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370: Increasing Your Perceived Competence with Jack Nasher

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Professor and mentalist Jack Nasher shares compelling research revealing how conveying additional confidence perceived competence.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two things that enhance your perceived competence and how you can show them
  2. How to optimally manage expectations
  3. How likability and attractiveness play into perceived competence

About Jack

Jack Nasher is on the faculty of Stanford University and the widest read business psychologist in continental Europe. An Oxford graduate, he has worked with the UN, the European Court of Justices, and Skadden. He is the founder of the NASHER Negotiation Institute and is a leading expert on reading and influencing people. A member of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology and a principle practitioner with the Association of Business Psychologists, he has spoken at TEDx and he also performs as a mentalist at the world-renowned Magic Castle in Hollywood.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jack Nasher Interview Transcript

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

Jack Nasher
Thank you. Thank you for your interest.

Pete Mockaitis
I think we’re going to have so much good stuff to discuss. But I think we should start with your work as a mentalist at the Magic Castle and elsewhere. What’s the story here?

Jack Nasher
Yeah, it’s funny you started with it. Nobody starts with that. You’re the first one who starts with it. Usually it’s like a footnote at the end.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh really?

Jack Nasher
Yeah. It’s quite unusual. But yeah, my performances at the Magic Castle are basically the other side of psychology. Somebody said it’s like using your five known senses to create the illusion of a sixth sense. It’s using psychological tools to create the illusion of mind reading to create the illusion of mind control and all these things. Well, sometimes actually it is mind control.

I do it for fun sometimes. I perform about 20 shows a year at the Magic Castle and other venues. It’s basically psychology, but for entertainment purposes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing. Is there any chance it’s possible to do a demonstration via audio only right now?

Jack Nasher
I wish I could, but no.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I had to ask.

Jack Nasher
You have to look into my piercing blue eyes.

Pete Mockaitis
I will turn on the video.

Jack Nasher
That’s the … basically. That’s all there is to it. But it doesn’t work without looking into the piercing blue eyes.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular – I don’t want to call it a trick or an illusion or a piece or a – what’s the word we use for a unit of performance in a mentalist show? What would I call that?

Jack Nasher
They call it an experiment. That’s the technical term.

Pete Mockaitis
Experiment. Okay, there we go.

Jack Nasher
you know why? Because sometimes it doesn’t work. That’s why.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you-

Jack Nasher
We call it an experiment, nobody … the way you say it’s an experiment. Experiments work or they don’t work.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you paint a picture for us in terms of which experiment is most mind-blowing crowd-pleasing favorite?

Jack Nasher
Yeah, actually good example. I just came back from a cruise. I performed experiment and I blew it. It just didn’t work. I have to be honest with you. Because I tried to hypnotize the whole audience and the spectator on stage and it just didn’t work. That’s the problem. Sometimes really this stuff doesn’t work because it’s real. It’s just not a trick. That’s what makes it really difficult.

Every time I perform a mentalist show, I’m really nervous. I’m in Oxford right now because I’m teaching here. I’m thinking about going to open mic nights in London tomorrow, just to some pubs where everyone is drunk, and they just abuse you, and they insult you, and they throw stuff at you. It’s crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Sounds fun.

Jack Nasher
It sounds very fun, but that’s where you learn to get your act together. I’m thinking about trying to hypnotize the worst drunkards. And I think if I can do it there, I can do it anywhere, on a cruise, in the Magic Castle.

But this stuff is tough because really I’m trying to influence people. I’m trying to hypnotize a lot of people at the same time. boy, I just need a lot of practice for that. I’m thinking about doing that tomorrow. If you’re in London anytime, you’re going to see me in some pub. The more drunk people there are, the higher the chances that I’m going to be there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, thank you. Well, be on the lookout for our London listeners there.

Jack Nasher
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Your day job is a professor for leadership and organizational behavior.

Jack Nasher
Yeah, it’s a bit different than that.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that combo. You had Bob Cialdini endorse your book and it kind of reminded me of that. It’s like okay, a research professor who’s also watching stuff unfold in the real world and immersing yourself in crazy situations. What’s your main area of focus research study as a professor?

Jack Nasher
Yeah, it’s funny you mentioned Cialdini. I’m a great fan of his work. Influence, one of the best books I read. He wrote a great blurb for my book. He actually said, “We need this book,” I was very proud of that.

Obviously applying psychological techniques and applying –that’s my main expertise. I’m looking at techniques from science and I apply them to the real world. I’m interested in theory but also in the application.

I think that combination is very rare because you have scientists who are, very much into their science and answering very small, small questions and then doing research and so on. Then you have salespeople or negotiators who don’t care about science because they say, “Ah, it’s all theory, academics. It’s crap. I’m not interested in that.”

You have very few who actually take the knowledge from academia, from thousands of studies, research and so on and apply it to the real world. That’s what Cialdini did and he’s a great idol of mine, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m looking at science and applying it to practice.

That is my day job and it’s, of course, very different from the Magic Castle and performing hypnotism and all that. But in essence, it’s the same. It’s about how to influence and read people, so it really goes hand in hand.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Now you’ve packaged some of this wisdom in your book, Convinced. What would you say is sort of the main thesis or idea within it?

Jack Nasher
Everything starts with the idea that actual and perceived competence almost have nothing to do with each other.

Pete Mockaitis
… cases.

Jack Nasher
Yeah. You know lots of politicians or people say – Jimmy Carter, US president, some people like him; some say he didn’t do anything. But, as a matter of fact, do you really know what he did? Do you really know the decisions he made? Probably not. Yet, you have a perception of his competence, of his expertise, of how he was as a president.

The same is true with ever profession, whether you’re a lawyer or whether you’re in real estate, it doesn’t matter, whether you sell insurance. People say “Wow, he’s great,” “She’s fantastic. She’s the best I ever worked with,” or “She’s terrible.”

The question is if people don’t know anything about your expertise, how can they judge it? Well, the truth of the matter is they can’t. And yet, they do. What I try to answer is what do they base their judgments on. That’s actually what I wrote my master thesis at Oxford on many years ago, looking at the things people look at when they judge other peopleI found some intriguing, really intriguing points.

It’s unbelievable what these judgments are based on. This of course leads to the fact that you can influence the perception of yourself. You can look like the greatest, the best, the most fantastic expert in whatever field you want to excel in or you want to look like you excel in without actually being an expert. That’s quite amazing. Probably kind of sad to some people, but that’s just the way it is. actual and perceived competence almost – there’s no relation.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s wild in terms of no relation in terms of you looked at data points across the board and you just didn’t find anything of a worthwhile correlation there, huh?

Jack Nasher
Almost none. It’s very different points than actual competence that matter. One of the – I’m sure – that would be the question you’d probably ask, well, what is one of the points. That’s the obvious question. And one of the main points is confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
Just like you saying it like you know it and you – what you’re talking about and you’re certain of it.

Jack Nasher
Exactly. The point is this. I assume that in your job you are pretty confident about certain things and yet probably you’ve heard, “Oh, under promise it, over deliver it. That makes a good impression.” Or probably you’ve heard, “Well, let’s not raise expectations. Let’s be modest about it, humble about it.”

Truth of the matter is, it’s very bad for your perceived competence because people trust people who display competence through confidence, who display high levels of confidence.

Let me just give you an example. If you see two people arguing about who won the 400 meter hurdle world championship in 1954. You have no idea. I have no idea. Let’s say one of them put out a hundred dollar bill and bets on one of the candidates. Who would you trust? One who’s so certain, because certainty really, confidence.

I heard this sentence once “Showing certainty in the midst of uncertainty, that is one of the key tasks of a leader.” ‘The absorption of uncertainty’ somebody called it, ‘absorption of uncertainty,’ because especially when we trust in the competence of somebody, of an expert, we need somebody to take us by the hand and say “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it,” because that person then is – if you do that, you’re a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing and appealing, but I guess it’s worth digging into a little bit. Is that ethical? Is that a form of dishonesty or deception or lying for you to project confidence when you are actually pretty unsure if this thing is going to work out?

Jack Nasher
First of all I’m not telling you you should do that when you have no idea about what you’re doing. But then you probably should change your job. If you really don’t know anything about the work you’re doing, probably you should just work in a different field.

I’m talking about the everyday situations where people come to you with a task and, usually somehow you’ll take care of it, probably a little better, probably a little worse, but you can manage. Right? That’s the everyday situation.

Now, is it ethical to be optimistic about it? Well, let me ask you this. Is it ethical that people who are much worse than you, that they get all the credit? Is it people that – who are much worse than you, and who just show confidence, who can’t do anything that they get the promotions, that they get the clients? I doubt it.

So basically, I’m giving you the tools to PR on your behalf. So instead of having other people take all the credit, why not use the methods yourself? But basically even in my book, I’m not telling you what to do. I’m just showing you what’s possible and how the human brain works. It’s up to you to make the decision. I’m not telling anyone what to do. I would never to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I guess I’m thinking for those who want to be awesome at their job and to pick up, more opportunities and promotion and whatnot, this is something that’s appealing certainly to be perceived as competent. That’s great.

Jack Nasher
Let me ask you Pete. Look, makeup, what’s makeup all about? Well, you paint your face. Well, you don’t look like that, but you still paint it. What about lipstick? Well, you paint your lips – well, you don’t, but a lot of people paint their lips. And why? So they look greater than they actually are. They wear high heel. Well, why? To look different and taller than they actually are.

Guys – Pete, you probably comb your hair. Why? It doesn’t actually look like that. You kind of fake a hairstyle you don’t actually have. You shave. Why? Why do you remove your facial hair? It’s all fake because actually you do have facial hair. So that’s what we do all the time because we only have one life and we want to live the optimal life. What’s wrong with that? There’s nothing wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you there. Yeah, so it’s sort of like in the realm that you painted out there, it’s kind of like okay, someone requested that you do something and you are generally capable of pulling that off, but instead of saying something like, “Oh yeah, I should be able to handle this,” you’d say something like, “You’ve got it Jack. Consider it done, Jack.”

Jack Nasher
Pretty much. Pretty much. You can even point out the difficulties. You can say, “Wow, this is difficulty one. This is difficulty two. But you came to the right guy because I’m the one who takes care of it.”

Interestingly, Donald Trump is a good example. If you like him or not, I don’t even want to bash him or praise him whatever. I’m sick of this. But one of the-

Pete Mockaitis
You’re not even in the US.

Jack Nasher
Yeah. Even in Germany, it’s unbelievable. The exposure … is incredible. But anyway, what’s really interesting is when I saw his campaign I thought wow, he really used this technique. All he does basically is saying, “I’ll take care of it. I’m the best. I’m the greatest.” No track record. No examples. Nothing. I thought, okay, probably he’s – this is just too much. It’s not going to work.

I was amazed to see well, I was wrong. It did work without anything. That was really the epitome of this technique, just giving people confidence without anything, without any track record, nothing. I thought that was really fascinating how far you can actually take this.

By really saying, “I’m the greatest, I’m the best. Don’t worry,” this actually works. Yet, I don’t suggest it. But what I’m suggesting is just changing your mindset and giving people a good feeling. Say, “You came to the right person. Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.”

It cannot be overestimated how important that is to your client, to your superior because everybody is scared. The moment they give you a task, they’re scared that they made a mistake. People remember. There was this famous quote, “People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.” That’s right. That’s true.

Research suggests even if you fail, even if you fail and if you fail miserably, and if you arose high expectations at first, you will still be perceived as more competent than if you had predicted the terrible result accurately.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. Can you highlight a particular experiment or bit of research that … out.

Jack Nasher
Yeah, experiment by Schlenker and Leary, two American psychologists who did that. You know when people said I’m going to perform fantastic at a certain task and they just performed miserably, yet they were perceived as being twice as competent as those who would have predicted the terrible result accurately.

Pete Mockaitis
So after the results came in, they saw what happened.

Jack Nasher
… the result. That’s one of the main experiments I describe in my book in the second chapter, it’s all about that experiment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well tell us – I’m curious, what was the promise and what was the result? That’s just so intriguing. How did the people justify … go for it?

Jack Nasher
They didn’t. it was really, really simple. there was one group, they had to perform a task. The other ones just had to judge their expertise in that task. They were random tasks they were allocated.

The one group predicted their outcome. Then they performed the task, so the result was apparent. You could see how they performed very clearly. Yet, it turned out that their prediction really influenced the assessment greatly of how competent they were perceived. That I thought was amazing because the result was there. Everybody saw the result.

It was very clear that if they said, I’m going to perform fantastic. Great. They were perceived as being much more competent than if they under promised and over delivered, much more competent. Even, that to me was the most interesting part, even if they failed, even if they totally failed – if they were optimistic, they were perceived as being much more competent.

And by the way, you are even perceived as being more likeable because people say, “Is that ethical to be so confident?” Well, let me ask you this. Is it ethical to be modest when you should be doing your job?

Let’s say you’re a surgeon. I broke my leg. You come to my bed and say, “You know what? I’m not a very good surgeon. I’m sorry. I went to university, but I wasn’t the best. I kind of had to do it. My parents wanted me to study medicine.” Do I think, “Wow, what a nice humble guy.” No, I get the hell out of there and I never come back. That’s not nice.

Why are people humble? Why are people modest? Because they fear that they’re going to fail. That’s just one way to say, “Well, I told you I couldn’t do it.” Is that good ethically? Is that good to be modest when it’s about a job you should be able to perform? I doubt it. I don’t think so.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re raising so many fascinating questions there. I guess in a way it’s also like if you kind of commit to a result that is kind of beyond you and a stretch of you, well, often you rise to the occasion anyway. So—

Jack Nasher
Yeah. …

Pete Mockaitis
Over the long term, you’re developing actual competence because you continue to put yourself into stretch positions that you had no choice but to deliver because you don’t want to look like a fool.

Jack Nasher
No, absolutely. That’s the Bannister Effect. Roger Bannister ran the one mile in under four minutes in 1954 here at Oxford. He was an Oxford student and then became an Oxford professor. Just passed away a few years ago.

Roger Bannister, what was interesting is he was the first human being in recorded history to run the mile in under one minute. People thought before they thought it’s impossible. It’s physically impossible. But what was really interesting was that a few weeks after he achieved that, somebody else ran the one mile in under four minutes as well. I think in Finland or somewhere. Then somebody did it in the UK a few weeks after that.

It’s known as the Bannister Effect now that if you raise expectations, you perform better. If you raise your goal, you will actually perform better. Once the goal was raised to below four minutes, people performed better.

That’s really interesting. It’s very interesting for negotiations, called anchoring effects and it’s very interesting for yourself. If you have very high goals, if you’re very confident, you will actually perform better. Also, known as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Pete Mockaitis
Back to that experiment. The assessors who saw the poor results from the confident people, I wonder kind of what rationalization is going on in their head in terms of, “You know what? He must have had an off day. She must have been tired or stressed,” or “This probably isn’t representative. Everyone gets unlucky sometimes.”

Jack Nasher
Yeah, no, it’s exactly right that people when they were very optimistic and failed, it was attributed to external factors and not to internal factors. Exactly what you said.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, I’m going to be chewing on this for years to come I think. Thank you.

Jack Nasher
Yeah, I was thinking about this for years. I was depressed at first. I thought the world was so unfair. Everyone is stupid. I came along a quote from JFK, presumed he said, it’s not confirmed, but presumed he said, “The world is unfair, but not necessarily to your disadvantage.” That opened my eyes. I thought why do I always complain about the world being so unfair. Why don’t I just take advantage of it?

Pete Mockaitis
That is a good turn of a phrase. Cool. All right, let’s say-

Jack Nasher
It’s kind of evil, right?

Pete Mockaitis
What’s that?

Jack Nasher
It’s kind of evil I have to ….

Pete Mockaitis
Right, right.

Jack Nasher
A little bit evil.

Pete Mockaitis
But it’s true. It’s like I’ve had lucky breaks. I’ve had unlucky breaks.

Jack Nasher
Yeah, if you found ten bucks on the street, are you going to say, “Oh, the world is unfair?” No, you’re going to take it, you’re happy and you walk away, even though it is unfair. We tend to forget that sometimes we actually benefit from things being unfair.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about – let’s say, all right, so one thing is when you accept an assignment. You accept it with gusto, with confidence. You say “You’ve come to the right person. Bring it on. Consider it done. I got this. I’m going to crush it,” etcetera. What are some of the other practices associated with radiating competencies or competence? What are kind of some of the top do’s and don’ts when it comes to making that happen?

Jack Nasher
Well, I mean there’s so many points. I have eight keys in my book. Let me think which one should I give you that really – oh yeah, one is really interesting, the Doctor Fox experiment. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. I thought also it was an interesting experiment.

That the researchers took an actor and brought him to a convention, was like, I don’t know, about education, whatever. The actor gave a speech on a very specific topic. Now the speech was nonsense, total nonsense. It didn’t have any content really, but it sounded pretty good. Now you could think, wow, experts would find out because they’re experts.

Now, interestingly when the actor, who didn’t know anything about the topic, when he gave the speech and he did it in a very enthusiastic way, so he was pacing the floor and he seemed to really care about the subject, really love the subject. He got extremely high marks on his presentation.

I thought that was really interesting, especially compared to the control group, where the guy – the same actor gave the same presentation just to a different group, also of experts, but he barely moved. He was just standing there, still. Now, only this made all the difference.

If you talk about your topic in a very enthusiastic way and people will say, “Wow, he or she loves the topic,” you will be rated so much higher than if you just stand there and talk. Even if you say – I just came from an Oxford debate at the Oxford Union, the debating club here. The last speaker, nobody really knew what she was saying because she was saying it in such a boring way. She just read it out that you just couldn’t follow.

There was one Dutch guy who was just pacing the floor. Even though he was repeating his same point over and over, he kind of got us because I caught myself thinking, “Wow, this guy really cares about what he’s saying. This guy must really know what he’s talking about.”

It’s this enthusiasm. So, non-verbal communication, pacing the floor, looking people in the eye and being really, really eager about getting your point across, this makes such a difference. So again, just remember, confidence in whatever your task is and enthusiasm. If you show these two things, this is already a great, great way to show your competence.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. When it comes to enthusiasm, I have a picture of what that means in terms of your voice, it shows emotion on different things like, this is very sad, or very exciting or very enraging. You have some variety in the voice. I think that there’s some swiftness to the words, at times that you’re speaking a little bit faster because you’re into it. And so—

Jack Nasher
Faster also is very good, by the way. Speaking faster, you’re being perceived as being more intelligent. People who speak faster are being perceived as more intelligent because people think “Ah, if he speaks fast, he must think fast too.” Thinking fast, intelligence is linked to competence. Speaking fast is always a good idea.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, cool. Well are there any other kind of subcomponents or individual pieces that get picked up on when someone says, “Whoa, that guy’s into it.”

Jack Nasher
Yeah, also another interesting point is eye contact. We think eye contact is really important. Well, it is but not in the way you would think.

For instance, if you give a speech, if you give a presentation, if you’re in a meeting, it’s actually good when you talk, you should hold eye contact with the people you’re talking to. Very important. Don’t forget that. But, if people talk to you, you should not hold eye contact. It’s actually beneficial for you to look away. Now, you have to be careful not to be rude, of course, but it’s interesting.

You know why? It’s a question of status. Because who looks at who? Well, usually it’s the servant looking at the master, taking orders. By looking people in the eye when they’re talking to you, unconsciously you show them that you have low status and that’s bad for your perceived competence.

So if somebody is talking to you, look away. Again, you have to be very careful not to be rude because obviously that’s very negative. But there’s no problem in looking right and left, kind of pondering about what he or she is saying, but you do not have to hold eye contact.

It’s really interesting that for your perceived competence, it’s better to look away when they’re talking to you. Who would have thought, right? Because some things are common sense and others are just the opposite.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s talk a little bit about managing expectations optimally. I think we talked about it’s best to commit and say yes with gusto. Do you have any other pro tips for how you do that …?

Jack Nasher
Yeah. By the way, the whole book is just filled with this stuff that I found. Sometimes I was really surprised. It’s like any kind of system. It’s eight chapters now. Some of the things are really surprising.

Now, about expectations, what’s also very important, when you raise expectations, when you show confidence, one thing you have to keep in mind, that’s whether you want to sell something, whether it’s yourself, your competence, your services or a product, it doesn’t matter, one thing you have to know is that people don’t choose what they like best. People choose what they fear least.

We have a loss aversion. It’s one of the main motivations of human behavior that we go away from risk, obviously. There are good reasons for that, you know?

You have to know every time you sit down with a client, you sit down with your employer, you sit down with your superior, with your colleague, you have to remember that the main thing is you have to take away their fear. Don’t try to be a good choice. Don’t try to be the best. Just think about everything that makes you a bad choice and eliminate that.

I’ll give you an example. When I applied here at Oxford as a student many years ago, I was a philosopher. I studied philosophy and psychology. I had nothing to do with business and yet I applied to the business school. I thought I don’t look like a business guy. What did I do? Well, I dressed up like a business guy. I bought some pinstriped pants. I went to the interview like that.

I remember my professor, first thing she said was “Wow, I thought there’s going to be some philosopher now, but I think you’d fit right in.” It’s as simple as that sometimes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Jack Nasher
It’s just you have to remember – just think about why – what could it be? Why would they say no to you? What speaks against you and that’s exactly what you face.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us some more examples of how you would take away fears? I guess I’m wondering about if I’m influencing someone to support my proposal or initiative or plan of action, what are some key ways I might take away their risk and fear.

Jack Nasher
Well the very first thing is that you find out what out their fear is. You basically ask them. If you think of most salespeople, most sales situations, people don’t ask you. They just talk. They just come with their pitch no matter what you say. Obviously, that’s one of the worst things that can happen, people just talking to you, blah, blah, blah, without you taking and telling them what you want.

The very first thing you have to do is you have to find out what their fear is. Once you know what their fear is, what they’re scared of, you can tackle it. Usually it’s quite easy.

For instance, I want a haircut. Because I travel a lot for my job, I give negotiation trainings here and there and sometimes I’m stuck in some rural area for a week and I need a haircut. I go to the hairdresser and I’m scared because I don’t know how he or she is. Of course, I can look on Google or how many stars, but they can be fake, they can be bought, whatever.

I’m longing to this day, I’m longing for a hairdresser who comes out of his store and says, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry about it. I know you’re scared. You’ve never been here. But sit down, relax, I’m really good at what I do.”

Now, this sounds very simple, but when has this ever happened to you, that somebody takes you by your hand and says, “Just don’t worry. I’m very, very good at what I do,” because we tend to believe what other people tell us. If somebody tells you, “You know what? I’m really good at what I do,” we tend to believe them.

Interestingly also we tend to confirm our beliefs. Everything he or she does afterwards, we see as a conformation of his or her quality.

Many years ago I bought shoes – British shoemaker. I asked him, “Well, why should I buy the shoes?” Customers ask stupid questions because they want you to take away their fear. The guy said, “Because they’re the best shoes in the world.” I laughed, I chuckled, and yet I bought them. Well, I was back a few weeks later because the heel fell off again … after six weeks. But I wasn’t upset. I felt bad that I ruined his masterpiece.

To this day, I still have these shoes. I’m sure they’re not the best shoes in the world and yet I cannot throw them away after 15 years because I still think, well, they must be very, very special. The guy, he did nothing but just say, “Don’t worry about it. These are the best in the world. If you buy them, they’re just the best.” ying, “Hey, don’t worry about it. Sit down. Have a tea. I’ll take care of it. It’s not an easy situation. It will take some time.” You have to say that because if you don’t say that, they’ll just give you more and more work. Say, “It’s difficult because of this, this, and this, but if anyone can do it, it’s me. You came to the right place. Sit down. Relax. Have a cookie. I’ll take care of it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. Now you also lay out a few particular approaches to elevate our status through praise and peacemaking. What’s the story behind these?

Jack Nasher
Status is one of the eight points. Interestingly that you raise your level of competence, your perceived competence by raising your level of status. If your status is perceived as higher – I mean, Give you a simple example.

If your family doctor talks about some political questions about Congress, chances are you will take him or her seriously. Why? He’s a doctor. He doesn’t know anything about politics, no more than me or you. But he’s a doctor. He has a high status. Because of this, you tend to put more weight in whatever he or she says. That is called status generalization. If somebody has a high or a low status, everything he or she does will be linked to this status.

There are ways to have higher status. It’s not just wearing a Rolex or wearing nice pants or all that. No. There’s some subtle ways to elevate your status. One is the one you just mentioned is by being a peacemaker.

It’s usually it’s a royal, regal task to get – at a meeting, people are fighting and you are the one who makes peace. At the office, you have two people quarreling for a while, well you should be the one who says, “Set up a date. Come on, let’s talk about it.” You will be remembered as the one who brought peace to it. That is a royal task, a royal thing to have done. This will elevate your status tremendously.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. Okay. You can make peace either by formally establishing, “Hey, let’s set a time,” or maybe you can even just sort of chime in and say, “Hey, let’s make sure that we’re respecting all view points,” or something along those lines. Okay, cool. What are some of the other approaches to elevating status?

Jack Nasher
Well, one of the other – very interesting because people came to me and said, “Well, what about Mark Zuckerberg or some people just wear sneakers and they come to all these great conventions?”

Pete Mockaitis
Steve Jobs.

Jack Nasher
Steve Jobs, yeah.  Anyway, so these two are very famous for taking the stage with a turtleneck, sneakers, a t-shirt, whatever, so how is that possible? Well, the answer – it’s very interesting that there’s something called non-conformity. If you do not conform – obviously, do not conform – everyone is wearing a tie, but you are wearing a t-shirt, so what the hell is going on here? Well, this can actually increase your status.

Even Hitler knew that, by the way, interestingly, because he always wore a very plain uniform of the lowest rank. He had other people surround him with the biggest uniform with thousands of medals, whatever, … with crazy medals. He wrote that in one of his texts. He said, “This makes me look like a saint because I’m the one on the stage and even though everybody presumably of a higher status, I must be almost holy to be on that stage.”

It’s an interesting thought. I’m not saying that Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs read Hitler to be like that, but basically it’s the same idea of non-conformity. It’s the idea that if you do not conform, you are actually – your status will increase, but this only works when you already have a pretty high position, when you already have – when you already are respected.

When you’re an intern and do that, it’s just ridiculous. They’ll just boot you out of the place. But if you’re the CEO of Apple and you do that, people will go, “Wow, amazing.” This non-conformity thing only works when you really have a certain status within your company, within your organization. Then this can really work wonders. But just remember, it only works when you have a real high status.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, now you’ve also got some perspective on how you can boost your overall likeability and attractiveness. How is that done?

Jack Nasher
Yeah, now, competence is a very particular trait. You don’t have to be likeable in order to be perceived as competent. Yet, being liked makes it easier because of a halo effect. If people like you, chances are you will be perceived as more competent.

Also if you’re more attractive, that to me, again, was shocking, how important attractiveness is in overall – in our day-to-day interactions. Incredibly attractive – incredibly important, really surprisingly important even in friendships of same sex, heterosexual friends. Children play more with other children who are attractive. Parents love their children more if they’re more attractive. Shocking result. Really, it was incredible.

The thing is that if you’re perceived as being more attractive, that you will be perceived as more competent. There are just some ways to look more attractive.

Pete Mockaitis
Do tell, do tell. Do I have to get plastic surgery, Jack, or what has to happen?

Jack Nasher
It’s interesting that even when I talk to cosmetic surgeons, they didn’t know about this research. Unbelievable.

Pete Mockaitis
This is a value proposition, guy.

Jack Nasher
I know, I know. Yeah, I wish I could tell you. It’s all in the book. I forgot. I’ll just tell you two things because some people say, “Well, I’m attractive, I’m not attractive, what can I change?” Well, funny thing is there are many things you can change quite easily. Also, there are many things you don’t have to change because they don’t matter. Like the nose has almost no significance for attractiveness.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Jack Nasher
Yeah, unless it’s like tremendously big or tremendously ugly or whatever. Tremendously beautiful doesn’t even help because it’s always more difficult – to stand out is as particularly beautiful is very difficult for a nose. To stand out as particularly ugly, much easier. It’s kind of unfair again, but that’s the way we perceive things. That’s how we act.

Interestingly, though a tan, for instance, is one of the most important factors, just a tan and pure clean skin. Probably not very easy, but I think it’s quite easy. You don’t need any surgery. You need nothing almost. Eyelashes, dark eyelashes, one of the things that makes such a tremendous difference.

Also, there are just some points that one researcher found. He looked at all the points that lead to attractiveness. This is unpublished research. It’s a researcher in Germany who spent years doing nothing but this and he never published it. I don’t know why. I talked to him. I said, “Come on, this is unbelievable. This is revolutionary.” He said, “Eh, I don’t know. I just like the research.”

Well, I give you all the points and what really makes people attractive because why? Because first of all I think it’s tremendously interesting. We spend billions every year to look more attractive and most of it is wasted on stuff that doesn’t really matter.

Pete Mockaitis
I think about the teeth. If they’re white and straight, it would be an asset rather.

Jack Nasher
Yeah, that’s also good example. If teeth are white, you won’t say, “Wow, his teeth are so white.” But if they’re yellow, you’ll say, “Ah, it’s disgusting.” It’s not very symmetrical. Bad things stand out in a much stronger way than good things.

Pete Mockaitis
How about clothing?

Jack Nasher
Clothing is all about status. Somebody said you shouldn’t dress for the job you have, you should dress for the job you want to have. But here again, you should keep in mind that a tie and a jacket isn’t always the right choice, if you work in a startup or something, but there are also status symbols. You just have to know what they are. They probably stand in line for some Nike sneakers for a day or something.

But anywhere you go there are status symbols, but they differ. They don’t have to be Ferragamo ties. They’re just sneakers or whatever. But that’s – if you ask me about clothing, that’s the most important thing about clothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that is it’s conveying a status to the appropriate audience?

Jack Nasher
Yup, that’s right. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
I was thinking about the fit being pretty important in terms of you can have a t-shirt that is kind of sloppy and too big or too small or a t-shirt that’s just hugging you just right. It’s just like, “That’s an attractive person,” because maybe you can see my broad shoulders or whatever perfectly.

Jack Nasher
But that, again, would be part of status, that clothes are actually made to measure or bespoke or at least fit. If you see somebody with an XL t-shirt and he’s obviously thin, it just looks stupid.

But these are details I didn’t really go into. It’s more like all the research that tells you ah, okay, these are interesting points, non-conformity, okay. Smiling, for instance, how important is smile – the chapter about non-verbal communication. You find interesting things about smiling. Well, smiling isn’t always good. There are some times when you shouldn’t smile at all because smiling actually hurts your perceived competence. You look like a dork when you smile.

Pete Mockaitis
When should I not smile?

Jack Nasher
Well, you just shouldn’t smile when there’s no reason to smile. If you just smile all the time, you look stupid. People do that. They think it’s polite or nice or there’s so many quotes on mugs about smiling, but, well, for your perceived competence, they don’t necessarily help. If you go to a lawyer and it’s a serious subject because your child is in jail and he keeps smiling, and you think “What the hell? Why is he smiling all the time?”

There’s some misconceptions and you should just smile when something is funny or when say hi, but it actually can be bad for your perceived competence. Why? Because, again, your status will look low because who smiles all the time? Salesmen or somebody who wants something from you right? Low status.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. I suppose you could smile when you’re greeting someone because that’s sort of normal. It’s like, “Oh hey, they’re kind of happy to see me.” But if you’re keeping the smiling going in the midst of a boring topic, it’s sort of like, “What is up with this person?”

Jack Nasher
Exactly. Also, even when you greet, it’s not necessary. When it’s about a real important topic and somebody greets you with a firm handshake without actually smiling, you think “Wow, okay, he or she is really into the topic now. Let’s cut to the chase.” Even then it could be beneficial not to smile. The smile fetish that’s just something you shouldn’t do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, this has been so fascinating. Now, tell me Jack, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jack Nasher
I already mentioned too much. You should buy the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, noted.

Jack Nasher
… give everything away. Come on. Don’t ask me any more questions because there’s nothing – well, there’s some stuff left. yeah, I gave away a lot. Damn.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, yeah.

Jack Nasher
… Pete. How do you do that?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, shucks. Well, so this is not book specific, so maybe the pressure is off a little bit. Can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jack Nasher
Oh you know, I read so much. It’s one of the things I do all the time. I just love reading. I love new input. I’m always fascinated by new ideas. I think just being open, having an open mind and always learning. I think that for me is the best. It’s not just one thing or one book because every week I’m reading a different book on a different topic.

Right now I’m reading the Bitter Angels of Our Nature about how the world evolved in a positive way. I think that’s really fascinating. It’s a great book. It’s very long, but it’s really fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Jack Nasher
A favorite habit is I try to touch or look at things only once. That’s it. I just try to look at one thing once, decide, and just get rid of it. Look at an email once, not save it or something, just do it quickly because I just found that if I keep stuff on my desk, it just keeps piling up. But I just have to allocate certain time slots for things, but then I just look at it once and I just do it.

One of my favorite quotes “It’s better to do it well now than perfect tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or never.” That’s one of my favorite quotes. I don’t even know it’s a quote, but it’s an idea to rather get stuff done now than to do it better in a week or never.

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

Jack Nasher
I’d point them to my website, JackNasher.com. It’s packed with great stuff, free stuff.

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

Jack Nasher
No, I think, and that was one of the points of my book, is that you spend so much time being good at your job, you spend so much time going to college, executive education, reading books, but you don’t spend any time thinking about how you should sell your capabilities, how you should sell your competencies. And that’s what this is about, you know?

I’m not telling you to fake anything. I’m just showing you how to display whatever it is you know, whatever it is you can do and to really excel in your job by displaying whatever competence you have. I think you should take some time off and even if it’s only by reading one book and I’m not telling you which book, but I’m just suggesting one book, I think it’s well worth your time because it’s just not enough to be good. You have to show that you are.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Jack, this has been a real treat. Thanks so much for taking the time. I wish you tons of luck with your book, Convinced, and all your adventures.

Jack Nasher
Well, thank you very much for your interest in my book. Thanks a lot for these great questions. I enjoyed it very much.

369: Avoiding The Perils of Workplace Technology with Dan Schawbel

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New York Times bestselling author Dan Schawbel discusses appropriate uses of technology and how to find fulfillment in your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to set career expectations
  2. Three tips for increasing productivity and improving work relationships
  3. How (and when!) to use technology to improve relationships

About Dan

Dan Schawbel is a New York Times bestselling author, Partner and Research Director at Future Workplace, and the Founder of both Millennial Branding and WorkplaceTrends.com. Through his companies, he’s conducted dozens of research studies and worked with major brands including American Express, GE, Microsoft, Virgin, IBM, Coca Cola and Oracle. Dan has interviewed over 2,000 of the world’s most successful people, including Warren Buffett, Anthony Bourdain, Jessica Alba, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and me! He is the host of “5 Questions with Dan Schawbel”, a podcast where he interviews a variety of world-class humans by asking them 5 questions in less than 15 minutes. In addition, he has written countless articles for Forbes, Fortune, TIME, The Economist, The Harvard Business Review, and others that have combined generated over 15 million views. Schawbel has been profiled or quoted in over 2,000 media outlets. He has been recognized on several lists including Inc. & Forbes Magazines “30 Under 30.”

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dan Schawbel Interview Transcript

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

Dan Schawbel
I’m very excited to be here, my friend.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to hear the story you recently conquered your fear of heights in Costa Rica. What’s the back story there?

Dan Schawbel
I was really anxious going to Costa Rica. I was watching all of these videos on YouTube of people canyoning and zip lining and I had so much fear. I’ve been afraid of heights my whole life.

My friends that I went with, they’ve done some crazy things in their life. My friend, Pete, he has zip lined in … places in the world. My other friend, we call him the crazy Russian, Slava, he’s bungee jumped, he’s jumped out of a helicopter, he’s done some crazy stuff.

And so, just going with them and knowing that I would be really pushed out of my comfort zone, gave me a lot of anxiety. And I have a lot of anxiety as is, so it just … up a notch.

I finally just gained the courage. I’m like, “Let’s do this. When am I going to go to Costa Rica again?” So we land, the next morning we go canyoning first. It was really intense because when you go in this canyon, you have to propel down these massive waterfalls. The first waterfall is like eight feet, but the second one is almost directly after that and that’s 150 feet. And I’ve never done this before.

And what I did was I went first because I knew the more I would wait, the higher my anxiety would be, more … I would be. I would always go first and that’s how I got around that fear is, “Hey, I’m just going to get this over with.” In many ways that’s how I’ve handled a lot of situations in life. I just replicated it in terms of to beat the fear.

A few days later we went zip lining and that was … the biggest and tallest zip lines in all of Costa Rica. I think one of the zip lines was a mile long. They would tell us that if you get stuck on the zip line, because you’re not going fast enough, then you have to crawl yourself back. maybe it happens a few times a year, but to me that builds up so much fear because what if I’m the person. What if I’m stuck and I’m looking down and you see the rainforest and the jungle and you’re like, “Oh my God, let me live through this.”

What really helped with the anxiety was going before my friends, but because it was a 75-year-old woman and five little kids who were zip lining with us. I was like, “Oh, if they can do it, I can do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, that’s encouraging when the elderly pull it off. Great to hear. You did it. How do you feel?

Dan Schawbel
I feel good, but I’m also not ready to sign up for it again either.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it also sounds like you’ve got your hands kind of full. You’ve got multiple roles going on, founder of Millennial Branding and WorkplaceTrends.com and partner and research director at Future Workplace. Can you orient us a little bit, what is your job, your thing, what do you do?

Dan Schawbel
For the past month, I’ve really come to the conclusion that I’m just a curious person who asks a lot of questions. I’d start there, because since 2012 I’ve conducted over 40 research studies, including this new one for Back to Human, the new book with Virgin Pulse.

I’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’ve surveyed over 90,000 people in over 20 countries, and I do all the questionnaires, so I’ve had to think of many, many, many, many questions through that.

Then I’ve also interviewed over 2,000 people one-on-one. These are anywhere from professors to authors, to astronauts, to Warren Buffett, Donald Trump, a wide variety of people and each of those interviews is five questions …. It’s really about learning as much as I can from people and through data and create and … those stories through the media, through books, and through everything else I do.

So that’s the core of what I do is ask questions. I’m also you could say an entrepreneur. I’m partner … Future Workplace. I do all the research through them, but we also put on four events every year, two on the east coast of America, two on the west coast. These events are for heads of HR companies that we serve. We also have an AI course and we do workshops as well.

Aside from that, I’m … Millennial Branding, so that’s where I do a lot of speaking, and books, and spokesperson, deals with working with companies to get their message across to people my age. I’ve done a lot of media. I’ve written over 2,000 articles.

I’m somebody who has worked since I was 13. My first business was sophomore year of college. I had eight internships between high school and when I graduated college.

I worked for three and a half years at a company called EMC Corporation, which is now EMC Dell. Dell purchased them. I created the first ever social media position there that’s because outside of work I was really early into blogging. I started my own …, everything around personal branding.

Fast Company profiled me and through that EMC hired me internally for the social media position. If you go Twitter.com/EMC and Facebook.com and all those, I did all the original social media accounts back in 2007, so it was really early on in all of this. I’ve watched the whole thing play out.

Then over time, I’ve continued to write. My really true love is I like to focus on organizational behavior, how robots and humans collide in the workplace. I’m very interested in work culture and the labor market at a high level.

I like to see from a macro level what’s … in the economy, what’s happening in the world, are more people being hired, are people losing jobs because of technology, what do retentions rates look like, what – who’s hiring what?

I love all of that because from a high level I know what the market is, so I can give better advice from an individual level … invest their time, what they should major in, what skills they need to develop. But also more corporate standpoint, I understand what skills people have and what they’re looking for in their employers.

For instance, people my age, 34, or younger, they’re looking for flexibility in the workplace. Through the research, through conversations I have I’m able to make those recommendations.

The goal really, my mission is to help my generation through their whole career path from student to CEO. The first book, Me 2.0, helped them get from college to first job. The second book, Promote Yourself, is first job to management.

Then Back to Human is a leadership book for the generation because over … percent of people my age have a management title and above and about 5% have a director title and above, so to me this is the best time to help engage the next generation of …. And you know, for me, myself, I consider myself a leader in this space. I’ve been supporting this generation since the early days, the early 20s.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right, that’s plenty. What’s your book, Back to Human, all about here?

Dan Schawbel
The thesis is that technology has created the illusion of connection when in reality, … using or misusing it, we are isolating ourselves to a more lonely, less engaged, and less committed to our teams and organizations.

People can all relate to this. The average person checks their phone every 15 minutes. We tap our devices over 2,600 times a day. We’re constantly using the technology. We’re not even thinking about using it. You see this everywhere we go.

Now, even though the book hits technology really bad, it does it to make bigger points about how we’re using it and when we’re using it.

For instance, you could use technology in order to discover people who might live in your neighborhood or your city so you can connect with them, but when you connect with them try and do it in a meaningful way on the phone or in person so you get to really know someone and form a stronger bond.

This happens in the workplace too. If we’re constantly using and abusing technology and thinking it’s going to solve all of our problems, it’s really not. It’s going to actually isolate us and bring us further apart.

You cannot solve an argument between two employers by texting. That’s just not going to cut it. It creates misunderstanding. One, face-to-face interaction is more successful … 34 emails back and forth. Instead of emailing someone constantly, hoping they understand you and know what to do next, all you have to do is walk four feet and actually talk to that person.

Because of the overuse and misuse of technology in our society and in the workplace, people are using it as a crutch and avoiding face-to-face conversations that are necessary in order to establish relationships that are required for long-term success and happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you point to I guess a little bit of the mechanism or the line of causality or the evidence that says, that hey, this technology is in fact causing isolation and disengagement?

Dan Schawbel
Yeah, it’s actually in the study I did with Virgin Pulse of over 2000 managers and employees in 10 countries. We found that almost 50% of an employee’s day is spent using technology to communicate over in person. What’s happening with those employees is that they feel lonely … very often as a result of overusing that technology.

This is a big issue, especially in a world where … is much more dispersed. You have more people working from home than ever before. A third of the workforce works from home, but two-thirds of those people are disengaged because if you’re always working from home the whole time – and I work from home, it’s been almost eight years working from home you can become isolated and lonely because you’re not … human contact.

What’s really fascinating is we focused on all the benefits of working from home and … tons of research around the benefits that you get, the freedom of flexibility, you save commuting cost, but not enough people are talking about the drawbacks. The big drawback is that you feel isolated, lonely, and potentially disengaged.

We have bigger conversations around the full picture of this because sometimes people lie to themselves. They’re not consciously thinking about how working from home isolates them and impacts their health and wellbeing, which impacts productivity.

It’s like everyone talks about the glory of loving what you do and being passionate about what you do for work, but if you’re really passionate about what you do, it could become an addiction and actually isolate you from others because all you’re doing is work.

There’s the good and bad for everything. Part of what I want to do with this book is to reveal and make people more conscious of how and where they’re using technology and to try and make better decisions about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I guess what I’m wondering is the extent to which the working remotely thing is causality versus correlation in so far as some people who want to work from home are already, aren’t super attached to their coworkers. They won’t miss like, “Oh, I’m so sad that I will not see these people on a regular basis,” as opposed to it’s causing it like, “Oh man, I’m out of the loop.”

Are you talking about people who are working entirely remotely or sort of the once or twice a week work from home crowd?

Dan Schawbel
I’m talking about entirely working remote.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Dan Schawbel
If you work remote, you’re much less likely to want to long-term career at your company because you don’t have emotional attachment to the people you work with. You’re never there. You’re out of sight, you’re out of mind, which actually limits your career prospects.

It’s like Jack Welch used to always say when he was the CEO of GE, “Face time matters.” If you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. You’re less likely to get a promotion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you, so these are fully remote workers.

Dan Schawbel
Yeah, so I’m talking about a fully remote worker. A third of the population works remote always or very often. It’s happening. Look at a company like Aetna. Over half the workforce works remote full time.

Other companies fall into this as well. That’s why you see this big backlash too. You have Yahoo, BestBuy, Reddit and various other companies like Honeywell that have forced employees to come back into the office. Now, they’ve forced employees to come back to the office full time, whereas Aetna says, “Hey, you can work remote fulltime.”

What I’m saying is more or less what you’re … to get to is let’s … extremes here. Let’s kind of meet in the middle and let’s customize work based on your individual needs.

It’s crazy. I interviewed 100 young leaders for my book, at least … of them are having kids this year. There’s a million new Millennial moms per year. If you’re having kids, you need some degree of flexibility. As if someone’s single or someone’s older, the benefits they need and the work they want is going to be a little bit different.

You’re going to care much more about retirement benefits if you’re 60 than 23. You’re going to care about flexibility in some regard regardless of age, but if you’re younger maybe you want flexible hours or telecommunicating, where as if you’re older, you want some other degree of flexibility. Like if you have kids, you want parental/maternal leave. That’s becoming a really hot benefit for many. Netflix gives unlimited.

I think it depends where you are in your career lifecycle, what you’re looking for at that time, and what your needs are, and then having a company and a manger step up and really lead by exhibiting empathy and understanding your situation, trying to create a good situation for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Then digging into some of the content of the book, you sort of suggest starting off by focusing in on fulfillment. What does that mean and look like in practice and what are some of the alternatives that people focus on instead?

Dan Schawbel
Great question. Life is too short and … work too many hours not to be fulfilled at work. The average work week is 47 hours for a fulltime salaried employee and 43 for an hourly worker. We’re spending so much time at work.

Anytime I stand in front of an audience of 50 to 6,000 recently, I always say, “How many of you respond to work emails on vacation?” It’s like 99% say they do. We’re always kind of working now. There’s an expectation, especially in the United States, that we’re working 24/7, which can be unhealthy and lead to burnout.

But the reality is if you do not like your work or you have a toxic work environment, where you don’t get along with your colleagues and manager, it’s going to affect your personal life.

This is why I put such an emphasis on improving the workplace, making people have healthier work environments because if you don’t have a good employee experience, it’s bad for the company, and it could be bad for your relationship with the people you’re closest with because you’re going to be complaining about work outside of work all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah.

Dan Schawbel
I put a huge emphasis on this. What I said in the book is you really have to focus on your fulfillment first. It’s like if you’re on a plane, they always say take care of yourself before you – if there’s going to be a crash, take care of yourself before your fellow passengers.

Same thing with fulfillment, you’ve got to get your stuff right because then you’ll be optimistic, you’ll be happy, you’ll be able to inspire and support people at a higher level. You’ve got to get your stuff right first before you help others.

The best way to start doing this is defining what makes you fulfilled. Think about what you’ve enjoyed in the past, what you think you’re good at, your values, what your previous accomplishments and experiments tell you. Really zone in on what you’re supposed to be ….

By the way, this doesn’t happen in one day. It’s not like you wake up and magically you know what makes you fulfilled. It’s being thoughtful. Taking notes. A lot of people keep journals now. I think that’s really smart, to write down how you feel when you do certain activities. Really narrowing that down is so important.

Then I think what happens in our society is people get distracted by technology. They get derailed from their own fulfillment. They try and live up to the expectations of others when we really have to take a step back and focus on ourselves and then our team second.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, a couple things I want to dig into there. One, I’m a sucker for data. That 47-hour figure, so this is in the United States, those who are full-time salaried position.

Dan Schawbel
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
So that does not include the commute. That is just straight up work time.

Dan Schawbel
Straight up work time.

Pete Mockaitis
… further.

Dan Schawbel
That’s by Gallup. That’s a Gallup study from 2014.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. I’m wondering if it’s the mean or the median, but I’ll look it up on my own. Either way, it’s striking. 47 is a lot more than 40.

Dan Schawbel
Oh here’s another one for you. A third of people work on weekends.

I’m a data nerd, by the way. I’ve reviewed – I’m getting closer to over 8,000 research reports since I was a recent college graduate, so I’m really invested in this.

I have catalogued all the research over the years because I’ll tell you why I like research so much because when I was younger, there was so much ageism because I had a career blog. People were like, “What do you know about having a great career? You’re 22!” I stated early. I learned how to – internships, get a job, sell myself, build my personal brand. I knew that all early on.

It’s still a lot of ageism. I used data in order to combat ageism. “Hey, you don’t believe me? I’m going to point to data that you trust, so you now … be more seriously.” I always use data as a way to deflect ageism.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Dan Schawbel
And then … 2012 I had a great opportunity to analyze four million Millennial Facebook profiles. That campaign went well. Then I’ve just been addicted to data ever since because it’s … almost like you’re an archeologist and you’re digging up the next dinosaur bone. For me it’s I want to find something new, discover it, and bring it into the world, and distribute it to others so it benefits them.

From a corporate standpoint, from an individual standpoint, I think data is extremely valuable in today’s society when everyone’s thinking about the ROI of everything and also just to really identify what’s really happening in the pulse of the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. I’m right with you there. I don’t remember who said it. I think it was when I was learning to become a consultant at Bain. They said, “The only thing you can really rely on to be heard and credible and persuasive when you look so young and don’t know diddly yet about the industry is a fact.”

It was like, “Yup,” sure enough, a fact is a fact. They go, “Huh, okay. Well then that’s something that we’re going to work with a little bit.” As opposed to your opinion and you’re pontificating on how things should be when you’re not yet trusted for your pontifications. So I’m right with you there on the data.

Tell me when it comes to focusing on fulfillment, could you maybe set a little bit of an expectation on the grand scheme of fulfillment, I think it’s fair to say that no job will fulfill your every wish, want, desire, and need for that to bring about fulfillment and happiness in your life.

At the same time, I think there’s plenty of room to keep the bar higher than, “Well, you know, it’s a job. It’s a job and they pay me.” What do you think is sort of acceptable and to expect from a career versus asking for too much or too little?

Dan Schawbel
What I would say is it’s trial and error. What’s really interesting that I’ve been thinking about over the past year is no one has this all figured out. We’re all tweaking our careers. We’re pivoting. We’re learning more about ourselves as we experience new jobs and new projects.

For me, it took me a while to figure out what my mission was. I started young, of course, that helped, but I didn’t really put all the pieces together in my head until maybe three years ago when I came up with my mission statement that I put on my website. I now say I love research more than anything else. That’s why I’m like the chief question officer in a way because that’s a really key part of research in many ways.

I think you identify what makes you fulfilled based on self-reflection, based on feedback from others, and just being around people who give candid feedback, not ones who are yes men or yes women, people who are going to be real honest with you.

When I interact with pretty successful people in my network, a lot of them don’t get the best advice and get the best feedback because they’re getting complimented all the time because they have leverage in their careers. I stand out because I’m willing to give them criticism in the most genuine way possible and because of my track record, they take it seriously. Then they’ll take some of that advice to heart ….

I think you just need the right people around you who are going to be honest and if they see you doing something wrong or they see you unhappy, to just have them be honest and be like, “Oh, I see that you’re unhappy. This is not exactly what you should be doing or how you’re doing it.” Sometimes you might be in the right position, but doing the work in the wrong way, which will turn you off from doing the work and make you feel unfulfilled.

A lot of people give up quick, especially in today’s society. Everyone wants instant gratification. They build up all of it in their head that this job is going to be perfect and they’re going to be so happy. They’re unwilling to work to ensure that they have maximized their day … fulfills their personal and professional needs and are fulfilled overall.

I think that you can’t just rely on the company to … fulfilled. You need to be responsible for doing that and working within your company to make that happen. That could mean doing projects outside of what you’re hired to do. It could mean that you change the nature of your work and working in a lounge versus a cubicle because maybe that gives you more inspiration.

It could be you changing how you get work done or who you work with. Maybe your group is not the right team for you at work as a leader. Maybe you need to manage a different team.

And things change too. What if your employee quits? Then you’ve got to hire someone else. Or what if you get laid off? Then you’re looking for another job and you’ve got to maybe reinvent yourself because people aren’t hiring those with your skillset that was valuable three years ago, but it’s not now.

It’s a constant work in progress. I think people should do their best. I think people should reflect often and surround themselves with people who will be candid with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, lovely. Thank you. I want to talk a little bit about some of your perspectives on how you’re doing the work. Let’s talk about the work/life balance. You say it’s a myth and we should look at work/life integration instead. What’s the full story here?

Dan Schawbel
Yeah, just based on how work is being done these days. It’s happening in the office. It’s happening remote. It’s happening in co-working spaces, at coffee shops. It’s all over the place. It’s very decentralized. It’s hard to know when to cut off work and when to do personal things. It’s becoming ever more blurred. But our personal and professional lives are very blurred because of technology.

Again, what I was saying before. It’s like you’re kind of always working even if you’re not at a physical office. Because of that we have to – we need a new solution because … is no longer effective like it was for our parents and our grandparents.

What we need to think of is work/life integration. Jeff Bezos calls this work/life harmony. The now former CEO of … when I interviewed her, she called this work/life integration as well and so has several other people in my network that I talked to because it’s all about taking the responsibility and accountability to say, “Okay, these are the five personal and professional things I need to do this day.”

Then carve out your schedule so you’re able to do those two, three, four, five things. It’s on you to figure out how to integrate the things that you need to do … fulfill you personally and professionally, not anyone else because only you know this. I think that’s really important.

Like for me, I’ll be doing this podcast and then in two hours I’m going to an event. I’m meeting friends there. Even though I’m going there for professional reasons, it’s also to be with my friends. Almost like as an excuse to see them. I’m constantly trying to figure out how to parley my personal and professional life together.

Like I’m going to LA and when I’m there I going to be doing some media for the book, but at the same time, I’ve already contacted some of my close friends who live there … dinners and lunches and get-togethers. So, it’s constantly figuring out how to make it work on a regular basis and blocking off times so that you’re fulfilled in both areas.

Pete Mockaitis
Any pro tips on any sort of powerful requests to make bosses or boundaries to set that for many people can make a world of difference?

Dan Schawbel
This needs to almost happen when you’re being interviewed. Just asking questions about from the employer’s standpoint, what are they looking for in work/life balance.

Then from the individual standpoint, just talking about the type of environment you work best in. If you really work well remote and then the hiring manager is like, “Well, we don’t let anyone work remote even for an hour here,” it’s probably not the company you want to work for.

It’s really having the conversations before you can start work so that once you know what you’re able to do and you accept that job, the expectations will hopefully be met. Rather than hoping it all works out when you already have a job, try and do it as early as possible in the hiring conversation.

If you already have a job and you’re like, “Okay, I’ve got to have this conversation,” it’s really about blocking off time with your manager and just seeing what the possibilities are and what the comfort level is. Because at Aetna for instance, they let employees work remote full-time, but they have to be at the office for the first six months to prove themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Dan Schawbel
You’ve got to earn the right to work remote full-time by showing that you can take the responsibility and do the work and deliver results.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. I also want to get some of your takes on productivity, shared learning, optimal collaboration. Can you give us some of your favorite tips and do’s and don’ts in this world?

Dan Schawbel
Oh boy, this is a big one. The shared learning chapter is become very popular because I think there’s so much learning that needs to happen now. You look at the way skills are now, the average relevancy of a skill is only five years. In order to keep up with the fast-paced business world we live in, we have to rely and support each other by sharing what we know openly.

Being a hog of information is going to lead to a shorter-term career that’s not going to be as fulfilling. If you’re more open to share, and you’re more open to accept the knowledge that other people have and train them, but also ask for help, you’re more likely to succeed because everything is in real time right now.

Information is moving fast. Things are changing. Companies are being acquired, merged. There’s layoffs. There’s new skills that are entering the arena, like artificial intelligence skills. If you’re able to work as a team collectively and lead a team where people are just helping each other, that team is going to hold strong. They’ll have stronger relationships, which will lead to higher performance.

The other thing I’ll say is for optimizing your productivity, again, technology can be good or bad, but when it comes to optimization, you can do a lot of things that save time, like use conference room booking systems or even your own calendar to block off time on people’s schedules so that you have time to meet people, be prepared for meetings so that you can facilitate or catch up with your colleagues. I think that’s really important.

Like I was saying before with work/life integration, use your calendar to block off time for meals, time for breaks. For every 45 minutes or so of work, you should take a 10- to 15-minute break. That’s what the research shows. I think that you need to do what’s right for you, but there are certain best practices that can help you, like having … environment that’s optimized so that you avoid distractions and you can concentrate on the work at hand.

But then also getting out. A lot of people have lunch at their desk and they should be having lunch with their colleagues so they can form stronger relationships.

Again, this really has to do with the pressure that employees are being put on right now because people are working harder than ever before for no additional money, so there’s this constant anxiety that people have that they have to always be working. But that leads to burnout and lower productivity. So I would avoid that.

Instead, I would really think about how you can at least one or two times a week have lunch with your colleagues, just so they’re seeing you, they’re hearing you. You can bounce ideas off them. The best ideas that I always get are when I’m talking with other people. I literally get my best ideas in conversations.

If you’re staring at your computer all day, you’re probably not going to be as creative. But if you are in new surroundings with new, diverse people, it’s going to inspire you.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Dan Schawbel
I would say training people is really important. Sharing articles among your teammates. Anytime I see an article that would benefit my team with the artificial intelligence, I see it and I share it. I don’t even think twice because I know what my … want and I just keep delivering because then they’re going to be more prepared for their meetings.

Every morning I’ve had the same habit, which I think is extremely effective in what some of your listeners could take advantage of is I review all the latest research and trends in my own space every day. Then when I have meetings during the day or I’m speaking or I’m doing something, I’m or I’m … at things that I learned about four hours before.

I become extremely relevant because I’m always looking at these trends regularly. Things are changing so fast, so I almost can’t avoid doing that now. But by learning a lot, by sharing that knowledge and keeping up to the pace with things that are changing, you’re able to offer more, be more relevant, and smarter in your field.

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

Dan Schawbel
Yeah. I think what I’m trying to really do is make people more conscious of how they’re using technology, not disregard human interactions.

The biggest thing that gets in the way of person-to-person human interactions is email. We’re sending way too many emails. Many times it just doesn’t make sense. You see a lot of my friends, they have hundreds of emails they haven’t even answered, which many could have been avoided by just one phone call to be honest.

We’ve dropped phone calls. We’ve dropped voice mails all for texting. We’re sending so many texts every day and it’s not getting us anywhere. Not all progress is true progress in my opinion.

That’s not to say technology can’t be good. Early in my career, I used technology to forge an incredibly big, vast great network, but it wasn’t until I started to meet those individuals in person where the real relationships prospered and became something more noteworthy.

For this book, when I was interviewing … leaders, it started off as me interviewing them, then us having a Facebook group to just share updates, but then what I did was I used the Facebook group to meet them in person all across the country. They came on a book tour with me.

I think that is a good case of going back to human, where the technology was used in the right way. It’s used for initial contact and used in order to get everyone on the same page with … and same vision, and then using in-person conversations and phone calls to really get to know people … and go with them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Got you. Thank you. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Dan Schawbel
I think the best quote in the book is “When you replace emotional connections with digital ones, you lose the sensation of being present and the feeling of being alive.” Other quotes that I really love that I said over the years are, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, and build your own future,” and “Invest in yourself before expecting others to invest in you.”

In terms of books, I’d recommend books that my friends … Dream Teams by Shane Snow, The Creative Curve by Alan Gannett, Superconnector by Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh. These are all people I know personally, so it’s easy to recommend books because you trust them and what they’ve written.

I would say for the biggest challenge is the next time you’re in a meeting, have you and your teammates all put their phone in the middle of the table for the entire session and see what happens when you do that. You’re going to see what conversations take place, see what ideas are brought to the – brought up. Take notes. Then compare that to a meeting where phones were accessible and people were using them.

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

Dan Schawbel
Yeah, you could go take the self-assessment that’s in the book. It’s called WorkConnectivityIndex.com. It measures the strength of your team relationships. You can also listen to my podcast, Five Questions with Dan Schawbel, where I interview all sorts of people from Condoleezza Rice to Ann Jones, Richard Branson and five questions in under ten minutes, so quick, but you learn a lot by listening.

For everything else you can buy Back to Human on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, your local bookstore. Go to DanScawbel.com to follow all my research and articles.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Well, Dan, thanks so much for taking this time and good luck with Back to Human and all that you’re up to here.

Dan Schawbel
Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

368: Upgrading Your Productivity through Accountability with Focusmate’s Taylor Jacobson

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Focusmate founder and CEO Taylor Jacobson breaks down how tribal psychology and accountability partners can do wonders for your work and life.

You’ll Learn:

  1.  The biggest distraction drivers in the workplace
  2. Four streamlined to-do list hacks
  3. Why NOT to rely on willpower

About Taylor

Taylor Jacobson is the founder and CEO of Focusmate, building productivity software that works when nothing else will. He’s a trained executive coach with clients like Yale, Cornell, and Wharton, a wannabe adventurer, and a recovering pizza addict turned holistic health aspirant. His work has been featured in CNN, GQ, The Huffington Post, Men’s Health, and more.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Taylor Jacobson Interview Transcript

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

Taylor Jacobson
Thanks for having me Pete, excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Me too. I want to get your take first of all about your 3,000-mile bicycle ride.

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. Fun story. I just moved back from India and I was getting ready to do an MBA, although truth be told, I was kind of waffling on whether I wanted to do it. I always sort of wanted to do my own thing. I was debating.

I reconnected with a high school friend, who just wrapped up his stint in the Marine Corps, was taking some time off and I think we did a workout, we grabbed coffee and he said, “By the way, I’m going to do this thing we’ve been talking about since high school. I’m going to ride my bike from Boston to Seattle. You should do it with me.”

This goes all the way back to middle school. We can tell some fun stories about middle school because middle school stories are always fun if painful. But going back forever, I sort of knew that doing cool, hard stuff especially with somebody else was like this silver bullet for me.

I’d always wanted to do this particular challenge of riding my bike cross country and just was like, “Oh my God, this amazing person, a Marine, good friend of mine, is going to do this thing. This is my chance to do this really hard adventure.” That kind of flipped the switch for me of saying, “I really didn’t want to do this MBA anyway. I’m going to say yes.”

The next day we went to REI, we bought a tent, bought a sleeping bag, some stuffed sacks, whatever we needed. I think we had maybe a week before we were going to head out, so we did a couple you know – we loaded all the stuff on our bikes and tried to figure out how to ride with all this stuff strapped on there. I’d say we mostly figured it out. And then we just took off.

There’s a lot I can say about the ride, but one of the things we’ll get into in this conversation a lot is the power of your peers and the power of accountability and the power of just doing things together. I’ve never done that ride by myself, but I don’t know that I ever would or could.

Doing it with this friend, Brendan, every day you multiple moments, where you’re not having fun at all. But there’s just something about – your mind just kind of shifts when you are doing it together and it makes it a little less painful and it also – it sort of cements the reality that you just are doing it and you’re not going to give up.

For me the mental narrative when I’m doing virtually any kind of exercise, certainly cycling like this, certainly if it’s raining or there’s head winds or anything like that or it’s cold, which happened plenty, the debate raging in my head is like, “Should I quit or not?” That’s a little shameful to admit, but that’s the truth.

If I have somebody else there with me, it’s a whole different conversation. I’m just committed. I might be complaining in my head, but quitting is kind of off the table.

I won’t nerd out too hard on why that shift happens just yet while I’m telling this story, but needless to say, we made it. It took us 52 days, took some days off in the middle, went out for drinks in Bismarck, North Dakota because of course, you’ve got to do that. Yeah, incredible trip.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool, so every night you were just outdoors in the tent?

Taylor Jacobson
Most nights. Probably if I had had my way, we would have done more camping, but Brendan was a good voice of reason and when we’d pull into bigger towns, maybe once a week or so, he’d say, “We are getting a motel and we’re sleeping in a bed.”

We slept outdoors a lot, which I grew to really love. I miss it sometimes. But yeah, we tried to give ourselves a chance at a little bit more of a restful time to – especially if it was really cold or rainy or what have you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. It’s one of those things, you’ll remember it forever. It seems like some real seeds got planted there associated with the power of partnering up and accountability. Could you also tell us the tale behind your company and concept Focusmate and how you saw personally that this is some powerful stuff?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to go back to 2011 for the start of this story, which predates my company by a bit. I was living and working in Mumbai, India. I had been a top performer my whole life.

Pete Mockaitis
At work.

Taylor Jacobson
Went to Duke.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, Duke.

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, went to Duke, management consulting out of college. I was employee 6 at Teach For India. I was cruising. Then our office location changed in Mumbai and a kind of reasonable commute became much, much more arduous. This is a very long, very sweaty, just miserable commute, where I’d be like changing clothes when I got to the office. I just wasn’t digging it.

I basically begged my boss to let me work remotely. She sort of conceded. She was really reluctant, but I was just like, “I have to do this.” I started working remotely and I was excited about it, but her apprehensions turned out to be kind of – I don’t know what the right word is, but –

Pete Mockaitis
Justified, dead on.

Taylor Jacobson
Justified, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Prophetic.

Taylor Jacobson
Yes, thank you. In short, I could not figure out how to be productive while I was working remotely. It was really bad.

I would say I’m sort of a busy or productive procrastinator. I’d be like doing stuff constantly. I’d put in a good eight hours of something would be happening. I’d have my computer there on my lap, but I just wasn’t getting my job done. I wasn’t working on the really important stuff.

The next conversation I had with my boss was about a different topic, about my performance. We had a couple of those over a course of a few months. Eventually she didn’t fire me, but she basically said, “You can work here, you just can’t work for me.”

I drew a lot of ego strength from being a top performer, it just hit me really hard. I didn’t have the kind of resilience toolkit yet or sort of the mental pick-yourself-back-up toolkit yet. I kind of took this segue to start working for myself. I started my first startup at that time, but of course I was still working from home.

Kind of simultaneously because of this really conspicuous big failure, the first real big failure that I couldn’t kind of explain away, I went into this spiral of shame and depression. I really didn’t know how to get out of it. Of course, I was working alone, accountable only to myself, dealing with all the same things that had previously caused me to procrastinate. It was pretty nasty.

I won’t say that I figured out a lot in that phase. Kind of the first thing I figured out was just how to stop shaming myself and that was a good first step. But what happened was I started reading about self-improvement.

I started reading about behavioral science, and productivity, and all the productivity hacks, and blogs, and spirituality and just being in that really bad place actually and being motivated like that really cemented my passion for self-improvement and set me on this path.

Prior to starting this company, I was an executive coach for a number of years. That was a great opportunity to kind of take all this philosophy or research and be accountable to work with people on their real problems and see what works and what doesn’t work. Focusmate grew out of that.

I was working with a client, someone I had known for a really long time, sort of self-proclaimed procrastinator, also really high performer at the same time. He had an investor presentation coming up, really, really big and really important presentation, career-making type of meeting.

He called me up and he said, “Man, I have this meeting in two weeks. I need my investor deck and I haven’t started on it.” An investor deck for a meeting like this is something that could easily take you couple months to get into good shape. So he was really freaking out.

I had known him for long enough that I had kind of given him every bit of coaching that I knew. He didn’t need more coaching; he just needed to have his feet held to the fire. He just needed to sit down and do it somehow.

And so, I had meanwhile been procrastinating on writing a blog post at that time, something that I procrastinate easily for months. And I just said, “Listen, why don’t we just get on Skype tomorrow and I’ll sit there with you. And I will write my blog post and you will work on your investor presentation. I won’t even charge you because I need this too.”

And so we did that. It was crazy. We sat down. We both shared exactly what we’re going to do. Within a couple minutes, we’re just working. Two hours flies by. Both of us were kind of giddy at the end of this because we had just tapped into something that neither of us had ever experienced before.

He and I did that very day that week. He finished his presentation. That went great. But that was sort of the seed of realizing, “Oh, there’s something really powerful here.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so cool. It’s intriguing I imagine, boy, you really get into a dark place with regards to, “Hey, I’m a top performer. I kick butt all the time. Win, win, win is what I do. And yet I can’t pull myself away from-“ I don’t know if it’s Facebook or Netflix or cat videos or memes or gifs, whatever might be distracting you. What do you think that’s about in terms of our sort of individual capacity to resist distraction? What’s the deal there?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, that’s a really good, important question. I think the answer is actually – you can go read epic blog posts about this. You can read the Wait but Why has a really classic blog post on procrastination.

But I think it’s kind of simple, which is we spent 99% of evolution living in tribes, basically just trying to survive. We’re wired to function in that environment. What we’re not wired for is to have everything on demand and constant barrage of stimulation and opportunities for pleasure.

Pleasure could be Netflix or Seamless or – Seamless is food delivery here in New York or just email. That instant dopamine hit of getting a new email. I think it’s just we’re not wired to deal with the environment that we have today.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. You mentioned that there’s some data suggesting that distractions are getting worse and worse. Can you sort of unpack some of that to lay out just what’s at stake here?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, so some crazy data. I didn’t really fully grasp even until I started really building Focusmate and trying to understand what’s going on. Just like a few interesting things to look at.

Chronic procrastination is the most severe kind of procrastination. It’s a diagnosable condition. The study that I looked at for this starts tracking chronic procrastination right around the time that computers come into existence, like 70s, 80s.

The first data point they have on chronic procrastination is that it affects about 5% of the adult population. That number has gone up steadily until the most recent data point for this particular research on chronic procrastination is 2007, where it effects 20%, 1 in 5 adults.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s 2007.

Taylor Jacobson
2007.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve got 11 years to catch up to see how big it is now.

Taylor Jacobson
Totally. By the way, 2007 is when the first smartphone, when the iPhone came out. You can extrapolate a little from that. We’re in a pretty bad place with – this is hardcore, severe procrastination affecting a lot of people, somebody you know.

Another one is adult ADHD scripts. So from about let’s see, 2003 to 2015, adult ADHD scripts went up by over 3 times. And then the other just terrifying statistic is about a third of the workday now is wasted on distractions. Just a couple hours a day every day wasted on distractions.

Pete Mockaitis
Do we have a breakdown of what are the big distraction drivers there in the workplace? Is it more so folks dropping by or is it more kind of self-inflicted, like, “Oh, I keep looking at the news or my phone?”

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, that’s a good question. I haven’t looked at that data for a little while, but I know that noise is a big one, especially now we have open offices are unfortunately still really trendy even through there’s really no evidence to support that they’re good and there’s a lot of reasons why they’re bad. But, yeah, noise is hard for people.

If you’re introverted – I’m introverted – or if you’re sensitive to noise – I’m hyper-sensitive to noise – we know that introverts are a lot of people and a lot of people are sensitive to noise, so for certain types of people especially, working in an office environment can just be totally crippling.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. There it is. It’s big in terms of distraction affecting us more and more at a bigger scale. You stumbled upon a powerful anecdote with that Skype chat and then you went ahead and built a whole company around this. If I want to get me a Focusmate, how do I make that happen and how does it work?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. The premise behind Focusmate is basically just using this technique, this kind of tribal psychology of accountability to unlock productivity. A kind of simple way to think about it is it’s like an accountability buddy or a study buddy on demand.

We have a standard session format. This is a 50-minute video working session, where we make it possible for you and your partner, your virtual co-worker, to sit side-by-side over video while you both get work done for 50 minutes. At the beginning of each session, you each commit to what you’re going to work on. You write it down and you get to work. At the end you check in with each other and talk about how it went.

It sounds pretty simple and it actually is, but there’s also a lot of behavioral triggers packed into that interaction. Part of it is when we schedule things in advance, our intentions further ahead are actually better often than our intentions right in the moment.

Then reflection, stopping and reflecting is – a lot of research shows that that improves productivity even though it doesn’t feel as good as just doing stuff. This forces you to stop and reflect on what you’re about to do.

Writing down what you’re about to do increases productivity. Telling somebody what you’re going to do increases productivity. The immediacy of doing it right after you write it down and tell somebody, also increases productivity. There’s a whole bunch of layers that go into why it’s so effective.

And part of what we’re building also is really enabling you to have a really customized experience so that the virtual co-workers that you have are exactly the right people for you, the people that you want to be working for, whether that’s because they’re actually your favorites, so to speak, that you’ve added to your tribe or that that’s based on your preferences of how you like to work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Is this free or how do I get me some of that?

Taylor Jacobson
It is free. All you’ve got to do is go to our website, Focusmate.com, and sign up.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Are there any kind of corporate firewall IT blah to contend with when using this software?

Taylor Jacobson
It’s a totally browser-based experience, so you shouldn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Taylor Jacobson
You shouldn’t have any. Yeah, but let me know.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I like the way you sort of unpacked that in terms of it’s really just a few simple practices, but they have a compounding effect and they all kind of come together. Then that’s cool.

I’m a huge believer in accountability. I was sort of already sold. I read a book about accountability groups in college and I had a powerful experience as well in terms of, “Hey, we’re making commitments to one another and we’re sharing this is what I’m going to do and we’re checking in with each other regularly.”

You’ve added the real time dimension of “We are sitting down now looking at each other doing the thing,” which is a whole other level, so that’s awesome.

Taylor Jacobson
Thanks.

Pete Mockaitis
Then tell me, do you have any sort of stats on the effectiveness or the measurement of just the extent to which it gets the job done? You and your buddies think it’s really cool and a good experience, but how do we measure it in terms of sort of like a yes or no I got the job done or how do you put numbers to prove that this is doing the trick?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, so we’ve done some internal surveys. The results are kind of crazy. 100% – this is about a 60-something person study, so pretty small, but we think significant. 100% of the respondents said, “Yes, this improves my productivity.” Of those, 96% said, “It improves my productivity by at least 50%.”

Then just on the anecdotal side of things, we have many, many, many people who are saying, “I’ve tried everything under the sun and nothing has worked until this. I have severe ADHD and I never thought I could do X. I just wrote it off. I was never going to get to do this goal. Now, I actually think that I can.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. I’m intrigued then. That’s one sort of tremendous tool we now all have in our toolkit. We can just go to Focusmate.com and grab a partner on demand so that’s great.

So I imagine though as you’ve done your research, you’ve sort of determined a few other kind of best practices and themes when it comes to humans and our capacity to focus and be productive and stay on task and beat procrastinating, so what are some of your other pro tips beyond getting a partner?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. I think it’s useful to actually kind of abstract one step because really the principle that is at work is around this tribal psychology. There’s this great quote from Jim Rohn that “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I must have seen that quote like ten times before I really understood what it means.

As I started to study psychology more, the way that I’ve come to understand why that really works, because it’s not magic, it really works. The reason is that we are social animals. We evolved in tribes where if you wanted to eat, you had to hunt. If you wanted to hunt successfully, you needed to collaborate with other people.

Or you wanted to raise a child, well, there was no baby monitors, so if you wanted to step away to do something else, you relied on somebody else. Or you got a cold, well, on how earth did you survive a basic common cold living in a tribal society? You completely relied on other people to take care of you.

We’re really hard wired to respond to these social triggers. There’s plenty of places that you can see this in life today, just stuff like why might you buy a Nike shoe versus a New Balance shoe? Well, a Nike shoe is going to send-

Pete Mockaitis
Because Steve Prefontaine, of course.

Taylor Jacobson
Of course. Well, that’s funny because it kind of gets at the thing, which is that Nike stands for something else. What that really means is it sends a different message both to you, but also to other people around you.

You go into an office, why is every guy there wearing basically the same thing. Well, that’s because you want to fit in. In a tribal society, it’s really, really costly if you stand out. The minute you stand out, you get ostracized, you’re dead. The way our brains our wired is we conform to the behaviors around us.

That works both ways. That means, hey, if your spouse turns on Netflix every night at 7 like clockwork and you really want to study up on machine learning. Sorry, but it’s not going to happen. Netflix is on and boom, your willpower is gone. You’re probably just going to sit on the couch too.

But it works in the other direction too. Since we’re talking about running, just one of the coolest examples I’ve seen in 1954 this runner – what’s his name. I want to say Roger Bannister, don’t quote me on that. But basically no one had ever run a four-minute mile before. In 1954 this guy he breaks the four-minute barrier for the first time. Remember this thing has literally never happened before.

Suddenly, two months later, somebody else does it. I just checked the research on this. As of today, over 1,400 people have broken the 4-minute barrier.

When your brain makes that switch to something is possible because somebody else did it. Something in your environment sends a signal about what’s possible, suddenly it’s also possible for you or it becomes normalized for you.

On a really practical level, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. The way that plays out is, you start to internalize the way that people around you are speaking and their body language and soon the way that they think and the way that they act and all these things you’re just – the way your brain is wired is you’re just subconsciously absorbing all those things. You actually can’t help but start to be like them.

It’s not a totally rational thing in today’s society, where you can totally pretty much survive on your own, technically, but it is still a really, really incredibly powerful hack where if you change the people that are in your environment, if you change that social environment, it will just change who you are from the inside out.

That has so many implications for our work, but in the very immediate who’s your boss, who are your co-workers, who are the people that you talk to about work, those sort of things can actually have a very, very direct impact on your output, your results at work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s huge. Part of the game is just hey, pick some great people and be around them frequently.

Taylor Jacobson
Completely, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well so then, we’ve got sort of that lever to pull. Then I’m wondering in terms of when you find yourself without people at your disposal or maybe you have a shorter window in which you need to focus, like 20 minutes instead of booking a 50-minute advance session, what do you recommend in the heat of battle to sort of stay on task and focused and to beat procrastination and to keep at it when you’re not feeling it so much?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. I think this can be a tough one. One of the things that I find really helpful is this idea of doing less better.

When you sit down and you’ve got 50 things on your to-do list, which all of us have at least 50 things on our to-do list, it can be really crippling, especially when you only have in this case 20 minutes or something. You might be a little weary and decision fatigue has set in. It’s really crippling and that’s one of the things that makes it really hard to be productive when you only have 20 minutes.

Actually really streamlining and I’ve heard different approaches to this. One person shared that she uses a Post-it note every day and she can only fit about three things on there so that’s how she plans. She just uses a really tiny surface. That’s one way to do less better.

I’ve borrowed a technique or adapted a technique from Jake Knapp.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, we had him on the show.

Taylor Jacobson
Oh nice. Yeah. Jake wrote an article about what he calls the Burner Method or something like this. Sorry, Jake, I’m going to totally screw this up. But the essence of it is to do less better and to really simplify.

My approach to this is I take a blank sheet of paper every day and I divide it into a top half and a bottom half. On the top half, I literally put just one thing usually. If there’s other things I absolutely must get to that day, they go on the top half. That’s a really, really high bar for things you absolutely must, must get to.

And the bottom half is like okay, bonus if I finish that thing at the top, here’s some more tasks I can get into. On the bottom right is personal tasks, administrative, “I’ve got to pick up my dry cleaning” or “I’ve got to – “right now I have write a thank you note is in that bottom write corner. I find that it helps avoid decision fatigue when it’s just extremely simple and you can just focus on that one thing.

And then kind of related to that, I like to say that we should write our to-dos like we’re giving instructions to a robot or to a computer.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that.

Taylor Jacobson
What that’s about is really about specificity and reducing complexity. Our brains don’t like complexity. When we create it, we procrastinate. When you see something on your to-do list that says write a presentation, to reprise our old example.

You actually can’t write a presentation. You can create a blank document in Keynote. You can write an outline with some slide headers. You can sketch out some graphic, some ideas for visuals for your slides. Those are things that you can actually do, but it’s not physically possible to do the activity of write a presentation. That’s another fun little trick is write your tasks like you’re giving instructions to a robot.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. That’s sort of one of the tenants of GTD, Getting Things Done, methodology.  We had David Allen on the show back in the day, episode 15, awesome dude.

Taylor Jacobson
OG productivity baller.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah and a personal hero. But it really resonated because if on your to-do list it just says ‘mom,’ it’s like there’s a whole other level of – I don’t know if it’s consternation or friction, it’s like what does that even mean, ‘mom.’ It’s like, “Oh, mom’s birthday.” Okay, well that’s closer, but what’s the instruction for mom’s birthday. It’s like, “Visit Amazon.com to find something that mom would like for her birthday and order it.” Okay, that’s what I’m doing.

Then you sort of really cut through a lot of that resistance in terms of “Oh, it’s not ambiguous at all. This is what’s happening is I’m opening a window and going to Amazon.com and buda bing buda boom.”

Taylor Jacobson
Totally. Yeah, I love the level of specificity that you just went to because that’s exactly what is necessary for our really terrible brains.

But it’s funny how much resistance – I still find this, I got the habit down now, but there’s – you’ll still find there’s resistance when you’re writing down a task to just write those extra words and do that little bit of extra thinking when you’re planning.

I find that doing all your planning and reflection together as its own task and making sure that, “Okay, now while I’m doing the reflection and planning, I’m going to take the time to write down ‘go to Amazon.com and research gifts and buy gift for mom,’” whatever you’re going to write down.

The other sort of hack that I use on this is sometimes you need to write something down that is complex and it’s not the right time now to actually plan out the specific actions around that. So you might actually need to write a presentation and you just need some kind of place holder on your to-do list to work on that. It may not be right to break that into the 12 steps that are actually involved.

When I encounter that situation, i.e., every day, you can just write plan out the steps to write the presentation. Actually treating the planning as its own task I find is a really helpful way to sort of get around the stuckness on complex projects.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, tell me, you’ve got a turn of a phrase I find intriguing. You say ‘Stop relying on willpower.” What’s the key message there?

Taylor Jacobson
Oh gosh especially in the US, we have this notion of rugged individualism. I subscribe to it so much as you might guess from someone who does a cross-country bike ride, but it’s also kind of toxic in that I think it has us think that there is some glamour or glory or righteousness about muscling through things. That can look like trying to do things on our own. It can often look like just trying to use willpower.

I can’t count the number of, days that I wasted earlier in my career just kind of shaming myself because I thought, “Gosh, I really just should be able to willpower myself through this obstacle.” And it doesn’t’ work. There’s plenty of evidence that it doesn’t work. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that does. We’ve talked about some of the stuff that does. But I think just the key message is to just let go of the notion that there’s something better about muscling through.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. It’s almost challenging in terms of you hold on just like, “But if I were some sort of a hard core super achiever, I could do it.” But the word Navy SEAL comes to mind, but even then, they’re working in teams.

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, yeah, they’re working in teams. They live together. They have routine. All of it.

This is like the part two to this idea is it’s okay to get some support, but not too much. There’s a line that we draw somewhere in our minds, where it’s like, “Okay, I can call up a friend and ask for help on this, but I really shouldn’t call two friends I don’t want to take too much of this person’s time or whatever.”

Of course, you need to use social intelligence and be gracious and not overtax your relationships, but separate from that, I think we just kind of put a barrier on what’s acceptable to create as support in our lives. Categorically, there is no limit to how much support is okay. I really think it’s just if there’s a way to get the job done, maybe you should use it.

So accountability is one great way, but I’m sure you’ve had plenty of guests who talk about stuff like automating things in your life, where, “I’m not necessarily reliable to get my laundry done when it should be done, so I just have a pick up set for once a week, where I’m like, all right, I guess I’ve got to scramble and get my clothes together because the person is coming,” just to give a couple examples of any way that you can avoid using willpower to do something, might be a good idea.

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

Taylor Jacobson
No, I’m good. Let’s do it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, how about you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, so, I’m going to just trot this one out again. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. That’s Jim Rohn.

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

Taylor Jacobson
There’s a study called The Power of Kawaii, which is this concept of viewing cute baby animal photos. What they looked at is what’s the impact this has on your productivity. I’m talking about this because it’s a perfect example of tribal psychology of we can’t help when we look at a picture of a cute baby animal, it actually boosts cognitive function, it boosts mood, it boosts concentration. Pretty crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve heard references to this. I said, “What?” I never scratched beneath the surface, so while we’re here, you’re thinking that it’s the tribal psychology explains this. Can you make that connection for me?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. The kind of obvious connection is-

Pete Mockaitis
It’s an animal, we should kill it and eat it.

Taylor Jacobson
Well, okay. There’s that. I think it might be more intuitive for people to think about raising kids. When you have a baby there’s this blob that really doesn’t give you much interaction. There’s really no reward for a long time. There’s just a thing that has a lot of needs and also causes you a lot of distress.

How do we get through that crucible? Well, a lot of it is just the way our brains are wired. When you look at a baby, what happens? You calm down. You feel better. You can concentrate. They’re evolutionarily optimal to ensure the survival of the species. You can extrapolate one layer or in this case, the research suggests that this effect also extends to looking at other kinds of animals that are also babies.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, interesting. Thank you.

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now could you share a favorite book?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, you mentioned Navy SEALS. I’m actually reading right now a book called Living With a SEAL but Jesse Itzler. This guy, Jesse, who is a really successful business guy, he invites a Navy SEAL to live with him for a month and to train him.

In addition to being really inspiring, it’s also hilarious and amazing example of how changing your environment, changing the social structure and putting this other really high-performing person in your environment is transformative for Jesse. It’s awesome. Highly recommend it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. How about a favorite tool?

Taylor Jacobson
A favorite tool. Well, I’m going to just be self-promotional and go there and say Focusmate. I wouldn’t say it if this is something that as a recovering procrastinator has really changed my life and changed even my identity, where I feel that I can rely on myself to get my most important work done. It’s been transformational for me and a lot of other people. I think it can be really effective for a lot of your listeners as well.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, I wanted to choose something a little maybe uncommon. The habit that I want to share is around positive self-talk. This is something that probably the first million times I encountered it I was like this is some woo-woo crazy stuff. But it’s actually made a huge difference for me in the last few years that I’ve really started to get some momentum around it.

It cuts a couple ways. When something goes well, I’m actually sometimes out loud verbalizing, like “Great job,” or “Boom.” I’ll keep it clean on here, but I’ll enthusiastically congratulate myself. It just kind of – it literally creates, maybe dopamine actually in this case, but literally creates a chemical response where it sort of cements that experience in my memory or something that makes it actually more tangibly positive and helps me build on it.

Sometimes I’ll do that even if it was mediocre because there’s just like, “You know what? You did the best you could given what you knew at this point in time, so that’s awesome.”

And then plenty of times something goes terribly I walk out of a meeting and I just feel like I did terrible. In that situation too, I’m not telling myself “You did great,” and trying to steamroll the negative feeling, but I will really say to myself, “It’s okay. And it’s not all on you. There’s another person in this interaction. What did you learn from this interaction?”

Shockingly, after many years of thinking this was a crazy thing, it’s actually become a really indispensible and career-changing tool for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. And a part of the key is saying it out loud?

Taylor Jacobson
You know, I have found that sometimes saying it out loud makes it a little – what is it? It can make it a little more real. It can also help reinforce the habit as you’re building it. It’s kind of fun too. Maybe it’s a little crazy and I’m just a crazy guy, but yeah, something about saying it out loud, it’s maybe a little extra oomph.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks when you share it?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. We’ve really talked about it a lot. It’s just this idea that in order to upgrade your life, upgrade your accountability.

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

Taylor Jacobson
You can email me at Hi@FocusMate.com. You can also head over to our website, FocusMate.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Taylor Jacobson
I do. My challenge is – you can call it an audit of the people in your life. It’s not just your work life, although that’s certainly an important category, but it’s really everyone that you spend a meaningful amount of time with. It’s your friends, it’s your romantic partner. And to ask yourself – I guess there’s two questions.

One is, are there sort of – are there roles in your life that – or needs that you have that you don’t have somebody who’s serving that role. I think of these as roles that you are casting for in your life. That’s sort of list one.

List two is people in your life or behaviors that some of those people in your life are exhibiting that are causing drag, that are slowing you down, that are sort of – again, if you are the average of the five people who you spend the most time with, are there people in your life that you actually don’t want to become more like them?

And then go find the people that you’re casting for in list one and in list two, either establish a boundary with those people or if you need to actually cut those people out from your life. I think actually following through with those two things can completely change your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Taylor, this has been a real treat. Thank you for sharing your experience, your vulnerability, your story, and your cool software with us. I’m just a huge fan of what you’re up to and I wish you all the best.

Taylor Jacobson
Thanks so much Pete. It’s been really great being on the show.

367: How to Project Vocal Confidence with Allison Shapira

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Speech coach and ex-opera singer Allison Shapira teaches tips and tricks for better projecting your voice.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How you’re likely breathing wrong and what to do about it
  2. Three ways the power of your voice is reduced
  3. The key things most people neglect when preparing for a speech

About Allison

Allison is the CEO/Founder of Global Public Speaking LLC. A former opera singer and TEDx speaker, she teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School and offers keynote speeches, workshops, and executive coaching for Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and nonprofits around the world.

Allison works with global brands as a highly-rated speaker, trainer, and executive coach. She also travels around the world teaching leadership communication to help women leaders grow their business, run for office, or launch a nonprofit. She holds a master’s in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School, is a member of the National Speakers Association, and is an internationally-renowned singer/songwriter who uses music as a way to help others find their voice and their courage to speak. She speaks Italian and Hebrew and has studied 8 other languages.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Allison Shapira Interview Transcript

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

Allison Shapira

It’s great to be here. Thanks, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I was so excited to dig into your wisdom, but I want to start a little bit with your background in singing opera. How did this come about and how did you transition from this to what you’re doing now?

Allison Shapira

I have been singing opera since I was 12. I always loved singing, and at 12 years old my parents arranged for me to have voice lessons. And it just so happens that the teacher was a classically-trained teacher, and that one teacher influenced my musical trajectory. And so, I always wanted to sing opera growing up, but then when I got to college I lost my passion for it. And I talk about this in the book. I was told that I wasn’t quite good enough for an operatic career. And so, it wasn’t until I started working in diplomacy that I realized everything I learned as a singer made me a very good speaker and coach. And that’s how I made that transition.

Pete Mockaitis

Excellent. Could you give us an example of one key learning from singing that carries over into the speaking / coaching?

Allison Shapira

One key element that carries over is the importance of breathing. So, as opera singers, we know it’s critical to learn how to breathe, and then project our voice in a way that commands the room. As speakers, we know it’s important, but no one ever teaches us how to do it. So as a singer, I actually had this great training in vocal production that helped me project my voice when speaking, as well as singing. So that was an incredible advantage that I had as a public speaker when I already knew how to play with and project my voice.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, excellent. And so, could you orient us a little bit to your company, Global Public Speaking and your latest book, Speak with Impact?

Allison Shapira

I would love to. Global Public Speaking is a communication training firm that I found and we’ve since grown to a team of six people. And we teach public speaking and presentation skills through one-on-one coaching, group workshops, and then I give keynote speeches on the importance of finding your voice and your courage to speak. And that’s very much in line with what my new book is about – Speak with Impact: How to Command the Room and Influence Others. It’s a guide to the busy professional moving up in their career who wants to use their voice as a way to exercise leadership. How do they need to communicate with confidence and authenticity, so that they can have a powerful impact on others? That’s the premise of the book.

Pete Mockaitis

I dig it. So, we talk about a powerful impact on others. Could you maybe orient us a bit to what is the “Why” behind this, or the difference that it makes in one’s life when you’re speaking is impactful versus not so impactful?

Allison Shapira

It has a number of benefits, and to give you an example, I do a lot of programs in-house for companies, where I’ll work with teams and top talent or emerging leaders. And we’re focused primarily on professional speaking. So as you walk into a room to lead a meeting as opposed to simply be part of the meeting, how does your communication need to change? Because the more senior you become, the more people are looking to you for guidance.
So we focus on the professional components of speaking, but I’ll often get emails from clients I’ve worked with who say, “You know, just a couple of weeks ago I spoke up on behalf of my kids’ school because they were going to change the school, and there was a lot of media coverage. And so, using the communication training that we worked on for my job, I was actually able to make a persuasive case to save our kids’ school.” It’s an amazing experience to see. We use these skills for a professional purpose, but they have an incredible social impact as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So, could you maybe orient us then, what are some of the main differentiators between a voice that is highly impactful versus one that isn’t?

Allison Shapira

When we talk about voice, there are a lot of things that we do that reduce the power of our voice. It could be filler words like, “um”, “uh”, “you know”, “right”, “so”, and “just”, which is my personal pet peeve when we buffer everything with “just”. So that’s something that reduces the power of our words. And then, we also might use vocal fry, and I’m demonstrating by making my voice croaky. Or uptalk – when our voice goes up at the end of a sentence.
Now, interestingly enough, vocal fry, and uptalk and fillers – these are things that both men and women use. But what I’ve noticed is that when women use them, it disproportionately hurts us more. It holds us back more. So that’s an interesting distinction that I’ve observed. The antidote to all of those is using breathing, so that your voice can command the room, so that you speak with confidence as opposed to speaking in a questioning form. And that’s so important when you’re trying to convince someone to do something, whether you want them to adopt a course of action in your company, or save your school. The conviction in your voice has a huge impact on how you come across.

Pete Mockaitis

So, I’m intrigued by several of the things you said there. First, let’s get to the “How”. So, if you breathe right, you’re going to address a lot of these in one fell swoop. So, what does breathing right consist of and how do we do it?

Allison Shapira

I have a particular three-step technique that your listeners can see on my website, GlobalPublicSpeaking.com. So, there’s a place where they can learn that and practice that while actually watching me. But it comes from recognizing that as we breathe, there’s a way that we can breathe that lets us take in a nice full breath of air, and then exhale while speaking on the breath. And that’s a difficult concept for a lot of people to think of initially. But once they get the hang of it, it’s essentially exhaling while you’re speaking, so that your breath projects your words forward, as opposed to having them fall back into your throat. And that’s a particular technique that I have videos that walk people through.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, interesting. Exhaling while you’re speaking. I’m thinking about it right now as I’m doing it.

Allison Shapira

You’re doing it as well. I can hear it. But a lot of people think they have to hold their breath while they’re speaking, but they should actually be exhaling while speaking.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And so, I think that I’m always exhaling when I’m speaking, because I’m running out of air and feel the need to take a breath. But is it a matter of degree, like exhale a little more than you think you should or you’re accustomed to?

Allison Shapira

It’s exhaling continuously, as opposed to holding it back and then trying to speak anyways. And it’s also about taking more frequent breaths. So, if you’re running out of breath at the end of the sentence, then perhaps you need to use shorter sentences, or take a breath at every punctuation mark.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, that’s interesting. And I remember we had Roger Love on the show earlier, who’s a speech coach.

Allison Shapira

Oh, he’s great.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh yeah, absolutely. And so, he used the metaphor of, I think he called it “the squeaky hinge”, like you start off a sentence pretty strong, but then toward the end you’re running out of your air. And so it kind of sounds like this at the end. And I’m exaggerating, but I’ve even noticed it when I’m editing my openers and closers in the podcast. Sure enough, there is a shorter wave form in my digital audio program toward the end of that sentence. I’m doing it. Oops! Note to self – breathe more.

Allison Shapira

Exactly. And again, not just breathing more, but letting the breath continue even through the end of the sentence, as opposed to letting it trail off. What happens is you’re shutting off the air, but you’re still speaking. So, as long as you keep riding that breath and using that breath to complete a sentence, then you can avoid vocal fry.

Pete Mockaitis

I like that. This reminds me of, I guess, sports things. If you’re swinging a bat or a racket or doing a boxing punch – you want to follow through the motion all the way until it’s well past the point of impact, in terms of having a full, complete connection there.

Allison Shapira

Exactly. So, the follow through is critical.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, very cool. So, the breathing solves a lot. And so, on the website, is there a particular link or a place to click to, or can we link that so we go right to the right spot with those videos?

Allison Shapira

I’ll make sure that I send you a specific link to that, so people can click on it and immediately see the breathing video that walks them through the three-step process.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, that’s cool. So, I guess we’ve got the videos, but if we can maybe just take a moment. Could we just hear in brief, what is step one, step two, step three?

Allison Shapira

Sure. Well, step one is finding the right posture. And I teach people how to stand tall with their feet flat on the floor so that they’re in the best position to take in breath. And then the second step is breathing in, in a way that avoids using their chest to breathe, but rather breathes into their stomach and abdomen as if they had a balloon in their stomach that’s filling with air as they breathe in. And then the third step is exhaling and speaking on the breath, as we discussed, and practicing that exhalation while speaking. So, that’s the three-step process in a nutshell.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. And then I also want to turn to some of the points you made about the vocal pauses. There’s one. That was for demonstration purposes, Allison.

Allison Shapira

Of course it was.

Pete Mockaitis

I’m intrigued – you said the word “just” in particular is a pet peeve of yours. Let’s hear your rant, so any “just” users can shape up.

Allison Shapira

If you think about the word “just”, what does it mean? “I just think”, “I just want to say.” It’s almost as if you’re asking permission to speak up; as if you’re saying, “Don’t worry, I won’t take a long time. I just want to say this one thing.” And I believe each of us has something incredibly powerful to say on behalf of ourselves or on behalf of others. And when we say “just”, we apologize for whatever it is that we say next, as opposed to owning what we believe in, owning our right to say it, which is why I don’t like using the word “just”.
I have a friend who teaches American sign language, and I asked her once, “What do you sign when someone says ‘just’?” And her sign is shrugging her shoulders. So think about that. Next time you want to use the word “just”, would you shrug your shoulders with whatever you say next, or would you stand tall and declare it proudly? And if the answer is the latter, than lose the “just”.

Pete Mockaitis

This reminds me I’ve got a joke with my buddy Connor. I noticed that someone had a vocal pattern of putting “so” at the end of their sentences; it had a similar effect. And for example, he might say, “Hey, so do you guys want to get some appetizers? So, or…” It’s an “or” a “so”. It’s like, “So, I was just thinking maybe we could get some appetizers.” And I thought it was just so funny when you put an “or” or a “so” or a “just” in there; the impact it has. So, we like to joke if you were to say something really powerful followed by an “or” like, “Are you guys inspired by my vision, or…” It’s just sort of…

Allison Shapira

Can you imagine speaking up at work and saying, “This is a critical issue that we all have to be paying attention to? So, um, yeah.”?

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, I like that. And you know what? The one that gets me, and this shows up a lot in my coaching, is when people say the word “obviously”. I think that’s more of a crutch for themselves, like, “Okay, maybe the thing I just said isn’t super insightful and is readily apparent, so I want to give myself a little bit of cover, so you don’t think that I think that I’m saying something brilliantly insightful when I know they’re not, so I’m covering it.” I think that’s kind of what’s going on subconsciously, but when I hear “obviously” I think it’s just an unnecessary risk you’re taking. So, if it was not obvious to the person that you said it to, then they’re going to be a little ticked, like, “Oh, I’m sorry I’m not as smart as you, apparently.”

Allison Shapira

Exactly, exactly. “Obviously”, “actually”, “basically”, used once or twice, there’s nothing wrong with it, but if you start to use them consistently throughout your speech or even during a meeting, then I believe they have a negative effect on your listeners.

Pete Mockaitis

Right. And I think that “basically” can sometimes be helpful when we’re having a good summary sentence, like, “Basically we’re trying to reduce the customer …” “Exactly, yes. Thank you for summarizing or paraphrasing what I just said.” It’s helpful there, but it definitely finds its way in a lot of places where it doesn’t quite belong. Well, cool. So, thank you for talking about some of the voice differentiators there. Now, when it comes to actually preparing for a speech or presentation, you’ve laid out a few key questions that you recommend it’s important to think through in advance.

Allison Shapira

Definitely. There are three questions that I recommend people ask before any speech or presentation, or even if they’re preparing to walk into a meeting and think they might speak up. And these three questions are critical for helping you determine what you want to say, why you want to say it, and how to say it. The first question is, “Who is your audience?” Who are you talking to? Which helps you understand how they’re going to feel about what it is you have to say, and that helps you choose your argumentation. It helps you choose your structure, your stories, your data. So putting yourself in the audience’s shoes helps you craft something in a language that they’re going to want to hear.
The second question is, “What’s your goal?” And every speech is an opportunity to influence people’s behavior to change the way they think or act, which is an incredible opportunity. So, be purposeful in advance of your speech or presentation in thinking, “What do I want people to do?” And if appropriate, put in a call to action, a very clear call to action at the beginning or at the end of your remarks. So, those first two questions – “Who is your audience?” and “What’s your goal?” are fairly straightforward. These are questions many of us would ask ourselves before a speaking situation.
The third question is the most important and the least obvious. And the third question is, “Why you?” And by that I mean, why do you care about what you’re talking about? Because a lot of times people will be reading something off of their company’s website, or they’ll be using language that doesn’t feel authentic to them, and as a result the speech falls flat. But when you ask, “Why you? Why do you care? Why is this important to you?”, then you tap into a much deeper, more authentic sense of purpose about why this issue is critical.
And if you’re nervous about speaking up, then asking “Why you?” gives you the confidence that what you have to say is important, and you’re reframing it as not being about you, but about your message and about your audience. “Why you?” also makes sure that the language you use is authentic, because it will tap into personal stories or experiences that help you relate to the content and therefore help you relate to your audience. So, in my experience the “Why you?” is that creativity booster that also boosts our confidence as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Excellent, okay. And so, I think that sometimes, there’s a really strong, powerful “Why? Why you?”. I’ve seen my child, you know… There, I said “you know”. [laugh] This must happen to you all the time.

Allison Shapira

I’m not counting, it’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis

You see, I could say for instance… I’ll give you the speech because I know what it’s like to have a child choking on a bottle repeatedly, and you’re terrified in that moment that it could result in a trip to the hospital, or him turning blue, for example. That’s a dramatic thing. We’ve learned some things about how to bottle-feed a baby who’s choking a lot, and I could share those and that’s powerful from an emotional perspective. But other times, I think in a business context it’s lower stakes or maybe less interesting, in terms of… I guess I’m thinking about the revenue growth at a company. And I guess if you’re the owner or the sales director, getting commissions and bonuses based on that, that can be highly exciting. But if you’re kind of in the middle of things, it may be less. How do you dig into a richer “Why?” when on the surface it might feel a little bit shallow?

Allison Shapira

Well, there’s always a deeper “Why?” there. It always goes more than just – and I’m using “just” intentionally in this situation – it goes beyond, “So that I can make money or to increase shareholder value.” That’s not what necessarily get us out of bed in the morning. It’s to have an impact. It’s to provide an environment that people actually want to come to work in. And in the book I quote one of my clients who I worked with, where I said, “Why is helping clients important to you?” She said, “It just is.” I said, “Why?” And she said, “Well, because service is important to me.” I said, “Why?” And she said, “Well, my parents taught that to me growing up”. And I said, “Tell me more.” And she said, “Well, my parents were small business owners and every single day I saw them get up and put others’ needs before themselves, and it had an incredibly powerful impact on me. And now every day I get up thinking about how I can help my clients.”

Pete Mockaitis

I like that, yes.

Allison Shapira

That’s a powerful story. It’s professional, but it’s also personal. And if I were a small business owner and that person were pitching me, I would think, “Wow, this person understands me. I can trust this person.” So, that’s an example of how you can use “Why you?” in a professional setting with a very powerful impact.

Pete Mockaitis

I like that. So then the “Why?”, I guess you could articulate that a few ways. It’s like you’re honoring your parents’ memory or example or values. This is who I am, and who I am as a part of a bigger thing with my family and ancestors. And so, I hear you, yes. That’s excellent. Very much appreciated. So, that’s the beginning part.

Allison Shapira

And it’s something everyone can use as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Sure.

Allison Shapira

Please go ahead.

Pete Mockaitis

So that’s kind of how to think about things at the beginning of putting together a speech or presentation. How about when you’re getting toward the end, when you’re doing some of the polishing and perfecting? You’ve identified there are a few steps that many people overlook, they just neglect, but they shouldn’t. What are those things?

Allison Shapira

The biggest step that most people overlook, and shouldn’t, is reading your speech or presentation out loud. A lot of people will jot it down, they’ll look at it on the paper, they’ll read it in their head, especially if they’re using slides. They simply look through the slides and think, “Okay, I’m ready.” But writing for the ear and writing for the eye are two different things. And it’s only when you read something out loud that you can listen to it critically and think, “Does this sound good? Does this sound like how I normally speak? Is it easy to pronounce?” Because if you stumble over a word in practice, you’re going to stumble over the word in the actual presentation. So reading it out loud is critical, and that’s also a way that you can start to remember it more easily.
And I don’t recommend that people memorize their speech or presentation, but it should be comfortable enough that if your piece of paper with your notes on it falls to the floor, you still know where you’re going next. And then another thing that I recommend people do in the practice phase is to reduce their speech to simply the key bullet points, a phrase or two, an outline – and that’s what they should bring with them to the speech or presentation. A lot of times I’ll see people get up to speak, and they have full sentences written out, double-sided, in tiny print with no white space. It’s impossible to find your place in the middle of a speech. So I recommend printing out simply the outline with key phrases or words, not full sentences, and practicing giving the speech or presentation from those bullet points so that they feel comfortable and know where to look when they forget what they’re going to say.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, I like that. Very nice. And so then when it comes to actually delivering the speech, you’ve got some thoughts when it comes to some movements and gestures that bring it to life. What are those?

Allison Shapira

I talk about three different movements – eye contact, body language, and voice. And with eye contact, I always recommend that people speak to one person at a time. So instead of scanning the room, trying to read everyone at the same time, pick someone in the room and deliver a full sentence to them or a full thought, and then look at somebody else and speak to them for a full thought. And then you’re not speaking with 100 people. You’re simply looking at one person at a time and you get a number of people in your gaze as you do that, but you focus on one person at a time. And that really calms people down. So that’s what I recommend with eye contact.
With body language, I talk about every movement being purposeful. We’re all aware of the nervous body language that people tend to use – nervous movements like wringing your hands, playing with your hair or your rings. And men and women do this, and it’s something that demonstrates to the audience that you’re nervous. So I like to practice my body language in advance, and practice different hand gestures that reinforce my messages, or practice walking around during transitions and then pausing to make a point. And then I pause and make eye contact with someone to make a point. So those are some ways in which you can incorporate more purposeful body language into your presentations.
And then the third – movement – is not technically a movement at all, but it’s the movement with your voice. So your vocal variety, whether your voice goes up or it goes down, or your energy level gets high or gets lower. So being able to play with that conversational tone is so important. A lot of times we stand up and all of the energy and life drains out of our voice because we get nervous, so our breathing constricts, which is what we were talking about earlier.
So when you’re able to pause and breathe, and take those nice deep breaths and project your voice, then you can make your voice much more conversational. And I don’t want people to use a different speaking voice in front of the room than they do when they’re offstage. I simply want them to bring their best voice on stage, as opposed to their most nervous voice. So those are the three different movements that I talk about in the book – eye contact, body language, and voice.

Pete Mockaitis

And I’d love to get your take when it comes to these matters. To what extent do you think about this from a perspective of, “Okay, in this sentence, I will use this hand gesture”, as opposed to thinking about the underlying emotion? And I guess I’m thinking about, you might call it “method acting”, in terms of, “Okay, I’m really going there emotionally, and thus naturally my voice and my hands are going to do those things because they correspond to the associated emotion”, versus, “Ah, make sure to widely spread your arms in this moment.” I guess I see pros and cons to both approaches and I worry; I think maybe that if I overdo it in terms of listing out this gesture at this phrase, then it could come across as a little bit like, “You’re just sort of doing a show, Pete. You don’t actually feel these things.” So I don’t know. What’s your take on that one?

Allison Shapira

I’m so glad that you’ve brought that up, because it is a real consideration. And I certainly don’t want people to feel like they’re acting out their speech or presentation. The idea is, natural body language doesn’t always come naturally, which is funny to say, but absolutely accurate, because in the moment we’re nervous, we’re thinking about so many things. So it can be helpful to practice in front of a mirror or videotape ourselves on a device or a phone, and try out different hand gestures. Try things out to see what matches the words we’re using and what feels natural. And by virtue of practicing it, it starts to become natural, and then when you get in front of the audience, you pause and breathe, you focus on your message. And whatever gestures you make will flow naturally as a result of that practice. But you’re right, it’s a fine balance between having it be too scripted versus more authentic. But the more you practice, the more authentic it becomes.

Pete Mockaitis

Excellent. Well now, tell me – anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and talk about some of your favorite things?

Allison Shapira

One thing that I’d like to make clear is that public speaking doesn’t just happen when you stand up onstage in front of a group of people with a microphone and a spotlight on you. Public speaking is something that happens every single day. Speaking up on a conference call, speaking up in a meeting, asking a question at a conference, even if you’re not on the panel; interviewing, pitching, speaking to clients, speaking to leadership. All of these are examples of public speaking.
So once people recognize a) that public speaking happens every single day, and b) to some of your earliest questions, that it’s critical to how we come across to others, to how we can effectively build relationships – then all of a sudden it becomes so important that we learn and become comfortable with this skill, because it affects every aspect of our life – professional and personal, and makes us more impactful in whatever it is that we believe in. So, it’s important that people see public speaking as something that they do every single day.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Allison Shapira

One of my favorite quotes is by a Persian poet, Hafiz, and I hope I pronounced his name correctly: “The words you speak become the house you live in.”

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you.

Allison Shapira

And I find that quote so powerful because it’s about the language that we use and the impact it has, not
just on others, but on ourselves. So it’s very important to choose the words that we use.

Pete Mockaitis

And how about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Allison Shapira

My favorite piece of research that I’ve read recently is about chewing gum and its impact on immediate word recall. So, there’s a couple of different studies, and I quote these in the book, talking about how chewing gum right before a speech or a test increases immediate word recall. It’s the chewing aspect that helps stimulate our brain and overcome that fight or flight response, so we can be more present and more analytically focused. The key element, of course, is to remember to spit the gum out before you get in front of an audience.

Pete Mockaitis

So now, what is “immediate word recall”? How do we define that?

Allison Shapira

Immediate word recall would be remembering what you’re supposed to say in your speech – remembering your first sentence, or remembering your main points, or in a test being able to remember what you just studied so that you can answer the questions correctly.

Pete Mockaitis

Wow, that is intriguing. And I guess the theory is that there’s a neuro pathway associated with the motion of a mouth and words, because we speak words, or how do they think that works?

Allison Shapira

It’s very interesting. And I’m not a neuroscientist, but from what I’ve read, when we get nervous, it’s the amygdala of our brain that’s overriding with that fight or flight response. And when that happens, our mind goes blank. We forget what we’re going to say because we’re preparing to run away from danger. But the act of chewing is something that stimulates – and I want to make sure I’m getting this right – it activates the prefrontal cortex, which is the more analytical part of the brain that helps us focus on what we want to say next.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, cool. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Allison Shapira

Besides my own book? Favorite book. There are so many fantastic books. I just finished reading Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. It is a negotiation book.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, we’ve had him on the show.

Allison Shapira

Oh, you had him on the show. Fantastic!

Pete Mockaitis

That was a page turner. I’m sorry to interrupt. Tell the world why you loved it. I was a big fan of it myself.

Allison Shapira

I have studied negotiation and I have taught negotiation in the past, and there are some fantastic classic books out there on the subject. What I love about Chris’s book is the practical component of it, and it’s something that I try to emulate in my own book. I want to make sure whatever people read, it has stories to back it up and they can immediately apply it to their work. And I was reading Chris’s book while I had a negotiation going on in my business. And so, I’m reading the book and I’m making notes in the pages and I’m changing my tactics and my strategy in the moment to positively influence the negotiation. So, what I love about the book – very readable, which I appreciate, very interesting in terms of stories, and then the immediately practical, applicable tips that I could use right away. So, many, many reasons why I love that book.

Pete Mockaitis

Absolutely. Its’s a winner. And I found myself doing it all the time, in terms of trying to elicit a “No”, and it works great, especially when people are hard to get on emails. I go, “Where did they go? Are you no longer interested in being a guest on the podcast?” “Oh no, no, no, no. I’m sorry, Pete. It’s just that things got busy. I’ll grab a time right now.” [laugh] It’s awesome. Cool. And how about a favorite tool?

Allison Shapira

Favorite tool? What kind of tool?

Pete Mockaitis

It could be a hardware – it could be a hammer or a drill. It could be a piece of software or app. It could be a thought framework or checklist. Something that you use that really comes in handy.

Allison Shapira

I am a big fan of Evernote. Have you ever used Evernote?

Pete Mockaitis

Oh yes, me too. Tell me more.

Allison Shapira

There’s a point in my life where there is before Evernote and there’s after Evernote. And Evernote has given me a single place to organize my music. I’ll write songs and store them in Evernote. My business – I will … checklists and save them there. I use Evernote to draft speeches and presentations. And the instant search ability is incredible; the tagging; and then it instantly syncs across all of my devices as well. And it’s password protected. So, as an organizing tool, Evernote literally runs my life.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, it’s a real treat. Just lately I got a piece of plywood to stick across my treadmill, and then a Bluetooth keyboard. And with an iPad or iPhone you can just rock and roll with Evernote in one place. And then it’s right to your computer next so you can modify it, or you can put it into Word or somewhere else if you’ve got to get some fancy formatting that works just right for other people. I too am quite the fan. I like how quickly it syncs as well. It’s like, “I just typed that minutes ago and you’re right there. Thank you.”

Allison Shapira

Exactly. And then you’re in a meeting and you simply pull up your phone and all your notes for that meeting are right there. It’s incredibly helpful.

Pete Mockaitis

Mm-hmm. And how about a favorite habit?

Allison Shapira

Favorite habit. I’m practicing gratitude every morning and every afternoon.

Pete Mockaitis

And is it identifying things you’re grateful for, or how do you practice it?

Allison Shapira

Identifying things that I’m grateful for that have happened recently. And then at the end of the day, what am I grateful for in this day? And I find that has a meaningful impact on how I feel when I go to work and how I feel when I go to bed.

Pete Mockaitis

And tell me, is there a particular nugget that you share with clients or in your book that really seems to connect – it gets highlighted, retweeted, shared often? Or an original for Allison that’s connecting for folk?

Allison Shapira

“Public speaking is a skill, not a talent.” I say that over and over again, and people really appreciate that because it means you don’t have to be born a good public speaker. It’s something everyone can learn. And I also like to say that public speaking is about finding your voice and your courage to speak.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Allison Shapira

I’d ask them to come find me on my website at GlobalPublicSpeaking.com. They can read more about the book, they can actually download a chapter of the book for free, and then they can watch a number of different videos with quick tips that I’ve recorded on public speaking. So, people will ask me a question and then I’ll answer the question in a one-minute video. And all of those videos you can find on my website at GlobalPublicSpeaking.com.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Allison Shapira

I would challenge people to come to every single meeting prepared with one point they’re going to make that will further the conversation. Recognizing that public speaking happens every single day, prepare for it in advance and have that one thought that you’re going to share. And it’s a way to have an impact without having to formally be on the agenda.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, Allison, this has been tons of fun. I wish you all the best of luck with your company Global Public Speaking, and the book Speak with Impact, and just all you’re up to!

Allison Shapira

Thank you, Pete. I appreciate it, and thanks for talking to me today.