Category

Podcasts

665: How to Make Lasting Change – According to Science – with Katy Milkman

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Behavioral scientist and Wharton professor Katy Milkman reveals how behavioral science can help you make changes that stick.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The top obstacles of change–and how to overcome them 
  2. How to overcome your impulsivity 
  3. How you can make your laziness work for you 

 

About Katy

Katy Milkman is the James G. Dinan Professor at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, host of Charles Schwab’s popular behavioral economics podcast Choiceology, and the former president of the international Society for Judgment and Decision Making.  Over the course of her career, she has worked with or advised dozens of organizations on how to spur positive change, including Google, the U.S. Department of Defense, and Walmart. 

An award-winning scholar and teacher, Katy writes frequently about behavioral science for major media outlets such as The Washington Post and The New York Times. Her book How to Change: The Science of Getting From Where You are to Where You Want to Be came out two days ago! She earned her undergraduate degree from Princeton University (summa cum laude), and her PhD from Harvard University where she studied Computer Science and Business. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Katy Milkman Interview Transcript

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

Katy Milkman
Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to learn how to change once and for all. You’ve literally written the book on this and I can’t wait to hear your insights.

Katy Milkman
Well, I’m excited to share.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe to kick it off, could you share maybe what’s maybe one of the most surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about us humans doing behavior change while researching the book How to Change?

Katy Milkman
That’s a great question. I love starting with that question. Probably it’d be a study I ran at Google that had the most counterintuitive finding to me. And it was a study where, actually, my collaborators and I were trying to figure out if we could create more durable habits around exercise in people if we got them to build really consistent routines, which is what our read of the habit literature suggested makes habits sticky, like, “Always at the same time of day, I’m really, really grounded in that routine and now it becomes like second nature to me.”

And if we could build that, we thought, then we sort of let go and we’d see these lasting habits. So, we ran this experiment with Google employees where we basically, for a month, gave them rewards for either visiting the gym at the same time of a day, a consistent time that they’d said was ideal for them, or for any time, whatever they wanted. So, about half of their visits ended up being at a consistent time but the other half were all over the place.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, one group was rewarded only when they went during the time they said and the other was rewarded regardless?

Katy Milkman
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Katy Milkman
We actually varied the size of the incentives so we got variance in how often people went, and we basically ended up with two groups who went the same frequency but in different patterns. One is going very consistently, the other is more variable when they go. And then the question was, “What happens at the end of this month?” And we were sure, we knew, it was going to be the people who had that consistent routine, and we were wrong.

And what we found out is that the reason we were wrong is not that we had our model completely messed up, it was true that the people who had been really consistent in their exercise who would basically train to be automatons, the same time, same time each day. Those people actually were a little more likely to keep going at that same time, but if they didn’t make it to the gym at that time, they didn’t go at all.

And the folks who had built a more flexible habit ended up with a more durable habit because they went a little less often at that magic time, it was the best time each day for them, but they went at other times too, and at that they went more. And that was really surprising to us that, it turns out, and I write about this in the book, I call it the power of elastic habits. I really expected, from everything I’d read, that those consistent cues would be critical to durable habit formation but what we found instead was that it bred rigidity, and that if you’re going to get something done, you need to be flexible, and just say, “I’m going to do it no matter what,” not, “I’m going to only do it under this narrow set of circumstances.”

So, I think that’s really interesting and it was a really important takeaway and counterintuitive to me. Although, now it makes sense, in hindsight I can see why that’s important but it’s not what I expected. And we surveyed professors of psychology in all the top universities, and 80% of them also were surprised. They predicted strongly, “Oh, yeah, that consistency, that’s what we know about habits. Consistency breeds habit,” and it’s just not what we found.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Wow, that’s striking. And so, well, there’s one gem right there, so thank you.

Katy Milkman
You’re welcome. That’s a great opening question.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s zoom out a little bit in terms of, okay, your book How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. Can you lay it on us sort of the big idea or key theme or thesis associated with this work?

Katy Milkman
Yeah, absolutely. So, the key idea behind this book is that there’s a lot, of course, of great books and a lot of great knowledge out there about how to change and, yet, it’s not getting us where we want to be for the most part. People are still looking for these kinds of books, still trying to figure it out, a lot of us aren’t where we want to be. And one of the things I have found in my career, devoted to studying this topic of where change comes from, is that I think part of the problem is we often don’t focus on what is actually obstructing change for a given individual, for a given challenge or a given goal they’re trying to achieve, and tailor the solution to that obstacle.

We sort of grab one of those big ideas off the shelf that sounds sexy and appealing, like, “Set big audacious goals and then break them down,” or, “Build a really tiny habit and piggyback.” Like, there’s all these ideas that are out that are appealing but they won’t work if they’re not solving for what’s holding you back.

So, that’s kind of the big idea behind the book. There’s all these different things that can be barriers to change, whether it’s, “I don’t enjoy doing the thing that I need to do to change,” or, “I keep forgetting to do the thing and flaking out because I’m too busy and it’s just, I can’t prioritize it,” or, “I’m having trouble getting started,” or, “I don’t have the confidence to change. I don’t believe I really can and that’s holding me back,” or, “My peer group is not showing me the ways to do it and is a bad influence.”

Like, what is the challenge and the solution then will be different. And we can make more progress if we actually diagnose what’s standing in the way, and then use the best science to solve that specific problem. And I see this all the time in my work with companies, that they have some behavior, “We want get people to save more for retirement,” or to get their flu shots, or to be more productive. Like, let’s just grab from this bag of tricks from behavioral science and we think we’ll be able to slap a solution on it, but if there isn’t an understanding of, “Well, why aren’t people saving? Why aren’t they productive? What’s holding them back?” that is matched to the solution, we don’t get very far.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s resonating a whole lot. I’m getting chills in terms of like there’s much truth here.

Katy Milkman
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in a way, it seems like self-evident, “Well, of course, you should figure out what’s the challenge and address it.”

Katy Milkman
It does seem self-evident.

Pete Mockaitis
And, yet, we don’t.

Katy Milkman
It’s astounding how often we don’t, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you lay it down, lay it on us then, what’s maybe the menu of categories of obstacles and the best practices for deconstructing or addressing those obstacles? And then, maybe even before we go there, how do we go about identifying it and zooming in on it very well? Because, for example, when you say, “Why don’t people save?” like, “Well, I just don’t have enough money. I don’t have any spare money to save. I guess we’re done.” And so, it’s like, “Well, no, not quite. I think we got to dig deeper.” So, yeah, let’s start there. How do I identify, like, what’s the crux of the obstacle here?

Katy Milkman
I think the answer is probably most people will recognize themselves and a specific problem when they see these different discussions.

So, for example, I mentioned it’s not fun. That’s a really common one. I don’t know if that’s not a super common one for retirement savings. Most of us aren’t like, “I want it to be fun to save. And I find it dreadful and dreadfully unpleasant in the moment to do it.” That’s more like exercising or eating right or really focusing at work instead of scrolling social media. But that’s a category of obstacle.

Another category of obstacle is, “I don’t see how I can do this. This doesn’t seem doable.” I think that’s a big one, and retirement savings is actually is like, “Wow, it doesn’t feel feasible.” And that can come down to confidence, it can come down to what you’ve seen other people like you accomplish, and how, if you’ve learned their techniques and skills for doing it.

Another category can be, as I mentioned before, just flaking out, like, “There’s just a lot going on and I can’t get this to the top of the list, and I keep spacing it when it’s time to actually setup the 401(k).” So, it depends on which one you see yourself in, and I think it’s not like a category of problem, it’s always the same answer for different people. For some people, savings is also about procrastination, like, “I mean to do it but tomorrow I’ll get around to do it,” and then tomorrow never becomes today.

So, I think the goal of the book is that the reader will be able to see themselves as they see the classes of challenges and see what the solutions are. And there really are some experimentation individuals have to do, like, “Oh, I thought this was right solution for me. I tried it. Oops, I had diagnosed my barrier wrong. Really, that wasn’t what was holding me back. It wasn’t that I wasn’t going to the gym because I thought it was incredibly unpleasant. It was that I just hadn’t made the time to do it with the right people and I didn’t have the right social network and the right structures.”

So, there’s different problems for different people even for the same outcome, there are some commonalities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then it sounds like one way that you diagnose kind of like the core obstacle is you try something and you realize, “Hey, it turns out that wasn’t it at all. Okay.”

Katy Milkman
That’s one way. Hopefully, I think that will be one way. I also think another way will be looking, for the book and even for this conversation, and seeing yourself in the challenge. So, I do think people will be able to self-diagnose if they just give a little thought. I think normally that’s not the prompt we get. Instead, we get a solution, like, “Here’s your solution. This is going to work for you because it works for lots of other people,” instead of some thought about, “Why is it that I can’t motivate myself to do X.” And often, introspection is going to be enough. We’re not that hard to understand when we look internally in a lot of cases.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s say that if I am thinking about, “Hey, what’s my obstacle?” and then what I come up with is something lame, like, “No, I just don’t have enough time”? Like, what does that really mean and how do we get deeper?

Katy Milkman
Yeah. Well, “I don’t have enough time” isn’t the kind of obstacle that the book is about because that’s not an internal obstacle. So, the book is really about how are you holding yourself back. “I don’t have enough time” is an external obstacle, like the way you structure your life needs to change. And I think you’d get some ideas about that once you’ve read the book about, “Oh, okay, does that mean you really don’t have enough time or do you just need to restructure yourself and your life differently?”

But the book is more about, so, if you’re like, “I don’t have the resources,” that’s a different kind of challenge than, “I can’t get myself to and I need to find a way to get myself to do something differently.” Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I hear you. And I guess maybe you’re kinder than I am to our imaginary interlocutor here. I guess when I hear “I don’t have enough time” I guess I just don’t buy it as my default.

Katy Milkman
Oh, yeah. And it can also be like, “I don’t have a priority to do this.” So, the book is not to convince you that you need to change. The book is for someone who has a goal, they want to achieve it, they haven’t been able to get there, or maybe they haven’t tried yet, they’re ready to try, and it’s going to offer the best science has for them about how they can set themselves up for success.

It doesn’t guarantee success by any stretch changes really, really hard but, hopefully, I think my career has been devoted to understanding what is the best knowledge out there, what’s the best science out there on how we can change, and I’ve tried to put it all in one place so that, for someone who’s motivated and ready to give it a shot, it’ll give them the best chance available.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. And I think that precondition right there says it all in terms of, like, if you’re really motivated, “I don’t have enough time” is probably not going to be what you say is your obstacle because, by definition, you think it’s important enough to make some time, and it might just be tricky to actually figure that out in a calendar, like, “No, for real, where do these 30 minutes actually emerge from?”

Katy Milkman
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
So, maybe can you lay it on us, perhaps like the top three obstacles and some of your favorite solutions to those obstacles?

Katy Milkman
Sure. Okay, I can give you one that I love because I’ll probably pick on ones where I have done the most research personally which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the most important ones but they’re the ones I find most interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Katy Milkman
So, one of them is impulsivity, and I’ve touched on this a little bit already and things I’ve said, which is like people are wired to look for instant gratification and to dramatically discount things that are good for us in the long run, which is why it’s so hard to drag yourself to the gym and eat that healthy food when there’s a pizza right next to it or a brownie calling your name, stay off social media, study for a test when there’s more exciting options that, even though you know clearly what’s good for you in the long run, is just not fun to do in the moment.

And I think one of the really interesting things research has shown is that people, generally, when they face a challenge like this to motivate themselves to do something that’s not that enjoyable in the moment but that’s good for them in the long run, our inclination is to just try to push through and look for the most effective way to achieve our goal.

So, if we’re, I’m going to go back to the gym, but there’s lots of places you can think about this, if you’re choosing to work out at the gym, most people are like, “I’m going to do the most effective workout on this first trip to the gym,” as opposed to an alternative, which would be, “I’m going to do the most fun thing I can do. I’m going to do the Zumba class. It’s not going to burn as many calories per minute maybe but I’m going to enjoy it.”

Same thing with healthy foods. We look for the basket of foods that’s most sinless as opposed to a healthy food that we actually enjoy eating. Or, you need to study and do work, like do you try to set up an environment where you’re really going to actually enjoy it? Maybe there are some people around that you’re studying with, or you’re in a coffee shop that you like, and you get yourself your favorite drink and you feel great. Or, are you just going to try to do it in distraction-free environment because that’s the most effective?

So, most of us think effective, and what research shows is we’re actually better off trying to do the fun workout, eat the tastier, healthy food even if it’s a little worse for us, and study in a way that’s a little less effective but more fun if we want to persist because we’re so wired for that instant gratification. We won’t push through, we think we will, but we won’t, if it’s not fun.

So, I think that’s a really important insight and it actually is really related to some work I did early on in my faculty career on something that’s a very specific solution to this. I call it temptation bundling. And the idea is only allowing yourself to enjoy some indulgence that you look forward to but maybe you shouldn’t indulge in too much, some guilty pleasure, while simultaneously doing something that’s good for you and productive so that now you start to crave.

Maybe it’s trips to the gym to binge-watch your favorite TV show, or trips to the library because you’re always going to pick up your favorite Starbucks Frappuccino en route, or folding the laundry or home-cooked meals because you’re listening to your favorite podcast at the same time. So, if you can temptation bundle, suddenly, this thing that was a chore, actually becomes something you look forward to.

And I’ve studied this and show that it can help people exercise more, and found in my own life, of course, that it also is very effective for solving all sorts of dual self-control challenges. So, in general, a principle is, make it fun, and then temptation bundling is one tool to do that, and the obstacle is when something isn’t instantly gratifying, and because of impulsivity, therefore, you aren’t making progress on it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it. And that just seems like a game-changing insight distinction right there. Because of our impulsivity, don’t go guns blazing for the most effective path, but rather the most enjoyable path if what you want is consistency and persistence, like, that’s huge. Thank you.

Katy Milkman
That’s beautiful, yeah. And I only gave you one, you asked for three. I was like, “I have to breathe in here.”

Pete Mockaitis
You’re allowed to breathe. Your temptation for breathing can be bundled to more insight, Katy.

Katy Milkman
I will breathe while giving insight, okay. A second one that I like, is actually, I’ll call it the getting-started problem. And that is even though we want to do something, or motivated to do it, like finding the moment where you’re like, “Okay, and now I’m going to take action. I’m going to do something. I’m going to do something about it. This is the moment action is beginning.” It’s hard to get over that hump from visualizing it to doing it.

And I had this really interesting conversation with one of the HR leaders at Google about a decade ago when I was visiting and presenting. It’s actually as a precursor to doing the gym study I mentioned earlier on habits, I was telling them about some of my other work on nudging better decisions, helping people through use of behavioral science, make better choices at work about everything from enrolment in 401(k) plans to getting flu shots, you name it.

And this question was, “Okay, Katy, totally sold. We should be using behavioral science to encourage more productivity at work, more use of health and wellness programs, more retirement savings. But is there some optimal time to encourage that change? Is there some moment when people are particularly likely to hop on the bandwagon if we offer up tools that will help?” And I thought that was such a fascinating question and I didn’t know of any research that really addressed it so it ended up guiding my work for the next several years.

And what I immediately thought of, which came to mind, for you, too, when I posed that question was New Year’s. We all know that at the beginning of a new year there’s like this huge boost in people’s enthusiasm for starting resolutions. Forty percent of Americans set some sort of resolution. Many of them fail but they at least give it a shot which is more than we can say for many other times of the year. And I wondered, and my collaborators and I wondered, too, like, “Is there something bigger going on there? Is it just New Year’s or are there moments like that? And why New Year’s?”

And what we realized is, of course, there’s this like, it’s a social construct now, there’s norms around it, but part of it, what’s going on, is that at these moments, like New Year’s, that feel like a breaking point in life, we step back and think bigger picture, and we also feel some sort of dissociation from our past failures, because, “Oh, like, that was the old me last year, and the new me has a clean slate and I’m going to be able to do the things that were tough before and that seemed insurmountable.”

So, that sense of a clean slate and identity shift, boosted optimism, the tendency to step back, actually arises at a lot of moments in our lives that basically serve as chapter breaks in the way we structure our narrative. So, there are small ones like the start of a new week. There are big ones, celebrating a birthday, moving to a new job or a new city, becoming a parent. All of these moments turn out to make us feel like we have a clean slate and a new beginning, and people are more likely to do things like create goals on goal-setting websites, search for the term “diet” on Google, go to the gym, at these moments, and so I think that’s really interesting.

So, my team has studied specifically temporal landmarks, so moments that actually don’t involve a change in our lives but there’s also research that’s shown when you move to a new place, you move to a new job, those moments are productive times for change because, literally, you have a clean slate. You don’t have old bad habits to fall back on and you have an opportunity to build and structure new routines and not walk by the Dunkin Donuts on the way to work on this new commute.

And so, whatever it is that has been tripping you up, you have that clean slate in addition to the psychological clean slate. So, in that sense, I think the obstacle there is, “How do you find the motivation to get started?” And our research points to looking for these moments that have fresh-start resonance as jumping off points, and also nudging other people to notice them.

So, we found, for instance, if you just mark your calendar with the first day of spring on it and give you an option, like, “When might you want to start getting reminders from us to pursue a goal you’ve been meaning to get around to?” and March 20th is labeled first day of spring. Now, it triples your excitement about getting reminders to start your new goal in that day than if we gave you a calendar without labeling March 20th the first day of spring.

So, we can do, and we ran a study where we invited people, thousands of people who weren’t saving adequately for retirement, to sign up for our retirement program at their employer to start setting aside a portion of their paychecks in retirement savings. And everybody got an identical offering, you could start saving right away or you could delay a few months. But some people that delay, we labeled, and it corresponded either to a birthday or to the start of spring, and we said, “Do you want to start saving after your next birthday? Do you want to start saving at the start of spring?”

So, we’re literally making an apples-to-apples comparison because everybody is getting that same offering but some people don’t have it labeled for them as their birthday. It just says in three months. And we see a 30% increase in savings over the next eight months when we’ve invited people to start saving after those fresh start dates.

Pete Mockaitis
I was just going to ask, Katy, so not only do we have more enthusiasm to start but the proof is in the pudding. They actually do it afterwards.

Katy Milkman
Well, I do think a really important note is that, in that case, we set ourselves up for success because it’s an auto…it’s like a self-fulfilling thing.

Pete Mockaitis
You flip the switch once to do it, yeah.

Katy Milkman
Yes, and those are the best things to do at fresh-start moments because the motivation wanes and that’s why so many New Year’s resolutions fail. So, it only solves one problem, which is getting started, and the rest of my book talks about how you solve all the other problems so you stick to it and actually get somewhere with your goals. But if you can put it on autopilot, how about if that’s my third answer, but it’s not a super original and it is a super powerful one.

Anything we can put as a default so that it is just self-perpetuating, that’s a huge win because an obstacle to change is laziness, but you can turn it on its head and make it into a solution if you set defaults, like in that moment of motivation, you sign up for the retirement savings plan on January 1st, and now it’s going to just kick in. You’d have to actually lift a finger to change it and, goodness knows, you’re never going to. Or, cancel all of your subscriptions that you don’t really need, one day a year, when you’re feeling motivated after your birthday. Those are the kinds of things that can sort of be gifts that keep on giving. Or, signing up for an educational program or subscription of some sort that’s really valuable. Those also can carry you forward and sort of have like riptide-like effects.

So, if you can use that moment, when you’re feeling motivated to do something and lock in a change that will continue, that’s really valuable.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is cool. So, let laziness work for us if you can somehow shift it such that the default of doing nothing benefits you, then that’s awesome.

Katy Milkman
Exactly, which is what happens when you sign up for a savings program once, that just keeps going. Or, when you enroll in school, I mean, you still have to show up, but you’re going. It’s hard to get out. Like, the path of least resistance is to go for the thing that you’ve put a down payment on.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. Well, Katy, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Katy Milkman
No, this has been so…you’ve asked such good questions. I feel like I’ve been giving you really long and detailed answers, like highlights of the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love them.

Katy Milkman
So, I’m excited. Thank you for the great questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, maybe I’ll give one more. What should we not do? And maybe something counterintuitive, like, “Hey, I’ve heard I should do this, but maybe I shouldn’t.”

Katy Milkman
I’m not a big fan of setting like really big audacious goals, like that model, and just assuming that will carry you forward, because without actually getting into the nitty-gritty structures, like I do think people try to think about a north star huge objective and that having that could be really valuable, and I think it can be distracting, it could be overwhelming. There’s also research showing that if you make too many, set too many goals, and then plan for each of them, that’s really demotivating because you can’t do it all and you sort of throw up your hands and give up.

So, I think sort of too big and distant and dreamy and not broken down is bad, and too many objectives that you do break down and plan for is bad. Like, focusing on one thing at a time, that’s a little bit of a stretch but it’s doable and you can plan for it, and then you can use these tactics to help you is the right way forward.

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

Katy Milkman
Is it “Well done is better than well said”? Is that Ben Franklin, I believe? I like that one.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. And how about a favorite book?

Katy Milkman
My favorite book is Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein, and that actually has a new edition coming out later this year which I’m really excited for. Though, I’ll also say, my second favorite book, and it’s really close, is Influence by Bob Cialdini. I know you’re a big fan too.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Katy Milkman
I assign both of those books, by the way, to all of my MBA students at Wharton. I love them and read them every year, and they’re just classics and truly wonderful and have changed the way I think about the world.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit for you?

Katy Milkman
That’s interesting. I wouldn’t call it a habit. Can I say a favorite behavior?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Katy Milkman
Because habits have this very narrow definition in academia where we’re like it’s on autopilot. Okay, so like a favorite behavior or this thing I do, which is I choose to work with people I really, really admire and enjoy spending time with so that work for me is a treat intellectually but also socially. And I feel really lucky to have the privilege of being able to choose who I collaborate with. And so, that has made my career tremendously fun, and I think it’s part of what’s helped me be productive and successful in my career as well.

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

Katy Milkman
My website which is KatyMilkman.com. It has all sorts of information about my book How to Change, about my podcast Choiceology, I have a newsletter called Milkman Delivers, which is a name that I was shying away from but my MBA insisted I had to go with, and about my research.

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

Katy Milkman
I would say one of the biggest takeaways from all of my research on behavior changes that, and we sort of started here, it’s super important to expect that there will be things that don’t work out, that if you are too rigid in your expectations of yourself, if you set up habits that are too rigid, if you set up goals that are too rigid, and let yourself be discouraged when things don’t work out according to plan, and don’t push through, you just won’t get very far.

And in change, anticipating setbacks and being prepared for them, having a backup plan, is just absolutely critical. Even in habits, we found that it was critical to be flexible and build flexible habits. So, it’s “I’ll always…” not “If only…” kind of habit. And I think that’s critical to everything. It comes up again and again in my research, how important it is to find ways to get back up after you’ve fallen down, and to be expecting that that could happen and planning for it.

So, my words of wisdom would be don’t let yourself be discouraged too easily, expect that there’s always setbacks. But on the path forward, it’s, hopefully, two steps forward and one step back, and just be prepared for that and set yourself up for success when you hit those roadblocks.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Katy, this has been a pleasure. Thank you. I wish you lots of luck with the book and all the ways you’re changing.

Katy Milkman
Thank you. So lovely to chat. Thanks for having me on the show.

664: Dr. Robert Cialdini on How to Persuade with the 7 Universal Principles of Influence

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

The Godfather of Influence, Dr. Robert Cialdini, reveals best- and worst-practices for deploying the seven universal principles of influence.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The five words that doubled a student’s persuasiveness
  2. How to masterfully and disasterfully employ each of the seven principles of influence
  3. The easiest way to lose someone’s trust

About Robert

Dr. Robert Cialdini is the author of Influence and Pre-Suasion. He is the thought leader in the fields of Influence and Persuasion.  And, he is a three-time New York Times Bestselling author with over 7 million books sold in 44 languages. 

Dr. Cialdini received his PhD from University of North Carolina and post-doctoral training from Columbia University. He holds honorary doctoral degrees (Doctor Honoris Causa) from Georgetown University, University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Wroclaw, Poland and University of Basil in Switzerland. He has held Visiting Scholar appointments at Ohio State University, the University of California, the Annenberg School of Communications, and the Graduate School of Business of Stanford University. In acknowledgement of his outstanding research achievements and contributions in behavioral science, Dr. Cialdini was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. His work and books have been featured in the New York Times, Forbes, Inc., Psychology Today Magazine, and on the PBS Newshour, Bloomberg, CNN, BBC, New York Times, MSNBC, CNBC, CBS, and many more outlets and shows. 

Dr. Cialdini is a highly popular keynoter and is often referred to as the Godfather of Influence.  For more on Robert Cialdini and his life’s work, visit: https://www.influenceatwork.com/. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Dr. Robert Cialdini Interview Transcript

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

Robert Cialdini
I’m glad to be with you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am glad to be with you as well. This is a treat and an honor. You’ve been on my list since before this show was a show. We’re talking about your latest, new and updated edition of Influence, and you’ve updated it and expanded a lot here. But I love how you have left the first two sentences in the introduction the same. Could you speak those words now and tell us if they still ring true after studying influence for all these decades?

Robert Cialdini
Yes. There’s a story that goes with them but let me give them first. They are, “I can admit it freely now. All my life, I’ve been a patsy,” which has to do with one of the reasons I got into studying the influence process and persuasion. I was forever the unwanted owner of various things that people would sell me, I was a contributor to causes I’d never heard of, and I would say to myself, “What just happened here? There must be something other than the merits of the offer that got me to say yes. It must be the way the presenter delivered the merits of the offer, that triggered some psychological tendencies in me to say yes to things. Wouldn’t that be interesting to study, not just out of self-defense but as a general inquiry into the way we work as members of our species?”

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. And it is fascinating stuff and we’re all indebted to you for having delved in and codified and discovered a lot of this stuff. So, maybe we’ll give first a quick note to the pre-existing Cialdini fans. What is new in this latest expanded edition?

Robert Cialdini
Well, of course, it’s been 14 years since the last edition so I’ve added 220 pages of new material, updates, as to what it is that makes people say yes to requests, to recommendations or proposals – the science has advanced. But, in addition, I’ve looked specifically at how the internet has interacted with this process, how the principles of influence have migrated over to these platforms that didn’t exists in any meaningful sense 14 years ago, to look at how the influence process works on those platforms – social media, electronic marketing, and so on. That’s a big difference and a big addition to this edition.

But, as well, I’ve added a seventh principle of influence. There used to be just six that I thought covered the waterfront but, no, I think there’s a seventh that I call unity, and it has to do with the extent to which people are willing to say yes to anyone who is a member of what they will consider a “we” group, a group in which they share an identity with the other members of that group.

So, here’s an example. A study was done on a university campus. Researchers had a young woman asking passersby for contributions to the United Way. Most of the passersby were students at that university. She was able to double, more than double her number of contributors and the amount of donations by adding one sentence before she made her request, it was, “I’m a student here, too.” And now, Pete, all the barriers to yes came down. We say yes to those individuals who are not just like us but are of us.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is powerful. Well, so, I want to dig into, quickly, each of the six and then in some more depth, the seventh. But maybe for those who are not yet Cialdini fans, can you paint a little bit of the why for us? Like, just how much more persuasive are we when we utilize these principles? Is it a little bit of a lift or is it transformational? And could you give us maybe some of the most dramatic numbers you’ve encountered?

Robert Cialdini
It’s transformational. We just talked about one. If you could more than double, it’s two and a half times the amount of assent that you get to a request, you’re going to be a master of that moment. But that will be true in a lot of instances even though all it takes is an extra breath. All it takes is to say something that triggers a deeply seated psychological tendency in all of us. It’s that trigger that produces the power.

In the same way that if I were the person who was in charge of lighting a stadium, I don’t have to go run around on a wheel to get all that. I flip a switch. There’s no effort involved. The power is what is stored in the system of that electronic network inside that stadium. Well, that’s what you do with these simple words or phrases or sentences. You trip a switch that engages the power of a system that moves us powerfully, like the system that says, “I say yes to those people who are of us, are one of us.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that 2.5X right in that particular example of unity is somewhat representative of all of these principles used well in action?

Robert Cialdini
It will vary from 20% all the way to 250% but you’ll get substantially more compliance than your competitors who don’t know how to trigger those psychological principles.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s huge. So, I just wanted to establish that for the record. We’re not talking about studies that somehow managed to eke out statistical significance with a big sample size – it’s transformational. All right, so, covered. Now, I’d love to hear, before we get into the particulars, is there one or two discoveries about influence that you’ve made over the course of your career that just surprised you the most, like, “Holy smokes, is that how we humans really operate? Wow”?

Robert Cialdini
Yeah, I’ll give you two. One is how small the footprint is for the fundamental principles of persuasion. I spent two and a half years studying, undercover, the techniques and practices of various kinds of influence professions: sales, marketing, advertising, fundraising, recruiting, and so on. And what I’ve found was that there were only very few principles of influence that worked across the whole range of these. There were thousands of individual tactics and techniques that were used but I thought we could categorize the majority of them in terms of just these seven universal principles. So, that’s one.

We don’t have to have a long compendium of these things that we’ve memorized and checked off and so. No, there are only seven. We can handle seven. Know to include one or another of them into a message or a communication which will significantly increase the likelihood of assent. And here’s one thing I should say. The word likelihood is crucial here. These aren’t magical. There’s no such thing as a 100% all of the time that will get you success, but will get you better chances of success, will get you better probabilities of success every time. And if, as I said, you use them and your rivals and competitors don’t, you’ll win every time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, beautiful. Okay. Well, then let’s zoom in, let’s talk about these universal principles of influence, also might be called weapons of influence, or tools of influence, or levers of influence, the big ideas here. Could you maybe give us the quick version of the original six? Hey, what is it? And maybe an example that you find intriguing of a professional using it masterfully and then maybe disastrously, like, “Whoa, that’s the wrong way to use reciprocation”?

Robert Cialdini
Okay. Good plan. Let’s begin with the principle of reciprocation which says, “People want to give back to those have given to them first.” So, if you invite me to a party, I should invite you to one of mine. If you remember my birthday with a card, I should remember yours. And if you do me a favor, Pete, I owe you a favor. And I’ll say very simply, in the context of obligation, people say yes to those they owe.

So, let’s take an example. Recently, one of my colleagues, Steve Martin, did some research at McDonald’s with a little procedure in which the manager arranged for every family that came into that McDonald’s location for the children in the family to get a balloon. Half of them got the balloon as they left as kind of a thank you, the other half got the balloon as they entered. Those who got the balloon, the kids got the balloon as they entered, the family bought 20% more food.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful, because they thought a tug of reciprocation, like, “Oh, that was nice of them. I should probably go ahead and get some extra fries.”

Robert Cialdini
Yeah. Do you have kids, Pete? Do you have kids?

Pete Mockaitis
I got two toddlers, yeah.

Robert Cialdini
You know if I do a favor for your children, I’ve done a favor for you, and that’s what happened. Now here’s the interesting thing about that study. They also got a 25% increase in coffee purchases not for the kids. The parents bought more food for themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking of John Mulaney, “One Black Coffee.” It’s not for kids.

Robert Cialdini
No, right. Okay, now, to your point. So, how do people sometimes use this poorly? Notice that it was the same cost of the balloon for the kids as they left. You have to go first. How many restaurants have you been in that they do this wrong? As you leave the restaurant, there’s a basket of mints on the desk for you to sample. As you leave, nobody gets any benefit inside the restaurant for that little favor that you’ve done. In fact, it probably cost you more because I see people digging their hands in and taking handfuls of mints.

Well, there was a study that showed that if you put a mint on the tray just before people pay their bill, the tip goes up 3.3%. If you put two mints on the tray per customer, the tip goes up 14.3%. All right. So, you can see the difference now. It’s the same expense but only one gives you anything in return.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. And while we’re talking about reciprocity, I said we’d go fast but I can’t resist, you suggested if you do a favor for someone and they say thank you, don’t say, “It was nothing.” But you might say something along the lines of, “I know you’d do the same for me.” Do you have any pro tips on how to deliver that line or alternatives if people feel a little funny saying it?

Robert Cialdini
Look, that’s what I would recommend for somebody who you don’t have a relationship with. So, what do you say to just put them on record that, “In the future, if I need something, you’d do the same for me”? So, one of the tips is don’t say, “If the situation had been reversed, I know you would have done the same for me.” That’s in the past. You say, “If the situation were ever reversed, I know you would do the same for me.” Now, they’re on record. All right?

Now, if there is a relationship and you’ve done something, a little special for people inside that relationship, maybe a business relationship, and they say, “Thank you so much. I really appreciated the way you got this order to me quicker, you arranged the payment plan for me to fit.” All right. And then here’s what I think you say, “Of course, it’s what long-term partners do…” and then you add the addendum, “…for one another.”

Pete Mockaitis
I’m applauding. Thank you. I’m glad I asked. So, that’s reciprocation. Let’s talk about commitment and consistency.

Robert Cialdini
Yes, so one thing, another thing that people feel very strongly is they want to be consistent with what they have already committed themselves to either in action or word, especially in public. You want to be consistent. You don’t want to be seen as a flip-flopper, somebody who says one thing, does another, and so on. So, if you can arrange for people to make a small step in your direction, or make a statement, or something that they truly believe, but make it out loud in public, they’re more likely to then continue to move in that direction.

And the great story I like in this regard comes from a study that was done in a restaurant in Chicago, where the owner was getting about 30% no shows, when people would call and book a table then 30% of them wouldn’t show up, and they wouldn’t call to cancel. So, he had his receptionist change what she said when she took a booking from, “Thank you for calling Gordon’s restaurant. Please call if you have to change or cancel your recommendation” to “Will you please call if you…?” and then pause. The pause was crucial because it allowed people to say, “Yes, sure. Of course.” In other words, they committed themselves.

No shows dropped from 30% to 10% that day and never went back up. What’s the implication for your listeners? If you’re running a meeting and you’re assigning people tasks to do before the next meeting, never let anyone out of the room without saying, “Will you be able to complete this task properly by the time of our next meeting?” If they say no, that’s good. That means you know, “Oh, we got to give them more time,” or you got to give them some resources or help. But most of them will say yes, and you’ve now significantly increased the likelihood that they will come properly prepared because they’ve made a commitment to it, a public commitment.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so one key principle there is just to do it and not forget and not assume but actually get the yes. Any ways this can be done inappropriately?

Robert Cialdini
Yeah, it’s by failing to pause and let them make a commitment to you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Perfect. Well, now, how about social proof?

Robert Cialdini
Social proof, this is the one, the principle that says, “People want to follow the lead of multiple comparable others.” If a lot of people are raving about a new restaurant, a piece of software, or a new film, or something on Netflix, “You don’t want to miss The Queen’s Gambit,” you’re likely to follow through because they’ve beta-tested it for you. So, people are much more likely to say yes if there’s evidence that that’s the case.

There was a study done in Beijing, China that shows you the cross-cultural reach of this. Restaurant managers put a little asterisk next to certain items on the menu which increased the purchase of those items by 13-20%. What did the asterisk stand for? It wasn’t what it usually stands for, “This the specialty of the house,” or, “This is our chef’s recommendation for the evening.” That’s what we’d normally see. It’s, “This is one of our most popular items,” and each one became 13- 20% more popular for their popularity.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that is interesting in terms of…And did they do that research kind of head-to-head, like “most people like this” asterisk versus asterisk means chef’s suggestion, and social proof wins?

Robert Cialdini
No, they didn’t do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I guess we don’t know.

Robert Cialdini
We don’t know but what we know is that they had never used, “This is one of our most popular items,” there, and it produced this effect. Honestly, it was their most popular item.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, they’re not just blowing smoke. And that makes everything easier from like a supply, management, inventory, complexity, running your business situation on the backend because it’s just way simpler.

Robert Cialdini
Yeah, just point to it. And the lovely thing about it is it makes it ethical. You’re just informing people, into assent. You’re not tricking them. You’re certainly not coercing them. It’s just educating them.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s even helpful, it’s like, I don’t know…

Robert Cialdini
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
…I’m a tourist. I might actually want to know. People might ask me, “Oh, did you get the dish?” I had no idea I should’ve gotten the thing. Okay.

Robert Cialdini
Pete, you put your finger on another factor in this study that I usually don’t talk about but it’s true. Although this technique worked for every demographic that came into the restaurants – young, old, business people, men, women, whatever it was. The one demographic that most responded to this was people who were there for the first time who were unsure. And what this does is it reduces your uncertainty. That’s what social proof does. It reduces your uncertainty of the step you should take.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. And that really does seem where social proof shines. Have you ever had the conversation with a parent, like, “Everyone else is doing it”? and I say, “Well, if everyone else were jumping off a cliff, would you do it?” I think the real answer is, if you were on top of a cliff, you’re like, “This is kind of scary. I’m not so sure about this.” But then you see ten people jump off, have a great time, be okay.

Robert Cialdini
In the water, right.

Pete Mockaitis
And like, “I guess it’s fine.” Social proof.

Robert Cialdini
Yeah, precisely.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Let’s talk about liking.

Robert Cialdini
There wouldn’t be a single member of your audience that’s listening to us who would be surprised that we prefer to say to the people we like. That’s not a surprise. Here’s what’s surprising. There are two things you can do, very small things you can do to significantly increase the rapport that people feel with us. One is to point to genuine similarities that exist between us.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, Bob, we’ve both written books. I like you.

Robert Cialdini
We’re authors. If I just bring that to the surface, at the top, there’s a bond between us now, right? Well, there was a study done with negotiators that found that if they sent information to one another before the negotiation started about their interests and hobbies and backgrounds, where they went to school and what their family situation was, and so on, they significantly reduced the percentage of stymied negotiation where people just walked away, nobody won, both sides left with nothing.

Now, the interesting thing was it wasn’t the amount of information that was conveyed by one or another partner. It was whether there was a commonality, a parallel inside that information that was revealed, “Oh, you’re a runner? I’m a runner,” “You’re an only child? I’m an only child,” “You have twins? I have twins.” And that was the thing.

So, we now have the internet available to us where we can identify, before we ever try to do business with somebody, or negotiate with somebody, or make a request of somebody, they tell us all kinds of things about them on LinkedIn or Facebook. It’s not proprietary information. It’s not embargo. They want us to know this about them. If we go there and locate something that’s truly in common and then bring it to the surface, we get a better outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And not to get too into the weeds with distinctions, but so there’s liking, and one way that we produce liking is seeing a similarity, then that kind of feels like we’re now in unity territory, like, “Oh, hey, we’re both authors.” Do you think about that distinction in any particular way that’s helpful?

Robert Cialdini
I do. One is a similarity of preferences, or tastes, or styles, inclinations, and these kinds, proclivities. The other is a similarity of membership in a group that people define themselves with.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, who I am identity.

Robert Cialdini
Yes. So, if I were to say to my fellow group members, “Oh, Pete is like us,” I’ll get some movement in your direction from them. They’d be more inclined towards you. But if I were to say, “Pete is one of us,” everything, all barriers to influence come down now. That’s a much more powerful form of similarity. It’s “Who I am” is shared by this individual. We share a social identity. And there are various ways of doing that that don’t take a lot of time.

Everybody says Warren Buffett is the most successful financial expert, investor of our time. He did something in a recent letter to his shareholders where the question was, “What’s Berkshire Hathaway’s…” that’s his business, his company, “…future going to look like in the future? What is it going to look like?” And he said, “I would tell you what I’d say to a family member if they asked me that question.” In other words, he brought everybody inside the boundaries of his family.

I own some Berkshire Hathaway stocks, and what he said at that moment opened my ears and opened my mind to the next thing he said in ways that he wouldn’t have been able to do without that preface. He said, “I’m going to bring you inside my family, my identity, my social identity. I would do the same thing for you as I am for them.” Wow! You can do it. You can do those sorts of things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, hey, we’re talking about unity, let’s roll with it. So, any other key things you want to share about unity? It’s about identity, that shared we-ness, we’re in the same tribe.

Robert Cialdini
Yes, we-ness, partnership. So, here is one small…again, small thing you can do that flips the script and significantly increases the likelihood that people will follow what you ask them to do. Many times, we have ideas or initiatives perhaps at work that we would like to get installed and we would like to be associated with that would bolster our reputation as somebody who comes up with ideas that worked if we run them up the hierarchy, but often we need buy-in from people around us, fellow colleagues, maybe our immediate manager and so on, that this is a good idea.

And what we typically do is to show a draft of our idea or a blueprint of it to this person whose buy-in we want and we ask for their feedback on it. And, typically, here’s the mistake that we make. We ask them for their advice, and the truth is, psychologically, when you ask for someone’s advice, you get a critique. You get someone who goes inside, who introspects and thinks about you as different, and they separate from you almost physically, take a half step back, certainly psychologically, and go inside themselves to consider the pros and cons.

Pete Mockaitis
Just with the word advice.

Robert Cialdini
I’m sorry. Did I say advice? I meant opinion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Robert Cialdini
If you ask for their opinion, you get a critique.

Pete Mockaitis
Opinion leads to critique. All right.

Robert Cialdini
If you ask for their advice, you get a partner, you get a collaborator. And there’s research to show that if you send people, and this is an online study that was done, a business plan for a new restaurant called Splash, it was going to provide fast, healthy food, and they read the business plan. And then you ask them, “To what extent do you favor this idea?” If they were asked for their opinion on it versus their advice for it, the opinion gets significantly less favorable commentary than advice. And the researchers asked why, and here’s the kicker. It was because they felt more identity, they felt more of a shared identity with the business plan developer if the business plan developer asked for their advice, they felt a partnership with them.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. It’s like, “We’re members of this community. We want to make the downtown really cool. Like, yeah, let me…” And I imagine, to the extent that they would sort of write in options, there’s probably more of that, more helpful stuff written by word count.

Robert Cialdini
Yes. There’s another example of a small thing. You change one word and you get a different psychological response based on what it triggers in you. In one case, it triggers a sense of, “Well, I’m a critic here.” And the other case, for advice, “Oh, I’m a collaborator, I’m a partner with this man, or this business developer, in this project, in this idea.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, I don’t want to be a critic of other podcasters and bloggers but I guess I will. Sometimes I feel a little weird when it’s almost like as if we have the language of the unity principle. But if I’m listening to a show and a podcast and they sort of address me in the group. For example, if I were to say to my audience, “What’s up, awesome nation? We got a really cool guest, it’s Bob.”

And so, I’ve sort of just defined that this is our group. If I’m on the receiving end of that, I’m like, “Hmm, I feel a little weird. It’s like I don’t know if I am in awesome nation, and I almost feel a little bit more distanced from them having to try to grab me in.” What do you think about this?

Robert Cialdini
Well, that may be the case because you see it as manipulative. But if you’re truly looking for insight and collaboration and you want to share the idea or the membership, and people see that, that you feel that you want to be more inclusive and bring people in inside the tent, then I think they’ll let you get a pass with that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Thank you. Well, all right. So, we talked about liking and then went right into unity. So, should we hit authority?

Robert Cialdini
Sure. Another way to reduce your uncertainty about what constitutes a good choice for you is to follow the lead of genuinely constituted experts, people who know what they’re talking about. And, of course, if you have that access, if there’s a testimonial that fits with the recommendation you’re making or the request that you’re making from a legitimate authority on the topic, you need to bring that to bear, especially online.

You see this all the time where people provide testimonials of one sort or another what they make. Here’s the mistakes they make though. They bury it inside the message. My view is that it should go first. It should be the first thing you see so that all that aura, that positive aura of authority now infuses the rest of the message.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s authority so we want to put that a little bit more front and center as opposed to buried.

Robert Cialdini
Right. Where you’ve got it, don’t forget to bring that. And people say, “Is there anything you can do to up the amperage of the authority?” Yes, multiply it. Multiply the authority. It turns out that people are more swayed by multiple authorities that you present all pointing in the same direction than anyone. Don’t stop at one.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect.

Robert Cialdini
You’ve missed a gear. There’s another gear available to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I guess it might vary case by case but, as you noted with like the mints, there’s one mint, it gives you a little bump; two mints give you a much bigger bump. I guess you can go overboard. I’ve seen some books, I kind of like it but there’s like 20 of other authors and endorsers on it, I’m like, “Oh, that’s pretty impressive. That’s a good lineup.” But, at some point, I don’t know, it’s sort of like trying too hard. I don’t know. It comes across like that.

Robert Cialdini
What I think it is, is people don’t read it, read all 20 of them there because you’ve made it a burden for them to process all of that. But I think the fact that there are 20 is a plus.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. And that’s true, I’ll scan them, it’s like, “Oh, okay, you got Bob Cialdini, you got Adam Grant, you must be fairly legitimate even though I’m not going to read the details of every single one of those people said about the book.” Cool. And now how about scarcity?

Robert Cialdini
Scarcity. People want more of those things they can have less of, and that’s true it turns out from a very young age in us. By the age of two, children are preferring to go in a direction of something that is scarce or rare or dwindling in availability to them; a toy, compared to a comparable toy that isn’t dwindling in availability. So, that’s true of all of us.

And the reason that that’s the case is that if things are scarce or rare or dwindling in availability, we suffer the possibility of loss, and we have loss aversion as a species. We are more motivated into action by the idea of losing something than gaining something of equal value. The Noble Prize winner Daniel Kahneman showed this in his prospect theory, and he says, “We’re twice as likely to move in a direction of something that prevents a loss than that obtains a gain for the same thing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. Well, Bob, this has been quite a rundown. Thank you. You tell me, is there anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Robert Cialdini
Well, I think we’ve highlighted it before, and that is the importance of doing this ethically, that the only way you get to continue long-term productive relationships with people is that if these principles are used to inform them into assent rather than trick them. As soon as they recognize the trickery, they’re gone to you. They’re going to ghost you. That’s it, you’re gone, so ethics is crucial.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, maybe, could you share with us, what is the most frequently occurring abuse you’ve seen of these principles?

Robert Cialdini
I think it’s lying with statistics where people will claim certain kinds of growth or size of the market share and so on, and they fix the data so that it seems that way, and it’s not really that’s the case.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. It’s not the representative for the reader.

Robert Cialdini
That’s right.

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

Robert Cialdini
I’m a researcher so I’m going to use a version of this quote, but there’s an old Chinese proverb “The years say what the days can’t tell.” So, it means don’t jump on the first impression, the first piece of information, the first datapoint that you get as a way to decide. If you can collect more evidence, then your choice will be more solid. So, the research-based version of that would be multiple data points tell what a single datapoint can’t say.

Pete Mockaitis
Well done. And, speaking of datapoints, boy, this might be hard for you, is there a particular study or experiment or piece of research that you think of often, that you’re fond of and has shaped your thinking?

Robert Cialdini
Well, I’ll say there’s one that, really, I love because of what we also talked about, one small change that makes a difference. It was a study done by the Harvard psychologist in a library and in front of a library copying machine where she had a research assistant go to the front of the line and say to the first person, “Excuse me, I have eight pages. Could I butt ahead of you in line?” And under those circumstances, she was successful 60% of the time.

In another condition, she went and said to the first person in the line, “Excuse me, I have eight pages. Can I move ahead of you because I’m in a rush?” And now she got 94% compliance. So, it seemed like the reason “I’m in a rush” made the difference. But she had a third condition that showed that wasn’t the case. Third condition? “Excuse me, I have eight pages. Could I butt ahead of you in line because I have to make some copies?” Now, that’s not a real reason.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, “We all have to make copies.”

Robert Cialdini
Ninety-three percent. It was the word because. We are programmed to respond to the word because as if it leads into a genuine reason, and people automatically responded to it rather than to the genuine merits of the reason. So, what I love about that is it just shows you how much of this is psychology rather than the merits of the thing. We have to train ourselves to know as much about the psychology of what goes before the offer as we do the merits of what’s in the offer in order to protect ourselves properly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. Thank you. And could you name one favorite book?

Robert Cialdini
Favorite is a tough one for me but I’ll give you the one that was most formative to me, the most impactful to me. I read it at 12 years old. It was the book The Hidden Persuaders by a guy named Vance Packard who showed the hidden cues inside advertising that triggers psychological reactions in us. And it opened for me the idea that, “Wait a minute. It’s not just what’s in front of you,” even at 12 years old, “It’s not what’s being presented to you on the surface. It’s what’s underneath the surface that’s often driving our behavior.”

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

Robert Cialdini
I would say Zoom is terrific and Google Scholar where I could get the research reports of people. All I have to do is type in their names or a concept or a title of an article, and, suddenly, I don’t have to be a library unto myself in my office with all my journals and books, and so on. No, it’s right there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good, yeah. Then I’m sure you’ve got your full text access. And, usually, I get a tease, and I’m like, “Where’s the rest?” That’s the kind of dork I am. And how about a favorite habit?

Robert Cialdini
I do an exercise workout every morning, and then I brew myself a cup of coffee that I leisurely sip and savor, sip by sip, which allows me, first of all, to celebrate and reward the fact that I just did a workout, but also it gives me the calm to plan my day.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, as you savor the sips, you have notepad in hand as you’re writing the plan? Or how does that go?

Robert Cialdini
I often don’t. I just order in my mind which things I need to prioritize once I’m finished with that cup of coffee, what’s the first thing I need to do that’s not just there but important for me to do. So, inside that time of thinking about my day, I prioritize.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And you share a lot of wisdom, but is there a particular nugget you say that seems to connect and resonate, get Kindle Book-highlighted, retweeted more than others?

Robert Cialdini
Yeah, I would say, and this has to do with the influence process again, and what I will say that gets retweeted a lot is “When the science is available, why use anything else?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, hey, talk about authority, it’s like a ladder of authority. Like, yeah, double-blind, controlled, thousands of participants stuff is excellent. Well, tell us, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Robert Cialdini
Our website InflueceAtWork.com.

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

Robert Cialdini
Go into every new situation thinking the best of the people who are there. That will allow you to be generous with them which will cause them to reciprocally be generous with you and to like you for it. And now you’ve got two people who like each other and are giving each other grace.

Pete Mockaitis
That is lovely. Bob, thank you. This has been a treat. It is no exaggeration to say it’s literally been a dream come true for me to have this conversation, so thank you so much. And I wish you much luck with the latest edition of Influence and all your adventures.

Robert Cialdini
Thank you. I’ve enjoyed myself with our interaction.

663: How to Stop Negative Self-talk, Beat Impostor Syndrome, and Feel Confident with Melody Wilding

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Melody Wilding says: "Confidence isn't a prerequisite for success. It's a byproduct of success."

Melody Wilding shares powerful strategies to stop overthinking and deal with your inner critic.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two behaviors that greatly hinder sensitive professionals
  2. Three tactics for silencing your inner critic
  3. Powerful questions to counter negative thinking

About Melody

Melody Wilding, LMSW is an executive coach, human behavior expert, and author of Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work. She has coached hundreds of private clients, from CEOs and Fortune 500 executives to leaders from the US Department of Education, the Federal Reserve, and the United Nations. She teaches graduate-level human behavior and psychology at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College in New York. Her writing is regularly featured on Medium and in Harvard Business ReviewFast CompanyForbesBusiness Insider, and Quartz. Her advice has been featured in the New York TimesThe CutOprah MagazineNBC NewsUS News and World Report, and more.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Melody Wilding Interview Transcript

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

Melody Wilding
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to talk about your latest work Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work. I do some overthinking and could use some help channeling emotions, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone, so lay it on us. What’s maybe the most surprising and fascinating discovery you made as you’re putting this together?

Melody Wilding
I think the concept that really underbeds the entire book of being a sensitive striver was the biggest lightbulb moment for me. Personally, yeah, I am this personality type and it was the huge discovery for me to put together and put words to something that I had struggled with for most of my life up until that point but also, after coaching people for 10 years, I had just seen this really repetitive and consistent constellation of challenges that I couldn’t put words to.

And so, when I was writing the book and I was really struggling with the proposal, trying to figure out what I was writing about, I just took a whiteboard and wrote down on it all the different challenges my clients had, grouped it into two different categories, and kind of stepped back and had that lightning bulb moment of, “Oh, sensitive and striver,” those two sides together. So, that was the biggest aha for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a great turn of a phrase – a sensitive striver. I think I am one, and I think that’s a resonant term for many of our listeners. But can you unpack it for us? What exactly does that mean to be a sensitive striver?

Melody Wilding
Of course. So, being a sensitive striver means that you are highly sensitive and high-achieving so you are someone who thinks and feels everything more deeply, you process the world around you more intricately, but you’re also very driven, you want to succeed, and you want to advance in your career. So, it’s that combination of sensitivity and striving.
Biologically speaking, this is about 15% to 20% of the population that has a genetic trait difference so we’re actually wired differently to pick up on more of the environment. So, we have a more highly attuned central nervous system, which means that we’re more perceptive, observant. We’re more attuned to our own emotions as well as those of the people around us. We’re deeply caring. We give our 100% to our work but we tend to have an inner world that’s on overdrive. And that’s because we process more deeply than other people that leaves us more susceptible to some of the downsides of stress, emotional overwhelm, overthinking.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m intrigued and I think that we’ve got plenty of applicability whether you happen to have that genetic switch going for you or not. Well, first of all, tell us, can we get a genetic test? How do we confirm this quickly and easily?

Melody Wilding
Yeah. So, I actually have in my book, there is a quick quiz, and I can run through some of the items in the quiz if that would be helpful. But this quiz is drawn from the research, from what we know about high sensitivity as a trait, and from what we know about high performance in the science. So, some of the signs, you’re someone who experiences emotion to an unusual level of depth and complexity. You have that desire to exceed expectations in everything that you do. You need time to think through decisions before you act, since the hallmark of sensitivity is pausing before acting.

You tend to have an inner critic that never takes a day off. You’re kind, compassionate, empathetic to others. You find it difficult to set boundaries and say yes too much. You struggle to turn your mind off because it’s constantly filled with thoughts. You hold yourself to very high standards and you judge yourself harshly if you make mistakes.

So, those are just a few of the signs but we can actually dive into, I actually have a framework that explains the six key qualities that all sensitive strivers have so we can dive into that if you like.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I’d love to hit the quick version of checking to those six. But, first, I’m thinking, let’s distinguish a bit. Everything you said resonates with me a bundle. I suppose it’s hard to say if we use words like unusually high or more than others, it’s like, “Well, I don’t know what others are experiencing in their interior life.” But I suppose what would be the insensitive striver, for example? So, I guess there are people who are ambitious but don’t have that going on. What is it? Just like, “You can’t make it on without cracking a few eggs. I don’t care who I have to dominate to win.” Is that what the insensitive striver sounds like?

Melody Wilding
The insensitive striver, I love that. No one has said that to me before so I love that. Sensitivity is a spectrum. So, as you were saying, people, you fall on that just like you would any personality trait. So, people who are highly sensitive are much more affected by the world and the environment that they’re in.

So, for example, if you’re someone who is utterly drained at the end of a long day with meetings where your partner is not. So, for example, my partner, the things that drain me and are very taxing to me, my partner, it doesn’t faze him at all. Or, things that I pick up on in a situation where I notice certain subtleties or nuances goes right over his head. And I love him with all my heart, so that is said with kindness.

Pete Mockaitis
And can this also be true about just actual physical stimuli, like sandpaper feels rougher, a loud noise is more jarring and painful?

Melody Wilding
One hundred percent, and that’s actually the first of the strive qualities is actually sensitivity which sounds obvious but it refers to exactly what you’re saying, which is sensory – sensitivity. So, we startle more easily. Yes, we’re more sensitive to smells and fabrics and bright lights, for example, so that’s why Zoom tends to be really fatiguing because it’s just visual stimulation and you’re self-monitoring all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Melody Wilding
And so, sensitive strivers can become really highly overstimulated and operate at that level for a long time, kind of just pushing themselves through it, that’s the striver side, and being burnt out. So, yes, you’re exactly right on.

Pete Mockaitis
And so that’s helpful there in terms of, okay, there is a spectrum and so it’s not necessarily binary, on/off, you got the gene, you’re in the 15% versus you don’t, you’re not. And one thing I think about sensitivity in terms of like when I’m dealing with people, I get the impression that some people I know seem to really feel, I don’t know, I guess, sensitivity, I mean, they feel the pull of like guilt and/or reciprocity significantly, and others seem completely immune to it. Like, there’s just no sense of they owe you.

And, in a way, I envy that. This is like, “Man, you’re such a killer negotiator. Like, you don’t care at all about all the things I’ve done for you. Wow, I just can’t be that heartless,” although I’d probably be more lucrative if I could be. So, does that fit in the mix or is that a totally different construct?

Melody Wilding
No, you’re 100% right. So, actually, you’re kind of leading down this framework, so the way to identify your qualities as a sensitive striver, conceptualize them, it conveniently spells out the acronym STRIVE. So, we first have sensory sensitivity, that’s the heightened nervous system response that we talked about. Then we have the T which is thoughtfulness. So, you’re contemplative, you’re reflective, you’re intuitive but you can overthink situations, worry more, get into indecision and doubt.

Next would be responsibility, which is part of what you were talking about, being dependable always, being counted on to follow through for other people but we also can’t bear to let people down so we will take on actual responsibility even when it means sacrificing our own wellbeing. Then we have inner drive which is that desire to exceed expectations, set a lot of goals. Sometimes we can set our goals so sky high that it’s unrealistic and we fall into perfectionism.

Fifth, we have vigilance, which is also being attentive to other people’s needs, having the keen awareness for those subtleties, a change in your boss’ body language, the general mood of a meeting. So, you’re constantly on high alert, taking on what’s going on around you but you may sometimes read danger where there is none.

And then, last is emotionality, so that’s our E in our STRIVE. And that is having complex more intense emotional responses, so you’re more emotionally reactive, so to speak, both positive and negative. So, we get the joy of experiencing life in full color, of the full emotional spectrum of gratitude, excitement, but we can also get stuck in negative emotions, like anger, fear, anxiety, and stay stuck there longer than most people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, I’m not a hoarder, like, “Where is this going, Pete?”

Melody Wilding
I like that, whenever a sentence starts that way.

Pete Mockaitis
But sometimes I do have a lot of complex emotional relationships associated with objects in terms of, “Are we just going to let that go and what does that mean? Does that mean that I’ve failed, I made a poor decision, that we’re no longer committed to this thing I thought we were committed to when we embarked upon this path and acquired this?” So, it’s like I really do have a lot of complicated emotions associated with several things, like, “Hey, are you going to use it? Well, then get rid of it.” It’s like, “Well, there’s a little more to it than that.” Not every item in my home but there’s like a sliver of things that fall into a weird category.

So, it sounds like, okay, there’s a spectrum. It sounds like I’m on it and I think a lot of our listeners are. And for the insensitive strivers, well, maybe you’ll learn what the rest of us are dealing with and interact with us.

Melody Wilding
That’s right because this is 20% of people, so this is one in five people. So, if you’re not one, you definitely work with one, love one, are friends with one, so it’s good to know about this personality, and in terms of how to get the best out of them, how to communicate with them, so definitely something here for everyone.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then could you maybe share with us an inspiring story of a sensitive striver – I’m really going to put you on the spot here – who was having some stresses, some difficulties, but then, gaining some awareness and some tools about the sensitive striving, was able to open things up and make a positive impact?

Melody Wilding
I do. I do. And this one is timely because this actually happened last year when the pandemic really hit. So, I have one client who is in a senior leadership position at his organization, it was a nonprofit and he characterized himself as a reluctant leader. He actually consulted with the organization before, and the organization was in a transitional period, let’s put it that way. It was really, the leadership was in disarray. They had really been managed by an old-school model, kind of managed by fear and dictating what people should do, and just kind of your old-school management style.

And so, people had left, there was a lot of turnover, there was a lot of upset on the board about the organization not hitting their targets. And so, my client was thrust into a full-time senior leadership role when someone very suddenly exited. And so, all of a sudden, he sort of found himself as this reluctant leader of this broken organization and then the pandemic hit shortly after that, and there was, all of a sudden, a lot of pressure from the board.

This was really a catalyzing moment but, for him, it was also an opening to say, “We can’t do things the way we’ve always done. If we don’t change something, we’re not going to survive,” because, actually, his organization, what they did was in-person teaching. They would bring people to teach in-person classes which, as you can guess during the pandemic, was not possible, so overnight, pretty much their entire revenue stream evaporated.

Now, what my client was able to do and what we worked on together during this time was, first, his confidence of shifting from, in his mind, keeping himself and that identity of the reluctant leader, “This is only temporary and part time, and they didn’t really want me and I got here by luck.” A lot of getting past a lot of his hang-ups around the impostor syndrome and fully stepping into, “I’m the leader of this organization,” and owning that identity.

Second was really starting to leverage how his qualities as a sensitive striver could really uniquely be huge strengths in this situation. And a big one is that sensitive strivers, because we’re processing, we’re taking in a lot of information, we tend to anticipate eventualities, we tend to be able to spot opportunities that others miss, or anticipate roadblocks that may come up.

So, my client, even before the pandemic hit, he had been very vocal about the fact that, “We need to get our online learning up and running. We need to really be going deep on that as a different revenue stream.” And so, when the pandemic hit, he was very well-poised to push that through and very quickly was able to help the organization pivot their entire business model to an online revenue stream because he had seen that opportunity coming.

And then last was using his sensitivity, his empathy, his emotional intelligence, his high value for integrity and diversity, he completely rebuilt the team from the inside out. As I had mentioned before, the culture of the company was very much by fear, by criticism, and he completely changed that to be a very psychologically safe place, to be a place that people were going from a 50% turnover to people saying, “I never want to leave this job. I love working here so much,” and people referring their friends to the organization.

So, really, he completely turned around the inside of the organization and that’s primarily through his skills as a sensitive striver, his problem-solving, complex thinking, his empathy, emotional intelligence. All of those things, combined together, was the perfect combination needed to help the organization get through the pandemic.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s lovely in terms of the reluctance from which we started there, I guess impostor syndrome is huge there with regard to, “I don’t know enough. I’m not worthy of this opportunity. I’m a fraud.” And, yet, it seems like those same kinds of instincts that lead to you thinking you’re a fraud are actually the sorts of instincts that are assets in terms of helping out in terms of the sensitivity and the empathy and whatnot there. So, that’s cool right there in terms of just having that awareness. Okay, this is good.

Melody Wilding
Yeah, those strive qualities I mentioned before, they can all be strengths. You want to think of them almost like dials on the stereo. You can dial them up and you can dial them down. And when your qualities are well-balanced, for example, when your thoughtfulness is well-balanced, you’re able to be reflective and problem-solve and bring creative original ideas to the table. But when your thoughtfulness is not balanced for whatever reason, you’re stressed, you lack the right tools, you lack the awareness, well, then it can turn into impostor syndrome, overthinking. And so, they’re two sides of the same coin.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think I’ve got a good picture for how the strive qualities can be assets, and I’ve got a little bit of a picture for how that could be unpleasant as you’re inside the head of a sensitive striver. Could you paint perhaps a detailed picture in terms of the six strive qualities and how they can be working against you or feeling not so great?

Melody Wilding
Yeah. And I think many people will be familiar with this part. So, let’s take some of the most common examples. We talked about impostor syndrome. So, that is that feeling of being a fake, a fraud, despite your accomplishments, so it’s really just being really hindered by your insecurities. So, a lot of the clients I work with come to me because they say they are playing it safe in their career. They’re running away from more responsibility because of their lack of confidence. They don’t want to put themselves out there or take higher leadership positions, or they do take higher leadership positions and they self-sabotage or flare out early on. So, that is one common thing we see.

Also, something I call the honor roll hangover. And that is a combination of people-pleasing, perfectionism, and over-functioning. So, it’s called the honor roll hangover because many of our habits that many sensitive strivers are grownup A+ gold star students, who bring that same sort of mentality, “Be the best. Do everything right,” they bring that mentality with them into their careers. And while that helps them be successful then, that it’s not necessarily the same skillset it means to be successful particularly as you advance in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say over-functioning, that sounds like a good thing. But over maybe not so much, what do we mean by that?

Melody Wilding
That’s right. So perfectionism, most of us know perfectionism is not really the desire to be perfect, but it’s more the self-recrimination. It’s being highly self-critical, nothing you ever do is good enough, beating yourself up relentlessly for everything that you do, all or nothing thinking, that’s perfectionism.

People-pleasing can also look good, “I want to be helpful to people. I always want to be of value.” We hear that constantly from people in the workplace. But people-pleasing can look like agreeing to someone’s not-so-great idea when you don’t actually agree with it; morphing your opinion so someone likes you; or, a lot of folks I worked with who are managers and leaders will sort of downplay their opinions because they want their team to like them, or not give feedback. So, that’s people-pleasing.

And then over-functioning can look like a few things. It can look like swooping in to fix situations. You always have to be the one putting out fires. If others around you are very dependent on you, so if everybody comes to you for answers to the point where people don’t know how to do the work themselves, so you are basically an enabler. So, when you’re over-functioning, you tend to overwork as well. You tend to take on more than your share of responsibility.

So, if you take on emotional and mental responsibility for situations when it’s really not yours, an outcome of a meeting or a project and you are just beating yourself up and feeling horrible because it went sideways when, really, there was so much out of your control, then you’re over-functioning. And the problem with over-functioning is it causes other people under-function.

So, you can actually create this cycle where other people don’t take responsibility, they don’t step up, they’re not empowered, which only reinforces it because you feel more resentful, you feel like the kid in the group project who does everything by yourself and nobody else steps up, and it might be because you’re not giving them a chance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, let’s zoom in on some solutions here. When it comes to your inner critic, when it comes to second-guessing or rumination, when we’re in the heat of that battle in our brains, what do we do?

Melody Wilding
So, one of my favorite strategies and one my clients love is naming your inner critic, personifying it, giving it an identity that is separate from you. And this is simple but powerful because so many of us over-identify with that inner critic. It is the loudest voice in our head. It drowns out our intuition or our wiser self, the more balanced and calm self. And so, it’s so automatic and what we need to do is be able to gain distance from it so that we can hear what it’s saying but not necessarily buy into and act on what it’s telling us.

So, when you personify your inner critic, I recommend giving it a silly name or imagining it as a character from a movie. So, one of my clients named his Darth Vader, and actually got a Darth Vader Lego figure, put it on his desk so that every time his inner critic was acting up, he was able to look at it, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Darth Vader is uniquely perfect because he’s so critical and so overreacts, like he’s going to choke you if you make a mistake, and so that is perfection. What are some other examples?

Melody Wilding
Well, I’ve had a lot of people call theirs the little monster or Gremlin. Some folks, a lot of Karens this year with the rise of…

Pete Mockaitis
Poor Karens in real life.

Melody Wilding
I know. I feel very bad for real Karens.

Pete Mockaitis
All listeners named Karen, we love you.

Melody Wilding
I know. Yes, that is very true. So, yeah, that’s a few of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. Okay, so we give it a name. That’s a great tip. And then what?

Melody Wilding
And so, once you are able to gain distance from it, that’s half the battle. Half the battle is even recognizing when it comes up so that’s not so automatic. But where the greater power is starting to change your thoughts, starting to reframe the impostor syndrome dialogue that’s going on in your head. And so, this is really a process of self-coaching, and so much of my job as a coach is to put myself out of a job because I want to give my clients the ability to have a Melody in their head so they can coach themselves to better thoughts and better solutions.

And so, for example, if your impostor syndrome is saying…well, what are some critical thoughts that you struggle with?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s see. I don’t know if, you call it negative self-talk but I don’t know if it’s so much of a criticism, it’s not like, “You screwed up. You’re bad. You suck. You’re unworthy of love.” I don’t have much of that going on but I can sort of dwell on the, “Ugh, I’m tired. I’m exhausted. This is too much. I don’t know if I can handle all of this.” Some sort of like, “Woe is me. Tired. Overwhelmed.” So, does that count as an inner critic? It’s not helpful.

Melody Wilding
Well, that’s what I would say, yeah. And so, one kind of coaching question, or coaching questions I come back to again and again and again, one of them is, “How is this thought serving you? How is that thought helping you reach your goals?”

Pete Mockaitis
Fantastic question. Usually, it’s not at all. Occasionally, it might help me anticipate something, like, “Hey, yeah, good point. That’s probably going to pop up so let’s prepare.” But more often than not, it’s just bellyaching in the moment which does nothing for me.

Melody Wilding
Yeah, exactly. And negative or critical thoughts stick around because there’s always a kernel of truth and usefulness. As you said, it helps us anticipate or prepare whatever it is but they become so outsized that it’s not helpful. So, that’s one question is, “How is this thought serving me?”

Another one that really stops people in their tracks is, “What am I making this mean about me?” That’s my golden coaching question that I come back to again and again, because, so often, we are personalizing other people’s actions and behaviors to mean something. We interpret it as something negative about us, “My boss used a period instead of an exclamation point. Well, that must mean they’re mad at me, they’re going to fire me. I knew he thought I did a bad job on that,” instead of looking at the facts of the situation, which is, “He used a period instead of an exclamation point.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s so good.

Melody Wilding
And we go down this narrative, right?

Pete Mockaitis
And the stimuli doesn’t even need to be external. Like, in terms of me saying, “I feel tired,” I could say, “What does that mean about me?” I could leap to conclusions, it’s like, “Well, yeah, I’m out of shape. I haven’t been doing much working out. I’ve been neglecting my health and vitality. I’m getting older. I’m not as motivated as I used to be. I’m losing the fire. I used to be such a go-getter, and now I’m getting weak and soft.” Whereas, it could really just mean, “Yeah, you didn’t get enough sleep last night,” or, “Yeah, it’s been about seven hours since you had a meal. That’ll do it.”

So, that’s awesome whether it’s coming from the external or the internal. We could personalize and make it mean something about us that’s not so handy.

Melody Wilding
Yeah. And two other helpful tools to get past that then when you do find yourself personalizing or getting hooked by those stories, one is another acronym, that is THINK. So, you’re going to be thinking anyway, but THINK stands for, “Is this thought true?” Do I have factual evidence? Or is this an interpretation or an opinion? A fact is, “I made a typo in an email,” whereas an opinion is, “I’m horrible at my job.”

Is it helpful? “Is it serving me or others?” Is it inspiring? “Does it help me move closer or away from my goals?” Is it necessary? “Is it necessary that I focus on this thought now, that I act on it, or even pay attention to it or can I let it go?” And then last is kind. “Is it compassionate? Is it caring towards myself or to others?” And even just that, I’ve a lot of clients who just keep a sticky note on their computer with THINK. And whenever they find themselves going down that spiral, it’s an instant reset to help you access some of that more balanced, calmer, compassionate thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love that so much. Boy, this reminds me of, every once in a while, something reminds me of a verse, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, and if there’s anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” If there’s any Christian in the house, that might resonate, like those are similar things and themes to think in terms of those are the kinds of things that are going to serve you and help get you where you want to be.

Melody Wilding
Yeah, that’s beautiful.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. Okay, so we catch ourselves, I guess, in the moment. We go through the THINK acronym. And then what if we say, “Hey, you know what? No, it’s not true or it’s not helpful,” how do we kind of shimmy from there?

Melody Wilding
Yeah, part of it is even practicing on, practicing new thoughts, because new thoughts then lead to different actions. Because if your thinking is, “I’m not worthy. I’m not capable. I’m inadequate,” well, your actions are going to be congruent with that. You’re not going to put yourself out there. You’re going to diminish your successes. But if your thinking is more constructive, well, then you are going to put yourself out there, you are going to feel more confident.

And so, so much of overcoming impostor syndrome comes down to changing your thoughts, yes, but then taking a leap to act differently so that you get evidence to build your credibility with yourself. And so, when I have clients in my group coaching program, the first thing I say in our initial session to them is that, “You build confidence and credibility with yourself in proportion to the number of promises you keep to yourself.”

And so, if so many of us put other people first in our careers and in our lives, and we are the last person on the list that we say, “Well, I’ll take my lunch break today,” “I’ll finally take that course that I’ve been wanting to take,” that always falls to the wayside, or, “I’ll speak up in that meeting and I’ll share my idea this time,” “I’ll give feedback or I’ll ask feedback from my boss,” and we don’t hold ourselves accountable. And that only reinforces the negative thinking, the inner critic, the impostor syndrome thoughts, because, look, you are such a scaredy cat. You can’t even ask your boss for feedback? Who does that? No wonder you’re not successful at this job.

But if you take a leap and you keep that promise to yourself, well, you start changing. You have evidence to back up that new story that you’re telling yourself. You’re depositing in your confidence bank, so to speak.

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

Melody Wilding
I think the last thing I wanted to mention around impostor syndrome is really internalizing your achievements because so many times, sensitive strivers, again, we place all of our attention externally on other people versus channeling it internally. Most of the time, when we channel our energy internally, it’s to be critical, it’s about how we’re not measuring up, or we need to be stronger, our weaknesses.

So, I have my clients keep a brag file, which is an ongoing place of work journal, essentially, where, on a daily basis or on Monday and Friday, they are talking about their biggest achievements, their biggest wins. And what’s important about this is it’s not to think of wins in the glorified sense of, “I made the company a million dollars,” but in the, “What moments of strength did I have? Did I overcome resistance? Did I do something that was hard?” It can be wins, like positive phrase and feedback, but it is important to do this because, if we don’t, the negativity bias will take over. It’s very easy to get to the end of a day or week, and feel like, “I did nothing productive or worthwhile today.”

And so, your brag file is a force point of reflection for you to do that and to help you really take in, internalize and appreciate how far you are coming. And through that, you can see your strengths, your talents, what type of work you are good at, so it can be useful in a number of different levels.

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

Melody Wilding
Mine would be a quote from Charles Dickens that says, “Have a heart that never hardens, a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.” A very sensitive striver.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, lovely. Thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Melody Wilding
Lately, I have been reading a lot of future of jobs reports from the World Economic Forum, for example, about what are the skills, workplace skills that are going to be most valuable in the future, and it’s all things sensitive strivers are strong in – emotional intelligence, empathy, complex thinking, problem-solving. So, I have really just been fascinated by where the future of work is going and how much those skills are in demand.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Melody Wilding
Thanks for the Feedback by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone. Fantastic book. If you have ever struggled with taking feedback or criticism personally, you need to read it. It completely changed the way I see communication and conversations in general.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite tool?

Melody Wilding
With this, I’m going to go with the Oura Ring. Not sure if you’ve heard of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, it’s like a Fitbit except it’s a ring.

Melody Wilding
Yes, and I have mine on right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, good.

Melody Wilding
And it’s fantastic. It tracks your sleep so it’s been really helpful to help me spot patterns in my sleep. It tracks your heart rate so it has really been helpful for helping me manage stress and build more healthier, productive habits.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, if I can dork out here for a moment.

Melody Wilding
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Does it do stuff above and beyond what a Fitbit does or is it just more a form factor thing?

Melody Wilding
I think the sleep might be superior and deeper to what you can get with a Fitbit but I think beyond that, most of it is the same and it’s, yeah, it’s a fit and form thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it looks cool. All right. And how about a favorite habit?

Melody Wilding
For this, I’m going to go with every Saturday I do a weekly reflection. I call it my CEO report, and it’s a time for me to sit down, quiet, no other distractions, and really log different metrics for my business, but also ask myself big questions about, “What is going well? What needs to be improved? What’s on the horizon?” So, it just really helps me feel grounded.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share with your clients, something that really connects and resonates, they quote it back to you frequently?

Melody Wilding
Yes, “Confidence isn’t a prerequisite for success. It’s a byproduct of success.”

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

Melody Wilding
You can head to MelodyWilding.com/book. That’s where you can find more information about me, my website, but also get your copy of my new book Trust Yourself.

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

Melody Wilding
Start viewing your sensitivity as a strength and the world will change.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Melody, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in your sensitive striving.

Melody Wilding
Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

662: How to Build Resilient Teams to Beat Burnout with Paula Davis

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Paula Davis says: "Stay in the now and stick to the facts."

Paula Davis discusses how teams can support each other to beat burnout and create a culture of resilience.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How an engaged workforce can still burnout 
  2. The tiny noticeable things (TnTs) that make us more resilient 
  3. How to keep your mind from catastrophizing 

About Paula

Paula Davis JD, MAPP, is the Founder and CEO of the Stress & Resilience Institute, a training and consulting firm that helps organizations reduce burnout and build resilience at the team, leader, and organizational level. 

Paula left her law practice after seven years and earned a master’s degree in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. 

Paula is also the author of Beating Burnout at Work: Why Teams Hold the Secret to Well-Being & Resilience. 

Her expertise has been featured in numerous media outlets including The New York Times, and Psychology Today. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Blinkist. Read or listen to summarized wisdom from thousands of nonfiction books! Free trial available at blinkist.com/awesome

Paula Davis Interview Transcript

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

Paula Davis
Thank you, Pete. It’s so great to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to get into your wisdom, we’re talking burnout. And I understand you have a personal bit of experience with burnout. Could you share your story?

Paula Davis
Absolutely. I practiced law for seven years and burnout is really what cut my law practice short. I spent the last year of my law practice going through burnout. I didn’t know what it was at the time. I just knew I was off in terms of how I was managing my stress, how I was feeling, how I was really processing the challenges associated with my work, and it took me quite a bit of time to really understand what that was, and I didn’t know there was a word burnout. I was thinking just purely in terms of stress.

And so, I didn’t start in kind of a severe place but I ended in a severe place. I was getting panic attacks quite regularly, almost daily. I was in the emergency room twice because I had really bad stomach aches from the stress. And so, it really prompted me to start to think about, “Do I want to stay in the profession? Should I go back to the firm that I was at? Should I do something completely different?” And, obviously, I decided the latter.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Wow, those are some strong signals there. So, we’re going to talk about that. I also want to hear you’ve got a great turn of a phrase acronym. You have a list of TNTs or tiny noticeable things. Can you share what are some of those? How do we think about them? And how do we manage them? Because panic attacks, I mean, wow, that’s powerful and thank you for sharing. And I think that, to the extent that there could be some early warnings that would be great, and it sounds like you’ve cataloged a few of those. What are they?

Paula Davis
So, I had three kind of early warnings that something was amiss, that was off, compared to how I had been processing and just dealing with stress being in a stressful profession for the years prior to this happening. So, I was, first and foremost, chronically, physically, and emotionally exhausted. So, sometimes people will ask me, “What do you mean by chronic?” and there is no hardcore definition. It’s not like three months, or two months, or four weeks, or eight months, or what have you. It’s just that for more often than not, over a period of time, feeling that nothing that I did really was able to replenish my energy.

So, on the weekends when I wasn’t working, typically I would play coed softball, or hang out with my friends, or just spend time doing activities that I enjoy, playing sports and things like that, and those were always very meaningful and connective and energy-giving pursuits for me, and they stopped being so after a point in time during this process. And it kind of boiled down to at some point I just wanted the couch and some bad reality television, and I wanted everybody to leave me alone. There was this sense of like, “Just get out of my space. I’m trying to rejuvenate. Leave me alone,” kind of a mentality, and that’s not my normal personality.

And so, that was something that was really eye-opening for me, and even more so was the second big warning sign that I missed is that I was chronically cynical. So, everyone just started to annoy me and bug me, and that was my friends, my family, my colleagues, my clients, which is horrible. Here I am, charged to help people, deal with their sophisticated legal challenges, and outwardly I was always very professional but inwardly I’m doing a lot of eye-rolling and thinking to myself, like, “Do we really have to have this conversation? Can you handle this on your own?” and, clearly, the answer was no.

And then that led to a sense of lost impact. It’s just, “Am I really doing what I want to do in my career? Like, why bother? Who cares?” was starting to come up in my phrasing a lot and in my thought process. And so, it’s really when we talk about burnout and use that word, that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the combination and the constellation of those three things: chronic exhaustion, chronic cynicism, and the sense of lost impact.

And so, that’s really where I think we need to sort of punctuate that, these days, I think we’re using the word burnout really loosely as a synonym for just feeling frustrated, or overwhelmed, or stressed out. That’s not necessarily a suitable synonym for those things. It’s really that constellation of three things is what we mean when we’re talking about burnout.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a helpful distinction. Thank you. I was going to ask that next. So, well maybe let’s zoom out a bit and share that’s one key discovery that may surprise people or they find counterintuitive. Any other big surprises or fascinating discoveries you’ve made along the way as you’ve researched and worked in this area?

Paula Davis
Yeah, there’s a couple. So, first and foremost, when I was sort of coming out of my burnout experience and recovering and going to get my Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and kind of moving on with my career, so I started to think back about the experience that I had burning out. I really thought about it very much in terms of an individual-type thing, an experience, “What did I do wrong? What did I miss? What could I have done better?”

And I realized, as I continued to study, to research, as I continued to coach people and talk to people and interview people about their burnout experiences, that we were really missing a big piece of the puzzle in that we really have to start thinking about burnout less in terms of it being an individual issue or problem. We still have to have those conversations. But the bigger piece of the puzzle and the picture is really kind of drawing in the rest of the system.

So, burnout is very much a systemic issue that requires holistic strategy. So, we need to look at the leader level, we need to look at the team level, we need to look still at the individual contributor level, to examine how all of these pieces need to start to kind of fit together or the conversations that need to be had so that we can actually do something about burnout. So, that’s part of the big thesis of my book. So, that was a big moment.

The other aha that I had, and I knew this intuitively but I wasn’t finding anything empirically kind of talking about this, until I stumbled across a study from a couple of years ago actually showing that high levels of engagement can also travel with high levels of burnout. So, there’s a lot of burnout research positioning engagement as the opposite of burnout for a whole host of reasons. And it just didn’t make sense to me, and I knew a lot of people who felt the sense of burnout but were still really kind of wanting to do good work, and they weren’t unplugged like I was.

And so, the study really drove that home and found that, of the group of people that they were looking at, about 20% or so of people, met this highly engaged, highly-burned out classification where people still felt that they wanted to do good work, in some instances, would say they like their work, but they were in very high-demand jobs and not getting enough resources to really help them manage and deal with all of the stress they were experiencing from their demands. And, really importantly, they found that this group, this 20% group, actually experienced the highest turnover intentions, so even more so than the people like me who were flat out burned out saying, “I’m gone. I’m done.”

And so, that’s something that I really like to punctuate for leaders. Don’t assume that somebody classifies as engaged that they aren’t also or could potentially turn out to be burned out. And so, I see that now play out in a few ways with the work that I’ve done. So, a team that I worked with in a healthcare organization had about a 28% or so rate of burnout within their team, yet they were in the top tier for engagement scores within the organization. So, that was one instance.

I’ve had a couple of coaching clients who have identified exactly this way, who printed out some of my material and took it in to their boss, and said, “Look, I don’t have any of these resources that we know are important to preventing burnout. I need some help here because I still want to do good work but I’m like worn out because I’m not getting enough of this.” So, I’m seeing that theme come up more.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a powerful tip right there in terms of, “Hey, I’m not just a whiner. These are psychologically validated things that people need. Here’s a list from a third party with a reputable authoritative source and I need some of that.” And I think most leaders who give a hoot will say, “Hey, fair enough. You’re right. Let’s see what we can do here.”

And, also, that point about engagement, that really resonates because sometimes I think, you know, I don’t want to misuse the word burnout as we’ve precisely defined it, but when I felt some burnout-esque feelings, that’s part of it. It’s just like, “I care so much that it’s exhausting.” And sometimes I think, “Man, if I just didn’t care then this wouldn’t be a big deal to me. I wouldn’t feel so stressed or overwhelmed by this because I’d be like, ‘Well, hey, whether that outcome goes in direction A or B, whatever, right?’ But, no, I care very much. I want it to go absolutely in direction A and I don’t see it going that way, and that’s frustrating. Ahh!”

Paula Davis
Yes. And I think that Adam Grant has a phenomenal…he’s got a phenomenal lot of stuff, but he mentions this term in an article that I believe he co-wrote, I think, with a classmate of mine actually at UPenn, and they call it generosity burnout. So, this notion of caring so much that we prioritize everybody else’s needs above our own, and that causes us to wear out and burn out essentially.

So, he talks about how we have to figure out how we can still exercise our giver tendencies which are really important especially if you orient that way, but also taking into account, “What do you have to do to deal with and manage your stress in a way that kind of puts those boundaries in place so that you’re not just purely giving a 100% of your time?”

And I think he cites a study or talks about a study where they actually looked at a group of teachers, or teachers, and found that teaches, who were these pure givers, who you would think are constantly devoting their time to helping their students with any issue that came up, actually their students had lower test scores compared to teachers who were also givers but implementing more of a boundaried approach to how they gave to other people. So, I thought that that was fascinating. So, we have to figure out how to give with limits, care with limits.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. And you’ve got a nifty model when it comes to thinking about burnout and teams and being successful – the PRIMED model. Can you give us a bit of the overview there and some top tips that make a big impact?

Paula Davis
Yeah. So, when I was kind of taking a step back and thinking about how I wanted to position this topic and understanding that if framing burnout as purely an individual issue with individual strategies isn’t enough to really move the needle. And the research suggests, and a lot of my own interviews and things suggest, that there’s such a strong organizational culture element associated with burnout.

I also can’t go into organizations and be realistic and say, “Hey, let’s just change your culture and everything will be fine.” That’s not realistic for a whole host of reasons. And so, I was thinking to myself, “Where within the system is going to be the best entry point? Where can we really start to think about moving the needle in the right direction?”

And so, for me, that answer became teams, just simply because so many people, not all people, of course, but so many people work in teams. There’s a lot of research about what creates a resilient and high-performing and thriving teams, and so I started to dig into all of that and realized that there were similar themes that kept coming up in the research, and that became the model that I started to use and started to work by.

And so, very importantly, one of the pieces in the PRIMED model is psychological safety, so building trust within the team, and prioritizing relationships is the R, and talking about the impact and the meaning that teams have within their organization, and just having those conversations is important. Energy, mental strength, so a lot of times we don’t think about how our own thinking or the collective thinking of the team can really be exhausting if we’re thinking in a counterproductive way, and how it can undercut our efforts to create the cohesion and the trust and the high performance that we want within our teams.

And then design is the last piece. So, really, understanding and recognizing if we realize there are tweaks that we need to make. How do we go about doing that? How do we kind of design the environment that we want to be in for ourselves? So, that’s the model in a big overview.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, sure. So, we got the psychological safety and needs, the relationship, the impact, the mental strength, the mindset, the energy, and the design, forming the word PRIMED. And so, then in terms of quick wins, what are some of the top things that we can do to get a nice boost on some of these dimensions?

Paula Davis
Sure. So, I call them tiny noticeable things, as we talked about, so a little acronym, suggesting that it’s not necessarily these big shifts. Sometimes I think when we start to have this conversation, we think that we have to make these wild shifts in our behavior or we got to do these big things to kind of change what we’re doing. And, in essence, it’s really smaller things done more consistently over time that really matter.

And so, it’s simple things like attentiveness, like when someone joins a Zoom call, say, “Hey, Joe, it’s really nice to see you. How is it going?” It’s seeking out other people and making sure you’re hearing from opinions from everybody. It’s limiting side conversations, cliques and gossips, which is a huge aspect of psychological safety. It’s a leader saying, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen this before. What do you all think?” It’s sharing and capitalizing on good news and wins, really, really small ones especially, not just the big moments that we oftentimes think about.

And it could be as simple as being more transparent. So, as a leader, cluing people in more on what they need to know; asking them to participate in decisions that impact their work; being more clear, which could be adding a sentence or two in an email; giving more of a rationale or an explanation around a task instead of, having come from the legal profession, I heard this so many times, “Well, too bad, this is what I had to do on my way to partner, so you’re going to have to work on Thanksgiving as well. And who cares?”

But explaining why that’s important and framing it in a little bit of a different way leads to more of a perception of flexibility and autonomy. So, it’s these little kinds of tweaks and hacks that leaders and individual contributor in teams can start to prioritize essentially.

Pete Mockaitis
And what are some of those hacks when it comes to mental strength and mindset?

Paula Davis
So, one of my favorite skills is, and this is probably a little bit more in the what I would classify in the individual side of the house in terms of the skill, but it comes up all the time in my work across the board with professionals. So, it’s limiting catastrophizing or worst-case scenario thinking, so it’s our tendency when something stressful has happened and it can be a really small stressor.

It could be as simple as like getting an email from your boss that says, “Call me back,” or, “Come see me now,” and it doesn’t have any other details, and your brain is going to jump to some conclusion, and it’s never, “I did a great job.” It’s almost always, “I did something wrong and I’m going to get fired.” That’s where we go.

And so, it’s a process just to help you think through, gaining some perspective and clarity when you’re in those moments. And so, I call it your horror movie, Disney movie, documentary. So, horror movie is just getting out of your head all of those likely unrealistic thoughts and story that you’re telling yourself. The Disney movie is kind of creating the opposite version even if it’s unrealistic because you’re just looking for a smile or jolts of positive emotion.

And then the documentary is just being very factual, being very fact-based, “Okay, I’ve got a little bit more perspective. What am I really dealing with here? And what do I actually have to do about it? Do I have to email my boss back? Do I have to go look at the file? Like, what is it that I have to do so I’m not just sitting here not purposely acting in some way?” So, that’s one of my favorites.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is handy. So, we got those three perspectives: the horror, the Disney, and the documentary. And I think that’s also a good team tip in terms of, “Hey, maybe don’t send emails like that to your teammates.”

Paula Davis
I tell leaders all the time, “Add one more sentence.”

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, that’s handy. Yeah, because one sentence will probably do it. And, occasionally, even if it is negative, like you do want to have a hard conversation where you deliver some difficult feedback, you could just even give a little bit more context is handy, it’s like, “Hey, I’d like to catch up on this piece of work,” or whatever. It’s like, “Okay, so that’s what we’re talking about,” it’s not, “I’m going to be fired because we’re going to talk about this piece of work. And maybe I’ve got a hunch that, oops, I think I wasn’t my best there, so there might be a couple things that are hard to hear,” but it’s less room to catastrophize when you’ve got that extra context.

Paula Davis
Yes. And we also have to realize, and I put in there, too, is being aware and mindful of our triggers. What in our environment triggers counterproductive thinking in the first place? So, for me, it’s vague and ambiguous information. I absolutely hate those emails and those types of situations where I don’t know all of the information or details because my brain is just, especially as a former lawyer, we’re trained to issue spot, we’re trained to analyze a situation from every single angle, and so it can be very a very easy thinking style to do.

And another trigger that can promote counterproductive thinking is anytime it’s the first time that we’re doing something. And so, thinking about a colleague who might be new to your team or new to the organization. Even if they’re a seasoned professional, they’re oftentimes kind of trying to orient, and most of the conversations they’re having with people are people who they don’t know and so it’s their first time leading a meeting, or turning in a project, or getting feedback or things like that.

And so, when we can kind of build collectively that awareness of what might be causing or what could cause counterproductive thinking in our team members, I think that can help us, again, leverage some of that clarity, just leverage some kindness and say, “Hey, let’s go have a chat. I remember when I started. Here are some perspectives from my end so we can, I think, just think about situations a little bit differently.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you mentioned, hey, lawyer training, issue spotting, and it’s interesting, I was going through a process recently. So, we’re planning a move and that’s a whole lot. And so, I was thinking, I was like, “Okay, what are all the things that could go horribly wrong and how can I mitigate that?” And that was pretty productive in a sense of, “Okay. Well, I should get some help in these key areas,” and then like the probability of things going horribly wrong is way lower. So, that was productive but, at the same time, spending too much time in that thought zone was getting me a little freaked out.

So, do you have any pro tips on that that could be necessary to do the issue spotting, the anticipating? I don’t want to use the word worrying, but planning for the worst and prepping. So, if we’re in that zone, and maybe rightfully so, how do we return to a happy place?

Paula Davis
So, what you’re talking about, so that’s a really important distinction for us to make. And what you’re talking about a little bit there is contingency planning. So, contingency planning is good. It’s not a bad thing to think about worst-case scenarios. Oftentimes, it’s necessary. If I am in an airplane and it’s foggy outside, I want my pilot thinking about what could go wrong and, “Should we take off?” So, contingency planning is purposeful action. We’re purposely doing something to get closer to an outcome, a goal, a relationship, what have you.

Catastrophizing is a little bit different. It is really spinning our wheels. We stop taking purposeful action. It pulls us farther away from some of the goals and things that we want. And so, that’s why it’s more of a counterproductive piece. That’s how you can distinguish between whether you’re just contingency planning, which is purposeful and moving forward, “I’m not stuck. My wheels aren’t spinning,” versus the other side of the coin, which is the catastrophizing piece.

I remember, to give you an example, I catastrophize a bunch. And so, I can remember when I was a lawyer, I think I was a second-year associate, and I had just finished this huge project for a very important partner, and I hadn’t heard anything back from him in a couple of weeks. And he came down from the different floor he was on, and he walked right by my office with the file under his arm into the office next door to mine, which is my mentor’s who was a good friend of his, and shut the door.

So, right away, vague and ambiguous information, and, “Oh, no, there he goes. He didn’t even think to stop and talk to me. It’s that bad.” And so, when I say not taking purposeful action, I really kind of froze a little bit and I wasn’t thinking clearly about the actual document I was working on. I was now focused on trying to hear what was going on in the office next to mine. And another partner came into my office and gave me a new assignment that was actually fairly complex. And I realized that when he left my office, I had taken like a sentence of notes because my brain was so consumed with what was happening in the office next to mine, I wasn’t present in even a remote way.

And so, that’s what I mean when I say stops taking purposeful action. I really wasn’t present or thoughtful or thinking through any sort of issue or project that I should’ve done.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah. And that’s a great example which shows sort of the negative consequences and implications of going down that rabbit hole. And so, let’s sort of play it back in time. If you’ve got that other partner entering the office, and your brain is elsewhere, how do you quickly get your brain where you need it to be?

Paula Davis
Well, and that’s part of the reason why this thinking style is so powerful, and it’s powerfully counterproductive because it’s hard to do. And so, practicing those steps of horror movie, Disney movie, documentary become important because you want to be able to sort of recall those quickly so that, even if it’s just, tell the partner, “Give me a minute here,” and you can jot down some notes about what you’re thinking. It might give you a little bit more perspective or clarity in the moment but it can be really hard to do on the spot if you haven’t had some practice with how that thinking style goes.

Pete Mockaitis
That makes great sense. So, we go back to the movie approach, which is great. Any other techniques or tactics right in the heat of things?

Paula Davis
So, one of my colleagues, I love the little phrase or mantra that she came up with for this. She says, “Stay in the now and stick to the facts.” So, it can be a very centering thing to say to yourself because what we oftentimes do when we’re catastrophizing is we go to a future story. We’re generating a what-if scenario. We’re saying, “If this something happens down the road, here’s what’s going to be the result.” So, we’re in a future-oriented space, and we’re oftentimes there without a lot of evidence to support it.

So, I might’ve been thinking to myself, “He’s never going to give me any more work. No other partner is going to give any work. I’m not going to make my hours. I’m going to get fired. I’m going to have to move back in with my parents.” All that has happened is a person has entered the next room over. And if I’ve got myself, a joke, living in a van down by the river or having to move back home with my parents because of it, that’s highly unlikely and unrealistic to happen, and there’s not really much evidence or data I have to support thinking that way, though we convince ourselves that it’s very real and it feels very real because it’s a powerful thinking style.

And so, just kind of snapping yourself out of that by saying, “Stay in the now and stick to the facts” reminds you that if you don’t have any facts to support it, if you can dial it back or let it go a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And if we don’t have that positive team support, we mentioned one thing is just ask for it, “Hey, here are some things that people need, and I need some of those,” and we’ve got some of the mental strength and mindset pieces. Any other pro tips for if you find yourself in an unsupportive world? How do you stay strong?

Paula Davis
So, this tends to come up too. Sometimes I’ll get the question, “What if I don’t have a team?” So, you can look at it in a couple of ways, like, “I don’t have a supportive team,” or, “I don’t even have a team.” Like, maybe, “I own a business on my own,” or, “I’m a creative and I spend most of my days writing or painting, and I don’t have a team to kind of lean on or rely on.”

One equation that I give people, if you could think about a formula, or if you could think about what causes burnout is you have too many demands and too few resources. So, you have too many things that take consistent effort and energy about your work and too few things that are motivational and energy-giving about your work. Whether you’re in a midst of a big team or you’re on your own, the formula applies.

So, taking a step back and thinking to yourself really consciously, “What are the things that take consistent effort and energy about my work? Is there anything I can modify? Is there anything I can delegate? Or is there anything I can change or offload and start to examine some of those pieces?” Sometimes the answer is no but sometimes, especially in a coaching relationship, things maybe you hadn’t seen can be identified.

But, really, importantly is leveraging or identifying, “What are the resources? What are the motivational energy-giving aspects of my work? What am I not leaning on? Am I not bring my strengths to the table enough? Are there partnerships that I have formed that I’m not leveraging perhaps?” Things like that to help people start to recognize, “Gosh, maybe I really do need a better support system. What can I start to do to put that in place?” becomes really the right conversation for folks to start to have.

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

Paula Davis
One of the questions I’m most frequently asked and one of the things that I think is really important, and one of the things that I wished I would’ve done sooner, is that I think it’s important to start talking about stress, generally, within our teams, not shying away from the topic so it doesn’t feel like a weird thing for us to be talking about. But if you are feeling like more exhausted or frustrated or trending toward burnout or actually there, is to say something.

And whether that’s to a leader, whether that’s to a colleague who you trust, a friend that you have at work, a friend outside of work, really being specific about what you’re feeling and then what is it that you need going forward. Is it just a day off? Is it an extended period of time off? Do you need to switch teams for a period of time, if that’s even possible? Being intentional and thoughtful about what it is that you want and need from the situation is also important.

So, I would say that. Very consistently I hear from people who I’ve interviewed and talked to, either, “I’m so glad somebody said something to me,” or, “I wished somebody had said something to me. If I’m operating in a world of cynicism, I think I’m hiding it pretty well, but those eyerolls start to get noticed by other people. And if you’re noticing it, pull me aside and say something so that I can realize that the behavior is going in a not-so-great direction.”

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

Paula Davis
“Life hinges on a couple of seconds you never see coming,” and it’s a quote by Marisha Pessl.

And I think you can sort of think about moments in your life, and it can be like downside moments, things you didn’t see coming, times you’ve fallen in love. So, translate that into a positive moment or a positive situation when you meet somebody whom you fall in love with, and you didn’t see it coming. I just thought it was really interesting and it made me think.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Paula Davis
Anything by Brene Brown.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Paula Davis
Anything having to do with cooking. I’m a huge baker and I love cooking, so any tools that help me do those things better in the kitchen.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular one that is just the coolest?

Paula Davis
A really good knife. I feel that there are so many gadgets on the market that really don’t do much that a really great knife can get you a long way when it comes to cooking.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Paula Davis
Exercising. I run almost every morning.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really connects, resonates with folks; they quote it back to you a lot?

Paula Davis
I would say probably the small TNT-type strategies and that acronym. I tend to hear that a lot from folks.

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

Paula Davis
I would point them to BeatBurnoutNow.com, which will take you to my website where you can learn more about my book and everything that I’m doing in my institute.

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

Paula Davis
Do what you love. Even if you can’t know, manifest, or create the big job, dream job that you want, really pay attention to the small moments of meaning, and the small moments of things that you do during the day that you feel like you’re in the zone and really light you up. And start to just sprinkle those in a little bit more intentionally during your day and your week.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Paula, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you all the best.

Paula Davis
Thank you so much, Pete.

661: How to Connect Meaningfully with Susan McPherson

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Susan McPherson shares her surefire method for building better connections.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The winning strategy to building connections
  2. Better alternatives to small talk
  3. How to maintain connections efficiently

About Susan

Susan McPherson is a serial connector, seasoned communicator and founder and CEO of McPherson Strategies, a communications consultancy focused on the intersection of brands and social impact. She is the author of The Lost Art of Connecting: The Gather, Ask, Do Method for Building Meaningful Relationships. Susan has 25+ years of experience in marketing, public relations, and sustainability communications, speaking regularly at industry conferences, and contributing to the Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Forbes. 

She has appeared on NPR, CNN, USA Today, The New Yorker, New York Magazine and the Los Angeles Times. Susan is a Vital Voices global corporate ambassador and has received numerous accolades for her voice on social media platforms from Fortune Magazine, Fast Company and Elle Magazine. She resides in Brooklyn.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Susan McPherson Interview Transcript

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

Susan McPherson
I’m very happy to be here, Pete. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom about the lost art of connecting. And I understand you have made a fun connection. You’re pals with Kevin Bacon. How did that come to be? And what’s it like to be buddies with a famous person?

Susan McPherson
Well, first of all, I wouldn’t go so far as say buddies.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Susan McPherson
I don’t want to embellish it. His older sister has been a friend of mine for years and we live in Seattle, and I moved to New York not knowing anyone, and she so graciously introduced me to him, and I spent my first Thanksgiving in New York City at his home with his wonderful wife and kids and extended family.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Kevin Bacon, of all the celebrities you might be connected to for you and what you’re doing, that’s just priceless.

Susan McPherson
Oh, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Six degrees or five degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Susan McPherson
Six degrees, and that means now you’re two degrees.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, you know what, that feels really…I’m having a surge of feeling powerful right now, actually, as you highlight that, so thank you. Well, so tell us, we’re talking about connecting. What would you say is one of the most surprising and fascinating things you’ve discovered about connecting which might be counterintuitive to folks?

Susan McPherson
Well, what has enabled me over the years to be successful is always leading with, “How can I help?” rather than “What can I get?” which is counterintuitive to what we have traditionally thought of when we’ve been networking and meeting others. We tend to go into things, like, “What can I get? What can I learn? Who can I meet?” as opposed to, “What can I give? How can I support? How can I be the one making the introduction for you?” And I have found, by leading with that, it actually has helped me and opened more doors and created a lifelong world of people everywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds great. And so then, let’s talk about the “How can I help?” mindset first and foremost, and I’m thinking also about Keith Ferrazzi. That’s one of his key principles, is generosity there. So, can you share with us just all the kinds of ways that people might need help? And people sometimes don’t really speak up about what they need help with. They’re embarrassed or they’re shy or they open themselves because they haven’t thought through it.

So, how do you think about identifying what people really need? And what are all the different ways that you can help? Because I think sometimes people might say, “Oh, I’m not rich. I’m not powerful. I’m not connected. What do I have to offer?” So, lay it on us, how does one help well?

Susan McPherson
Well, I will tell you just a little bit of about what’s in my book. I lay out a very, very detailed methodology, which I won’t bore all your listeners with in terms of detail but I can certainly give you kind of the high…the 30,000-foot view, and it’s gather, ask, do.

And in the gather section is when you do some meaningful self-reflection to actually determine what it is that you have to offer, what is it that you bring to the table, what is your chief differentiating factors, your secret sauces. And notice I say “sss” because everyone has many. The next is the ask.

And, yes, there is always a time and a place for you to ask for what you need and what you want and what you deserve but, in this case, it is learning the art of asking meaningful questions so you can find out what is important to someone else, what do they need help with.

There’s even a chapter in the book that gives you questions that you can have in your back pocket that actually helps you ask people questions that will lead you to understand what they are hoping and dreaming for.

And, lastly, if you ask the meaningful questions and listen carefully, you can then get to the do, and what you do in the do is actually the place I like to be the most, but that’s when you become helpful, reliable, trustworthy, following through. And I hear your question about, “Well, what about if I’m not a rich heiress or a philanthropist, etc. how do I help?” Well, this goes back to that secret sauce and that chief differentiating factor.

Every single one of us has things to offer one another, and sometimes it might just be an introduction to someone else we know. So, don’t overthink it but it really comes down to asking the right questions and then better understanding what it is that you can be doing to be helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, let’s walk through a bit of that gather, ask, and do then.

Susan McPherson
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when it comes to gather and zeroing in on what it is we have to offer, well, maybe, first, let’s contextualize. It seems like it’s what we have to offer is pretty broad, it’s not just in the work sphere. It’s kind of just like anybody we might bump into. Is that fair to say?

Susan McPherson
Well, my book is a business book, okay, so the context of the book was written very much around how do we do this from a business perspective. But I always joke, “There’s not a work-Susan and a home-Susan,” and I decided about 15 years ago, it was tiring being two people and much easier to be one. And a lot of times, when we are incredibly passionate about the work that we do, it doesn’t feel as much of being work.

So, I have also learned that many of the kind of secret sauces that I bring to the table, literally, cross boundaries of work and home. It doesn’t necessarily fall into. And I run a social impact communications consulting firm, so just the notion of making impact in the world, you could question whether that is work or not work, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. Okay. Well, so then, thinking about it from a professional world, which can, indeed, be broader than we could contextualizes it at times, what are your pro tips for zeroing in on, “Huh, these are some of my secret sauces”?

Susan McPherson
Sure. Well, it really depends on where you are in your kind of career, and I talk to a lot of 20 somethings that are just out of school and tend to think they don’t have a whole lot to offer, but they may speak multiple languages, they may be very technically mindful. I joke sometimes that a 22-year-old may be able to say two things that would really help me out, and that is TikTok, and things like that that could be very helpful to someone like myself that is in the world of communications. So, it’s a very personal thing but I think all of us have to look internally and think about.

I’m going to ask you, Pete, what are your secret sauces?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. Well, the first thing that comes to mind is just, from the StrengthsFinder report, like Ideation lately. I’ve just been getting so many ideas and putting them into action, and Activator is another one of them, so that’s part of it.

Susan McPherson
That’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess the podcast itself is a thing in terms of, well, a lot of people want to be on it and we candidly reject the vast majority of incoming pitches, so great job, Susan and Nina, your publicist.

Susan McPherson
Well, she’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Because most people, frankly, we proactively hunt down based on listener requests these days but sometimes we go, “Ooh, that’s actually spot on so let’s call her.”

Susan McPherson
Oh, I feel special. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
You are special. So, yeah, those are some of the things. And I think I have a knack for researching something with an intensity or vigilance that can almost seem obsessive but, in so doing, discover things that most people don’t because they don’t go past the first page of Google. And so, sometimes, like I can really vibe with investigative journalists, like, “Yeah, totally. I’m in the same mindset as you many times.”

Susan McPherson
Well, that’s a gift and it’s also a secret sauce. I often say leading with curiosity is such an enormous skill, so right there you’ve just named. But you had to do some deep thinking to think about that, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I did it before we talked in terms of just general self-awareness work. And then when you prompted me, I did take a few seconds of thought, so certainly.

Susan McPherson
I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we dig into those things. And so, in my own instance, I’ve thought about, okay, what are some times I’ve relied and impressed people with, “Wow, that’s really great work,” or I’ve looked at some assessments like the StrengthsFinder to surface some stuff. What are some of the other sources that can serve up the secret sauce?

Susan McPherson
Sure. I’m a big believer in asking your close confidants, your brain trust, the people…your family members, your dog, you name it. But it is a type of thing where you can really gather this information to help you do that self-reflection. I have a funny story back in 2007. I went away with eight girlfriends for a weekend. And the goal that weekend was for each of us to come up with our secret sauce, our elevator speech.

And it was during that weekend that I finally coined the term that I am a serial connector. And I’ll be completely honest, when I said it, I almost peed my pants because it sounded so ridiculous. But it took the group to give me the guts and give me the permission and, also, basically state for the record I was amazing at connecting people.

And then, a few years later when I was introduced to come on and speak on a stage, and they introduced me, and said, “We welcome Susan McPherson, serial connector, seasoned communicator,” again, I almost peed my pants. But now I wrote a book about it. So, the point being is that was deep thinking and deep reflection on my part but I also pulled from the crowd. I actually helped gather data from the people closest to me.

Pete Mockaitis
This is maybe the funniest follow-up I’ve ever asked, when you say pee your pants, do you mean you were terrified or thrilled?

Susan McPherson
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Susan McPherson
I was embarrassed. Like it sounded ridiculous. It sounded just, “No one’s going to believe that.”

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s it. I nailed it.” And that’s not what you meant. You meant, “Oh, geez, that seems corny or outrageous.”

Susan McPherson
Yes, it seemed preposterous is probably the word.

Pete Mockaitis
And that could be an insight right there in terms of if you’re feeling some internal resistance or skepticism when you are connected with people that you’re bouncing these things off of, you could get the courage to say, “No, that’s for real,” and own it and work it.

Susan McPherson
Exactly. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Well, let’s talk about the asking. How do we ask? Or are there some particular key questions or tips to be better listeners and get to the heart of things?

Susan McPherson
Well, sure, and they’re both two separate chapters in the book. Actually, there’s one chapter that has, literally, 11 questions that you can carry in your back pocket that will help you ask more meaningful questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please share several of these immediately. We have to know.

Susan McPherson
Well, they are certainly not the questions that are going to lead you to yes or no answers, and they’re also not questions about the weather or what people ate for lunch today, but they’re things like, “Pete, it’s been a tough year. It’s been a really challenging year. How are you doing? And is there anything you could be using my help?” Or, “Pete, if you could go anywhere at the end of this pandemic, anywhere on the planet, where would you go and why?” Or, “Pete, if there was a problem you could solve in the next month, and money wasn’t an issue, what would that problem be?”

Pete Mockaitis
Like, a society or social problem?

Susan McPherson
These questions elicit more meaningful responses and help you get a better data set, a more rich answer that is going to help you then lead to, “Oh, how can I be helpful to this person?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I think those are excellent questions and I guess I’m thinking about the context in terms of “I have many people I know that I’d be totally fine, just go in there right away.” I’m thinking if you have just met someone three minutes ago, you may not want to go there right away.

Susan McPherson
What about those questions seem…?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I suppose, and it could vary by personality, if, let’s say, I just met, we’re talking, it’s like, “Oh, how do you know Jane?” or, “What brings you to the podcast movement conference, Susan?” whatever. So, we’re like just met and then you said, “Hey, it’s been a tough year with the pandemic. How are you doing?” Like, “Well, Susan, I guess I’m okay. I just met you,” you know.

Susan McPherson
I don’t know. Again, in many, many talks, and I run a communications firm, so I will say that this past year has been the great equalizer. Most people have been challenged by it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Susan McPherson
I mean, that’s quite a generalization. I don’t want to say all people. But, to me, it’s almost like the elephant in the room that if we don’t address it, we’re not being human. And I find that it isn’t such a personal question because obviously, if the person is uncomfortable, they’ll say, “I’m fine.”

Pete Mockaitis
Fair enough. You just lead with that.

Susan McPherson
But most people, yeah, most people…

Pete Mockaitis
We just met, “You know, how are you really doing, Susan?” Like, “Hey, take a hint. You’re not my friend, my spouse, my boss, I just met you and I’m giving you a bit of a buff-off so take that cue.” Well, I think that’s powerful right there in terms of, well, one, maybe we can afford to be a little bit more courageous and vulnerable, just go ahead. And, two, it’s not the biggest deal in the world if someone chooses not to disclose and you could just take that hint and respond accordingly.

Susan McPherson
Yeah. I mean, look, again, every human is different and that’s a good thing. It makes life interesting. But, generally speaking, I have found that this is the time that we don’t have to be superhuman or superwomen or supermen. And when you open yourself up to a little bit more vulnerability, others generally reciprocate in kind. And, therefore, you can have a little bit more meaningful discussion than about the weather. Not everyone. Some people will want to stick with the weather, and you know what, that’s good too.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sure thing. One of my bits, I always just imagine like if you try to small talk someone about the weather and they happen to be like extremely into the weather, they’re like, “How about that dew point, huh? It’s really climbing up there.” Just how that will unfold.

Susan McPherson
You know, it’s funny, I did my junior year abroad in Denmark, and I lived with a Danish family. And my Danish father, this was back in ‘80s, but he would always say that American always have to fill the void so they have to have talking. So, what they will do is talk about the weather. And I have to tell you, over the years, when we started having conference calls, inevitably in every start of every conference call, the de facto conversation would be about the weather, and I would completely start to laugh in the back of my head because it would take me back to Denmark, and I was like, “Oh, my God, he was right.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, “Those silly Americans.” Well, you shared a few great questions. I’d love it if you could give us a few more.

Susan McPherson
Well, I think there’s always this notion, again, because I work in impact, this discussion about “What else can we be doing to be helpful?” I also find anything around travel, anything about where our upbringing, where we came from, can give you a deeper clue as to people and, too,  what their hopes and dreams are. That is kind of the suggestions that I have.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how do we listen all the better so that we are picking up maybe what’s not said and prudently following up with what is said?

Susan McPherson
Well, we are woefully bad at listening, and this year has proven to be extraordinarily challenging. I think about all of us who had been privileged enough to work from home but have had the obligatory Zoom or Microsoft Team meetings while we have our email open, while we have our Twitter applications open, while we have our WhatsApp and our texting, and probably our children and our dogs all running around. Listening can be extraordinarily challenging.

In the book, I showcase Dr. Julian Treasure who has done a number of TED Talks, and I highlight recommend your listeners go and listen.

Pete Mockaitis
We got Julian on the show a couple of times, yeah.

Susan McPherson
Well, there you go. So, I would follow a lot of his advice. But, for me, personally, two things that I do. One, I literally carry a notepad with me now everywhere in virtual rooms, and I take notes when people are talking. I, also, am not so shy as I won’t…if I find myself daydreaming or thinking about what I’m going to cook for dinner as opposed to listening, is I will circle back and say, “Pete, I missed what you said. Can you repeat it?” And that keeps me grounded. That helps me continue to listen.

But, also, writing, taking notes if someone talks, at least for me, is very, very helpful. And then when I follow-up with people, I generally will pull from something that was said in the conversation so that that not only helps me remember, of course, but also reminds the person that I actually did listen to them, that I saw them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. And we had a comedian on the show who sort of talked about callbacks and how, if you had sort of a humorous exchange, referencing that in particular can facilitate that signal of, “Yes, I was listening. And, yes, that was a special happy fun moment we had there, wasn’t it?”

Cool. All right. Well, so then let’s hear about the do. So, we’ve gathered, we’ve asked, and now when it comes to doing, how do we do well?

Susan McPherson
And if we listened after we asked, then we have the follow-up to do. And, typically, the do begins with your follow-up, and I mentioned how when I do follow-up, I do try to mention what I heard or what I saw. And I, typically, will follow-up right away. It’s the type of thing where I know I’m going to get it done. But, again, that notepad that I carry around with me, I will make a note if I can’t do it right away. And I, generally, will respond back something I heard the person say or I will make…potentially, I will suggest that I will make an introduction for that person.

But I want to make sure your listeners know, I’m not sitting here saying, “You have to help every single person in the entire world.” But if your goal is to make a deeper more meaningful connection, this is a way to start the process, and it’s not a one-and-done thing. You’re not going to like follow-up and then, “Ah, done. I don’t have to reach out to them in 10 years.” This is something that, hopefully, if it builds into a reciprocal relationship, will carry through and continue to grow and blossom.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, when you talked about following up, like if there’s not just like a crystal-clear action item or to-do or promise made, can you give us some examples of actual snippets of follow-up text or dialogue?

Susan McPherson
Sure. It can be as simple as, “Pete, it was great chatting with you last night. I so enjoyed our conversation about X, Y, Z, your favorite hummus, or where you’re going on your next trip, or the project you’re working on. I’d love to keep in touch. What would be the best way to keep in touch with you?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s simple. Thank you.

Susan McPherson
I mean, let’s not overthink this. But the reason I asked about what is the best way is every person has a different means and mode of the way they want to stay in touch or communicate. And, to me, that is a very respectful way to keep the loop going.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then let’s talk about maintenance in terms of sort of ongoing? Like, in some ways, it could be intimidating if, well, I don’t know if you have any numbers in mind, but like the frequency of touches and the depth of touches, like it could multiply real quick in terms of, “I’ve met 3,000 people. And if I want to stay in touch, do I need to give them a message every other month?” So, how do you think about the maintenance stuff?

Susan McPherson
Sure. Well, again, I want to delineate between what I talk about versus networking. For me, it’s not a numbers game. It is very much intentional in keeping in touch based on, if we think back to the gather phase, “What is the community we want to build to help us meet our own goals?” This isn’t just about staying in touch for the sake of staying touch, although that is great, too. I’m not anti that.

So, to me, to sit here and put out numbers would be not what I’m practicing. But I also believe that because this isn’t transactional, a relationship doesn’t start and stop. A relationship ebbs and flows. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Susan McPherson
So, again, it’s not realistic to think you’re going to stay in touch with everybody every day but I fervently believe that you stay in touch with people not when you need something, so that when you do need something, it’s so much easier to ask.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. That’s good. That’s good. And I hear you, in terms of ebbs and flows, I’m thinking about when we moved into this building, like the realtor, we talked to him all the time, and now we talk to him rarely, but occasionally. And he’s awesome and I like being in touch with him, likewise, with the contractor. And so, the ebbs and flows does sound natural, and it may well be like three years of a gap between times, but if I see something that makes me think of them, go for it and that’s cool.

Susan McPherson
Absolutely. And that’s a gift. That’s a gift. And the thing is how often have you been walking down the street and somebody pops in your brain? And, generally speaking, you do, you park it. I, now, whenever that happens, I use my little voice memo on my handheld, which is generally with me, and I make a note so that I will actually then go back, or maybe while I’m walking, and just text using the voice memo and say, “Hey, Carolyn, you popped in my brain. It’s been a while. I just want to say hello and find out how you’re doing.” Simple as that.

And I must do those three to five times a day, and it’s literally when people pop in my brain. Again, no ask, no I’m not expecting anything in return, although, it’s lovely if people respond back, but it is my own way of being, like, “Hey, I’m still here,” but also spreading a little joy in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and you’re right, and it does feel good in terms of, yeah, as I imagine myself on the receiving end of that, like even if I have…even if that person doesn’t have a really special place in my heart, they’re just like, “Okay, I randomly met you at a whatever, a conference four years ago, and we had a couple laughs, but whatever.” So, just for example, like I would still feel pretty good to get that text and like, “Oh,” and I might say, you know, I’m probably not going to follow up and say, “Oh, yes, absolutely. So good to hear from you. Let’s find some time where we can really catch up at length.” I probably won’t do that. For some people, I certainly would. But even in the worst case that feels good. So, yeah, do more of that. Absolutely. That’s great.

Susan McPherson
Well, a lot of people say to me, “How do you have time? How do you find time to keep in touch in this and that?” And I have to be honest with you, Pete, the more people in my life, the more efficient I get because it means there’s more people I can tap into when somebody needs an expert in climate change, coral restoration, animal physiology. Like, you will know someone or you will know someone who knows someone.

Pete Mockaitis
You got a toxicologist for me, Susan?

Susan McPherson
I can find you one.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Good to know. Good to know. Well, that’s great. Thank you. Well, tell me, any final pro tips or things that you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Susan McPherson
Sure. Well, I just think leading with how can we be helpful is a tremendous way to pivot as we move through our professional careers whether we are with peers, whether we’re with the people who are hiring us or promoting us, whether we are raising money for our startup. Leading with that will only come back to help you.

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

Susan McPherson
I have to say “We’re only as blind as we want to be,” and I say that quote because I have found leading a life of deep curiosity has been extraordinarily helpful to me and never questioning whether somebody is worth my time. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, great.

Susan McPherson
Because what I have learned from people, and maybe the initial impression was, “Wait, this person can’t ‘help’ me with my career, they can’t help me get this or that,” but I have always surprised myself that when I kind of disabled the blinders, it enabled me to learn something not only about that person but to learn more about myself.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Susan McPherson
It would have to be Caste by Isabel Wilkerson that I just read earlier this year. Powerful, powerful. Highly, highly recommended just in terms of grounding and also what is basically systemic racism in this country. And I know I’m going deep but I have found that to be just extraordinary.

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

Susan McPherson
Email and my notepad. Honestly, my notepad. But I don’t know what I would do without email.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Susan McPherson
Texting people I love and asking how they’re doing, and blowing bubbles in my dog’s belly.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, fun. And is there a particular nugget you share that really connects and resonates with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Susan McPherson
I know I’m sounding redundant and repetitive, it’s literally, “How can I be of help to you?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Susan McPherson
And folks joke about that all the time.

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

Susan McPherson
Well, my company’s website McPherson Strategies or anywhere online susamcp1, you can find me on the social webs, and you can obviously email me at susan@mcpstrategies.com.

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

Susan McPherson
I would make sure you listen twice as much as you speak, that is why we have two ears. And I would always, always, always leave with how you can be helpful to others and, believe me, the world will come back and help you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Susan, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun in all the ways you’re connecting.

Susan McPherson
Thank you, Pete.