This Podcast Will Help You Flourish At Work

Each week, I grill thought-leaders and results-getters to discover specific, actionable insights that boost work performance.

768: How to Embrace Generational Differences and Resolve Conflict with Chris De Santis

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Chris De Santis shares helpful insights about each generation and how to work more effectively across ages.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to turn generational friction into an opportunity 
  2. How to give feedback that works for every generation
  3. How to motivate people from every generation 

About Chris

Chris De Santis is a speaker, author, consultant, and most recently podcaster specializing in Management and Organizational Development issues and interventions. He specializes in assisting individuals or groups in identifying and overcoming obstacles to effectiveness. He brings with him thirty-eight years of experience in training and development. He has an undergraduate degree in business from the University of Notre Dame, a graduate degree in Organizational Development from Loyola University in Chicago, an MBA from the University of Denver, and previous work experience in manufacturing, professional services, and not-for-profit environments.  

His book, Why I Find you Irritating: Navigating Generational Friction at Work, will be available in May 2022 but until then you can listen to his advice podcast, “Cubicle Confidential” along with his co-host, Mary Abbajay. He resides in a quiet corner of Lincoln Park in Chicago. 

Resources Mentioned

Chris De Santis Interview Transcript

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

Chris De Santis
Thanks, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, first, I think we need to understand you and your history with improv classes. What’s the story here?

Chris De Santis
Yes, yes, yes. I moved to Chicago probably…I live in Chicago, if anybody’s interested, and I moved into an area called Old Town about, oh, 30 some years ago, and I had some friends in the city. And Old Town is the heartland of Second City, and so I was told, actually, a good way to make friends was to take improv classes.

And the other reason was I’m a little bit of a…I have a bit of stage fright issue, and so I was told this might help me with that. I ended up taking improv classes from Paul Sills. And if anybody’s listening, Paul Sills is the son of Viola Spolin. And if anybody knows who that is, Viola Spolin wrote improv in the theater, and that’s sort of the basis for Second City.

So, I had access to one of the gurus of the time, although I never quite leveraged it to the degree he did, but I ended up teaching a while at a local theater here, too, so it was a very fun experience. I recommend it to anyone who’s introverted.

Pete Mockaitis
That is fun. I did a Second City five-day intensive improv class once, and it was a lot of fun. And I remember saying, telling my friends, “Oh, it’s nice. I feel like it loosened me up.” And my friends said, “Did you need to be loosened?” Well, compared to my…

Chris De Santis
Did you do a show? Did you do a show afterwards?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, well, not like with a big old audience but it was just sort of I think, the dozen of us doing our thing.

Chris De Santis
The games.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Chris De Santis
I love the games. Really fun.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s fun. Well, now, I want to hear a bit about your book Why I Find You Irritating: Navigating Generational Friction at Work. What’s the big idea here?

Chris De Santis
Well, the whole point of this book is really to understand the differences between us. And so, in that sense, in fact, the title’s curious because I had submitted 37 titles to the publisher.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow. I love it. That’s what we do.

Chris De Santis
And this is the one they liked.

Pete Mockaitis
We get tons of title options and they choose the best one every time. Thank you.

Chris De Santis
And so, they liked this because I think it really makes the point that we are, in some way, irritated with others across one difference that we recognize, this is one of those difference that we readily recognize, and we ascribe it to them as if they’re at fault and we, of course, are not, meaning that we’re the objective view of reality. And so, what my book goes on to talk about where this comes from and the repercussions of this, and then what to do about it in the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Well, so we’re talking about generational friction, and this is always a delicate matter because I think, Chris, there’s probably no way around it. We’re going to be making some generalizations here. Is that fair to say?

Chris De Santis
Yes. Well, that’s part of what I talk about in the book, but humans do that, humans generalize.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I guess, first of all, how do we define the generations? And are we coming at it from a US-centric base here or is it kind of global in applicability?

Chris De Santis
Now, you’re making some very good points because when I speak to this topic, I have to go through a whole series of caveats, to your point. The first one being you generalize or I generalize, and I’m not describing humanity. I’m describing some actions of a normative group in the middle class in the United States of America who conform to certain experiences at certain times that sort of shape a perception.

So, in that sense, it is a smaller subset. It is not global even though, it’s interesting, I’ve spoken around the world on this, oddly enough. I’m always amazed I’m invited anywhere but I had talked about it. And so, when you talk about it globally, you have to say some of these things but, still, even having done that, they still see differences that correspond to the American experience, which I think is interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, Chris, so we’re going to do some generalizing. First, we need to define some terms. Generations, how do we name them these days and what is roughly the median age of a person representing each generation, say, in summer 2022 as we record this?

Chris De Santis
Yes. So, if we go with Boomers, you know where that came from “baby boom,” so everyone knows that one. There was a great number of us born in that window of time after the war, and that would be that 65 or 67-year-old today in the median group, and we’re retiring out, about half of us are retired. Gen X got its name from the book. There was simply just one book written about them. They fly below the radar quite a bit, and, of course, their median age, according to what we’re playing here, is around 45 to 47.

Then the next crowd, Millennials, had a different name. They were originally in the literature for a while. They were Gen Y because Gen X, Gen Y but that never caught on. And I think that they responded much better to, or it was foisted upon them, the idea of a Millennial simply because of the turning of the century, the millennium.

And now, we have Gen Z, which were called Zoomers or the Zoom generation, but I think that fizzled as well by virtue of the fact of Zoom. And so now they’ve gotten the Gen Z moniker, again, because they’re going in sequence. And the next generation, interestingly, these new kids, they’re calling Gen Alpha because they’re starting it again, but I don’t think they’ll have a name until they define who they are, and then we’ll lay a label on them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, Gen Z would be about 18-ish to 22.

Chris De Santis
18-ish, right.

Pete Mockaitis
Your fresh recruits.

Chris De Santis
Exactly right. They are in the workplace right now. They’ve just entered.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, there we go, four generations. And so, you say…well, I guess, we’ll go into particulars in terms of frictions but maybe just to cue us up with some intrigue, is there a particularly surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made as you dug into all this stuff associated with generational friction?

Chris De Santis
Well, what I came to, not necessarily conclusion, but one of the things I did notice that I thought was really a shaping aspect of this is, it’s not just the flashbulb memories that you have that sort of shape you, it’s also the parenting model. It’s how you were parented affects how you interact with others. So, I’m a product, as a Boomer, I’m a product of sort of a permissive authoritarian parent so I sort of had to get in line with things.

And so, if we think about of a Gen Xer, these are those latchkey kids. And so, they had more of a permissive sort of a sensibility about how they interacted because they basically are far more independent on their own. Millennials are part of what would be concerted cultivation in terms of how they were raised, and I will call that an engaged-discuss model. They’re always engaged in discussions as to what they should or need to do.

Gen Z has a variation of that model called co-piloting. The point being here is that those needs or the expectation of dialogue is what they bring into the office. Yet, in the office, they are not necessarily expected to engage in dialogue but, rather, to be subject to the authority of the people that are in charge. And the people in charge often view this as a challenge when they say, “Well, what about this?” and you’re going, “Whoa, I just told you what to do.”

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So, there we go, we’re getting into the meat of it – an expectation of dialogue. Sometimes the younger generations may expect some more and the older generations think that’s not necessary, “I’ve already told you that,” and so that can create some friction on both sides.

Chris De Santis
That’s exactly right because the other thing about the young is interesting, to a great degree, and if you’re around parents, and I try to observe parents sort of surreptitiously when I’m with people, is that they negotiate more with their children as opposed to demand they do something. So, there’s a discussion, of course, that’s inherent in the negotiation.

And I think the young now are excellent negotiators and they bring that to any conversation they have, and we, in management, or if you’re in a management position, you’re not open to a negotiation when you’re telling somebody to do something but it comes off very strangely in terms of my expectation. If I’m a young person, my expectation, “Why wouldn’t I have this dialogue?” Conversely, “Why are we having a dialogue?”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And that’s so funny, I think, because I’ve got a three-year-old and a four-year-old right now…

Chris De Santis
You have young children, yes?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I really go…I guess I go both ways in terms of like I don’t like to yell.

Chris De Santis
No, and you won’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Because they get sensitive and really sad really fast, I was like, “Oh, I was just trying to make myself heard because you seem to be sort of in your own world over there. Now, I feel like I’ve overdone it because you’re getting all sniffly.” So, yeah, but at the time it’s sort of like, “There’s no need for us to be discussing. You do what I say.” And other times, at the same time, I want them to be kind of creative and free and expressive.

So, it’s funny, here I am, I guess a Millennial, in this schema, and I am in the midst of it right there in terms of when I say, “Get in the car right now, Johnny,” versus like, “Well, hey, it’s getting to be about that time, you know.”

Chris De Santis
Yes, you are biased towards suggestion than demand. And I’ll tell you another thing that you probably do quite a bit, Pete, that you may not notice that you do is you explain why you do what you do. You explain why you’re doing this. You don’t assume that they’re going to understand that this is a command but rather, “This is why I have to say this to you to do this.” And that’s part and parcel to the expectation that they have in the workplace, too, this whole idea of, what’s his name, Sinek’s book, Start with Why. That’s really what they’re asking, to a great degree, is why.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Chris De Santis
You did this, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s one point of friction is expectation of dialogue. How about another one?

Chris De Santis
Well, again, a lot of this just depends on with whom we are talking about. For instance, this notion of loyalty, which is very interesting. The accusation that we, a Boomer, is far more loyal in our disposition than those who follow. That, of course, I outline in the book, is really about the movement from the company-man experience to a transactional workplace.

And the company-man experience was really one of the assumptions that, “You will work here for the duration. And as a consequence, I will reward you, deferred reward, and that will be rewarded as a pension to some degree.” So, the inference is, “You have this job for life if you do what I want and the way I need it.” Now, what we have done is we’ve moved transactionally, and now it’s a negotiation a minute.

For instance, one of the things that most annoys some Boomers is that when they interview, the young will ask, “Well, what are the benefits? What’s the vacation time here? So, what do I get for this?” And, in my day, that would’ve been seen as “What? Why? I’m offering you a job and you deign to ask me all of these things about the benefits? You’re getting a job.” But they’re saying, “This is a transaction. I’m going to be doing something for you. I expect something in return.” So, it becomes more marketplace-driven.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny because, in some ways, I resist being generalized.

Chris De Santis
No, no, I understand.

Pete Mockaitis
And yet I completely…I, 100%, am down with the transactional vibe. It’s just like, “No, the wealth structures and pensions do not exist, and it is a competitive marketplace, and it’s just economic fact that I have many opportunities available to me, and you have many opportunities of people you can hire. And so, we’re going to see if we have something that works for both of us in terms of this is a role that I think is swell and meaningful and a compensation package that works, and you think I’ve got the skills and knowledge, skills, abilities to deliver the value that you need delivered, and either one of us will walk.”

And so, it’s sort of like, “I don’t think you owe me anything and you don’t seem to…” you being the employer here in this dialogue. I think it’s just a reality we know that an employer will cut us loose at any moment that they feel that it would be more profitable for them to do so and, thusly, I have no…I’ve been self-employed for a long time but I guess that’s sort of…

Chris De Santis
By the way, that’s interesting. I can talk to that as well in a moment, but you’ve said the key here is that this is the new reality. It wasn’t the old reality.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Chris De Santis
Exactly right. So, the new reality has shifted in terms of what you expect in this transaction.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I guess, so my thought is like, I don’t know, when people talk about what’s right or wrong, or sometimes they say, “Oh, we know nothing is right or wrong. It’s just different expectations and generations and how we were brought up.” And I’m thinking, “Well, no, it would be foolish, it would be unwise to operate in a false reality. It’s like one thing doesn’t exists to you so don’t make decisions as though it does or you may get the rug pulled out from under you.”

And I guess I’m a little paranoid about this, Chris, I don’t know. That’s why I went into strategy consulting, I was like, “Develop an amazing skillset so that you can do anything.” And then How to be Awesome at Your Job, it’s like, “Okay, all the listeners, develop an incredible universal skillset so that you’re fine. No matter what the robots do, no matter what your jerk boss does, you are bulletproof because you’re like Liam Neeson with a particular set of skills that make you extremely valuable in any work environment.” You got me on a hot soapbox, Chris.

Chris De Santis
Well, this is the point, one of the points you’re making, the new reality, to your point, Pete, supports this idea of employability, “Look, I have to be employable.” The key. And in defense of the notion of loyalty in the young, they are more likely to be loyal to you, “If you treat me in a way that recognizes how I make the contributions I make, and what I do on your behalf,” and they’re less loyal to the organization which is an abstraction.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay, cool. So, there’s expectation of dialogue, loyalty. Maybe give us one more thing where people differ significantly.

Chris De Santis
Another. Oh, well, I think, actually, as a consequence of the pandemic, one obvious thing where we are differing or we’re furthering apart is where senior management believes everyone should come back, and everyone else believes, “I think I like it at home,” and so we have a huge rift. It’s almost the opposites of each other. When you have senior management, 77% say, “We want them all back,” and the people, basically, young employees in particular who have now experienced this freedom, want to stay free relative to that.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Chris De Santis
You also had said something interesting, Pete, because it’s been bubbling up in each generation, it’s doing a little bit more of this, is that each one is more entrepreneurial than the generation that preceded it. You are creating in your own children the desire to have an independent life. And part of the messaging, you will never say that out loud, you don’t have to say that, but you behave in a way that says, “You can create your own destiny.” And we are really pushing the envelope on individualism and the creation of these independent people. I think we’ll, eventually, all be freelancers.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so here we are, we’ve got some points of friction and that show up across generations. What do we do? What’s the best way to navigate them and work peacefully and effectively across generations then?

Chris De Santis
Yeah. Well, it’s interesting, part of it has to do is be very clear on your expectations. I think that’s one of the things we don’t do. You see, I’m used to a world of ambiguity. I was raised with guessing right. And if you guess right, you move forward. Nobody actually told me the whys and the whats of things, but rather I’ll know it when I see it, which was a common refrain in management at one point in time.

And so, the young, to a great degree, want to know, really, what the rules are to achieve, “How do I navigate this environment?” I think I kind of use the analogy of video games. They want to know how to get to the next level, “How do you get to next level? How do you do this? How do you play the game?” So, I think it’s very important to share the expectations of how you operate with the people who are making you successful.

So, if I’m a manager, I should be telling you, “This is how I manage. This is what I would expect from you. What do you need from me to achieve here? How do we stay in touch?” those kinds of things. If I may give you a point of contention that’s very trivial but it’s one that comes up is that, “How do we stay in touch?”

I have a person I work with who I’ve used to make videos, and he will only contact me through a text. He will never pick up his phone, and I like it when people talk to me. In fact, I like it when they sort of see me. But, in this case, his mode of connection is a text. It’s not that he’s not willing to talk to me. It’s just how he’s more comfortable connecting with me. So, I think part of this is we have to get aligned who we are to each other, and how do we stay connected.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s say we’ve got a younger person, say a Millennial, who is the manager of a Boomer. So, that happens. Any pro tips when it’s sort of moving in a direction which might be different than what we’re imagining?

Chris De Santis
I think one of the challenges with that is it’s not just the Millennial-Boomer difference, it’s a stage of life difference, meaning that, “Look, I have 35 years of experience under my belt,” let’s say. “You, young whipper-snapper, have only been doing this for three years, and you’re managing me.” I think there’s an ego that steps in here that says, “Oh, my gosh, is this affecting my ego?” through the lens of the Boomer.

I think it’s prudent for the Millennial to draw from the more experienced person’s experiences as much as they can to say, “Here’s what I’d like to do. What do you think on how to do that?” It doesn’t mean that they’re foregoing the decision that they own, but rather they’re drawing from the other person some level of commitment by allowing them to tell them what they do know about this area that could be useful, and then I will fold that in. You see, it’s almost being some kind of combination between deferential and respectful.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, gotcha. Okay. Well, bring it on some more, Chris. Any more tips and tricks, do’s and don’ts in this new generational world? Yeah, we’re collaborating, like watchouts and best practices, I dig it, being clear on expectations. What else?

Chris De Santis
Well, this idea of how we connect. Our methodology of connection, I think, is interesting. One of those is, I’m a Boomer so my methodology of connection is I like seeing you, I’d like to meet you, we’ll meet. This is our idea of networking. Let’s go meet people. Let’s join things. Now, we know that from bowling alone that people aren’t joining anymore. So, in that sense, the methodology of connection for a Gen Xer is not so much that I know you as the person, but I know that you are competent in what you do.

You see, when you’re dealing with somebody in that category, who is I will call a little more private in their revealing of who they are, they reveal more slowly over time. They’re sort of like unfold over time, and they will reveal themselves as the competency of the relationship becomes more solidified, meaning that, “You show me you’re good at something, I’ll show who I am.”

And so, as it relates to that, the young are more open again. The Millennial is, you’ve heard this expression, they share too much?

Pete Mockaitis
Uh-huh, I’ve heard this.

Chris De Santis
Well, I don’t know if they do share too much. I think what we often hear from them is that…or, actually, so there’s commenting about them, saying they share too much. When, in fact, they’re not oversharing; they’re just in the habit of sharing who they are with others, and their methodology of connection is to self-reveal. For instance, you talk to your kids on a daily basis, I would imagine, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, yeah.

Chris De Santis
Right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Chris De Santis
So, if you do, when you talk to your kids on a daily basis, you probably ask them each day, “What did you do today? What did you today?” Do they share that?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s hit or miss.

Chris De Santis
Well, that’s interesting because, normally, and a lot of times, because I overhear…again, remember I talked about I observe these parents, is that they’ll tell what they did today. And I think that gets in the habit of how they reveal who they are to others, and so they’re not necessarily oversharing. They’re finding a way to connect with another, and then their expectation is implicit reciprocity, “I’ve told you who I am. Tell me a little bit about more of you.” So, they’re open to the discourse between us.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Cool. What else in terms of do’s and don’ts here?

Chris De Santis
Okay. I was thinking, “Should I go uphill or downhill with this?” It’s so interesting. I do think that, again, going back to some of this, how we are different, I think one of the things that’s going to be very important going forward is how we decide to mentor. The young want to be mentored in a more deliberate capacity where it used to be more of an organic experience, meaning that I just discover you, and I say, “Oh, you seem to be a young version of me.”

And if we’re going to live in a world that embraces greater diversity, we have to be more deliberate in how we mentor people. But my problem with that is, and here’s where the friction lies, when you use a term like, “I’m assigning you to be my mentee,” Pete, it infers intimacy that we don’t have. And so, in that sense, we should start more from the backend here, just have an advisor to each other that allows us to open up more slowly because I think intimacy is something that is earned as opposed to assumed.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. I hear you. That checks out, like, “This is your protégé, this is your mentor.” It’s like, “Oh, really?” They do tend to, in my experience….

Chris De Santis
And then, again, the other problem I have with that is that they tend to assume that, “Now that you’re my mentor, you are also my sponsor.” And, again, we don’t define these things very well. And a sponsor is different than a mentor. A sponsor, of course, is somebody who’s going to look out for you and get you promoted. A mentor is really someone who’s going to give you advice on what they’ve learned in certain areas where you might seem to have some issues that you want to share in terms of solving problems.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. And, tell me, if we do find ourselves in maybe a heated exchange, like we got some real tension, intergenerationally, do you have some tips on how we might navigate that smoothly or cool things down a bit?

Chris De Santis
Yeah, because I think a heated exchange is typically in the area, in my view, because one of the myths about the young is, in general, that they’re very sensitive to feedback. I think that people will say, “I’m not convinced that they are sensitive to feedback. I’m convinced that all people are sensitive to feedback.” And so, in that sense, I think sometimes we give feedback as a conclusion as opposed to the behaviors.

And so, I have no problem with somebody saying, “Okay, Pete, hey, you’re not really doing a great job being a team player.” That’s the headline but you can’t stop there. You can’t just expect the young person say, “Okay, I’ll be a better team player.” Well, what does that mean? So, I think what we have to do is we have to be more explanatory. We have to say what are the behaviors.

And then, because, again, these are children of dialogue, as it were, we should be willing to have a discussion about, “Well, what does that look like? And what are the ways to shape that behavior, or change that behavior? And how do I support that effort? And how do I know it happened?” So, again, we have to move away from just a pure tell model to more of a dialogue model because that’s an expectation, and, quite frankly, it has greater stickiness when you’re in dialogue with somebody.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then I’d also like to get your view when it comes to just sort of motivation, in terms of we hear listeners say, “Oh, you know what, my peers,” or direct reports, or others, “are just not motivated. They’re kind of phoning it in.” Do you have any pro tips, in terms of are there different carrots and/or sticks or drivers that tend to be more compelling for each of the generations?

Chris De Santis
Well, I think part of the key here is that this is where we’re moving beyond the generational differences into more the stage of life, “Where are you in your life? And what might you want then?” And so, for instance, the young are still probably, to some degree, deciding, “Who I will become?” And so, what motivates me is, “What do I want to develop in terms of my skillsets? So, where are my skills? And where do I want to hone those skills?”

So, part of the motivation is, again, this goes back to engaging people, is to find out, well, what they’re interested in doing better, or more of, and trying to find circumstances that you can supply that. That becomes the carrot, as it were. So, I think that works very well. Now, some people want promotions, which I am not convinced everyone wants promotions anymore.

I think, going to your point, Pete, they want to be employable, and they want to develop their skills. The only problem with that is, “When I make you more employable and develop your skills,” people fear that, “Oh, then I’ll lose them to the marketplace.” Well, wasn’t that Ford who said, “Well, the only thing worse than not training your people,” or, “training your people and they leave, is not training your people and they stay”? So, I think we have an obligation.

Now, the other thing interesting about in my generation, motivating us, is to say, to some degree, is, “What experiences do we want to have?” because I don’t know if promotions are part of the package anymore at this stage, but rather also I think we’re in a legacy phase, “What can we give back to others?” We should create circumstances where we can teach those who follow.

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

Chris De Santis
At this point, no. I think we’ve covered this. I like what you’re asking about some of these, the differences between us, and I like your point earlier that, look, you cannot generalize about a whole group. You have to say what group we are alluding to. And this notion of, “What are the norms within that group?” What are the norms we observed?

I think part of the trouble with being young is that the headlines about Millennials are negative. They are the Florida Man of generations because anytime you see Florida Man in a headline, it’s some tragedy that, you know, “Florida Man found starving to death in his own refrigerator.” So, you have these tragedies, and then we start to see these Millennial headlines, and we start to associate that with them, and that becomes self-fulfilling in our perception of them, which is not an accurate reflection of who they are.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that resonates in that, I guess, I don’t even like being called a Millennial.

Chris De Santis
No, it’s unfair.

Pete Mockaitis
Even though I guess, technically, that’s where I’d land, and that’s like I don’t care for that.

Chris De Santis
Well, because, again, how they have labeled you. This is interesting, too, because one of the things about each generation, we’re all a disappointment. We’re not just a disappointment at the same time. Gen Xers were slackers, we were hippies, so in that sense, everyone is a disappointment, and then we outgrow it. The only problem that Millennials have is Gen Z hasn’t stepped in to be a disappointment yet so that you can get some space.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, got that to look forward to.

Chris De Santis
Exactly.

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

Chris De Santis
Yeah, one of my favorites is “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are,” and that’s why this is such a perceptual issue. This was, I think, I can’t think of…how do you pronounce her name? Anais Nin, she wrote the Delta of Venus. Lovely book, by the way.

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

Chris De Santis
My favorite bit of research is a book by a man named Hofstede, and he wrote Cultures and Organizations. And what he did, it was from an IBM study, I think, originally in the ‘70s, and he extrapolated that or expanded that into the different dimensions across national cultures. That was super enlightening because now I see why the French are the French, or Mexico is Mexico, and US is US. Very enlightening.

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

Chris De Santis
I like it when I get free notebooks, you know, those ones you can write in, like that swag. They give you a gift. Because I use those, sort of, to take notes and then I just have a stack of these things.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. And a favorite habit?

Chris De Santis
Habit is reading. I’m a reader. I would have to believe you are as well, to some degree, to do so many of these episodes, but I do try to read a book a week.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. And how do you manage that volume? Do you listen? Do you read while doing other things, like exercise? Or how do you…?

Chris De Santis
Well, exercising, actually, I do that while I’m on the bike, but, typically, though I dedicate at least two to three hours a day to read something.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Chris De Santis
I’m okay with that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Chris De Santis
You have little kids. You can’t do that.

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?

Chris De Santis
Yeah. When I talk about this, because you said it right at the beginning, is, look, when you generalize, the only real truth in what I say, and in my book, is that what is true about…you said it yourself. The thing that is true about you, personally, is what’s true. Everything else I say is really fodder for the conversation or the discussion or the discovery you can make in an exchange with another.

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

Chris De Santis
They can get in touch with me at my website at CPDeSantis.com.

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

Chris De Santis
Yeah, I think I would say this, that, look, next time you see somebody acting strangely, in a way that you will judge them, imagine for a moment that this person is as rational as you are, and what might they be doing that is rational to them. And so, I would just simply say give people the benefit of the doubt.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Chris, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much fun and peace as you’re navigating generational frictions.

Chris De Santis
Thank you, Pete. And good luck with the kids there.

767: How to Build Tremendous Mental Strength with Amy Morin

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Amy Morin delineates the bad mental habits that are holding us back from achieving our full potential.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three elements of mental strength
  2. The 13 things mentally strong people don’t do
  3. How to more effectively tolerate discomfort and distress in our day-to-day 

About Amy

Amy Morin is editor-in-chief at Verywell Mind, a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and psychology lecturer at Northeastern University. She’s also an international bestselling author. Her books, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, and 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do have been translated into 40 languages.

The Guardian dubbed her “the self-help guru of the moment” and Forbes calls her a “thought leadership star.”

Her TEDx talk, The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong, is one of the most popular talks of all time with more than 15 million views. She’s a regular contributor to Forbes, Business Insider, and Psychology Today where her articles on mental strength reach more than 2 million readers each month.

Resources Mentioned

Amy Morin Interview Transcript

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

Amy Morin
Hey, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. And I think the first thing that we need to hear about, though, is, is it true you’ve been living on a sailboat for the last six years? And what is the story?

Amy Morin
It is true. So, I guess six years ago, we decided, “Hey, why live in Maine if you don’t have to? It’s kind of cold and dark.” So, we went on this adventure that was supposed to be six months on a sailboat, but six years later, here I am. And it was my husband’s dream. When he was four years old, his bedroom was decorated in a sailboat theme, so he said, “Someday, I’m going to live on a sailboat,” but we realized someday isn’t always promised, so just one random day, we said, “Why not do it?” So, we packed up a Fiat with a dog, a cat, a laptop, and off we went, and here we are still in the Florida Keys on a sailboat.

Pete Mockaitis
So, as we speak, you’re on a sailboat?

Amy Morin
I am, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t see anything rocking.

Amy Morin
Yeah. So, a lot of the time, because I need superfast internet, we’re tied to a dock, so I’m not just bobbing around in the ocean or anything.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, has that been working out well for you, you’re pleased with the decision? And what are some of the pros living on a sailboat maybe others should consider?

Amy Morin
Yeah. So, there are some pros and cons. The pros would be it’s kind of a simple life. Again, I have some clothes and a laptop and not much else, and you really don’t need much. And, like, manatees and dolphins come swimming by, and there’s lots of cool stuff. And, of course, during quarantine, it was easy to be on a sailboat because when everybody had to be inside their house, well, my house moves so I could go places and still go out and do things. I can snorkel, I can swim, I can do lots of fun stuff.

But there are some cons as well. So, this is my podcast studio, so we’re recording a podcast from a boat. It’s loud sometimes. There are certain things you have to think of with a sailboat, like, there’s not a ton of room, so we kind of jockey for position on who gets the cool space on the couch during the day. And there was an octopus incident that involved an octopus coming through our air-conditioning vent. That was not the best day ever.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s wild. Well, cool, you’re making it work. That’s exciting.

Amy Morin
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m also excited to hear all about mental strength. You’ve got a series of excellent books, including 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, and I loved your TEDx Talk, we will put a link to that in the show notes, for sure. So, tell me, when it comes to us humans and mental strength, is there a particular surprising discovery you’ve made about us in the course of your practice and research?

Amy Morin
Well, I guess the first thing was that mental strength really depended on what not to do. We talk so much about all the healthy habits and all the things you should do.

Pete Mockaitis
Exercise.

Amy Morin
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Breathe.

Amy Morin
And as a therapist, I was taught, “When people come into your therapy office and they tell you what’s going on in their life, figure out what they’re already doing well and build on that,” and that makes sense on the surface, like, “Yeah, I’m going to point out your strengths and we’re going to keep doing that.” But, at some point, I thought, “Well, if I want to go see a physical trainer and they told me to run on the treadmill, yeah, I’m going to run on the treadmill.” But if they didn’t mention, “Hey, by the way, that junk food you’re eating kind of negates all that work you’re doing on the treadmill,” I’d be kind of mad.

So, I thought, “Let’s take a look at this. What are the common unhealthy habits that we all do but, yet, those little things keep us stuck?” And so, for example, you can practice gratitude quite often but if you still feel sorry for yourself sometimes, kind of negates the gratitude. So, most of us have moments where we feel thankful, but we also have moments where we feel sorry for ourselves. So, let’s focus on getting rid of that in our lives, and then the good habits you have already become much more effective.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, beautiful. So, then when it comes to talking about being mentally strong, how do you define that? Is being mentally strong distinct from mentally healthy or are they kind of synonymous or interchangeable?

Amy Morin
I’m glad you asked that because they’re different. People will say that sometimes, like, “Ah, I wish I could be mentally strong but I’m depressed,” or, “I wish I could be mentally strong but I have anxiety.” Not the same thing at all. It makes more sense to our brains when we think about it in terms of, like, physical strength and physical health. You go to the gym, you can build physical strength, yeah, that improves your physical health, too. But even a weight trainer can still develop, like, high cholesterol or some sort of physical health problem down the road, you might injure your knee, mental strength is the same.

It’s all about the exercises we do every day, the strategies we employ in life, but knowing that despite how much mental strength you have, it doesn’t guarantee you won’t ever develop a mental health problem. So, even when you’re mentally strong, you might still develop something like depression, anxiety, OCD. Those things happen to anybody, but mental strength can prevent some problems, it can make you feel your best no matter what kind of mental health problems you might be struggling with.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we’ve got a distinction. And then, so what’s the definition then of a mentally strong person is blank, or mental strength equals this?

Amy Morin
Well, I’d have to say, the easiest way to define it is that there’s three parts to it – the way you think, the way you feel, and the way you behave. So, when it comes to thoughts, it’s not about like super positive thinking all the time. It’s about knowing that your thoughts can be realistic so that, all right, when things are bad, you might just accept, “Yeah, they’re bad,” but, on the other hand, you don’t want to spend all your mental real-estate worrying about things that will never happen or ruminating on things that already did. It’s about just taking some control over your mind and your thoughts.

And then when it comes to our emotions, sometimes people will be like, “Oh, be mentally strong. Don’t cry.” That’s not the case either. Sometimes it takes a lot of mental strength to just acknowledge how you feel, to express those feelings, and to know that you can be comfortable even with some uncomfortable emotions. But, on the other side of that, there are times when maybe you’re so angry you can’t think straight, so you need the power to reduce your anger. So, a simple way would be to be in control of your emotions so that they don’t control you.

And then the last part is about our behavior, the action you take. You can be an optimistic, happy person, but unless you take action, those things don’t really matter. So, it’s about knowing, “Okay, even on the day I’m tired, I’m still going to go to the gym,” or, “Even though I don’t feel like doing this thing, it’s the right thing to do so I’m going to do it anyway.” And knowing when to push yourself but, of course, also knowing that it’s different to, say, run on a sore leg versus a broken ankle. There are days where you need to say, “Okay, being mentally strong sometimes means taking a break, taking a step back, or even quitting or giving up.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s nice and clear. All right. So, we got a picture of those three things. And tell us, Amy, to what extent are they learnable? And can you maybe share an inspiring story or research that says, “Hey, people have made transformations here all the time”?

Amy Morin
Yeah. So, it’s definitely all learnable and it’s things that we can learn and practice and put into our daily lives, these small things, just like all of us could choose to build physical strength by working out, doing some things differently. We can all choose to do things differently when it comes to building mental muscle and there’s lots of stories of Olympic athletes and Navy SEALs and people who go out there and do really cool things with their lives.

But I can share my own story and life, and tell you that I don’t come by this naturally but I’ve learned a lot over the years. As a kid, I was the kind of kid that never raised their hand in class. I actually hated school to the point that I vomited before school every day until about the fourth grade. In high school, I never spoke in class either. I was the shy kid in the back of the room. I became somebody that was able to give a TED Talk that’s now been viewed by 20 million people, and I can do lots of things I never ever thought I could do before but it was about practicing and putting those things into place.

And as a therapist, I knew some of this stuff but it wasn’t really the books, the textbooks that taught me anything differently. It was mostly my life experiences. When I was 23, I lost my mom. When I was 23, my husband passed away. A few years after that, my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. It was like my 20s were awful. I went through all of this hard stuff but I learned from it, and what I learned was like, “Okay, don’t sweat the small stuff. There really is a lot to be said for that.”

There are things I never thought I could do that I can. And even as a therapist, I’d be teaching other people about their self-limiting beliefs but, at the same time, I think I really believed that I had a lot of limitations that I didn’t. I can get out there and do so many things now that I never thought I could do by putting these things into practice, by giving up unhealthy habits that were holding me back, and by truly just saying, “Okay, let’s get out there and try these things.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s hear the things. So, there’s 13 things mentally strong people don’t do. Can you give us that rundown?

Amy Morin
Sure. You want all 13?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, please.

Amy Morin 
I’m going to cheat by looking at the back of my book because now that I’ve written five books, I get a little out of order after a while. So, the first one is that mentally strong people don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves. They don’t give away their power. They don’t shy away from change. They don’t focus on things they can’t control. They don’t worry about pleasing everyone. They don’t fear taking calculated risks. They don’t dwell in the past. They don’t make the same mistakes over and over. They don’t resent other people’s success. They don’t give up after their first failure. They don’t fear alone time. They don’t feel like the world owes them anything. And they don’t expect immediate results.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. That’s it, that’s 13. Okay.

Amy Morin
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, then as I hear them, that seems to make sense, like, “Yeah, it’d be better to not waste time feeling sorry for yourself. It’d be better to not give away our power. It’d be better to not shy away from change. Yup, yup, yup, that seems good.” I’m curious, though, if we are doing some of this stuff, how do we begin to make that change?

Amy Morin
Yeah, so it’s easy to say, “I don’t do those things,” or, “I don’t do them very often,” or, “It’s not a problem.” But the truth is we all do those things sometimes, and we all expect immediate results, for example, and that’s part of the world we live in. We now have Google and Amazon where you can get an answer, or on a click of a button, you can get something delivered to your door almost immediately. So, then when it comes to changing our lives, we think this will happen this week.

And you can even look at it with like New Year’s resolutions. Most of them go out the window within two weeks. I think January 18 is the day that most people have already given up on their New Year’s resolution because we expect things to happen fast, “I’m going to lose 100 pounds this year,” “I’m going to change my life,” and it doesn’t happen according to our schedule. But whenever we find ourselves doing these things, the first thing is just become more aware of it.

And even though I’ve written books on this and I talk about it all the time, I still find myself doing certain things. I give away my power, for example. I blame somebody else for putting me in a bad mood, or ruining my day, or making me do something. No, those are all my choices. And just recognizing it, that was the first step, and then being able to say, “Okay, what am I going to do about it? How do I get rid of this habit? What am I going to do instead?”

And, luckily, there’s an antidote for all of this stuff. If you want to stop feeling sorry for yourself, just take a moment and say, “Well, what do I have to be thankful for? What can I be grateful for in the moment?” You find yourself expecting immediate results? Find a way to say, “Okay, now I’m going to figure out how do I track my progress?” Whether you say, “I’m going to make a certain amount of money,” “Pay down a certain amount of debt this year,” or, “I want to have this fitness goal,” well, what can I do to track my progress? It might just be as simple as putting an X on the calendar every day so that you don’t expect this to happen overnight.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, actually, I really like these antidotes. Can I hear 11 more?

Amy Morin
Sure. And there’s a lot of about all of them. There’s science behind it. It’s not just things that I made up. But if we were to talk about not fearing calculated risks, for example, we tend to think that our level of fear is equal to the level of risks, so, “Applying for that promotion feels scary so I shouldn’t do it because it must be risky.” The truth is that our emotions have nothing to do with the actual level of risk that we face.

And so, the antidote to this one is just taking a look from a rational perspective, which, in some cases, might be taking a step back, and saying, “What would I say to my friend who had this problem?” because it takes a lot of the emotion out of it. So, if you said, “Gee, I had this opportunity to apply for a promotion but it feels scary, so I don’t want to embarrass myself.”

Well, if your friend came to you and said that, you’d be like, “Hey, go for it,” or, “I think you’ll do a good job.” You’d probably have some kind words unless you really thought that they shouldn’t apply then you might be willing to be honest, and say, “Actually, maybe not yet.” Well, give yourself those same words, and it takes a lot of the string out of it, the emotion out of it, and you can make a better decision.

Or, if we were to say, let’s talk about not giving away your power, if we went back to that one. The antidote to that one is changing your language. How often do we say, “My boss makes me work late”? Nope, your boss doesn’t make you work late. It’s a choice. Maybe there’s a consequence. Maybe your job would be at risk. But just recognizing, “All right, the expectation is I’ll get this report done by tomorrow. I’m going to have to work late to do it, but that’s my choice.” There’s something super empowering about just flipping your language around so you could say, “It’s up to me to decide how I’m going to do this.”

Another one is about not resenting other people’s success. Well, how often do we, say, flip through social media, and you look at other people, and you’re like, “Ugh, they’re happier than I am. They’re healthier, they’re wealthier, they’re more attractive, they have a better life than I do.” It’s those comparisons that keep us stuck. And studies will show that if you look at somebody as an opinion-holder rather than your competitor, then you’ll learn from them.

So, if you just look at somebody that, say, drives a really nice car, you might be able to say, “Well, what can I learn from that person? Maybe they have a really cool job, or maybe they know how to negotiate a good deal on a car, or maybe they gave up something in their life so they could afford this car.” But just saying, “What can I learn from that person?” rather than, “That person is better than I am,” it keeps you from feeling bad about it.

Amy Morin
when it comes to failure, we have this idea that, “Failing feels bad and I don’t want to feel bad so, therefore, I shouldn’t put myself out there.” Well, one of the insane things we do is we talk about success stories. So, they looked at high school science teachers, and all the science teachers were telling kids about, say, Edison, Einstein, all these famous scientists who were really successful.

And the more that they talked about how successful these people were, the kids’ grades started to decline. So, then they had them talk about how all these famous people failed. Edison had a bazillion experiments that didn’t go well, Einstein had some theories that probably were a little off base. And when they started talking about these people’s failures, the students’ grades started going up because then they knew, “Well, gee, failure is actually part of the process, so the way to succeed, you have to take a risk, put yourself out there, you have to guess sometimes, you have to do things that are going to be really hard.”
And once the students started doing that, they took more risks, they raised their hand, they guessed on an answer if they didn’t know, but they were willing to do harder things, and their grades went up. And I think that’s a great lesson for all of us. When we look around these dotcom businesses or successful business leaders who now have programs out there and they’re trying to get us to buy them, we hear about how successful they were but we don’t always know what it took for them to get there. Just by studying famous failures, it will give you courage to try so that then you’ll know, “Okay, well, if I failed, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just part of the process.”

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. And how about not shying away from change?

Amy Morin
Yeah, so that one, a lot of people come into my therapy office, and they’ll say, “I’m ready to change my life,” but then when we talk about making change, they’re kind of like, “Eh, I’m not so sure about that. Change is uncomfortable.” And we like it when things are predictable. Even though they’re bad, if it’s familiar, somehow we think, “Well, that’s not too bad.”

So, with this one, there’s a few different things that you can do but sometimes just putting a name to your emotions goes a long way. So, if you just label how you’re feeling, “Okay, I’m anxious,” “I’m sad,” it takes a lot of the sting out of it. And there’s science behind this one, too, that our brains and our bodies need a little help making sense of things. So, when you have all these stress hormones going on, just take a moment and be like, “Okay, I’m feeling anxious right now,” you automatically feel a little bit less anxious.

And then the next thing you can do is, once you identify how you’re feeling, is to be able to say, “Well, is this a friend or an enemy right now?” because so often we talk about feelings like they’re either positive or negative. People will say, “Well, excitement is a positive emotion and anger is a negative emotion.” But when you think about it, any feeling has the power to be positive or negative. Yeah, anger is helpful if you stand up for your friend, maybe, or it gives you courage to stand up for yourself. It’s not helpful if it causes you to call people names or to say things that you wouldn’t normally do or say.

But excitement, on the other hand, we love it. When you’re looking forward to a vacation and you’re excited, that feels good. But what if somebody comes to you with this, like, a get-rich-quick scheme and they guarantee you that there’s no way you’re going to fail?

Pete Mockaitis
“Ooh, no way I can fail, Amy? Sign me up now.”

Amy Morin
Right. That’s why we see really smart people fall prey to, like, really stupid get-rich-quick schemes because they’re so excited about the payoff that they overlook the risks. So, sometimes it’s just helpful to say, “How am I feeling right now?” Put a name to that, and then say, “Is that helpful or harmful?” And if it’s helpful, embrace it. If it’s harmful, then you say, “Okay, what do I do about this?” and make a different choice.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Amy, I love this so much. “Positive emotions” and “negative emotions” I guess we might re-label that as pleasant emotions and unpleasant emotions. Like, it’s pleasant to feel excited about the get-rich-quick scheme but that’s not going to serve you well. It’s going to be harmful to you. So, you could say that’s…in a way, I don’t even like the words positive and negative in relation to emotions because they get things a little bit fuzzy versus friend versus enemy, I love it.

And I want to dig a little deeper here on the emotional management stuff because, all right, so you’ve probably heard this poem, and it’s very short so I’ll read it in its entirety, from Rumi, “The Guest House,” and it has a perspective on emotions. A couple guests have brought it up, it says,

“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning is a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

​Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture.
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

​The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”

So, that’s a poem. I think there’s some profundity. I chew on that, and I think, “Wow, that sounds like a cool, free, liberating way to live,” but I don’t know if it’s optimal, and it may be harmful. And what’s your hot take, Amy, when it comes to emotional management, calling things friends or enemies, versus they’re all just guests, they come and they go and they serve us?

Amy Morin
I think there’s a lot of power in just sometimes allowing emotions to come in. I think a lot of our suffering in life comes from our attempts to fight feelings. So, something anxiety-provoking, we don’t want to feel that way, so then we try to get rid of the anxiety rather than solve the problem. I think life gets a lot better when we get better at answering the question, “Should I solve the problem or solve how I feel about the problem?”

Sometimes we have a problem that’s huge but it’s so anxiety-provoking and I feel anxious about it so I just want to solve my anxiety rather than tackle the problem. This is why people develop, say, substance abuse issues or compulsive behaviors, “It feels better to do this right now than it is to tackle that problem, so I’m going to do what’s in front of me, whether that’s grab a drink or eat too much. Something to take care of my feelings rather than take care of the problem.”

And I can’t tell you, I mean, I’ve noticed this in my own life but it’s something I constantly work with people in my therapy office about is just honoring our emotions sometimes and knowing that the more we run from them, the more they just keep following us, and they show up wherever we are, and they show up in different areas of our lives.

So, if you’re sad, sometimes it helps you honor something you lost, you have to go through those sad feelings. But, instead of going through them, we do a lot of effort to try to go around, do everything we can to go under, over, skip it, we distract ourselves constantly because emotions, certain ones, are uncomfortable, we don’t want to be bored, we don’t want to be lonely, “Who wants to be sad or anxious?”

And in today’s world, it’s so easy to distract ourselves with our phones, with constant noise in our ears, all the things that we can do so that we don’t have to tolerate a moment of discomfort, but if we spend our whole lives trying to avoid just being uncomfortable or making it so we don’t experience emotions that are unpleasant, life gets even worse in its suspicious cycle.

But I also don’t think we have to tolerate it. So, again, when your emotions are saying enemy, when they’re not helpful, then you don’t have to sit and suffer with them. Sometimes we need to say, “Hmm, maybe I should do something else.” If you allow sadness to stick around too long, you might find yourself in bed, and then it lies to you. People become depressed, their depression tells them, “Don’t go to work today. You just stay in bed and you’ll feel better.” Well, nobody’s ever felt better by staying in bed all day but our emotions can lie to us. It can make us irrational.

If we took the example of sadness again, never negotiate when you’re sad. You’ll take a horrible deal when you’re sad because you’ll think, “I don’t want to counter offer because I just don’t know that my ego can handle one more blow, so I’ll accept whatever deal you offer me.” Or, when we’re anxious about something, our anxiety from our personal life spills over into work.

So, let’s say you just had a health test, you’re waiting on the results, you go to work, your boss offers you a new opportunity, you’re going to be like, “No, thank you. I don’t think I can handle that,” because your anxiety spills over and you’re not even going to recognize it. So, as much as we talk about emotional intelligence, I don’t think we’re there. I think we need to just go back to the basics sometimes and figure out, “How am I feeling? Is that feeling helpful or harmful? If it’s harmful, how do I change my emotional state?”

Pete Mockaitis
And let’s say, how does one change their emotional state? We say, you figured out, “Okay, hey, I’m sad but I’ve got a negotiation coming up in half an hour. I recognize that me being sad is not great for this upcoming challenge but, nonetheless, I feel sad. What do I do about it?”

Amy Morin
Yeah. So, let’s say you lost your pet last week and you’re sad about it, obviously being sad helps you honor that lost. It’s okay to be sad for a while, that’s sort of a thing. But in that moment where you’re, like, “I’m about to walk into this meeting and I need to negotiate an amazing deal,” then you can do two things. Number one is change how you think and change your behavior. So, we tend to do something that keeps us in whatever state we’re in. When you’re anxious, maybe you pace. When you’re sad, you just sit and stare at the wall.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, look down.

Amy Morin
Right. And those kinds of things reinforce how we feel. So, sometimes you need to act the opposite, so get up and go for a jog, or you look at a funny cat video online, or you call somebody and talk about a completely different subject just to shift it. And you could also change what you’re thinking about. When you’re anxious, maybe you’re replaying something over and over again, or dwelling on the worst-case scenario.

Or, when you’re sad, you’re just thinking about more sad things. Take a moment and purposefully think about something that’s happier just to give yourself that little mood boost when you need it in the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Okay. Well, let’s see, there’s a few more things that mentally strong people don’t do. Maybe you want to hear some antidote if you find yourself doing it. How about when we’re focused on things that we can’t control? What’s the antidote?

Amy Morin
That one is about sometimes just pausing and saying, “Okay, what is within my control?” It might only be your effort, your attitude, your behavior, but it’s tough to do. We want to control the outcome. Or, we find ourselves doing these things, too. Like, let’s say you have a pain in your knee, and suddenly you start Googling. And within two minutes, you find out either it’s nothing or you’re about to die, depending on which website you look at.

And so, to control your anxiety, maybe you just keep researching, researching, researching, and it’s not helpful. Well, what can you control? Well, you can control when you call the doctor, if you make an appointment, or what you do about it. So, sometimes it’s just about taking a step back, and saying, “What’s within my control right now?” and then taking some kind of action, but making sure that that action is about moving forward. Ending up in an endless loop of research, you could research forever, and what’s that going to do?

Or, if you have something coming up this weekend and you want to make sure it’s a sunny day because you have outdoor plans, checking the weather compulsively every two minutes isn’t going to change the outcome. So, maybe you just ask yourself, “Well, okay, what’s the worst-case scenario?” and then kind of play that through of, “All right. Well, if it rains this weekend, what’s going to happen? My plans get ruined. Well, if my plans get ruined, what will I do instead?” And just playing that tape through sometimes reminds us that, “All right, even if the worst-case scenario did happen, it’s not the end of the world.”

Pete Mockaitis
And if we’re worried about pleasing everyone, what do we do?

Amy Morin
Again, that one is a difficult one for chronic people-pleasers. When you tend to always say yes to everything, sometimes it’s just a matter of stepping back and having a new default answer, because if somebody calls, and says, “Hey, can you do me this favor?” and you always say yes, take a moment and say, “Ah, I’m going to check my schedule and get back to you.”

And just having a new script, and maybe you already know the answer is going to be yes, or maybe you already know, “It’s something I really don’t want to do,” but in that moment, it’s hard to say that. So, just having a pre-planned script, like, “Let me check my schedule and get back to you,” or, “I’ll have to see if that works for me but I’ll let you know.” Just having that little pause sometimes can then give you enough time to think, “Okay, is this something I really want to do or not?” then you can get back to the person with a better answer. But I find a lot of times, people-pleasers, just their default is to always say yes to everything, so they need a little bit of time to decide, “Do I really want to do this or not?”

Pete Mockaitis
And what if we’re people-pleasing not just in the saying yes or no, but in the broader sense of what we choose to ask for, like, “Ooh, I don’t want to ask for that. That might be too much. I don’t want to inconvenience them,” in that sort of a way?

Amy Morin
Anytime we’re afraid of something, the best way to overcome that fear of saying, “Okay, I’m afraid to ask for something. I’m afraid to take care of myself,” it’s just about doing it in small steps. So, maybe you ask for a little less than you actually want just to see what happens as an experiment. I’m a huge fan of saying, “Let’s try behavioral experiments,” and test the waters. Sometimes people will be like, “Oh, I can’t ask for that because my boss might be mad,” or, “I can’t ask my coworker for that favor,” or, “I can’t speak up and say, actually, that’s an unreasonable deadline.” Well, try it and see what happens.

And to know that you don’t have to feel brave to act brave. Just put yourself out there and do it anyway, as an experiment. If something terrible happens, you can learn from it, but I think nine times out of ten, you might discover that the worst isn’t going to happen, people aren’t going to be mad, they’re not going to freak out, they’re not going to look down on you if you asked for what you need.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I like that notion of the little steps. So, that might even just be like, “Try writing the email,” or, “Try writing out the script,” “Try asking for…” instead of saying, “There’s no way that’s going to happen, boss. Forget about it.” It’s like, “No, actually, that’s going to be very challenging based upon these other things, and it may require that I’m up until midnight if we don’t re-prioritize some things. So, how do you think about the priorities?” Like, “You got to stay up till midnight, aargh.” Versus, “Oh, I had no idea. I’m so sorry. Let’s see what we can do here.”

Cool. And if you’re dwelling on the past, how do we un-dwell?

Amy Morin
So, yeah, sometime we dwell on like something bad that happened six weeks ago, sometimes it’s like the conversation that happened at lunch, maybe you got home from work after a bad day and you just keep replaying over and over again, and thinking of all the things you wish you would’ve said, all the things you wished the other person hadn’t said. It’s like this tape that gets stuck in our head and we rehash it over and over and over again.

So, one of my favorite exercises for this one is to distract yourself. We call it changing the channel in your brain, and we’re pretty bad at it at first. So, maybe you had a bad day, you get home from work, and you’re still thinking about that bad thing that happened, and you say, “Well, don’t think about that.” Well, we actually are going to think about it more.

So, I’ll do this exercise with people often. We can do it right now if you like, where I say, “Spend about 20 seconds thinking about white bears. White bears, white bears, white bears. Polar bears, stuffed white bears, how many white bears as it gets.”

Pete Mockaitis
Like a Coca-Cola advertisement?

Amy Morin
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re so adorable unless they’re mauling something, I guess. White bears, white bears, white bears.

Amy Morin
So, then spend the next 20 seconds thinking about absolutely anything you want but, whatever you do, do not think about a white bear.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, it’s challenging. I’m like battery recharging. Recharging batteries. Battery rechargeables, like it’s hard. I’m drifting.

Amy Morin
Okay. And then one more quick thing then. For the next 20 seconds, see how far you can get from the alphabet from Z to A, see if you can get all the way through the alphabet backwards. Ready, set, go.

Pete Mockaitis
Out loud?

Amy Morin
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Z, Y, X, W, V, U, T, S, R, Q, P, O, N, M, L, K, J, I, H, G, F, E, D, C, B, A.

Amy Morin
Oh, that’s impressive that you just did that. Good work.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Thank you.

Amy Morin
So, when I said think about white bears, did a white bear pop up in your head at least one?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Amy Morin
And then when I said don’t think about white bears, think about anything you want, did you find, did a little white bear pop up maybe at least once?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Amy Morin
And then how about when you just went through the alphabet backwards, did you think about any white bears then?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I was trying really hard to impress you and the listeners by nailing it, so I was putting all my mental energy there.

Amy Morin
Well, let me tell you, I was impressed. That was really, really fast.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. That’s what it’s all about, baby.

Amy Morin
And that is an example of how to change the channel in your brain. If you tell yourself, “Don’t think about white bears,” or, “Don’t think about that awful conversation,” it’s going to pop up in your head. But if you give yourself a little task to do at home, you’re probably not going to be like, “Okay, I’m going to go through the alphabet backwards,” but you might give yourself something to do. Like, “Okay, instead of sitting on the couch and rehashing this awful thing that happened earlier today over and over again and staying stuck in a bad mood, what can I do?”

And it might be about calling a friend to talk about a completely different subject, maybe you go outside and do something, maybe say, “I’m going to organize my closet for 10 minutes,” but give yourself something to do, sometimes getting up, moving around. The point is when you’re dwelling on something that already happened, you can’t change it. You can learn from it but when you just rehash it and ruminate on it over and over again, you stay stuck in a bad mood. And then telling yourself, “Don’t think about it,” actually makes it worse.

But if you get up and do something, give yourself an activity, it can boost your mood just a little bit. And even though you’re probably going to eventually go back to thinking about it again, when you feel a little bit better, you might be able to see it from a different angle, and say, “Okay, maybe it wasn’t so bad, or maybe the next time this comes up, I’ll have a different strategy.” But the point is, you just don’t want to sit and dwell on something that makes you feel bad and keep dwelling and then you feel worse.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, I dig it. I dig it. And I’m thinking, in particular, that the alphabet backwards is the example of it has a little bit of a challenge or a game-like quality to it. And I’m thinking about if there’s a quick game, like, I don’t know, Wordle from The New York Times has been a lot of fun, or Tetris, or, I don’t know, online math problems or something. It seems like, maybe it’s just me, but, like, something that it makes a bit of a demand upon you, like, “I’m going to have to try to apply my attention here in order to prevail, and I like prevailing so I’m going to choose to spend all my attention on the thing.”

Amy Morin
Right, because that requires your mental energy. It just gives your brain a bit of a break, and sometimes we need that because sometimes bad things do happen. So, we’re talking about something traumatic because sometimes when people have PTSD, they need to get professional help because it does stay stuck in their brains. But when other bad things happen, and we just keep thinking about it over and over again, and maybe you try to put a positive spin on it or something, but you just can’t get unstuck, sometimes you just need to find something to give your brain a break so you can feel a little bit better before you go back and think about it again.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, if we are making the same mistakes repeatedly, what’s our antidote there?

Amy Morin
So, of course, we just want to learn from our mistakes so that we don’t repeat them. And quite often, we shame ourselves for making a mistake, like, “Ugh, I’m such an idiot,” or, “I’m a bad person.” Well, guess what? When you think you’re a bad person, you’re going to think, “Oh, I’m doomed to repeat that mistake.”

We see this with teenagers sometimes. Like, if a kid messes up a lot and his parents shame him, and says, “Oh, you’re an idiot,” or, “You’re a bad kid,” well, guess what? When he’s 15 and somebody says, “Hey, you want to try drugs?” who’s going to try the drugs, the kid that thinks, “I’m a bad person,” or the kid who, when he messed up, was just taught, “No, I mess up sometimes but I’m a good kid”? Well, we know the kid who thinks, “I’m a bad person” is like, “I’m going to make a bad choice because that’s who I am.”

Well, we do that to ourselves as adults, like, oh, when we mess up, we say, “Well, I’m not smart enough. I’m stupid. I can’t ever do anything right.” When you think that way, you’re going to then think, “Well, I’m incapable of doing better next time.” So, just catching how harsh we are on ourselves sometimes, and saying, “Well, how do I talk to myself the same way I’d talk to a friend again?” you do self-compassion. If you end up shaming yourself, remind yourself, “No, I just messed up and that’s okay. I’m capable of doing better next time.”

Pete Mockaitis
And if we’re uncomfortable being alone and with silence, what do you recommend?

Amy Morin
So, this one takes some practice. So, sometimes people will say, “Oh, I love alone time,” and then I’ll say, “Well, what do you do when you’re alone?” and they’ll say, “Well, I text my friends or I’m scrolling through social media,” but they’re not really alone with their thoughts. They’re sort of consuming stuff, they’re listening to podcast episodes, they’re doing something. But this one is really about sitting alone with your thoughts, which can be uncomfortable. Most of us want to be productive. We want to be doing something. And the thought of being alone with our brains is scary.

So, one of the strategies for this one is to just schedule a date with yourself. It might be that you go to dinner, maybe you go watch a movie, maybe you go for a walk on the beach. Go do something all by yourself. And you don’t have the pressure to perform to make somebody else happy. You don’t have to make pleasant conversation. Just go do what you want to do, and make it more pleasant to spend time with yourself, and then that becomes less scary over time.

And people will say, “Well, gosh, this is hard,” or, “It’s embarrassing to do these things alone,” or, “I’m not comfortable,” but start small. Maybe it’s just taking a quick walk. Maybe it’s going somewhere to eat where you at least know somebody, the waitress or somebody there, but just go do these little small things. And as you become more comfortable with yourself, you get to be more comfortable with the things going on in your own brain.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And, finally, if we do feel the world owes us something, well, one, how do I identify that, because I imagine many people will deny that, “Oh, no, I don’t do that, Amy”? And, two, if we catch ourselves, in your description, what do we do about it?

Amy Morin
Yeah, I hear older people say, “Ah, the younger generation feels entitled.”

Pete Mockaitis
“They’re so entitled.”

Amy Morin
Right. But the truth is we’re all entitled sometimes, we think, “Well, geez, I deserve better than this,” and, of course, sometimes we do deserve better. You don’t deserve to be treated poorly by somebody, or you don’t deserve to be abused. But, on the other hand, yes, sometimes you have to wait in line a little while longer than you wanted, or sometimes life isn’t fair.

But when you catch yourself just leaving a little bit of a sense of entitlement, take a step back and just remind yourself, like why you’re keeping score because so many people will say, “Well, I’m a good person. I deserve better,” or, “I’m going to put all this good stuff out in the universe,” but then they’re really only doing it because they expect it to come back to them, like, “Oh, if I earn enough karma points, then good things will happen.”

So, just remember that whatever it is you have to offer the world isn’t a loan; it’s a gift. You have plenty of things to give the world, but if you always expect to get the exact amounts of things back that you’re putting out into the world, you’re not going to be happy. So, just knowing, it’s wonderful that you have gifts and talents and skills and things that you can give to the world but you’re not guaranteed that, just because you’re a nice person, good things are going to come your way.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. And I want to ask you, we had another podcast guest, Robert Glazer, do you know him?

Amy Morin
I know of him, yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, he quoted you in his email, so you got that going for you. And I really liked this a lot, you say, “The more you practice tolerating discomfort, the more confidence you’ll gain in your ability to accept new challenges.” Now, that sounds true. Do you have some awesome studies or data or research backing that up as well?

Amy Morin
Yeah. So, I guess when it comes to discomfort, we do in therapy something we teach people is distress tolerance skills. And so often, again, our default is to run from distress, but I see it all the time in my therapy office, when people learn to tolerate distress, the things that they thought were really scary, really aren’t that scary anymore.

So, distress tolerance skills can be anything from developing a mantra in your brain that you repeat over and over, so that when you start thinking, “Ah, I can’t handle this,” or sometimes it’s just about tolerating something a little longer than you think that you can. So often we’ll think, “Oh, I can’t stand this.” Well, you can, and you’ll train your brain to see things a little bit differently if you tolerate it a little bit longer than you think you can.

So, I love to run. One of my challenges is I try to run a six-minute mile every day. I can’t quite do it yet but I do it. I attempt to do it anyway. And it never fails, about the three-quarter mile mark, my brain tells me, “You can’t do this.” But I know my brain is lying, like I can keep running at that pace, and despite the fact, though, that my brain will keep telling me, “You’re too tired. Your lungs can’t hack it. Your legs are going to give out,” whatever it is, we go through this lengthy list of reasons why my brain wants me to quit because it’s uncomfortable to try to run.

But I know, I can trick my brain or I can prove to my brain that it’s wrong. And, slowly, over time, my brain now is like, “Okay, I know that you’re going to keep running, anyway but we’re going to keep trying these things on you,” and our brain will try to trick us and tell us that we can’t stand it, but we can. And the best strategy I know to do is to just prove your brain wrong. Know that your brain will underestimate you, it will tell you that you’re not capable, you’re not competent, but when it tells you that, just say, “Okay, challenge accepted,” and push yourself a little harder and see what happens.

And over time, you can train your brain to see you as a little more competent, a little more capable, and that will give you the confidence to know, “Okay, I can handle being uncomfortable.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that could happen either through doing the thing that is unpleasant, either through physical exercise, running as you mentioned. I’ve actually been…I got on a Wim Hof kick, if you know this guy. I’ve been dunking my hands and face into ice water and, well, actually, it’s rather refreshing in and of itself but it also hurts and is unpleasant.

And so, that’s kind of the challenge, it’s like, “Oh, I really want to take my hand out of this ice water now.” It’s like, “Well, I will do that in 10 seconds.” And in so doing, I don’t have the data here, but I think that this is doing something good for me and the ability to tolerate discomfort and have confidence in my abilities. And so, I guess, Amy, I’m not crazy. Shoving my face and hands in ice water can be helpful in this way?

Amy Morin
Yeah. And that is right along the exact same theory, and that’s one thing that I have refused to do. I grew up in rural Maine where a lot of people don’t have running water. To be honest, there are still a lot of poverty there. My parents both grew up in extreme poverty and worked really hard to make sure that I had hot water. Like, I cannot do that to my parents, to then say, “Hey, guess what? I’m taking a cold shower for fun.” So, I don’t do that but it’s absolutely along the same lines, to say, “Okay, how do I put myself in an uncomfortable situation?” And then prove to myself that, “Yeah, this is uncomfortable but I can stand it.”

And then when you teach yourself, “I’m going to do this a little longer than I would like to,” it just teaches it, “Yeah, I can go out there and do hard things. And although it’s uncomfortable, it’s not the end of the world.”

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

Amy Morin
Gosh, no, I think you’ve covered so much about mental strength. I appreciate that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. All right. Well, then can you start with a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Amy Morin
So, something my mother always used to tell me was, “Never let your morals get in the way of doing what’s right.” She didn’t make that quote up but I’m not sure who said it, but it’s something I remind myself quite often. There’s plenty of things out there, sometimes it may not be what I think is the moral decision but then when you really stop and think about it, you think, “No, but this is the right thing to do.”

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

Amy Morin
I think one of my favorite studies is the one where they took a look at older men who were like in their 80s, and they decided to rewind the clock. Most of these men had some physical health issues, maybe some cognitive decline, but what you’d expect from elderly men. And they decided to put them in a situation where they pretended like it was back in like 1950, back when they’d still have been vibrant men in their 40s and physically capable, and they made their surroundings looked like it was 1950.

And they found that, by doing that, some of these men started to stand up straighter, their health got better, their mental health improved, their cognitive abilities improved, simply because they thought this is how they were supposed to be. And I guess what I take away from that study is sometimes we think, okay, whether it’s about aging, or it’s about a person with a certain illness or ailment, or whatever it is, we have this notion of, “This is how I should be when I’m 40. This is how I should be if I have high cholesterol or some physical health issue,” but it’s really our minds that make all of those things happen.

And so, if we can just remind ourselves, “Well, if I want to behave like the person I want to become, I want to be a vibrant healthy younger person,” or, “I want to be somebody who’s happy and full of life. I want to be a confident person,” act like that person now and you could become it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Amy Morin
My favorite recent book is The Gift written by Edith Eger, she’s a Holocaust survivor.

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

Amy Morin
One of the things I do that still probably helps me the most is I keep a paper calendar so I can have it in front of me, and so I can look at dates and things going on, and still writing down lists and having that with me at all times instead of just relying on technology. It helps me feel better.

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

Amy Morin
I would say running every day.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that people quote back to you often, they re-tweet, they Kindle book highlight, it’s the Amy original they can’t resist?

Amy Morin
Yeah, I think I said something to the effect of whomever said time heals everything lied to us. It’s what you do with your time that matters.

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

Amy Morin
My website AmyMorinLCSW.com.

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

Amy Morin
I would say set a goal this week and challenge yourself to do it, and then check in and see what happened, and what can you learn from it, and ask yourself, “What did I do to become mentally stronger this week?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Amy, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and success and mental strength.

Amy Morin
Thank you. I appreciate it.

766: Marshall Goldsmith on Simple Shifts for a More Fulfilling Career and Life

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Marshall Goldsmith unpacks the pervasive myths about happiness and provides an alternative path for finding fulfillment every day.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three ingredients of a fulfilling life 
  2. Six powerful questions for increasing your happiness every day
  3. The powerful mindset that stops people-pleasing 

About Marshall

Marshall Goldsmith has been recognized for years as the world’s leading executive coach and the New York Times bestselling author of many books, including What Got You Here Won’t Get You ThereMojo, and Triggers. He received his Ph.D. from the UCLA Anderson School of Management. In his coaching practice, Goldsmith has advised more than 200 major CEOs and their management teams. He and his wife live in Nashville, Tennessee.

Resources Mentioned

Marshall Goldsmith Interview Transcript

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

Marshall Goldsmith
Thank you so much for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. And, boy, you have a unique vantage point having coached so many people. I’d love to get your take on what is perhaps the most consistent observation you have that differentiates those who feel fulfilled versus those who feel regret?

Marshall Goldsmith
I think if I look at the fulfilled versus regret continuum, you really need to look at life from three perspectives. One is the perspective of we need higher aspirations because if you don’t have higher aspirations, you don’t have an answer to the question “Why?” “Why did I put in all that time and effort?”

Then number two, you need to have ambitions that are aligned to your aspirations. Our ambitions are our achievement of goals. And then number three, you need to enjoy the process of life. You need to enjoy what you’re doing. So, the two biggest regrets are, one, at the aspirational level, “Why didn’t I go for something big?” and, two, at the day-to-day level, “Why didn’t I enjoy the process of life itself?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I feel if we could spend hours talking about that alone. And so, I’m intrigued then, when you distinguished an aspiration from an ambition, how precisely?

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, to me, and again, I always use operational definitions. The reason is I never argue about semantics because people can define different words in different ways so I make no claim that these are better or worse definitions. They’re just definitions I use.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Marshall Goldsmith
As I use the term aspiration, I’m talking to a higher purpose that does not have a finish line, and aspiration is, again, an answer to the question of “Why?” Our aspiration as a person we’re trying to become but it’s not like you ever get there. An ambition is differentiated from that, and my definition is ambition is our achievement of goals that do actually have a finish line.

And then the third element is our actions. Our actions are day to day. So, our aspirations have no timeline, our ambitions are time-bound, and our actions are immediate.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. Thank you. Well, so you unpack some of these ideas in your latest book The Earned Life. What would you say is the core message or thesis in this work?

Marshall Goldsmith
One of the core messages of the book is that every time you take a breath, every time we take a breath, it’s a new me. So, as we go through life, we have to constantly look at the process of re-earning. Many great Western myths, one book always ended with the same ending, “And they lived happily ever after.” Well, that type of book is referred to as a fairytale. That’s not the real world.

In the real world, you never get there. In the real world, you’re always re-earning your life constantly, and people who try to live in the past, or think they’ve got there, almost invariably fall apart. Examples. National Football League, 80% divorces, 70% bankrupt in five years, depression. Football league, worse. Basketball league, the X star, the X pretty much anything, if you’re not careful, you fall apart.

So, in society we tend to, in our Western society, place our value as human beings on the results we achieve, and the book is kind of counterintuitive. The book says, “Never become ego-attached to the results of what you achieve. Never make the results of what you achieve your identity. And never think achieving the results is going to make you happy,” because if you do, it’s a fool’s game for a couple of reasons.

One is the results are not in your total control. You can’t control what’s going to happen in everything. COVID, I don’t think I caused COVID or you caused COVID. You can’t always control the results. And then, two, even more important, what happens after you’ve achieved the results? All right. Well, maybe you’re happy for a week or a day, but then what happens? You’d have to have another result.

So, the Buddhist term for this is a hungry ghost, always eating but never full. So, the point I make in the book is don’t confuse achievement with other things, like, for example, happiness. Now, one of the guys that was in this group that I worked with over COVID, his name is Safi Bahcall. Safi has got an IQ probably equal to mine and yours combined, and he has a PhD in Physics from Stanford, he’s a brilliant guy, he started businesses, made tens of millions of dollars, wrote a book called Loonshots, and consulted by presidents and on and on and on.

Safi said he finally learned something after all of our conversations. What it was is, he said, and he speaks like a scientist, “I used to think that happiness was a dependent variable based upon achievement. What I finally realized is that happiness and achievement are independent variables. You can be incredibly happy and achieve a lot. You can be happy and achieve nothing. You can be miserable and achieve a lot. You can be miserable and achieve nothing.”

He said he finally learned the importance of being happy is to be happy. The importance of achievement is the achievement. And in the West, we’ve been bombarded with the one message over and over, “You will be happy when…” when you buy the product, when you graduate, when you do something, there’s this place you’re going to be, and it kind of is going to last forever. The reality is that doesn’t work.

And then, finally, of course, we have the great Western artform, which you may have seen before, by the way. The great Western artform involves a drama, and there is a person, the person is sad, “Oh, they spend money, they buy a product and they become happy.” This is called a commercial. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those before, but it’s reasonably pervasive in our culture.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, when you say commercial and the story, it’s so funny. You talk about unhappiness. I remember, I had a friend who had a toddler, and they were accustomed to watching very little TV, or if some, like Netflix for kids, so not commercials, were not a part of this youngster’s life. And then she went to someone else’s house and the TV was on, and the commercial came on, and she said, in terror, to her mother, “Mommy, what is this? I don’t want to see this.” It was very jarring, “It’s just a commercial.” Like, I’ve been exposed to maybe millions of them over a lifetime.

And so, yeah, it’s jarring, perhaps, at an innate level. And so then, I’m curious, so then if one does not get happiness by achievements…

Marshall Goldsmith
Results.

Pete Mockaitis
Results.

Marshall Goldsmith
Don’t fixate on results, right.

Pete Mockaitis
Then what does bring about happiness?

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, the great Western myth is happiness comes from the outside. Happiness doesn’t come from the outside. There’s not enough stuff out there to make you happy. I’m a philosophical, not religious, but a philosophical Buddhist. I’ve read probably 400 books on Buddhism. Buddha was brought up very rich. He’s brought up very rich, and he was protected, and he was always given the message, “You will be happy when you get more.”

So, he kept getting more and more and more, and he lived in a bubble. He was able to sneak outside his bubble three times. The first time he learned people get old. Second time, you get sick. Third time, you die. He goes, “Old, sick, and die. This is not so good. All that more, more, more stuff isn’t working.” Then he tried to be happy with less. He starved himself, lived in the woods, lived like a hermit. Guess what? That didn’t work either.

He finally learned something, which is the essence of Buddhism, “You can never be happy with more. You can never be happy with less. There’s only one thing you can ever be happy with – what you have. There’s only one time you can ever be happy – now. There’s only one place you can ever be happy – here.” Where’s Nirvana, for you listeners? Nirvana is listening to this podcast. Here it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Can we quote you on that one, Marshall, put it on the website?

Marshall Goldsmith
Nirvana is listening to this podcast right now. Here it is. If you’re listening to this podcast, welcome to heaven, welcome to hell, welcome to everything. It’s all right here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man. Oh, there’s so much to dig into. All right. So, then, let’s say, if we would like to upgrade our current level of happiness, chasing more results isn’t an optimal pathway, according to this school of thought.

Marshall Goldsmith
It’s neither positive nor negative. Results don’t make you less happy nor do they make you more happy. Results are good for achieving results. The problem is don’t expect the results to make you happy, though.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. And so, what do you recommend as a path toward increased happiness?

Marshall Goldsmith
Make peace with what is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Marshall Goldsmith
I’m going to give all the listeners a little technique you can use to increase happiness. Very simple. On a one-to-ten scale, every day, evaluate yourself on one question, “Did I do my best to be happy today?” A simple question. “Did I do my best today to be happy?” Now, it doesn’t say you even were happy. Did you just try to make the best of it and be happy today?

Now, in my book Triggers, I interviewed three of the smartest people I ever met. One of them is Dr. Jim Kim. Dr. Jim Kim has a simultaneous MD and PhD with honors in anthropology from Harvard in five years. Put this in context, a normal human being gets a PhD in anthropology from Harvard in eight years. Well, he got one in five years and got an MD at the same time. Then he went on to be the head of partners in health, and then he worked as president of the World Bank eventually.

Dr. Rajiv Shah was the head of the United States Agency for International Development at age 37, reported to Hillary Clinton. Now, he’s head of the Rockefeller Foundation. And Dr. John Noseworthy was head of the Mayo Clinic, one of the best hospitals in the world. So, I’m the coach of all these guys. So, I interviewed them individually and separately, and asked a question, “On the average day, how would you score and answer to this question, ‘Did I do my best to be happy today?’” All three had the same answer, “It never dawned on me to try to be happy. I was too busy achieving things and I never thought about it.”

Now, they’re all medical doctors, so I said, “I have a question. Did it dawn on you, you’re going to die? Did they cover that in medical school about death? Did they bring that one up?” They said, “Yes, they cover that in medical school. Death, they’re aware of that one.” I said, “Do you think this is a silly question?” They said, “No. It’s an important question I never asked. I was just too busy.” Well, one way you can be happy is, every day – guess what – try to be happy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I guess when one tries to be happy that, individualistically, of course, different things make different people happy, and then I guess there are some universal phenomena in terms of like human beings and their needs. I guess there’s sort of a hedonistic…

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, let me stop. Some people would say, “That means I need to go on more vacations or do something else,” right? Again, that keeps implying that somehow something out there is going to make me happy – the vacation, the break, whatever. Try to be happy doing what you’re doing now. Try to be happy at every second at work. Try to be happy on vacation. Wherever you are, just say, “Look, I’m going to make the best of this and be happy and make peace with what is.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe let’s zoom way in on trying to be happy and what that can look, sound, feel like in practice. Let’s say you are back from vacation, you got a huge email inbox with a thousand messages, you’re like, “Ugh, what a pain.”

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, now we’ve started to hit the problem, “Ugh” is the problem. You know what you say, “I’ve got a thousand inboxes. I’m going to make the best of it.” I didn’t say, the question is not “Were you happy?” The question is, “Did you try to be happy? Did you make the best of the thousand?” Now, you may not be ecstatic with a thousand but you have an option. You could be a victim, a martyr, “Poor me. Isn’t life awful? I have to do emails,” wah, wah, wah. Or, you could say, “Okay, got these emails anyway. Let’s make the best of it.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then could you share some examples for what making the best of it might look, sound, feel like in that moment?

Marshall Goldsmith
Yeah. Making the best of it is the first thing you tell yourself, “I’m not going to be miserable.” The second thing you tell yourself is, “What can I do to make the experience more pleasant?” which might involve music or whatever you can do. And then what you try to do is just optimize the experience in the best way you can.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. Well, thank you. So, all right, we’ve covered a lot of good stuff here. There are a few specific areas I want to zero in on with you. And so, when it comes to folks who do have a high level of achievement, you have a unique vantage point having coached many folks who are there. What are some of the challenges that you’ve seen come up again and again for them?

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, I wrote a book called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, which kind of addresses the classic challenges of mega-successful people. And one of the classic challenges is this…I’m going to give you two or three. One of the overall challenges is this, “I behave this way. I am successful. Therefore, I must be successful because I behave this way.”

Any human or any animal will replicate behavior that’s followed by positive reinforcement. The more successful we become, the more positive reinforcement we get, and the more we fall into what’s called the superstition trap. We confuse in spite of and because of. Everyone I coach is successful because they do many things right, or they wouldn’t be there.

They’re also successful in spite of doing some things that are stupid. And I’ve never met anyone so wonderful, they had nothing on the in-spite-of list. We all got a little something on the in-spite-of list here. Well, don’t confuse yourself.

The other thing is classic problems, my book, I talk about classic problems of successful people. I was interviewed in a Harvard Business Review, and asked a question, “What is the number one problem of all of the successful people you’ve coached over the years? What is their number one problem?” My answer was, “Winning too much.”

What does that mean? It’s important, we want to win; meaningful, we want to win; critical, we want to win; trivial, we want to win; and not worth it, we want to win anyway. Winners love winning. It’s about for winners not to constantly win.

Now, I’m going to give you a case study that almost all my clients fail, and, I will make a prediction, almost anyone listening to me will fail this case study. Are you ready?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Let’s do it.

Marshall Goldsmith
You want to go to dinner at restaurant X. Your wife, husband, friend, or partner wants to go to dinner at restaurant Y. You have a heated argument. You go to restaurant Y. It was not your choice. The food tastes awful and the service is terrible. Option A, you could critique the food, point out our partner was wrong, “You know this mistake could’ve been avoided if only you listened to me, me, me, me, me, me, me.”

Option B, shut up. Eat the stupid food. Try to enjoy it and have a nice night. What would I do? What should I do? Almost all of my clients, “What would I do?” critiqued the food. “What should I do?” Shut up. Even worse, you have a hard day at work. You come home. Your husband, wife, friend, or partner is there and the other person says, “I had such a hard day today. I had such a tough day.” And we reply, “You had a hard day? You had a hard day? Do you have any idea what I had to put up with today? Do you think you had a hard day?” We’re so competitive, we had to prove we are more miserable than the people we live with.

I gave this example to my class at the Dartmouth Tuck School, a young man raised his hand, he said, “I did that last week.” I asked him, “What happened?” He said, “My wife looked at me and she said, ‘Honey, you just think you had a hard day. It is not over.’”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, if we are kind of in that winning addiction sort of a mode, any pro tips on breaking out of it?

Marshall Goldsmith
Yeah, start breathing before you try to win these battles, and ask one question, “Is it worth it?” Just stop, breathe, “Is it worth it?” A second issue which is related to this is called adding too much value, “I’m young, smart, enthusiastic. You’re my boss. I come to you with an idea, you think it’s a great idea.” Rather than saying it’s a great idea, we have to say, “Oh, that’s a nice idea. Why don’t you add this to it?”

“Well, the problem is the quality may go up 5%, my commitment just went down 50%. It’s no longer my idea, boss. Now it’s your idea.” Incredibly difficult for smart people not to add value. One of my coaching clients was a man named JP Garnier, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline. I asked JP, “What did you learn about leadership as a CEO of GlaxoSmithKline?” He said, “I learned a hard lesson. My suggestions become orders.” Now, he said, “If they’re smart, they’re orders, and if they’re stupid, they’re orders. And if I want them to be orders, they’re orders. And if I don’t want them to be orders, they’re orders anyway. My suggestions become orders.”

For nine years, I trained admirals in the Navy. What’s the first thing I teach to new admirals? “You get that first star, your suggestions become orders.” Admiral gives a suggestion, what’s a response? “Aye, aye,” that suggestion is an order. I asked JP, “What did you learn from me when I was your coach?” He said, “You taught me one lesson to help me be a better CEO and have a happier life.” I said, “What was it?” He said, “Before I speak, breathe. Breathe. Breathe, and ask myself one question, ‘Is it worth it? Is it worth it?’”

And he said, “As a CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, 50% of the time, if I had the discipline to stop and to breathe, and to say, ‘Is it worth it?’ what did I decide? Am I right? Maybe. Is it worth it? No.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, again, there’s just more shutting up, I suppose, like, “Hmm, that’s an idea. Okay. Run with it. Run with that idea you had and I will just hold back my 5% improvement and let you own it all the more.”

Marshall Goldsmith
Do it. Go out and delegate. Delegate. You know why? Effectiveness of execution is a function of, A, what’s the quality of the idea times, B, what’s my commitment to make it work. And sometimes we get wrapped up in improving the quality 5%, we damage the commitment 50%. It’s not worth it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that I’ve heard this in the realm of fitness, and I think it makes something like an imperfect plan executed with perfect intensity will get far better results than a perfect plan executed with imperfect intensity. And so, if you’ve got a thing that you’re doing that’s working for you, and then someone says, “Oh, no, actually, you’re doing it all wrong. You should really be doing, I don’t know, intervals or more weight or whatever.” It’s like, “Oh,” that just sort of “Ew,” like that’s the energy flow is out, like, “Ew,” and then you have less commitment to do the thing and less great results flowing from it.

Marshall Goldsmith
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, you also have some great perspectives on empathy in your book. Can you share some of these with us?

Marshall Goldsmith
Now, I really didn’t start learning this section until I was probably…I’m 73 now, until I was probably 71 years old. I always thought empathy sounded like a nice thing, it sounds warm and fuzzy and kind and good, so I thought kind of always empathy is good. But then I began to study empathy and I realized, no, empathy is sometimes useful, is often dysfunctional.

So, I’ve studied it and there are four types of empathy I talk about in the book, and I’m going to talk briefly about each. One is called the empathy of understanding. Now, empathy just means being able to put yourself in the other person’s position. Well, the first one is empathy of understanding. That’s understanding where they are coming from. Now, that can be very positive. This is the one I’m best at as a coach.

It’s very helpful as a coach. I can use it to help people. It can also be used, though, to manipulate people. Advertisers have a great ability to understand where you’re coming from, often better than you do. Let’s take Budweiser. They do this ad for the donkey and the horse. They spent hundreds of millions of dollars.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s with the Clydesdales, and then like the owner, and they reunite at the…?

Marshall Goldsmith
Oh, yeah. You remember it. You can remember that ad. Now, they’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on variations of the little donkey and the horse. Why? Because it sells beer. If you think anybody that goes in to buy beer, any man, some macho man going in to buy beer is saying, “You know, I want to buy this beer because I love the little donkey and the horse.”

No, that is exactly why they buy the beer. That’s why Budweiser spends hundreds of millions of dollars on the donkey and the horse. They’re not idiots, right? That’s called the empathy of understanding. They understand the consumer better than the consumer understands themselves. So, empathy of understanding, propaganda people have great empathy of understanding, can be positive, can be used to help you, can be used to manipulate you.

The second one is called the empathy of feeling, “I feel your pain. I feel your joy.” It could be good. If you go to a football game, the feelings experienced in the brain by the fan is almost exactly the same feeling of the person getting the touchdown, “I feel your joy,” but also it could be, “I feel your pain.” One of my coaching clients is the CEO of St. Jude Children’s Hospital. He gets to watch people die every day. Well, you know what? He can’t experience that feeling day after day after day and stay alive. He has to learn to block that out.

The next one is called the empathy of caring. Sounds good, “I care about what’s happening to you.” Obviously, that can be very positive, make you a better helping person. On the other hand, it could cause problems. Now, I love the example in my book. It’s a hedge fund manager. The last thing you ever think of caring is a hedge fund manager, of all people. I’m watching one of the world’s top hedge fund managers get interviewed by another great hedge fund manager. So, the one guy says to the other, “Why don’t you have a fund anymore? You could make a fortune.” The older guy says, “I’m not as good as I was.” The younger guy says, “Why not?” The older guy says, “I started caring.”

Now, he’s worth, at the time, $3 billion. He said, “Obviously, I’ve made a lot of money, I’ve made tens of millions of dollars for others, billions for myself, but I’ve also lost tens of billions of dollars. I probably won 52 and lost 48. That’s pretty good but it never bothered me. When I grew older, I thought, ‘This is retirement money. This is people’s healthcare. This is important,’ and I started worrying.” And you know what he said? “I became much less effective. Now,” he said, “I only invest my own money because if I win, I win; I lose, I lose. It doesn’t matter anyway. I just invest my own money.”

Very interesting. That’s why you don’t let parents operate on their children. They care too much. Burnout in hospitals, too much caring. They can’t let it go. They bring it home. Cared too much. And the final empathy is the empathy of doing, “On the positive side, I’m not just caring about you. I’m doing something to help you.” But on the negative side, that can lead to treating people like children, creating dependency, “Mommy and daddy do it for you all the time.”

So, what I’ve said is the most important empathy is what I call singular empathy. What that means is I am being who I need to be for the person I’m with now. I am being who I need to be for the person I’m with now. I’m not being who I need to be because I just feel like being that way. And so, it really doesn’t deify a lot of things that are deified in society, like caring is good. Caring is not always good. During COVID, caring has caused all kinds of problems.

Feeling other people’s pain is certainly not always good. There’s only so much of that you can do. You need to be able to block that stuff off and think about the person you’re with. So, when my friend who runs, say, San Diego Children’s Hospital comes home, he can’t bring that with him. That’s not fair to his wife. It’s not fair to his kids. He’s got to block that out, compartmentalize, and say, “I’m going to be the father I need to be right now, not the person who’s in the hospital two hours ago.”

Pete Mockaitis
Now, that sounds ideal. In practice, we are creatures with emotions. How do you recommend we dial up or down the empathy in a given moment when we find ourselves appearing in a different way?

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, one of the people in my 100 Coaches group is named Telly Leung. So, if you’ve ever seen the play Aladdin before, he played the role of Aladdin on Broadway three years. Literally 1,000 times he played this role. So, I asked Telly about empathy, “How did you do it?” He said, “I have to get on this stage every night and demonstrate empathy.” He’s gay, and he said, “Ever night, I have to fall in love with the princess. And you’re right, it’s certainly not easy. That’s why he’s a Broadway star, most people are not, yet he does it.

And he said, “When I was a little boy, eight years old, I went to a play and had music and singing and dancing, and it was so wonderful. I had such a nice experience.” He said, “Every night I think of that little boy in the audience. And you know what? I’m not doing it for me. I’m doing it for that kid. This may be the thousands of times I’ve done this play. These kids have never seen the play before. It’s not for me. It’s for them.” Well, back to, “How do you do it?” You quit thinking about, “It’s for me.” You start thinking about, “It’s for them.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Oh, Marshall, there’s so much good stuff. Can we hear about the new breath paradigm?

Marshall Goldsmith
Yeah. Now, again, this is another good Buddha stuff. One thing I love about…I teach a lot of stuff that’s Buddha’s, and I called Buddha up, and I said, “Buddha, I’m using your stuff all the time. Do I need to send you any commission checks?” You know what he said? “Just knock yourself out. It’s okay.” He doesn’t charge me money to use his stuff.

Well, The Every Breath Paradigm is a Buddhist paradigm that says, “Every time I take a breath, it’s a new me.” It’s a new me. Whatever happened in the past was done by a whole different set of people called the previous versions of me. That’s not me. The me is the person who’s here right now. That’s me. And those were the previous me’s.

Now, this is very helpful for a variety of things. One is called forgiveness. One, forgiving ourselves. Basically, I ask people, “Take a deep breath and think of all the previous versions of you. Think of all the gifts those people have given you that’s here. Think about all the nice things they’ve done. Think about the people they’ve helped. If anybody did that many nice things, what would you say to those people? Thank you. Just say thank you. Did they make some mistakes? Let it go. Let it go. Don’t waste your life worrying about stuff that’s over. Let it go.”

Well, I do LinkedIn posts. I have like 1.3 something million followers on LinkedIn. The most popular one I ever did said, “Forgive other people for being who they are and forgive yourself for believing that they were someone else.” Well, part of that is just letting go of the past. And the other thing is I’m a really big believer in living your life. Don’t live vicariously.

Now, what is vicarious living? Well, the average kid that’s flunking out of school in the United States spends 55 hours a week on non-academic media – video games, TV, texting, just non-academic stuff – and they’re not living their own life. They’re living somebody else’s life. They’re living through others. In a way, this Every Breath Paradigm, you don’t live in the past. You live in the present. Living in the past is like living someone else’s life.

You won the Super Bowl several years ago. That’s nice. That’s not you. That’s not you. You’re living through that kid that won the Super Bowl. Well, the people that try to live in the past, generally, are not so happy with the present. Why? They’re still living in that other person’s life. They’re still imagining they won the Super Bowl. Well, somebody won the Super Bowl. You didn’t. Some kid did. The kid did a great job. Fine. Thank you, kid. You didn’t. And live your own life in the present.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, that really connects to this earning, The Earned Life then. And when we say the word earning, maybe just to clarify, what precisely do we mean by earning and why the word earn?

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, I use the word earn in a way that says you’re living an earned life when, at any moment in time, and one of the keys is at any moment in time, that your risks, your actions, your commitments are aligned with a higher sense of purpose regardless of the results. So, what you are is you’re doing your best to live the life you want to live.

An earned life is something that is constantly re-done. Like I said, the fairytale is, “They lived happily ever after.” The great Western disease, “I will be happy when I get the money, status, BMW, condominium, achievement, degree, blah, blah, blah.” “I’ll be happy when…” If that stuff would make you happy, everyone I coach would be dancing off the ceiling every day. They’re all 99.99 on achievement.

Do you really believe going from 99.99 to 99.90 is going to make any difference? No. If you’re not happy at 99.99, that extra little bit is not going to matter. It’s not going to matter. Half the people I coach are billionaires. One guy I coach is worth $4 billion. And what am I supposed to do, help you get up to 4.1? Boy, what does it matter? Well, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. So, an important thing is just being happy.

Now, I didn’t mention the marshmallow study yet, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, was this Walter Mischel?

Marshall Goldsmith
Yeah. Now, you know the marshmallow research. The marshmallow research is fascinating. You take a bunch of kids and you give them a marshmallow. Kid eats one, you say he gets one but if the kid waits, ooh, two. Now, allegedly, they had this longitudinal research that shows the kids that eat one become drug addicts, and the kids that eat two all get PhDs from Harvard. It’s a little exaggerated but the message is clear. Delayed gratification is good. If you delay gratification, you will achieve more. Delayed gratification is good. Almost every self-help book is about delayed gratification and how wonderful it is.

Here’s what they did not do in the research. What they didn’t do in the research is take a kid with two marshmallows and said, “Hey, kid, wait a little bit longer, three. Wait some more, four. Five, ten, a hundred, a thousand.” Where do you end up? An old man in a room waiting to die surrounded by thousands of uneaten marshmallows. If all you do is delay gratification, guess what you get in life? Delay. Guess what you don’t get? Gratification.

Jack Welch was the former CEO of GE, a very famous guy. Jack Welch almost died. He has a triple bypass. My friend knows Jack Welch, so he said, “What was your reflection on life upon almost dying?” You know what Jack Welch said? “Why am I drinking the cheap wine every night?” Jack Welch has this incredible wine collection of amazing wine. He’s not drinking it. You know why? He wants it to appreciate in value.

This is Jack Welch. He’s rich. What does it matter how much it appreciates in value? It doesn’t. He’s drinking cheap wine so the good stuff can appreciate in value. You know what he said? “I’ve been insane. I’ve been insane. What am I doing? No more cheap wine for me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. There you have it. And so then, well, how do you recommend we navigate that? Sometimes these things are intentioned, let’s have the great wine versus let’s let it appreciate, let’s have a marshmallow now versus invest or wait for more later. It seems like you can go to either extreme to your detriment. How do you kind of make the call?

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, let me give you how you hit the jackpot of life. It’s not that complicated. What matters? One, you need to be healthy. Well, I can’t control that. Two, you need at least a middle-class income. Well, I’m not an expert on finance or helping you make money. Most of your listeners probably do have at least have a middle-class income. And, by the way, if they don’t, they may not be as happy. If they do, being a multibillionaire won’t make any difference, statistically, or not much. And then, number three, you have to have great relationships with people you love.

Assuming you have great relationships with people you love, one; two, you’re healthy; and then, three, you’re making a middle-class income, what matters in life? One is I have a higher aspiration. I have a reason for doing this, and it doesn’t have to be religious. It could be any higher aspiration, great family, whatever it is. Two, I’m achieving things that are meaningful to me that are connected to this aspiration. And, three, I’m enjoying the process of life. That’s about it.

If the answer is, “I’m enjoying this. I’m having a good time. I’m doing something that’s meaningful for me, and it’s connected to a higher aspiration,” you just won. That’s about it. If there’s more, by the way, I’m unfamiliar with what it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Okay. And I, finally, want to get some perspectives from you about credibility. How do we earn that, have that?

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, credibility, there’s a lot of irony about the concept of proving ourselves. As we go through life, we constantly have to prove ourselves. You’ve taken thousands of tests, you’ve had to prove you’re smart, we’ve had to fit in. If you look at our ancestors, if you didn’t fit in, you died. Well, we’ve always had to prove ourselves. It’s very hard to stop. Yet, if you look up “need for approval” and do a Google search, almost every URL says it’s a psychological dysfunction.

Yeah, need for approval is a psychological dysfunction. That’s a little insane. We all need approval. We couldn’t survive if we didn’t get some form of approval. Children learn this before they learn how to speak. They learn how to gain approval. Well, here’s the issue, when is need for approval useful and when is it dysfunctional?

In my book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, most of the book is about people who spend too much time proving themselves. They win too much. They prove they’re right. They add too much value. They oversell. Classic problems of very high-level, aggressive, smart people. I wrote a book with Sally Helgesen, though she’s the lead author, called How Women Rise. And Sally said many women she works with have the opposite problem. They don’t promote themselves enough. They hide their light under the bushel.

And she had a good technique for working with women like that. She asks them a few questions. Question number one, “If you became more influential and powerful, will the world be worse off or better off?” Well, they usually say, “Well, I believe it would be better off.” Question two, “Does trying to become more influential and powerful make you uncomfortable?” “Yes, it does.” Question three, “What’s more important to you, being comfortable or making a positive difference in the world?”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Marshall Goldsmith
You don’t get it both ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Nice little combo there.

Marshall Goldsmith
Yeah, you don’t get it both ways. So, if you’re uncomfortable with trying to be influential, don’t whine because you’re not making any difference in the world. Peter Drucker taught me. I was on the advisory board of Peter Drucker Foundation for 10 years. He taught me many wonderful lessons. I’m very lucky. One lesson was this, he said, “Our mission in life is to make a positive difference, not to prove we’re smart, not to prove we’re right.”

Message two, “Every decision in the world is made by the person who has the power to make the decision. Make peace with that.” Not the smartest person, or the best person, or a fair person, a good person. Decisions are often made by insane people. Make peace with that. If I need to influence you, and you have the power to make the decision, there’s one word to describe you. It’s called customer. One word to describe me is called salesperson. Sell what you can sell. Change what you can change. And if you cannot sell it, and you cannot change it, just take a deep breath and let it go.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Marshall, thank you. Anything else you want to make sure to put out there before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Marshall Goldsmith
We can shift gears. Save a few minutes at the end for a final bit of advice.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Shall do. Can you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Marshall Goldsmith
I’ll give you a great quote from my favorite movie. Now, this is a Buddhist movie. A lot of people don’t understand that. My favorite movie is The Wizard of Oz. And the great quote is, “There’s no place like home.” Now, what Dorothy means by that is if you can’t find it here, you can’t find it. It’s not out there. It’s here. There’s no place like home.

So, yeah, the movie is a very profound movie. The book was written by a Buddhist. A lot of people don’t know this, and it’s really a great Buddhist parable of life. She has always had the ability to go home but doesn’t know it. The Tin Man already has emotions but doesn’t know it. The Scarecrow is always coming up with good ideas. The Lion does good things. They’re looking for what they already have.

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

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, I like the marshmallow study for the reasons I said, not because the results are good. It’s because the results kind of illustrate the point I just made. I did a study. By the way, anybody who wants to get it, you can send me an email marshall@marshallgoldsmith.com called Leadership is a Contact Sport with 86,000 people. And in this research, it just impacts if you want to get better as a leader, you get input, you talk to people, you apologize for your mistakes, you follow up, and you get better. And if you don’t get work, you don’t do work, you just go to a class or listen to something, you might as well be watching sitcoms.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Marshall Goldsmith
Yeah, my favorite book is called Old Path, White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hanh. He just recently died. A great Buddhist monk. T-H-I-C-H N-H-A-T H-A-N-H. Thich Nhat Hanh, Old Path, White Clouds. I love that book.

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

Marshall Goldsmith
Yes, are you ready?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Marshall Goldsmith
I’m going to share this with everyone. This is called the daily question process. Now, this takes three minutes a day. it will help you get better at almost anything, and costs nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Marshall Goldsmith
Are you ready?

Pete Mockaitis
I am ready.

Marshall Goldsmith
Sounds too good to be true. Half the people start doing this quit within two weeks, and they do not quit because it does not work. They quit because it does work. What I’m going to teach your listeners next is very easy to understand. It is incredibly difficult to do. Anyone who says it’s easy to do has never done it before. It’s hard to do.

Now, how does it work? You get out a spreadsheet, on one column, write down a series of questions that represent what’s most important in your life: health, work, behavior, friends, family, whatever it is for you. Every question has to be answered with a yes or a no or a number. Seven boxes across, one for every day of the week. Every day you fill it out. At the end of the week, you get a report card.

I will warn your listeners, the report card at the end of the week might not be quite as beautiful as the corporate values plaque you see stacked up on a wall. I’ve been doing these for 25 years. You know what I learned? Life is incredibly easy to talk and life is incredibly difficult to live.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then with those areas, with a yes, no, or number, I imagine if I say, “Health,” I don’t know if I can give that a yes, no, or a number. Do I get a little bit more specific?

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, a health, that’s an easy one. How much do you weigh? How many steps did you take?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. So, I’m turning that into an actionable something.

Marshall Goldsmith
Yeah, it’s just a scorecard. Let me give you the six questions I recommend for everyone. Here are the six, and they all begin with a phrase, “Did I do my best to…?” Now, what I love about that is it doesn’t even say you’ve succeeded. It says, “Did you try?” You see, for example, if I say, “Did you achieve happiness?” You might say, “No, because they had too many inbox things.” That’s not the question. “Did you do your best to be happy?”

So, let me give you the six. Number one, “Did you do your best every day to set clear goals?” Number two, “Did you do your best to make progress toward achieving the goals you set?” Number three, “Did you do your best every day to find meaning in life, not wait for life to be meaningful, but to create meaning where you are?”

Number four, “Did you do your best to be happy every day?” Number five, “Did you do your best to build positive relationships?” And number six, “Did you do your best to be fully engaged, present, engaged? Did you do your best to even try to be engaged or present?” Very humbling exercise I’ve been doing for years.

I had someone call me on the phone every day to make sure I do this for about 25 years, almost every day. Someone asked me, “Well, why do you have someone call you on the phone? Don’t you know the theory about how to change behavior?” I wrote the theory about how to change behavior that’s why I have someone call me on the phone.

My name is Marshall Goldsmith. I got ranked number one coach and leadership thinker in the whole world. I have someone call me on the phone every day just to make sure I do all the simple stuff I teach. Why? I am too cowardly to do any of this stuff by myself, I’m too undisciplined to do any of this stuff by myself, and I need help, and it’s okay. We all need help. Who are we kidding here? Everybody needs help.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, Marshall, I’m curious who that person is, if you’re…and if it goes both ways.

Marshall Goldsmith
Well, sometimes yes, sometimes no. Over the years, it’s been different people. Now, my friend Mark Thompson calls me every day, so it goes both ways. Sometimes I’ve actually paid someone to call me. That works fine, too.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. And is there a key nugget, a Marshall Goldsmith original gem, that gets retweeted, Kindle book highlighted, shared often?

Marshall Goldsmith
I gave that one about forgiveness. I’d say that would probably be the biggest one. Forgive other people for being who they are, and forgive yourself for believing they were someone else. We spend so much time in life carrying around that stuff – anger, resentment – for what? And they’re not losing sleep over you. Who’s being punished? You’re just punishing yourself.

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

Marshall Goldsmith
Go to marshall@marshallgoldsmith.com, that’s my email address. And my website is www.MarshallGoldsmith.com. You can go to YouTube and just put my name in, and you’ll find hundreds of videos. You can go to LinkedIn, I’ve got hundreds of things, and I give everything away. So, all my material, you may copy, share, download, duplicate, use in church, charity, nonprofit. Modify it. Modify it. I don’t care. Put your name on it. It’s just okay. I give everything away anyway. We’re all going to be equally dead here so what am I saving it up for?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a challenge or a final word for listeners?

Marshall Goldsmith
Final word is this. Are you ready? Take a deep breath. Imagine you’re 95 years old. You’re just getting ready to die. Here comes your last breath. Right before you take that breath, you’re given a beautiful gift – the ability to go back in time and talk to the person listening to me right now. The ability to help that person be a better professional. Much more important, the ability to help that person have a better life. What advice would the wise 95-year-old you, who knows what mattered in life, and what didn’t, and what was important, what wasn’t, what advice would that wise old person have for the you that is listening to me right now?

Don’t just say anything or do anything. Just answer that question in your mind. What advice would that old person looking at death have for you? Whatever you’re thinking now, do that. In terms of a performance appraisal, that’s the only one that’s going to matter. If that old person says, “You did the right thing,” you did. If that old person says, “You made a mistake,” you did. You don’t have to impress anybody else.

Some friends of mine interviewed old folks who were dying and got to ask this question. On the personal side, three themes. Theme number one I talk a lot about in the book. Be happy now. Not next week. Not next month. Not next year. Not the “I’ll be happy when…” Don’t spend your life chasing what you don’t have and ignore what you do have. Common comment from old people, “I got so busy chasing what I didn’t have, I never saw what I did have, and I had everything.”

Learning point number two – friends and family. Never become so interested in climbing the ladder of success, you forget the people who love you. When you’re 95 years old, and you look around your deathbed, none of your coworkers are waving goodbye. You realize these people aren’t important. And then number three, if you have a dream, go for it. If you don’t go for it when you’re 35, you may not when you’re 45 or 85. And it doesn’t have to be a big dream. Go to New Zealand, speak Spanish, play a guitar. Other people think your dream is goofy. Who cares? Who cares? It’s not their dream, it’s your dream. It’s not their life, it’s your life.

Business-wise ain’t much different. Number one, life is short. Have fun. Number two, do whatever you can do to help people. The main reason to help people has nothing to do with money or status or getting ahead. The main reason to help people is much deeper. The 95-year-old you would be proud of you because you did, and disappointed if you don’t. And if you do not believe this is true, interview any CEO who’s retiring and ask them a question, “What are you proud of?” I’ve interviewed very many, none told me how big their office was. All they talk about is people they helped.

And then the final advice is go for it. Worlds are changing, the industries are changing. Do what you think is right. You may not win. At least you tried. Old people, we almost never regret the risks we take and fail. We always regret the risks we failed to take. And, finally, thank you for asking me to work with you today. Thank you. And my goal in this podcast is simple. As I’ve grown older, my level of aspiration is actually going down and down and down, my level of impact up and up and up. Well, I’ve quit worrying about what I’m not going to change.

Let me give you my goal. If a few people listening to this have a little better life, this is a good use of my time, and, hopefully, a good use of your time.

Pete Mockaitis
Amen. Marshall, this has been a blessing, a treat. Thank you for all you do. And, please, keep it up.

Marshall Goldsmith
Thank you so much.

765: The Simple Actions Behind Great Teams and Cultures with Daniel Coyle

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Daniel Coyle shares many simple–yet highly effective–actions any team can take to foster a cohesive, positive culture.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Four simple actions that establish deep connection
  2. The top thing that builds trust
  3. How to craft a mantra that truly resonates 

About Daniel

Daniel Coyle is the New York Times bestselling author of The Culture Code, which was named Best Business Book of the Year by Bloomberg, BookPal, and Business Insider. Coyle has served as an advisor to many high-performing organizations, including the Navy SEALs, Microsoft, Google, and the Cleveland Guardians. His other books include The Talent Code, The Secret Race, The Little Book of Talent, and Hardball: A Season in the Projects, which was made into a movie starring Keanu Reeves. Coyle was raised in Anchorage, Alaska, and now lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, during the school year and in Homer, Alaska, during the summer with his wife Jenny, and their four children.

Resources Mentioned

Daniel Coyle Interview Transcript

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

Daniel Coyle
Thanks for having me, Pete. I’m excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. I’m excited to talk about culture, and you’ve spent so many years learning, researching, studying, interviewing on this subject. I’d love to hear, has there been a particularly surprising or weird or counterintuitive discovery you’ve made about culture in all your years of researching?

Daniel Coyle
I’m going to say yes to that, and I’m going to say that it is mostly that, I think, going into it, I, like a lot of other people, thought that great high-performing cultures were these happy places that existed on a higher plane, where every idea was a great idea, and there was tons of agreement and laughter, and that there were these kind of magical places, that if you got to Pixar, or if you got to Navy Seal Team Six, or if you got to San Antonio Spurs, or IDO, life would change and things would be better and magical.

And what I found is that is deeply not true. I’ve spent now the last about seven years visiting the top-performing cultures on the planet, and what you find there is this really different kind of fun that they’re having. It’s the fun of exploring tensions together. It’s not filled with like ping-pong and goofiness, although there is some of that. It’s the love of solving hard problems with people you admire. And that, that is a really unique thing that great cultures create, that you’re connected, you’re being open and transparent and vulnerable and bringing your whole self there, and you’re moving in some interesting direction around some hard obstacles.

And that is like this addictive thing, and that really caught me by surprise because I think when we think about the Pixars and we think about, oh, our dream jobs and our dream cultures, we kind of think that we’re going to leave the sweat behind. And the fact, we’re going to find a lot more joy and more sweat and more connection and more meaning, I think, in being part of a great culture. So, I think their orientation toward tension is different than what people think it is. And that those tensions end up, I think, powering and engaging people in these deep ways that maybe in other cultures you don’t find.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really cool in terms of I’m thinking of Navy Seals, there’s plenty of time that sucks in terms of intense physical training, cold water, etc., and yet the fun they’re having is present but it’s not like cupcakes and puppies and Netflix-type fun.

Daniel Coyle
Yes. There’s this type one and type two fun. Type one fun is like enjoyment, it’s ping-pong tables, it’s that stuff. Type two stuff is doing hard stuff. And I think the fun part of cultures, and if people, if your listeners like…I know it’s kind of useful to think about the most cohesive teams you’ve ever been a part of, and like, “What did that feel like? What was the thing?” And it wasn’t all like laughter. It was also a lot of vulnerability. It was also a lot of hard stuff.

And so, I think that’s the part about culture that really resonated with me as I looked at these places, that they’re mastering the skill set, and I think it is part of being awesome at your job, to coin a phrase, to actually have that ability to, like, “Let’s identify what the hard thing is in this room, and then let’s circle up around it and figure it out together.” And that is a set of kind of subtle skills that’s just beneath the surface. Those skills of like, “How do I build that connection with that person next to me? How do I talk about the problem in a way that doesn’t make it seem threatening or overwhelming? How do I kind of go back to it day after day and mark the progress that we’re making?”

It’s these skills that go beyond just what you sort of do at your job or your job description. These are like relational skills, communication skills. And those are the skills that you see in these places. Like, I kept meeting leaders and people that work there that had that skill set, and that’s kind of what led me to write the two books. First, The Culture Code, which came out a few years ago, and now, The Culture Playbook, which tries to bring some of those skills and some of those actions sort of from underneath to bring them up to the surface so we can look at them and learn from them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, so let’s talk about that specifically, the book, The Culture Playbook. What’s sort of the big idea here and contrast with The Culture Code?

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, The Culture Code is a book about theory and story. I went around visiting these cultures, and it ranged from the ones that we’ve mentioned already, to like the US Women’s National Soccer Team, and the Serbian gang of jewel thieves, who had this really incredible culture. These are very high-performing places.

And since the time, since I’ve written the book, the landscape has changed in some really interesting ways. The idea of building a team is different in the age of post-COVID of hybrid work where a lot of people are working by themselves and communicating through these crazy windows that we’re using now, and this idea of “How do we tap into the core elements of what it takes to bring a human group together and do it in this new landscape, this landscape where we’ve got more going on, changing faster?”

And what I found in the book is that the fundamentals still don’t change. These 60 actions that I talk about are fundamentally built to create…there’s three things that groups do, there’s three things that cultures do: they connect, they create trust so they can work together, and they move in a direction. That’s what culture is. It’s building relationships so you can solve problems together.

And the book, which has sort of these three sections on these three different skill sets, first, “How do I build that connection? How do I do that?” And, secondly, “How do I create shared vulnerability and trust, where I’m going to let go of the trapeze and I know that you’re going to catch me at the other end?” And, finally, “How do we handle direction? How do we move toward a true north, establish that, and keep moving toward it?”

And that’s what this book is all about. It’s just from one to 60 actions, about 20 in each category, and they’re sort of stolen from these groups, groups that I’ve observed, groups that I saw them do it, and a lot of these things, they sort of seem like magic but they’re not magic. They’re behaviors, they’re signals, they’re communications that can be learned and practiced.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I love your subtitle, “60 Highly Effective Actions to Help Your Group Succeed.” We love highly effective actions here, and so you’ve got them in three categories about connecting, and creating trust, and moving in a direction. Could you share a couple of these really potent actions within each category that make a world of difference, ideally, ones that don’t take a ton of time, energy, and money, but do produce a boatload of connection, of trust, of movement?

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, you bet. You bet. I guess one that comes to mind right off is one that was taught to me by a Navy Seal commander. He said, “Your face is like a door. It can be open or it can be closed. And we know what closed looks like. You’re focused. Your eyes or eyebrows are down. You’re intently focused on what’s in front of you. Or, it can be open.” And this tip is, “Keep an open face.”

It refers to the muscle above your eyebrows, actually. It’s called your…I think it’s a zygomaticus muscle, and it is one that is only for social signaling. Like, we only use it to signal interest, energy, engagement, enthusiasm, and, especially, when we’re communicating remotely. What your face is doing is the loudest signal that you are sending. So, if you’re in any kind of situation like that, that idea to keep an open face is just a really, really simple one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I want to dig all over this. So, it’s this space, it’s our eyebrows, it’s a zygo something, this muscle. And so, what does open forehead, eyebrows look like versus…?

Daniel Coyle
Eyebrows up. Eyebrows up.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s interesting, Dan.

Daniel Coyle
It is interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, how about that?

Daniel Coyle
Think of the faces of the leaders you most admire. Think of the faces of the people who were the best communicators. Were their faces open or were they closed? And the idea that this is this ancient signal that we’re really…you know, there’s no other use for this muscle except for social signaling. So, to not use it is sort of a waste. And I think, a lot of us, when we’re sitting in front of our computers remotely, sometimes forget to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
And if you’re tired. Like, if you’re tired, you’re naturally…you might slouch a little, and then your eyebrows, forehead, may also slouch a little, like, “Yeah, Dan, just trying to get through the day.”

Daniel Coyle
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
If I don’t stop and think, like, “Oh, I would like to signal to Dan that I care what he has to say,” and so you think, “Smile, nod, eye contact,” but zeroing in on this completely different part of the face, that’s handy.

Daniel Coyle
It is kind of handy. It is kind of handy. Another one I would throw out there is the two-line email. This is an idea from Laszlo Bock who headed up Humu, which is an HR company. And the idea is you send an email to the people you work with, and it says, “Hey, I’m trying to get better. Tell me one thing you want me to keep doing and one thing you’d like me to stop doing.” It’s a short email. It’s a very short email but it’s a very big signal, which is, “I trust you. I’m connected with you. I’d like you to give me some feedback, not 10 pieces of feedback, but just two – one thing I should keep doing, one thing I should stop doing.” Really, really simple.

And the third one I would say, and kind of in the connection bucket, is make a habit of over-thanking people. Thanks are not just transactional. They’re signals of a deeper relationship. At the end of every basketball season, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who’s the winningest coach in NBA history, he’s had that team at the top for a long time, I think they’ve won the championship four or five times, he goes to every player that he coaches and he says these words, he says, “Thank you for allowing me to coach you.”

He doesn’t have to do that. He’s paid amply. The player is paid amply. But it’s not about the pay, it’s not about the transaction. It is about the relationship, and finding ways to connect the dots, and when something good happens, trace it back to the chain of people who helped make it happen.

I was at a school recently, and the eighth-grade math teacher sent out a note to the seventh-grade math teacher, the sixth-grade math teacher, and the fifth-grade math teacher. And the note said, “Hey, I just want to let you know, our kids scored 85s on their year long test, which is up for the last three years in a row, and it’s because of your work that they’re scoring so well. I’m the eighth -grade teacher, I’m the person who gives them that test, but it’s because of your work in the fifth, sixth, seventh grade.” Short email, it takes five seconds to write. It’s incredibly powerful to sort of make those connections really, really visible and create that connection.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. So, just sort of a habit of, “Ooh, good result. Good result likely means there’s at least one person to be thanked, and so go ahead and get in that groove repeatedly.”

Daniel Coyle
Completely.

Pete Mockaitis
Nifty. Okay. And when it comes to thanking, is it like any mode, any format, handwritten, gift, email, in person?

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, as long as it’s authentic. I mean, stuff, in person. In person ends up working better. There was a study about requests, actually, Pete, where they gave requests digitally and they also made requests in person. And they found that the requests in person were responded to 22 times more frequently.

Pete Mockaitis
Twenty two times?

Daniel Coyle
Times.

Pete Mockaitis
Not 22% percent. Times.

Daniel Coyle
Exactly. Exactly. So, we’re just built to respond to that. So, if it’s a question of saying thanks in person or just sending a note, say it in person. It means more. And, likewise, when it comes to giving negative feedback, like turning something down, there are some great cultures that have rules that say that, “That has to be done in person, too.”

Because to get an email, like if you’re getting an expense account or something rejected, to get an email that it’s rejected can create some bad feelings, some vagueness, some unclearness on why that was rejected. But doing it in person provides so much more context and information. So, that’s why cultures have rules that say, “Hey, if you’re going to provide some negative, negative feedback, you’ve got to do that in person.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay. Well, Dan, you’ve really delivered there. Those are high ROI goodies that are quick and easy when it comes to connecting. How about we do the exact same thing for creating trust?

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, why not? When it comes to trust, this is kind of the interesting thing that came as a surprise to me, and I think comes as a surprise to a lot of people. We’re normally taught that vulnerability and trust are related as follows. We’re normally taught that you have to build up some trust before you can be vulnerable. And, actually, we’ve got it exactly backwards.

Moments of vulnerability, when they’re shared, are what create trust. And so, what great cultures have, and what skill we can steal from them, is the idea of a vulnerability loop. When you have two people who are being vulnerable together, it creates connection and trust and cohesion in a way that nothing else does.

In fact, think about the best friends in your life. Are they the people you’ve been the most vulnerable with or the least vulnerable with? I’m going to guess it’s the most. The same principle works at work. And so, some of the things that are really simple to do to create that vulnerability, what you find in good cultures and in good groups, they treat vulnerability as kind of like a calisthenic, like it hurts but it makes you stronger.

And a couple ways to do that. Number one is to make a habit of doing an AAR. And AAR is an after-action review. This is a concept from the military. And the way it works is, in the military it works like this. You finish the mission, and you come back, and the first thing you do before you do anything else, before you take a nap, before you eat, is you circle up and you talk about three things: what went well, what didn’t go well, and what are we going to do differently next time.

It’s a really simple conversation. It’s also a really hard conversation. When you’ve done something really difficult with a group and you got to come back, and say, “Hey, I think I screwed that up,” or, “Hey, I think we could be a lot better at this.” It takes guts but that’s why it’s powerful because it brings people together in an atmosphere of vulnerability, openness, transparency. And the experience of going through that brings you closer.

Dave Cooper, who commanded the Navy Seals who got Bin Laden says, “The most important words a leader can say are ‘I screwed that up’ because it gives permission for everyone in the group to absolutely be open about that.” So, that’s the first one, to build an AAR, to do AARs regularly, make it a habit.

Pete Mockaitis
And when it comes to vulnerability, I could see that the after-action review is a great habit and that’s vulnerable right there, “I screwed it up.” Now, I imagine though, when it comes to vulnerability, I think that there are different sort of flavors, categories, buckets, if you will. And so, one, an admission of error is one. If the word vulnerability feels a little bit vague or fuzzy for people, can you give us a few more examples?

Daniel Coyle
I love it that you’re bringing that up. I love that you bring it up. I’d put a few categories out there. The most powerful one is vulnerability around learning where you say, “I don’t know that. Teach me that.” And you see that being incredibly effective because everybody likes to teach things. When somebody next to you who can do something better than you, you say, “Hey, could you teach me how to do that?” That is a really powerful and underused moment.

There’s total emotional vulnerability where you’re giving over, you’re telling someone how you really feel about something. That can be a little less useful in a work context. And, finally, there’s a third category, which is fake vulnerability. And you actually see this sometimes among leaders or people who are manipulating people.

I recently was at a conference where somebody told me about a media consultant who was trying to train CEOs to cry, like on cue, which sounds completely insane. He swore to me that it was true. And part of me believes it because vulnerability is such a powerful emotion. But I would say, for creating good culture in the 15 feet around you in the office, or in the 15 video calls around you, vulnerability around learning is the most powerful because it creates a conversation, it creates a relationship, it creates a path, it creates…like all learning, it’s a cycle of experience and reflection, and so it gets you into that cycle in a good way.

Pete Mockaitis
And what do we put a name for the category of vulnerability? Like, if I were to just share, I don’t know, like a personal struggle, like, “My marriage is struggling,” or, “My child is being held back,” or, “My mom or dad is dying.” That really feels vulnerable.

Daniel Coyle
It does and it can be…

Pete Mockaitis
Do we have a name for that category in the research or the literature?

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, I call that the sort of heavy, deep, and real category, I mean, the personal category. And that has a place, too, in all of this, especially as we sort of bring our whole selves to work, and, especially, in the early parts of a relationship, that kind of openness when we can sort of…especially in an era where we’re increasingly trying to create more belonging for traditionally marginalized communities in the workplace. Those moments can be really, really powerful. So, it’s a kind of thing where you can’t force them to happen but I’ve seen some…

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, “Now, everyone will share something that they’re profoundly struggling with or worried about. You start, Dan.”

Daniel Coyle
Right. Right. “You go.” Right. But I’ve seen some cool exercises. The one that I sort of admire the most is one that came out of the sports world, it’s called the 4H exercise. It’s where people get together for a few minutes and talk about the 4H. The 4Hs are their heroes, their heartbreak, their history, and their hopes.

So, you give them a chance to reflect individually, and then everybody comes together and talks about it, and you sort of get a sense of the whole person, “Oh, their grandparents moved here from Korea,” and you get to learn about their favorite food growing up. And it’s just a nice shortcut to connecting to the person.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. So, sharing vulnerability. Anything else you want to talk about when it comes to creating trust?

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, there’s one more, I think, and it’s one that, again, I sort of realized a little bit later. But there’s a magical phrase that happens when, in good cultures that you hear a lot, and I think it’s a subtle skill, it’s about listening. But that phrase is, “Tell me more.” It’s a really, really powerful phrase. And you use it when someone asks you a question.

The trick when somebody asks us a question, especially when we’re new in our job and we’re trying to be really good at it, is when someone asks us a question, we want to answer, we want to like provide value. We want to say, “Hey, I got it right here. I’m really smart. And this is what worked for me that time.” When, in fact, if you’re really looking to understand what’s going on, you need to say, “Tell me more.” They’re the most powerful phrases in the world.

When you have problems that are brought to you are often, like the proverbial iceberg, you see the surface but it’s much deeper underneath. So, by saying, “Tell me more,” you can say, “What other contexts do you see this in? What did you try already? Who else knows about this? How else can we apply this? Give me more.”

There’s a woman named Roshi Givechi, who’s the best listener I ever met. Like, you meet people who are super good listeners. She works for IDO, which is a design firm, and she is their person that kind of unlock teams. That’s kind of what she does. When teams are stuck, she goes and unlocks and unleashes them. And she’s extraordinary because when you come to her with a question, she will say, “Tell me more about that.” And she has a beautiful phrase called surfacing, where you’re trying to surface the problem so that you can stand around it together and work on it together.

You’re not the solver here. Nobody is. These problems are hard. It requires time. Bringing it to the surface together by saying, “Tell me more.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Okay. Now, when it comes to movement, what are some of the key actions you recommend there?

Daniel Coyle
Well, every group is moving toward their true north. You’re trying to define that true north. And we typically think that, like, “Well, great cultures just have their purpose and they’re harder in their gut. They just know what it is.” But actually, when you go to really great cultures, and some of your listeners will know this, you end up hearing them talk about their purpose all the time. They talk about it in ways that are sometimes really corny. There are all these mantras and slogans.

And when you go to the Navy Seals, they keep talking about, “We’re the quiet professionals. The only easy day was yesterday.” When you go to Zappos, they talk of all their phrases. When you go to Pixar, they have all their phrases. And probably the person who’s best at phrases that I encountered was a restaurant owner. His name was Danny Meyer, and he came up with all of these phrases, “We have athletic hospitality and we love problems. And mistakes are waves and service are surfers.”

And Danny and I were having breakfast, and a waiter dropped a tray of glasses, and Danny stopped talking to me and started looking over in the corner. And I said, “What are you looking for?” And he said, “One of two things is going to happen. Either they’re going to come together, clean up this mess, and the energy level in the restaurant is going to go up, and I’ll know that this is a good culture, or there are going to be some hint of blame and anger, resentment, and the energy level is going to drop.”

And that is when those mantras and those corny phrases started to make sense to me. Having these simple little algorithms, little mantras that you say, sort of direct your emotions and your attention in the right way, “Athletic hospitality,” “Loving problems,” “Mistakes are waves, servers are surfers,” all that stuff sort of nudges you the right way.

So, that’s one sort of tip is, create a mantra map, like figure out what the main problems in your environment are, figure out what the solution is, what you want to do, and create some words that help guide you there. It can be a cool thing to sort of co-create as a team.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, what’s fun about that is they can stick with you for years. I’m thinking back to my days at Bain, and like, “Hey, one team attitude.” It’s sort of like we never blame each other. We don’t, particularly in front of the client. Like, “Oh, Dan said something really boneheaded. You have to forgive him. He’s new.” Like, this just doesn’t happen, or an openness to 1% of possibility that you are wrong, you’re mistaken, and that someone else has stuff that you should take in. And, boy, a few years later, that sticks with me.

I think what’s tricky there, Dan, is that I think sometimes organizations can put the cart before the horse on this one, like they create the mantras but they have no bearing in reality. And if that’s more frustrating, I’m thinking…

Daniel Coyle
Oh, it can be a nightmare.

Pete Mockaitis
When I was at Kmart, I’m just going to name names, this was a long time ago, maybe Kmart is better now. My first real job, like not delivering newspapers or something, was working at Kmart, and they had these mantras, like, “Customers rule,” “Teams work,” “Change strengthens performance.” Wow, I remember them, again, years later.

And then I was like, “But, wait a minute, I don’t see that. You seem upset with me that I gave this person a discount on the Mountain Dew even though the training video said that we can do that,” because I have the power to please, Dan, by any of the substitutions, like, “Two 12s for the 24-price, you got it.” So, that was very frustrating, like, “Oh, this is just like something that, I don’t know, the HR team came up with on a retreat somewhere.”

Daniel Coyle
That’s the distinction. That’s the distinction. When the HR team, as opposed to when the people on the floor created it themselves, and that co-creation is the key part of that. This is not something that’s handed down. And people tend to think mission and purpose statements are kind of generated by some god-like Moses who carves them in the granite and hands them down to the people. That’s not how the best ones work.

The best ones are kind of natural and they come out of the environment. And having some time where you get together with your group, and say, “Okay, what do we want our mantras to be? Kind of screw the company. What do we want our mantras to be? If we’re going to work together here, we need to have a clear sense of what matters, what doesn’t, what behaviors are not acceptable.”

Danny Meyer used to talk about skunking, which is when an employee would get irritated or a waiter would get irritated, and you could just kind of tell. They’re just sort of emitting this odor that everyone is kind of revolted by. They just made up that word but it really works in that environment because you’re like, “Dude, you’re skunking. You got to quit skunking,” or you use it naturally.

So, that concept, and it’s one of those ideas that I think can be powerful in everyday life as we seek to build our skills, or as we seek to build better habits. Words and mantras are incredibly powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, mantras, knowing and creating and saying the phrases. What else?

Daniel Coyle
I think there’s a little exercise, and I think it’s one of my favorite ones to do, for any group to do that is really powerful. It’s called the best barrier workshop. So, you get together with your team, and there’s two steps. Step one, define exactly what you look like at your best team. Like, if a documentary film crew flew in and filmed you at your best, what behaviors would they see? Name them, like write them down.

Second step. What barriers stop that from happening every day? Name those barriers. Name them. And then, what you’re doing in those two steps is you’re sort of building the architecture of a mantra because you are defining where you want to go and who you want to be, and you’re defining what stops you.

So, figuring out, “Okay, why don’t we perform at our best? Is it time? Do we not give each other enough time? Are we too separate all the time? Are we not in sync? Are we not connected enough?” Figure out what those barriers are and name them. So, I would say a best barrier workshop is a pretty good thing to try.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Anything else you want to talk about with movement?

Daniel Coyle
I think, overall, stories are the most powerful drug on the planet. A story. Like, you remember your life at Bain or your life at Kmart. We all remember our work lives and our lives in general through stories, and we tend to treat stories as something that’s kind of happenstance, like, They just sort of appear like flowers before us and we pick some of them and we ignore some of them.

I think, as you move through your career and as you seek to understand both the culture that you’re in and also the cultures where you want to go, stories are really powerful for a couple reasons. The first is that they’re like the best way to capture the purpose of a culture and the best behavior that we can be. One of the coolest questions you can ask anybody about a culture is, “Tell me a story about your group, about something your group does that no other group does.” It’s a good question if you’re interviewing for a new job, like, “Tell me a story about your group that you would tell your best friend. What gets rewarded around there?” is a good question to ask.

And all of these kinds of get at like the deeper narrative and purpose of groups in a way that just simple data can’t. So, really appreciating stories as a resource, both for you and your present culture but also as a way to understand the places in which you work in the future.

Pete Mockaitis
And I also want to hear you, I dig it, so great actions associated with connecting and creating trust and moving, and we talked about stories. I’d love to hear some stories associated with teams that had a culture that was, I don’t know, lame to mediocre that saw a big upgrade to transformational. And you’ve got a particular process you call a team tune-up. So, maybe that might be a little bit more micro to the macro story, but I just want to put those two bits out there and get some stories.

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, that’s good. My favorite story about a team turnaround would be from a Navy ship, actually, called the USS Benfold. The commander was a man named Mike Abrashoff. The Benfold was the worst-performing ship in the Navy. When he got there, his first action was to meet with every crew member for about 10 or 15 minutes, and he would ask them sort of like the two-line email, “What’s something we should keep doing? What’s something we should stop doing?”

And whenever anyone had an idea that they could immediately implement, like, “We should eat at 11:30 not at 12:00,” he would grab the intercom and announce the change immediately over the boat, like, “Now, we eat at 11:30.” Boom! That action, and it took him like three weeks to do these interviews. Huge investment of time, very inefficient. I’m sure he had a million more important things to do. But when you’re building relationships, that is an incredibly efficient use of time. It’s incredibly smart because he’s doing the thing that good cultures do, which is you’ve got to build the safety.

And safety, there’s a lot of talk in the world now about psychological safety, and that’s all well and good, and it’s true. But you have to remember that the point of safety is voice. The point of safety is freedom. The point of safety is that those people can hear their suggestion amplified for the whole crew. Flash forward three years, and the Benfold is the best-performing ship in the Navy, and it’s not an accident because Mike Abrashoff, and he wrote a wonderful book about this, called It’s Your Ship, and it’s worth reading.

But the reason that it worked wasn’t magic. It looks like magic but it’s not magic. It’s he’s really, really good at these cultural skills that say, “Hey, I’m going to give you a voice here, and let’s see how far we can take it. We want to build a group brain. It’s not about one person being smart. It’s about all of us being smart.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really fun as I imagine sitting in one of those conversations, and saying, “Hey, we should eat lunch at this time,” and then just immediately that being dictated, like instant fiat.

Daniel Coyle
Like, power.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, now this is so. Like, that would feel awesome. And on the flipside, I can sort of imagine that, in deciding quickly, I imagine a couple of them probably had to be backtracked, like, “You know, actually, Captain, you see, the meal prep times are established for these key considerations, and the earlier time, that kind of messes up all these other things,” and you’re like, “Oh, I didn’t realize that because this is my sixth conversation with teammates, so you better just backtrack it and really…” no harm done. In fact, the dude who told you about the shifting the lunchtime probably think it’s pretty cool that at least a few days we’ll try it his way.

Daniel Coyle
That’s exactly right. And that’s the tradeoff that I think is easy to overlook. We all go through life and we’ve got these two categories of things in front of us. We’ve got the stuff we got to do. There’s a big pile of that. And then we got the people who are around us, and it is always tempting, as we move through the day, as we move through our mornings and afternoons, to focus on the things because they’re vivid, they’re right in front of us, there’s a to-do list that we want to knock things off.

And the thing that I saw in people who are skilled at this cultural skillset is they had the ability to, as Captain Abrashoff did, push off that to-do list and focus on the person in front of them, and create that relationship and build that safety and that trust and that direction together. And then, guess what, the to-do list gets done so much faster because you have built that group brain, and you’ve built that connection, and you can go much faster together.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And so, if listeners find themselves in a team that they would like tuned up, how do we execute a team tune-up?

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, that’s funny. It’s sort of in the same dynamic, and this is an idea from IDO, this incredible design firm. Like a lot of companies, they have teams doing projects. But the smart thing that IDO does is they realized that the project is a journey. The project itself is a journey and you can’t just focus on the project. You actually have to turn your focus and ask, “How’s the team doing? How are we doing on this project?”

So, they’re sort of like a race car driver, the project is the race car going on the track, and three times, they sort of pull in and have a tune-up, “How is our engine doing?” And they’re very simple meetings, there’s a pre-flight, a mid-flight, and a post-flight, and they ask really simple questions, like, pre-flight, “What are you most excited about learning on this project? Like, we’re all going to go and do this together, what are you most excited about learning? What are you dreading the most? How do you like to work? Do you like getting a lot of creative work done in the morning? Like, let’s figure out how we’re going to work together.”

Mid-flight. “How is it going? Like, are we going in the direction we thought we were going? Are we all working together well? What relationships are strongest? What aren’t strongest?” Post-flight. “What did we learn here? What are we taking forward into our other projects? What relationships got stronger?” So, these moments, they’re really simple, reflective couple of hours set aside to do the most crucial work of saying, “How are we doing? Because the work is one thing but this team is something that matters more.” And smart groups take the time to put their attention and their effort into improving the internal functioning of the team.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Very good. Well, Dan, I’m curious, so we have a lot of great practices that we’ve discussed. What are some things that are common mistakes that we should be on the lookout for, maybe things that we don’t even realize we’re doing that are harmful to culture that we should cut out?

Daniel Coyle
It’s like somebody once said about, what’s this thing, about a mule, and a carpenter, and a barn. It said, “Any mule can kick down a barn but it takes a real master carpenter to build one.” And, likewise, with culture, there are a million ways to destroy culture. There are a million. Some of the most common ones are around integrity, but there’s some more sort of less common ones, which is just the speed of life. We all live with the disease of more where our plates get continually loaded with more and more and more.

And if we don’t stop to kind of subtract things from our plate, and we don’t stop to sort of move things away, and get rid of things, and pare things down, sometimes the relationships can really suffer. The thing to remember, though, is that culture is never fixed. It’s never done. You never get to a spot and say, “Our culture is great.”

I studied, for my book The Culture Code, I studied several cultures including Pixar and the Navy Seals, both of whom have had significant cultural challenges in recent years with the MeToo Movement, with some bad behavior in the Seals. So, it’s not to say their cultures are ruined. Because they’re strong cultures, they’re trying to find a way back and trying to figure out why this happened, and trying to work together to make it better. But culture is a living thing. It’s a living exchange of signals and behaviors. It’s not about what you say. It’s about what you do.

And so, this idea, I think, the thing that kills cultures often is success, actually, in a weird way, because it makes people complacent, it makes people not give attention to the kind of relationships that drive good culture. And the other thing that creates great culture is a crisis. When you go back in time and scroll back to “Why did Pixar get to be so good? Why did the Navy Seals get to be so good? Why did IDO get to be so good?” you will find a crisis often. And in that crisis, they were very vulnerable, they bonded, and they came up with new ways to doing things.

And so, I guess, all of which is to add up to say your culture is never done. Your culture is never done. And this skillset that you have, as you take these actions and try to build it around you, it’s always happening, always around you. And so, one of the most powerful things is to tune into these exchanges and these actions that are constantly moving the strength of your culture up or down.

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

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, I guess there’s some sort of…the cultures have changed a lot. I guess I’d want to say a couple words about this moment we’re living through as people are adapting to hybrid work. And I think there’s been a shift in culture, and I’ve sort of noticed three really big themes and I’ll just mention them really quickly.

Theme one is “Stop thinking like a leader and start thinking like a teammate.” Strong cultures now to learn, and to grow, and to navigate change, no one has the answers. This idea of leadership that we’re sort of taught and is in our culture, that leaders always will know what to do, and there’s sort of this authority that they have that is unlike others. It’s baloney. Great leaders are great teammates and thinking more like a teammate.

Another theme I’ve seen is “Stop focusing on knowing, and start focusing on learning.” Don’t be knowing-it-all, be learning-it-all. And then the third is really “The power of the pause.” With the speed of change, it is absolutely necessary. And the way in which we’re working is changing where we’re communicating across time and space in different ways. Being intentional and having situational awareness is huge, and so people who are good at that are really good at pausing.

I think of pausing as the new productivity. Like, if you just raced through your day knocking stuff off, you are never going to clear your decks, and your decks will only get fuller and fuller and fuller. To stop and be very considerate about what you’re doing, to make time for reflection in your day, both as an individual and as a group, is one of the more powerful things a group can do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Daniel Coyle
One of my favorite quotes is a very long quote from Roosevelt, “It’s not the critic that counts. It’s the person in the arena.” It’s a good one. Look it up. But it’s, I think, that one always sticks with me as being the difference between sort of jumping into things and sitting on the sidelines.

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

Daniel Coyle
The Robbers Cave Experiment. They had a group, it was early on, they could never do this today. But they took a group of young kids and kind of created two tribes. It was around the time of Lord of the Flies, and they had these extraordinary like changing encounters between each of these tribes that just really resonates with me.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Daniel Coyle
Favorite book is The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe.

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

Daniel Coyle
Favorite tool. I’m going to point right at it, I just bought a new pack of this today. Very inexpensive Bic pen, now with 45% smoother glide, I’m told on the package.

Pete Mockaitis
Is it true in your experience?

Daniel Coyle
It is. I just used it and it was at least 45% smoother.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Daniel Coyle
It’s exercise, actually. That’s just something that changes your whole state, changes your whole day. I like to get on my bike.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they re-tweet you often?

Daniel Coyle
I think it’s probably this idea of a vulnerability loop. This idea that vulnerability and trust that we’ve had it backwards, that moments of vulnerability are what create trust. And that seems to really echo and resonate with people.

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

Daniel Coyle
DanielCoyle.com.

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

Daniel Coyle
Yeah, I think the challenge would be to carve out time to reflect. There’s a piece of advice that somebody gave me a long time ago, which was WSD – write shit down. Writing it down makes things real. Writing is thinking. And you can write it on your phone, you can write it on a Post-it Note. It doesn’t matter. But capture stuff because you go through life, you want to learn, you want to get better at things. And learning is a cycle. You have an experience and then you have to reflect. You have an experience and then you reflect. That is what learning is made of.

So, I think in modern life, we don’t give much time for that reflection piece, as we were talking before. And carving out intentional time where you write down, just process what happened, will make you see it differently, will let you connect dots. A good journal is like a map, and so it will let you see where you’ve come and will open up places for you to go in the future. So, that would be my challenge for your group to WSD.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Dan, it’s been a treat. Thank you. I wish you much luck and fun cultures.

Daniel Coyle
Hey, thanks so much. It’s been great to be with you.

764: Enhancing Your Communications by Mastering Your Own Style with Maryanne O’Brien

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Maryanne O’Brien unpacks how understanding communication styles improves your ability to be heard.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The keys to better conversations 
  2. The four communication styles–and how to master yours
  3. How to bridge the gap between your style and others’ 

About Maryanne

Maryanne has spent her career helping leaders and teams learn how to consciously communicate, cultivate empathy, and deepen trust. She is the author of The Elevated Communicator: How to Master Your Style and Strengthen Well-Being at Work, which was born out of more than a decade of original research. Her proprietary self-assessment helps you identify your communication style––Expressive, Reserved, Direct, or Harmonious­­––raise your self-awareness and build the communication skills needed to create a positive impact at work.

Resources Mentioned

Maryanne O'Brien Interview Transcript

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

Maryanne O’Brien
Thank you for having me. I’m excited to talk with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about communication and, specifically, your book The Elevated Communicator: How to Master Your Style and Strengthen Well-Being at Work. So, I’m going to start you off with an easy one. What’s the most surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made about humans and communicating over your career?

Maryanne O’Brien
Well, I’ve been in communications in some form my entire career, starting out in advertising and then moving into kind of growth and development. And I think the thing that struck me the most, as I’ve really gotten into this subject, is that if we want to become better communicators, we have to become better people. There’s just no way around it because, as we’re developing skills and really developing our own self-awareness and our ability to listen, have empathy and really understand ourselves and others, we, naturally, become better people over that kind of arc and journey to developing new skills.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fascinating. And when you say better people, you mean like virtue, like our goodness, and then like an Aristotle or sense of the word?

Maryanne O’Brien
I do. I mean, like our character strengthens.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Maryanne O’Brien
So, if you think about listening is one of the most important skills whenever you’re learning to become a better communicator, and it’s impossible to become a better listener if you’re not patient. If you don’t have some level of empathy and connection with people so that they can really know that you’re listening and connected with them if you aren’t willing to kind of keep an open mind. Like, it’s hard to listen without judgment if you’re not open to new people, you’re not open to new perspectives and new ideas.

And so, as we develop skills and become more aware of our own style and self-awareness and self-understanding, we naturally start to see ways to improve and grow. And so, one of the pieces and one of the philosophies that the work is kind of grounded around is this idea of the micro-evolution of self, the day by day, bit by bit we get better over time. And we do that through understanding kind of, you know, deepening our understanding, what we know. So, there’s some building skills. There’s usually some knowledge you have to have.

Then there’s what you do, the practices that support our ability to become better communicators, and, ultimately, it’s who we are. Success is a natural outcome of who we are, and we all want to be successful in our careers. That’s why we listen to things like How to be Awesome at Your Job is that we want what we do to matter. We want to have purpose. We want to have success.

And the reality is that success isn’t something that we do or something that we have. It’s a natural outcome of how we treat people, how well we interact, how able we are to build trust with all kinds of people. And so, as we learn and grow and evolve and make small changes, we naturally become better people over time. And as we become better people, we become better communicators.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And I buy that, as I think about many of the skills associated with, well, just as you’ve said, with listening is sort of like, “Well, do I really care about you? Or, am I more interested in me and my fun interesting thoughts than your interesting thoughts? And am I more about being heard than hearing?” And there you go, that is like generosity or humility. These are character things. So, that totally resonates with me. Thank you.

Maryanne O’Brien
Well, some of the styles are more naturally they’re better listeners. Other styles are more interested in talking, and so understanding all of the four different styles. The first one is expressive. They’re the largest at 37%. The second is reserved, they’re 25%. The third is direct, they’re 22% of the population. And then the fourth is harmonious, and they’re 16%.

And the percentages are interesting to kind of know because they represent different sizes in the workplace but each of them is really important and plays a different role in creating high-functioning, high-performing teams. And really learning to understand all of them and understand what are the benefits that they bring, what is the role that they play, what are their needs, what do they value, what are they motivated by, how do they make decisions.

There are all these different complexities around each style that, first of all, you need to understand yourself but then you also want to understand others because what happens, oftentimes, is whenever we run into style tensions, we end up falling into judgment. We’re human, we judge. It’s kind of a natural thing, especially when someone is different than us.

So, sometimes we might find that we hire people that are like us and our teams become really homogenous, and there are two styles, the expressives and the directs, that tend to dominate in work. And if we don’t make room for people who are reserved and people who have harmonious as their natural style, as their primary, we miss opportunities to really create more balanced teams and a wider perspective on nearly every situation and, specifically, when it comes to problem solving.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was just about to ask what’s the big idea behind The Elevated Communicator. It sounds like maybe you just shared it with me. Or, is there any other core message about the book you want to make sure to put out there?

Maryanne O’Brien
So, the idea is that the better we know ourselves and the better we know others, it’s easier for us to bring out the best in ourselves and the best in others. But it really also comes to a level of as we raise our communication skills, we also need to raise our level of wellbeing and really look at how to manage our stress because every style has a spectrum that goes from healthy, when we’re at our best, to our style under stress, and it’s easy to slip into stress.

Like, we are in a pretty stressful environment in the world. Stress does not bring out the best in any style, so there’s a really deep level of self-awareness that happens as you start to really get to know your style and then the other pieces. Ultimately, how do you build those connections and build trust with people, because trust is always the Holy Grail, right? It’s always about psychological safety and “How do we build high-trust teams?”

But the only way we can do that is if we can have genuine conversations and feel safe enough with people to challenge ideas, to share something that is a different perspective, and to get our voice into the conversation whenever there is a really dominant perspective being held.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And so, these four styles, tell me, where do they come from? I don’t imagine you just made them up. Can you give us a bit of the story about the research, the validation? Like, how do we know there’s four, Maryanne, and not six?

Maryanne O’Brien
Well, so I’ve done consulting for several years, and one of the things I’ve always liked to do is to use assessments to help people better see themselves and better able to see other people, and so I was looking for a really great communication assessment. And I have a strong background in quantitative and qualitative research, and I could tell some of them just weren’t as robust as I was used to.

And so, I decided I was going to go create one because I know how important this tool is in organizations, and I’ve been working with organizations on this level for a long time. And so, I went out and I did a giant quantitative study, and my hope was that most style assessments you see, whether it’s a personality, whatever, that we come back in these four tidy little quadrants, and that it would be…

Pete Mockaitis
High this, low that. Low this, low that.

Maryanne O’Brien
Exactly. And so, what I found was, really, there were three primary dimensions that we communicate on. One of them is assertiveness. How forcefully do you share your opinion? Do you speak up? Are you expressive with your emotions and your opinions? The second is collaboration. How well do you work with people? Do you like to work alone? Do you like to work with others? How do you interact? Are you critical or are you supportive? And then the third is really about how you behave whenever you engage with people, so there’s a spectrum.

And it turned out that, rather than kind of falling into these nice little boxes, it’s easy to put a person in a box, but when it comes to communication, if there’s anything more complex than communication, it’s people. And these three dimensions actually formed more of a constellation, so every style has five really primary kind of shining stars that make it distinct, and that falls into this cluster analysis. And then there are some shared traits between some styles.

So, some styles will get along better than others, and that’s usually where you have some overlap. So, when I started to kind of step back and then I did probably a year and a half of qualitative research, going out to really add dimension and understanding of “What does it mean if somebody is expressive? How does that show up in the workplace?” And how we communicate at work is often different than the way we communicate at home. So, there’s parts.

If you read through all the styles, you’ll start to see, like, “Gosh, I feel like I’m a little bit of that aspect in me,” because we do share some of those qualities, and that’s kind of that constellation approach, but also because somebody who is really direct at work can be harmonious at home. And it seems counterintuitive but sometimes they’re like, “You know what, I don’t want to lead everywhere in my life.” And, conversely, I’ve seen people who are harmonious be really direct at home. Those two are kind of the most different of the four styles.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so how do I learn our own style and that of others so that we can make use of this?

Maryanne O’Brien
Well, so I would recommend you go and you take the communication style assessment, which is free, at TheElevatedCommunicator.com. I wanted the assessment to be accessible for everyone because, for a long time, I had led StrengthsFinders and other programs where people would get the code and they’d throw away the book. And I was like, “You know, let’s not do that.” If you really are going to read the book and get into your style, which I would also recommend, but I’d love to give you a flavor for all of them today, but I would, first, start by taking the style assessment.

And on the site, you’re going to see a couple of brief descriptions that will help you to understand yourself kind of at a glance, and that will give you a good look into things. And if I could just take you kind of briefly through what the four are and how they show up, you’ll start to see…we start to recognize it in ourselves and in others.

The other piece I would ask you to kind of keep an ear toward as we’re going through this is how you can start to see, like, “Oh, I can see how those styles would get along and how those styles might have some kind of tension points,” because it’s, often, those style tensions that create the people problems in our job.

So, if I start with the expressives, because they’re the largest and most dominant group in an organization, so they are super collaborative. They build high-trust collaborative teams, that’s what they really care about. They’re open, they’re assertive, they ask lots of questions. They really have a strong need to make a personal connection. So, they won’t feel connected to you if they don’t know you on some level. So, they will often ask you personal questions about your family, about your interests, “Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?” They really want to know you.

They also bring the most energy. They want work to feel like it’s fun. They’re perceptive, curious. They ask the most questions. And when they’re at their best, they bring out the best in other people. They are comfortable bringing groups together. They’re really good at defusing conflict because they want the team to get back into a healthy place.

And whenever they’re under that stress side of their style, then they end up being a little bit more sarcastic. They’ll start to dominate a conversation. When you were talking earlier, they’re the ones who would get distracted easily and start a side conversation because they would rather be talking than listening. And so, you can kind of get a picture that gets painted of what that style is like.

Reserved is really interesting. They are the quintessential team player. They really care about having influence. They’re confident. They form their opinions quickly. What is distinctive about them as well is that they’re more private and guarded at work. They like to kind of keep things in a professional realm but they’re extremely great networkers and they’re very personable.

They’re the type of person who really wants to help see other people be at their best. So, they will give them input on like, “Hey, I think you can bring up your game over here. Here’s what the team really needs,” because they care that the team operates at its best, and they’re really thoughtful and deliberate.

When they get under stress, what happens is they don’t love to make decisions. They like to have a lot of influence on them but they don’t want to be the one, ultimately, responsible for it, and so they will wait for others to take the lead. They might withdraw. If they get under stress, they put their head down and they start doing the work, and relationships become more transactional and a little bit more serious. So, you can start to see how there’s a little bit of a spectrum in each one.

When you look at direct, they’re probably one of the easier ones to identify, too, because they get straight into work. They are so responsible, focused, thorough, candid, really independent. They don’t need to work with anybody. They love to work alone. The best conversations are brief, focused, meaningful. They like every meeting to start and stop on time. No small talk. No need to get into anything personal. And they’re the ones who will rein a conversation in if it starts to wander too far.

So, their strength is really to help teams operate at a higher level. They’re really clear and focused. And they inspire the level of accountability that they bring to others. If people kind of don’t meet their expectations, when they’re under stress, they will steamroll, they’ll damage relationships pretty quickly, they’ll tell others what to do and how to do it so that they can get it done as quickly as possible, and they’re super intolerant about any tangents at all. So, that will start to kind of set them off.

And then harmonious, which is the fourth style, they are the glue that kind of keeps teams together. They have the most people-focused approach to the way they think about things. So, whenever decisions are being made, they put it through like, “How is it going to affect other people? How is it going to affect relationships?” They are the best listeners, cooperative, really supportive, and caring. So, they bring the human quality to teams that the other styles don’t consider to the same depth.

Because they are so cooperative, when they’re under stress, they become more of that. So, they can become…they can comply too much. They can water down their opinions. They can become too cooperative and really become quiet. So, all of these styles, each of them plays a role in creating really healthy teams, and we need to make room for some of those voices that aren’t naturally going to jump into the conversation, and invite them in.

Pete Mockaitis
And with that, I guess all sorts of implications could pop up with regard to, “Oh, if I prefer this and someone else might prefer something else, we might consider this particular intervention or approach or adaptation.” I guess I’m curious to hear, since that’d be quite the matrix and difficult to maybe fully elucidate in the time we have, are there any sort of universal best practices and worst practices here when it comes to bridging gaps with others?

Maryanne O’Brien
Well, listening is the first thing I would recommend every style puts at its focus. When we make it a point to listen and really be present and not thinking about our response, or waiting for the person to stop talking, that is always a great idea.

So, this idea of kind of flexing your style a little bit, if you can start to recognize what other styles need, and so if you understand, “If I’m direct and if I have no need for small talk, but someone is expressive and they do,” so expressive and harmonious both have a need from having some sort of connection to be made, is to find a way to start every meeting with some sort of connection so that people feel like that need is met but don’t linger on it for too long.

You don’t want to waste 10 minutes of every meeting trying to foster connections. There should definitely be time where you’re building that into your teambuilding, and building those social connections. But find a way to give everybody a little bit of what they need because if our needs go unmet for too long, we’re going to go into some sort of stress response, so fight, flight, or freeze.

We either want to push and steamroll over or we go into flight and we leave, and this is also in organization. I‘ve seen a lot of people who haven’t felt seen and heard or valued because their needs aren’t being met, and that big part of it is what is prompting them to leave. And then we go into freeze, which is we shut down, we disengage. So, we’re physically there but we’re not really there.

So, I would start with listening and it’s not that difficult, actually. I know it sounds, whenever you’re trying to mentally hold it in your head, but whenever you start to look at what each person needs. So, the expressives, they need some sort of personal engagement. Reserved, they need to have some level of influence. Direct, they need every conversation to have meaning. And harmonious needs to have it to be really respectful.

And those pieces, getting to know the different styles is so important because each of us has a different way that we build trust, so we have biases when it comes to building trust. And if that’s, ultimately, our goal is to find ways to work well together, to be more effective in our roles, to build trust and relationships that allow us to navigate the challenges that seem to come out daily, we’ve got to invest a little bit in getting to know other people and understanding what their needs are.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say the direct folks need meaning, I am interpreting that to mean meaning as in the exchange we’re having results in output, results, activity, stuff in the world being different, as opposed to it’s meaningful, Maryanne, that you and I are feeling connected to each other. Is that a fair interpretation of what you mean by meaning for the direct?

Maryanne O’Brien
It is. It has to drive to some sort of actionable outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha.

Maryanne O’Brien
And so, it can’t just be like, “Oh, it felt really good to connect.” It’s like, “What’s the outcome coming here?” because they really have a high level of responsibility and they keep the trains running on time, so they’re the ones that want to know that the conversation is leading to something that’s going to make a decision. It’s going to inform something. It’s going to help me see a new perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha. Okay. Well, so listening, that’s huge, certainly, and having a sense for what the other party really needs, their desire and how you can meet that. Are there any best practices when it comes to listening in terms of this makes a world of difference in terms of really gaining that understanding? I don’t know if there’s any attention tricks or particular power questions that yield lots of insight. Or, how do we listen optimally, Maryanne?

Maryanne O’Brien
Well, there are a couple things I’d recommend. First is eliminate as many distractions. Like, eliminate the distractions you can. Turn off your notifications. Put your phone away. Studies have shown that if our phone is just even visible, 20% of our attention goes to our phone because it might ring and we don’t even realize that part of our attention is being drained.

I would make it a practice to set an intention before you have a conversation. We tend to listen best when we think the conversations are important, instead of we’re kind of in that autopilot, like, “Oh, I’m just going to float into a conversation, float into a meeting,” that we’re half present, is to really make it a point to be present.

And then, for certain styles, because harmonious, they’re good listeners, every other style, especially for expressives, I would recommend that you mute yourself in every conversation and speak one time for every three times that you have the impulse because people who are expressive just have a natural desire to share their ideas and they get excited that they don’t even recognize that they’re contributing far more than anyone else and they’re not making room for other people in the conversation.

So, I would dial up your intentionality around conversations and how well you listen, and I would work to really strengthen your self-awareness so that you can become aware of how you’re coming across to people.

Pete Mockaitis
I like what you had to say about when you think a conversation is important, you have some intentionality there, you naturally do more listening as opposed to, “Oh, there’s just this meeting. I got to show up at that meeting.” So, could you give us some examples? Do you recommend like setting a very precise articulation of that intention, like, “In this conversation, I am going to try to understand why Bob is so worried about this thing”?

Like, that’s my goal, my intention. Or, “What I hope to achieve in this conversation is getting a sense of what would be truly most motivating and exciting to the team about this project.” Are those fair approaches? Or how do you think about intentionality?

Maryanne O’Brien
Yes, I think both of those are great examples. The more intentional you are, the more effectively you will show up, and the easier it will be to kind of follow through on that intention. So, I would look at, if you’re going into a meeting, what is it that you need to be able to listen to somebody who has a different perspective, perhaps?

So, if there’s somebody that you know, because we all start to kind of categorize people. It’s like, “Oh, this person always has great ideas and I listen whenever they’re talking, and I want to build upon those.” “This person always shoots everything down.” “This person has the most whacked-out ideas that never make any sense.”

So, if you can set an intention that, no matter who’s talking, “I want to stay open to what they’re saying. I’m going to try to at least understand where they’re coming from.” You don’t have to agree with everyone but if you can at least try to figure out “What is it about that idea that they like?” People want to feel seen and heard. That makes you feel valued.

So, if you at least can demonstrate to them that you’re present, that you’re really listening, that you hear them, that will go a long way into building trust. And then you can say, “You know what, I understood what you said. I see things differently.” We don’t have to agree with everything but the idea is staying open and having that willingness to listen.

So, I think if I was guiding someone toward this, I’d say, “What do you think you need going into this? Is it that you need to be more open? Is it that you need to watch for interrupting? Is it that you’re not going to shut down whenever somebody shares something that you disagree with? Can you watch for your biases? Can you watch for what triggers you?” because all of those kinds of communication influences affect how well we listen.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, Maryanne, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about a few of your favorite things?

Maryanne O’Brien
The piece I would just remind people to start looking for is what is it that they need whenever they’re communicating with people? And how do they help people understand what it is they need? So, we’ll do team-sharing, that’s one great way to start building connections with people. And whenever we all share our styles, so share your styles with the people you work with, and share, like, “Hey, you know what I realize about myself that I hadn’t really understood was I really need some time whenever we first start talking to have some sort of connection.”

And ask them what they need because then that’s an easy way for people to say, “You know what, that’s exactly what I don’t need. I need to get straight into the work.” And so, how do we find that kind of common ground? And the more that we can let people understand us, understand what our needs are, and give them an opportunity to help us meet those needs, and be willing to give them an opportunity to have their needs met, I think that those are some of kind of just basic pieces of making a great connection with someone is to be open, to be a little bit more vulnerable, let people get to know you a little bit, and kind of respect what they need as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Maryanne O’Brien
Sure. One of the ones that I love, I like Stephen Covey’s work. It’s just been influential in my life, and I love the one that he has about trust, which is around, “When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.” And if we thought about the idea that every conversation that we have has an opportunity to either build trust or erode trust, and if we cared about them and stepped into them with that intentionality, it would be a much easier world to live in and to recognize that everybody sees the world differently.

So, how can we be able to accept people who have different views, stay open to them so we can see diverse perspectives, and build trust with people who aren’t like us? It’s easy to build trust with people that operate the way that you do. And just to stay open to all kinds of people and different styles.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share a favorite book?

Maryanne O’Brien
I really love the The Four Agreements. That is one of my favorites. And so, I think that that idea of having that kind of code of conduct and really getting to know yourself well, because that whole idea of the first one being be impeccable with your word. When you take responsibility for what you say and do, and you choose your words carefully, there’s far less room for the tensions and the people problems that we run into at work.

The second one around, don’t take anything personally. We recognize that what other people are going through and what they say and do doesn’t have to be about you. It’s usually what they’re going through, and just let it go, and not personalize things. The third one around not making assumptions. Like, I love the idea that people have the courage to ask questions and clarify things, and have the willingness to kind of step in and clarify conversations so that you can stay away from misunderstandings.

And then the idea, the fourth one about always doing your best. Every day is different, and people have been going through a lot, and we’re always trying to do our best and it looks different on different days. But if that’s our intention is that every day, “I’m going to do the best that I can and show up in the best way that I can,” I think there’s a lot of value in those four agreements, and they sound simple.

Living them is a practice and it comes back to that idea that if you live these, you will become a better person. And there’s nothing more powerful than self-awareness and the ability to see things and make those course corrections. There’s this old idea, like, “You can’t change what you don’t see.”

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

Maryanne O’Brien
If you go to TheElevatedCommunicator.com, you will find the assessment so you can take the style assessment. You can take it for free. You can share it with your colleagues, share it with your friends and family. Start that conversation. There’s also a monthly blog that I do called “Ideas to Elevate,” that help people to put practices into play because that’s how we get better. We have to kind of continue to build those skills through practice.

And then on LinkedIn, I’m doing some online trainings and some different things every so often that are free for people so that we can get into these skills and really help people develop those practices that change the way they communicate.

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

Maryanne O’Brien
Well, I’m going to encourage you to really get to know your style and become aware of how you’re communicating from either that healthy side of your expression when you’re at your best, and how well you know you can communicate when you’re really intentional, to when you’re slipping into stress and what that looks and feels like in your body because we’ll always be able to feel stressed in our body, and that’ll start to tell us how we’re communicating.

And to build in some sort of wellbeing practices that help you raise that level of resilience that you have because we communicate from that level of self-awareness and wellbeing, that combination. And when stress starts to become too much, we’re going to slip into those lower expressions, and that’s when we really damage our relationships.

So, I would encourage you to get to know your style, start to recognize that style spectrum, and develop some sort of simple practices that keep you really intentional about how you want to build relationships, how you want to show up, how you want to become a better communicator.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Maryanne, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck with your elevated communications.

Maryanne O’Brien
Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.