you like to juggle on stage tonight with Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones, we’ll pay you 50 pounds.” We said, “Sure.” And we were on stage that night and it worked out well so they invited us to the whole tour. And then we got to perform at the Knebworth Rock Festival in front of an audience of hundreds of thousands of people on a stage shaped like Mick Jagger’s mouth.

Pete Mockaitis
Like his mouth. I don’t know, is his mouth different than any other mouths? I guess I’ve got a picture in my head. This is fascinating.

Michael J. Gelb
Yes, it’s just like you picture it. It’s just like you picture it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so how you’ve come so far. I don’t know, maybe you’ve slid. Which is higher? I don’t know, they’re just different, you know.

Michael J. Gelb
It’s not higher.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Michael J. Gelb
The funny thing is I wasn’t a wild Stones fan or anything but I knew it would be a good story, and I got a friend of mine into the concert as a guest and he is still grateful to me to this day. And then we got invited to juggle at a series of Bob Dylan concerts, and I got my friend into that, so he’s still, he just will be eternally grateful to me for getting him into those events.

And I did take my early experience as a professional juggler and I leveraged it into corporate seminars where I would use juggling as a metaphor for teaching people how to learn. I’d put them in teams and get them to pick the balls up for one another and coach each other, and use it as a way to teach people principles of coaching that they could use to be more effective leaders. I once taught a thousand IBM engineers how to juggle altogether in a big hotel ballroom, so I’ve had a lot of fun with the juggling, and I still work it into my programs for groups all over the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, awesome. Well, today I also want to chat about some of your perspectives in your latest book The Art of Connection. What is The Art of Connection all about? And why is it particularly important right now?

Michael J. Gelb
Well, what it’s all about is building relationships. And why did I write this book? Because for most of the years I’ve been consulting and training, leading seminars for organizations around the world, my focus has been on creativity, on innovation and accelerated learning. But if you really want to get anything done you’ve got to do it with other people.

So, I’ve been paying attention to what really works to build those relationships that will help you resolve conflict, come up with solutions in a more effective way, and implement those solutions, and The Art of Connection is packed with pretty much everything I’ve learned in 38 years of working with people around the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. And I’ve read some disturbing research in terms of just how we have fewer friends now than before, we’re more disconnected. Can you maybe give us a little bit of the lay of the land to perhaps the problem or diagnosis?

Michael J. Gelb
Well, we have a blessing and a curse. The blessing is we can get information from people around the world instantaneously, and that’s amazingly seductive. I mean, you can tune into anybody anywhere almost anytime if their phone is on, so that’s, on one hand, how marvelous is that. On the other hand, it’s a relatively superficial level of communication.

So, we have more so-called friends or people in our network but less real connection, less real heart-to-heart, face-to-face, soul-to-soul human interaction. And that does nurture us in all sorts of ways. There’s a lot of research showing that person-to-person connection is a key source of our sense of wellbeing, our longevity, our health, our happiness, and it also translates into success.

What’s fascinating is I work with lots of people who run global organizations and, of course, they do lots of connecting, lots of meeting, lots of information sharing on their devices, but these people will tell you that face-to-face in the room, eye-to-eye relationships and connections are more important now than ever before, and they all go out of their way to make sure they have those connections with the people who are important to them.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a pretty compelling proof point because these are among the most busy in-demand, maybe most tempted to execute communications as brutally efficiently as possible.

Michael J. Gelb
Well, the thing is it’s important to be able to be efficient, to get things done, and we can use the technology to help us. That’s the blessing part of it. But if you use it as something to hide behind, if you use it as a way of objectifying people and viewing people only in a transactional manner, well, people ultimately don’t really like that.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m with you there.

Michael J. Gelb
Everybody wants to be seen, wants to be respected, wants you to connect with them, wants you to empathize with them, and it’s just so much more effective to do that in person.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m with you there. And so, I love it that you’ve gone beyond some of this philosophy and really broken it down into a few key actionable principles or practices. We love actionable here. So, could you walk us through some of the top practices that facilitate great connections?

Michael J. Gelb
Sure can. The first one is to embrace humility.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Michael J. Gelb
And, obviously, this one comes first because if you don’t embrace humility you’re probably not going to read the rest of the book because you think you know it all already.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael J. Gelb
But it’s really the attitude that makes us curious. If I think I know you, if I think I’ve got you figured out, if I think I know what type you are, if I think I’m a good listener, well, chances are I’m not, and chances are you probably wouldn’t agree with me.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael J. Gelb
It’s only when I have that attitude that says, “Gee, if I’m paying attention over the years I’d probably notice that people miscommunicate all the time.” When I get people in a classroom on this topic, one of the exercises we do, we take a simple word, we take any word like the word art, and we get people to write down the first 10 words they think of.

And then we put them in groups of four and we get them to share the words they wrote down and make a little chart of how many they had in common. And what we discover is that people have almost nothing in common.

Pete Mockaitis
So, one person might write movies and cinema and actors, and someone else might write sculpture and clay. Is that what you mean?

Michael J. Gelb
Exactly. Exactly. And then even when people get one or two in common, if you get them to do 10 words of association on the one they had in common, you find out they meant something different by it anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, interesting.

Michael J. Gelb
And this translates into everyday communication challenges. I mean, people are all too familiar with the notion of having a conversation, the other person nods in agreement, and then what happens is different than what you thought you agreed, “Oh, but I thought you said,” “Oh, but I thought you meant,” “But weren’t you listening?” How often are those sorts of phrases repeated in everyday life?

So, one of my mottos is, “If you’re not humble it means you’re not paying attention.” So, once you embrace that attitude, that opens up your curiosity. The other thing it does, if you have this humility, people perceive you as more responsive, as more open, as more accessible and they’re more likely to engage with you. And engagement is, obviously, the key to building relationships, so embrace humility is where the journey begins.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Right now, as you described this sort of misunderstandings, I can’t help, I’m thinking about randomly the movie Bridesmaids in which they’re talking about different ideas for the event, the festivities. And one person says, “Oh, how about a night in Paris or something?” and everyone says yes. “And building off that idea, Fight Club?” and someone is like, “What?” It’s not even remotely connected or related.

And so, I think that’s a funny little exchange that sticks with me because it’s like, “That’s so ridiculous.” But what you’re saying, “No, in practice, folks are rampantly misunderstanding each other all the time.”

Michael J. Gelb
And emoticons and emojis are not substitutes for body language, voice tonality, eye contact and being together with people.

Pete Mockaitis
Even if it’s an animoji, Michael?

Michael J. Gelb
Hey, look, I have as much with them as anybody and they’re delightful tools to play with but, again, if you use it all as a substitute for connecting with people in real time face to face, you’re going to find that your life just becomes a little more shallow and that there’s a lot more misunderstanding.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. So, the core of the humility then is just acknowledging, you know, you probably don’t understand what that person said. So, get off your high horse or don’t presume that you have it figured out, but go ahead and humble yourself and ask the key follow-up questions to make sure that you’ve properly received what they’re trying to convey.

Michael J. Gelb
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so now, you’ve got a few other great practices. What do you mean by being a glowworm?

Michael J. Gelb
Well, this comes from a quote from Winston Churchill. He said, “We are all worms but I do believe that I am a glowworm.”

Pete Mockaitis
I love the accent. Please keep those coming.

Michael J. Gelb
And Churchill, this is in the days when the only way that the leader of the nation could communicate with the people was on the radio, London was being bombed every night for 56 nights straight. People were sleeping in the subway in the underground, and they didn’t know then that they were going to win the war and defeat pure evil.

But one man, with this amazing vision and courage, through his words and through his voice tone, inspired a whole nation to persevere under incredible odds and to emerge victorious, so Churchill really was a glowworm. And, in contemporary terms, we now know, as Churchill understood intuitively, that emotions are contagious for better or for worse. So, a glowworm is somebody who consciously spreads uplifting positive emotion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, now I’m curious, in practice how does one do that in a way that’s authentic and real and gets folks taking you seriously? I guess I’m wondering, it’s probably possible to be over the top in a way that’s like, “Oh, this guy, you know, he’s not even for real.”

Michael J. Gelb
All of this is ideally sourced through authenticity and find a natural way to express yourself. If you’re a pessimist this is harder, which is why in a previous book I reviewed the work of Dr. Martin Seligman who wrote Learned Optimism, so it’s a skill you can learn. It’s a skill of emotional intelligence.

And since optimists get sick less frequently, recover faster when they do get sick, make a lot more money in the course of their careers, outperform their aptitude tests, and live seven years longer, you might consider cultivating this particular aspect of emotional intelligence and do it in an authentic way because your attitude not only affects your immune system moment to moment, that’s why optimists live longer, and that’s why they’re more resistant to disease, why they recover faster because they have stronger immune systems.

So, you want to recognize that your way of responding to challenges in life – and, look, anybody can be an optimist when everything is going your way. It really counts when you’re facing adversity. But the power here is that it’s not just affecting your immune system, it’s affecting the immune system of the people around you.

So, if you get together with people as many people’s idea of bonding is to commiserate, which means to be miserable together. So, we all get together and complain about how bad everything is, “Oh, that’s nothing. It’s even worse for me.” And I got to tell you, what we’re talking about here is a powerful secret of building healthy positive relationships. It’s also a secret of longevity.

My parents are 90 and 87, and my dad recently did 28 pushups. He’s just amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, great.

Michael J. Gelb
And they’re super sharp. I go visit them and bring them a nice wine, cook them a nice meal, and we have stimulating, vibrant, wonderful conversation. They’re super engaged in life, they’re reading three or four books at a time, and they get together with the people in the community where they live. They’re in one of these active retirement communities.

And my dad runs the wine-tasting group, my mom, who used to be a psychotherapist, runs a couple of discussion groups, and they just meet to have breakfast and conversation with their friends. Pretty much every day they go down to dinner. My dad brings a bottle of wine. And they have a rule, and the rule is, “No organ recitals.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Michael J. Gelb
In other words, you’re not allowed to complain about what’s going wrong with various parts of your body.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, man, it sounds like fun. I want to be part of an active retirement community. That sounds awesome.

Michael J. Gelb
But what’s great about it, part of why and when these communities are well-run, and theirs is, it extends people’s lives and the quality of their lives because it turns out that connection or the lack thereof is a huge factor in our wellness. And as we get older, the margin for error gets less.

I wrote this book called Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age, I wrote it to celebrate my 60th birthday five years ago. And one of the studies I reported on in that book, they took cohorts of people who were 80 years old, and those who reported themselves as lonely were mostly gone before 85 and had much higher incidences of various forms of dementia.

Those who reported having three or more positive social interactions on a daily basis were much more likely to be alive at 85 and had much, much lower rates of dementia. So, social connectedness keeps your brain healthy, strengthens your immune system, and it’s also just correlated with what researchers call perceived sense of wellbeing which is a fancy term for happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Excellent. So, then, in practice, if you’re being a glowworm, so you’re taking an optimistic view, you’re trying to make meaningful connections with folks and taking interests in their lives. And so, are there any other maybe key senses or opportunities in which you can really habitually be a glowworm whether it comes to appreciating people or thanking people? Or what are some of the easy ways to do that every day?

Michael J. Gelb
Well, here’s one that’s research-based and really powerful. Maybe you’ve heard about the Pygmalion effect, it’s also known as the Rosenthal effect for the researcher who first documented it about 50 years ago and one of the most striking experiments. They took Army drill sergeants and they told the drill sergeants that the recruits they were getting for the next six weeks were below average. And at the end of the six weeks those recruits performed about 25% below the average standard.

Then they told the same drill sergeants that the next group they were getting were above average. And you guessed it, at the end of six weeks that group performed 25% above average. Now this is measured in real performance, things like the number of pushups they could do.

Pete Mockaitis
Or like shooting accuracy, like quantitative measures of performance.

Michael J. Gelb
Quantitative measures. Of course, the groups were completely average, the only difference was the way the drill sergeants were primed to view their recruits. And when they told the drill sergeants this they refused to believe it. Same kind of studies have been done over and over again with teachers. If a teacher is told that children are gifted, guess what? They perform like gifted children. And if the teacher is told that the children are slow and difficult, guess what? They perform more slowly as though they were more difficult.

So, the notion of looking for the best in others, and this is really important in a marriage. I mean, if you look at Gottman’s research on what makes marriage work.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve been doing that, yes.

Michael J. Gelb
Yup, one of the really important things is you look for the best in your partner. William James said, “Wisdom is knowing what to overlook,” so this gets really, really powerful, too, when you realize that the same thing applies to your self-image. So, are you looking for the best in yourself every day? So, this isn’t just rah-rah cheerleader optimism on some superficial level. This is powerful.

How do you see yourself in your own potentiality every day? How do you give other people the best opportunity to do well to bring out people’s best? And here’s the thing, this is, again, it’s not mediated by some cosmic, well, maybe it is mediated by cosmic energy but we can’t validate that. But when Rosenthal looks at what happens when the teacher who’s been told that a group is gifted, what does that teacher do?

In the interaction with those children, the teacher is nodding in a positive way, she’s smiling, she’s making eye contact, her whole body language is affirming and encouraging, and in that environment the child is more likely to come up with a good answer. And when the teacher has been told that these kids are difficult, all too often what happens is she’s shaking her head subtly in the negative, and she’s less patient with the answer, and she’s more likely to interrupt the child, and say, “You’re wrong.”

So, it’s mediated by these subtle, non-verbal cues, so if you can, you want to consciously choose to be sharing uplifting positive cues with other people and yourself throughout the course of your day. That translates into what we often call charisma.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I love that. So, in proactively seeking out the good in people, it’s sort of like you’re not faking it in the sense of you’re just actually responding naturally to what you believe.

Michael J. Gelb
Sure. And it doesn’t mean you’re not critical and discerning. Yes, please be critical and discerning. See the weaknesses, see the challenges, see the difficulties, and then figure out how you’re going to make the best of that particular situation, that particular relationship. And having said that, be wary of people who you experience as continuously draining your energy, people who are rude or obnoxious or abusive, and do your best to avoid being around those people whether they are in your life or on your television screen.

So, there’s a little section in the book where I say, “To be a glowworm, avoid tapeworms,” so that kind of sums up the message right there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, fantastic. Thank you. Well, could you share with us a couple of the other most powerful principles and practices here?

Michael J. Gelb
Sure. Well, the next one in the book is to achieve the three liberations.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael J. Gelb
And what are the three liberations? The first is to free ourselves from the reflexive tendency to view everything from our own evaluative lens. In other words, “Do I like it or do I not like it?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Michael J. Gelb
And this isn’t helped by contemporary sites that have a thumbs up and a thumbs down for absolutely everything we see. And it’s fine to like or dislike things but if that’s the only way you look at the world you may not be seeing it as it is. You’re just seeing it in terms of how the lower centers of your brain view it in terms of, “Is it good for my survival or not?” which isn’t the way we view the world in the most enlightened manner. So, first liberation is to be free from evaluation and learn to observe things in a more objective manner.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael J. Gelb
The second one is to learn not to take things personally, and this is kind of tricky. And I confess, my personality type, I’m the type I take everything personally. I’m ready to just have a big conflict very quickly, that’s my nature. That’s part of how I’ve learned all this because I’ve learned to not react in my automatic habitual way which might be to make things worse because I’m from New Jersey. People say, “You talking to me? You got a problem?” People can be very confrontational where I grew up, and usually that makes things worse.

So, I’ve learned to ask myself the question, “How would I respond to this if I didn’t take it personally?” And I love that question because, all of a sudden, it opens up a lot more circuitry in your brain to think of creative ways to respond instead of responding in a defensive ego-centered manner.

And then the third of the liberations is to liberate yourself from whining, blaming and complaining because that’s just going to get you basting in your stress hormones and exacerbating the stress hormones of your fellow commiserators, so free yourself from whining, blaming and complaining, and start focusing on solutions.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Michael, you sound like some great liberations. Indeed, it would be liberating to either be free of these things. So, I guess, in practice though, if these are sort of deeply ingrained mental habits, how do we get the momentum in achieving these liberations?

Michael J. Gelb
That’s why in the book each chapter has a practice at the end I call the greatest point of leverage, because there’s all sorts of practical things you can do. But I’m really thinking in behalf of the reader, on behalf of the students in my classes, “What’s the one thing you can do that will just have the greatest point of leverage for really having the ability to apply this?”

And one of them is to learn to organize your nervous system. Now in the book I put in a practice that I teach martial arts, I teach Aikido, Tai Chi and Qigong.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Michael J. Gelb
And one of the great things in martial practice, you’re basically learning to shift your whole physiology out of the fight-flight response and into a centered balance freedom so that you can respond and relax way. The more dangerous fighter is the more relaxed fighter. You look at all the clips of Muhammad Ali floating like a butterfly who’s able to sting like a bee because he just looked so easy and comfortable. And that’s what we say about people who are really good at anything, is they make it look easy.

So, if you want to be really good in building relationships, or the art of connection, you want to cultivate this ability to shift out of the amygdala hijack, stress response, fight-flight modality and into this poised, centered, balanced, alert, ready-for-anything modality. So, one of the things people can do, there’s a practice in the book, you can do it every day, it doesn’t even take that long but it’s a great way to center yourself, organize yourself.

And if you do it every day when you’re not in a crisis or a conflict or a difficulty, then you’ll have much more ability to really utilize it when you need it. If you just try to say, “Oh, what was the thing that guy wrote in that book,” and try to use it when all of a sudden you feel you’re under a personal verbal assault, you probably won’t be able to bring to bear, so it’s something to practice every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you maybe walk us through one of those live right now?

Michael J. Gelb
Sure. Okay. So, obviously, people want to make sure they’re in an environment where it’s okay to bring your full attention to what you’re doing in the moment besides, for example, driving. Or don’t do this while you’re doing something else basically. So, put down the scissors.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s the quote of episode, “Put down the scissors.”

Michael J. Gelb
Right. So, create an environment where you won’t be interrupted if possible. And once you know this, once you know how to practice this you can then pretty much do it anywhere, but for learning it in the beginning, and if you’re sitting, either sitting or standing, let’s just say you’re sitting. You want to have your feet flat on the floor evenly distributed between the two feet.

You want to sit, feel around in your rear end for your sitting bones, feel the two points of contact with the chair. You want to be aware of those two points, two feet on the floor. And then you want to sit at your full stature, so align around the vertical axis.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael J. Gelb
If you say out loud the phrase, “Let go.” Just say it right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Let go.

Michael J. Gelb
Let go. Do you notice where your tongue goes when you say L in let go?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like up and into the front.

Michael J. Gelb
Yeah, just behind your upper teeth, your palate, so let your tongue rest on that point. It turns out that that point is an acupuncture point that connects the flow of energy down the front of your body and up the back of your body. So, your tongue rests lightly on that point. Now, can you picture the Mona Lisa in your mind’s eye?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Michael J. Gelb
You know her famous little smile?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Michael J. Gelb
Do your best to imitate her little smile.

Pete Mockaitis
With the tongue still there?

Michael J. Gelb
Right, with your tongue still there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you.

Michael J. Gelb
Got your little smile. Eyes are open and soft, so you’re using your peripheral vision and you’re seeing as much of the space that you’re in as you can. So, you’re aligned around the vertical axis, eyes are soft, tongue on the point, got the little smile. Next ingredient is invite the breath in through your nose and fill your lower belly with your inhalation, so your lower belly is going to expand, your lower ribs and your lower back expand on the inhalation.

And then exhale and, of course, your lower back and lower belly and lower ribs compress. And then real simple, expand the time of the inhale, slow it down, so maybe start with the count of six              on the inhale, and then a count of six on the exhale. And then practice that for a minute or two at least once a day. If you can do two or three times a day so much the better.

But what you notice about that simple practice is we’re doing things that are the opposite of the stress response. What happens to your posture in the fight-flight response? You’re trapped.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. You’re like tensed up and raring to go.

Michael J. Gelb
Right. You’re ready to go, you’re ready to fight or run away. So, when you’re upright it sends a different message to your whole nervous system. What’s your facial expression like when you’re in the fight-flight response?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like a warrior like ready to aargh.

Michael J. Gelb
Yeah, it’s some kind of frown or gritted teeth or angry look. Instead we have a little smile like the Mona Lisa. What are your eyes like? They tend to get tight and focused on a point. So, here we’re softening the eyes and taking in the periphery. And your breathing when you’re in the fight-flight response tends to be just in your chest and very rapid. So, we’re breathing all the way into the belly and we’re slowing it down.

So, we’re training ourselves to do the opposite of the stress response and this puts us in a very resourceful, centered, balanced place. And it’s not that you can stay in this place all the time, but if you practice this for a few minutes a day you can get back to it faster when you need it, and that’s the real key. It’s not that you don’t lose it. We all lose it from time to time. How quickly can you get your center back so you don’t say something or do something that you’ll regret?

The founder of Aikido, the martial art that I studied and taught for many years, is one of the great martial arts masters ever. And one of his senior students is one of the masters that I studied with, and this master once said to the founder, “You’re perfect. You never make mistakes.” And the founder said, “Oh, no, I make mistakes all the time. I just correct them so quickly that you can’t see it.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s good. And I’d love to get your view then in terms of in great detail – and thank you for that, that’s really nice to make it complete and actionable – about what’s going on with the body. And so, is the mind, where are we focusing that? Are there particular thoughts? Or where is the attention should that be placed upon?

Michael J. Gelb
Lovely. So, for starters I just get people to place their attention on their breathing and on the little checklist I just gave you. Make sure you’re smiling, put your tongue on the point, check that you’re at your full upright stature aligned around the vertical axis, feet on the floor, balance on the sitting bones. So, at first, that’s more than enough for people to do with their minds.

Once you have consolidated this so that you can just say, “Okay. Center. Boom.” And then if I say that to myself I don’t have to repeat all those things. I instantaneously shift my posture, open my vision, tongue goes to the point, I have my little smile, and I invite the breath in to my belly. So, then, you can invoke a quality or an intention that you want to bring in the moment.

So, a useful one is courage, for example, if you’re facing a difficult situation, or grace, or poise, or creativity, or compassion.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Sorry, keep going. Keep going. I guess I’m thinking for a connection, I was like, curiosity, yeah.

Michael J. Gelb
Mm-hmm, or humility, or being a glowworm. So, you get the ideas. Now you’re conscious and you can choose the way you want to be. From this physiology you have way more freedom. If you’re in fight-flight you gave up your freedom. You’re preprogrammed. It’s all played out and you’re probably going to make the situation worse, so free yourself. And this is the physiology of internal freedom. And then, you’re right, it’s good to add a conscious intention and we just shared some of my personal favorites. People can make up their own.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig this. I dig this. And I’m chuckling a little bit because I see Dr. Marcia Reynolds is one of your book endorsers and it feels like a little bit of her is what I’m reminded of as we do this. We had her back in Episode 14, one of the most popular episodes, and it’s powerful stuff.

Michael J. Gelb
Well, she’s an old friend of mine and she teaches you how to outsmart your brain. What she’s talking about is outsmart this habitual preprogrammed part of yourself so that you can use your creative intelligence. She and I have always, we just had a meeting of the minds when we first met because we’re on the same wavelength of using different metaphors to teach people these universal truths about self-balance and self-understanding and inner freedom so that you can have a more beautiful life. That’s really what this is about.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, tell me, Michael, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Michael J. Gelb
One of the fundamental points of this book, I emphasized it by translating into Latin is, “Conjungere ad solvendum,” which means, “Connect before solving.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael J. Gelb
It’s based on a lot of really practical wisdom. It’s based on the work of some of the greatest therapists. They find people in therapy resolve their biggest issues when they feel they’ve made a real empathic connection with the therapist. Well, guess what? Same thing happens with your husband or your wife or your children, and the same thing happens with your team at work, so connect before solving.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, excellent. Thank you.  So now, Michael, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Michael J. Gelb
Okay. I got a lot of favorite quotes but I’m going to give you my favorite quote that I put in The Art of Connection, and it’s in the chapter on listening. It’s from Andre Gide who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and he said, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Oh, it’s fun. I could chew on that for a while. Very nice. And how about a favorite book?

Michael J. Gelb
Favorite book. Well, the book that really got me started was Man’s Search for Meaning. There’s two actually, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and Man’s Search for Himself by Rollo May. I read those two books when I was 14 or 15, and then I read Toward a Psychology of Being by Abraham Maslow, and then I read Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung. And I’d say those books set the course for the rest of my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Michael J. Gelb
Oh, well, it is centering practice. It’s what I shared earlier and to me it’s so important. I do it for probably about an hour a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Michael J. Gelb
I do about 20 to 30 minutes of Qigong standing meditation and then I do various sets of Qigong that I’ve cultivated, I teach. I’ve studied this for many years and I try to teach the ones that are most helpful to others. And I’ve been teaching the ones that I actually do myself because I figure there’s a reason I chose to do them, so they’re the ones that I think I will share with others.

And my other key tool or practice is when I’m home I take a silent walk in the woods every day. Actually I took one earlier today in between interviews, and I just shut off the phone and go for a walk, and I don’t speak. I mean, if somebody says hello, I say hello, so I’m just going out for a walk. But basically it’s just silence and nature and, wow, I mean, what a blessing.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. And is there a particular nugget that you share in your books or when you’re speaking, working with clients that seems to particularly resonate, get folks nodding their heads and taking notes with all the more vigor?

Michael J. Gelb
Well, it’s fun that you mentioned that one because this book, The Art of Connection, building relationships, the notion of being a glowworm, the idea of being around people who inspire you, so one of the ideas that I’ve had around that for many years is it’s great to find real people who you can be with, who inspire you, and you can also draw on historical sources.

So, I wrote a book called How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, and why did I do that? Because Leonardo is my childhood hero, and I immersed myself in studying his notebooks and translated it into this book. And the point of that is I love Leonardo so I learned as much as I could about him and it enriched my life immeasurably. So, the nugget for people is figure out the historical figure that inspires you the most and immerse yourself in that person. You can have a virtual mentor as well as a real-life one.

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

Michael J. Gelb
I invite them to my website MichaelGelb.com, it’s G-E-L-B. People can sign up for our free newsletter. We’ve got lots of free articles and we’re just getting our YouTube channel going, but we’re going to be posting all kinds of practices for people. If people are interested in the Qigong we have a couple of those that are up there. You have to hunt around for them a little bit but we’re going to make it clear and more accessible. It’s all at MichaelGelb.com.

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

Michael J. Gelb
Yes. Yes. My challenge is to bring passionate curiosity to understanding the dynamics of your relationships. Don’t take people for granted. Don’t put them in a box. Try to see everybody in a fresh, open, compassionate, empathic, loving way, and then notice the effect that has on yourself when you look in the mirror in the morning.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Thank you. Well, Michael, this has been a real treat. You can hear it in your voice that you walk the talk, and so thanks for sharing all this wisdom. Great stuff. And I wish you lots of luck in staying centered and book sales and teaching and changing lives and all you’re up to.

Michael J. Gelb
Thank you so much.

239: Building Yours Systems for Success with Sam Carpenter

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Sam Carpenter explores how you can effectively work with the collection of systems that make up your work and life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The benefit of seeing your complex life as a simpler collection of systems
  2. How to analyze and fix the kinks in your system
  3. Top systems that are most often dysfunctional

About Sam 

Sam has a background in engineering, journalism, publishing, forestry, construction management, and telecommunications. An author and entrepreneur, he is president and CEO of Centratel, the premier telephone answering service in the United States. Other businesses he founded and operates are Work the System Consultants and PathwayOne, an online marketing firm based in Italy.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Sam Carpenter Interview Transcript

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

Sam Carpenter
Thank you, Pete.  Glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it was really fun chatting with you, that in between the time you said, “Yes, I’ll do this interview”, and this interview happening, you announced a run for governor.  How’s all that going?

Sam Carpenter
Right, in the state of Oregon.  Very well.  We’re ahead in the polls, I’ve got 50,000 followers on Facebook, and I only announced three weeks ago.  So, it’s fun.  And I ran for US Senate two years ago, and that was not fun. [laugh] It’s good to be in the lead and it’s good to have a lot of people behind you, so it’s been very fun actually so far.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.  I’m glad you’re not just sort of losing your sanity along the way.

Sam Carpenter
I didn’t say that.

Pete Mockaitis
Fun and insane – I guess not mutually exclusive.

Sam Carpenter
I may be insane, but I’m not losing my insanity in any sense, no.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we chat with folks with all sorts of ideas along the political spectrum, but the idea I’m most interested in learning from you is as an area of your deep expertise, when it comes to systems – you’ve got the books Work the System and The Systems Mindset.  So, could you share with us what are the big ideas behind these books and why they’re helpful?

Sam Carpenter
Well, the two books – they are interesting – one was written in 2008 and the other one was published in 2016, and they both have the same thread.  And the central thread is this: It’s that our lives – and I’ll get a little sort of metaphysical here, but not really – our lives are collections of systems and processes.  And in our houses – and you and I were just talking about our houses for instance – I can turn around here from my computer and I could go to the sink and turn the water on and the water will come out, because the system of delivering that water is a good system and the water pressure is right and the little town here in our second home here in rural Kentucky, the water system works well.  And I could go flip the light switch on over there – that’s a separate system.

Those systems have nothing to do with each other, anymore than your heart has anything to do with your kidney.  I know they’re connected and I know they work together, but really, they’re separate.  And it’s the same for your radio in your car and your brakes in your car.  And every tree that’s outside my window right now is separate from the trees next to it.  Your life is a collection of separate systems, and if that’s the truth, the hand of God reaching down is not going to get you where you want to go, some new law isn’t going to do it.  What’s going to do it is seeing your life as a collection of systems.  And moment to moment, since 1999, when I walk through a room I see a collection of systems, or when I’m driving in the car – every car is a separate system, every driver and every car is a separate system.

And then you can fix things.  If your life isn’t going very well, then take it apart and find the most dysfunctional systems and work on those first.  But another loan from the bank isn’t going to help, and another wife is probably not going to help.  So you take things apart.  And so, Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less, which was published in 2008 and is in its third edition and we’re just doing another printing now – I think it’s our 12th printing – it talks about business and gives you documentation and processes, and how to document your processes, how to define them, how to pick them out, how to correct them and how to make sure they stay good.  And then The Systems Mindset: Managing the Machinery of Your Life – it’s the same thing, but it’s designed for people who don’t own businesses.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool.  Thank you.  And maybe could you help define a little bit for us – when you say a “system”, do you have a precise definition on the components, or what makes a system a system?

Sam Carpenter
It’s an entity that stands on its own with a purpose.  For instance, a car is a separate primary system, okay?  And its purpose is to get whoever’s in it from point A to point B.  And a house is a system – an enclosed system – which is a collection of subsystems designed to house you.  In a business a separate system would be your phone system.  Another system would be how you answer the phone at the front desk.

At Centratel – and I’m sure we’ll talk about Centratel – how you answer that phone at the front desk is very well defined.  There happen to be seven steps: You pick up the phone, you put a smile on your face because if you put a smile on your face, there is a smile in your voice, and you answer in a very certain way.  And anybody who answers the phone, answers it exactly that way.  And the way we got that system to be perfect was we took all the people together who answered the phones, including me – the owner of the company – and defined what a perfect answering system would be.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I’m intrigued.  If we could maybe make this come to life all the more.  So, could you walk us through what is a perfect phone answering system, that could come in handy for anybody who picks up their phone.

Sam Carpenter
Well, I gave you the first two steps, and then you define how you want to… I can’t remember how they’re doing it at Centratel now; it seems to me it’s changed a little bit, but it’s something like this: “Centratel, this is Mary.  May I help you?”  Very generic, but if John’s answering, it’s the same thing, except he uses his name.  And then the next couple of points in that process: Try to help the caller get to the destination they want to get to, whoever it is – our CEO, our tech guy, whatever it is.  And then another system will take over once it’s delivered.

Everything is documented too; everything is exactly documented – how our operators answer the phone, how we handle a complaint, how we do a sales pitch, our marketing.  There are many, many, many processes.  Now people don’t walk around reading those processes; they are documented.  But the fact that they’re documented and on our hard drive means that they’re paid attention to.

And here’s the other thing, Pete, which is pretty cool.  If your life is a collection of systems, and therefore your business is a collection of systems, wouldn’t it make sense to work on those systems 24/7 and have other people do the actual work?  So, my management staff of seven at Centratel – we have about 40 people there, we do 400,000 a month at the call center, the little answering service.  All of those managers do nothing but work on systems, and if I catch them doing the work, I give them a lot of grief.

For instance, I found my CEO Andi was answering the phone because we had a real rush.  We take messages and deliver them – that’s what our answering service does.  So she has a console on her desk, and it got really busy in there and she jumped on to help the 15 or 20 TSRs that were out there to handle the traffic.  And I said to her, “Don’t ever do that again.”  We were laughing, don’t get me wrong.  And she says, “I know, I know.”  I said, “It’s so heroic, and I guess there’s some value in showing everybody out there that you care, but don’t do it anymore.  I pay you way too much money to do this other stuff, and the TSRs understand that.”  Our telephone service representatives – regular people that answer the phones.  “They understand that you have things you have to do in here.”  For instance, we’re putting $100,000 new heating system in our building – that’s got to be her top priority and she can’t get distracted.

But my point is this: It’s that everybody who’s in management works on processes and systems.  And so she’s working on this process and working on this system.  And we have three words that we use, Pete: automate, delegate, delete.  That’s what a manager should be doing all the time.  Automating it so you don’t have to do it over and over.  Anything you do over and over again, you shouldn’t be doing probably.  A real chief, a real manager, is always on a new project doing creative things.  Automate, delegate to somebody else – an assistant, for instance, or off site.

Automate, delegate, delete.  So many things we do we shouldn’t be doing at all; there’s no pay off.  And you go back to the 80/20 rule, which is absolutely the truth of the matter: If you can get rid of all the superfluous stuff that has no ROI – return on investment – you’re going to have more time to expand on the things that are profitable.  I do consulting, because Work the System is a book on how to do all this stuff, and you wouldn’t believe the businesses we run into, you wouldn’t believe the government of Oregon.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.  So, I’d love it if you could maybe walk us through some examples of let’s say… The audience here are professionals, they want to be awesome at their jobs.  Can you give us some examples of some systems that probably could benefit from some attention, or maybe some transformative innovations or interventions that you’ve brought about for some folks, that can spark actionable ideas here?

Sam Carpenter
Yeah.  The innovation that most companies should have, and most don’t, is what we call – and it’s a document – it’s called the Strategic Objective.  And you can get my book at WorkTheSystem.com and download it for free.  The whole book, audio, or any number of text iterations.  And we fixed over 500 businesses in the last seven years – Josh Fonger, my main guy and I.  They don’t have documentation.  And so, the main system you need is a system of what is it you do and where do you want to go.  And it’s got to be more than a mission statement.  A mission statement is a total distraction.  “Oh, we want to be the best and we want everybody to love us and we want our employees to be happy and all our customers to be happy”, and blah, blah, blah, blah.  It means nothing.

What you need is to take it apart in more detail.  Instead of a little paragraph it really needs to be on one sheet of paper, maybe 300 words, and you list what you do, where you want to go, kind of how you’re going to do it, the things you’re not going to do, sometimes the tools you’re going to use.  And you have to get everybody going in the right direction.  And if everybody is going in a different direction, they all have their own little individual ideas of where you’re going, it’s going to be a dysfunctional mess, and 9 out of 10 businesses are dysfunctional messes, small ones.  The big ones didn’t get big by being dysfunctional messes.

Now, I have a system of documentation I use – there’s other systems – the point is, everybody has to get on the same road, whatever process they use.  And then another document is the Operating Principles.  So we have 30; we call them 30 principles.  These documents are in the back of the book, in the appendix.  And the principles are like, “There will be no clutter in the office”, figuratively or literally.  I’ve got the book here – I could read through them, but you get the idea.  There’s 30 principles and we use these principles for gray area decision-making, when you’re not really sure really what to do.  “What would you do here?”

Well, another one is the simplest solution.  Occam’s Law – the simplest solution is invariably the correct solution.  And I had somebody define it – a new employee, a manager that I think I’m going to hire for the campaign – she said, “The simplest system is the most elegant system.”  And that’s a beautiful thing.  So, that’s just one of the principles.  And we have 30 principles there, and the person could go to the book and plagiarize both the meaning and the tone of both of those two documents I’ve mentioned.

And then the last series of documents – there are three – are the Working Procedures.  And that is where we document how you answer the phone, how you handle a complaint.  We’ve got hundreds and hundreds of them in the office.  But if you don’t get everybody going down the same road and doing things the same way, you’re going to have a mess.  And the other thing is you don’t have a system for them to say, “Hey, this is changed over here.  Process A over here is no longer any good, because one, two and three happened over here.  We’ve got to change the process.”  And then you’ve got to let everybody know the process has changed.

So you can see how I, as a leader, work on processes and systems and protocols, and these are the things that get everybody going in the same direction, and you become efficient, because the thing that kills businesses is inefficiency.  Fire killing – that’s what it is.  Fire killing destroys businesses, fire killing destroys administrations and government, fire killing destroys marriages, it destroys everything.  You want to get from A to B in the most efficient way possible, and you can’t be waylaid by problems that come up because you didn’t have a process to prevent the problem from happening in the first place.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.  So I want to get super, super tactical here, if I could.  So Sam, do you have a system for doing your laundry or having others do your laundry, and what is it?

Sam Carpenter
No, this is very interesting.  The new book, The Systems Mindset, is for anybody who doesn’t have a business.  And in there I say you don’t need to document this stuff in your personal life.  You need to document how the car wreck goes on the car – you need to write down somewhere that the front connectors are 18.5 inches back from this corner of the windshield.  And maybe how you change the filters in your HVAC system, maybe, if somebody else is going to do it.  But there isn’t much documentation in your personal life; it’s a matter of thinking.

So The Systems Mindset subtitle is Managing the Machinery of Your Life.  But in a business, because you’ve got a lot of people doing this stuff, John needs to know how Mary does it, and Mary has to do it the same way Frank does it.  You’ve got to get everybody doing things the same way, and then those are the people who create the processes.  It’s not top-down like military; I don’t write up all the procedures.  I wrote up the first procedures for the first few months – that was in 1999.  I haven’t written a procedure in a couple of years.  And the one I wrote was for me in the office.

But they write the procedures.  What a great way to do things is to have the people who do the work do the procedures, because they know how it works – they know how to talk to the customer, they know how to do this, how to do that.  Now, my CEO and I keep everybody going down the same road.  “No, we don’t want to have this new service; it just isn’t in keeping with where we want to go.”  And you can go back to the strategic objective and figure that out and make an argument for it.  But for instance, if we had extra space in our office, we could have a tanning salon for example.  I mean, it would make sense; there’s people there 24/7.  It could be Bend, Oregon 24/7 Sam’s Tanning Salon, and it would probably make money.  But we’re not going to do that because it’s got nothing to do with our main concern, which is telecommunications and so forth.  So, it keeps you going.

And so when you ask me for, “Give me a process, give me a system” – those three documents are critical.  And then you can go down to how you handle a complaint, how you can… So, what happens is, and I’ll get to your main question, which I think I understand, is when Josh goes out in the field, what he does is go in… And either one of us can walk in any business and tell you in 20 minutes what the problem is.  And sometimes your brother-in-law does need to be fired, okay?  Sorry about that, explain it to your wife, but he’s a problem.  We get into that too, but once we get into the business, we see how it’s run and what are the mechanical – and “mechanical” is such a great word – what are the mechanical irregularities and dysfunctions?  And you fix the biggest problem first.

And maybe the biggest problem is your brother-in-law needs to go – okay, I get that.  But within the business there are processes that need to be documented.  For instance, if there’s something that’s handled by six different people – say it’s a 20-person business – six different people and they all handle it a different way – that’s ridiculous, because some are going to do it real well and some are going to do it in a horrible way.  Why don’t we all do it the real, real fine way?  Put all six people down at the table, “Okay, what’s the first thing you do?”  And then it’s, “Number one – do this, number two – do this, number three – do this, number four – do this.”  And then when that process is done and everybody agrees it works, you put it into place and you move on to the next biggest problem.

You really do start with the biggest problem, I don’t care what it is.  I can almost guarantee you the second problem won’t have anything to do with the first problem.  It will be something completely different, I don’t care what kind of business you’ve got.  And you work through based on what are the biggest problems first, and all of a sudden you get through five of those big problems and things start to smooth out; there’s not so much fire killing.  You might’ve fixed 60% of all your problems by fixing those five things.

And it could be anything; in a machine shop, it would be how the guys are doing a certain piece on the machine, and everybody is doing it in their own way.  It might be a drill press, it might be a lathe, it might be anything.  But you’ve got to get the guys together and sit them down and say, “What’s the best way to do it?”  And Frank over here is doing it this way and he says, “Oh John, I didn’t know we could do it that way.  Yeah, man, it’s really great.”  And then John is going to learn something from Frank too.  It’s really the most simple thing and it’s all based – at the beginning of our chat here, Pete – it’s all based on the mechanical fact that our lives are collections of systems and processes.

That little beagle that’s sitting on the couch in the sunroom there – he’s a separate system too.  And I just got this Garmin tracker for him because he’s a hound, and when we go out in the woods, he’s gone, man.  If he gets a scent of anything, he’s gone.  And so this fabulous tracker – and it took me about a half hour to figure it out on how to work – I can take him out and it’s got a little antenna that comes up, and the documentation is the little book I got with it.  But he can run anywhere and I know exactly where he is.  He got out 600 yards from me the other day and I just went back and got him.  And it’s even got a little what they call a “stimulator” on it – it’s actually like a chock that you can adjust.  And I adjust it so he knows it’s happening, not so it hurts him.  But if he gets out too far, I can just hit a button and he knows to come back to me.  That is a separate system too.  It’s a separate system from the beagle; the beagle has nothing to do with it; they just work together very well.

And that’s how a business should be – if you could take your business apart and stop believing you just need to hire a better manager or if you could just get that other loan – no, no.  Instead you go exactly the opposite and you take it apart piece by piece, but you’ve got to get this thing in your head, about the separate systems.  So Work the System and The Systems Mindset.  The Systems Mindset book is a smaller book.  It’s in two parts.  The Work the System is in three parts; the middle part is about documentation.

But essentially the first part of each book is getting the systems mindset, and that means you can walk down the street and you see separate systems; you don’t see this massive confusion.  I like to say “a mass confusion of sights, sounds and events”.  The barking dog over there has nothing to do with your belly ache, has nothing to do with the dog on the end of your leash.  And the trees when you’re walking by have nothing to do with each other; they’re all separate.  When you can drive down the road or walk down the street or sit in your house and really see that – that’s called the systems mindset.  And it usually comes in an instant, it comes in a flash.

It did for me, it happened one night.  I won’t go into how that happened, but I woke up the next morning and I saw the world differently.  And that was in 1999 and my whole life got cleaned up at that point.  I was a mess.  I was a mess in the business, I was a mess in my personal life. Everything cleaned up beautifully, because I started facing reality.

Do you know what it means to be red pilled, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Is that from The Matrix?

Sam Carpenter
Yeah, man.  It was the greatest science fiction movie ever made, in my mind.  So, listen to this: “Morpheus…”  And this is 1999.  “I’m trying to free your mind, but I can only show you the door.  You’re the one who has to walk through it.”  And so in the campuses there’s this thing called redpilling, and that is all of a sudden seeing reality for what it really is.

But back to The Systems Mindset – redpilling in my mind is seeing your life as a collection of separate systems.  Very few people will get it right away.  Some people who are listening to this get it right as they’re listening to it, but most don’t; it takes a couple of weeks.  Download the book, look at it – your life will change forever.  You’ll get what you want out of life.  I got everything I wanted out of life.

I’m going to run for governor for just the hell of it.  I mean, that’s not really true – I’m going to run for the hell of it because I’ve got the time, and I want to make some big changes in our state.  The forests are burning down, the government’s out of control. I mean, why not go for something big?  I see it in that sense: Why not do something big, because the rest of my life has come together so well?  I have the time and the money to do it.  I have more money than I need, I’ve got more time than I need.  This is something I can do.  And I’m in my late 60s, and this is the time of my life when I want to help.

I have a non-profit overseas and people say, “How come?”  And I say, Why not?”  There’s a bunch of teachers over there; you know what they make in these back-country Pakistan towns?  $15 a month, Pete.  And the kid’s tuition is $1 a month, and that’s high.  And so, I can go over there and get so much bang for my buck with my non-profit to help those kids. So if you could see your life in this way, everything comes together, everything starts to make sense and you start getting what you want out of life, because the reality is, your life is a collection of systems.  And if you treat it that way and go for the most dysfunctional systems first, or the biggest system that you think you can get a grip on, all of a sudden things will go your way.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you give us some examples then, in terms of for individuals for systems they have that are frequently dysfunctional, or how do we zero in on, “Of all the systems in my life, this one is probably the most dysfunctional and should get my attention first?

Sam Carpenter
Are you talking about in a business environment?

Pete Mockaitis
No, I’m just talking an individual professional.

Sam Carpenter
An individual professional.  Okay, number one – communications.  And so, that’s what we were talking about before we started talking here.  So, we have these tools; one’s called EVM, and we’ve been using it for many, many years.  It’s relatively new, and if you have an iPhone or Android, doesn’t matter, but there is a way to attach a voice message as an attachment on to an email.  It’s powerful stuff.  It’s how I run my companies.

So, I’ve got 40 people at Centratel.  I could get on the phone after we finish here and I could say, “Hey everybody, just want to let you know I’m coming back tomorrow.  I am, by the way, flying back from Kentucky.  And we had a great report, great numbers, our bottom line was terrific.  I just want to thank all of you.”  And I say that, I attach it to a group email and everybody gets it.  Josh – Josh is my field guy and we’re partners.  He’s in Phoenix, but he’s on the road all the time.  I don’t even know where he is most of the time.  So, “Hey Josh, I was thinking about this or that, and what do you think about this?  Get back to me.”  Well, he might not hear it for a few hours ’cause he’s working with a client, but he will get back to me in the same way.  We very rarely are on the phone at the same time, and it’s the same with my CEO, and it’s the same with my campaign people – very, very seldom.

So to the professional who’s got people that he or she works for, I would say, do that, because our tendency, Pete – maybe your tendency, and it used to be my tendency – is to sit down and write a long email.  I’m sorry, it takes 20 minutes; and with an EVM I can do the same in two minutes.  And you get your tonal inflection in there, the whole thing.  The only thing we document are processes, and anything that is very sensitive or complex information, we sit down and do an email.  So, if your professional is super efficient, they will be better at what they do.  And there’s other tools out there, other communication tools too.

One of the big things I changed recently, because this tool has been bugging me… And what happened was, I had my PC computer, we were down in Savannah, Georgia, and I lost it.  I lost it in the hotel.  It turned out somebody had found it and picked it up and it got put in the wrong place.  I ultimately found it three days later, but it ruined the vacation, because I knew half of it was on the Cloud and half of it wasn’t.  And Diana and I said… I know that I can get another PC and download most of it, but there’s so much that I’m going to miss and I’m going to be struggling to put the pieces together for a year, and it’s going to be like my house burned down.

So we had been talking and she’s kind of had the same problem, where booting her computers all day long.  It’s a Microsoft problem – sorry about that, Bill Gates.  But I got my computer back, everything was fine, but you know what we did?  We said, “To hell with it.  We’re switching to Apple’s computers.”  And we switched to the Mac Pro, and I’ll tell you what – replacing that system with this system was one of the best movies I made in the last 10 years.

Pete Mockaitis
And so now it automatically backs up then to the Cloud?

Sam Carpenter
Everything’s on the Cloud, everything makes sense, everything’s intuitive.  You know what?  What do you use, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
I also have a MacbookPro.

Sam Carpenter
Yeah.  So, everything’s intuitive, it never breaks, you could go a month without having to reboot it.  You know what I’m talking about.  I don’t know if you’ve ever dealt with a PC, but you want to kill yourself.  I’m sorry, you want to put a bullet in your head half the time.  And 30 years I was a PC user, because of the systems we used professionally in the call center.  I don’t need to do that anymore because I don’t do much in a call center.  I don’t do more than an hour of work a week at the call center.  So, the process, “How’s your computer doing?” or, “How’s your…”  We went from Androids to all iPhones, because they’re just more reliable, and everybody doesn’t have something different.  And I don’t care how many extra apps you can get on an Android; the basics never fail on the iPhone.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you tell me, this electronic voicemail – I assume that’s what EVM stands for – it sounds pretty handy.  How do I start doing that in my life?

Sam Carpenter
Well, there’s a native on the iPhone that works.  I like Say It & Mail It.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that a website I can go to?

Sam Carpenter
I think you can find it on Google.  I like that, I use them both.  Say It & Mail It – you’re pretty much limited to five or six minutes, and you can’t stop it and then start it again.  So if it’s something quick, you know what you’re saying, if I’m leaving a message for Diana or something – it’s real fast and I use that, and you can get it on an Android too.

Pete Mockaitis
So I can do this natively in email on my iPhone.  How does that work?

Sam Carpenter
Yeah, it’s there.

Pete Mockaitis
The menus, the settings for mail.  Okay, got it, cool.  So communications is one system – make sure that your technology isn’t causing you all kinds of headaches and frustrations and crashes and restarts and delays; your email isn’t dominating your life, in terms of lots of long messages that take a lot of time.  What are some other systems you think professionals can get some big gains?

Sam Carpenter
Yeah, here’s another more of a mental thing, and I know you’re into the mental part in the consulting you do.  Don’t ever have more than 30 emails in your inbox, okay?  Ever.  And you know what I do with my email?  I don’t have a task list – there is another simplification.  My task list is in my email.  When I open my computer and look at my inbox, all my tasks are there.  Oh, I have some on my calendar, like this one, so I don’t forget meeting with you today.  But I have all my tasks and all of my correspondence is in one place.  Obviously it’s on my iPhone too.  Think about those processes and systems.  So take apart your day.  What are the things that are frustrating you?  Figure out a way to make it really good, automate it, delegate it or delete it, and work on the processes of your life.  You know what I mean?

Your car.  Okay, so I have this argument with people all the time, and half your listeners won’t like what I’m going to say.  I don’t believe in buying a used car, because when you buy a used car, it’s used for a reason, usually, unless some young kid went off into the military and didn’t expect to, and this kid is perfect.  Some used cars out there are perfect, but why would you want to give up the best years of a car’s life – the good smell, you know it’s not going to break, you know you’ve got a great warranty.  I always buy a new car.  People say, “Well, as soon as you drive off the lot…”  Yeah, that’s true – as soon as you drive off the lot it loses value, but with a used car, the best years of its life are gone.  So you buy a used car with 40,000 miles – I’m sorry, it’s going to be the muffler, it’s going to be the belts, it’s going to break.  I guarantee you almost all the time there’s some big problem that made that car be a used car.  So, one of the systems I have in my life, one of these mental systems, is I buy close to the best and I always buy new.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool.

Sam Carpenter
These are head processes, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright.  Well, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Sam Carpenter
Well, another thing we did, and people can’t run right out and do this, but we built this house we’re in.  We moved in the last day of July, and this house is exactly the way we wanted, right to the size of the TV to where the hearth is to how the lights work.  Try to design where you live. But take the time to work on the place where you study, the place where you live, the place where you sleep.  Take the time to do it.  Clean the garage, get everything in order.

There’s that, and then you go back to the business.  You’ve got to document your primary systems if more than one person is doing the processes.  That’s number one, and it could be anything.  I don’t know what people do out there – they sell cars, they sell insurance, they’re working for a big corporation, they’re an engineer with a high tech company – you’ve got to document the main things that the people around you are supposed to do.

And it makes a lot of sense in some cases to document the processes you do, because when you get them down on paper, you can say to yourself sometimes, “Why am I doing this like that?”  And then you get them down on paper and you say, “Why am I doing this at all?”  And you get super efficient. And everything I’m doing with the campaign right now has to do with building the machinery of the campaign.  And when I get elected, I will go into Salem, Oregon and I will do the same thing there and work on the processes and the systems.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool.  Thank you.  Well, now could you share with us a favorite book?

Sam Carpenter
How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World – Harry Browne.  This was written a long time ago, back in the ’70s.  He did a second version in the ’90s.  He ran for president on a Libertarian ticket.  And he’s deceased now.  And it says, “Freedom is living your life the way you want to live it.  This book shows you how you can have that freedom now, without having to change the world or the people around you.”  It’s a brilliant book.  I don’t have any problems at all with it, and I’ve read it a number of times.  This hard copy here cost me $140 on Amazon, used.  It’s out of print.  And I give it to my very best friends and closest people and I say, “This is mandatory reading if you breathe.”  [laugh] It’s my favorite book.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.  And tell me – how about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours that’s effective?

Sam Carpenter
My clean-up habit.  So I take 30 minutes every day at some point during the day and I just clean stuff up – I pick up the table, I do something in the garage, the car may need it.  I spend 30 minutes a day, at least, cleaning up after myself.  Not that I’m a slob, but if nothing needs to be cleaned up, I do some organizational thing to jump ahead.  That is a really good personal habit to have.  And I exercise every day, of course.  Maybe not every day, but five days out of the week.  It’s so important to get some aerobic exercise and some resistance training if you can, to keep that brain system working right and keep this incredibly complex miracle that is our individual bodies working properly.  And I am convinced that aerobic, heavy breathing, pushing your heart, cures a lot of evils and cures a lot of problems that you’re never going to have.  It prevents them happening.

Here’s another saying, and this is mine: “You can’t measure the bad things that don’t happen.”  You can’t measure them.  And that’s a very important thing, and I think keeping the clutter picked up and getting out in the woods and climbing or skiing or doing whatever it is anybody wants to do, cycling – very important in keeping your brain together, but you can’t measure it really.  You can’t measure the good that it does you, and you can’t measure the bad things that it prevents.

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

Sam Carpenter
WorkTheSystem.com is a good place, and there is a link there to TheSystemsMindset.com, and you can go there.  And people can Google my name and there’s all kinds of stuff out there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool.  And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Sam Carpenter
Yes, I do.  Right now, right this moment, even if they’re not at their jobs, even if they’re driving in the car or listening to this on their smart phone walking down the street – just look around, wherever you are, even in your living room or your desk at work – but look around and see the separate systems around you.  As I described right at the beginning here, Pete, I don’t care what environment you’re in – you can see 100 separate systems around you if you look for them.  And do that little routine over and over, and all of a sudden it’ll dawn on you, “Oh my God, that’s the way the world’s put together.”

My big TV down here has nothing to do with what goes on in the laundry room over here, with the washer.  They just have nothing to do with each other; they’re separate from each other.  Yes, they all work together – I get that.  But here’s the thing – let me leave you with this – if you walk down the street and you get hit by a car and your leg is shattered, you know what?  They’re not going to take you to a dermatologist.  You’re going to go to an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in that.  And so, keep that in mind – the people who do well in life learn to compartmentalize the world around them, so they can find the dysfunction, see the dysfunction and get it fixed.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, beautiful.  Well Sam, thanks so much for taking this time here off the campaign trail and such, and I wish you much luck in the systems of life and the impacts you’re looking to make!

Sam Carpenter
Well, thank you, Pete, I enjoyed this.  Will catch you later.

238: The Ingredients of a Great First Impression with Ann Demarais

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Executive coach Ann Demarais highlights ways to become more socially generous and how to make an awesome first impression.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The most common interpersonal flaws–and how to fix them
  2. Four universally-appreciated social gifts that you can give
  3. How to bounce back from a bad first impression

About Ann 

 

Ann Demarais, the founder of First Impressions, has more than 20 years of experience in applied psychology, specializing in interpersonal communication, impression management, social skills, and executive coaching. She works with senior executives who want to enhance their leadership impact.  She was a consultant to the Social Intelligence Program at Columbia University Business School; her client list includes Verizon, Hilton Hotels, Disney, Bank of America, Xerox, CitiGroup, JPMorgan, and the FBI among many others.  Ann is co-author of First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You, which was published by Random House and translated into 24 languages.  Ann holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from New York University.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ann Demarais Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Ann, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Ann Demarais
Oh, I’m so excited, Pete. Thanks for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I think we’re going to have so much fun at the end of this. And I understand that there is an interesting backstory behind your company First Impressions. Can we hear it?

Ann Demarais
Well, I started First Impressions from doing a lot of executive coaching and leadership workshops in the corporate world, and I realized that the core skills that actually make you awesome at work and in life are interpersonal skills and self-presentation, so I took some of the corporate methodologies to the personal world as well, and give people feedback by how they come across not just in business settings but in job interviews and even simulated first states. And we do seminars on these topics, so it’s really a deep dive into self-presentation.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, simulated first states, is that something that you came up with as a means of helping folks improve their skills? Or how did that emerge?

Ann Demarais
Yes, we realized that this kind of methodology of giving people feedback about how they come across is really, really powerful but was only available to people in the corporate world or actually in the other end in like psychiatric hospitals, but for the average man on the street there wasn’t an opportunity to get feedback about how they come across socially and interpersonally.

So, my business partner at the time, Valerie White and I started this business where we would thought, “Who will be most interested?” and we thought people on the dating world, so we actually did create and launched the very first – others are doing it now – but we had the very first simulated first state business model.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so cool. And so, then, I have some friends, we’ve talked about how some people could use some help and we’d be happy to give it to them, so that must’ve been interesting.

Ann Demarais
Yeah, and it’s awkward to give it to your friends so that’s why it’s helpful to go to a professional. So, yes, it was really interesting, met fabulous people, and people learned a real lot. They have blind spots they never knew before. They got that kind of feedback.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, yeah, that’s exactly what I’d like to go next in terms of these blind spots. What are some of things you see over and over again, that people, they just don’t even realize others are perceiving or inferring about them?

Ann Demarais
Well, there’s so many ways that we do some things, Pete, that are positive and send a positive message, and then there’s some things we do that send unintended negative messages, and so there’s a lot of ways that people kind of blind spots. We just don’t see ourselves the way others do. Like when we hear ourselves on audio or even video tape, it seems awkward, so there’s lots of these blind spots.

So, some of the common ones, which I can share a little bit of, is, well, one is called conversational narcissism, and that means talking a lot about yourself, using “I” statements, and talking about your world, your family, your work, etcetera. And it’s actually more common than you realize, and people just sometimes aren’t aware that they’re going on about themselves just because it’s interesting and top of mind.

But it’s an easy fix if you know you have this tendency or you find yourself speaking a little bit more, a little bit longer than you intended about yourself. You can just shift and say, “So, tell me, Pete, about you and tell me about your world. I was just talking about X. You share what you’re doing in that area.” So, it’s a common flaw with an easy fix.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. What else?

Ann Demarais
Well, another one, there’s people that do research, interestingly, about topics and which are the most appealing and least appealing. The least appealing topic is what they called negative egocentrism. That’s complaining about one’s problems. Again, these top of minds, like the big ones, “My computer glitched.” “My iPhone has this problem.” These kinds of things are really, really boring to other people, especially people you’ve just met.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Ann, I really appreciate you saying this because sometimes people do this, and I’m thinking, “I don’t care,” and then I feel like, “Oh, Pete, you should be more compassionate. You should be more kind in listening.” But you’re telling me, “No, Pete, it’s universally people don’t really want to hear it.”

Ann Demarais
We could talk about how to turn that more positively but it is a universally-unappealing topic, and you’re reacting the way most people do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m not jerk.

Ann Demarais
But sometimes we all might fall into a pattern of whining about this so it’s a good thing to have a little self-check about, “I’ve complained about a problem I might have.” It’s good to remember that it’s really an unappealing and it’s a real downer.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Ann Demarais
So, another thing that research has shown is, again, this negativity thing. speaking negatively about other, so if you describe someone as being like lazy and tedious, or boring or something, we have this mental modeling, they call it, where we sometimes leave the conversation confused, and sometimes remember you as the person with those negative traits.

So, if on the other hand you describe someone, your colleague that’s like really creative and strategic and fun and all these things, after the conversation, people might project those qualities on you, so it’s in your self-interest. First of all, it’s more interesting and not as boring as this negative, but it’s in your self-interest to speak positively about other people. It creates a good vibe and it actually makes you seem more awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Oh, I like that. So very, very helpful stuff there in terms of narcissism as me, me, me, me, me, complaining about a problem that I’m experiencing, speaking negatively about others are all sort of, it sounds like are some universal things that are not a winning approach. And so, then, I’d love to get your take then when it comes to some of the particulars that we have, our own blind spots, by definition, I guess we don’t know about them. So, how can we know how we’re making other people feel? I understand you got a framework associated with four ways to focus.

Ann Demarais
Yeah. So, at any conversation with, say, two people, there’s different ways we focus. The first is how I’m feeling. So, if I’m meeting a new client I might be feeling nervous or confident or uncomfortable or whatever, just pops to my awareness. It’s a natural focus. But then, after a little while, I might think, “Okay. Well, how do I think about this other person? What are my thoughts or feelings about them?”

And then the third way is, eventually if I know I’m being evaluated like I’m on a client pitch or a job interview, I might think, “What’s this person? What’s Pete thinking about me? I’m kind of curious about that.” But the one way we don’t typically focus is on how is that person feeling about him or herself, and how is my interaction with them impacting them, with the aim to like be more socially generous.

So, if you use it as a framework to be socially generous, make other people feel better about themselves, you’ll make a more awesome impression.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Ann, I dig that because I was chucking along, I was like, “Okay, this is like a little two-by-two we’re talking about here in terms of us and them and then the feelings.” And you’re right, how are they feeling about themselves is not active question that I’m pursuing in my internal dialogue very much. And so, I guess I’m wondering, how could we even know how they’re feeling about themselves? And what are some key things that we can do to, I guess, help them feel better if they’re feeling bad in certain ways?

Ann Demarais
Well, it’s a good question. Yeah, it’s a really good question. People are saying, like, “Well, I’d like to be more socially generous. I give money to charity but I don’t think about giving to other people.” And people have different things they like out of interactions but there some universals. We call them social gifts, things that most people like.

So, there’s four of them. The first one is feeling appreciated. So, if you have a colleague that said something that you think is interesting or does something creative, and you point that out rather than remaining quiet, then that people feel good and they feel like you respect their talents or accomplishments. It’s just a universally positive thing to feel respected in that regard.

The next one is feeling connected. We all like to feel part of a larger, connected, interdependent group. So, if you say something, and I say, “I feel the same way, too,” or, “I share that value,” or, “I have that experience,” or, “I agree with you.” That makes that, that’s a gift of connection.

The third one is just making people feel a sense of elevation, a little levity. We probably all know people that when you talk to them, they put a smile on your face, you’re happy. Most people it’s kind of neutral, and then there’s kind of the Debbie-downers, so it’s good to think about, “What about you? Do you like…?” It doesn’t mean you have to be a jokester, but just having more kind of uplifting manner and mood about you is a gift. Most people like to feel elevated.

And the last is what we call enlightenment, like providing information, sharing your ideas, or having new information, or putting things out on the table there. It makes you more interesting, and it’s enlightening them with more fun facts and things. So, having these four things, if maybe you know someone offhand that kind of provides you with these things, makes you feel smart and puts you in a fun mood, and they’re interesting, very charismatic, really strong leadership qualities.

But if you’re like most people, you may have a stronger suit like you might be really informative but you don’t get out of your way to make people feel appreciated, so you might be depriving them of that kind of feeling and warmth, and you’re not as generous in that area. If you think about maybe where you are strong and weak you can tweak that and go out of your way to say, “Gee, I don’t really go out.” Think about complimenting people, and, “Maybe I should, in a genuine way, and that will make them feel better, and so they’ll feel better from having interacted with me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, I’m right now thinking about my former roommate, Dave, who just everybody loves, and I think he very much does some of these things in terms of appreciating and respecting, feeling connected, and then the levity and enlightenment. And sometimes I’m just thinking about a time where I was playing some old-school dorky computer game that I love in my childhood called Master of Orion, and I was all fired up because you’re trying to take over the galaxy and that’s the idea, it’s like, “nobody really cares if you start talking about this to people.”

So, I was playing the game and I went back to the kitchen, and he’s like, “Hey, how are you doing?” And I was like, “Oh, I’m awesome because I’ve got all these missile bases, they can’t touch me and I’m just smoking the other guys.” And he’s like, “Well, how many missile bases do you have?” I was like, “Well, I’ve got like 120.” He’s like, “How many do they have?” And I was like, “Forty.” And he’s like, “Wow! You’re going to destroy them.”

Ann Demarais
So, he was like generally interested and totally engaged in your world.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I don’t think he was really interested, but in a way there was that levity in that he’s going to appreciate and respect me in so far as he’s like, “I know you’re excited about this right now, and I think that’s cool. I like that you’re excited and we can sort of connect about that a little bit.” And then we can just have a little bit of a laugh associated with, “Well, what if those missile bases have some crazy shields. What do I do?”

[00:12:12]

And so, I thought that was just noteworthy because, well, everyone loves Dave, and Dave engaged me in that conversation in a way that most people really don’t. It’s like, “All right. Good luck, dude.” So, they just conclude it pretty quickly.

Ann Demarais
Right. So, he was connecting and elevating and actually respecting how many bases you had or whatever, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I think the levity in particular is just like I don’t know how you teach or to deliver that, but I guess part of it is smiles and laughs and eye contact and a vocal intonation, that’s like, “Oh,” that sounds a little kind of interested. But what are some of the key ways or practices, I should say, that folks who bring that?

Ann Demarais
Part of it is being in the moment. I mean, he was in the moment. He was listening intently. He was engaging and really exploring that, so that’s a really good thing. And also finding fun in something, like sort of the positive, “Hey, this is so great. Pete is having a great time.” Like you said, he’s like just feeding off of that positive mood and giving you back more of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s great way to say it, feeding off the positive mood and giving back more of it. And I think when it comes to the appreciation, sometimes, I recall once I was on a date and it wasn’t so great, and I was wondering, “Why is that?” And maybe one or both of us could’ve used your services to have improved it. And I think it was like I would say something and she just sort of said, “Okay.” It’s almost like the opposite of improv, “Yes, and…” instead of entering my world. Maybe it was silly. Maybe it was different. I don’t know. Maybe it was odd. I don’t know.

But instead of entering that world, she just sort of put the kibosh on it as opposed to even just acknowledging something that someone said and then taking another step into it, I think, it feels like you’re being appreciated.

Ann Demarais
Yes, it’s a strong feeling, right? It feels really good. And, back to that, asking open-ended questions, which was what your roommate was doing, like, “How many?” and just exploring. And rather than having this sort of superficial conversations where it just ends or asking a close-ended question, that shows a genuine curiosity. And cultivating that actually yields unexpected results.

Like sometimes we don’t think this person is going to be interesting. And if you explore a little below the surface you find really interesting things in people. And so, if you can let go of our self-focus, really explore, discover other people, you can find lots of fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you share, maybe in terms of that curiosity, I guess maybe some of the questions that you ask yourself to stoke the curiosity, as well as questions you ask your conversation partner to get into more intriguing realms of conversation?

Ann Demarais
Yes, so showing interests is one of the most important fundamentals of making a positive impression. And if you remember nothing else from this, this is one of the most powerful techniques to use, is to show interests. There’s a physical focus in the eye contact, these open-ended questions, and then one of the easiest things to do is to say, “Oh, that reminds me of me. I used to play this other video game, and let me tell you about that, and this fantastic time when I blew up all the galaxies.” It’s very easy to segue back to our own world and steal the spotlight away.

So, it’s one thing to be super mindful of even if you’re dying to share your story to try to keep the spotlight on the other person, and that means really managing your distractions and being able to stay in the moment with that person and relate to what they’re saying. It’s not that hard to do. It just takes a little bit of practice and a little bit of checking some tendencies of segueing.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you.

Ann Demarais
Sometimes people even segue back to themselves as a way to showcase some positive qualities about themselves, so they sometimes do it deliberately to like talk about themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
“One time I conquered the galaxy when I was outnumbered five-to-one.”

Ann Demarais
Exactly. So, that’s a really, really important fundamental of making an awesome impression. So, part of what we do – and, by the way, we have a book called First Impressions – What You Don’t Know About How Others See You – is break it down into what are the key things that make people have a strong impression and come across awesomely, that’s one of the big ones. Making yourself accessible with your body language and mood, being more proactive in introducing yourself rather than passive, is it allows people to kind of connect with you and feel more comfort around you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s just a matter of walking right up to folks and saying hello and shaking hands. Or any particulars to note there?

Ann Demarais
Oh, you know, we’ve all walked into a party or a conference where we really don’t know anyone, and there’s a sort of the choice between sort of standing in the corner with your cocktail or going up and introducing yourself, and it’s a discomfort that lot of us have to overcome. So, having that, you’ll look better and you’ll look more confident and you’ll feel better if you take the active versus the passive approach. Go up to a person that’s standing alone who’s probably dying to talk to someone.

Be okay with going up to other people. Invite other people to join you. It makes other people feel more comfortable around you. You’re easy to connect with. Now, obviously, in some situations people are going to be having an intense conversation that you can’t bust into. But if you practice more often, just going up and saying, “I’m Pete. I’m with this organization, blah, blah, blah,” it just makes everyone more comfortable around you and then they could see you in that light.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, we got that showing interests, we got the accessibility. What are some of the other key fundamentals?

Ann Demarais
All right. So, then, you’re at a conference and you’d have to figure out what to talk about, your mutual blank slates. What do you talk about? Do you jump into your position on gun control or politics? So, generally, you want to like sort of ease in. You want to like establish trust and comfort with someone before you jump into like more heady things that are even more interesting but it really sounds kind of banal but talking about just the moment, the weather, the situation, the music that’s playing, that just makes people feel like you’re a nice and normal person and we’re sharing the same space.

Then talk about the facts, like, “Hey, what’s going on in the company?” or, “What’s going on in this conference?” and just sharing those kinds of things. And then, if you have that kind of trust and rapport, then you can talk more about opinions, “Hey, what do you think about that speaker?” or, “What do you think about what’s going on in the office politics, etcetera?” You can go into that. Then if you disagree you still have such a foundation of maybe connection that you can work through those things and really enjoy that person rather than jumping into things.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s’ why I like that segmentation there in terms of a) the situation, b) facts, and c) opinions, because opinions, even if they’re not like, I don’t know, gun control, abortion, Donald Trump, insert high-controversy matter. Even if the opinion is like the speaker, that does feel a little bit, well, I guess maybe significantly more sensitive in so far as, “Well, I don’t know, is that speaker like your cousin? I thought they’re really boring,” that might be offensive to you.

Or, if this is a high point of passion for you, and I say that, “I thought it was dumb and completely unnecessary,” that could be destructive. So, you’re right, like the opinion, even if it’s maybe potentially innocuous, like the speaker or the food, that is more sensitive than facts or the situation.

Ann Demarais
So, it’s just easing in and establishing trust and connection, and then you can go a little bit further. And it’s important in the beginning to kind of be brief and then make sure that you’re not talking at people and you’re talking with them. Sometimes people fall into a pattern of sermonizing, trying to convince people of their way of thinking, Lecturing. Men tend to do a little bit of this. They know something out of topic and they like to talk about it, male-pattern lecturing.

When I talk to men after they do this, they often say it makes them feel good. They feel like they’re informing people. They feel smart. And so, it’s just you have to remember that you’re pinning someone as an audience member, depriving them, again, of those other social gifts. Women have a tendency to tell long stories about people that other people don’t know, “My friend is having this relationship problem, blah, blah, blah,” that is unappealing in a lot of situations.

So, you want to be careful not to go into kind of talking at people, not getting too heavy or banal. So those are some ways to sort of think about topics of the world. Then another thing that’s helpful to know is to self-disclose. We all sort of know that we should share basic demographics about ourselves. The more you do, I mean, there’s this whole movement towards being authentic at work, right? So, you want to be like a whole person and be honest.

And then, if you do share parts of yourself, then people feel more trust and psychological safety with you, they’re easier to collaborate with you. Of course, there are some guardrails. You want to keep it, again, having some levity and you don’t want to go into something that’s too deep and personal and making people feel awkward. But if you can give people portals to talk to you about things other than work they feel more comfortable around you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good.

Ann Demarais
So, things that are good to share are like your passions, what really sparks you, what galaxies you like to go to, etcetera, vulnerabilities are humanizing, “You know, I screwed up on this. I feel like such a dope or whatever.” It just makes you feel – it makes people feel comfortable around you.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then, I’d love a couple of guidelines there with regard to how much is too much. It seems like my hunch is you could probably disclose a bit more vulnerability than you feel like you can disclose, hence the word vulnerable and what it means. But do you have any kind of clear don’ts with regard to your self-disclosure?

Ann Demarais
I don’t know if there’s any hard or fast rules, but you might want to sort of match. So, if you share something, and someone shares something back, that’s giving you kind of the green light, but if people seem uncomfortable then you might be oversharing. And, again, a lot of like negative stuff, you had this knockdown dragged out fight with your significant other the night before might be uncomfortable for people to hear so you might want to be kind of careful about that. But that said, the more people feel complimented if you share things about yourself than they wouldn’t know unless you share with them. It says, “I like you.” It says, “I trust you.”

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s really true. I’m thinking about some people, and it’s like, “Man, you know what? I feel like I’m really close with that guy.” And then I come to learn, “Wait a minute, he discloses that with everybody.” So, I guess I’m still close with that guy but I guess I’m not like special.

Ann Demarais
You thought he was your closest buddy.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. But I had inferred that we had a pretty privilege relationship based upon, “Well, he really just sort of shared what was going on with that girl and her moving and all the implications of how it’s tough.” It’s like, “Man, me and this guy, we’re tight.” And then it’s like, “Oh, I guess he’s shared that with many people.”

Ann Demarais
But you had that experience, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Totally, yes.

Ann Demarais
The compliment, “He likes me enough,” right?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Ann Demarais
So, I mean, I think the more better, you have to sort of understand that the culture of the workplace that you’re in, which is going to vary, but, yes, it makes people feel more comfortable around you.

So, the next fundamental is kind of the dynamics of the conversation, like the rhythm, the speed, the intensity, who talks more, etcetera. You’ve probably all been in meetings where you notice that some people talk a lot more than other people. The natural extroverts are going to just narrate their thoughts and ramble, and the natural introverts maybe need a little bit more time to speak and will speak less.

So, these things really affect how people show up and how much that they share and how they make other people feel, so it’s really helpful to think about yourself. Like if you’re in a meeting of four people, you should probably be speaking, on average, a quarter of the time. Are you someone that typically speaks more than your quarter or less than your quarter, kind of thing? And so, being able to synchronize with the other person will really increase the quality of your interaction and how they feel around you.

So, some tips for this. If you’re an over-talker, before you go into a meeting, give yourself a budget, “I only get X number of minutes,” whatever the math gives you, and kind of like highlight the key things you want to speak to. If you’re someone that kind of under-speaks, make sure that you think in advance of some things you want to introduce so that you’ve kind of teed them up, and try to speak earlier in the meeting, try to say something even procedural, like, “Hey, thanks for the agenda, Pete,” and just get yourself kind of as a presence at the table.

And so, it’s about the speed, intensity, whether you pause for others, how you synchronize. Another key thing, it’s almost inevitable that two people will speak at the same time in some interaction, I think you and I already have, and it’s just part of life. And then whether you yield typically or regain the floor sends a message. If you yield, it’s like saying, “Pete, whatever you have to say it’s way more interesting than what I wanted to share.” But if I over-talk you it sends the opposite message.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I’d be very careful not to talk at the same time. But if I did I would yield to you, Ann. I would yield. I’ve learned. I’m learning.

Ann Demarais
It’s okay. It’s part of nature to speak at the same time. All right, my next fundamental is perspective. That’s kind of the psychological self-presentation you make, whether you show flexibility, how positive or negative, whether you present yourself as a victim, blame your boss for things or superior or inferior. All these things can come out and may or may not serve you well.

In general, as you probably would guess, it’s better to be flexible and positive and sort of equal with people rather than blameful or negative. But some people have a blind spot, they think, “Well, I’m not complaining. I’m just explaining. It doesn’t mean that I’m being negative about this.” So, it might be something to be aware of if your patterns are sending a message you didn’t intend.

And the last one is your physical presentation, and that’s really about how you kind of show up physically. And regardless of how you look or your age, whether you show pride versus shame in your body really affects kind of the confidence that you project and whether you have impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Pride versus shame.

Ann Demarais
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, can you give us some examples of what a prideful versus shameful presentation looks like?

Ann Demarais
Well, the classic example is Superman or Clark Kent, right? Same body. And you can see women that would be considered like large or not sexy, like Queen Latifah, shows up like, “I am the queen.” She has this incredible confidence, wears form-fitting things, and she’s just magnetic, right? So, there’s people that can just show up and have all the confidence in the world, and there’s some people that can be fabulous-looking and just sort of recoil. So, there is an expansiveness about pride, and a sort of recoiling about shame.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, what I’m thinking about power posing, Amy Cuddy, like you say expansive poses. And what are some of the other ingredients there?

Ann Demarais
Yes, so Amy Cuddy’s work, as you may know, has gotten some scrutiny but I’m actually an advocate and find it personally to be beneficial. So, if the listening audience doesn’t know, she proposes expanding your body for two minutes before you have a presentation in like a starfish or like a Wonder Woman, and it can give you more confidence and you feel stronger and less nervous in new situations.

But there is data that I’ve read before she came out with hers, that when you naturally assign people to superior versus inferior role just randomly like with subjects in and experiment, the teacher or the superior roles naturally spreads their arms further and takes up more physical space. It’s almost ingrained in our behavior, in our role-taking, and the subordinate would be more kind of smaller, make one’s self smaller.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s one sort of ingredient or dimension associated with presentation, is do you feel like, “Oh, I don’t deserve to take up this space”? You’re very timid versus, “I am the queen,” or just sort of occupying that Superman and Clark Kent. What are some of the other dimensions or ingredients associated with sort of a strong presentation?

Ann Demarais
So, strong body language, and there’s a lot of research that are unfounded but there are some things that are really strong and are supported with projecting power. So, having a good physical posture. So, you can notice, and actually before you give a presentation, use your little devices and videotape yourself. Do you have a strong, you know, your shoulders out? Or do you slouch it all? That makes a really big difference.

Leaning in slightly versus leaning back, even in a meeting, shows interest and power and engagement. Eye contact really matters a lot. So, there’s data showing that most people make eye contact about 50%-60% of the time. If you go above that it’s still even better because it shows really like you’re focused and all that charismatic kind of attention on someone.

If you go below that, you can look distrustful or uncomfortable. And when I work with people that don’t make the average amount of eye contact, they often don’t know because they look away before others so they don’t really get the data, so to speak. So, if you have any sense that you might be like that, or you’re not sure, it’s really helpful to ask somebody to give you some feedback on that because it really makes a difference and it’s something that you can train yourself over time to just go past your comfort point and just in eye contact with someone.

And then smiling.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, okay, just because we’re on the eye contact point. When it comes to that, I would love your take on should you look right at the person’s eyeball or pupil or eyebrow, their nose, the left eye, the right eye? Is there an optimal means of making eye contact?

Ann Demarais
Most of the studies I’ve seen shown that people actually sort of scan around that space. They don’t necessarily lock left eye to right eye, etcetera. But looking around that person’s facial area constitutes eye contact. It’s when people look at the walls. People kind of feel that they need a blank visual to think, and that like a face is sort of like visually noisy. So, you don’t have to worry about the percentage of time you’re looking at the brow versus the eyes, but looking in that general area would do, would give that impression.

And then the smiling one, which we talked about before, it’s so powerful that it affects people’s behavior, that the study that they have people smile upon people, or not smile upon them on the street, and then later have someone drop something. The smiled-upon people are more likely to pick something up for the person than the ones that didn’t get smiled upon. A very like brief, like one-second smile affects people’s mood and their actual behavior.

So, when you smile, you’re kind of projecting that physical confidence, and you’re projecting that presence, that pride, that you’re happy, that you’re safe, and that you’re a positive person, and it affects the world around you in this really nice way.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s nice. Thank you. All right. Well, so then, I’m wondering now, these are a nice sort of set of great ingredients for making a solid first impression. Any particular tweaks or emphasis you’d put on this when it comes to in the work environment so that it’s really coming across in great ways with the people you see not just once but again and again and again?

Ann Demarais
Sure, I have some tips. Well, one thing that’s so fabulous about being in the workplace compared to the social is you can get feedback from these things. Your boss’ job is to give you feedback, and if you solicit the feedback it even makes you look really proactive and development-oriented. So, if you have any suspicion that maybe you could be better at any of these things we talked about, you can go to your boss and say, “Hey, I’d love to know how I come across when I’m presenting. Do you have any feedback about my body language? How about my communication style in meetings? Do you think I speak the right amount? Should I speak more or less, etcetera?”

In the social world, no one will give you this. And when you were on the date that didn’t go well, no one gave you any feedback, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Ann Demarais
So, it’s so wonderful that it actually affects the bottom line, and your manager would probably love to tell you this, or you could get a mentor, or ask a trusted colleague. But the key things you want to do that really are going to make you awesome is making yourself accessible. There’s something about this now, this big movement towards psychological safety so that you can make people feel comfortable around you, comfortable to raise ideas, to maybe debate things.

So, when you make, by disclosing things and making people feel good around you, you create that kind of feeling of trust and safety, and that fosters much better collaboration and much better workflow in environment, so that’s an easy and really helpful thing you can do. Again, being interested and coming in to meetings with, yes, you’ve got some ideas, but really opening your heart, being other-oriented exploring.

If someone says something that you think is really a bad idea, challenge yourself to say, “Hey, I never thought of that way. Can you tell me more about that point of view?” That can help you to cultivate that curiosity that will make you actually available to more ideas and are more comfortable as a collaborator.

And then, again, being careful to present yourself as a whole person and making sure that people feel that they know you – this is why they do a lot of team building – that you’re someone that they can go to and trust and feel that you care about them. So, going back to being like my social generosity framework, being generous to people so that they feel good about themselves from interacting with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and it’s interesting, even as we’re chatting, I’ve heard you used the word awesome several times, and I don’t know if that’s just part of your common vernacular or if this is a conscientious choice on your part with the name of the show How To Be Awesome At Your Job, and word choice. Is there something to that when it comes to using a social gift and being endearing using the words that the person you’re speaking with uses?

Ann Demarais
Yes, very good catch there, Pete. Yes, if you use other people’s vocabulary, if they call something and it’s as not the word you normally choose to use, adapt to the other person’s vocabulary, so that does make people feel more connected to you. Try to make it easier for them, use their words. So, I was using the word awesome, I like the word awesome a lot but I was adapting it to your awesomeness in your podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s like I’m endeared each time you say it, so it’s working. Well, so then, I’m wondering if, let’s say, the first impression is not so good, and we’ve made some mistakes, failed to be generous, violating some of the fundamentals of a good first impression. What can we do if we have a suboptimal first impression? Is it possible to overcome it?

Ann Demarais
Yes, and it happens to the best of us. So, it’s, again, part of life. Yes, you can, if you’re going to see the person again, if they’re going to be a new colleague or client. If they’re someone you’re not going to see again it would be inappropriate to track them down to try to correct it. But if it’s someone that you’re going to see, you can sort of do a little bit of a correction. You can send them an email.

I prefer sending an email rather than calling them and putting them on the spot, and say, “Hey, you know, I was really tired when we met the other day, and sometimes when that happens I do acts, it’s like I talk a lot more. And I apologize, that’s not how I really am, and I’m really want to get to know you, so I look forward to learning more about you in our next interaction.” People often feel endeared by an apology, and it can help to reset things more quickly.

Like, of course, you have to correct your behavior the next time or you dig yourself deeper. But you can do that and I think not putting them on the spot is more comfortable than saying that directly and having them having to react to it in the moment. If you’re uncomfortable doing that, over time your future positive behaviors will tip the scale and they’ll see you as this really great person that you really are and not that one annoying-style person that you were that first time.

It takes working kind of uphill. As I said in the beginning, we form impressions kind of quickly and unconsciously, and people expect us to behave in the same kind of way all the time, so you’re fighting that but you can overcome it. Or you can be using the social generosity framework. If you know that person likes a lot of levity or they like lots of information, you can adapt yourself to what they like and give them more of the kind of the social gifts that they like, and then you might tip the scales more quickly. So, it is very possible to recover.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, Ann, this has been so much good stuff. Now, 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?

Ann Demarais
No, I think those are the key things, there’s a lot here. Of course, we have this book that I mentioned. And on our website, we have these tables that are a great tool that are like positive behaviors that you do with positive impact, and then some that you do that have an unintended negative impact, and you can print them out and kind of self-evaluate, “Do I do that? Do I do that sometimes? Often? Rarely?” It’s kind of a little self-awareness tool that’s really helpful and then it can inspire you to try to experiment so that you come across more positively.

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

Ann Demarais
Oh, I have this. It’s actually on the end of our book. It’s Goethe, and I don’t know if I’m pronouncing his name correctly.

Pete Mockaitis
Goth?

Ann Demarais
Goth? Yes, Goth.

Pete Mockaitis
I never know either. Goethe?

Ann Demarais
Something like that. I’ll use your word. Goethe or Goth? And he wrote this, it says, “I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations it’s my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or deescalated, and a person is humanized or dehumanized.” So, I think it’s really helpful to realize how much power we have to impact other people around us.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s excellent. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Ann Demarais
A favorite book. Well, I’m a huge fan of Dale Carnegie’s How to.Win Friends and Influence People       which I think is just a great classic. If you haven’t read it, it’s like 100 years old or something but it’s brilliant. There’s been so many great writers on this topic and it is something that which I find interesting is it’s not complicated or hard to understand, but it’s just not intuitive. So, there’s many, many people that have spoken about it in really interesting ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

Ann Demarais
So, I think this tool that I mentioned of using self-analysis on how you behave, and I also am a huge fan of asking for feedback. And it’s something you can do with people and you have to practice, saying thank you and not debating it, and just processing it and taking note of it, so that’s a really great tool.

Another tool I use with my coach-ees is think about how much you respect people, like in your heart of hearts. I call it a respect matrix. All the people, some of them are eight, some of them are twos, some of them are fives, with ten being high. Then thinking about how transparent are you. To the people that are eights, they probably know that you like them because you behave so positively to them. But to the people that are like twos and fives, do they know that? Do you show how much you truly respect people? Or do you aim to show a higher respect than you really feel?

And then my next kind of question on that is, “What’s your goal?” And I would argue that if you try to make everyone feel like a ten in your eyes, like they’re your favorite child, that you see something really positive and that you respect them for who they are and where they’re coming from, that you have a really positive impact on people.

And so, sometimes with people that you just naturally aren’t drawn to or don’t like is just part of human nature, seek to learn more about them, try to find something that you really would genuinely find interesting about them, and there’s people that have lots of depth.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Ann Demarais
So, I think that – and since I’m in the personal improvement industry – if you try to think about just one thing that you want to improve on yourself and make it kind of like a goal, it could be something as simple as smiling a couple more times per day, and focus on that for a while until you make it a new habit.

And so, make it something like you put down in your calendar or your to-do list or whatever it is, and challenge yourself, because these little tiny things that you do, even if you do them, especially if you do them early in your career, will pay you huge dividends. And sometimes a slight effort or a little bit out of your comfort zone that really not only is good for you but think again with the pay-it-forward. The more you do these things and make other people happy around you, the more you spread like really positive vibes, so think about the people around you as much as yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And is there a particular nugget or articulation of your message you share that seems to really connect with folks in terms of they’re taking notes and nodding their heads all the more vigorously when you say it?

Ann Demarais
Well, I think I go back to my generosity thing in thinking about that you can give money, and you can donate your time, and you can walk your walks for different medical conditions. We all do all these things all the time, but we sometimes forget to just be enlightening and make someone feel happier, and that it’s such an easy thing to do. And that, again, it can sort of spread and there’s this like contagion of it. And that, if we all were more socially generous, it would be a happier and warmer world.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And is there a place you’d like to point people if they want to learn more or get in touch?

Ann Demarais
Sure. We have a website, of course. It’s www.FirstImpressionsConsulting.com, and we offer coaching, we have those tables, we have seminars, other information, etcetera.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Ann Demarais
Call to action is to find that one thing that they want to work on and commit to it and ask for feedback and make it part of your everyday life or throughout your career. Always try to find one thing to tweak, one way to be just slightly better, and be mindful of that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Ann, thank you so much for taking this time. This has been very informative and I appreciate it and I hope you have tremendous first impressions with whomever you meet.

Ann Demarais
All right. Thanks so much, Pete. It was a lot of fun.

237: Crafting Memorable Stories with Dr. Carmen Simon

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Carmen Simon shows how to become impossible to ignore by integrating the right components to influence our audience’s minds.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three components of a good story
  2. Why causation in a story can be both sexy and tricky at the same time
  3. Why relatable emotions are more important than strong emotions

About Carmen 

Dr. Carmen Simon is a Cognitive Neuroscientist and Founder of Memzy. She has applied the latest neuroscience research findings to deliver workshops, design, and consulting services. Carmen is a published author and a frequent keynote speaker at conferences in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia. She holds doctorates in instructional technology and cognitive psychology, and uses her knowledge to offer business professionals a flashlight and a magnet: one to call attention to what’s important in a message, the other to make it stick to the audience’s brain so they can act on it. Carmen’s brain science coaching helps business professionals motivate listeners and stand out from too much sameness in the industry.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dr. Carmen Simon Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Carmen, welcome back to the How to Be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Carmen Simon
Thank you. Thank you so much and welcome back, everyone.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s so fun. There’s only been about three guests who have done, well, exactly three, I believe, who have made a repeat appearance, so welcome. It’s cool to have you in the club here.

Carmen Simon
Thank you so much. And, you know, repetition is the mother of memory so repeated exposure with yet some statements that people remember.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is well-played. You know, Skype just informed me that your birthday is on New Year’s Day.

Carmen Simon
Oh, I wonder how it got that information. No, it’s actually equally cool birthday. I’m a Halloween baby.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding? Well, maybe you just set said, “Forget this, Skype. I’m not telling you my birthday. I’m filling in, oh, 1-01.”

Carmen Simon
Yes, it’s relinking this with the concept of memory. False memories are very much of a cautionary topic for all of us.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was intrigued because our baby, the due date is January 1.

Carmen Simon
Oh, there you go. Always at the crossroads for new beginnings. That’s nice.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I guess you’ll be unlikely to share a birthday with our child, but you’re still close in our hearts. It’s so sweet of you to ask for our wedding photo, and I sent you one very belatedly as well. I’ll follow with my thank you notes which is very belated.

Carmen Simon
Thank you so much. Thank you, thank you and congratulations. Once again what beautiful pictures.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And I just learned that you were once an interpreter at the UN. Can you tell us a bit about that experience, that story?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, what a great job to run the nest on. It wasn’t the Nicole Kidman type but operating in similar environments. So, at the time there was the Bosnia war going if you imagine. Remember the embargo that was placed over Bosnia, so the group that I was assigned to was constantly monitoring those borders and we would constantly do these Danube patrols and I got to work with a lot of CIA and FBI agents.

It was an intriguing part of my life. What I retained from it, speaking of memory, is that when memory is concerned, culture plays such a huge role because all of us have such different mental models through which we process our reality. So, I’m sure that all of our listeners have a different mental model as to how you use to spend your Christmases since we’re talking about Christmas before our show. And what your Christmas used to look like was very different than mine.

What’s a traditional Christmas for you, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, the first thing that comes to mind is, well, midnight mass which is actually like at 10 p.m. or so and snickerdoodle cookies.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, there you go. So, if we’re doing the show to impart with our audience some practical guidelines on how to stay on other people’s memory which is the center of my research, what I remember from my interpreter days is that it was much easier to translate and be able to stay accurate to those people’s memories the more that I understood their mental models, so to the extent that I got to be in somebody’s shoes from Germany, or somebody’s shoes from Romania, or somebody’s shoes from France. The translation and the accuracy of those memories was much sharper.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, which languages were you interpreting?

Carmen Simon
I was interpreting English and French. Now, remember my roots go back to Romania so that’s another language that would belong in there. I could play in some Italian in the good old days so those were the languages that were operated back then at the borders.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s impressive. To have those languages, another feather in your cap as memory expert.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, it’s very humbling because as I reflect on what makes something memorable, sensory stimulation is definitely one of the variables that you can use to stay on people’s minds. And when you translate something you can stay on the surface or you can go a little bit deeper in order to understand what you’re talking about. And I’m noticing that a lot of people forget things simply because we do stay on the surface all the time.

I’m working on some presentations with some executives just this week, and they’re asking me to create slides for them that express things like business optimization or an improved sales model. And unless you’re getting to those people’s shoes, very much like what we’re doing back then in our interpreting days for France or for England or for Germany, it’s very difficult to come up with something that is fresh and stimulating our senses.

Because if you just go to, let’s just say, stock photos and you type in sales optimization, what do you get? Yeah, you’d get those arrows pointing up and people shaking hands because a new deal has been closed. But how memorable are those?

Pete Mockaitis
Now I’m thinking of people dressed up in their business formal wear and suits just like sprinting around a racetrack. I don’t know.

Carmen Simon
Oh, they go from the racetrack to the top of the mountains, I’m sure you’ve seen those.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re not dressed right.

Carmen Simon
And a blank computer screen and just getting very excited, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, so since we last spoke you started your own company, you’ve gone solo. It’s kind of like Justin Bieber or something, out of NSYNC. You got your own company now, it’s MEMZY. And what’s MEMZY all about?

Carmen Simon
MEMZY is all about using brain science research to help organizations create memorable content. So, if somebody is reflecting on their own messages, and they’re thinking, “Boy, we’re going to have a hard time expressing this and staying on people’s minds,” then it’s very useful to look at evidence-based guidelines to see what you can do in a more precise kind of way.

Because surely you may have some techniques that you’re using right now to create something that’s memorable. But are you sure that those render dividends or is it are you using those techniques simply because they may have worked in the past?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, intriguing. Intriguing. Well, now we’re back in Episode 11, if folks want to check out the original conversation that we had, and so there might be a couple things repeated, which is just fine for memory as you’ve made clear, but I also kind of want to chart a little bit of new territory. So, I understand that you’ve got some recent research about what it is within stories that make them more memorable than perhaps other stories.

Carmen Simon
I do. I just got so tired of hearing people saying, “Stories are memorable all the time.” Like whenever people talk about memory, and you tell them, “Hey, it’s good to make something memorable,” they immediately say, “Shouldn’t you share a story?” And, of course, the intuitive answer is, “Yes, definitely share a story.” But just because you do don’t think that that story will always be memorable or always be memorable long term.

So, through the research I did just that, I invited some people to first submit a series of stories, and I asked them to complete the sentence, “I will never forget,” and then fill in the blank. And some people went on for a few paragraphs, and some people went on for longer, some people went professional, some people went personal. Where do you think most of the people went though, personal or professional?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m guessing personal.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, most of the people who submitted their stories went to a personal space, and that was intriguing to me as a finding, too, by the way, because when your audiences are going to recollect their memories and, hopefully, you’re in there somewhere, they’re going to reach for the memory that comes to their minds more easily, that comes to their minds without much effort. And our personal memories quite often are probably a lot more effortless than the professional ones to recollect.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And so, then what did you notice in terms of like the themes or patterns associated with the stories that folks will never forget?

Carmen Simon
Most of the stories had obviously some sort of an emotion or some contrast between a state versus another state where they ended up those weren’t necessarily surprising. What surprised me is when I gave these stories to various people to then read, and I asked them, “What is it that you remember from other people’s stories you see?” That’s when I wanted to see, “What’s the overlap? What’s stays in our minds from other people’s stories naturally without you trying too hard?”

So, two days later after these people read the initial stories, they received a survey that asked them, “What do you remember?” And I asked them a subsequent question, too, I said, “Now, please try a little bit harder,” exactly for this reason I’m mentioning that the brain is a cognitively lazy organ, and when we are asked a question, especially if we’re not immediately vested, which these people weren’t, we’re going to take the path of least resistance.

So, if I asked you, “What do you remember from your last day at work?” You might probably give me one or two things and not really try that hard. Is that true? Like what do you remember from your work last week?

Pete Mockaitis
Last week? It’s so funny. My temptation, talk about lazy, was to just get the mouse and move right over to the calendar and have it do the remembering for me.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, I’m not surprised. That’s what I noticed that that was one of the initial findings is that immediately, for question number two, which is where I’m asking people to, “Please try a little bit harder,” obviously those are more revealing answers than their original answer.

So, then the practical guideline that I would have for everyone listening to this is that, one, make sure that if you do have a story, it comes to your audiences’ minds easily, and then you reinforce is in some way if you want to stay there for a long period of time because those surface details are going to be gone very, very quickly. We tend to stay on the surface when recollecting things especially if the reward or if the goal for them to remember is not all that well-stated or not that strong.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, now I’m thinking harder per your prompt. And the first thing that comes to mind is we had a podcast guest, Frances Cole Jones, and she sent an email out to her whole list which had her sporting the How to Be Awesome at Your Job podcast T-shirt, which I began sending to guests as a thank you. So, spoiler alert, Carmen.

Carmen Simon
Nice. Well, see that’s a very smart technique, by the way, because if you want to make stories more memorable, and just any other type of communication more memorable, a good way to do it is to send something that would then trigger people’s memories in some way when you’re not even in the room, so you’re doing it right.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. Well, I guess what made the reason that’s so memorable, it’s like, “Well, shucks, I’ve sent out many, many T-shirts,” and I’ve seen some people post on Twitter, like, “Hey, thanks for the shirt. It’s cool.” But it’s like, “Oh, there’s something quite public into the whole email list. What a treat just in terms of being a generous, kind promotional move on her part that is supportive of what I’m doing over here.”

Carmen Simon
Congratulations! Congratulations!

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Yeah. So, okay, so then we talked about state changes and we talked about I guess noteworthiness is what I noticed. So, what are some of the other ingredients that make them memorable?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, we’re talking about the cognitive ease, so make sure that whatever you’re sharing with your audiences will come to their minds easily.

Pete Mockaitis
But what makes it easy versus hard?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, exactly, so then we have to ask the question, “Well, what happens if we don’t have the chance to ask somebody else to try harder to remember us?” because we don’t always have that luxury. And then the question still becomes, “What comes to people’s minds so effortlessly that they don’t even have to think so hard?”

And one of the items is one that we touched upon a little bit earlier which is this strong sensory stimulation. Like, for example, there was one gentleman who contributed a story when he remembered going to Kenya to fix some electricity-related devices. And he was invited at this family and he had brought them a bottle of Coke. And that family, and according to their tradition, whenever you got a gift you had to then share it with everybody else.

And he remembers in details going up the hill to this hut and it was something that was built in mud, you know those mud huts. He remembers distinctly the mother and the father and the small kid, and even the grandmother that was sitting on this piece of log and she had glaucoma. And he remembers the holes in this kid’s clothes that were stapled so that there wouldn’t be holes anymore.

But the emotion that stood out for him was the fact that these people only had a bottle of Coke, which they had not had for maybe a year before, and they wanted to share with him, and he didn’t even like Coke and it was a warm bottle of Coke. But yet they convinced him to drink some of it, and you take a few sips and then you pass it onto the next person who also take a few sips, and he thought that was the greatest gift he had ever received from a family who pretty much had nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s powerful. And so, then the Coke is right there. We got the red, we got the white visually, we’ve got the taste itself wrapped up in emotion.

Carmen Simon
Exactly. And then you can almost see like those holes on the clothes that are stapled shut, and you can see the mud hut, and the way that he was expressing it was so visual that later on when I was looking at people’s responses, and I knew that a few of them had read his story, those details were remarked in people’s responses. That’s such a luxury for anyone these days to stay on people’s minds days after you have shared this stimulus. That’s huge.

And the advice then that I have for everyone listening is to look at your communication and ask, “How strong of a mental picture are you painting in your audiences’ minds?” Because, quite often, we become forgettable simply because our communication is so darn abstract.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s excellent. And so, then I’m thinking right now, as you talk about some clients working with like business process optimization, I guess that seems pretty abstract, but if maybe we’re talking about, I don’t know, logistics or delivery, if you tell a story of a customer who was blown away by receiving that package, I don’t know, like the very next day and they were able to, I don’t know, redecorate the house or serve a patient in the hospital, like something I guess visually that they’re then doing with that product and how the speed made a difference. I’m just sort of grasping here. But I imagine that goes a lot farther than saying, “We’re dropping our average ship time from 2.1 days to 1.4 days.”

Carmen Simon
Yeah, and you can still show both. I’m not saying then sacrifice one at the expense of another. In fact, a question that I get quite often when it comes to storytelling is, “What’s the difference between storytelling and facts?” And we can’t really approach the question that way because facts can still be parts of stories.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Carmen Simon
Facts are, I would define them as zoomed-in stories because if I were to categorized all the findings from the research, a story is based on three components. There is a perceptive component in which we can include that sensory stimulation I was sharing with you; we can include a strong context because when I said Kenya you can kind of knew where to go; and we can include action across time. So, all of this are perceptive things, things that you can sense with your senses.

Another component is a cognitive one, and facts go in there and meanings and abstracts, so that’s where business people thrive. We enjoy the fact and we enjoy extracting some conclusions from what we say, and those are great. But quite often I think at the expense of the perceptive, we don’t help our audience’s brains to build these strong mental pictures and then we wonder why people forget those facts because they didn’t really know how to imagine those.

And then the third one is, of course, the affective component which is where emotions and motivations and aspirations would go.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, can you give us maybe some pro tips to enhancing each of these dimensions?

Carmen Simon
Yes. For the perceptive one, definitely go towards the language that stimulates the senses and keeps us alert. So, the more you can make people see what you saw and hear what you heard, and then almost enable touching what you touched, then that strong language would definitely reside in people’s memories a lot stronger.

And, also for the perceptive, don’t forget the action across time. You cannot have a story unless things progress across time, and in business content, hardly anything ever happens. In fact, it’s surprises me when people say, “Oh, just come to our organization and help us tell our story better.” And then I’ll ask, “Well, so what is your story?”

And they will say, “We are founded in this year, and we have this many customers, and we have noticed these trends in the industry, and as a result we have developed this amazing web architecture.” You know, everybody has an amazing web architecture these days, “And we have done this and this other thing.” But there’s’ nothing really in a progression across time that is a mandatory component of a story.

Like if we were to talk about business stories, for instance, I remember the woman who invented spandex. For all the women listeners, I’m sure that everyone has heard of the product. And when she’s interviewed and you go online and you read her stories, you hear how, at first, she started in her own apartment, and how she was trying on things in the bathroom, and how she was experimenting things in the kitchen, and then she tried to get a meeting with somebody at Neiman Marcus, and the meeting was going poorly until she convinced one of those executives to go with her to the bathroom and try this product on under some white pants.

And from then on, she wore those white pants for three years to convince many other people to buy into the product. So, see how things just progress across time. First this happened, then this happened, and as a result this other thing happened. So, we go from A to B to C and each is a consequence of the previous stage, and that’s the mandatory component of a story.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, so I’m interested. When it comes to, say, like a business telling a story, a lot of times it’s about growth, “We had this many units or this much revenue, and now we have these many units and this much revenue and it’s much bigger.” And so, but in a way, those aren’t really actions. It’s just sort of an output or measurement. And so, how would you maybe make that translation?

Carmen Simon
Yes, so if we’d go from that list of facts, because if you’re saying, “In 2016 we sold these many units, and in 2017 we sold these many units, and therefore we have grown by this percentage,” that’s almost kind of an action because you would have to make it show, “How did you get to point B as a result of point A?” Was it somebody that you hired?

Because, imagine if you said, “In 2016 we sold this, and then we hired this amazing VP of sales. I mean, this guy, he used to work for such and such. And then he sold his company, and then he did some other things. And then he moved to the US, and despite his accent he created all these relationships, and did this and this other thing. And as a result, then here we are 2017 with an increased in this.” So, see how now you’re showing how B is a result of A.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly, “Or that individual customers were so delighted that they shared stories like so and so from Mississippi who put this on her Facebook and sort of shares of that nature just naturally resulted in so many more people buying it, and thusly we have this number of units now.”

Carmen Simon
Yeah, and you would have to be careful about showing causation which it’s a tricky thing because causation is what we would consider, from a storytelling perspective, a plot. So, you’re saying if your customer has posted such and such on Facebook, and then somebody else saw it and as a result they, too, purchased the product. And then they went to another customer, and as a result of that then this is what happened.

And sometimes, especially when we deal with technology-oriented things or science-oriented products, people are so afraid of causation that they will only stick to just a list of facts, inviting the audience to draw their own conclusions, and because we’re saying the audience has such a cognitive lazy inclination anyway, they may not often make that leap. So, not only are you less persuasive but you’re not really sharing a story.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, interesting. So, then, the key distinction there is that, you’re saying, be careful of causation and don’t sort of say it’s because of it, but share what happened. Let’s see, set me straight here, Carmen.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, well, causation is sexy and tricky at the same time. Causation is what enables you to fully stay truthful to a story in a sense of A caused B which then caused C, but then having the boldness and the accuracy to make a causation statement, that’s where it’s at.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Carmen Simon
Do you have what it takes to stand behind your causation? That’s the question I would ask anyone listening. Because, for example, some of my clients are from the biotech industry, and when they try to sell a specific product to a doctor’s office they have to be cautious about saying, “You will get this product, and as a result, for sure, this is what’s going to happen.”

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. So, you don’t say it.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, it doesn’t mean that you always have to share a story, by the way. So, if that’s your field and you’re afraid of causation, you don’t necessarily have to go there, but then don’t claim you’re telling stories.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, it’s just about saying that it caused it as opposed to sharing a sequence of events that imply it.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. I’m with you. Tracking along. Thank you. Okay. So, then how about the affective component?

Carmen Simon
Yes, so the cognitive we have no problems with because facts and abstracts definitely dominate. For the affective component, I think one of the biggest insights that I got from this study were that just having the presence of emotions still doesn’t guarantee memory. Sometimes that’s another statement that I hear made very frequently, “Oh, if you want to have something memorable, and especially a memorable story, you definitely have to always have emotion.” Not true.

For instance, people will say, “Oh, stories like 9/11, or the Space Challenger disaster, or Oklahoma bombing, those, of course, will be memorable.” Not that fast. For example, in some of the groups that I had designed in my study, people read a 9/11 story, people read a Space Challenger story but they also read stories like, “I will never forget the time when my co-worker complimented me on LinkedIn. It was just such a touchy message, I had posted this, and then they reacted like that, and then I said this. And that just meant a lot to me in my career,” or something along those lines.

Or, “I will never forget my cousin’s wedding because this is what happened.” And those things were a lot more memorable than the world’s history stories, so to speak, even though the emotion was not as strong but it was more relatable, you see. So, if you ever have the choice, and you’re looking at your content and you’re thinking, “Boy, my content is kind of dry. I could never match the emotion of a disaster or something that just happened. Everybody paid attention to it.” Don’t even worry about it because relevance quite often trumps emotion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Interesting. So, could you maybe help us tie this all together in terms of maybe sharing a couple examples of messages or stories transformed sort of before from one of your clients, and then you did some tweaks and reframing and communicating it differently to an after that had such a greater impact in memorability?

Carmen Simon
Well, let’s look at this one that I’m working on this week, and it’s not finalized but I think all of our listeners are going to be able to relate to it. So, the before version comes across like this. “Welcome, everyone. We’ve had an interesting and challenging 2017. It’s prompting me to remember why is it I’m working at this place anyway. And I’ve worked here because of some professional opportunities that we all have. It’s also the right timing because the technologies that are happening in the field are just at the right intersection,” and so it goes, and so it goes from fact to fact to fact to fact which is just assumed in story as we said.

The recommendations that I’m making and the after example is going to include something along the lines, “Okay, we have had a challenging 2017, and it’s prompting me to reflect why am I working at this company. Well, it’s a wonderful professional opportunity. And what do I mean by this? I remember a time when I was looking for the intersection of just the right technologies, and I was working for this company and this other executive walked in and he said this to me. And then that’s how I reacted, and that’s when I realized that things were a little bit different, and then I read this other article.”

And see how I’m going with, “This is what’s happening,” and the more I zoom in and the sensory details are stronger, and he’s able to show pictures of his older executive office, so we can see him working for that company and as he moved to another company. So, now it becomes more become sensory intense and things that happened and then caused another thing and they caused another thing, and now we can abstract it out and say, “It was a great professional opportunity.”

Or in the initial, let’s call a story between quotes, he’s talking about coming to work to this company because he wanted to work with people he could trust. Notice how abstract that is. But in the after version, I’m prompting him to say, “Well, so who is that?” So, he’s showing some other guy’s picture and how he served as a best man at his wedding, so we’re killing two birds with that stone because not only is he now showing some sensory stimulation that’s stronger because, “I enjoy seeing the pictures of the wedding and the champagne and people dancing,” but the emotion is now present.

Because it’s one thing to say, “I’m working here with people that I can trust,” and it’s just an abstract concept, but another to see them hugging and see them in their suits and see them in such a nice human-like moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I really like that. And so, you’re bringing up the usage of visuals, of slides, which I think can really be helpful because I think sometimes I might feel, perhaps, a little bit awkward going too big and using my words to try to paint an imagery picture like, “Oh, someone fancies himself a novelist over there.” Whereas you could say, “And he was the best man at my wedding,” and then you show an image, and they go, “Oh, that’s the wedding.” And so, then, you can go a long way by bringing those visuals in, even of the desk, of the workplace, of the wedding.

Carmen Simon
So true. And the nice thing about being able to do that is then, obviously, those pictures are also going to add the extra words that are even unspoken so you can get a lot more done in a short period of time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, I was going to go there next in terms of trying to make an impact with a story I think that’s a concern some might say, “You know, well, I’ve got exactly three minutes or five minutes of time to make these points. I don’t have time to go down and make a story especially with all these impactful affective details that you’re describing.” So, what are some of the ways to get some of that goodness in a shorter period of time? One is by using visuals or slides. Any other tips there?

Carmen Simon
I really like that question because you’re so right, people are concerned that they don’t have enough time to share stories. And for any of our listeners who are married, and sometimes they get their spouse’s reaction, it’s like, “Come on, get to the point. I don’t have time for all of these details.”

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve never said that. One year in, I’ve managed to not say that.

Carmen Simon
You just recently got married. You just give it a few years.

Pete  
Okay.

Carmen Simon
But executives and some other business audience may have a similar reaction, “Just get to the point.” And so, one of the ways that you could still want to share a story, but you’re afraid that you don’t have enough time, the advice would be to earn the right to tell the details.

And the way to do that is to respond first to people’s expectations. And as we said, facts are just zoomed-in stories, and if your audiences are indeed expecting facts at first then give those first. So, if I’m presenting to some executives and they do want to hear about the growth that has happened in the past two years and they want to see some charts, that’s my intro. I’m not going to start with, “It was a dark and stormy night, and the clouds were just approaching, and I knew something drastic was going to happen.” You see?

But if I share with you the right amount of information that you expect, then I’m earning the right for a few more minutes of some other details, and then I can say, “The reason that we got to these numbers is because of that one dark stormy night when you would not believe what happened.” So, as a communicator, you’re a choreographer of your audience’s expectations. See to those first and then you earn the right for a few extra minutes where you can fill in the details that would make it a story.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s excellent. Very good. Any other perspectives on the time perspective?

Carmen Simon
Yes. So, obviously, time would be correlated with the length of a story. What I noticed in my study was that there is such a thing as too short of a story beyond which it becomes forgettable. And the length that I noticed people that they remember stories, the sweet spot, was somewhere around 600 words which would be about two or three paragraphs, and I would always suggest that if you want to have a memorable story, write it down first and then make sure that you say it verbally so that you don’t sound as if you’re too scripted. You still speak it. It’s not a story meant for writing.

But 600 to about 900 words if you want to be a really polished storyteller because, otherwise, you won’t be having the opportunity to do justice to a context to those sensory details, or build some of those emotions in there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, now, Carmen, I love it when you drop a number. That’s intriguing. So, 600 to 900 words is a sweet spot there. We’re talking about memory and stories and memorability and this good stuff. Are there any other kind of key rules of thumb or numbers that leap to mind?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, let’s look at this concept of the emotion just a little bit more closely because I think it’s so widely misunderstood when it comes to memory. Emotion, when you’re kind of disconcerting, come from three sources. It can come from the nature of the content, because if you’re talking about medicine or people in Kenya, immediately the nature of the content draws an emotion.

But sometimes, in business, we don’t have the luxury of that. We talk about, like you said, trucks or web architectures or predictive analytics. Sometimes there isn’t a whole lot of emotion inherently associated with our content. So, then, what do you do, because you still need some emotion to make something memorable?

And the other two sources can be your audience can be a source of emotion. So, if you’re talking to people who are extremely invested in a topic, who are either elated or upset, they bring their own emotions that then contribute to the formation of some memories, or you can be the source of emotion as the transmitter of that message.

For example, while I was listening to these people talk about predictive analytics a few months back, and they were the most excited about this product and this technology that I had ever seen. I could have listened to those guys go on forever about predictive analytics. So, as you’re pondering your own question or your own content, question the chemistry that you have with your own content because when that chemistry is there, then you can be the source of emotion, and immediately you’re going to have an increased chance at memory.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Well, Carmen, tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about your favorite things?

Carmen Simon
Oh, my favorite things. Let’s see, anything related to memory. Since we’re talking about emotion, another reminder that I would have for our listeners is that what we remember is not necessarily the emotion itself. We remember quite often the transition from one emotional state to another. And the sharper the contrast the stronger the emotions.

So, for example, let’s just say that I shared with you that I fell off a bike and, obviously, that’s a negative emotion. But then if I said, “I fell off a bike and then got ran over by a car,” see how you reacted, and that’s when the memory got formed, because the first one, yeah, I had some emotion but the sharper the contrast between two emotional states that you’re creating for your audiences then the stronger the memory.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s potent. It’s so funny, I was imagining that you’re going to contrast by going to something really happy, but then you just went to extra, extra bad.

Carmen Simon
Yes, you can go positive and then double positive. Like if I said, “I went to Vegas and I won 50 bucks. And then I pressed a button and next I won 50 million,” that you probably created a memory just now because you went just super, super, super happy. But then you can go the other way of negative to quadruple negative, and that’s how memories are formed.

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

Carmen Simon
Ooh, a favorite quote. Let’s just see. Just the other day I saw this thing on the internet, and you know we believe everything that we read on the internet, but this quote just really resonated with me. It said, “You have survived a 100% of your worst days. You’re doing great.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is nice. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Carmen Simon
Ooh, let’s see. A favorite book that I just bought and just started reading is called Supercasting. I’m intrigued by this notion that the brain is constantly on fast-forward as you can imagine, and some people can predict better than others, what gets us to be better predictors.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say predict, you mean just in terms of what is going to happen next in your environment?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, intriguing. Thank you.

Carmen Simon
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Carmen Simon
Oh, a tool. I have to admit that someone just ordered the iPhone X, and they returned it so that’s not going to be a favorite tool. I’m curious as to why that happened. I do like this flashlight that I just got that has different settings depending on how dark or so kind of almost light it is outside. Have you seen those flashlights?

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s sensing the environment and adjusting its light?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, yeah, small things. Small pleasures.

Pete Mockaitis
Nice. Thank you. And then how about a favorite habit?

Carmen Simon
A favorite habit is hiking at the end of a full workday.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful.

Carmen Simon
In search of a beautiful view, because you just can’t be hiking. You have to hike with a purpose.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget you’ve been sharing recently at MEMZY that seems to really be connecting and resonating with your clients?

Carmen Simon
A particular…

Pete Mockaitis
Just something that you say or share in your work with clients.

Carmen Simon
Oh, yes, there is. The line that people seem to resonate with and remember is this notion that as we are exposed to content we forget about 90% of that stimulation, so it’s important to control the 10% they remember. So, that has become a favorite mantra, and quite often when people come back to me and they talk to me, they’ll say, “Let me share with you what my 10% message is to my own clients,” and that warms my heart because when they mention that phrase, “What is my 10% or my 10% message is,” then I know I’m able to stay on their minds and that’s a challenge that I share with all of the listeners today. What is your 10%? And are you in control of that?

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

Carmen Simon
MEMZY.com, M-E-M-Z-Y, and the Twitter handler is @areyoumemorable, and of course LinkedIn Carmen Simon. I’d love to stay in touch and I would want to hear what is your 10% message that you want to put on other people’s minds.

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

Carmen Simon
Yes, the challenge would be that of precision because we cannot ultimately control everything that goes on in people’s minds, and sometimes we want to overshare. So, I would say don’t attempt to get people to remember more but get them to remember less and better.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Carmen, this has been a whole lot of fun all over again. Thank you and good luck with MEMZY and all you’re up to.

Carmen Simon
Thank you so much. Thank you, Pete. You do the same.