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687: How to Combat Stress and Prioritize Your Wellbeing with Naz Beheshti

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Executive wellness coach Naz Beheshti offers her top tips on how to take your well-being into your own hands.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to nourish your inner coach while silencing your inner critic 
  2. The ACE method to combat stress
  3. An easy trick to boost your energy 

 

About Naz

Naz Beheshti is the author of Pause. Breathe.Choose.: Become the CEO of Your Well-Being. She is an executive wellness coach, speaker, Forbes contributor, CEO, and founder of Prananaz, a corporate wellness company improving leadership effectiveness, employee well-being and engagement, and company culture. Clients include Nike, JPMorgan Chase, First Republic Bank, Skadden, UCSC, and Columbia University.  

Her work has been widely featured in the media, including CNBC, Forbes, BBC, Yahoo, Entrepreneur, Inc., Fast Company, and many more. Naz also cofounded Rise2Shine, a nonprofit helping to alleviate the suffering of young children in Haiti. Visit her online at http://www.NazBeheshti.com. 

Resources Mentioned

Naz Beheshti Interview Transcript

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

Naz Beheshti
Thank you for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to hear what you have to say. And I’d love to start by talking about Steve Jobs, your first boss and mentor. Can you tell us a bit about how he’s shaped your views on work and life?

Naz Beheshti
Steve was my first boss and mentor so he had a highly influential role in my life. I mean, right out of college at the young age of 21, he influenced the most profound lesson that I had learned, and it was through him, which is “Wellbeing drives success.” And at that age and at that time, that wasn’t at the forefront by any means, but through example, he really led a holistic approach to wellbeing, and that wellbeing is what drove his success. So, I really learned the most profound lesson from him, so it was really influential and impactful for me to have crossed paths with Steve.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And while we’re reminiscing a bit, any particular memories, anecdotes, things that were strikingly pleasant, or unpleasant yet helpful, as you think about your time with Steve?

Naz Beheshti
Well, I remember the time when I was working for him, and I discovered that my version of healthy was Steve’s version of garbage, quite literally, and I shared this in my book. One day, I thought I would surprise him with an oatmeal-raisin cookie as a healthy option for dessert, and later that day, I noticed the entire cookie, not a bite taken out, but the entire cookie in his trash can. So, that was a first red flag that I actually wasn’t as healthy as I thought, and that my version of healthy was, quite literally, Steve’s version of garbage.

Pete Mockaitis
Did you discuss it at all?

Naz Beheshti
No, I was quite embarrassed actually, and I just made a mental note never to give him an oatmeal-raisin cookie ever again. He was extremely health-conscious and that healthy version of that cookie was just like, I guess, too much sugar and not-so healthy for him.

Pete Mockaitis
You know what it also makes me think about is just how decisive that is in terms of, like, “This cookie going directly to the garbage.”

Naz Beheshti
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“No need to think about it. No need to take a bite out of it.” Sometimes I feel that way about, like I get gifts that I don’t want, so apologies to family and friends who are listening to this, and so it’s like I almost feel sort of like obligated to not get rid of it immediately, it’s like, “Well, you know, it was nice of them to think about it.” But there are times, I know that this has no place in my life or my home. The proper decision would be to remove it immediately via donation or whatever.

Naz Beheshti
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And he did it.

Naz Beheshti
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, let’s talk about your book Pause. Breathe. Choose. This is a great message. I’m intrigued. And so, what is the core idea or thesis here within “Pause. Breathe. Choose.”?

Naz Beheshti
Well, the key to thriving in today’s high-pressure culture is to cultivate deep self-awareness and strong emotional intelligence, which really facilitates making mindful choices that transform your life. So, one conscious choice begets another. So, Pause. Breathe. Choose. is a roadmap for authentic self-discovery, better choices, and purposeful growth.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so tell us, how do we go about doing some of that good stuff?

Naz Beheshti
It’s a holistic approach to wellbeing. And the MAP method is really a holistic approach to living your best life. So, I’ll start with the MAP being an acronym. For M, M is for master mindfulness, and really, mastering mindfulness is fundamental to the method because when you’re more mindful, you’re able to make better choices. That leads you to the A, which is applying better choices to manage stress and build resilience and the seven As. And then the P is for promoting yourself to the CEO of your wellbeing, and the three Ps. So, when you combine those three parts of the MAP method and implement them, you’re really going to be thriving in all aspects of your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, let’s talk about mastering mindfulness. I guess maybe, first, can you define mindfulness? How do you know if you got it, if you don’t, and how to get more of it?

Naz Beheshti
Yeah. So, mindfulness really, in a nutshell, is presence of heart. It’s really about awakening your mind and your heart from autopilot, and that enables you to experience life unfolding in the present moment. So, the mindfulness unlocks your ability to tap into your intuition and creativity so that you can receive new information and develop new perspectives with a beginner’s mind. And that’s really what mindfulness is all about.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that sounds great. If I want to do that, where should I start?

Naz Beheshti
I always say to start small, so start with two minutes of a seated meditation which there are so many different types of meditations out there, and I would say experiment with the different types. Maybe start with an app like Calm or Headspace. But, also, if you don’t want to do that, an alternative would be to just sit quietly and focus on your breath, and just allow whatever thoughts that come and go to just do that exactly – come and go. Just acknowledge them and, without any judgment, without labeling them, without any continued thought about it, just acknowledging that thought and then releasing it and then coming back to your breath.

So, in my sessions with my clients, we always start with a two-minute guided meditation, and I guide them through this process. And one of the visualizations I use that’s really helpful for my clients is that we get in a comfortable seated position, and then I ask them to take a few deep breaths, inhale, exhale, and then imagine a balloon in the sky, putting any of those thoughts or any sounds that may disrupt the pattern of the breath into the balloon, and then just allowing it to float away. So, the point is to acknowledge your thoughts and then put them into that balloon, and let them go, and then return back to your breath.

So, acknowledge, let go, return, and the focus will be on your breath. So, even that tiny visualization of the balloon could help because so many people think, “Oh, I can’t meditate. I think too much. I can’t sit still for that long.” So, starting small and having a visualization of that balloon, or whatever it is that works for you, to actually contain those thoughts and allow them to let them go, and just float away and come back to your breath.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, now, when one does this with regularity, what is the difference it makes, I guess, in terms of mental ability, capacity? If you think about it as an exercise, like if I’m strengthening biceps with a bicep curl, if I’m strengthening my mind by using this sort of approach, what does that mean for me, practically speaking?

Naz Beheshti
Well, mindfulness can literally reshape and rewire the brain through neuroplasticity in which new habits reorganize or rewire neural connections. So, a consistent meditation practice pretty much gives us the opportunity to be proactive in changing our brain and increasing our wellbeing and quality of life, and there’s research that supports that as well.

And in terms of your health, your creativity, decision-making, being less risk-reactive, these are all many ways that mindfulness can help. Consistent practice in mindfulness is key, not just practicing once a week or twice a week, but daily or at least six days a week is key.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us some examples in terms of perhaps it’s the decision-making and the reactivity? Like, what would life and your brain look and feel and sound like pre-meditation practice versus post-meditation practice if it’s doing its job? Like, how do we know it’s working?

Naz Beheshti
Well, I can give you the example of myself which was more reactive back years ago. I started meditation back in 2010, and prior to that, I was doing a bunch of yoga, daily yoga, so that really helped. But, before that, I tended to be…I’m very type A, and on the go, and perfectionist, and very fast-paced life, and I was very reactive when I was younger. And so, when someone would…I had very little patience.

So, if someone wasn’t doing their job or doing what they said they were going to do, I would be more irritable and reactive, and kind of tell them what I thought rather than taking a breath, and just pausing, and responding in a more compassionate way rather than reacting with a negative tone or with negative words, and not understanding and having compassion for that person. I’m much more, or less reactive, and more compassionate since then.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, reactive might sound like, “Hey, you idiot, why did you screw that up again?” And then the post-meditative response can be like, “Hey, I noticed this. What’s going on?”

Naz Beheshti
Yes. Yes. Or, “I’m just curious how this outcome turned out this way,” “I’m curious,” or, “Yes, could you please explain?” rather than, “I can’t believe you did this,” or, “That’s shocking,” or something like that, yes. So, it’s definitely a help in that respect. As far as decision-making, meditation brings extreme clarity. So, when you are able to quiet the chatter of the mind and kind of, like I was saying earlier, my definition of mindfulness is aligning your mind with your heart.

So, a lot of us work, operate, and speak, and think only from the mind without that connection to the heart. So, we are able to quiet our mind and go deeper into our authentic selves. So, the reason mastering mindfulness really is about discovering your authentic self, because you’re quieting all the chatter of the mind and the external stuff that’s just really loud and keeps echoing in your mind, it’s not necessarily your true essence, your true self because it’s too loud to get deeper to who you truly are. But mindfulness and meditation quiets that and then allows you to tap into your truest desire, your authentic self.

And so then, that also brings a lot of clarity, and then you’re able to make decisions with confidence, and you’re very tapped into your gut, your intuition, whatever you want to call it, and so decision-making becomes stronger and just faster and better and with more confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so then you talked about your true self and essence and such, and you’ve got some terms – the inner coach and the inner critic. Can you expand upon these, and tell us to have some more good inner coach conversations and fewer not-so-great inner critic conversations?

Naz Beheshti
Right. So, like two dogs inside you competing for attention, you have an inner coach, the good dog, and an inner critic, the bad dog. The inner coach represents positivity and eustress, the good stress, and the growth mindset, while the inner critic represents negativity, distress and limiting beliefs. And what’s crucial is, it’s crucial to remember that the dog you feed determines the kind of life you lead.

When we choose to feed the good dog and view the world through the eyes of the inner coach, we feel more in control of our life, and we tend to view challenges as opportunities, not threats. So, we essentially harness the positive energy of acute stress and eustress, and can avoid chronic stress, and then we eventually see ourselves as continually evolving and focused on improving ourselves when we are in tuned with that inner coach more. And it all stems from mindfulness.

So, if we’re not mindful, the inner critic, the bad dog, might be barking and telling us, “You suck. You did that wrong. You’re going to blow this,” and that’s the default voice that we hear in our head if we’re not mindful to catch that, and be like, “Oh, that’s the bad dog. That’s the inner critic. I’m going to stop feeding that dog and awaken the inner coach, and start listening to the inner coach,” which is coaching you through it and saying not focusing on the bad, but saying, “You’ll learn from whatever you did last time and not do it again next time. You’ve got this. You’re awesome. What lesson could you learn from this, from many negative experiences that happened?” And it’s really talking to you with a growth mindset rather than through limiting beliefs which is the inner critic.

Pete Mockaitis
So, mindfulness enables you to sort of see it and catch it in the moment and make a shift. And any other pro tips for identifying and catching yourself as it happens? Or, any sort of telltale signs, like, “Oh, wait a second, I’m doing that thing again. I’m going to choose to not do that”?

Naz Beheshti
Well, so when you find yourself kind of spiraling or ruminating, and you’re just kind of stuck with the same kind of negative thought pattern, and you just keep replaying something that happened at work or a conversation you had that wasn’t very positive, or maybe you had like a great meeting, and then one negative thing happened, maybe you said something wrong, like you identified something that wasn’t accurate, or like you’re giving a presentation and you said the wrong numbers by mistake, but everything else went really well, but then your inner critic is going to only focused on that one part that was like five seconds versus the rest of the hour that went really well, and you’re going to just continue to ruminate over that, so then you start realizing, you start feeling bad.

And so, just checking in with how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. So, I have these…one of the things I do throughout the day is I do mindful self-check ins, what I call mindful self-check in, which really is just asking myself rapid-fire questions throughout the day. And this could help catch you when you’re ruminating or stressed or spending too much time in one area. And you just ask yourself, “How am I feeling? What am I thinking? Am I breathing? Am I thirsty?” and just check in with yourself, and just rapid-fire questions and address however you’re feeling in that time, and that will give you an opportunity to shift and shift out of that negative state.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Thank you. And you’ve got an approach to reframe stress. How do we make stress our friend?

Naz Beheshti
Yes, that’s the ACE method. It’s the new way of reframing stress which is very effective to upgrade both your mindset and your behavior. So, the ability to distinguish between different kinds of stress – being acute, chronic, and eustress, also stands for ACE – allows you to perceive stress as a challenge rather than an obstacle.

So, once you understand the type of stress you’re facing, then you can identify the actual stressors and their source and take empowered actions. So, it’s a three-step process. You can ace stress using the three-step ACE method through awareness, change, and empowerment. So, one is be aware of the signs and the symptoms, so the stressor, and identify the type, as I mentioned, and the source of stress.

Step two would be to change your mindset. Choose to reframe the stress using an upgraded mindset so that you can identify your options or opportunities both in mindset and behavior. And then, lastly, step three is to take empowered and effective action. And sometimes that’s just about shifting your mindset. It’s about choosing to shift your mindset if you can’t actually change a situation or the circumstance. There are just some things that are out of our control that we cannot change but we can always change our mindset around it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you walk us through an example of it’s a stressor and then the shift in mindset and the impact that makes?

Naz Beheshti
Right. So, I share a story in the book about how I was on my way to one of my clients to teach a stress management workshop, and I was so stressed, I found myself so stressed on my way to teach a stress management workshop, but I applied my own methods en route to this workshop that I was doing. What happened was that the subway system, I was in New York City and the subways were really delayed, and then they skipped a stop that I was supposed to get off of, and it wasn’t an express train so I didn’t understand. It was very surprising and it wasn’t accounted for in the time that I needed to get there so I found myself very late, and I was really stressing out.

And while I was stressing out in the subway as it flew by my stop, I decided that there was nothing I could do. I was literally stuck in the subway. I couldn’t jump out. I couldn’t change the time and go back in time, and I just accepted that I was going to be late to my workshop that I was teaching. So, what I did was I shifted my mindset by actually sitting quietly. I closed my eyes and I used the pause-breathe-choose method. And I literally took a pause, closed my eyes, focused on my breath, and just continued breathing. And I did a little mini-meditation in the subway until the next stop and that really calmed me down. And I was able to shift that stressor to really understand that, again, there are some things out of my control.

It was in my control earlier. I can’t go back. I can’t redo that. So, I can only show up as my best self, so I was preparing myself to show up grounded, calm, not frazzled. And so, I just applied pause-breathe-choose, and I did that in the subway, and I actually showed up after some time and I made a joke out of it, like, “I found myself really stressed out. Here, I am, teaching stress management, but the pause-choose-breathe method did work, and it can work for anyone at any time, and it’s there with you.”

You always have your breath. It’s there. It’s just about being conscious about it and choosing to be mindful to know, “I’m going to take a pause right now and I’m going to breathe consciously, and then I’m going to choose how I want to move forward.” And I chose to move forward with acceptance of the situation, I chose to move forward with peace, and just to make the best of the situation.

Pete Mockaitis
And in terms of sort of the effective choice behavior piece of things, with the ACE, I imagine within that realm there’s like, “Hey, no, I’m going to be late,” and so they’ve got their heads up.” I found my own experience of being late, like that makes all the difference. It’s just like I keep stewing up, “Oh, my gosh, I’m going to be late.” They’ll be like, “What’s up with this guy? He’s so unprofessional.” And then I just sort of change the expectation, like, “Hey, guys, unfortunately this is what’s up. I got caught in a bunch of snow, whatever.”

And then they’re like, “Okay.” And now they know and I’m not worried about how I’m about to…it’s like, “I’m going to disappoint them, I’m going to disappoint them, I’m in the process of disappointing them. They’re going to be furtherly disappointed that I thought they were going to be one minute ago based on this delay,” versus, “Oh, well, now there’s a new expectation set, so we’re all good.”

Naz Beheshti
Right. And I, of course, immediately, when I had reception, texted them and let them know that I’m running late. But, yeah, that inner critic could be like, “Gosh, you’re so unprofessional. You’re late. You’re going to be stressed at your own stress management workshop. You should’ve left earlier. This is your fault.” And then it started pouring rain out of nowhere, and I didn’t have an umbrella. So, not only was I late, I was drenched when I showed up, so I had to regroup in the elevator, I just had a couple floors to regroup and I did. I made it work and I always remember that.

And now I try not to be late, but it’s not even about that. It’s about when you do find yourself in that situation, because no one’s perfect, and it may not be about being late, it might be something else, you have the tools. When you have the tools and you’re mindful to use those tools, then you could show up as your best self, not frazzled or upset.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m also curious to get your take about some energy management. What are your top tips for experiencing a boatload of energy?

Naz Beheshti
Okay. So, I would say that, first of all, getting seven to nine hours of sleep, average of eight hours of sleep a night does wonders. Sleep is the way to reboot your mind, body, and creativity, so sleep is essential. But, also, finding your energy sweet spot. So, everyone has their own energy sweet spot, and that is when you feel most energized. Some people feel most energized in the morning, some in the afternoon, some in the evening. So, learning, “I already know when that is.” If not, just kind of take note throughout the day when you feel most energized. Sometimes there’s peaks and valleys of your energy.

But when you are most energized, that’s when I always encourage listeners, people, my clients, to do their tasks that are least desirable for them. Or the things that they procrastinate the most, do it when they’re most energized because, then, procrastination is limited. Because when you’re not energized and you still have a bunch of things to do, especially if there are things you don’t want to do, you’re going to push them out and have more reason to procrastinate because you’re just tired. So, finding your energy sweet spot and doing those things during that time is really beneficial to being productive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Naz Beheshti
Well, I would say that my book offers over 80 proven tools and strategies to improve yourself and your workplace to achieve a sustainable success, so I highly encourage listeners to check it out so that you can become the CEO of your wellbeing and be awesome at your job.

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

Naz Beheshti
My favorite quote is, “Live well. Laugh often. Love much.”

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

Naz Beheshti
My favorite study is a study that shows how critical connection to others are, our relationships, how critical it is to our health. So, the world’s longest longitudinal study on happiness began in 1938 and it’s still running strong, which I find fascinating. It’s done by Robert J. Waldinger, a psychiatrist and Harvard professor. And he sums up the biggest lessons in his popular TED Talk by saying, “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. And loneliness is toxic.” And I just find that really so true.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Naz Beheshti
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, which was also published by New World Library.

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

Naz Beheshti
I would have to say my PBC method, my pause-breathe-choose. It’s a powerful method for translating mindfulness into action, and really taking ownership of your wellbeing so that you could be present and make better choices.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect with your audience; they retweet it; they quote it back to you frequently?

Naz Beheshti
Yeah, so since my book has come out, I get a lot of retweets for “We prioritize doing well over being well, but the truth is we can have both, success and wellbeing.”

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

Naz Beheshti
My website, my corporate website for my corporate wellness company, Prananaz.com, or you can learn more about me and my book at NazBeheshti.com. I’m also on all social media as NazBeheshti, or I think Facebook it’s NazBeheshtiSpeaker, but everywhere else it’s NazBeheshti.

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

Naz Beheshti
I would say tell the listeners commit to your self-care and wellbeing as a non-negotiable. So, you have the power and the choice to be the CEO of your wellbeing and take charge of all areas of your life so that you can truly live your best life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Naz, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck with your pausing, breathing, and choosing.

Naz Beheshti
Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.

686: How to Make Your Next Career Move Your Best Move with Kimberly Cummings

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Kimberly Cummings shares her top tips on how to make career transitions easier.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to make the next best move for your career
  2. The key indicators that it’s time to explore other options
  3. How to identify power players–and become one yourself 

 

About Kimberly

Kimberly B. Cummings is a leading career and leadership development expert and an accomplished speaker and podcast host whose mission is to empower women and people of color in the workplace. Her personal and professional development company, Manifest Yourself, LLC, provides in-person and virtual workshops, trainings, and coaching to professionals looking to lead a dynamic career and life. 

Kimberly has had the opportunity to speak to and create workshops for many organizations, including the New Jersey Conference for Women, Ellevate Network, Urban League, Princeton University and National Sales Network, SXSW, among others. She is also on the Board of Directors for The Power of You Teens organization. Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning into a Career You’ll Love is her first book. 

Resources Mentioned

Kimberly Cummings Interview Transcript

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

Kimberly Cummings
Thank you so much for having me. Very excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. But, first, I want to hear a little bit about how you’ve studied vocal jazz for 10 years. What’s the story here? And any interesting adventures come from that?

Kimberly Cummings
So, definitely, I think growing up, I was a kid who always liked to sing. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “Whitney Houston.” That’s what I thought was going to be the career path for me, and I took piano lessons for a bit but I kept on trying to sing. But piano takes a little bit more skill to kind of learn the chords and all those things. My voice clearly was much more advanced than my hands were so I went to vocal lessons. And, oh, my gosh, I absolutely loved it, all the great Ella Fitzgeralds, the Sarah Vaughans. I actually performed a 26-song concert in 2005 to raise money for kids.

Pete Mockaitis
Twenty-six songs.

Kimberly Cummings
Yup, I had a pop set and a jazz set. And I say that I’m retired after winning every talent show in undergrad, mind you. I retired. So, now, I only sing for folks who know that I sing. Sadly, it’s more funerals or weddings and things like that. But you can hear me in the shower or in the elevator. There’s great acoustics there too.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you sing in your speaking on stage?

Kimberly Cummings
Oh, no. I’m fully retired.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so there we are. So, you’ve retired and you’ve moved on into the world of career and leadership development. So, yeah, tell me, when it comes to people and their careers, often you end up working with folks who feel stuck. What leads to people feeling stuck in their careers?

Kimberly Cummings
Many times, I really believe it’s not having a plan. If you don’t have a plan to take yourself to the next level, it’s very easy to get stuck in your career. Not knowing what your next move is, not understanding what your own skills and strengths and how those manifests in the workplace, a lot of times people can find themselves being underemployed or unappreciated because they have no idea, they’re essentially treating jobs like old boyfriends or girlfriends, romantic partners, in that they’re just like they keep going on to the next. They get a little bored, they go to the next, they go to the next, hoping that it will get better and better and better and it never really does if you don’t have a plan in place to make strategic career moves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then when it comes to forming that plan, where do you recommend we start?

Kimberly Cummings
So, the first stop is really understanding your own skillset and your strengths. I like to have folks who work with me go through a full assessment of all of their strengths, all of their opportunities, all of their weaknesses, their gaps, and really get clear on, “What are the skills that they’ve gained from every single job that they’ve had?” Every single job. That long resume that no one really ever looks at, the one you probably can’t even send to anyone that has every job on there and literally look back and say, “What have you learned? What are your strengths? What are the things you want to continue to use?”

“And what are the things that you no longer want to use? And how can we start to build a career based upon your strengths? And if you don’t have the strengths that you need to get to the next area, what are the things that we need to work on? What are the gaps that we need to attack in order to make your next move?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, you mentioned a full assessment. What are some of the key tools or resources or questions or things folks work through to get that picture?

Kimberly Cummings
So, the assessment really begins with you. Where are you? What have you done? What are the key skills you’ve gained from all of your jobs? What is the feedback that you’ve consistently been receiving from leaders? And if you don’t have that feedback, we walk through how to get that feedback using a simple start-stop-continue exercise with people in your industry and people who worked with you.

Of course, there are traditional assessments we can do. I’m a big fan of StrengthsFinder or Strengths Profile by Cappfinity. Those are also great as well but I want the baseline to always be the experiences because, generally, where you’ve gained your experiences, how you gained your experiences, what you’re taking away in terms of skill sets and strengths, that’s the baseline for you making your next move. So, the assessment really focuses on where you’ve been and what you’ve learned.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, you talked about how to get that feedback. So, start-stop-continue is a good way to organize the conversation. But how do you recommend folks specifically say, “Hey, tell me what I should start, stop, and continue doing?” Or, how do you recommend approaching that?

Kimberly Cummings
So, I always recommend finding time to have career conversations with your management. Many times, folks have one-on-ones, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or team meetings, and those are focused on doing the work but career conversations are a little bit different. So, I always recommend that people reach out to their leader, and ask, “Hey, I’d love to have a one-on-one with you but focused on my career.” And ask them simple questions like, “What is it that I should continue to do in my role? What are you seeing as good skill sets that I’m building? What do I need to stop doing? What is going to prevent me from moving to the next level? And what do you need to see more of?”

And the big question I always ask for folks who are thinking about making their next move before it’s time for them to make their next move is the big question of, “What do you need to see from me in order to know that I’m ready to get to the next level, I’m ready to make the next move?” so you’re not asking that question when you’re applying for the new job. You want to ask that question well before it’s time for you to have to apply.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a fine question. And, yeah, as I imagine that scenario, I think there’s probably any number of unsatisfying answers you might get, like, “Oh, you’re great. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

Kimberly Cummings
That’s a fan favorite.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s not quite the right…that’s not helpful.

Kimberly Cummings
No, not at all.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how do you recommend pushing or digging a little more?

Kimberly Cummings
Now, 100% just like you said, that is the age-old, “Oh, my gosh, you’re fabulous. Things are great. End time.” It’s like, no. If you’re not getting good feedback from your leader, I recommend asking other folks, asking your peers, asking other people who’ve also been promoted, and sharing your experiences so they can share a little bit more insight on what it takes to move to that next level.

And then, also, honestly, having a candid conversation advocating for yourself, like, “Thank you so much. I love hearing that you think I’m doing really, really well. However, I want to make sure that I can be extremely planful, that I actually have a plan. Is there any direct feedback that you’d be able to provide me? Like, what is it that means that I’m doing really well? How do you know that I’m doing really well? What are the indicators for that?”

Or, even if you could call up someone else, like, “I saw that Joe got promoted last year into a similar role. What was it that made you know that Joe was ready?” Try and push back to advocate for yourself just a little bit more because feedback is hard. It’s very hard. Leaders don’t like it, employees don’t like it, so it’s really pushing the needle. And if they say that they need a little bit of time to think about it, make sure you circle back and push again.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I think that is the perfect response along those lines of, “Oh, you’re great. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” It’s like, “Well, I couldn’t help but notice I wasn’t promoted,” in the nice or professional diplomatic way that you get there because, yeah, those are the realities, is that there is something…well, unless the organization is just broken, which I’ve seen some of. There is something that causes people to move up, “What is it? And am I doing it? And how can I do more of it?” Perfect.

And then you mentioned doing this prior to when you start applying to other jobs because you’re ready to be out of there. What are some of the key indicators that it may, indeed, be appropriate to move on and out from a current role or organization?

Kimberly Cummings
So, I’m really big on role mastery and impact. So, when you have essentially mastered your role, when you are doing things with ease, when people are asking for assistance because you know that you have it down, when you’ve built relationships in your role so you have…I always talk about four key relationships that you need. So, you have great peers that you’ve networked with, you have teachers who can help you if you need help, or sometimes people call them coaches, and you have mentors, and you have sponsorships. You have those four key relationships.

If you know where your role fits within an organization, like, “What does your role do?” Every role has a purpose in helping the company reach some type of milestone, even if you feel like it’s a small piece. Like, there’s a reason why that role was hired. Once you really know those things and you could think about, “What is the value you contributed to that role? Have you been able to innovate? Have you been able to move the needle?” Once you’ve been able to do some of those things, then it’s time to start thinking like, “Okay. Well, I think it’s time I start exploring whatever the next move is in this role, whether it’s internal to the company or external.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then if we are looking to transition away, what are some of the most common mistakes you see?

Kimberly Cummings
The most common mistakes I see are people relying on the amount of time that they’ve been at the company. Many times, people are like, “Oh, I’ve been here a year,” or, “I’ve been here two years. It’s time for me.” It’s like, “No, there’s people who’ve been in roles for 10 years who still aren’t ready.” The reality is you have to make an impact. You have to articulate value and what you’re going to do moving into that area.

And I’m not sure what your feedback is on what I’m about to say next, but I think that, many times people want to not do a tinge more work to showcase that they’re ready for the next role, especially for folks who are moving internally. They’re a manager, want to be a director. An analyst, want to be a manager. Whatever it is.

But what I explain to folks is that in your role, you’re essentially in a box. Like, this is the role of the manager. You’re doing everything that needs to be done within this box. When you’re ready to move to the next box of the director, you have to showcase that you’re ready to leave that box to go to the next level. And in order to showcase that, you almost have to show people like a little bit. Give them a touch of what they’ll see from you as a director. And it’s important that you start doing a few of those things, making sure that you’re aligning more to a director role than you are to a manager role so people can literally see you in it.

A lot of times, when there’s a job search that’s happening, I used to work in talent acquisition as well, and when you have someone who is internal applying to a job, and you have someone also who’s external, the internal person, you’ve essentially been in the longest interview of your life. They see you every single day. They know you. And if they have questions, like, “Well, why didn’t so-and-so start doing this already? Well, l really don’t see them doing this. They’re doing so well in their current role.”

Versus an external person can come in and just sell them the world because they don’t know them, they’ve never seen their work, and they can easily align to that director role. So, I think it’s really important that when you’re thinking about moving, you start thinking a little bit more on the level you’d like to be on versus the level that you’re currently at.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And, well, if you wanted my feedback on what you said with regard to doing a touch more work, I think that’s the right answer to advance in your career. But I think it’s also true, what you said is that a lot of people don’t want to do it, yeah, because it’s like, “Well, I’m not getting paid for that. I don’t have the title. It’s like they’re not paying me to do that, so it’s unfair or not justified in the give-and-take relationship between me and employer to do that while being paid what I’m currently paid.”

But what I’ve seen is that frequently your fastest movers and shakers are already doing the next job, and the promotion is kind of a formality, like, “Hey, you’re already doing this. We’d be embarrassed if we didn’t give you the title or the raise, promotion, etc. associated with that.” So, yeah, I think that’s kind of how it shakes out.

Kimberly Cummings
Oh, God, I’m happy we’re aligned there because some folks are like, “Nuh-uh, don’t give them a preview till you get the paycheck,” and I’m like, “Nah, you get the paycheck when you give them a preview.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. Indeed. And so then, when it comes to the networking world, you’ve got some perspective on identifying power players. Can you tell us how do we find them and build great relationships with them?

Kimberly Cummings
So, in every industry, I strongly believe that there are power players. They are people who are at the head of the curve, the people who are the key stakeholders who everyone listens to. There are always a few key people that are great to really look at as sponsors in your network. So, the way I always try to identify them are looking up professional associations. Who’s speaking at the conferences?

If you’re at the conferences, virtual or in person, whose room is packed out every single time? Who is it that has your boss’ ear or your skip leader? Who’s the person who really has the power to make the decisions and you see being frequently called upon? Those are what I call the power players, the people where a business doesn’t happen unless you hear from them first, where they have a significant influence over whatever is happening in the workplace.

When we’re talking about power players, one of the key words there is influence. Same thing with sponsors. They have to be able to influence and impact change. Otherwise, they really aren’t a power player in the industry. So, when you start seeing people speaking at events, or people always tapping that person, you know that person has power in the workplace. And my key is always finding a way to get in the room with them. How can you get as close as possible, again, virtual or in person?

I think you could still do it virtually. In some respects, virtual can even be a little bit easier than trying to navigate yourself into a room in person. But find a way to get in the room. And whether it’s interacting with that individual at the event, even as simple as asking a really great question, or being super active in the virtual chat. Find a way to get involved with that power player and initiate some time, whether it’s a 15-minute meeting to introduce yourself, learn more about them, or attending quite a few events.

If I’m very honest, there are some people who I have relationships with now where it took me years to build a relationship. It wasn’t one time to get on their radar. It was multiple events, multiple things before I reached out and got any individual time with that person. I think, especially when you’re looking for someone who has influence, it’s going to take some time. It’s not going to be a quick one, two, three the first time you try to hear back.

And if you can’t get in touch with that person, I recommend also looking at who’s around them. So, let’s say there is a senior SVP in your workplace and you want to get in touch with them but you know you have not had any luck on getting on their calendar. Well, then who are their direct reports? Let’s see if we can get in contact with them and work your way around, so the next time when you try, you already have some relationships that are close and someone else who can refer you or make an introduction. Sometimes it takes a little bit more time to get that power player.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And so then, so you stick with it and you keep your eyes open. You ask for those recommendations and you’re watching. And then how do you yourself become such a power player?

Kimberly Cummings
Again, I think that’s so much about impact and value. It’s about being a subject matter expert, being the SME in your area. Many times, people believe that leaders have to have this big title, they have to be the SVP, the director, the super long title that is confusing, and you can barely say it yourself. But I really believe that everybody has the ability to be a leader.

You are hired for any particular role. That role has tasks and responsibilities. Regardless of your seniority, you need to be the subject matter expert for your role. Nobody needs to do that role better than you are doing that role. You have to lead in that role. When you are leading in your role, so you’ve mastered it, you are the person who they come to for questions or concerns, you have networked yourself appropriately so people also know that you are the best at that role.

You’re not just behind closed doors or in your virtual office, not speaking to anyone. That’s really how you can start positioning yourself as the go-to person and, ultimately, positioning yourself as a leader or the power player in your area. And, also, having that strategy, so knowing what’s next, which means having some of those tough career conversations even if your leader isn’t kind of giving you what you need, making sure that you kind of push forward or find someone else who can give you that feedback.

Having that strategy so you can continuously be evolving your career and moving to the next level, that will slowly but surely be able to position you. And, you know, for some folks, it takes time. For me, even thinking about my own career, for a long time, my goal was to be a director of career services in higher education. I spent nearly 10 years in career services offices working with people at 18 who don’t know what they want to do with their entire life, to people who are in their 60s who want to use all their experience and use that to kind of launch into something that just makes them happy in the world of work.

And I wanted to just be a director of career services running a large office. That was it. And I knew that in order to move to the next level, this wasn’t an arena where I’d be able to stay in one office unless I wanted to stay in one office for like 10 to 15 years to slowly work my way up. So, every two years, I made sure I knew what my next move was, I understood the skills that I needed to gain with each strategic move in order to build a career for myself, and also increase my influence.

I participated in conferences. I spoke at conferences. I always made sure I was able to level up in my career. And, ultimately, I did not get that director of career services job, but I became a director in a global Fortune 100 company in financial services leading some of their diversity talent acquisition recruitment efforts. So, you just have to make sure that you’re continuously leveling up and having a strategy for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thanks for sharing your story there. And could you share also the story of someone you think did a fine job of kind of integrating all of these learnings and seen some cool results?

Kimberly Cummings
Definitely, success stories. Like, everyone always loves success stories. I have a current client who I was working with who came to me because they were feeling stuck, they’re in one of those jobs that we talked about earlier, Pete, where they were just kind of over it. They felt underemployed, definitely underpaid, and they really wanted to start positioning themselves for leadership roles.

Then when we first started working together, she just wanted to get on track. So, we went through the assessment, we went through kind of understanding all of the skillsets, was she in a career that was aligned to what her goals were. And at that time, she was but she didn’t have the level of seniority that she wanted. She didn’t have the impact that she was looking for.

So, for that particular person, we worked a lot on the relationships. How can we start making sure people know about the work that she’s doing, networking, cultivating some of those sponsors, some of those mentors? And, in about three to six months, I think probably around the five-month mark, if I have my memory serves me right, she’d been applying to jobs and she finally landed a role.

And because she’d done so much work with building relationships, understanding her own personal and professional brand, she rocked this interview process, making sure that she was finally positioned for a role. A lot of it was the language she was using to make sure that she was no longer underemployed and being in a role that was in much better alignment.

She negotiated a $35,000 salary increase. She got added to a committee right away that was aligned with some of her career goals. And she was able to speak a lot about career pathing even in her interview process, so she knew what would be the next step for her, being very candid about looking for longevity in an employer and not just for a defined role.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, thank you.

Kimberly Cummings
No problem.

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

Kimberly Cummings
No, I think this is good. I think you had me cover it all. I love how actionable all of our questions are.

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

Kimberly Cummings
Yes. So, there’s a quote by India Arie. It is, “The only thing constant in this world is change.” I put it in my high school yearbook, and I think it’s so, so, so true.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Kimberly Cummings
I really like the research on diversity, equity, and inclusion when it comes to privilege. I’ve been doing a lot of research on that, kind of looking into more of the privilege walks. I know Drexel has a lot of information on that arena.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Kimberly Cummings
So, my new favorite book is Winning is Everything by Tim S. Grover.

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

Kimberly Cummings
I think StrengthsFinder, the assessment, is one of my favorites. It helps you understand yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Kimberly Cummings
I live and die by a planner and a task-list system that I use. I have it every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m now intrigued. What’s the system?

Kimberly Cummings
So, I use Asana but better than that, I really do it in my notebook every single day. I prioritize my tasks by functional area, and for my business, by revenue impact in order of importance. I have a little color code system too. I’ll have to take a screenshot for you, but it helps me knock out even more every single day by having all those priorities in line and make sure that I’m working on what actually needs to get done versus the mini-tasks that we do all day that keep us from doing the big thing that we should be doing.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they repeat it back to you often?

Kimberly Cummings
A lot of it is around confidence. I think I have a quote from my business, my manifesto that I always share. It’s, “You must believe in yourself and your vision. When you do this, you’ll manifest the life you desire.” And I share this a lot because when we’re trying to make any type of career change, I think the number one thing you have to do before we get into all the strategy pieces is believe that it’s actually possible for you.

And a lot of times, when we start talking about that, people are like, “Oh, my gosh, like that really resonates. Like, I didn’t even think that that was important. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been moving.” It’s, like, you have to believe that whatever you want to do is possible for you.

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

Kimberly Cummings
I would point them to KimberlyBCummings.com. I’m also on all the social places. So, Instagram and LinkedIn are probably my favorite. LinkedIn, it’s my name, and Instagram is kimbcummings.

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

Kimberly Cummings
Yes. So, shameless plug or not so shameless because you said I can share. But I’m a very brand-new author. So, in June 2021, I wrote a book Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning Into a Career You’ll Love and it is available wherever books are sold. And this is the process to help you put together a two-year career strategy.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Kimberly, thank you. This has been a treat and I wish you lots of luck in each of your moves.

Kimberly Cummings
Thank you so much.

685: How to Manage Conflict and Work Peacefully in Virtual Teams with John Riordan

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John Riordan shares practical strategies for overcoming the unique challenges of conflict among virtual teams.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three best practices for preventing conflict 
  2. How to face conflict head on with the SBID model
  3. The three options you have when working with a jerk 

 

About John

For over 30 years, John Riordan has been committed to challenging people and organizations to reach their full capacity – first as a leadership program founder and director in East Africa, and now as an organization and leadership development consultant. He has consulted with a broad range of federal, private sector and non-profit organizations conducting hundreds of planning, team building and training workshops ranging from large conferences (200+) to small intact teams. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, sponsors!

John Riordan Interview Transcript

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

John Riordan
Absolutely. My pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom but, first, I want to hear about the Marine Corps marathon that you did. How is that different than a normal marathon and what’s the backstory there?

John Riordan
Well, yeah, so that’s a good question and the backstory is interesting too. So, first of all, I’ll say a former friend, I don’t like this guy anymore. I went out for a jog one day and I’ve never ran more than three miles in my life, and he says, “Have you ever thought about running a marathon?” I laughed out loud, like, “Are you kidding me? Five miles would be a stretch and I have no interest in running a marathon whatsoever.”

He says, “Why not?” “Well, I couldn’t think of a thousand reasons why not. I don’t want to get injured as well.” “You don’t have to get injured. If something hurts, you stop.” I’m like, “Okay. It’s boring. Running for hours is boring.” “Well, could you do something about that?” Well, long story short, you could listen to things and learn things, and you’d be amazed how much you can learn while you’re running for two or three hours at a time.

Long story short, he coached me simply by saying, by asking the ultimate coaching question is, “What could you do about that?” And, ultimately, he’s sort of helped me dismantle all my own defenses to the point where I kind of had to do it. And so, I like to say I completed the Marine Corps, meaning I walked-run, not run the whole way. I had all this mental models. I thought everyone who ran any marathon would be super athlete fit runner. Nope, not the case whatsoever.

You look at any marathon, but the Marine Corps especially, I mean any size, shape that you would be shocked at who is capable of completing a marathon. I thought you had to die at the end, because as the first marathoner, I thought that was the requirement. You had to run with all your strength and then collapse and die. Nope. Apparently, that is not a requirement so I couldn’t stick to that one.

And so, just dismantling all these barriers that I had in my mind, some of which were simply like, I guess you’d say excuses, but many of which were just misunderstandings, misinterpretations, or assumptions I was making. And it was such a powerful metaphor for my own experience because I do this kind of coaching with folks all the time, and so to experience it for myself and realize how many assumptions I’m making, how many misunderstandings, how many barriers, artificial barriers I’ve put in my way. And when you remove those, it’s like, “Oh, shoot. Now I guess I have to do it because I have no more excuses.”

And the Marine Corps is, they call it America’s Marathon. It’s the beginner’s marathon. It’s a very flat course. They promote first-time marathoners so you get kind of bumped up if it’s your first one. And there’s thousands of people cheering you the entire way, and so it’s just a high the whole way that you’re being cheered on and encouraged and all that stuff, and so it’s a great experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Well, yeah, there’s lessons right there and metaphors and excuses.

John Riordan
Well, I tell you, so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, “What could you do about that?” is a fine question.

John Riordan
Yeah, it’s a great question.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, so you’ve got a boatload of experience when it comes to leadership development and you’ve got many courses. And we had several conversations with folks about virtual teams and virtual leadership and virtual meetings and overcoming distractions when you’re working from home, etc. What intrigued me about you is you’ve specifically got courses on dealing with conflict in virtual environments and facilitating in virtual environments.

And I think those are probably two of the toughest things to do with folks who are in different places. So, let’s dig in and talk about conflict resolution stuff in a virtual context. And, maybe, could you kick us off with a juicy story? Like, what’s a good, good, meaty, reality TV-grade drama or conflict that you’ve seen or heard about from your clients resolved through virtual media?

John Riordan
Yeah. Right. So, as I say, conflict is typically challenging for most of us regardless even when we are in person, and it’s uncomfortable and awkward and all that other sort of stuff.

Well, you layer on the virtual context and it just changes the parameters, and there are some upsides. There are some upsides to the virtual context. We might not annoy each other as much, my personality might not grate on you because we’re not across the hallway from each other, whatever. But clearly, the downside is, the big challenge is, that the little misunderstanding in that email goes unaddressed and we have to be intentional, very intentional, about bringing it up because, otherwise, when we’re in person, we’ll bumped into each other in the hallway, I’ll see you as we walk, we’re walking out, I’ll see at lunch, whatever, at the next meeting, “Hey, Pete, about that thing, about that project, about that whatever…” and we have these, otherwise, even unnoticed interactions.

The volume of interaction that happens in person, that is in the Ethisphere, really, it has been very interesting to watch the literature emerging in the past 18 months because, prior to COVID, you had intentionally virtual organizations, people who chose to work virtually, their organization wanted them to work virtually, their job was structured for virtual work. Well, the past 18 months, for most of us, has been suddenly virtual without choice, without option, without structure, and, basically, chaos.

And so, all that Ethisphere interaction just vaporized and, all of a sudden, you and I are exchanging emails, we have that misunderstanding, but we don’t see each other, at best on a video conference, if that, once a week, and so I’m not going to setup a meeting to address this minor thing with you, and so it grows, and so that distance grows. And pretty soon, you start to have the wedge that develops.

So, turn to the juicy stories, geez, I don’t even know where to begin. The one that pops to mind is we’re sitting there on a meeting convened by a full-bird colonel, and one of the participants is on video, and he’s clearly distracted. And as the colonel is presenting, this guy is talking to other people, he’s looking all over, he’s like obviously not paying attention. Well, this doesn’t go over well with the colonel who finally stops and says, “Hey,” I’ll call him Joe, “Joe,” awkward sound, “Joe.” This guy is talking, he doesn’t even hear himself, he’s probably muted the whole thing.

I mean, it’s a good couple of minutes before Joe finally looks down and awkward, and, “Oh, I’m sorry…” And he’s like, “So, are you with us, Joe?” “Oh, oh, sorry, sorry.” Well, there’s too many people on the call, the colonel is not going to address Joe right there and then, which is good. So, what’s the colonel going to do? Is he going to make an appointment with Joe? Is he going to setup another call to have this discussion, what happened? I mean, this whole thing was like it just snowballs. The whole team is involved because everybody watched it.

If you were in a conference room and someone was distracted and that happened, it would essentially get resolved real-time, probably, optimistically, just by virtue of the interaction. In the virtual world, that meeting is over. Boop! Everyone disappears. So, we all witnessed it and then it’s over. There’s no hallway discussion, there’s no post-chat discussion, and so you have this awkward thing. And the only way to resolve it is reconvene and have a discussion, both the colonel and the individual, and then bringing it back to the group.

I mean, the processing of that conflict in the virtual context too so much more effort than it would have real-time, optimistically. Real-time, you just interact, resolve, address, move on. And so, in the virtual world, it is challenging to be intentional, to lean into it, for those of us who it’s not a natural strength. There’s a few people where conflict they’re just good at it, and then there’s the rest of us.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, we have to know how things conclude. So, what happened with the colonel and Joe here today?

John Riordan
Well, let’s just say Joe kind of wrapped it up with this, which is, in his mind, his perspective was that this was urgent, this was…I don’t know if he used the word crisis but, in his mind, this was urgent and he needed to address it right away. Well, I don’t know how familiar you are with the military, but with a full-birded colonel, like you could pretty much use rank, unless it’s a general, you pay attention to the colonel first or you interrupt to say, “I’m sorry, sir. The building is on fire. I’m going to have to step away for a few…” and so, his lack of awareness of the protocol and how to handle his situation on his end.

Now, the colonel is very reasonably gracious but it definitely clarified that this guy, and so he was two steps down from the colonel, he’s a civilian so he reports to his boss, his boss reports to the colonel. Well, let’s just say it was clear he has a lot to learn, so now he’s kind of – what’s the right word – not demoted positionally but he didn’t show up well. He showed up really badly so now he’s going to have to overcome that. It’s going to take time for him to demonstrate that he has learned and sort of overcome that experience with folks.

And, again, in the virtual world, he only has very limited opportunities to do that. In person, you’d have more meetings, you’d have more interactions, you’d have the hallway. Now, he’s like he has to lean into it and really reestablish his reputation in a lot of ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

John Riordan
So, he’s still there, as far I know. It wasn’t that bad but it was not good.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that does kind of paint a picture in terms of things that can occur and the extra challenges that ensue. So, lay it on us, what are some of the best practices you’ve discovered when it comes to managing conflict when folks are remote?

John Riordan
First and foremost, intentionality. Paying attention. It’s so much easier when we’re virtual to just dismiss it and let it go and it’s no big deal, and it might not be a big deal. It’s just that clumsy email, or maybe they didn’t really mean it, or maybe I’m misinterpreting what Pete said in his text, and just let it go. Okay. But, however, it’s so tempting to do that because when we switch off the call, I’m back in my own world and I’m not going to see you in the hallway, I’m not going to bump into you in the coffee break, and so it’s easier to just dismiss it.

So, paying attention, intentionality, “Is this worth addressing? Should I address it?” And even before that, I like to say, “What’s my bias with regard to conflict in the first place?” I am conflict-avoidant, so I know that my bias is to let it go. And, therefore, given that bias, I may need to lean into this and step into this more than I feel comfortable with. That’s probably true.

There are some people in the world who are conflict-seeking who don’t mind. My father-in law was this way. He loved a good knockdown drill. Like, to him, everything was an opportunity for a very energetic debate. Anyone else would’ve said, “Gosh, why are you arguing?” And he’d tell them, “I’m not arguing. We’re just having a healthy debate.” So, he didn’t mind and he would lean into everything. Most of us, percentage-wise, I think most people are on that conflict-reluctant.

And so, how to assess yourself with regard to your style around conflict, and then in the virtual realm being attentive and intentional, being more open to it. And then third, I’d say, is talk about it. Talk about it. Like, for goodness’ sake, bring this up as a team with your colleagues, “So, Pete, you and I are going to work together for the next 12 months. Hey, can we talk about some operating agreements? How are we going to handle differences of opinion? How are we going to handle conflict? How are we going to handle our working practices? What’s our communication style? What can we do to help each other and find a good way through the middle?”

And so, having a conversation about how we will handle conflict, before we’re in the middle of a big conflict, is so, so critical for teams. It’s so helpful to get it out on the table so it’s not some awkward taboo subject that nobody wants to broach.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s just so huge when it comes to aligning expectations in many contexts in terms of, one, upfront we kind of know, hey, what we’re dealing with and what the standards are. And, two, it just sort of prevents a lot of that stuff. It’s like someone is mad because someone else has not fulfilled their unspoken expectations, and it’s like, “Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize I broke a rule that was never mentioned as being a rule. Oops!” So, that’s just a great practice to do in many contexts.

And so, when it comes to, “How are we going to address conflict?” have you seen any particular best practices that have been in a lot of operating agreements and been really helpful for folks?

John Riordan
Yeah. Well, that would be the first one, is to establish a set of operating agreements. Now, I would offer, prior to that, a really good practice is to do that, have that conversation and do an assessment. I don’t necessarily mean formally, just as a team, just discuss, “Pete, what’s your style? Are you more conflict-avoidant or are you more conflict-seeking, somewhere in the middle? Help me understand your style. I’ll explain to you that I do tend to be conflict-avoidant. I get uncomfortable but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to do it. It’s just I get all sort of uneasy, so bear with me to the extent that you can encourage me and keep me going in the conflict. That’ll be helpful to me. So, let’s have that discussion. Where are we as a team?”

And there are some really simple models that will help folks have a conversation. There’s from Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He has this conflict continuum, and one end is artificial harmony where we’re all avoiding it, “Oh, it’s great. Everything is great. Yup, we’re all good. Yeah, no, no, no, there’s no problem here.” “Like, really? Because it sure sounded like there was.” So, artificial harmony on one end.

And on the other is destructive conflicts, mean-spirited attacks and backbiting and all that sort of stuff. And so, the ideal is healthy and constructive conflict is somewhere in that middle ground where we’re able to have the hard conversations and we’re open to that. So, assessing, with a small A, you don’t have to take a big instrument or anything, just, “Where do you think we are? And let’s talk about it. And what would it look like for us to maintain a healthy and constructive conflict culture?” And then that can lead you into, “Okay, so how do we do that?”

And I would say that that becomes a matter of operating agreements where we can talk about it, like, “What does that look like?” “Well, we should respect each other.” “Okay, what does that really mean? What does that really look like for you?” “Well, it means we don’t interrupt each other.” “Well, I’m a strong extrovert. I don’t care about interruptions, but if you do then I’ll try to pay attention to that. If I interrupt you, don’t take it personally. I’m not trying to dismiss your point. I’m very extroverted.” “Okay, good.” We can learn about each other, come to some agreements, and then try to put them into practice.

And so, when it comes to what those agreements are, I would say there are clearly some general ones, like respect, taking responsibility, addressing things early, not letting it fester, criticism in private, constructive critique in private, affirmation in public, those types of pretty general stuff. And then you get into specifics for a given team based on their situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And so then, let’s say we’re in the thick of things and someone did something that maybe we didn’t have the good fortune to have listened to you earlier and then, thusly, those operating agreements were not formally established. Someone did something. I am miffed. What do you recommend are some of the best ways to go about cleaning that up and addressing the matter? Any go-to scripts, words, phrases, principles?

John Riordan
So, there’s a feedback model that is a nice…I like that word script. I like the model of a recipe. So, I use this metaphor a lot. You have a recipe, how to make something, once you’ve done it a number of times, you can play with it. You don’t have to follow the recipe exactly and you can add something or try something different and see how it goes. But the basic recipe, at least, is a guide.

And so, this model is from the Center for Creative Leadership, SBID – situation, behavior, impact, desired outcome, SBID. And so, what’s the situation? So, I don’t call you and leave a voicemail, and say, “Pete, we need to talk. I’m just not happy with how you attacked me at the meeting the other day.” “Whoa, what on earth?” That’s like you’re already going to be on the defensive. You don’t even know where I’m coming from.

So, give a little context to this. What’s the situation? “So, Pete, we’re in that meeting, we’re on that call, we’re having that discussion. Do you remember that? And I was presenting, do you remember? Do you remember how you asked that question to me? I don’t know if you knew. So, that situation.” “Okay, yeah, I’m with you. We’ve got it. I understand the context.”

Now, the behavior, the B, that’s critical because it’s not an accusation. It’s simply a statement of behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
“You’re a jerk.” Not that.

John Riordan
Exactly, “Pete, you keep criticizing me in public. You keep dismantling my argument.” “What? I’m not trying to…I don’t even know what you’re…I’m not dismantling you.” “Well, you asked that question.” “Ah, yeah. That’s all I did was ask a question.” “Well, you’re trying to undermine me.” “Whoa, I’m not trying to undermine you. I just had a question about your data. Like, really, I’m not…”

Okay, impact. The impact was, “It felt to me that you were trying to undermine my credibility. It felt like you were questioning my presentation, questioning my data.” “I was asking a question about your data I wasn’t trying to embarrass you in public.” So, that impact helps you understand how your behavior impacted me, but it also is important for me to own that, assuming good intent, unless I have enough record to believe that you actually are out to get me.

And the other possibility is that you didn’t do it intentionally but this is how it impacted me, and can we have a conversation about that. And that is a huge, huge – what would you call that – a sea change, a really big distinction. And here’s the question you can write down, “Did you do this on purpose?” Did the person, whoever they are, did they do this to you intentionally? Did they do it to you on purpose?

Pete Mockaitis
Now, is that a question you ask yourself internally or a question you ask of the other party?

John Riordan
Well, kind of both ends. That’s a good point. It starts with me asking it of myself. So, my example is somebody cuts me off in traffic, “Aargh, can you believe that? What an idiot.” And then my wife says, “Well, maybe their wife is having a baby. Maybe their house is on fire. Maybe they have all kinds of reasons.” Well, the person didn’t roll down the window and say, “Hey, are you John Riordan?” “Yes.” “Oh, okay, I’m going to cut you off because I can’t stand you and I want to ruin your day.” That’s not what they’re thinking. They are just being self-centered, they’re just going about their day, they’re not paying attention to me, and they cut me off. It doesn’t mean it’s okay but it wasn’t about me. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah.

John Riordan
You’re asking a question in the middle of a presentation, your mindset might be, “I don’t really like those numbers. I wonder where he got those.” There’s all kinds of reasons why you might be asking that question other than, “Watch this. I’m going to ask this question and dismantle John’s argument. It’s going to be great. He’s going to fall apart,” because that would be intentional and then we’re adversaries.

But there’s a lot of other possibilities as to why people do what they do. And so, having that discussion, disarming – I love that metaphor – disarming the conflict so that it becomes instead of a capital C, we’re having a full-blown argument, it’s a small C, “Can we talk about this?” “Well, I didn’t like your numbers.” “Well, I appreciate that and, of course, you have the right to ask about my numbers. I would ask you to respect the fact that this is a presentation in front of senior managers, and could you have followed up with me later, or I ask you to review the material ahead of time. I don’t know if you did, but I would’ve appreciated you asking me that question before the meeting, etc.” So, there’s all kinds of ways we might address it to resolve the distinction without it getting to a capital C, conflict.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, as I step into this scenario that you’ve created, John, I just sort of wonder, like, what do you do when the other party…? I won’t say that they’re like malicious evil jerks trying to get you, but they just think your concern is dumb, they’re like, “Look, John, this is a data-driven organization. We try to make the best decisions. If I’ve got a question about your data, I’m going to ask the question about your data, I don’t care where we are, who you’re talking to. It’s just how we get to the truth and optimal business results. So, pull up your big boy pants and get a thick skin and stop whining to me about this inane bull crap so we can go make insane value for shareholders.”

Let’s say you get a pretty rude but not like maliciously, “That’s right, buddy. I’m out to take you down, so watch your back.” So, a pretty brute and dismissive response. How do you think about those?

John Riordan
Yeah. So, let me emphasize the distinction that you just made because, again, one is, “I have reason to believe that this person is an active adversary. They are literally out to take me down.” And those do exist. I’m not talking about being naïve and pretending that everybody is your best friend. There are a few, and hopefully a few, adversaries that you should watch out for. If you have a lot of adversaries, then you got to decide whether you can sustain that lifestyle and that career, and some people can, but for many of us, that might be a signal for a job change. If I’m surrounded by people who want to take me out, you either sign up for that or you don’t. So, that’s the first distinction.

The second, the way you’re describing it, is, “Look, it’s not about you, John. I really don’t care. I’m going to keep asking those questions. You just have to get over it.” So, they’re not out to take me down but they’re not also going to handle me with kid gloves. Then it becomes a question of power – power and influence in the organization. Because if that voice is coming from a full-bird colonel, and I’m the low person on the totem pole, then, guess what, I have to either live with that and go about my business, or I have to decide I’m in the wrong organization.

If that person is a peer, and we’re on equal footing, so to speak, then that’s a whole different scenario, “What influence do I have? Do I continue the discussion? Do I counter with, ‘Hey, I’d just be down. I think that’s a great way for us to work, because if I did that to you, you wouldn’t be happy. Can we not find a better way of working together?’” That’s the D in the SBID, the desired outcome is, “Can we learn to work together well?”

Now, option three, if that voice was coming from a subordinate, somebody who reports to me, I’d say, “Okay, have a seat. We need to talk. You need to decide whether you want to stay here or not because this is not how we’re going to operate in my sphere of influence.” So, it depends on who that individual is and what power and authority relationship we have.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s handy. Thank you. Well, tell me, John, any other key things you want to make sure to mention about conflict resolution and in virtual settings, maybe any sort of tools or favorite apps, software, or things that you find handy?

John Riordan
That’s interesting. For me, the resources, they’re now showing up online. Apps-wise, it doesn’t come to mind but in terms of models. So, one is by an author named Peter Block. And Peter Block’s partnership model lays out this distinction between trust and agreement. And so, you ask yourself, “Okay,” and I go through this exercise, a great exercise for everybody. You’re mapping out, especially in the work context, but of course it bleeds over to the rest of our lives as well. How much trust is there in the relationship? And how much agreement, in terms of the content of the discussion?

So, we disagree about the numbers and the data, but I don’t distrust you. I trust that you’re just asking a question about the numbers. That’s okay. Versus, if there’s no trust, then we have a serious problem. Trust is obviously far more critical than agreement. If I trust you, we can disagree about anything but I still trust you. We trust each other. And that distinction is huge.

So, Peter Block has a great article. I’ve got summary worksheets on this on my website but it’s the kind of thing that really helps you lay out, “Okay, who are my allies that I trust, we agree, we’re working in the same direction. I can really rely on these folks. There’s other categories and there are some unknowns, and then there’s this adversaries. We disagree on the direction and, guess what, we don’t trust each other so watch out.” Okay, let’s not be naïve. Let’s map this out. So, that’s a really helpful, sort of getting the lay of the land.

Let’s see, Patrick Lencioni’s material around conflict is fantastic. That’s all available on his site. Good stuff.

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

John Riordan
First and foremost, in practical terms, from two authors, Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones. And there’s a lot of different ways to say this but the bumper sticker for their material is, “Be yourself with more skill.” Be yourself with more skill. And I tell you, if I gave them a nickel for every time I’ve shared that thought, I owe them.

And what I love about that is five words. It’s amazing, five words. But, boy, you talk about a life journey, and this applies so powerfully to the work, in your career, and what I’d like to say your calling, but it also applies equally to your personal relationships, family, friends, community, you name it. Be yourself, be who you are made to be, figure out who you are, bring yourself to the table, your values, your strengths, your personality, but do it with more skill.

I spent years trying to be something else, be more of this, be less of that, as opposed to, “Okay, who am I? And then how do I show up skillfully? How do I bring my strengths to bear in a skillful way?” If that makes sense, it’s such an interesting but very powerful nuance.

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

John Riordan
I really appreciate the stuff that they did around this piece around authentic leadership, so Goffee and Jones. And, essentially, one of those harbingers, there’s been plenty of research around this, but the culture of leadership, and the shift from command and control. So, my dad was a marine, World War II, Korean War marine, and let me tell you, you did what the boss told you to do – command and control. “Why should I do what you tell me?” “Because I’m your boss. Because I’m above you. I outrank you. You name it. You do what you’re told.”

Well, clearly, we take it for granted, but leadership culture has evolved tremendously. Their article was called “Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?” It kind of flips it on its head.

And so, leadership now is about respect and response, and people choosing to follow you, choosing to allow you to influence them. And that’s what leadership is about now and it’s really evolved tremendously. And so, that piece of research, that kind of encapsulated that and demonstrated that, amongst men, but, to me, it’s a real – what would you call that – a milestone, a marker, that we have really shifted as a culture.

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

John Riordan
Currently, the one that is making the biggest difference in my life is called The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin.

She calls them tendencies, these ideas of, “How I operate? What makes me tick? What moves me from ideas into action? And how different that can be for different people?” And that has been super insightful for me and in sharing that with clients and helping people understand and, of course, it overlaps with personalities and all those other things, but, essentially, focusing in on moving from thought into action.

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

John Riordan
Yeah, I would repeat that one, The Four Tendencies. So, for me on that, the huge lightbulb for me is that I am motivated by external factors, and I spent years trying to be more self-disciplined, trying to develop kind of just put my nose to the grindstone and get it done. Not bad to have self-discipline. That’s great. But she distinguishes that some people are internally motivated, and they will, when they decide to do something, they’ll go do it.

Other people are externally motivated. So, I can have a great idea, and something I’d even like to do, but if nobody else is involved, if I’m not accountable to anybody, if I don’t have to answer to anyone, if no one else is there, then the likelihood I’ll be doing it is much lower. As soon as somebody else is involved, I’ll do it.

So, I’ve harnessed that, I got myself an executive assistant who is my professional bulldog, and I say, “Jorie, make sure this happens.” I’m on this podcast because of her. I love doing these things but I’m not going to do it. She says, “You’re going to do it. Make sure it happens,” and then I do it.

And so, harnessing that tendency, for me, of external motivation, I mean, I can’t even tell you everything I’ve been able to accomplish simply because it’s gone from ideas, the long list of good ideas in my head, and actually turning them into action.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

John Riordan
I would say two. Exercising has been huge.
I can’t say enough about it just in terms of de-stress, in terms of getting all that energy out in the negative sense, and then coming back and being ready to go. But, also, what I love about going to the gym, one of the big upsides, is little incremental small victories. So, I keep track of my workouts. I’m only there for half an hour, 40 minutes tops, but I try to just keep incrementally improving.

And it’s very cool to start the day by adding a few more reps, or adding a few more pounds, or adding a few more whatever to that weight or to that exercise, and to feel like, “Okay. All right. This is something I can win at.” And so, now I can go back into the day and bring that same sense of energy and motivation into the rest of what I got to do. So, that’s number one.

And then number two, what I listen to. I can’t say enough. The same thing, through the 18 months, like God bless you if you grew up with lots of positive encouragement and I had a very affirming upbringing. But my dad worked for IBM, very neutral, not an entrepreneur, just went to work and came home, so I never had somebody, a voice in my ears saying, “Hey, you got this. You can do it. Get in there. You’re great at this. You can…” whatever, all that sort of coaching and positive affirmations. And so, it’s been huge to tap into just little YouTube clips, different motivational stuff that suits my style, and to really have that voice in my ear, literally, cheering me on, coaching me on. It’s been fantastic. Very, very much a game changer, especially over this stressful time.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

John Riordan
Oh, that first one, “Be yourself with more skill.” That’s number one, absolutely.

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

John Riordan
JR@JohnRiordan.com is the email address and JohnRiordan.com is the website.

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

John Riordan
That journey of self-discovery is absolutely, I can’t say enough about what a starting point that is. And it’s a journey, it’s not like you take two weeks off and learn about yourself, and then that’s it. But to delve into that, “What are your core values?” and contemplate on that. Really define it, writing it down. Everybody, almost any American is going to say, “Oh, I have core values.” “Okay, what are they?” “Ahh, I don’t really know.”

So, what are your core values? Write them down. Think about them. Define them. There’s different ways to go about that. What are your strengths that you bring to the world, to your work, to your family, to your…What are those? Do you know what they are or you just kind of know? And what’s your personality traits? What makes you tick? What motivates you? And sort of capturing that, collecting that awareness.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, John, this has been a treat. Thank you for sharing the goods. And keep on rocking.

John Riordan
Thank you. My pleasure. My pleasure. I really appreciate the opportunity. I hope this is encouraging and challenging and useful for folks.

684: Achieving More by Tapping into the Science of Less with Leidy Klotz

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Leidy Klotz reveals how to access the untapped potential of subtraction to make work and life more efficient.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What Legos can teach us about smarter problem-solving
  2. The trick to overcoming your brain’s bias for addition
  3. How subtracting leaves us with more

About Leidy

Leidy Klotz is a Professor at the University of Virginia, where he directs the university’s Convergent Behavioral Science Initiative and is appointed in the Schools of Engineering, Architecture, and Business. His research on the science of problem-solving has appeared in both Nature and Science and has been covered in The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post among national newspapers on five continents. 

Resources Mentioned

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

Leidy Klotz Interview Transcript

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

Leidy Klotz
Thanks for having me, Pete. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the wisdom you’ve put forth in your book Subtract. So, why don’t we kick it off by you telling us the story of your epiphany that occurred with Legos?

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, the epiphany courtesy of my three-year old at the time, so I was playing Legos with my son and the problem that we had was that we were building a Lego bridge and it wasn’t level. And so, one of the columns was shorter than the other column. I turned around behind me to grab a block to add to the shorter column. By the time I had turned back around, my son had removed a block from the longer column. And that right there in front of me was this kind of thought process that I became interested in. And we’ve since done tens thousands of hours’ worth of research, studying and trying to figure out what was going on there.

But what was really helpful for me with that moment with the Legos, with my son, was that I’d always been interested in less, kind of this end state of things that are better because there’s less to them. But what he helped me see in that moment was this act of getting there, subtracting, and he also helped me see it in a very tangible way, in a way that I could actually go around and even show other people and describe my thoughts to other people. So, that proved really helpful as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Yes, three-year olds, I’ve got one as well and they teach you much. So, that’s wild how that sparks such a long journey, and it’s cool that we don’t stop there with a nice little metaphor. You got a boatload of research now to back it up. So, can you tell us then, while that’s kind of an interesting way to think a little bit differently, what’s sort at stake or the benefits associated with pursuing subtracting as opposed to adding?

Leidy Klotz
Fundamentally, what’s at stake here is that it’s a basic option that we have to make things better. Whether we’re creating a Lego structure, or whether we’re trying to improve our daily task list, whether we’re trying to improve the thoughts that are in our head, we can add things to them and we can also take things away.

And what I did in that moment was I didn’t even think about taking away as an option, and I would’ve added and moved on, never even considering if I wanted to subtract in that moment if not for being shown the other way by my son. And so, that’s the problem. The problem is that we’re not considering the options. The problem is not that less is always better. In fact, I quite like adding, but I think that anytime that we’re systematically overlooking a basic way to change things, that’s a problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. Doubling our options sounds handy for sure. Could you share with us maybe some cool case studies in terms of professionals who’d done some subtracting and seen some really cool results and benefits?

Leidy Klotz
So, the downside is that we systematically underuse it. The upside is we don’t have to, and because everybody else is systematically underusing, there’s kind of additional power in taking things away. This is an untapped opportunity. And so, I think you see it everywhere really. So, one example is the craft of good presentations. I know you’ve had some people talking about that on your podcast before.

But, like, one of the elements of a good presentation is that all the kind of unnecessary stuff is stripped away. Edward Tufte, who’s this guru of information design, talks about maximizing the information to ink ratio, which basically means stripping away any ink that is not adding to your message. And so, that’s something in PowerPoint presentations, or posters, or any kind of visual displays, but obviously you can see the same thing in editing, so editing writing, also editing podcasts. I’m sure you’re going to take out some of the stuff that I say here today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, not much. Not much.

Leidy Klotz
So, that is a very powerful subtraction that improves the overall product by taking away. So, that’s subtracting in kind of the information way. I think, on a personal level, and I’m certainly not the first person who has thought of this, but thinking about what you can stop doing, especially at work because at work we’re so inclined to show competence, and this is one of the reasons that we tend to add, I think, is because adding shows competence. But reminding ourselves, “Hey, one of the ways to make your work life better is to stop doing marginally useful tasks so that you have more time for the really useful ones.”

So, forcing myself, when I’m doing my to-do list, also thinking about, “Okay, what’s on my stop-doing list for the week?” And it’s critical that it can’t just be things that you’re going to say no to. It has to be things that you’re already doing, and now you’re going to stop doing them. That’s an actual subtraction from your calendar.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s like saving money, like if you buy something that’s 30% off, you haven’t really saved money. But if you remove something, like, “You know what, I don’t even use that thing. Cancel that subscription.” Okay, now you’re saving some real money. So, that’s cool. And I’m curious, now             you’ve got a boatload of science and research behind it. Could you share with us what are some interesting insights, experiments, and results there that have taught you something about how we humans tend to operate and how we might operate better?

Leidy Klotz
Yeah. So, building from the bridge with my son, we did have one Lego-inspired study here, and basically you could solve this Lego study. There was a platform that was protecting a mini figure, and the task was to try to stabilize the platform so that you could balance a brick on top of the platform without crushing the mini figure. And, basically, you could solve this by removing one block and kind of letting the platform set down, or you could solve it by adding eight blocks and stabilizing it that way.

So, in this case, with the bridge it was like either/or. Either way could be a viable solution. In this case, it was obvious that taking away was better. We even incentivized people, and said, “Hey, every block you add, you have to pay for, but if you don’t add blocks, you can keep more of the money that we gave you up front.” And people still, overwhelmingly, kind of defaulted to this way of adding.

And so, what’s interesting about that is it shows not just that we tend to add but also that it’s a problem, like we tend to add even when subtracting would serve us well. And, of course, when people noticed or were told that, “Hey, this is a subtractive option,” they said, “Oh, geez, I wish I did that.” So, that was evidence that people were systematically overlooking it.

And we did this in a lot of different contexts. For me, the most convincing study paradigm was these grids that we created that you could just play on a computer screen. Because the argument could always be, “Well, that’s just what people do with Legos. This doesn’t mean we’re systematically doing it. It just means we add when we’re playing with Legos.”

But the grids on a computer screen are an entirely new task for people, and the way we set that up was there was a matrix, and it was basically divided into four quadrants. And the task people had was to make the quadrants symmetrical from left to right and from top to bottom. And we put extraneous marks in one of the quadrants. So, the way to solve it was to either to remove those extraneous marks from one quadrant or add the mirror marks in three other quadrants.

So, again, as with the Lego protecting the mini figure, subtracting was the better option, and people systematically overlooked it. And with these grids, there was no kind of preconceived contexts or preconceived ideas that people could bring to the task, so it was pretty good evidence that this is something we’re systematically doing.

Pete Mockaitis
in some ways, it’s funny. With like leveling a bridge, I guess I think about like leveling a table. It’s a lot easier to put a little shim under there than it is, like, “Oh, let me whip out the saw and just kind of shorten one of these legs.”

So, in many contexts, adding is easier. Adding, you mentioned, can reveal competence, like, “Oh, wow, you must know a lot of things because look at all those slides you made there.” And so, there’s a little bit of a nudge or bias there. Any other big explainers as to why do we humans do this?

Leidy Klotz
There are a lot of reasons. The first four chapters of the book is that there’s biological, cultural, and economic forces that have us doing it. And I think one useful distinction here is that there’s this basic oversight where we don’t even think of the option, and then there’s all kinds of reasons once we do think of the option, why we wouldn’t even pursue it.

So, your example of, and I certainly agree with, like cutting a leg off a table, that’s harder. But the assumption there is that, “Okay, we considered it. We thought of that option and we chose against it because it was harder.” That’s logical. That’s not a problem. Basically, what’s going on in the cognitive process, the reason we overlook it is because we add and then move on, we basically say, “This satisfies.” So, we say, “This is a good enough solution and I’m moving on without considering other options.”

And then, from there, there’s evolutionary reasons why that might be happening. You mentioned competence. We think of competence as a very work-related thing and it’s maybe a modern thing. I was surprised, doing the research, just how deeply rooted this desire to show competence is. This is why bowerbirds build their ceremonial nests to attract a mate.

So, if you’re not familiar, these birds build these really great nests. The males build the nests, the females go around and look at the nests, and then they decide which males to mate with based on which nest they like the best. And then the females go and make their own nests to shelter the kids. So, these nests serve no other function than to say, “Hey, the bowerbird who built this nest is effective at interacting with their world.”

And so, we all have this biological desire to show competence. So, when I have 800-file folders saved for this research that we did, none of which that are ever going to see the light of day, part of that is this kind of innate desire to show competence through adding things. And so, that’s a strong why. I think there’s cultural reasons, of course. Then cultural and economic reasons that kind of come together.

If your country is being measured on Gross Domestic Product, anything that you add to the economy is going to be seen as a positive even if it’s a jail or something that’s bad. And then if your company is working on kind of quarterly earning reports, that can incentivize adding stuff to show that you’re doing more and to show that there’s increasing streams of revenue coming in.

So, I think there’s economic incentives, cultural incentives, and biological incentives, and they’re all kind of reinforcing each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I guess I’m also thinking about that corporate example reminded me of it seems like sometimes if you’ve got a really great thing going in terms of like a product and process, and it’s like you could just keep doing that all day, it’s sort of like, “Well, hey, the team is getting bored.” It’s like, “We’re getting bored doing this thing that’s working perfectly over and over and over again, and making lots of profits. So, how about we do a new thing?” I think that can happen too.

Leidy Klotz
Yeah. And I think that’s what I like about subtracting. I’m that kind of person. I want to do and I don’t want to kind keep doing the same thing over and over. And subtracting is an action, so it’s like, this is different than just kind of sitting back, kind of minimalism, or even laziness, or just getting stuck in a rut. It’s like, “Hey, we want to change. We want to improve this thing. We want to try something new. Why is it that we only think about things we could add?”

Because the other way to break out of rut, if you’re that organization that’s been doing the same thing over and over and over again, it’s like, “Hey, let’s cut out half of what we’ve been doing and really focus on the other half,” and that would be a change. Again, I’m agnostic on whether you should add or subtract, but to not consider the option is the problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. You mentioned the research reveals some stuff about how we can get our brains to swim against the current, go against the grain, and do more subtracting. Tell us, how do we go about making that happen?

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, and one of the things we’re trying to show with the research, we’re trying to find with the research is whether people weren’t even thinking of this. And so, we would try things to get them to think of it, make them more likely to think of it, and one of the things we tried was cues. So, with the grids, for example, we gave people a cue that you could add or subtract to solve the grid pattern, and that increased the rates of subtracting, which would be like, “Okay, big deal, you gave them a reminder and they were reminded.” But it didn’t increase the rates of adding.

So, what that showed was that the reminder was bringing new subtractions to mind but for adding it was redundant with what people were already thinking. So, it was really useful for our research but also really useful as a how-to. And so, I think one thing is you have a reminder that you can add or subtract, or add and subtract, to solve things, but it’s really important, we didn’t find any evidence that that reminder would kind of carry over from one study to the next, so you have to put those reminders close to where you’re making the decision. That’s why when I’m doing the stop-doing list, I’m forcing a reminder that subtracting is a way to improve my calendar.

One of the things on your sheet, you talked about your listeners, and you talked about them being interested in thinking, and you put a reminder on there about thinking involves generating and selecting ideas, which is beautiful because it’s like that’s a reminder that adding and subtracting can be used here in our thinking process and actually mimics something that I talk about in the book, which is that evolution generates and selects to make progress. So, having those reminders at the point of when you’re making the decisions or when you’re trying to make the improvements is really important and supported by the research.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Okay. so we’ve got some reminders up front. Maybe, could you share with us some of the coolest examples of subtraction in terms of someone did some subtracting and then they saw great results? So, you mentioned you’ve got your stop-doing list. What are some things that you’ve chosen to stop doing and the cool fruit that’s come from that?

Leidy Klotz
Email.

Pete Mockaitis
Nice. Stop doing email.

Leidy Klotz
I haven’t stopped completely but I think just forcing myself to be disciplined with doing it one time a day, and so I positioned that stop-doing as like stop these intermittent email checks. And what’s interesting about that, of course it has this amazing effect where I’m not distracted throughout the day, but it also led to decrease the stream of my email. Because part of the problem with me getting so many emails was me sending so many emails. So, every time I spam my graduate students with, “Hey, did you see this article?” then I’m distracting them, they’re feeling a need to respond, and then I have like distracted people working with me, plus I have six new email responses in my inbox the next time I go to check.

So, that email discipline, that stop-doing, has actually led to cascading subtractions. Another personal one that’s really helpful is kind of just unplugging when I exercise. And, again, like gathering knowledge is just so precious. I listen to podcasts, I read voraciously on Wikipedia, but I had been kind of using my exercise time as like, “Okay, can I catch up on the news while I’m running on the treadmill, while I’m listening to a podcast?” and it wasn’t giving me any time for my brain to kind of like synthesize things and think about what’s really important to select. So, those two are kind of personal ones that are work-related.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. And even if they’re not work-related, I’d love to hear what are some cool subtractions you’ve seen in action?

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, one of my favorites is the balance bike. So, you said you had a three-year old.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Leidy Klotz
Do you have a balance bike?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t.

Leidy Klotz
You don’t. Oh, man, so this is the value that I’m providing right now to you, Pete. They’re these miniature bikes that don’t have pedals and they allow the kids to ride them like a Flintstones car basically. So, the kid balances on the bike and then just pushes, propels it with their feet. And what’s amazing is that the kids learn how to balance within like 30 minutes to an hour of walking around on this. So, very quickly, they can reach really high speeds as like a two-year old on this bike.

And what’s amazing about is that, well, the power of it, I think, is it gives kids like two extra years of bike riding, which I think is a very delightful thing. I’m disappointed that we didn’t have them when I was growing up. And also, the innovation there is removing the pedals. People have been thinking about better bike design for a hundred years at least, and there’s been a lot of profit to be made, and people added training wheels. We added connections from the kids’ bike to the grownup bike. We made fatter tires, fatter tubes. And it took all this time for somebody to think, “Hey, what if we subtract the pedals? What will happen there?”

So, I think that’s a beautiful example in the physical world. And then an example I used in the book is Bruce Springsteen. He’s a prolific artist, obviously, but one of his albums is Darkness on the Edge of Town, and it’s one of his most critically acclaimed albums. And what’s really unique and noticeable about that album is that he really stripped things down. And so, one, he stripped on the number of songs on the album. He recorded like 50 songs during that time period and only a few of them, a dozen or ten, made it onto the album. And he stripped away some really good songs that became hits for other artists.

But then the music itself is very stripped down. So, the wording is sparse and the music is compact and powerful. And what’s cool about that is that he subtracted but, also, he kind of showed competence by subtracting because it’s not that we can’t show competence by subtracting. It’s just that you need to probably do more of it for your subtracting to stand out. And so, everybody, when they heard this album, and if you’re a Bruce Springsteen fan, if you’re listening to his albums, you’re like, “Well, this is different.” Even if you don’t know why it’s different, you’re like, “This is different. Something happened here.”

And so, in the subtraction that he persisted with there led to this kind of innovative change in how music was made. So, whereas, the balance bike was a physical example, the subtraction in his music is a very kind of ideas/words and music example.

Pete Mockaitis
And I had also heard that married couples that don’t have a TV in their bedroom have more sex. So, I don’t know if we’re going to go here today. And so, I think that’s an interesting example and it sort of makes sense, like, “Hey, well, our focus is on each other as opposed to that large eye-grabbing device on the wall.”

Leidy Klotz
That’s such a beautiful example. And it’s really annoying to be doing these podcasts after writing the book and thinking like, “Oh, I wish I could’ve used the TV-sex example,” would’ve been way better than the example I used in the book to illustrate this principle, which I’m about to say, which is so often when we’re trying to improve a situation, like we think about what incentives we can add. So, it’s like, “Okay, the goal is like let’s have more sex. And so, can we put in mood lights?

Leidy Klotz
You get the idea. There’s a lot of things, a lot of incentives we could add for having sex. And then we often overlook the barriers to the behavior we’re trying to produce. And so, in this case, the barrier is that TV, what’s interesting with this and the argument that people make, and like Kurt Lewin, the founder of social psychology, said, “There’s two ways to change a situation. One is to add incentives and the other is to remove barriers.” And he said, “Removing barriers is actually the good way because it relieves tension.”

So, imagine if you add the incentive, well, you still got the TV there. So, it’s very clear that the incentive might work but if it doesn’t work, there’s still this kind of you’ve got the incentive plus you’ve got the TV, and you haven’t actually relieved the fundamental tension in the system. Whereas, if you stripped away the TV, you’ve actually relieved tension in the system. The example I used in the book is an iPad with a kid. So, it’s so close to the example but it’s so much better than the example I used.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, if you go with the iPad and the kids, so if you…

Leidy Klotz
So, the behavior in that case is I’m trying to get my kid to spend time not looking at the iPad when he comes home from school. And so, one thing you can do is say, “Hey, if you don’t use the iPad, you can have a cookie,” that’s the incentive version. And, in this case, if he doesn’t, so it may work. He may eat the cookie and be happy and never think about it, or he may want to watch the iPad still, which increases his frustration because now he’s not getting a cookie because he’s watching the iPad. So, you’ve increased the tension in the system. Whereas, kind of the equivalent of removing the TV is just removing the iPad from the kid’s view and hopefully he doesn’t think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that notion of removing the view, I think, is huge because while it’s true, it’s so funny because I just want to take a photo of the adorable thing my child is doing. And then when I get out my phone, it’s like, “Ooh, can we play the pre-school games?” It’s like, “I just want to take a picture. This is going to be like three seconds.” And so then, we now have a bit of a, “Well, hey, no. We did that earlier,” you’ve got that whole thing.

And so, could you expand upon that in terms of some things that maybe we just want out of view and how we get them out of view? I imagine there’s like social media, news, distractions, and there’s some apps you can use to block those or shut them off. What are some maybe creative ways you’ve seen this put into practice?

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, to get them out of view. That’s, essentially, what the email was doing, the not checking the emails, but also the email reminders. I’ve got my good friend Ben who worked with me on the research. He’s like, “I got to figure out how to turn off my email reminders.” And this is like four years into the research together, which is like this is kind of forced, automated adding that’s distracting you throughout the day, so things like that come to mind.

Pete Mockaitis
I heard that there’s a study that they challenged folks to turn off all of their phone notifications for like a week or something, and then they followed up with them like a year later, half of people continued to live that way, like, “Now it’s so much better. Thank you.” And so, it’s striking how that is good. I have seen they’ve actually made…my buddy Jackson, shoutout Jackson, has, I think, it’s called a lite phone and it doesn’t have much. You can make phone calls, you can do texting, maybe a little bit more. It has like a Kindle-style screen, and that’s on purpose. So, you can’t get a bunch of apps and all the distractions that they incur because it’s just not available, or that temptation.

I guess now I’m thinking about like tempting circumstances, like alcoholics, or overeaters, or anyone, or gambling. There’s many number of ways you can just make sure you’re not in the presence of those things, which lead you down there. But I’d love to hear, I guess I’m just so intrigued by this because if people have that hardwiring, like, “More is better and I want more,” what are some maybe surprises you’ve seen in terms of it turns out that subtracting this thing was actually awesome?

Leidy Klotz
We talked a lot about the disadvantages that subtracting faces, like the systematic, “Oh, it doesn’t show competence,” and we don’t think of it. One of the systematic advantages is that when you subtract something, you’re left with the new situation plus whatever you took away. So, like the donut holes is the example I used in the book here just to illustrate it. It’s like it took forever for somebody to realize you could cut the middle of the round wall of dough and make it cook more evenly, and you could spread more stuff onto it. And then it took even longer for somebody to realize, “Hey, this thing that we just took out is actually like another source of revenue.”

And so, this applies in a lot of ways. If you think about divestment is another thing I talk about in the book, which is like, “How do you, not investing in things that are kind of counter to your values?” So, this was really powerful in helping bring down apartheid in South Africa, for example. It’s like, “Okay, let’s stop investing in the companies that are operating in South Africa, propping up this system that nobody thinks is good.”

And when you divest, you take the money out and you’ve still got the money. You can do something with it. You can go put it somewhere else. It’s the same, going back to your example of the people in the business who are like, “Okay, we’re working along really well, and we like what we’re doing. What can we do differently? What can we add?” If you add, you’ve got this existing situation plus all the stuff you’ve added, the activities you’ve added, so you’re still at capacity or beyond capacity. If you take something away, then you’ve got the new improved situation, which is like you’re streamlined-focus plus you’ve got this effort that is now unaccounted for and you can devote to something else.

So, I think it makes sense when it’s explained to you but it’s also a little counterintuitive when we think about subtracting. We often overlook the fact that you can reuse the thing that you took away. Whereas, if you add, you’ve got nothing left over.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, whether it’s money or time or attention or energy, you got it.

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, time is a big one.

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

Leidy Klotz
No, I think the key thing is across ideas, objects with the Lego bridge, and then our day-to-day situations. So, the ideas one, that’s for people who like to listen to podcasts and for people who like to think about how they’re going to be better at their job. We spend a lot of time kind of accumulating information and we often overlook, like, “Okay, how do I streamline my mental models? What am I kind of grounding my ideas in that I may not believe anymore that has been shown isn’t actually the way that I think it is?” And so, spending the time streamlining our mental models is a really powerful use of subtraction and very overlooked.

Pete Mockaitis
Streamlining our mental models, so that’s like specifically identifying the, “I don’t believe, think, accept, agree with this thing anymore.”

Leidy Klotz
Yeah. And prioritizing, so it’s like, “Yeah, this thing is true. I listened to it but It doesn’t warrant the same attention as these kinds of four core things that are in my mental models.” The intentional version of synaptic pruning, which is our brain has evolved to do naturally which is like the connections that get used, get reinforced and strengthened, and when we sleep, it kind of prunes away the connections that aren’t being used to leave more room for the connections that are being used. So, our brain does that on its own for all the parts of the brain, but it also is something that we can do, and say, “Hey, this is not something that warrants the same amount of attention as some other ideas that are really, really critical.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Leidy, could you share with us a mental model or two that you have pruned away as the years have gone by?

Leidy Klotz
This is a slightly embarrassing one to share but I think if people are honest with themselves, I think a lot of us felt the same way. So, if you think about the systemic racism, I remember last summer the first time systemic racism came up in a department meeting, everybody, myself included, some people were verbally like, “Whoa, we’re not racists.” And I was probably thinking that but not articulating it, smart enough to not articulate it, but I think that’s certainly a mental model that shifted this notion that I knew the playing field wasn’t level before. I knew that always but just kind of the degree to which it was not level, and the fact that there can be systemic racism with me not being racist.

It required learning a little bit of new stuff but it also required subtracting some of my deeply held beliefs about how the United States operates for people. And so, I think that’s one very important one that has shifted for me recently.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now, can you share with us a favorite quote?

Leidy Klotz
Perfect, and we didn’t cover it yet, and it relates to subtraction. So, Lao Tzu has this great quote that’s attributed to him, that’s, “To gain knowledge, add things every day. To gain wisdom, subtract things every day.” I love the quote because it’s a great reminder that we talked about being important, but it’s also evidence of the fact that we’ve been overlooking subtraction for a long time because this is a two and a half millennia-old quote, and it still rings true and counterintuitive today.

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

Leidy Klotz
One that I really like that I find myself talking about a lot is actually Ashley Whillans, who’s at Harvard, and Liz Dunn, who’s at the University of British Columbia, they do a lot of work on time and happiness, and they’ve got this great study that shows that people who spend money to save time are happy.

And they show it, one reaction to that study is like, “Well, yeah, that’s because they have money to spend on like housekeepers.” But they show it on a population of millionaires but they also show it in people who are working on like minimum wage. And they do that by kind of giving them money and setting up a controlled experiment where certain people spend the money in one way, and certain people spend money the other way.

So, it’s a really cool study. It’s really powerful. And it ties into subtraction here because what you’re essentially doing when you spend money to save time is you’re like not only are you not doing something, which we see is hard for competence, it’s hard when you say, “Okay, I’m not going to do this task anymore,” but you’re actually paying for it now. You’re not going to do it plus you’re going to pay somebody else to do it. So, it’s a hard thing to do but the research shows that people who do do it are happier, so it’s really a great research and also very practical.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man, Leidy, that reminds me of back in the day when I had roommates who did not work from home, and I was doing a lot of coaching, I found my laundry was kind of piling during busy season, and I was like, “Well, I mean, this is good money per hour from the coaching. Am I just supposed to stop and do laundry? But am I going to wear dirty clothes? What are my options here?”

And so, even though I was working from home, and there were like eight laundry machines on the first floor of this apartment building, I paid someone to come in and do my laundry. You can have a laundry service, Leidy, but then they don’t put in your drawers and closets. And so, I felt a little silly and decadent but I kept looking at the spreadsheet, I was like, “I will make more money and have clean laundry by paying someone else to come do this for me but I don’t want to feel, like, I’m so rich, I’m too good to do my laundry.” I had this mental block but I did it and I loved it and my roommates made fun of me but I didn’t care.

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, that’s a great example. That’s the exact feeling that I have when I do it, it’s like, “Who am I to be this guy who hires a whatever?” but, yeah, it’s exactly that. Number one, the money that you’re making, and then when you’ve got kids, it’s the free time that you’re losing. This is like an hour of my kids’ life when he actually thinks I’m cool. I don’t want to lose that. So, yeah, you’ve given us a really good way to overcome that, and Whillans and Dunn talk about this, it’s like, “Think about the value of your time.” And then, also, another reason that’s kind of hard to do because, yeah, you feel snooty.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Leidy Klotz
I’m biased towards the ones I read recently, but Alison Gopnik has this great book called The Gardener and the Carpenter. It’s about parenting and the cognitive psychology of parenting. But she’s a psychologist plus a philosopher which I think is the perfect combination for parenting, and it’s just an amazing parenting book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. Well, I was just reading No-Drama Discipline by the authors of the The Whole-Brain Child, and now I’ve got this one. Thank you.

Leidy Klotz
Yes, I like The Whole-Brain Child too. And if I can plug one other author, Eduardo Galeano. I love his stuff. He’s an Uruguayan guy who writes kind of this amazing blend of history/his opinions/fiction, and it’s like unlike anything you read before, and it’s really amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Leidy Klotz
Favorite tool. This is an embarrassing one – Wikipedia. I use it a lot. It’s just so amazing. We talk about this information to wisdom thing, and the amount of work that people have done to make Wikipedia. It’s not my last stop in doing research, but it’s often my first stop because things are organized around subjects instead of in isolated journal articles. So, it’s an amazing tool for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I love Wikipedia for when I’ve been out of the game for news for a while, and there’s an article about the latest development in a thing, I was like, “Well, what was this thing?” And then you go to Wikipedia, and you read a four-minute piece, and it has like 180 references, you’re like, “Oh, I’m glad I didn’t read 180 news articles. I’ve read this synopsis. Thank you.”

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, you’re right. I hadn’t thought about that but that’s a great kind of way to subtract information and still get the same benefit. It’s like just wait a couple weeks if it’s important and it’ll be on Wikipedia. And not only that, but it’ll be summarized so you don’t have to go get the 180 different viewpoints. You can get it all in one spot and distill it for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. And a favorite habit?

Leidy Klotz
Exercising is really important to me, and unplugging when exercising, we already talked about. So, yeah, just physical exercise to kind of strengthen my mental performance. Also, just because it’s enjoyable but the more I progress in my career, the more I realize how instrumental it is in my mental performance too.

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

Leidy Klotz
“Less is not a loss,” is kind of a counterintuitive thing from the book. So, yeah, it is what it sounds like but oftentimes we don’t subtract because we perceive the end state as being a loss. And what we’ve talked about in all of these cases are subtractions that actually lead to something better, but it’s still really easy to kind of conflate the two. And so, this reminder that less is not always a loss seems to be really helpful for people.

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

Leidy Klotz
Twitter is great. I’m @Leidyklotz. And I like interacting with people especially people who have read the book. It’s really fun to hear their thoughts. One of the cool things about the book, in my mind, is that it brings up kind of people’s experiences from all walks of life, so it’s incredibly rewarding for me to hear, like I told the Bruce Springsteen story earlier.

I talked to this guy in Germany who’s writing an article about the research for Germany’s version of MIT Technology Review but he also talked to me about these Johnny Cash American recordings. He’s like, “It’s just like what you’re describing with Bruce Springsteen.” So, now I have like six CDs, well, six downloads on Amazon to listen to from Johnny Cash that were sparked by my book. And then he shared with me and it’s made my life better. Very selfish authorship here. It’s like, “What benefit can readers give me from reading?”

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

Leidy Klotz
Yeah, add and subtract. So, don’t overlook this basic option to make things better.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Leidy, this has been fun. I wish you much enjoyment in all of your subtracting.

Leidy Klotz
Thank you. You, too, Pete.

683: How to Break Free from Negative Self-talk and Chatter with Ethan Kross

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Ethan Kross breaks down the science behind negative self-talk and how to change the way you engage with your inner voice.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How chatter takes over and undermines us 
  2. Four simple ways to put a stop to chatter
  3. Why venting hurts more than helps

About Ethan

Ethan Kross is one of the world’s leading experts on controlling the conscious mind. An award-winning professor and bestselling author in the University of Michigan’s top ranked Psychology Department and its Ross School of Business, he studies how the conversations people have with themselves impact their health, performance, decisions and relationships. 

Ethan’s research has been published in ScienceThe New England Journal of Medicine, and The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, among other peer-reviewed journals. He has participated in policy discussion at the White House and has been interviewed on CBS Evening NewsGood Morning AmericaAnderson Cooper Full Circle, and NPR’s Morning Edition. His pioneering research has been featured in The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe New Yorker, Harvard Business ReviewUSA TodayThe Economist, The AtlanticForbes, and Time. 

Ethan lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and two daughters. 

Resources Mentioned

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Ethan Kross Interview Transcript

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

Ethan Kross
Thanks for having me. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Me, too. I’ve been listening to your book and I think maybe the place we need to start is with you sharing a bit of the backstory behind why you did a Google search for bodyguards for professors.

Ethan Kross
Well, I think I need to add the clarification that I considered the Google search. There was that word in the book. I did type it out and did not hit send because, in the moment, I thought that might lead to some negative consequences. So, the backstory here, the very quick version of this story is about 10 years ago, my colleagues and I published a paper that ended up getting a lot of attention.

It was a neuroscience experiment in which we showed that the overlap between the experience of emotional pain, so the pain you might feel when you’re socially rejected or, to use the more technical term, you’re dumped, that that emotional experience resembled, to some degree, the experience of physical pain when you look at underlying neural activity in the brain.

And so, I did a bunch of interviews on this. One of them, or a few of them, were on TV, and life was really exciting for a couple of days. And then, about a week after, all of the press surrounding this study subsided, I walked into my department, checked my mailbox, and there was a letter hand-addressed to me that, when I opened it, I discovered it was a pretty ugly threatening message – letter – directed at me. The kind of letter that I showed to a few colleagues and the recommendation was to go to the police and ask them what to do.

So, it was a pretty significant event that really got my inner monologue or the negative side of it, the chatter, brewing. And I’ll never forget, I think I mentioned this in the book, that when I spoke to the police officer after showing them the letter, the first thing they said to me was, “Well, you probably shouldn’t worry too much about this. This happens every now and again when someone gets in the spotlight but, just to be safe, you might want to make sure you drive home from work a different way each day for the next two weeks.”

And the irony there is that, at the time, I lived about four or five blocks away from my office, so there weren’t that many routes that I could actually take home. So, for the next two or three nights I spent the early morning hours not sleeping and, instead, pacing the house with a baseball bat. My wife and I just had our first child, and I was on protector duty, and really concerned about their welfare.

And, at a moment of real anxiety at two or three in the morning, I had this epiphany that, “Hey, maybe I should do a little Google search for bodyguards for academics.” And as soon as I typed that out, there was actually a turning point, I realized, I actually said, “Ethan, what are you doing? This is lunacy.” And I thought through the situation in my head that way. And that helped snap me out of it, for reasons we’ll maybe talk about a little bit later.

I had stumbled on a tool, in that moment, for managing my chatter that ended up being quite effective and led me to put the baseball bat away. Though, you should know, it still resides beneath our bed in our bedroom, just in case.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s a lot there and, yeah, it does tee up a great tool that we’ll talk about, that third person, and using your own name there, and how that helps gain distance, but I would love to zoom out a little bit. So, when you say chatter, how precisely do you define it? And just what’s at stake here when it comes to our internal monologues going well or not so well? How much of a big deal is that for folks?

Ethan Kross
Quite precisely, chatter is the dark side of the inner voice. And, specifically, what I mean when I use the term chatter, I use that term to describe getting stuck in a negative thought loop. So, you’re experiencing some kind of adversity in your life, whether it be in your personal life, your relationships, work, and many people, when they experience problems, they reflexively turn their attention inward to make sense of the situation, to come up with a solution for how to respond.

But rather than come up with a solution, rather than use this brain that we have to problem-solve, we end up getting stuck, thinking about the problem over and over again in ways that don’t make it better but actually just keep us where we were. That’s what chatter is. If it’s about the future, sometimes you can call that worry, if you’re perhaps worrying about the future and what might happen. If it’s about the past, people tend to call that rumination. The common theme is you’re looping over and over again, and you can’t stop thinking about it.

In terms of what is at stake here, I think this is one of the big problems that we face as a species, human beings. I think it’s one of our big problems. In the book, I talk about the three domains that chatter targets and really sinks us. So, first, it undermines our ability to think and perform at work, on the ballfield. We’ve got a limited amount of attention that we can devote to thinking through things at any given moment in time. When all of that attention is focused on our worries, guess what, there’s not a whole lot left over to do our jobs.

The real-world example I like to give people to really drive that point home is to ask people, ask listeners, to think about a time when they tried to read a few pages in a book when they were experiencing chatter. You’re sure you’ve read those pages, the words have crossed through your eye gaze, but you get to the end and you don’t remember anything you’ve read. The reason that happens is an incredibly common experience. It’s because chatter was consuming our attention. We’re not actually focusing on what we were doing. So, it could be a huge problem at work.

We also know that chatter can undermine our relationships with other people, and it can do so through a few different pathways. One issue that we see happening is when people are experiencing chatter, they’re intensely motivated to talk about it with other people to get help from them. But one of the problems is, once you find a person to talk to, you keep talking about the problem over and over and over again, and that can, unfortunately, push away other people, even those people who really want to help. There’s often just so much that another person can endure.

There’s also the related situation of listening to another person tell something to you but your mind is somewhere else. So, you’re sitting at the dinner table with your family, your kids are telling you about all the fun they had during the day, and they get to the end of the story and you, then, would say, “Hey, so what happened today?” They’ve told you about what was happening in their life, you were there, but you really weren’t engaged and you really weren’t listening. We know chatter can create friction in social relationships as a result.

Then the final domain that it impacts is our physical health and, here, the effects can be quite profound. So, we often hear that stress kills, I’d like to say that that’s a bit of a misnomer. Stress can actually be really helpful in small doses. Our stress response mobilizes us to deal with a threat in our environment. When stress becomes toxic is when it becomes chronic, so when our stress response goes up and then it remains chronically elevated over time.

And that’s what chatter does because we experience something stressful in our life or we imagine something stressful, and then we keep on harping on it over and over and over again. The chatter in that situation, what it’s doing, is it is maintaining our stress response, and that’s how you get things, get to situations where you get links between chronic stress and disorders of the body, like problems of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and certain kinds of inflammation.

So, if we zoom out, you asked me, “What’s at stake here?” Our ability to think and perform, our relationships, and our health. I think these are three of the domains that really make life worth living for many of us and chatter exerts its tentacles around all of them, which is a big part of why I’ve devoted my career towards trying to figure out what you can do to regain control of your inner voice, your inner monologue when chatter strikes. And the good news is that there are, in fact, lots of things you can do, lots of science-based tools people can implement.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Pete Mockaitis wants to understand these tools. And how about we start with the third person or talking to yourself with “you”? What’s the story here? And how does it work?

Ethan Kross
Well, so just to give listeners a framework, because I think these frameworks help organize these tools so there are lots and lots of tools that exists, that scientists have discovered. And I like to organize and it’s thrown into three buckets – things you can do on your own, ways of harnessing your relationships, and ways of interacting with physical spaces.

The tool that you just mentioned, what we call distance self-talk, what that involves is trying to coach yourself through a problem using your name and the second-person pronoun “you” rather than thinking through your problems as we normally do in the first person. So, “Alright, Ethan, how are you going to manage a situation?” rather than thinking, “What am I going to do? How am I going to manage a situation?”

One of the things we know from lots of research is that it is much easier for us to advise other people, to give wise advice to other people, than it is for us to follow our own advice. And what this tool does is it harnesses the structure of language to shift our perspective, to get us to, in a certain sense, communicate with ourselves like we were communicating with another person, like a friend who we’re trying to advise.

We did lots of experiments on this over the years, and there’s a finding that really sticks out to me, which is we’ll often have people think about really painful events in their lives, things that have happened in the past that they’ve really struggled to resolve, or future events that they’re really worried about. And, in certain conditions or studies, we’ll ask people to just report what’s going through their head when they’re thinking about the problems in the first person.

And when you look at what people report, it’s astounding. People are thinking things about themselves that they would never say to another human being. Some of the thoughts, they’re really dark, they’re really ugly thoughts, and I’m not talking about vulnerable populations per se. I’m talking about everyday just people living their lives that we recruit off the street to participate in this study. Sometimes, people don’t actually feel comfortable articulating what they’re thinking about their situation because it’s so embarrassing. They don’t want to admit what they’re actually thinking to themselves.

And then we looked at how people talk to themselves when they use their own name, and we see the tenor of those conversations really shift. Now they’re giving themselves advice like they would give to their best friend. Now that doesn’t mean that they’re being very warm and jovial with themselves all the time. Sometimes they are, “It’s going to be fine. You’re a good person,” but, in many situations, the advice takes the form of, “Would you stop this silliness? Get your act together. Do it and then move on,” like a stern authority figure.

And we find that that linguistic shift, going from “I” to using your name to coach yourself through the problem, it’s an easy-to-use tool and it’s something that helps people perform well under stress and regulate their emotions.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that so much because, yes, it is easy, it is well within everyone’s grasp to do so, and it makes a big impact. So, that’s gold. Lay some more on us. You’ve got three categories – things you could by yourself, and then relationships, then the environment. Can we have a couple more of things that we can just do in our own brains?

Ethan Kross
So, another thing you can do is something called temporal distancing or you could think about this as mental time travel. And this is a tool that’s often really useful for dealing with an acute stressor. What it involves doing is thinking about how you’re going to feel about the situation you’re grappling with down the road a day from now, a week from now, a year from now.

This is a tool that I relied on to help me manage the threat of COVID and the misery it brought upon me and my family, like, “Not fun. Not fun.” I mean, there were some moments of fun with COVID but, for the most part, much better to be vaccinated and have it behind us or moving in that direction.

One thing that’s important to point out about chatter is when we experience chatter, we tend to zoom in on the problem at hand, tunnel vision about what it is that’s driving us nuts. Being at home, in the case of COVID, my kids doing their homework at my ankles while I’m doing a podcast interview, sometimes flicking me at the same time.

And so, when you’re experiencing chatter, you zoom in on that situation. What can often be really useful is to do the opposite. Zoom out. Take a step back. And mental time travel provides us with one tool to do that. So, what often happens when you think about, “Well, all right. Dealing with COVID right now stinks, but how am I going to feel six months from now when my family is vaccinated and we’re traveling again and seeing family?”

What engaging in that mental simulation does, that mental time travel, it makes it clear that, as awful as the current situation is right now, it’s temporary. It will get better. And once we have that recognition, that often gives us hope, and we know that hope can be a powerful tool for helping us manage chatter. Now you can travel into the future, you can also travel into the past. So, I often also thought about like the pandemic of 1918, which was worse in terms of its public health impact and our ability to grapple with it.

And what I would remind myself is, “Yeah, things stink now but let me think. How did we deal with it back then? Hey, we got through it and we actually really persevered. Roaring ‘20s, we came back.” And so, those mental shifts, easy things to do, break you out of the immediacy of the situation, and give you access to the bigger picture. Oftentimes, when we step back and think about the bigger picture, we can find solutions to help us through our current adversity. So, that’s another quick thing you could do. And you could do both of those things interchangeably.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so when you talk about zooming out, that’s cool. We’ve got the time travel approach. What are some other ways we can get that distance and zoom out?

Ethan Kross
Well, distant self-talk would be another way of doing that. Writing expressively about what you’re going through. So, sitting down for 15 to 20 minutes to write a story that explains your predicament, that’s another zoom out technique. When you’re writing a story, when you’re journaling about your experience, the interesting thing is that stories have a character when you’re writing about yourself. You become that character so you’re put into the mode of a narrator when you’re writing expressively. That’s another zoom out technique.

A fourth would be something called adopting a fly-on-the-wall perspective. So,
Sometimes we think visually in terms of images. And when you think about painful experiences, rather than replay them happening through your own eyes, which we tend to do for any intense emotional events, you could distance in your imagination, and actually see yourself in the experience interacting with another person, let’s say it was an argument. Adopt the fly-on-the-wall perspective and then try to sort through, “Hey, why did I react the way I did? Was it appropriate? Why did my distant-self person over there do what he or she did?” That’s another way of getting distance. So, there are lots of tools that can help you do it.

Another way of doing it, which is a good segue to the second bucket of tools, is to talk to other people who are particularly adept at helping to broaden your perspective, people who can help you zoom out, so to speak. And, interestingly enough, many people don’t reflexively look to have those kinds of conversations when they’re dealing with chatter, even though science would suggest that they can be really, really helpful.

Many people think that when they’re experiencing chatter, the thing you want to do is find someone to just vent your emotions, to just find someone who’s willing to listen and then unload, let it out. There’s been a lot of research on this over the years, and what we’ve learned is that venting can be really good for strengthening the friendship bonds between two people. It can be comforting to know that there’s someone out there who’s willing to take the time to listen, to validate what we’re experiencing, to empathically connect.

But if all you do is vent in a conversation, that leads to something that we call co-rumination. It’s like throwing fuel on a burning fire. You’re just getting people to rehash all the aversive futures of that experience, so what ends up happening is you leave those conversations feeling really good about your relationship with the person you just vented to, but you haven’t done anything in that conversation to reframe how you’re thinking about the problem.

So, the best kinds of conversations do actually do two things when it comes to chatter. First, the person you’re talking to does allow you to express your feelings to a certain degree. But, at a certain point of the conversation, they try to help broaden your perspective, they try to help you zoom out, “So, Pete, you had a really inarticulate obnoxious guest on the show the other day. I mean, I get that that was really challenging, but let’s put things in perspective. You’ve done 500 plus interviews and the overall majority of them have been great, and so let’s chop this one up to a bad day.”

Or, “Here’s what I do when I interview someone and it’s not going well…” and so forth and so on. You want, at some point, shift from just listening to trying to help that person zoom out so they can ultimately work through the problem effectively.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I’m thinking here, I’m thinking about Michael Sorensen, we got to get him on the show – validation – that you want to start with the listening and not go too quickly, I imagine, to the brainstorming, problem-solving, distance-making.

Ethan Kross
That’s right. There’s an art to doing this. And, it’s funny, as a scientist talking about art, because we scientists like to be able to timestamp things down with millisecond precision. So, I wish I could tell you that, “Here is the magic formula for being an amazing chatter advisor to someone else. Listen for one minute and 36 seconds, and then transition to helping reframe.” It’s not that simple. Depending on the person and the situation, some people are going to need more time expressing their emotions before they are ready, before they are receptive to having their perspective be broadened by you, and so you want to feel this out during the situation.

Sometimes a person will say, “Please, just help me. How can I think differently about it?” Like, that’s happened to me on many occasions, people call me with that kind of request for help. Those people are ready to launch right into the perspective broadening. In other situations, people want to talk for a while, and I’ll ask them, “Hey, do you want to just keep going or do you want me to, also, could I give you my take on this? Or do you want to keep going? Either way is fine. Just tell me what you want.” And I think people appreciate you asking them what they need, and then trying to satisfy those needs in the context of the conversation. So, there is an art to doing this well.

But let me just say, I think there’s real value in knowing about these two elements that describe what makes conversations about chatter really productive. Because what they allow you to do with someone who is experiencing chatter is they allow you to think really carefully about, “Hey, who should I go to for support? Who’s really good at both listening and they’re good at helping me broaden my perspective?”

Sometimes, the people we reflexively turn to, the people that we love and that love us, don’t fit that mold. So, I think it allows us to think carefully about who we should talk to. And, on the flipside, it gives us a rubric for how to help others when they seek out our support and how to be better advisors to others that we care about.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, any other thoughts when it comes to relationships and engaging in these conversations?

Ethan Kross
The other quick thought is that there is a caveat that I like to attach to everything I just told you about how to talk to other people about their chatter. Those principles apply to instances in which another person comes to you and explicitly asks you for support. They want to talk about their chatter. There are going to be many instances in which you and listeners see other people in your lives, whether they be colleagues or friends, loved ones, and so forth, you know they’re experiencing chatter, they’re struggling, but they don’t actually ask you explicitly for support.

Research shows that in those situations, you want to be careful about volunteering advice. Unsolicited advice in those circumstances can often backfire quite dramatically. And the reason for that is when you volunteer support and someone else doesn’t ask for it, you’re essentially, the message you’re conveying to the person you’re talking to is, “You don’t have your stuff together, so here’s what you could do.” And that can threaten a person’s sense of autonomy and what we call self-efficacy, the idea that a person is capable, they have agency to succeed in life on their own.

So, this happens a lot to parents. There’s an anecdote in the book I described which is highly relevant in my own life. I’ll see one of my daughters struggling with their homework, I’ll go, “Hey, sweetie, can I help with that problem? You know, I teach for a living. I do this stuff. Here’s another way to think about it.” And, instantly, they give me the death stare.

So, they look at me, and then it’s, “Did I ask you for help? Do you think I can’t do this myself?” Then they call my wife to get involved, and then I’m in deep trouble. So, that’s an instance where a well-intentioned act has backfired because of my misunderstanding of the social calculus about how to calibrate the way I’m interacting with this person.

So, in those instances where you see someone struggling but they don’t ask you for help, the good news is there are still things you can do to help them. We call this invisible support. And what it involves is providing those individuals with help but without making it clear that you’re doing it because they’re struggling.

So, here are a couple of concrete examples. If I see my wife just really stressed out about something happening at work, lots of chatter, I can do things like just volunteer to take care of the dry cleaning or pick up the groceries, do things to make her life easier to ease her burden. That’s one way of helping invisibly. I’m not saying, “Hey, do you want me to do stuff? I see you’re stressed out.” I’m just doing it. And by doing it, I’m taking one or two things off of her work plate that makes life easier for her.

Another concrete thing you can do is let’s say someone on your team is really struggling with a skill. So, let’s say it’s someone in my lab group their presentations, they’re not nailing it in a variety of ways. Their presentation skills are off. Rather than pulling them aside and saying, “Hey, we have to help you improve in this regard because you need to do yourself and the science…the research isn’t being communicated in a way that does it justice,” blah, blah, blah. Rather than doing something like that, which is a pretty heavy-handed intervention, I can do things like email the group and say, “Hey, I just came across these resources. I found them really useful, in case anyone wants to take a look.”

Or, if I see someone is giving a presentation on how to talk about science more effectively, I’ll send a message to the group, say, “Hey, why don’t we all go as a group? That’s really interesting. It can help us all.” I’m getting that person the information but I’m not shining a spotlight on them, and saying, “Hey, you’re not performing well in this context.” So, those are a couple kinds of invisible support.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, then let’s hear a little bit about the environment then.

Ethan Kross
So, the environments are really fun, and I just think I had so much fun researching this for the book. It was really eye-opening in many ways. In short, there are many tools that exist in the physical world around us that I was certainly blind to before doing some of this research and writing the book, and freely available things you could do to manage conversations you’re having with yourself when it becomes chatter-ific, to invent a new word.

So, one thing you can do is, well, organize a space. So, one thing that often characterizes chatter is we often feel like we’re not in control of our minds. Our minds are in control of us and our thoughts are chaotic and disordered. And what we’ve learned is you can compensate for that experience, that feeling of a lack of control and order, by exerting control around you. And one way to do that is to organize your spaces, clean up, tidy up. This is why you have a lot of people who, when they’re stressed out, reflexively turn to cleaning.

This is true, mind you, of not only those individuals who are, by their nature, like to be organized but even folks like myself who tend to be of a more take-your-clothing-off-and-leave-it-wherever-it-drops sort. Yet, when I’m experiencing chatter, I will carefully go through the house and make sure everything is put away and is well organized. Doing that provides me with a sense of control and that compensates for the lack of control that I’ll sometimes feel when I’m experiencing chatter. So, organizing your spaces, that’s one thing you can do.

Another related tool involves performing a ritual. So, ritual is a structured sequence of behaviors that we do the same way every time we engage in it, and that also provides us with a sense of order and control because those rituals are highly structured, they’re highly ordered. Research shows that rituals that are essentially transmitted to us through our culture, so religious rituals and cultural traditions, those can be useful, as can be our own idiosyncratic rituals, the ones we develop on our own.

Many athletes, for example, before they have to do something that is high stakes, like shoot a free throw or a goal kick, will perform a small ritual. And the research would suggest that the reason they do so is to provide them with that sense of control. So, those are two environments.

So, I guess the last one, to just very quickly communicate, involves interacting with nature, green spaces. Interacting with green spaces can be useful in a few different ways. One thing that going for a walk in a natural safe green space can do is restore your attention, which chatter often depletes. We spend so much time thinking about our problems, all our attention is devoted to the chatter. That can be exhausting. And what nature does is, in a very gradual gentle way, it captures our attention.

As we’re walking through the arboretums and the gardens and tree-lined streets, people’s attention tends to drift to the trees, the flowers, the shrubs. We’re not focusing really intently on, “How can I determine the chlorophyll structure of that leaf?” We’re just kind of taking it in in a gentle way and that diverts our attention away from the chatter, giving that limited resource our attention an opportunity to restore. That can be useful.

Nature also provides us with an opportunity to experience awe, an emotion that we experience when we’re in the presence of something vast and indescribable. So, many people have trouble understanding, for example, like, how a tree can exist for hundreds of years, or you stare out at an amazing sunset, or a view, like, “My God, this is remarkable. I can’t understand this natural beauty,” looking at the Grand Canyon or plug in your awe-inspiring scene.

What happens when we have that emotional experience is it leads to something called a shrinking of the self. We feel smaller when we’re contemplating something vast and indescribable. And when we feel smaller so does our chatter. And so, that’s another way that nature can help.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, what’s been on my mind lately, when you talked about nature restoring our attention in a gentle way, I’ve recently been learning about and experimenting with nature restoring my attention, in a not-so gentle way, with cold water. My barber started talking to me about Wim Hoff and I got on a kick researching all about it.

Any thoughts there with regard to just sort of like our physiological situation, I guess, in terms of like breathing and cold and nutrition? It’s almost like if our brain is like a soil and chatter is weeds, it’s like there seems to be certain conditions in our internal environment, that our external environments of course influence, that is super conducive to it and super not-so conducive to it.

Ethan Kross
Well, we know that there are certain kinds of breathing exercises, diaphragmatic breathing, pranayama which is a breathing practice popular in certain meditative traditions, that can be useful for regulating stress and chatter. And there are physiological, we might call the pathway through which those activities work is I would call like a bottom-up, so you’re changing elements of your physiology, you’re sending signals to your brain that are activating the opposite of a stress response, and those can certainly be useful. There’s a lot of data on the value of exercise and nutrition as well, so there’s no question that those are other kinds of behaviors that could be helpful.

The cold water one is a really interesting one. I do not know the literature surrounding cold water. And I think it’s interesting for a variety of reasons. I think, first, the first thing that comes to mind is I’m not aware of an automatic pathway that’s activated when you’re in the presence of something cold that would instantly lead you to feel less chatter.

I suspect that there is some way in which that activity combines with your mindset to help you feel better. Let me give you an example. If my wife, if I were to say, “Go take a cold shower each morning to help you with your chatter,” that would be close to torture for her because she hates being cold, right? So, I think a lot of people who probably use this cold-water technique are doing so with a mindset that, “This is going to improve me in some way.”

In the book, I actually have a chapter. The last chapter of the book is called Mind Magic. And what that chapter focuses on is the power of the mind to heal itself and, in particular, the power of our expectations to help us when it comes to our chatter.

And in that chapter, I tell many stories of mesmerism, going way back in time, to crystals. There are many therapies out there that have some data associated with them suggesting that they do make people feel better. But the question is, “Is it something specific about those therapies or is it that people think that doing these things are going to make them feel better?” And it’s really the thinking process, the expectation that is driving their benefits.

And so, that would be a question that comes up when it comes to hydrotherapy. But I will say this, Pete, if the cold hydrotherapy is working for you and there are no real side effects, then just run with it.

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

Ethan Kross
Well, if listeners found this interesting, they can learn more about the inner voice, what it is. I think what makes it so fascinating is that we all have this inner voice. It’s an experience that, on the one end, is very intimate but we don’t spend a whole lot talking about it with one another so it’s also shrouded in mystery. So, if you want to learn more about what it is and lots of other tools that you can use to manage it, check out my book Chatter. You could find info on it at my website www.EthanKross.com and I hope it helps.

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

Ethan Kross
“He who has a why to live for can deal with almost any how,” which I believe Nietzsche was the first to come up with that phrase but Viktor Frankl, one of my favorite authors, later requoted it.

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

Ethan Kross
I work with my mentor, who was Walter Mischel, the marshmallow man, the scientist who drew out the delayed gratification test. So, those marshmallow studies are among my favorites.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Ethan Kross
In this genre, I would say it is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, the book that I took that quote from.

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

Ethan Kross
I really like distance self-talk. I rely on it a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And maybe it’s almost the same thing. And a favorite habit?

Ethan Kross
I would say the most useful habit is that I have some chatter habits, which is the moment I detect chatter brewing, I automatically implement several rituals that I write about in the book, and it really helps me nip that chatter reaction in the bud.

Pete Mockaitis
So, right then and there, you’re saying, “You, Ethan,” doing some temporal distancing, time travel, writing, adopting fly on the wall perspective. Any unique twist or flavor you put into it when you’re doing it personally?

Ethan Kross
Yeah. Well, one interesting thing is there are 26 different tools, they’re summarized in the back of the book that I talk about. I don’t use all of those tools. I use subsets of them, and sometimes I use different combinations but there are some common ones, like distance self-talk, that I use and I do make out my own. Sometimes I’ll refer to myself not using my own name but rather the nickname that my wrestling coach gave to me in high school, which is not a particularly flattering nickname, but I will nonetheless refer to myself using that. And that, I tell you, that does the trick. That lets me muscle through most things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate; it gets highlighted a lot in the book or retweeted frequently?

Ethan Kross
The distance self-talk one gets people connect to because a lot of people do it themselves or have observed other people do it and don’t really understand why, and so that’s certainly one. The bit on venting has been really informative I think to lots of people as well. So, those are two nuggets.

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

Ethan Kross
www.EthanKross.com. They could find lots of information about the book, my lab, and me right there.

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

Ethan Kross
Yeah, my call to action is to read about these tools and then start doing some self-experimentation to figure out which combinations of tools work best for you, given your unique circumstances. I think science has done a fairly good job at identifying individual tools. What we haven’t yet done, what we’re doing right now, is trying to figure out, “What are the specific blends that can be most optimally used to help people?” And while we’re wait for that science to happen, I think there’s an opportunity to start engaging that self-experimentation process on your own.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ethan, thank you. This has been a treat. I’ve been digging your book Chatter and I wish you many chatter-free days ahead.

Ethan Kross
Likewise. Thanks so much for having me on the show.