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.

490: Uncovering Your Why and Bringing it to Work with Justin Jones-Fosu

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Justin Jones-Fosu explains how to lead a more enriching work life by aligning your now with your why.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to get into your “achieve more” zone
  2. 12 questions for uncovering your why
  3. How to turn any job into meaningful work

About Justin

Justin is on a mission to help professionals and workplaces to Work like they mean it!  He is a meaningful work speaker and social entrepreneur who speaks 60-70 times per year to companies, organizations and associations in the US and internationally.  His latest book Your WHY Matters NOW: How Some Achieve More and Others Don’t challenges the reader to merge their purpose and productivity to get more out of work and life.

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

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Justin Jones-Fosu Interview Transcript

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
It’s great to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Justin, my mental picture of you comes from maybe the day after I met you in which you were dancing around in a blue boxing robe. Can you explain this situation to our listeners?

Justin Jones-Fosu
What happens with Pete and Justin stays with Pete and Justin except on this podcast. But, no, so when I first started speaking, one of the things for me, I was doing a presentation about fighting for your life. And so, a great way to illustrate that was with I had a boxing robe that was created for me, a genuine one, from like the boxing people themselves, and had like TBA, which stood for Think, Believe, Act, and had the boxing gloves.

And so, like that was my little thing where I’d come in to the Rocky music, and it was a really cool experience. So, that’s probably what happened. I ended up speaking at that organization and somebody stole it, I have no idea where it went, but I never replaced it. So, that’s my boxing robe story.

Pete Mockaitis
That was not cool. And you know what, that’s going to be on eBay somewhere, you’re going to bump into like, “What the heck, guys?”

Justin Jones-Fosu
Right. If I ever get famous, like that’s what’s going to happen, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so lately you’ve been doing a lot of work and research and speaking associated with the idea of meaningful work and how that comes about. And you have an interesting perspective when it comes to your why and your now. Can you sort of unpack this idea for us?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, probably about, I don’t know how long now, about eight years ago I started digging into kind of your why and purpose, and I’ve been studying purpose for a while, something that was very meaningful for me. And as I’ve started travelling around, I was doing some speaking, and I started hearing these rumblings of kind of the why and purpose and I started meeting people who knew their why but weren’t doing anything about it.

And so, I was like, “All right.” I initially went into… because all my focus back in the day was all about action in terms of, “How do you actualize leadership?” I do action-based leadership. And it shifted because I started asking the questions of people who knew their why but weren’t doing anything about it. And then I realized there was a whole another group of people. And there’s a whole group of people, there were what I call now people. And the now people, these were kind of people who were doing a lot of good stuff just in the wrong places, and they were connected to their whys.

And so, that for me became the kind of the contribution to the conversation is that I want to help people to achieve more, right? And so, people achieve when they know their why because they’re able to kind of move forward. People are also able to achieve when they’re engaged in now and they’re super productive but maybe in the wrong places. But the true sweet spot of what I call the achieve more zone is where people connect their why and their now. And those things, together, when they’re operating in congruency, that allows people to achieve more.

And if anyone is like me, I’ve gone through my phases of what I call purpose and productivity seesaw, where I get into my zone of purpose, “Oh, I’ve got to be purposeful. I have to do things that mean something to me,” and I become a little less productive because it’s all about purposeful and meaning. And then I jump to the other side, “I need to be productive and I need to get things done now.” And then I start losing purpose and the things that were meaningful.

I was like, “What if we didn’t have to go through that seesaw? What if we could actually bridge the two together to achieve more?” And that’s where the why and the now came together.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you maybe tell us some stories, some examples, paint a picture of an articulation of a why, and sort of, “We got the why without the now.” And then, “We got the now without the why.” Sort of what does that look and feel like in practice?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, many times I hear of so many, even my audiences, the people that engage in terms of like why. So, some people with the why and without the now can be two different ways, so I created a whole quadrant around it but I’ll talk about one of the, say, the wanderers, right? And so, in my WHY matters quadrant, one of the things, if you have a little why little now, the wanderers are the kind of people that they don’t know their why, they’re not practicing, they’re not passionate about it, they’re not giving it their all. If I had to give them a TV show, I’ll call them The Walking Dead.

But the next group of people, the thinkers, these are the kind of people that they know their why. These are the kind of people that they read the books on purpose, they read the books on why. And I’ll give you a great example, I was that person who was super purpose-oriented, I was reading books on it, even wrote a book that dealt with purpose and values. But as I was dealing with that, I wasn’t productive, like I wasn’t getting a lot of things done, I wasn’t accomplishing as much as I could. I felt super content but I wasn’t progressing forward.

And so, that was a time in my life where I was like super focused on purpose and I thought about my career, and I was super reflective. And so, those are the type of people that they get in to reflection mode, and the quadrant is the thinkers, right? So, these are people that they’re just thinking, they’re thinking, they’re thinking, but for whatever reason, whether the fear of success, fear of failure, or they’re simply just following the herd of society that they just get stuck just thinking about their why but it doesn’t translate to create action, to accomplishing more, to being productive, to doing productive behaviors, or what I call being on 10, which we can talk about later. And so, that’s the why people.

Then the other group of people, which I’ve also been as well, are those who have a high now but a low why. And in my quadrant, those are misplaced. And the misplaced are the kind of people that, like I mentioned, they’re doing a lot of great stuff just in the wrong places. And so, for me, I had those moments where I would read books, like Getting Things Done, and Eat That Frog, and a whole bunch of productivity books, and I was just being super productive but I wasn’t checking it according to my why. I wasn’t making sure that I was doing things on purpose.

So, I’ll give you a great example. So, I used to be a radio show host, right? And part of the radio show host, just three years, Listen up with Justin Jones-Fosu, we had a real great time, an FM radio station, MPR affiliate. And as I was doing the radio show for three years, I found myself in a misplaced quadrant because I was doing it and people were like, “This is awesome. You’re killing it, Justin. You’re reaching thousands of people in the Baltimore area and surrounding,” but it wasn’t connected to my why. I was doing it because it was a good thing to do and it felt like the right thing to do, like the right progression and be productive. I have a radio show host where thousands of people listen to you every week but it wasn’t according to my why.

And when I really sat down and thought through, “Why was I doing what I was doing? What was the purpose behind it? What was the intent?” I realized that the radio show wasn’t the right conduit for me, that I was actually productive but zapping me of aspects of purpose and meaning for me. And so, I decided to give up the radio show after three years, and everybody was like, “Why? Why would you do that?” But it’s because I wanted to have greater why alignment, and so I ended up pursuing and diving into things in terms of speaking and writing that were much more in line with my why but I was also able to get more time and be super productive to what really mattered to me.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, and what do you call it, I guess in your ideal quadrant where you got it both going on?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yes, the pursuer quadrant. And it’s those who understand clarity, connection, and consistency which are the components of the why and having a strong why. And those people who are engaged and on 10 behaviors which when people are maximizing kind of the effort, their intensity, how hard they go. And so, if I had to summarize why, the definition of why, it’s simply purpose, what motivates you, what drives you, the intent behind what you do. And the now is passion. When we talk about passion, we’re talking about not what you do but how you do it, the effort, the intensity with what you give and it’s a concept that I call being on 10.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s interesting here because I can see where you’re going. So, we got the thinkers who are doing a fine job of doing that internal reflection and zooming in on, “Well, what am I all about? What’s behind this? What are my values? What really lights me up? What doesn’t light me up?” And so, they’re having some good time where they’re articulating some of that stuff but in the process, they’re not making stuff happen so they aren’t generating a bunch of to-do’s slayed behind them in their wake.

And so, at the same time though, you can go in the other direction, in which you’re not doing any of that reflection, you’re rocking and rolling in terms of just dominating hundreds of emails and all these things.

Justin Jones-Fosu
Zero box.

Pete Mockaitis
But what is it really doing for you in terms of connecting? So, I hear what you’re saying that it can only be possible to have one and not the other. So, let’s talk a bit about arriving at a good articulation of your why. And we talked about this a couple of times in the show. So, you mentioned clarity, connection and consistency. How do we get at that clarity? And maybe, for starters, you can articulate for us your why and maybe some whys of other folks that you’ve interacted with that just inspired the crap out of you.

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yes. So, my why is to inspire people, to achieve actionable results by challenging the boundaries of what they believe are possible. And it took me a long time to really begin to articulate and get to that why because, for me, I looked back at my life, and so I did kind of a reflection in terms of, “What has been the core messaging throughout my life? What’s been part of that journey of my life?”

And my story is one where I had a lot of obstacles, extensive homelessness, we were poor initially in terms of financially but rich in spirit, had hand-me-downs at Salvation Army. I mean, all the stuff and had to really kind of overcome the boundaries that were there, single mom with two rambunctious boys. I mean, a lot of things, grew up in the hood initially. So, a lot of things that were boundaries for me and I realized that my own life was one of challenging the boundaries of what I believed were possible.

But that also translates into kind of what I do, what I call my intentional hobby, where my intentional hobby is I like trekking and climbing mountains and I like challenging the boundaries. I remember one story where me and my buddy, Marlon Barton, we do a thing called the birthday challenge. And so, we went skiing for the first time and failed. I’ve never been skiing before. A great place to go skiing for the first time. And I remember we were climbing, snowshoeing on this mountain, and literally sometimes all we could do is take 20 steps and stop for like three minutes because we were at a high altitude but we continued to climb.

And so, for me, that became my why. And so, that’s just symbolic of the nature, for me, is I’m always challenging the boundaries of what I believe are possible for being, coming from single home, from being poor financially, to being a black male in society, a lot of different things. And so, just challenging those boundaries has become a component of my journey with others.

And so, it’s not something that I have to think about doing, I just do it, right? And sometimes I have to control myself in doing it because I can come off so hard, like, “Hey, are you challenging your boundaries?” And people are like, “Justin, I just said hi, right?” And so, for me, that became, and as I reflected, that became crystal clear for my why. So, to start off, that’s my why and that’s kind of how I came about it. And it took me really about a month to really kind of think through and process and reflect, and I asked myself several different questions in order to get there, to get to that why.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And it’s very helpful. And could you share some other folks you know and their whys articulated?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Absolutely. So, other people I’ve met, I met this young lady actually about a month ago, and she talked about, you know, we went through, because she was struggling with how does she identified her why. And we started kind of going through life and questions, and I have this thing called the 12 uncovering questions that help people to kind of think through their why and develop their why statement, and we started going through some of these questions. And we came to her why, dealt with both helping fixing things but also centered around technology.

And so, she started thinking through like, “What does this look like for me in my everyday life?” And so, we started talking about like, “How do you interact with your friends?” “I always have to fix it. I always have to be a fixer.” And so, part of her why statement became, in terms of fixing things, but it also looked at how does technology help people in their lives to fix things. And so she does like A/V and IT stuff and so she’s always thinking through of connecting people to technology in ways that can help them fix some of the aspects and challenges in their lives. And so, that’s her why statement.

Other people have developed why statements because, again, this is not what you do but kind of the overall umbrella of how you do something or kind of the lens in what you look through things. So, I met another gentleman, and one of the things around his why just dealt with helping people to develop a greater sense of grit because he had to work his butt off and ended up going to the military.

And one really amazing person that I encountered, Summer Owens, and she has a great story in terms of she was a teen mom and ended up going to The University of Memphis, and her story of all that she encountered. And, actually, the way she became a teen mom that was with a sexual assault, and her why is built on what’s called so-what in terms of her resilience. And so, she became Miss University of Memphis and is now even like the national president of The University of Memphis Alumni, and just really doing a great job. And her why centers around so-what in resilience. So, “So, what you went through that? How are you going to continue to go up?”

So, she helps people to become so-what in their lives. And so, like those are people’s whys, and everybody gets to their whys differently. But, for me, in the book, some people had struggled with their why. I created these 12 questions just to help people to start thinking and processing how they approach their why.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and I would definitely want to hit those in just a moment. But, first, you mentioned that it’s not even about what you’re doing in a moment, but bringing that lens and that perspective to whatever you’re doing. So, can you share how once you have that why, how you bring it to a job that might not have anything to do with technology or whatever the case may be, but it infuses it with something magical?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, one of the things that I found as I was really kind of discovering why is like some people, I feel, have stated their whys as what they do, right? And so, “My why is to help people to being a trainer.” And I’m saying, “Well, no, not necessarily. Your why could be helping people but it may not be as a trainer because that should be the thing that you do in all aspects of your life. And if you’re helping people, you’re engaging with your friends, you’re helping them to solve their problems and bring solutions.”

And so, for me, part of my why just permeated through not just what I did but like all the aspects of what I do should be my why. And so, with my family, I’m challenging the boundaries of what they believe are possible and so we’re doing things that we’ve never done. So, at work, you may have nothing to do, like this person who loves fixing things and love that kind of infusion with technology, she was able to find a job which is great in terms of ways that integrate with what she did, but she still would be helping to fix things as part of her why in her job.

And so, it could’ve been aspects of problems and bringing solutions to those problems. So, whatever those things are, it’s very important that we don’t finetune because we may change what we do but why we do it is something that really is consistent. And so, I’m very fortunate, I love speaking, and so people bring me in and speak all the good stuff. But even with my friends, I’m challenging the boundaries of what they believe are possible.

So, like when everybody has a birthday whether on LinkedIn and even some Facebook, I sometimes send what I call the birthday challenge. This is what I do every year, which is one thing that you’ve never done that you’ve always wanted to do or that you haven’t done in a long time, and that’s to challenge you to stay in what I call the learning-based mindset.

And so, it’s one of the things I just naturally do. It has nothing to do with my job or my work, but it just permeates through all that I do. And so, some people that’s helping to fix things, for other people it’s developing greater sense of resilience, for some people it’s helping to connect people to deeper sense of family, or belonging in a family, or could be within the context of corporate America, or it could be at home, whatever those things are, it permeates that. Even if you changed job titles, why you do something, the meaning, the intent, the purpose behind it stays the same.

And so, that’s where I come to the why, not just what you do, really, it’s not what you do, but the umbrella, the lens in which you do almost all aspects of your life. Even at the gym, I’m challenging boundaries of what I believe are possible. Sometimes that’s not whys because I think I can do more than I can do but I’m still challenging those boundaries, and that’s why my birthday challenge this year is actually competing in a men’s physique competition. Don’t judge me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. These photos, bust.

Justin Jones-Fosu
I’d take my shirt off, like, “No.” My wife is going to kill me. But all aspects of my life are centered around challenging the boundaries of what I believe are possible and achieving actionable results in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I had a buddy who participated in a men’s physique contest, I don’t know if he wants me to say his name or not, but it was impressive, like, wow, check that out.

Justin Jones-Fosu
I hope mine will be too.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny. I was at a wedding and he was missing the wedding because he had already signed up for this thing. And so, I kept kind of asking him for the updates, like, “Yeah, so how did it go?” And then I had the distinct privilege of being able to show the first photos of him in the men’s physique contest to his girlfriend, I mean, that was at the wedding. And I was like, “Oh, it’s so good when you have something. Well, so, hey, this actually kind of connects to my purpose, I guess.”

Justin Jones-Fosu
It’s good.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve chewed on this in terms of this is my purpose just for like work or more broadly, and you gave me some good stuff to chew on, and I think it’s not just work, but I don’t know if it’s yet all-encompassing, some are work in progress but it’s to discover, develop, and disseminate knowledge that transforms the experience of being alive.

Justin Jones-Fosu
That’s powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And it really does genuinely light me up, like when I have conversations with you, like I’m discovering stuff, like, “Ooh, that’s really cool. You know, it’s like I’m developing it. Okay, we’re working this episode, we’re making it sharp, we’re polishing it, we’re cutting some parts, we’re trying to get some good teasers, and we’re distributing it, like, ‘Hey, many thousands of folks are checking out the episode and they say good things.’” And so, that’s a thrill and then it also shows up in other sort of trainings and speaking and coaching and whatnot that I’m doing as well as even just conversation with folks about a product. it’s like, “Oh, hey, I got this Bluetooth meat thermometer. It’s amazing, you know. It’s pouring my life with all the low-fat chicken breast so I’m ready for a physique contest, Justin.

Justin Jones-Fosu
See? We’ll be competing together it sounds like. And How to be Awesome at Your Physique will be your next podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you have to be really extreme, but even in that moment, I was so delighted to be able to, I guess, disseminate the knowledge, “Hey, there’s a photo of your man on his bodybuilding contest thing.” You know, it was a thrill for me and it transformed her experience of being alive because she was like, “Oh, my gosh.”

Justin Jones-Fosu
See? And your why is permeating all aspects. There was no podcast for that, there was no speaking engagement for that. It was just you being you.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. I dig it. So, I feel like I’m getting pretty close of finetuning it and so very cool. Let’s hear about these uncovering questions. Do tell. What do they uncover and how do we do them?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, I’ll go through the 12, there’s some that mean more than others in how people interpret it and so some may seem redundant but they’re really trying to piece together, it’s almost like when you put your fingerprint, when you do the fingerprint scan, that it’s like, okay, you still put your fingerprint down but it gets at it a different way.

And so, these 12 questions are, the first is, “Why are you here?” And for some people they’re like, “Why am I here?” Like, existentially, “Whoa!” Second is, “What major life experiences have you faced both positive and negative?” Third is, “What interested you growing up?” Fourth, “What gets you out of bed in the morning?” Fifth, “What interests and intrigues you in life?” Sixth, “What do you wish was better in the world?”

Seven, “Have you ever had a moment when you felt like you came alive? What were you doing and why did that make you feel amazing?” Eight, “What impact do you have on others/society? What impact do you want to have on others/society?” Nine, “When have you felt inspired, hopeful, full of learning and growing?” Ten, “What excites you?” Eleven, “What do you believe about the world? What do you think the world should be like?” And twelve, “How are others better after time with you or by what you do?”

And so, asking these questions and, yeah, I’ve sometimes done workshops with these and we’ve kind of gone through aspects of the book and, man, to see people really diving in and engaging childhood, and engaging the journey of their lives, and asking questions, like, “What’s been a consistent theme over the course of my life, from childhood to adolescent to adulthood, that really helps me identifying, have a clearer why of like purpose and what I provide and bring to society, and really the impact and the legacy that I want to leave, an imprint on this world?” And people wrestle with that.

And so, this is one of the things I tell people often, especially my perfectionist people, like, “I need to write the perfect statement,” and I’m like, “It’s not about getting the perfect statement. It’s about taking that true genuine time to reflect. And then I also, like I did something, or I encourage people to do the same thing, I sent it to my three top family members and friends, and I was like, “Hey, this is what I’m really identifying with my why and my why statement. And, externally, do you think it reflects me?” And some people are like, “Justin, I’ve never even heard you say that phrase, right? Like, that came out of nowhere. So, I don’t think that’s true or remains to who you were.” I felt like I was just trying too had to come up with something that sounded really cool.

But, really, identifying like what meant something to me and people talked about challenging them, I’m always challenging. I talk about boundaries. I talk about how you challenge those boundaries and what’s possible. So, like these key themes and phrases came from my childhood and adolescence and adulthood and from me. And when people start asking themselves those questions and start reflecting, it’s not that they’ll get their immediate why statement there, but it’s them now being open to hearing and experience and not for themselves but also their closer friends and family members, what this really looks like and how they can live it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really dig what you’re saying here. And we also interviewed David Mead on the podcast who worked with Simon Sinek with Find Your Why and that book. And there are some nice overlaps, but he was all about, “Hey, have a partner and have them kind of carefully observe as you share sort of life stories with them, and they can kind of identify some themes from those.” And I thought, “Well that’s a good approach, yes.”

But what I love about your questions is we can get started right away in terms of right now, don’t have to find a partner, you don’t need training, facilitation, or have any interest in this, and so you can really get the wheels turning immediately which is cool. And, yeah, I kind of want to just be alone and think about this right now. Go away, Justin.

Justin Jones-Fosu
Right. I’m sorry. I’ll leave you alone. And that’s what a lot of people like to do. I mean, I figure from a great perspective, just having time to reflect, and I love that method in terms of having a partner to observe. But just sometimes you having time to reflect and just to sit back and engage and to think is really emotional for some people.

Some people in my workshops and trainings have been like many tears because people go through some really painful experiences. One of the things I talk about, both positive and negative, and I went through experiences of abuse and abandonment and a lot of different things that I had to really kind of wrestle with. And so, there’s actually a part in the book where I tell people, like, “Hey, if you need a moment, put the book down and come back to it when you’re okay. And if it really gets serious for you, please seek help and get counseling to process some of these things,” because some people actually dredge up things that’s challenging for them, and they’ve put away in a nice box what’s been a part of their story.

And so, I think it’s helpful for people to take that time, like you just said, and like, “Justin, get away,” and just to reflect, and then maybe bring on a partner and/or have three to five friends or family members to look at and engage in your stories and what you shared.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, let’s say we have even a rough nascent preliminary draft sense of the why before a perfect articulation or a decent articulation. So, with that in mind, how do we, sort of day-to-day, enjoy kind of more passion of your job based upon having this?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah, so there’s a couple of different ways to approach that, right? And so, when you know your why, I mean, it allows you to better engage. One of the things is there’s a lot of work going around meaning, right? So, I talk a lot about meaning as part of the one of the definitions of why that’s meaningful. And so, I challenge the notion of meaning and so I’m like really developing this movement around helping people to work meaningfully, not to have meaningful work but work meaningfully because, often, I found that we’ve created almost this meaningful workspace where it’s external focus on meaning, it’s like the external loci.

Stephen Covey talks about internal locus of control, and we got deeper into that. But, this internal loci, it’s not about finding meaning in your work, it’s about bringing meaning to your work. It’s not about doing work that you love, it’s about loving the work that you do because one is external, one is internal. And there’s actually some really cool research that shows there’s a group of hospital cleaners, and one of the things that they found was that there’s two different groups of hospital cleaners. There’s one group of hospital cleaners that came to the hospital, they cleaned the hospital, and they left the hospital. It makes sense because they were hospital cleaners, right?

But there’s another group of hospital cleaners that they engaged with the nurses to find out when is the best time to actually come into the room, they would talk with visitors and family members, say, “Hello, is there anything I could get for you?” They saw themselves as extensions of the mission of the hospital. Now, these groups were both doing the exact same work, but one brought meaning with them while other were potentially finding meaning in their work.

And so, I think when you talk about passion and engaging at work, it first starts with us showing up and choosing each and every day to bring our meaning with us. No matter what you identify as your why statement, even if you don’t have a why statement yet, it’s that we can show up and bring that meaning, and there’s ways to do that, right?

So, a lot of our research stems in job crafting, and there’s really three ways that you can have job crafting or crafted jobs that’s meaningful for you. It’s identifying task crafting, relational crafting, and mental crafting. And so, what task crafting is simply adding a component of your job that is meaningful for you. So, for some people, what they do is repetitive, it’s not sexy, they’re like, “Oh, I want to do something else.” But that task crafting is saying, “Well, I love helping people. So, could I potentially be one of the leads for volunteering? Could I start a volunteering? Could we do something as relates to a breast cancer awareness or do one of the walks?” Whatever that could be that they may start that or be a part of the lead. And so, that small aspect of task crafting shifts how they bring themselves to work.

The second, around relational crafting, is simply enjoying friends or the people that are there so the relationships access thing. In my presentation, I talk about Cool Hand Luke, , right? If you’ve ever seen that movie, it’s one of my favorite movies of Paul Newman, and one of the things he says, the statement, “What we have here is a failure to communicate,” right? It came from that movie. And one of the things with the relational crafting is he created these games with the people he was with.

And so, they were doing like mundane things, they’re supposed to be in prison, but they had so much fun doing it with each other, right? And so, they created this relational component, and so developing strong sense of belonging and relationships, whether that’s going happy hour, whether that’s engaging and going out to lunch with one person a week, whatever that thing may be, that you come to work, and even if your work is not sexy, you don’t really find it really awesome, that you can still be awesome at your job by the relationships that you create.

But the third aspect is the mental crafting and it’s all about how do you see the work that you do. And so some of the things in my research, and I was looking at people who do repetitive jobs, and also one of the articles like “Meaningful Work in Meaningless Places” and so it talked about like even a janitor that saw themselves in an educational institution, and that janitor saw themselves helping people to learn more effectively and learn better because they created an environment where people could bring their best selves to learn.

And they ask themselves, “If I did not clean, if I didn’t do what I did today, what would this place be and how would people respond? And would they be their best selves in their learning?” And so, like that’s a great example of how do we bring what we do. And so, that’s just some of the research that dives into how can you bring that passion, how do you bring that meaning, and it’s not simply just waiting for meaning to fall on your lap.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you. And I’m thinking now with regard to the task component, so the folks who were cleaning the hospital sort of just did little extra touches with regard to checking with the nurses, like, “When is the best time to do this cleaning?”

So, you’re doing a task that you’re not feeling, and you could just sort of invent whatever it may be. And so, what are some of the little tweaks, kind of like the hospital cleaner asking about what times they could clean that would be best for the patient, might help give a boost to the meaning when we’re doing some task crafting?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, there are so many different opportunities or examples of task crafting that are there. So, one I mentioned before was just in terms of changing or adding a little component of something that’s meaningful for you. So, for some people, like we mentioned, is helping people. So, it could mean getting involved and engaged with community service aspect. For some people, they love creating presentations so they may volunteer to do the presentations or even just create them in PowerPoint, or Keynote, or Prezi if you still use it. But it’s like they ask how they can best engage in the things that are meaningful for them. So, that’s another example.

For some other people, I’ll give you my example. For me, when I was working for a financial service company, I wasn’t happy in my job. So, really, a lot of this movement came from me. I wasn’t being awesome at my job nor was I happy at my job. And I started asking for little different things, and so they allowed me to be a part of the learning management system in what we called My Learning. And I was able to also engage, I was really passionate about diversity equity inclusion, and so they included me as part of their implementing new diversity strategies within the company. So, my manager allowed me to be a part of that team, and it impacted my overall work.

And what’s beautiful about that, and a book called The Progress Principle, one of the things that they found when they interviewed 12,000 workers is that when people felt like they were making progress, even if it was incremental, towards something that was meaningful to them that they felt better, healthier and happier about what they called the IWL, or inner work life.

And so, like all of those components is like we all can find, we just have to stop, press pause, reflect, and ask, “What are some of the tasks that are meaningful for me?” And that’s why I love what Google used to do, they moved away from that according to recent conversations, but they used to have like this 20% rule where they challenged and encouraged people to work on tasks or things 20% of the time that were meaningful to them, that they love.

So, some of the things that we experience and have now came from that 20%, right? And so, people would do that and they would come away with great things, some things failed and worked, but those were ways that I saw companies help to implement aspects of task crafting. So, as individuals, we have to ask and press pause and reflect and ask, “What makes me smile at work? Like, what are some of the things I really just enjoy doing? Is it the interactions I have with people?”

I met a lady at the Charlotte Airport, she would sing all the time, right? She’d sell like the candy and the mints which I eat a lot of, the mints not the candy, and, remember, I’ve been working out. But she would sing all the time, and I loved it, right? So, she created this little way to bring a different component of her tasks and she loved singing, and she applied that.

So, in all the different walks of life, I think there’s opportunities for us to identify the task that make us smile, some things that we really enjoy, and find out, one, “Can we get involved in that that exists already at our job or commuting or doing other things online and/or create it?” So, maybe there’s not a social committee. Hopefully you don’t do it like The Office did, but maybe there’s opportunity for you to coordinate happy hours if you really like bringing people together, or to get people involved and create a bowling night, or whatever that thing may be, I think there’s opportunities to craft that in our tasks.

So, there’s an opposite of that, I want to help people be mindful of, that sometimes, one, people have to get buy-in from their leadership and management. Two, add that to their work, and I’ve seen in some of the research that people have gone to the opposite side, and they’ve spent too much time on the thing that they’re crafting and not enough time on their job, and so it doesn’t allow their management leadership to support some of their task crafting. So, that’s some of the risks of task crafting is that you have to get, one, buy-in but then, two, you have to make sure that it doesn’t negatively impact your job where you’re spending too much time on what you enjoy. But just occasionally implementing some of those components into your everyday work.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, I think the other component of just the now, is the companion to the why, right? So, yes, it’s great in terms of bringing meaning with you, but how do you bring that meaning, right? What does it mean to be what I call on 10, right? Now, to kind of illustrate the on 10, at least through air, it’s almost like this. Have you ever been to a place where people have been dancing? And, Pete, you know this too well, right? It’s like they’re using two different types of dances, aren’t they, Pete, right?

There’s like one type of dancer that’s like cool, comic-like, like boom, boom, boom, hey. “They’re not going to see me sweat, right?” And they have this other type of dancer, like, “Woo, woo, woo, brr,” right? And the first type of dancer there’s so concerned, they’re consumed about people watching them that they either remix it, they make it slower, like, “They’re not going to see me sweat, yeah, right?” But this other type of dancer that they came with like three undershirts because they’re going to sweat on every single one. Like, they came ready to get everything they had on the dancefloor of their lives. And I’ve seen you dance, Pete, that is you.

I mean, they came ready. And that’s the question mark for us in real life, is like, “Which type of dancer are we?” Not in real life because we all need to know that. But are we the dancer number one who they’re so concerned about people watching them, looking at them, that they don’t give their all, they don’t give what their 10 is? Or are they dancer number two where they’re willing even if people put them on IG or people put them on Snap or LinkedIn, Live, or whatever that may be, that they’re willing to give everything that they have.

I often find it’s people have to answer that question for themselves, “Are they on 10? Are they maximizing? Like, what are their on-10 behaviors? What are the things that they do that communicates their excellence, their best, right?” Now, one of the challenges I find with people that engage or don’t engage with fully being on 10 is that they suffer from what I call on-10 comparisons where one of the things that they consistently compare themselves to other people. So, it’s almost like somebody else doing a podcast that would compare themselves to how awesome your podcast is, and they wouldn’t give their best because they’re like, “I’ll never measure up to Pete.”

But you only have two different capacities. What they’re able to and what you’re able to do is different and there may be different parts of their lives, and so like, “How do you look at just your own reflection, do your own reflection, and identify your own self, for what is my best?

And so, while having your why and bringing meaning is super important, also how important your now is is amazing. So, even for the listeners, I simply ask you, if you had to rate yourself on a scale from one to 10, with one being the lowest and 10 being the highest, how passionately are you currently living your why, right, whether that’s professionally and/or personally? What does that look like? What would you rate yourself?

And even a deeper question sometimes is, “How would the people around you rate you?” If we went and did an informal 360 at your office, or even if you’re telecommuting and different things like that, it’s the people that you support or work with or other team members, how would they rate you? And then, on the other side, because all my conversations are not just professional but also personal, like what would family members say?

And so, those are ways that we can ask, “What are our on-10 behaviors? How would I currently rate myself? And what does it look like for me to truly be on 10 to fully engage?” And so, in the book and other places, I talk about just ways to challenge our cruise control, but also what I call the principle of the frog, step, seed, and smile which are ways to be on 10 to have a high now and to engage in the true now.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
One of my favorite quotes is “Anything can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.” It’s unknown. I guess that’s probably intentional, all right, as a quote, like, “Yeah, let me put my credit for the quote.” That’s one of the most powerful quotes that I love as a social entrepreneur. One of the things that matters to me is the impact that we’re having on people. And it’s something that’s super powerful.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
Woo, I love some of the research around the herd theory. And the herd theory simply, it looked at a group of creatures, and what it notices is that when this group of creatures saw impending danger was coming that they all begin going the exact same way. And I sometimes illustrate that in our presentations where I like have people get up and have them walk around the room. And normally about 80% to 90% of time, people go the same way.

And you see that play out and there’s some studies, I don’t know the official name but I’m going to call them unofficially the elevator studies. You can probably find it on YouTube where they did a study where people would get on elevators and like everybody would be faced the wrong way in the elevator. And they would study what the person who got on the elevator would do, right?

Often you would see this person would turn around and face the back of the elevator like these other people, and that’s just another example of the herd theory and why that’s important to me.

But what I love about the herd theory and what that communicates is often, experientially, we just simply follow the herd, we follow the path of least resistance. We do what everybody else does at our company. We do all the same things and we sometimes don’t ask, “What does this mean to me?”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Justin Jones-Fosu
My favorite book still is Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute. Amazing power book that helps you to better reflect and to see, “Am I projecting negativity on others based upon me not taking responsibility for my own life?” And so, that book, when I did my MBA, that transformed the way I look at life. And so, yeah, that’s one of my favorite books.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Situational Leadership II by Ken Blanchard. A great tool. It focuses on the different components on how do you, one, serve and lead others? But then also, two, where can you ask for help?

I found people that just go to their leadership without using those terminology and being able to say, “Hey, like on this specific task or this role, I need some help, I need some support. I need to know if I’m going in the right direction. I need to know if I’m failing or falling short of this.” And it’s just been a helpful way for people to, one, communicate where they are on a task or a role, but, two, to get support and direction in that same process.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Ooh, a really good habit is what I call #extravagantappreciation. I’ve been on a mission lately and part of my research in terms of how we can be more productive is how do we show extravagant appreciation on other people. It actually falls into my principle the frog, step, seed and smile. It’s what I call #imoa or an intentional moment of appreciation where we go out of our way to celebrate people around us. And I think in this beautiful world of technology, we got to go back to old school, Pete, like back to handwritten thank you notes.

And so, one of the things that I’ve been really developing a strong habit of is, twofold, I’m writing handwritten thank you notes to people and so people can do that right in their office. I challenge people to do at least two, one professionally, and one personally. And let them know the impact that they’ve had on you at work and/or the person at home.

So, my bigger habit is I encourage everyone who stays at hotels. Often, we don’t appreciate and value as much people who are housekeeping or janitors, custodial staff members. Like, I try my best to go out of my way to show them extravagant appreciation.

And, Pete, you would not imagine the smiles that come out of people’s faces. So, that’s one thing that I do, and I encourage everyone who stays at hotel, please leave a tip for your housekeeper, but not just leave a tip but, you know those little pads of paper and a pen? Write them a handwritten thank you note on your last day of your stay and let them know how grateful you are that they’re doing an amazing work. And just don’t leave the note, please leave a tip as well. But that’s one of the habits I think I’m valuing the most because it’s one that’s inspiring other people.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences and they re-tweet it a lot?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah, one of the things that I talk about in challenging the herd and identifying and embracing our uniqueness that this is a quote I share, it’s, “Don’t be just like anyone. Be better for everyone by being the only you.” Again, it’s, “Don’t be just like anyone. Be better for everyone by being the only you.” And that’s one of the most recorded, re-tweeted, and even in an organization, they made a big banner, I had no idea, somebody showed it to me. They put a big banner and put that in the hallway just to speak to unique-ability.

And the last, I know you just asked for one, but I have to an overachiever, I’m sorry about that, sometimes I underachieve there, is, “There are people who would love to have our bad days.” And so, it’s just a perspective, a challenge of kind of when we engage our day could be super easy to focus on things that are negative and all the things that are going wrong, but sometimes in that process and think through, like, “Man, there’s somebody who would love to switch box with me right now. Oh, I hate this situation. I hate my job. I hate my manager.” Whatever. I have a job that I can hate, right? I have a job that I can not like my manager, and other people would love to be in that position.

I know it seems at times trivial that it doesn’t mean to make people’s challenges small, but it is about, “How do we change and reflect in a unique and different way?” And so, identifying that there are people who would love to have my bad days is one of those things that helps me and in my work and in my personal life to have just a changed of perspective.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
They can go right to the website JustinInspires.com where they can find information about Your WHY Matters NOW: How Some Achieve More and Others Don’t. Or, if they want to do the old-fashioned way, they can give me a call at 704-750-5574, but JustinInspires.com is plenty. You can see the videos and see my crazy high energy. I don’t use the boxing robe anymore but I still do dance in the presentations, and so, yeah, that’s where they can get in touch with me.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yes. My challenge is stop asking if the glass is half empty or half full and let’s fill the stupid glass back up, right?

And so, like that’s the thing, it’s, “How do we take action? What is one thing that we can do to move forward?” Like, even from this podcast or all the podcasts you listen with Pete, is what one thing can you take away from this that you can apply and to fill the glass back up? Now, this is not a call to go to your nearest bar, if you’re over 21, and tell your bartender, “Fill the glass up. Fill the glass up,” right?
But this is a clarion call to fill our own glasses up with continuous learning, continuous growing, listening to podcasts like this one right now that will help you to grow and develop professionally but also you get some nuggets to grow personally as well.

So, don’t ask if the glass is half empty or half full, take action and fill the glass back up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Justin, this has been a treat. Thank you and keep on inspiring.

Justin Jones-Fosu
Thank you so much, Pete.

489: The Mindset of the Most Effective Leaders with Bob Anderson

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Bob Anderson says: "'How am I getting in my own way?' is a constant conversation or area of reflection."

Bob Anderson discusses the ways you’re inhibiting your leadership potential—and how to remedy them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The surprising source of highly-accurate feedback
  2. The two leadership operating systems
  3. Powerful questions for unlocking your leadership potential

About Bob

Robert J. Anderson has been a pace setter in the field of Leadership Development for over 30 years. He is the Founder, Chairman and Chief Development Officer of The Leadership Circle and

the Full Circle Group, and the co-author of Scaling Leadership andMastering Leadership. Bob created The Leadership Circle Profile, a 360° assessment used by organizations worldwide to measure the effectiveness of their leaders (individually and collectively), chart a pathway for their development, and assess their progress as they develop.

The MEECO Leadership Institute awarded him the International Thought Leader of Distinction in 2018.

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Bob Anderson Interview Transcript

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

Bob Anderson
My pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I would love to hear, first of all, I understand that you went ahead and got your pilot’s license. What is the backstory here?

Bob Anderson
Well, the backstory was I was trying to figure out how to be a consultant on the road and be home at a sooner time, so those are two competing commitments, right, success in both arenas. So, I decided to learn to fly a little airplane, and I bought a Beechcraft Bonanza, and got an instrument rating, and I could fly in most weather. And it allowed me to get to places and get home sooner. So, leave later and get home sooner.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you actually fly your own plane to like speaking engagements and such.

Bob Anderson
I don’t anymore. I did for a good number of years but I’ve given it up. It’s like I get busy, I don’t have as much time to really stay current.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I was actually thinking about doing this but I think, “Oh, Pete, that’s probably not actually going to save you real time once you get into whatever.” But your experience was, yes, you saved lots of time because you’re flying your own plane.

Bob Anderson
There were times that I was home for dinner that I wouldn’t have been otherwise, and there were times when I was not due to weather. So, I finally said, “You know, I’m not sure this is working as well as I thought.” You need a lot of airplane to be able to get there in difficult weather.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Bob Anderson
So, yeah, we could take 40 minutes on that.

Pete Mockaitis
The ins and outs of aircraft. That’s a skill. For listeners who are considering getting a pilot’s license and their own airplane for your travels we’re going to get to the bottom of it.

Bob Anderson
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But we’re not, that is for another show. You might get some invitations. So, I want to hear, you’ve done some impressive research into leadership, and so I want to dig into it. So, your team, I understand, has surveyed over a million leaders around the world. Can you tell us a bit about that research and maybe the most striking discovery you gained from that?

Bob Anderson
Well, I created a leadership assessment 360 years ago, and it goes much broader and deeper than most 360s, and we’d get into some of that. But we’ve probably given feedback to 150,000-160,000 leaders around the world with the leaders that report to them providing feedback so that gives us the database of 1.5 million and growing to do research with and one of the nicest research databases in the world probably on leadership. And so, we can research that nine ways from Sunday.

Bob Anderson
One of the things that struck us, which was why we wrote. We did this research project on all the written comments.

So, we asked the raters, the people providing feedback, to write in what’s this person’s greatest strengths, or assets, and what are their liabilities and so on. And the data blew us away with the precision with which leaders see the people that they work with and how poignantly they can describe it and how directly those written comments match to the quantitative feedback.

So, if you write in, “Bob is an arrogant SOB,” you’re going to see that a high score on arrogance, right? So, the match, we saw just a kind of surprising match, our statisticians were actually stunned by it, between things people said in writing and then how the quantitative came out.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know. Maybe I’m not capturing why that’s impressive. Wouldn’t we expect that to be the case?

Bob Anderson
I think what we saw in that was that, as a leader, you’re in a feedback-rich environment. We used to think you had to go set that up, “Let’s go create a feedback-rich environment so leaders can really grow,” which is critical. Feedback is the breakfast of champions, right? And so, we realized that you’re breathing it and you swim in it. It’s all around you. It’s the air you breathe.

There’s feedback-rich environment all around you. The question is, “Do you actually tap it? Do you harness it? Do you listen? Do you go out and seek it?” Most don’t. It’s an acquired taste and most would prefer not to go there because it can be strong medicine to really, “Yeah, that’s how you’re showing up as a leader.” And people see you in action and they see you with real accuracy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I guess that’s sort of the takeaway there is that folks who just sort of pipe up with their feedback if you ask them and they’re willing to give it to you, then you can probably feel pretty good that that’s accurate as opposed to kind of off-base or you won’t get it unless we have sort of a scoring system to get it.

Bob Anderson
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m hearing you. That’s great news, I suppose, is that if you want feedback you can get it or at least they know it whether or not they care to share it with you, and you care to listen, I guess, over the challenges. Okay, so you say you’ve got kind of full-blown framework and a kind of architecture there when it comes to defining leadership. And so, you talk a lot about high creative versus high reactive. Can you unpack a little bit of that idea?

Bob Anderson
Yeah, the basic principle, one of them, that underlies our work is that there’s an inner game and an outer game, and you’re playing both all the time. Outer game of your knowledge, your experience, your competency skills, you bring that to every meeting you’re in as a leader, and you’re honing that game all the time. And it’s really an important game and if you don’t play it well, you’d wash out, so you’re working that all the time.

Also, what’s running that game is your inner game, your operating system, if you will. So, the level of maturity in that operating system drives the ways you show up in your outer game and what you have access to in terms of behaviors and capabilities in a moment, and what you may not have access to. And that drives effectiveness in highly-charged complex situations which leaders find themselves all the time.

So, a reactive leader, their inner game typically is authored by others. About 75% of adults will have an inner operating system that’s authored by others. Meaning I tend to be pursuing my objectives in a, what Larry Wilson called the “play not to lose” game, “I’m trying to move forward and not lose faith.” So, what I’m not aware of is that the fear that’s running me and the assumptions underneath that.

So, I talk about the leader who’s overly-cautious and deferential, the inner game that they’re playing is, “You define me, and I’m defined by how much you like me and the kind of harmony in our relationship.” So, not to be accepted is not to be. I lose myself if you don’t see me as a good, likable, somebody who’s a team player and so on.”

Somebody else might have a similar equation but opposite. So, I might define myself as results. My results, my power to drive result is me. That makes me valuable. And so, I’m always running the show. There are times when that’s really helpful and there are times when you need to back off, let others learn, grow, take responsibility, delegate, and so on. But the more your sense of worth and security and safety is tied up in “The results always have to be so perfect and stellar all the time,” the less latitude you have to really allow people to learn and grow with you.

Both of these impacts your ability to scale your leadership which is what the book was about. So, if I’m running every meeting, there are limits to scale. If I’m not able to address the difficult issues and move them forward, my leadership has built-in limits and scale. So, that’s a reactive operating system. It’s outside-in, the expectations of others, long past and in my current environment, are driving me in ways I’m not as much aware of as I need to be. So, their, these beliefs and assumptions have me, they’re running me.

When you shift to the creative, that turns around. You start to notice them, “Oh, I always make up that it’s too risky for me to put my voice in the room with higherups, or speak truth to power, or let go, not take over the meeting. Let the group find their own way. Or not have to impress people with my ideas in every encounter. I can give more space now.” And that’s huge.

When you can start to see your old operating system as just that, “It’s a set of assumptions I grew up with but it’s not necessarily how I want to show up in the moment,” then you have choice. And then what happens is you start to ask the question, “Well, how do I want to show up? Or what do I really want here? What am I really after in this moment, or in my life, or as a leader?”

And you start to, what’s now driving you is that question, “What matters most? What matters most in terms of my life’s purpose and vision? What matters most in terms of the organization that I believe in and I’m trying to create? What matters most in terms of this meeting or what we’re trying to accomplish and get done in this meeting?” That full spectrum is what’s in focus now. And it isn’t that you don’t have the fears, they’re there, but you are now in a different relationship with them. They’re just there, “Okay, I’m nervous. I’m scared. I don’t know how this is going to work out. I’m not sure I know what I’m doing here,” and you go forward anyway.

And you go forward with more presence, more clarity, more authenticity, more flexibility in your behaviors so you can listen or advocate your position as opposed to, “I’m always advocating my position,” or, “I’m always listening.” You have that kind of flexibility to move back and forth, when to push, when not to push. When to take on a difficult issue, when to say, “Hmm, better not right now.” And so, you get much more fluidity with the full bandwidth of what it takes to be effective in complex situations that leaders are in.

In the reactive structure, you have limited bandwidth. You default to your reactive pattern or strategy under pressure, and that has built-in limits. So, that’s what we mean by a creative leader versus a reactive leader.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s intriguing. I can certainly see how, yes, I would certainly prefer to be a creative leader as opposed to a reactive leader. But you’ve gone ahead and got some real research that proves that high-creative leaders are way, way more effective. Can you speak to that?

Bob Anderson
Yeah. Well, we have unearthed, they’re assessment measures, both, right, so all the different variations we talked about, of reactive and the inverse of that, or the corollary to that, in the creative. So, it’s got like 29 to 30 dimensions on it of leadership, and some are reactive, some are creative. So, we have a pretty rich database of, “If you’re more of a reactive in your leadership, here’s what it looks like. If you’re more creative in your leadership, here’s what kind of competence and capability you get access to.”

And then we correlate that with measures of business performance in one case and/or leadership effectiveness measures which are people perceiving you as either effective or ineffective, how effective do they perceive you. And the correlation on creative leadership to perceived effectiveness as a leader by the people that lead is like 0.93. You know, 1.0 is a perfect correlation so 0.93 is about as high as you’d get in this kind of research.

In other words, if you show up as a creative leader, people will see you as an effective leader. And in the inverse of that is true on reactive, and it’s a pretty good strong inverse correlation to effectiveness. And business performance data follows that. So, we have that too, both in terms of what we see with anecdotally or with case studies but also in the research where we can research.

We did a study while ordering Mastering Leadership where after the death of one of our clients who was the president of the association for their industry, the industry took on an entire industry-wide study, a financial industry study, on the relationship between business performance and the culture, whether it be more creative or reactive leadership culture in the organization. And they found pretty stunning, like five times more performance from organizations that were more creative than the ones that were more reactive. The year-over-year performance was about five-fold different.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, these are striking results and so I’m intrigued. So, we talked about sort of the inner game in terms of what it’s like when you’re experiencing and in the grips of being reactive versus you’ve got some more flexibility to be creative. But can you maybe paint a bit of a picture for what are some of the behaviors and activities and approaches of a high-reactive leader in action versus a high-creative leader in action?

Bob Anderson
Yeah, so I’ll tell you one of my own. I can pick and choose here because I’ve got the whole bandwidth, most of us do. We did our 360 on ourselves as a firm and we gave feedback to each other.

And I got a really high score on arrogance and a pretty low score on cooperation or collaboration, which impacts other dimensions but that was the primary pattern in the data and a check. In fact, I didn’t see it coming and you have different breakout groups. And so, Bill, my co-author, and we’re cofounders in this merger, I put Bill in the bus as a category so I could see his scores because if we don’t give boss anonymity then everybody else gets in but not the boss, so Bill sees his scores and he scored me 4.5 out of 5 on a 5-point scale, 4.5 out of 5. Now, I’m the statistician so I know that that’s five standard deviation units above the mean, right?
So, I call him over, and my first move is to talk him out of his scores, he really didn’t mean this. And I said, “Bill, you gave me a 4.5 out of 5 on arrogance.” And he goes, “Yeah.” And I said, “Well, that’s five standard deviation units above the mean. You must see me as one of the most arrogant people in the world.” And he goes, “Uh-huh.” And I was like, “Oh,” I wasn’t laughing then. That was hard. He wasn’t willing to back down and say, “Well, that wasn’t really that.” And I got a lot of feedback from the team, and I made a commitment, I said, “Well, two things. One, I’m choosing to collaborate or more. And I want to know when I’m showing up arrogant, so I want your feedback, real time, when I show up in ways that shut down the conversation.”

Well, a couple of years later, I’m in with Bill on an issue and we’re going back and forth. And I’m right, and I know I’m right, and he’s wrong, and it’s not okay that he’s wrong. And I’m writing these emails he’s not responding. I’m writing a long history of why I’m right on this and not getting a response, and I can tell he’s probably pretty upset in his silence and so I’m pretty scared about that because you got two founders that are having a pretty important and significant conflict.

And at some point, I realized that my energy on this was all reactive, and you ask for behavior, so it’s like, “Look, let me tell you where you’re off here. Here’s what you don’t get,” in that kind of tone and energy of interaction, both verbally and in writing. And Bill, to his credit, just didn’t respond to that. So, I went out one day and I was working it, I said, “Okay, what’s this got to do with me?”

And somewhere on a walk, I saw for the first time, I don’t know how insights happen when they happen, but this one was huge, just hit me like a ton of bricks, “Oh, my God. I’m defined by my ideas. My ideas are me. These books are me. Huh, that’s not true. I’m good with ideas but I am not my ideas.” So, when you disagree with me or when there’s real conflict about the core of some of these IP, our IP, well, I’m threatened now pretty fundamentally because I am my ideas. My ideas and my capability around ideas is me.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you’re reacting, I mean, can you sort of unpack a little bit what does that sound like inside your brain? Certainly, your ideas are kind of under scrutiny or under attack. What is your brain saying?

Bob Anderson
Well, if I listen to the silent story in my brain, on the surface it’s going, “You’re wrong and it’s not okay that you’re wrong. Look, who are you to challenge me? You don’t really get it.” There’s that story and I’m in blame, “This issue is your doing.” And so, that’s the way I’m showing up, that’s the weather I’m bringing to the conversation.

The inner conversation is something like, “It’s not okay for me not to be seen as the smartest guy around or the most wise. I need to be seen as wise, more wise than you. But not too much wiser than you because then you’ll reject me or you’ll feel, think of me as arrogant.” So, I’m playing this inner game that I wasn’t aware of. I want to be smarter and wiser than you but I don’t want you to see it. I want you to admire me as brilliant but not be put off by it so I need to modulate, and I’m in it all the time. And then I get threatened when I’m not see that way. “That’s not okay. Okay, now I’m at risk. I’m losing my identity in ways I didn’t ever realize was right there.” And this goes on in every meeting.

Every one of us has these layers in us where we stake claim to our identity. In one of three camps, it’s either in relationship, “I’m okay if you like and accept me, and I’m seen as loyal and supportive,” or results, “I’m perfect and perfect at getting results, or my results and my success is me, my ambition to move up and status, and this career that I built is me. And so, anything that threatens that edifice is not okay and I need to swing into gear, take it over, attack that, push it away, let you know why you’re wrong.”

so, relationships, results, ideas, your intellect. So, head, heart, and will are the three core energies. It’s like electron, proton, and neutron, there’s a three-core energy, and we define ourselves, “I’m really good at this and this makes me valuable.” And you’ll see it. You’ve got two kids below two, right? You’ll see it. They’re different, they come in with different, I think, souls and soul energy. And they will take their unique gift and strength and say, “This is me and I am one child and all heart.”

The teddy bear, loving, caring, and their natural orientation is to be pleasing and that’s a beautiful thing. And it’s a limitation if you start to identify that, “I’m not okay. I have to be seen this way and I’m not okay if I’m not.” So, risking relationship becomes a problem. And I’ve got another son that’s the other side. It’s about drive to make things happy, and that’s a beautiful thing. And, at some point, when I get into more complex leadership roles, that ambitious drive controlling tendency can be an issue.

And so, it isn’t that reactive is wrong, it’s actually a strength that I’m running through a less mature operating system. It’s like I’m trying to run my gifts and strengths through DOS.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember DOS.

Bob Anderson
Yeah, some of our listeners may not, but it’s not complex enough for what we’re into, and that’s the issue. There’s nothing wrong with us, 75% of adults are living in this operating system which is like what we’re socialized into. And then, with the volatile, complex, ambiguous, fast-paced, disrupted leadership environment that we plant ourselves in, that operating system, it just gets outmatched. And we have to be able to manage it.

And as soon as we start to see, “Oh, I’m not my ideas,” well, then, they can listen to you and I can notice when I’m getting defensive, “Oh, here I am again. Okay, let me just keep listening. Tell me more about that. Oh, okay. Well, now, here’s where I disagree with that,” and it’s a whole different energy. And so, this is the shift, so I got down with that awareness with Bill, and I started to laugh because I went, “All this time I’ve been thinking about Bill is the arrogant jerk and I’m the one who’s the arrogant jerk. What’s with that?” Funny.

So, I was laughing about it at this point and I go back home, I get on my computer, and I write in three sentences, “Bill, I’ve been wrong. And, furthermore, I’ve been wrong in the partnership for a while for years, and I’m ready to talk.” That was the email. Very different than, “Let me prove to you why I’m right.” And he said, “I feel your heart, brother. Let’s talk.” We had an extraordinary conversation at breakfast the morning before we did some work with a client. And I just, later on, “Here’s how I’ve been showing up, here’s what I’ve learned, here’s what my commitment is to do differently.”

Our relationship changed the whole dynamic in the firm, so I don’t think it’s any coincidence that since then we’ve been like on a pretty good 30%, 40%, 50%-year growth trajectory. And my relationship with Bill is so much more creative and synergistic. We’re in a company that’s like our job, our competitive advantage is IP, and the quality of our ability to frame that up with leaders.

And so, to take that and 10X it in terms of the synergy that’s in the conversation is a big deal for the company, and so it changed everything. And what’s really interesting is it changed Bill. So, when I got clear on my stuff, there was no intention that Bill would change. Like, that’s the power of this more creative authentic leader, it’s like, “Oh, I’m the one that needs to really get clear and change.” And then you’ll respond in kind or not, but I’m not making a demand on Bill to show up different.

And the field of our new interaction shows up differently and more effectively, and he’s learned a ton from it, and it’s changed him. And he’ll say that very candidly. So, when we do our work as a leader, all things change when we do. And so, one of the things we saw in our research and wrote up in Scaling Leadership is that the kind of the first principle leading an organizational transformation is take it on person as the leader. Step in transparently and vulnerably with the radical, kind of we call it radical humanity, and I have the most to learn here.

Yeah, if it’s going to change it’s up to me. The fact that there’s a level of function or dysfunction in the organization, the culture, is a shadow of me, directly connected to me. So, what do I need to learn here in order for this organization to go the next level? And when leaders step in and lead from that place, everybody is invited to raise their game. And a side of a conversation that now has grace in it, “Oh, you too?”

So, we’re working with a senior team, I won’t mention the company name, a senior team of a large company in the United States. The CEO is working an issue, a conflict with the person that he brought in to help transform the organization, so he’s there to lead the transformation, from like a professional change agent perspective. And they weren’t connecting and there’s real disconnect in their relationship, plus the whole organizational change effort was being interrupted by all this.

And at some point, he said, “Here’s what happens to me when you come at me with that attitude.” It was a kind of attitude, “You’re not enough. You’re not doing enough. You don’t get it.” And the attitude that this change agent was coming at him with, and he said, “I’m back with my dad.” Now, this is a family-owned business so dad was founder. “I’m back with my dad as a kid, and I didn’t mow the yard perfectly enough, there’s one leaf left in the yard that I missed. So, when you come at me with that, I go small, and then I get angry. It’s not okay.”

And so, now you’ve got a CEO very directly talking about his own reactive condition and where it comes from and how it’s playing out in the senior team. And everybody knew it was playing out in the senior team because they watched these two go at it, and then they have their role in it. They stand by, they take sides, they run from it. The whole team is part of that. Everybody is a part of it. But unless you start to really get to depth with it, you’re not going to break through on it.

So, that was a moment where a leader really stepped in, and said, “Okay, I’m going to show up here. But what’s really going for me in this conflict,” and it broke open. It broke the whole conversation open in a beautiful way for them to kind of really work this.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that is powerful and cool. And so, I guess, to pull this off requires some soul-searching, some acquiring feedback. I guess, in some ways, it’s great because now we know what we’re looking for in terms of, “Where do you get reactive? Where do you get defensive? Where do you feel like a small child?” Any pro tips for how we find that and mitigate it once we do?

Bob Anderson
So, that’s one of the reasons I created the 360 was I was at a much deeper level when it gets at this inner game as well as the outer game in the same assessment because I saw this so often with leaders who were championing a significant change effort which they really believed in. And when you meet them, you go, “Wow, this is really extraordinary. What a vision they have not only for the organization but the whole industry.”

And then I would watch them show up in their old pattern of leadership in ways that completely discounted them, discounted their change effort, and people one layer below them go, “Oh, you’re not really serious. And I’ll get on board when they start walking their talk.” And so, any good, well-orchestrated, “Let’s get some feedback in the system. How am I really showing up as a leader? What kind of weather am I bringing? How do I create possibilities and open up the space? How do I shut it down? How do I get in my own way? What are the strengths that I have that I want to keep really deploying or I want to leverage further?” That’s the really rich conversation.

And there are many ways to get it. But getting yourself and your senior team at whatever level of leader you are listening to this, you and the people around you, and the people that report to you or around you, “How do we get in this conversation where we’re learning together how to be more effective both individually and then how we show up together collectively to lead the organization we’re responsible for?”

Pete Mockaitis
And then inside your head, how do you proceed with kind of reprogramming or myth-busting the “I am my ideas,” or, “I am my results”? That’s there, I mean, it’s been a while that. We’ve got to move beyond.

Bob Anderson
Yeah. Well, this is where most of us lack literacy. We’re not ignorant. We lack a literacy. So, at some point, we had to learn math or arithmetic not because we were stupid. There’s a literacy to it that one and one is two, and so on. And then higher mathematics, and algebra or whatever, geometry, and so on. There’s literacy in the pathways of one’s own transformation and how to be self-transforming.

And I’ve talked about two of the key practice. Well, actually, I talked about three of them. So, one is the ability or to listen to your inner game, to this self-talk. So, when you ask me the question, “Well, what were you saying to yourself?” that’s the question and getting good at that, “Okay, so if this meeting doesn’t go well, then we could fall short on results, right. If we fell short on results, then what’s at risk for me? Well, I’m going to get a lousy review from my boss. Great. So, if I get a lousy review, what’s at risk for me?”

So if you learn to track your fear. So, I was working with a mid-level leader that really high-scores on autocratic leadership. And we’re talking about, I said, “You know what that is or what that looks like?” He goes, “Oh, yeah, I pounce. I’m in a meeting, I just take it over.” I said, “Well, why do you take it over?” “Because it’s not going well.” And I said, “So, were you willing to look at that?” He said, “Sure.” So, I said, “Well, just before you pounce, how do you feel? What kind of feelings are going on in your body? Can you describe fear, anger, this kind of upsurge of energy and it’s starts from its gut then to its chest and throat?” “I just feel like [heaves].”

And I said, “Good. So, what’s at risk for you if you don’t pounce?” And he went through, we just walked right down through some form of, “I’m not okay. My results define me.” That’s a practice, and getting good at it, and getting the ability to take perspective on your programming is a literacy. And most of us haven’t learned it.

So, when I drop in, I was practicing that literacy. It doesn’t mean that I always get to the bottom of it by any stretch or that I’ve seen all of my reactivity, or I’m at 60 years old and I’ve gotten, “Jeez, I’m defined by my ideas that’s been running me my whole life. I didn’t realize it.” So, that’s one practice, and it’s a breakthrough practice. It’s breakthrough. It’s like you see the illusion. Underneath fear and the behaviors that it’s running, underneath it is an illusion, “I’m not my ideas. Other people don’t define me. I’m not my results. One failure is not the whole game. If people don’t like me, that’s their issue.”

So, when you can start to manage that conditioning that we all have, you can’t not have it, the question is, “Does it have you or do you have it?” So, when we have it, we’re managing it. And then, the second literacy is the practice of getting clear about, “What is it I’m really after? What do I want most deeply?” I had an experience early in my life of this. I was working for our family business, I grew up in a family business, it was grain business, and I was running the feed manufacturing plant.

So, I’m out in the receiving bay and unloading railroad cars at 2:00 o’clock in the morning, and I’m exhausted and I’m getting finished unloading this railroad car full of wheat. And I get inside and I’m sweeping up the last little bit in this upper bottom car. And I sit down in this hopper and I just catch my breath. I got my dust mask on. And, out loud, un-reflected, unrehearsed came, “I’m not becoming who I am.”

And I’m, “Who said that?” It was authoritative. It just came out of my mouth, “I’m not becoming who I am.” And that began, for me, a process of, “Okay, what was that? What do I really want my life to be about?” And I started what I called my must journal, “What must I be about with my life in order to live the life I came here to live and not somebody else’s? What are my musts? Not my bucket lists, goals, objectives, things that would be cool. But, fundamentally, what do I need to be about?”

And I wrote down things that I didn’t have a clue on. We’re making dog food and I’m going, “I want to help people grow and develop emotionally, psychologically, spiritually.” I’m like, “I’m going to vet the farm on that? What is that?” But I knew it was true because of my experience and my life, there’d been this tension between my dad the engineer and all of my love of technical stuff and building things.

Another must was, “I must have technical challenge in my life.”
And I didn’t know how I was going to help people grow and develop personally, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and have technical challenge in my life.

Well, I have both now because I have a business that’s about as high-tech as you get with IT and statistics and surveys, and it’s a pretty technical challenging, rigorously-challenging business, and it’s all about helping people bring forth their highest and best. And I didn’t have a clue. I’m making dog food. So, this principle is a constant focus at one level or a meta level, “What am I here for?” And then it’s like, “Okay, what’s the life I want to create? Or what’s the business or career that I want to create that expresses that?” And then it comes down to vision after vision after vision.

So, I’m going to create a 360 assessment. I didn’t have it that this was going to be global. I mean, it’s grown into quite a global standard. It’s a world-standard assessment. I didn’t have that. I was just passionate about the work, and I needed an assessment that went deeper. So, I couldn’t find one out there so I went and I made it up.

So, all of that is the pursuit, a vision that’s pulling us forward. And, “How am I getting in my own way?” is a constant conversation or area of reflection.

And if you can do both of those, then you show up more authentically in your conversations, more clean, less reactive, more open, vulnerable, willing to listen, not always having to be right, and so on. And then you’re much more effective. So, those three, “What do I want? How do I get in my own way in getting good at tracking that to my inner game? And how do I show up then in ways that are more direct, authentic, straight, and an expression, an embodiment or an expression of the organization and the culture I’m trying to leave in my wake as a leader?” Those are three that I think are really important. And if you practice that, you will boot up a more creative operating system that defines the creative operating system.

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

Bob Anderson
Albert Schweitzer is one of them, “I don’t know what your destiny will be but this much I do know. Only those among you who have sought and bound how to serve will truly be happy.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a favorite book?

Bob Anderson
I’m reading physics for lay people. I’m not a physicist but I think there’s a physics to all this that we’re talking about, a physics to consciousness, and a physics of leadership. And so, I’m fascinated by what they’re discovering at the very edge of physics.

Bob Anderson
You tip your toe into physics and it will bust your paradise. And we need them busted because we’re at a time in human history where we must break through with higher-order solutions. And Einstein said, “The solutions to our current problems can’t be found from the consciousness that created them. It can only be found from the next higher-order of consciousness.”

And that gets often quoted. But I’m starting to really understand it now from the perspective that I think he was talking about, about how you can access stuff like relativity theory, how you can access higher-order knowledge and information, and he talked about that.

And so, I think we don’t have mental models that are at all adequate to who we are as human beings. Our mental models are limiting our creative capacities, our ability to create breakthroughs and ideas, and bring in the kind of new forms of government, new forms of technology, new forms of organization and culture that we need both in organizations and globally to really thrive. So, I’m interested in what physics has to teach us as it can break us out of our limited paradigms of what it means to be a conscious person and how to really create breakthroughs.

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

Bob Anderson
To TheLeadershipCircle.com. The Leadership Circle is our organization. Go there, you’ll see all kinds of stuff that we can talk about.

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

Bob Anderson
Be a learner not a knower. We have so much to learn. And if I can get out of my own way and be a learner and be vulnerable enough to not know, ask for help, ask for feedback, that’s the best place to lead from. Most of us don’t want to go there. We’ve got to always put forward a kind of front of, “I’ve got it all together.” And the best leaders drop that and lead from a place of, “Man, we’ve got a lot to learn here. Me, too. Let’s get started.”

Pete Mockaitis
Bob, thank you so much for sharing the good stuff. This has been fun. I wish you lots of luck in scaling your leadership in your organization and your impact and all the good stuff you’re doing.

Bob Anderson
It was really fun. Enjoyed the conversation. I hope your listeners find it valuable. I enjoyed myself. So, thank you. You did a great job of drawing this forth.

488: Finding The Productivity System That Works for You with Asian Efficiency’s Thanh Pham

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 Thanh Pham from Asian Efficiency shares his expert tips and favorite resources for optimal productivity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biggest productivity myth
  2. How to be more productive while doing less
  3. A simple productivity tip to exponentially improve your focus

About Thanh

Thanh is the Founder and Managing Director of Asian Efficiency. He is considered one of the top thought leaders in the productivity industry and he has been featured in Fast CompanyInc.com,ForbesHuffington Post, and The Globe & Mail. On a day-to-day basis, he is responsible for executing the company’s mission and helping people become more Asian Efficient.

When he’s not sharing his newest productivity wisdom, he likes to drink lots of green tea, eat eggs benedict at hotels, make video blogs, and read non-fiction books.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Thanh Pham Interview Transcript

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

Thanh Pham
Thank you, Pete, for having me. I’m excited to be here today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s always fun to chat with a podcaster that I’ve listened to numerous times. So, it’s sort of like, “Hey, you sound just like you.” And I’m surprised each time somehow.

Thanh Pham
Well, thank you for listening to my productivity show and I’m excited to kind of share what I know about productivity and help people become more productive here today.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, I want to dig a touch into your backstory for a moment and then talk a lot about productivity. So, I understand that you never graduated high school. And I’m curious, is there sort of a productivity transformation story at the root of this or is it just like, “Yeah, I don’t like high school”?

Thanh Pham
It is a combination of both. So, I read this book called Rich Dad Poor Dad, which I’m sure a lot of people have heard of, and I was 13 at the time. So, I read this book and it really changed my life in the sense that it gave me this whole new perspective on what I need to do with my life. And I came from a first-generation immigrant family, and my whole belief was, “Hey, you need to go to school, get trained up, and then get a traditional job.” And I was like, “Okay, let’s do that.”

And then I read this book and I had a completely 180-look on life, and I started my first business when I was 14. So, I remember my mom had to sign off on some paperwork because obviously she had to be liable for anything that would go wrong, me being underage. So, I started a web design agency at that time and I taught myself how to program, how to build websites, and became really successful. I started hiring my high school friends, and they started working with me.

And so, the way the education system works in the Netherlands, where I grew up, if you don’t pass the last year of your high school, you basically don’t graduate and you’d have to do the last year all over again. So, I didn’t pass the test because I didn’t study. I was overly-confident because my business was flourishing, and so I didn’t study and failed the test, and that’s why I ended up dropping out of high school, and just continued to focus on my business.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you were being productive in other domains as oppose to, “My life was a mess until I discovered these strategies.”

Thanh Pham
Exactly, yeah. So, I’ve always loved learning, I still love learning, whether it is reading on the side or I go to workshops and seminars. So, the learning aspect has actually never stopped, this is a lifelong thing for me but the formal education side of things just stopped when I was 18.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, understood. Thanks for sharing. And, well, you certainly landed on your feet in terms of making things happen in a big way. Your brand is rocking and with Asian Efficiency you’ve got the Productivity Show podcast. And it’s fun, at the beginning of your show, you ask about your guests’ or co-host’s top three productivity resources. I ask about a lot of favorite things at the end of the show, so we’ll do that too. But I’d love to treat you in kind, you’ve seen a lot of resources and mentioned a lot. If you had to pick three for sort of the Lifetime Achievement Awards for you, what would they be?

Thanh Pham
Ooh, that’s a tough question. I’ve seen so many recommendations, part of my job is always testing new things, reading new books, and trying all sorts of stuff, so if I had to just boil it down to three recommendations and three resources, I would say one book I would recommend is called 30 Lessons for Living. So, the basic premise of the book is the author interviewed people who were about to die, and he asked them, “What’s one life lesson you would like to pass on to the next generation?” And this got compiled into 30 lessons.

And so, it gives you kind of an insight of what you really should be doing with your life based on the experiences of people way ahead of you. This is a great book. It really changed my life so I highly recommend that. Another one is a pair of headphones by Bose called the Bose QC35. If you’ve ever flown a plane, you’ve probably seen these headphones.

Everybody tends to wear them nowadays for good reason because it’s the best noise-cancellation headphones on the market, in my opinion. And if you’re somebody who has trouble focusing, if you put on these headphones and play some productivity music, you’ll just be able to focus instantly and tune out all the noise. So, that’s something I personally use every day, also when I’m traveling.

And then the third one is an app called TextExpander. So, TextExpander, as you just said, it is one of my favorite apps. If you use Mac, Windows, it doesn’t matter, it’s also available on iOS, it basically allows you to type things really quickly and have templates that you can use with just a few keystrokes. So, think of it as like keyboard shortcuts on steroids. And once you’ve seen a demo of it, you’ll just go, “Okay, why have I not used this earlier? This is going to change everything for me.”

Pete Mockaitis
I sent you an email today using TextExpander.

Thanh Pham
I have a suspicion.

Pete Mockaitis
I used customized elements.

Thanh Pham
Yeah, we have to send the same scripts and emails out to people, and why type the same thing when you can just type in three or four keystrokes and get the same thing out there?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, cool. Well, that was fun so I wanted to see how that felt, you know, being in your shoes, hitting some three resources at the beginning. So, thank you for those. And I’m also wearing some Bose QuietComfort Noise-Cancelling Headphones right now as we speak. Sometimes I will put earplugs in first, then put on the noise-cancelling headphones, and then play a favorite white noise such as perhaps the engine idling-noise from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I got that from my guest Rahaf Harfoush. But you mentioned productivity tunes, or music, or sounds. What were those that you’re listening to?

Thanh Pham
So, there’s lots of ways to go about this. There’s stuff like Brain.fm that you can use, which is kind of like a service that you can subscribe to and get music from. FocusAtWill is another one that I personally use too. But then if you have, for example, Spotify or Apple Music, you can listen to a lot of albums that don’t have any lyrics because if you start listening to music that have lyrics, it’s really easy to get distracted.

But if you have music that doesn’t have lyrics whatsoever, for example, soundtracks of movies are some of my favorite music to listen to and to work to. For example, The Social Network, the movie that was based on Facebook is one of my favorite soundtracks ever, not because, necessarily, I like the movie so much, which I thought was entertaining, but the soundtrack is just so good and so mellow. Once I put it on, I kind of get into this flow state immediately just because it’s so well-orchestrated. So, soundtrack is a great resource for productivity music, in my opinion.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. My buddy, Brad, likes listening to cinematic soundtracks because he says it feels like when you’re doing work at your laptop, you’re leading an army into battle.

Thanh Pham
That’s really what it feels like, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. Well, cool. Well, we got really deep into the tactical tidbits. I want to zoom out a little bit. So, your website and brand is called Asian Efficiency, which is fun. What’s the story behind that name?

Thanh Pham
Now, obviously I can say that because…

Pete Mockaitis
I was going to say I don’t know.

Thanh Pham
…I am Asian and I look Asian so I can kind of play the part. And having lived in the Western countries, there’s this positive stereotype about Asian people that they tend to be really productive. So, I remember a few years ago when me and my friends, we were vacationing in Florida, and we were committed to working during the daytime and then have dinner at night and just have a good time going out.

And then the next morning after a night out with our friends, I was up early. I was up early doing some work, being really focused, getting stuff done. And by the time it was noon, I was done with everything that I needed to do. And then my friends would come down and they would see me relaxing, doing absolutely nothing, just reading a book, and having a relaxing time, and they go, “Thanh, what is going on? Are you already done?” And I was like, “Yup, I’m already done. I did everything I needed to do. I’m just going to relax for the rest of the day.” And they go, “Wow! How did you do that? That is Asian efficiency right there.” And I said, “Oh, that’s a great catch name. I should register that domain name.”

And so, I registered the domain name and didn’t really think of it at that time of doing anything with it. It wasn’t until a few years later when I started just blogging about productivity and time management and efficiency that I said, “Hey, maybe I should just start blogging about this once a week and share some of the things that I’ve learned over the years with my friends and family.” And that just accidentally turned into a business one year later.

So, it really started off as a passion thing because I just wanted to share with my friends and family what I’ve learned from reading books about productivity and some of the workshops I’ve been to, and just putting it in one place. It was just something I was really passionate about at that time and I never thought it would be a business that it is today. So, it’s just super fortunate that I’m able to do something that I’m really passionate about.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s cool. I think the first time I caught the name, I was like, “Is this about the Toyota LEAN manufacturing system?” I was like, “Oh, no, no, it’s about personal productivity. Okay, yeah, I’m with you.”

Thanh Pham
Yeah, that’s another thing I get quite often too. So, if somebody says that they’re already into productivity, because that’s usually one step further, and then I usually have the inclination just to start geeking out with that person right away because I’m very into that sort of thing as well, especially if you run a business or manage a big team, you’re always looking for interesting philosophies and different ways of doing things, whether it’s with your own self or with people that you work with. And so, there’s so many ways to be productive as a person and be productive as a team. And I love just geeking out about that sort of stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I want to talk about the geeking out dimension first, if I could. So, I think I’ve seen this go a couple ways when it comes to talking about productivity efficiency stuff. You can get lost in sort of this realm of, “Hey, I’m just rearranging my file folders and trying out a new app,” and just kind of like you’re not actually achieving anything. You’re just sort of reshuffling your stuff around in different ways.

And I’ve also seen implementing certain systems and approaches and tools in which you just see sort of like lifechanging benefits. So, could you maybe make the case, if you could, for what are the kinds of gains or benefits we can achieve by implementing some of these efficiency productivity stuff or is it all just a way for nerds to play with new toys?

Thanh Pham
There’s definitely a case for all sorts of situations. And based on the last eight years of me teaching this through the blog, through the coaching programs and other programs that we have, I’ve noticed that there’s a couple things that people can get out of this. One is you tend to create more structure and routine in your life that might be missing. So, a lot of people oftentimes come to us because life is chaotic, there’s a lot of stuff going on, they can’t keep up. And having some sort of structure or routine in place allows people to be more creative, allows people to get more stuff done, and actually achieve the goals that they set out for themselves. So, there’s one big part of that.

Another big part is just having the freedom to choose how you want to spend your time. Oftentimes when we are bombarded with so many things to do or to-do lists, it’s like from here to Tokyo, it’s just endlessly long, and anytime you finish something off in your to-do list, something new pops up on there, and it kind of feels like a battle that you can’t really win.

And so, once we kind of get that under control, then we give ourselves the option to really choose how we want to spend our time. Do we want to do more things on our to-do list or do we want to spend more time doing things like spending time with our family, or starting new business on the side, or just having the option to choose how you want to spend your time and what you want to do with that? And most people would pick one of those two options I would say.

And then there’s this third camp, usually, of people that just love to nerd out, they just love to play with new toys and feel like they’re making progress in their life, and trying new different things. That’s definitely how I    started with everything. But I also had to learn that, you know, at some point there are diminishing returns. There’s only so many task managers that I can try to find the perfect one, or there’s only so many settings that I can change, or there’s so many workflows that I should use before I really start to just spend more time “being or trying to be productive” versus actually getting results, getting stuff done that needs to be done, and then having the time “luxury” to choose how I want to spend my time going forward.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s well-said in terms of those benefits there in terms of we take a life in chaos and then by bringing some calm to it, you enhance your creativity, ability to focus and do the things, and boost your odds of success. And you also experience some freedom as oppose to enslavement to the urgent next thing that comes up. So, those sound like some cool benefits. Do you have any sense for, I don’t know, the magnitude, or quantifiable results, or a cool case study in terms of a life transformed that can really sort of paint a picture for what’s at stake here?

Thanh Pham
Yeah, so a recent example was a client that I worked with. Her name is Lisa and she is an executive at a Fortune 100 company. And so, her role was to report to 23 different executives and helping them make better decisions around payroll. That’s literally her job, is just enforcing certain guidelines, making sure that the executives get the right information that they need to make sound decisions around payroll in this huge company.

And so, on a day-to-day basis, she’s in her email client all day long because she felt like she had to respond to every single email that came in within five minutes. And when you’re reporting to 23 different executives and you have email open all day long, as you can probably imagine, you spend a lot of time doing research, replying to emails, multitasking, doing all these different things, and oftentimes getting lost in the shuffle.

And so, I said to Lisa, “Okay, you spend about seven to eight hours a day in your email inbox. Where do you find the time to actually do stuff?” And she said, “Well, I don’t so I have to take work home with me. I’m staying longer at the office. I don’t have any time for my husband, I don’t have any time to cook, I don’t have any time for myself to practice yoga or to do any form of reading. I basically get up really early, show up for work, stay really late, don’t see my kids and husband that much, and take home work with me, and then stay up late to get stuff done.”

And I said, “Well, do you want to live like this for the rest of your life?” And I’m guessing you probably already know the answer. And she said, “No, of course not. That’s why I came to you.” I said, “Okay, let’s change your approach to how we do things here. So, instead of trying to multitask and trying to do all these different things for all these 23 executives that you have to report to, what if we just do one task at a time and just one executive at a time? So, instead of trying to appease five executives at once with their email requests and the things that you have to do for them, let’s just focus on one executive at a time on certain days and just put some structure in place so you can focus doing just one thing at a time.”

And even though she was doing the exact same work, just changing the practice of, “Hey, I’m just going to focus on this one executive, doing one task at a time, making sure that gets done, gets completely finished, sends it out. And then once that is ‘done’ then I can move onto the next executive.” By just changing that approach and then closing her email clients, because that was the biggest troublemaker in this whole process, is if you have email open all day long, it’s kind of like a to-do list that other people can write on.

And so, it makes it really easy for your to-do list to become endless and then sometimes for certain people very difficult to enforce certain boundaries. And so, she had to close her email client, just focus on one task at a time, one executive at a time, and just changing that approach allowed her to go from eight hours a day in her email inbox to just 45 minutes a day in her email inbox.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Thanh Pham
Such a simple change but it made a huge difference in her life.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! So, it’s just sort of like, “Okay, I’m going to check what’s in that email inbox and then I’m going to grab the stuff associated with what I have determined, like this project, this executive, and then go for it.” Well, that’s so striking. And I’m wondering, is the savings here due to just the notion that you’re just continuously interrupted and, thusly, it takes you way longer to get any given thing done because you sort of move your attention from that thing to the next email?

Thanh Pham
Yes, multitasking is I think the biggest myth in productivity because people think that multitasking is a good trait to have, it’s a good thing, that you’re more productive this way but tons of research studies have shown it’s actually the opposite. And when you think about it, anytime you get distracted or anytime you do multiple things at the same time, your brain is actually only able to focus on one thing at a time, and it’s literally designed that way.

So, when you’re, for example, checking email and talking to somebody on the phone, you can’t really do both things. And then imagine having an audiobook playing in the background, and trying to learn, and then having like a Google spreadsheet on another monitor, so if you do those four things at once, there’s just no way you can focus doing all these great and perfectly.

And people who multitask tend to also be slower because anytime you switch focus, we kind of have to just go on this on ramp. We have to kind of like warm up a little bit, kind of think about, “Okay, what was I thinking again? What did I need to do next?” Like, if you talk to your friend on the phone and then write an email at the same time, as soon as you hang up on the phone and you have to continue writing that email, you have to kind of imagine what you were thinking of, what you were doing, what you wanted to say, what you wanted to write next.

And imagine doing that a hundred times a day. So, those two, three minutes can lead to lots of hours of wasted time. And so, if you can just focus on just doing one thing at a time and avoid being distracted and interrupted this way, all these little time ramps of, “Okay, what was I doing? What did I need to do next?” can save you a lot of time over time.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s interesting, I think sometimes we fall for the myth of multitasking just because of what it’s doing in your brain chemistry. I think Chris Bailey, who we had on the show a couple of times, was talking about how when you switch tasks, there’s a little bit of – is it dopamine or a neurochemical reward of some sort – because like, “Oh, this is new.” And because it feels a little stimulating, it’s almost as though, “Therefore, I am crushing it.” But you’re really not.

Thanh Pham
Exactly. It feels “productive” but when you think about productivity, I mean, there are several definitions that people have. But I think one of the most useful ones is to think about, “Is this getting me closer to my goal? And if it’s not, then I should say no to that or I should just not pay attention to that right now and continue to stay focused on something that actually helps me get things done to accomplish my goal.”

So, if you’re at your job, and you’re part of a team and maybe you have a team goal, getting really clear on what that goal is and making sure that whatever you’re doing every single day is in alignment with that allows you to be really productive. And then it’s not really a matter of, “Okay, did I get five tasks done, or 10 tasks, or 15, or even just one?” If you get the most important things done that are in alignment with what you’re trying to accomplish, whether it’s your personal goal or team goal, then you’re really productive, right?

So, for example, if you want to write a book and publish a book, and your to-do list says you need to write a chapter, you need to review your finances, and you need to book a trip to Las Vegas. Now, all these things could be really important, and they seem really fun things to do for some people, but there’s only one task on that list that’s really the most important one, and that is writing because that is in alignment with your goal which is writing and publishing a book.

And so, once you get really clear about what you’re trying to accomplish, then it’s really easy to find the things that are on your to-do list that are in alignment with what you’re trying to do. And so, when people have trouble setting priorities or trying to figure out what to do first, it’s oftentimes a symptom of just not really having clarity about what they’re actually trying to accomplish.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so now I’m intrigued then. In that example you gave, we had sort of very different items, and I guess depending on your goals of all that might align to certain goals, depending on what’s happening in Las Vegas, and so I guess I don’t know if any human being can answer this for another one but I’m going to go for it. So, if you got, let’s say, I’m writing now sort of my 10 grand life goals. So, if I got these, then naturally certain tasks will bring me closer to certain goals and others to other goals. So, how does one know which one is most important? I suppose it’s a deeply personal process of introspection and values, etc. But how do you tackle this one?

Thanh Pham
I think we also have to look at timelines. So, for example, if you have a goal for getting in shape or being at a certain weight, you can achieve that maybe in 90 days or you can achieve that in 10 years, right? And the strategy is going to change based on what your timeline looks like because if you want to be at a certain weight within the next seven days, your strategy is going to be significantly different than somebody who has to achieve that same goal, let’s say, five years from now, right?

And so, what I think is really important for people to know is to understand where you are right now and what the timeline is for you to accomplish this goal. So, if you have to publish a book, as an example, if you have to do this in 90 days versus one year, your strategy is going to be different. Because if you have to do this in 90 days, then you probably want to change your schedule around, you probably want to limit the things that you do, you might have to sacrifice certain things in order to accomplish this goal. Whereas, if you say to yourself, “You know what, I have five years to do this,” maybe you can get away with writing for 30 minutes a day and just making sure that you do that consistently for the next five years in order for you to accomplish your goal.

And so, I think it’s important for people to realize, “Okay, once I know what my goal is, what is the timeline for this as well?” because that allows us to determine which strategy we should use and how that fits into our day to day.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. So, you talk to a lot of different people and sort of putting all this together and your learnings. I’d love to hear, over the years, has there been anything particularly surprising and fascinating that you discovered about the most efficient productive people around?

Thanh Pham
Ooh, well, everybody is productive in their own way. I think if there’s one big takeaway I’ve learned over the years is that even though I have my own way of doing things, and I’m very stubborn in certain ways, I’ve also seen people who are completely opposite of me and achieve extraordinary things as well. And we oftentimes disagree on how we would do something and approach to do something.

So, for example, I have a friend, he has no sense of structure whatsoever in his life. He doesn’t use a calendar, he doesn’t use a task manager, all he has is just a really strong vision and a high desire to achieve something. And so, when he sets his goal to be X, Y, and Z, he will just really visualize what he’s going to do, and just make sure that he’s spending enough time and energy on this goal to get it done, and there’s no sense of like structure or theme, whatever. It’s just, “This is my goal. I’m going to go for it and I will figure out along the way as we go for it.”

And I’m like the completely opposite person. If I set a goal, and this is something I want to achieve, I like to create a plan, I like to figure out ways to get there, I like to know what kind of resources I have, I want to know what my timeline is, and I’m kind of like mapping out this whole “plan.” And once I have this plan, then I will start executing it.

And some people are in between. They like to act fast but also have a plan and mix stuff up as they go. And I’ve just learned over the years that there’s really no one way to be productive. And I think the sooner we can realize that there’s no one perfect way, that everybody is unique in their own way, the faster we can actually focus on, “Okay, let’s just do what I’m good at and make sure I spend most of my time doing that, and everything else can just go to the wayside or has a lower priority for the things that need to be done.”

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that there is no one best way. It seems like a generally agreeable assertion but I’m going to push you on that a little bit. So, I’m wondering, there are folks, I had David Allen again on recently, and so there are folks who would say, “Those who are not doing Getting Things Done, GTD, or externalizing all of their commitments outside their brain into a trusted system don’t even realize they have a low-level of anxiety that’s robbing them of some of the joy they could be having in life.” Is your take that they’re mistaken and some people can be rocking the polar opposite of Getting Things Done and be operating at their maximum effectiveness just fine?

Thanh Pham
Yeah, that’s an interesting question. And when I think about all the different people that, for example, I worked with as clients, people that I have in my company as employees, and how I need to motivate them and get the best out of them, just like when you have multiple kids, you have to treat everybody differently and see how they operate best and what you can do to get the best out of them.

And so, some people have to, for example, be handheld to get to the destination, some people you just have to give them a really vision and tell them, “Hey, this is what needs to be done, and let’s make sure we do this and get it done.” And some people need a plan, they kind of need a roadmap. And so, everybody is very different in that sense.

And while there are certain strategies that I think universally are good practices, like David Allen’s idea of getting everything out of your head, some people, even if they do that, they still wouldn’t stick to something like that because it’s just not how they think and operate. So, while I do think it’s a good practice, if that is something that you generally just don’t like to stick to because it’s not how you like to do things, then it’s kind of hard to actually get the results that you want because, ultimately, you want to follow something and do something that you know you can do consistently over time.

Because I think the key to productivity is, yes, there’s five million ways to get to Rome, but pick the route that works best for you. And just like if you ever take any personality test, you will see that there’s so many different variations and outcomes. And I have this strong suspicion that certain personality types work better with certain productivity workflows and productivity systems.

So, for example, if you’re somebody who’s really creative, a very strong visionary, you really don’t like lists. And so, a productivity system like GTD probably doesn’t really work well for you. Even though there are some elements of productivity systems like GTD that could be useful, but generally GTD is very list-based, whereas that doesn’t really work for people who really consider themselves like visionaries.

But then people like me who love making lists, who love making plans, they love lists, and a system like GTD then is really suitable for them. And so, fortunately, we all have options and there’s different productivity systems out there, and so once you kind of know what the rundown is of what every system is and what they offer, you can then make a really informed decision on what’s going to work best for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Very nicely-said. So, then let’s talk about you. What is your system? And I imagine we can have the multi-hour version of this, but just sort of what is being captured where and how do you go about sort of processing and reviewing your stuff?

Thanh Pham
So, my system has evolved over the years and it’s kind of a hodgepodge of different philosophies and different ideas. I’ve taken ideas from like GTD, from Agile results, from Scrum, from The 12 Week Year, and these are all things that I think are great systems, but I’ve kind of like created my own. And I think this is the destination that everybody will get to at some point. I think it’s a great starting point to follow something like GTD or The 12 Week Year. And then, over time, make it yourself, and that’s kind of what I’ve done.

And so, my system is very heavily-based on OmniFocus. OmniFocus is my favorite tool when it comes to managing tasks and projects. So, anytime I have an idea, or anytime I want to capture something, or remember, or I just want to store somewhere, it goes into my OmniFocus inbox whether I’m on my phone, on my computer, it goes on there first and foremost.

And then, I’m a big calendar user myself, so as someone who uses Mac and iOS for the most part, I’m a big fan of BusyCal. That is my favorite productivity tool.

Pete Mockaitis
How do we spell BusyCal and why is it better than the default iCal? I’m asking for a friend.

Thanh Pham
So, BusyCal is B-U-S-Y-C-A-L.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it makes sense. All right.

Thanh Pham
And I think it’s the power version of the typical calendar app that comes with Mac OS. One of my favorite features on there is you can actually change the number of days in your week view as an example. So, for most calendar apps, a week view looks like six or seven days ahead, but you can actually change that in BusyCal to be, let’s say, three days or even 10 days if you like, so you can kind of see ahead of time or based on what your preferences are. And it comes with a lot of power user features as well and it also integrates with your contact manager app called BusyContacts.

And so, I use this a lot for networking, stay in touch with people, and then I can actually see, based on certain contacts that I have and people that I’m meeting, what we did because it integrates with my calendar. So, if I’m talking to Billy, for example, tomorrow, I can just pull up his contact record and then see, “Oh, based on our calendar events, we had lunch two weeks ago, we had a phone call in this particular day, we did a podcast together on that day.”

Pete Mockaitis
So, like an auto-pull, like your texting and call history too?

Thanh Pham
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Whoa!

Thanh Pham
Yup. So, that’s one of the many reasons I like BusyCal. And if you integrate it with BusyContacts, then I think it’s a great combination, a one-two punch to have. So, that’s kind of like my bread and butter when it comes to just the foundation of the tools and the systems that are there. And when it comes to just syncing everything, I use the Google Sync service for that. So, Google Calendar is kind of like the backbone, but then I use BusyCal as the app on top of that to kind of like manage my calendar on top of that.

And then my other secret weapon, which I’m happy to admit, is my executive assistant. I don’t know how I would be able to run my business, live my life, if she wasn’t there. So, if that’s something that you’re in a position to have as well, I would highly recommend getting an executive assistant.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, your executive assistant, did you sort of hire that person directly or through an agency or service?

Thanh Pham
I hired her through an agency called GreatAssistant.com. So, they specialize in finding high-level executive assistants based in North America based on your personality type and how you work. So, what’s really cool about their service is that you actually have to take this personality test, and then based on the results, they can find somebody who matches your personality type.

So, if you’re, for example, really high-energy or a strong visionary, you need somebody who’s super organized, they can find the right kind of match based on what your personality type is like. So, I really like their service, and I’m not affiliated with them whatsoever, but that’s the one I use.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, does your assistant do some of your email?

Thanh Pham
Yes, she handles my email on a day-to-day basis now. This is something I used to do myself for about 45 minutes or 30 minutes a day, but now I got it down to roughly 5 to 7 minutes a day, thanks to her help. So, definitely a big timesaver as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Hey, while we’re at it, what are some of the other top tasks you recommend having an assistant tackle for you?

Thanh Pham
Ooh, so we have a weekly meeting for 30 minutes, and so she handles all of my travel. So, she books every single travel, whether it’s personal or business, so that’s a really big task. Another thing is she orders my groceries and food every single week. So, I actually have no idea, every single week, what I’m eating. She orders it for me, and it’s kind of a Christmas surprise every single week of what I’m getting and what I’ll be eating.

She books like routine errands that I have to run. So, for example, going to get a haircut, going to get a massage, going to a float tank, going to a fitness center, workouts with my personal trainer. She coordinates all that sort of stuff every single week for me so that I don’t have to do it, and I just literally look at my calendar and see, “Okay, I need to be at the gym today at this time. Tomorrow I need to be there at that time.” What else? Doctor appointments, or anything else that you have to do, or run errands around town, she handles all of that.

So, when I have my weekly meeting with her, I’ll just say, “Hey, I want to do this, I want to do that,” and oftentimes she’ll bring it up too, and say, “Hey, Thanh, it seems like you haven’t had a haircut in 12 days. Yeah, it’s probably time so I booked something already for you. You should go to the barber shop tomorrow at 4:00 o’clock.” I’m like, “Okay, yeah. Thank you for running my life that makes my life so much easier.”

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Fascinating sort of imagining that world. Tell me about a float tank. I’m just going to key in on that one, also known as sensory-deprivation chambers. Do you find those valuable?

Thanh Pham
I find them really valuable. I got into them maybe three years ago and I started going just once a month. And I remember the first time I went I didn’t really get much out of it. I was just laying there floating in water and not really knowing what to expect, and I kind of had a neutral experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, experience is one can have on this earth, I guess.

Thanh Pham
Right, because when you talk to people, some people go, “Oh, man, it’s amazing and it’s so powerful.” And I was really skeptical because I was already meditating every day for 10 minutes, and I thought, “Well, I’m already meditating for 10 minutes every day, how much better can it really be understanding diminishing returns?”

So, I go in, I have a neutral experience, I’m thinking, “Oh, maybe it’s not worth it.” But I just know so many people that I respect in my personal life and online that just rave about it. So, I continued to stick with it, and I said, “Okay, let’s just commit to doing three total and just then make a decision on whether this is actually useful or not.”

And then I went the second time, and then I kind of like zoned out for 90 minutes. And I just started to notice in the next two to three weeks that anytime there was something stressful in my life, instead of just responding to it right away, I can really just pause and reflect and think before I responded to something. And as if I saw that moment, I realized, “Wow, I’ve never had that until I started floating.” And that’s when I realized how powerful that was.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Thank you. That’s handy. Okay, so we get your system, that’s cool. Boy, there’s so much good stuff to say. So, it sounds like when we had Kevin Kruse on the show, and he mentioned that the most successful people operate from calendars as oppose to to-do lists, it sounds like your assistant is establishing your calendar. But how do you think about that world because you’ve also got OmniFocus and a huge list? So, how do we reconcile this?

Thanh Pham
I think you can marry both. I don’t think it’s one way or the other. If you just operate from your calendar, I think you’re really focused in just managing your time and that is, I think, a dangerous place to be because if somebody is dictating your schedule, it can feel like you can never have time to do the things you need to do.

Whereas if you only focus on tasks and your to-do list, then you can put a lot of things to the wayside and start sacrificing your personal health as an example because I’ve been in a situation before where I just want to work, I just want to focus on my business, and do all these different things for my career, and then I will just not worry about getting a haircut, or going to the gym, or spending time with friends and family. And I was just too much focused on just, “Okay, I need to finish this, I need to do that.” And it starts to come at a certain cost.

And so, I think you can actually combine both. In my system, that’s basically how that works. And the way I approach it on a day-to-day basis is if I can get three tasks done that are really important, I have a really productive day. And it doesn’t matter if it takes one hour, or it can take three hours, or even eight hours, if I can get three really important tasks done, then I had a real productive day. And, usually, I try to build my schedule around that philosophy.

So, the way I, for example, structure my day is I try to get all of my tasks done before noon because that’s when I have the most control in my day, it’s the most quiet, I can kind of dictate my schedule for the most part in the morning so I can really focus, do deep work, and try to get the three things done. And then from there, if I need to have meetings, or calls, or run errands, my schedule kind of then builds around that.

So, my executive assistant, for example, knows that she should never arrange a phone call with somebody between 8:00 a.m. and noon because that’s usually when I try to do deep work and be ultra-focused.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Fair enough. So, that was one of my next questions is how do you have great focus and limit distractions? And part of it sounds like you’re sort of theming or batching different sections of the day, so that’s a cool approach. Anything else?

Thanh Pham
I think a lot of productivity advice out there addresses the symptom but they don’t really address the root cause of this. And this is something I’ve seen a lot of last few years when I started working with clients. And people are always amazed when I tell people, when I first start an engagement with them, that, “One of the first things we’re going to do is have you sleep more.” And people go, “Thanh, I want to be more productive. I actually want to get more things done. I need to get more things done. I’m behind on work. Sleeping is probably the last thing I need right now.”

And I always get this look, and I say, “Trust me. We’re going to get you to sleep more and it’s going to result into more energy, more focus, you’re going to get stuff done faster, and you’re going to have this super human feeling of, ‘Okay, I can do anything that is coming onto my plate.’” And when people start to sleep more, and actually not sacrifice their sleep anymore, you start to feel good, you start to have more energy, you start to have better focus.

Instead of focusing for 5 to 10 minutes at a time, you can now focus for 30 minutes, for 45 minutes, or even 60 minutes. And imagine what you can do in 60 minutes of just intense focus versus 6 minutes here, 5 minutes there, 10 minutes here, 15 minutes here, 3 minutes there. When you have uninterrupted time to focus, and you have the energy to focus as well, you can accomplish amazing things. And it really starts with a really good night of sleep.

And so, I recommend to everybody to have an evening routine and making sure that you sleep more than you’re currently sleeping. So, I always recommend that you probably want to add another hour or an hour and a half of sleep, which usually also means that you have to go to bed a little earlier too, oftentimes by an hour or an hour and a half.

And the best way to do that is by introducing, not a morning routine, but an evening routine, which is kind of the opposite of a morning routine, right? A morning routine, or a morning ritual as I like to call, is kind of getting you ready for the day and making sure you feel confident, you’re feeling energized and focused, and you’ve lots of clarity. The evening routine, or evening ritual as I like to say, is the opposite. It kind of allows you to wind down and get ready for a really good night of sleep.

And so, one of the things I always recommend people do is that they journal at the end of the day because it allows you to clear your thoughts. And the worst feeling in the world is when you go to bed and you’re having all these lingering thoughts in your head, “Oh, did I schedule this call with this person? Oh, I need to do that tomorrow. I want to make sure that I paid my credit card bill.” And when you have all these lingering thoughts in your head, it’s just so difficult to sleep and fall asleep, which is kind of the bedrock for productivity. So, one of the things that I think is just so underrated is addressing the root cause which, for most people, is just not enough sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. The root cause of distraction or the inability to resist distraction is you haven’t slept enough.

Thanh Pham
Yes. For a lot of people, and this sounds so counterintuitive, and I always get that reaction. But if you have more energy, it’s so much easier to kind of like address distractions if they come your way because now you have the energy to focus. And you don’t feel like you have to distract yourself from something that maybe looks a little bit more exciting because you can now focus on something that’s actually in front of you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, I’m a huge believer in sleep as well. So, other than just making the time and following the basic sleep hygiene practices associated with winding down and dark and quiet and cool temperature, anything else you recommend to just the make the most of your sleep time?

Thanh Pham
If you want to take it up a notch, I would say it’s a safe practice to have magnesium as a supplement to add to your day-to-day supplement list if you have that. Magnesium is a natural relaxer for our body. It’s a natural compound mineral that we have in our foods that we can ingest. So, there’s a calm supplement out there that people really like.

I recently started using, myself, upgraded formulas which has a more effective dose of magnesium that you can intake. And if you just take like 5 mg of that before you go to bed, you’ll just sleep so much more soundly. So, that’s an easy way to do that. The other thing is no electronics, or no phone, no iPad, no TV about an hour, an hour and a half before you go to sleep.

The other thing I would recommend is blue-blocking glasses. You’ve probably seen them. If you have a friend who’s a biohacker, you’ve probably seen them. They sometimes look kind of funny and weird because they have orange tints. But if you just wear them at home for your own comfort, they’re really helpful. I oftentimes go to movies at night wearing them, and by the time I come home, I’m not wired at all. I feel really relaxed and then I can just go to bed right away. So, those are three things I would recommend.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Thank you. I also want to get your quick take on email. Your one tip you shared previously was don’t be in your email client all day, it’ll distract you and sub-optimize your time. Any other thoughts on how do we manage that effectively?

Thanh Pham
One of my favorite tips for email is the two-minute rule. So, it’s kind of borrowed from the idea of GTD. When you have a task in front of you, you have to decide within two minutes what you’re going to do with that. And same thing with email. I find that if you applied the two-minute rule to every email that you process, you’ll go through email a lot quicker.

So, the basic question is, “Okay, can I address this in two minutes or less?” If the answer is yes, just reply to the email right away and deal with it. If not, it takes more than two minutes, then add it to your to-do list. And from there you can go through your inbox very quickly. And then also, because you’re building your to-do list based on your email that way, now you can prioritize which email or which tasks you want to address based on whatever priorities you have set for yourself and what your goals are.

Because if you start using email as your to-do list, it’s so easy to get lost, it’s so easy to get distracted, and that’s why I always tell people, like, “Hey, move that stuff over from your email inbox to a to-do list, and then close your email client because from there you can then prioritize what you need to do.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, Thanh, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Thanh Pham
Oh, when it comes to email, there’s a couple of tools that I always recommend. One of the best things you can also do is learn keyboard shortcuts. So, for example, if you use Gmail, one of my favorite keyboard shortcuts is E, which is archiving. Another one, a really simple one is C which is composing an email. Then we have another one R, which is replying to an email. If you just learn these three keyboard shortcuts, you’ll just be able to navigate so much quicker through your inbox as well. If you use Outlook, learn the keyboard shortcuts for Outlook. And you just need to know two or three, and you’ll see how fast you can go through your inbox.

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

Thanh Pham
Ooh, I have a lot of favorite quotes. I tend to write a lot of them in my journal, but the one that has been most recent for me is, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” That’s, I believe, an African proverb. Especially when it comes to teamwork, I think this is really important because oftentimes, as individuals, yes, we can do things ourselves and do stuff, but if we actually want to accomplish big things in life, we often want to do that with other people, whether it’s your significant other, whether it’s a coworker, or within a team. Whenever you try to do things together, one plus one just becomes three in my experience. And so, that’s one quote that has really stood out to me recently.

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

Thanh Pham
I always tell people, “Do the hardest things first in the morning.” So, whenever you start your day, we call that eating your frog. It comes from the idea of whenever you eat a live frog in the morning, you can go on with the rest of your day knowing that that’s probably the worst thing that happened that day, right? So, it’s a Brian Tracy thing, and I want to give full credit to him for not only writing the book titled Eat Your Frog, or, Eat That Frog. But it’s just the idea of just, “Hey, if you have so many things to do, just do the hardest thing first thing in the morning because once you get that out of the way, you have a sense of confidence, you have this momentum on your side, and everything else on your to-do list is really not that scary. It’s actually relatively easy to do.”

So, most of us, when we start implementing this, we just get the sense of like, “Oh, man, I can do anything now.” And this is something that people just keep repeating back to me because I always talk about this strategy, and it’s just a way of living, and I love that you mentioned that as well for yourself because it’s just so effective.

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

Thanh Pham
Just go to AsianEfficiency.com, this is the blog. You can subscribe to our newsletter there. And we also have a podcast called The Productivity Show, so just find us in iTunes. And we have a weekly episode coming up where we just share productivity tips.

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

Thanh Pham
Just continue to listen to Pete and his guests. I think this is amazing podcast. And if you want more productivity tips, then you’ll know where to find us as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Thanh, thank you. This has been a lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck in all the ways you’re rocking Asian Efficiency.

Thanh Pham
Thank you so much, Pete.

487: Communicating Powerfully, Succinctly, and Clearly with Erica Mandy

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Erica Mandy shares essential–but often overlooked–keys to becoming a more successful communicator in the modern environment.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How what you’re doing on Facebook can damage your credibility at work
  2. Words to purge from your communication
  3. The fundamental test to improve your communication

About Erica

Erica Mandy is an award-winning broadcast journalist and former TV news reporter who is building a new kind of media network, starting with her daily news podcast, The NewsWorthy. It provides all the day’s news in less than 10 minutes in a convenient, unbiased, and less depressing way – in what she calls “fast, fair and fun.” 

Erica is one of the first podcasters to partner with Podfund, a company that invests in extraordinary emerging podcasters, and she’s been named one of “50 Women Changing the World in Media & Entertainment.”

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Erica Mandy Interview Transcript

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

Erica Mandy
Thank you so much for having me. Happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ve been enjoying your podcast theNewsWorthy just about every day since we met at Podcast Movement in Orlando. So, thank you for making it. It really is helpful in my world. And I was also struck, when we were chatting, by just how much time you spend sort of reading, studying, processing news. Can you give us that figure?

Erica Mandy
Well, thank you for listening and thank you for saying that you’re enjoying it. I’m glad to hear that. Yeah, I spend a lot of time on the news for just a 10-minute show. It takes a lot more than 10 minutes, I can say that. I now have a team of two other writers, so together they spend about six hours looking at all the news of the day, reading multiple articles for each story, and then writing in our brand style the news stories.

Then I come in at the end and spend another two or three hours reviewing everything, making changes as necessary, and then recording, and editing, and publishing the show. So, it’s a full day of news consumption and reworking and updating before that 10 minutes goes out each day.

Pete Mockaitis
And I just love that you share with the podcast-listening audience that a lot goes into every show. And what’s fascinating here is that you don’t have reporters on the scene, like you are reading news that’s already been written, and it takes that much time to thoughtfully consider what needs to be covered and how do we say it in the clearest most succinct way that is very helpful to people as possible. And so, I just think it’s impressive and you probably have a lot to say about clear succinct communication for having done this so many times.

Erica Mandy
Yes. And part of the reason I started theNewsWorthy is because people were feeling very overwhelmed by all the information, you know, 24/7 phone notifications, 24/7 cable news outlets, so it can feel so overwhelming and sometimes kind of depressing because of all the doom and gloom that’s out there, that some people’s reaction is just to tune it out altogether.

But then we don’t feel informed. We can’t have good conversations at work when someone brings up a news story, right? So, that’s why I started it is to help people navigate that and do the hard work for them so that they only need 10 minutes a day to feel informed and know which stories they care most about to maybe then go read more about that one or two stories instead of trying to keep up with all the different things coming at them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and I think it’s so helpful for me personally because I tend to really get suck into the news because I’ll read an article, and say, “Well, that’s interesting. But I have several follow-up questions that were not addressed.” So, I then have to go hunt those down myself. And then an hour later it’s like, “Well, I have my answers but I don’t think it was worth it. I’ve lost my hour.” And so, I’ve come to sort of not like the news but I don’t like feeling dumb and be caught off guard more than I don’t like reading the news. And so, you sort of save the day for me. So, thank you for that.

Erica Mandy
I’m so happy to hear that. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, we’ll just sort get a quick tidbit. So, what’s sort of the differentiating philosophy? You’ve done the hard work, it’s short, your show. Why is it different and helpful in the world for those who have not yet sampled it?

Erica Mandy
So, I think my tagline “Fast, Fair, Fun,” sums it up and I can explain a little bit. Fast means that it’s less than 10 minutes. So, again, you just need that 10 minutes a day to feel well-rounded and at least somewhat informed when you’re walking into work each morning. It’s fair and unbiased. So, because we aren’t the reporter on the scene, we have the ability to look across multiple news sources and make sure that not one reporter’s bias is overly influencing our script. So, we pay special attention to looking at multiple news sources for every single story that goes into our show.

And then it’s fun. So, we provide fun news through variety. Yes, sometimes news is sad and depressing, and we will talk about those big news stories of the day even when they’re not necessarily fun, but we always make sure that every episode has some fun stories in that, whether it’s an interesting story about space, or something fun about an award show that happened the night before that people might be talking about. So, variety is the spice of life when it comes to our show.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve learned that Dwayne Johnson was the highest-paid actor of the year.

Erica Mandy
But you probably also learned about the Supreme Court, right? So, you get both in 10 minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, so good show. Thank you for making it. What I really want to zoom in on from a skill development perspective is communication with regard to specifically how can we be succinct and clear in our writing, in our speaking? You’ve done it so many times, I’m sure you have these conversations with your staff about word choice and sentence length and participles, and all these things as well as more sort of macro level.

So, maybe I’d love to get your take, having done journalism for a good while, what do you think is the state of communication in our world today? Do you think folks are generally communicating clearly and succinctly or is it a mess somewhere in the middle? Are we trending positively or negatively? I just want to get your global picture first.

Erica Mandy
Sure. So, like most things, I think there’s pros and cons to the state of our communication today. On one hand, we have all of these amazing communication tools right at our fingertips. So, for example, I just hired an editor who lives in Australia and is across the globe. And we met on Skype, we could talk about all the business deals. Now we communicate on Slack which is the messaging app, where, “Hey, the voice track is uploaded,” and, “Oh, I have a question about this.” And in seconds, someone in Australia and I are communicating quickly and easily. So, I love that ability.

On the same positive note for our communication is the ability to reach out to anybody. So, let’s say you’re looking for a mentor. Find someone on LinkedIn, and you can reach out to them without having their phone number or their email address, right? And because of the state of social media, I think people are pretty good at being forced to write that initial message in a concise way. Twitter, for example, forces you to do that, right? You only have so many characters in a tweet. So, I think there’s some really amazing opportunities with the tools we have in place if we use them strategically.

I think, on the flipside, it can be very difficult for people now to want to pick up the phone or have face-to-face conversations. When I started an interview segment that I do now on Thursdays on my show called Thing to Know Thursday, I sometimes like to do very timely news-related topics for that interview. So, I can’t email somebody and then wait three days for them to get back to me, and then schedule something. A lot of times I need to pick up the phone and call them, and say, “Hey, can you do an interview in the next hour?” and be succinct about it, right? And I think sometimes people struggle with that.

When my husband actually said to me when I was first starting this interview segment, “How did you get these people so quickly?” And I’m like, “Well, I just called and asked them.” And he said, “I don’t think a lot of people do that anymore. Like, people are afraid to have that conversation.” So, I think it’s important for us to remember that we can have the old ways of communicating as well and make sure that we’re using those strategically as well.

And then the other negative that I think can come from this is the misinformation that can go around online. So, for example, Pinterest just changed its policy about what search results it will give you for medical information because a lot of experts blame online misinformation for the fact that we’re having a measles outbreak, right, because parents got scared based on misinformation about what happens when they vaccinate their children. So, then some parents were choosing not to vaccinate their children, and now we have a measles outbreak, and it’s really a global problem. So, that can be based in misinformation.

And we have to be very conscious about the types of information that we then pass on. So, it can feel like a really quick way and concise way to communicate by just reposting something or forwarding something onto someone else. But if that information is not accurate, and we didn’t do our due diligence about what we’re forwarding on, that hurts our credibility because we were the ones that passed it on. And I can talk about some studies and some information that’s out there about, especially, young people having a hard time differentiating between real information that’s accurate and information that is not true or at least not sourced properly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, if you’ve got a statistic, lay it on us.

Erica Mandy
So, one of the things that really stuck out to me, first of all, is an MIT study that was published last year. They found false information spread six times faster than the truth on Twitter. So, we have to ask ourselves, “Are we the ones re-tweeting something that actually isn’t true because it just validates our own opinions, right?” So, it feels really concise and quick to re-tweet something but if we, again, didn’t do the due diligence to make sure it’s accurate, then that can reflect poorly on us because we passed on that information that wasn’t true.

Another Stanford study in 2016 found that middle school, high school, and college students could not evaluate the credibility of information that they saw online. And researchers actually said they were shocked at the results of this because they were even having a hard time telling the difference between sponsored news stories that were paid for and real news stories. They were having a hard time realizing that a picture that they saw on Facebook may not be credible because there was no source for it, right? And so, if they repost that on Facebook, that might not look good for them once it comes out that that’s not an accurate quote, or that’s not an accurate picture.

So, I think we, as communicators, have to take responsibility for the type of information that we’re going to communicate with others, and know that even if it’s someone else’s information, like I do on theNewsWorthy, I take responsibility for the stories that I’m citing.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, that’s eye-opening. Thanks for sharing that. And, yes, I have sort of thought that when I saw someone sort of repost or reshare something that’s false, it just kind of makes me think, “Hmm,” you know, and not a huge deal but it just sort of diminishes a little bit of their credibility in terms of how much I might trust something that they say to me, like, “I don’t know how much you’ve researched it.”

Erica Mandy
It can be a huge deal if that’s in a work report, and you’re citing something you found online that’s not really true, right? So, we have to think about that across all of the aspects of our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about work reports and work emails and communications that way. I’d love to get your view in terms of when you see people writing emails and you’re reading emails, what are sort of the top mistakes you see with regard to being clear, and succinct, or messaging so you’re a pro at writing? And what are you seeing is wrong with our writing at work today?

Erica Mandy
Well, I think sometimes people feel like they have to be overly professional where it’s almost like a robot, right, where we’re not thinking about the human on the other side of an email or of a report, and we’re writing with such jargon that it comes across as boring and stiff and robotic. And I think it’s important, even through all the technology, for us to remember that a human is going to be hearing this or reading this.

And so, let’s think about that other human when we’re writing and when we’re putting together this information. So, that’s going to affect the tone of how we write, that’s going to affect the word choices, the information that we’re going to include. Do we need certain details and am I providing enough details for them to understand? I think knowing your audience is so important and, again, in the word choice and the tone of how you write.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us a couple examples that just maybe made you chuckle or shake your head with regard to, “Hey, I’m a human being. You can talk to me normally and for real here”? Any kind of go-to phrases or sentences that might be better spent on the chopping block?

Erica Mandy
So, I think when it comes to speaking like a human, especially in writing, and especially if you’re writing for a speech or something that you’re going to be communicating verbally or for someone to hear, we want to use the words that we would actually use in conversations. So, we deal with this a lot at theNewsWorthy because we’re writing for audio. And so, that means I would never say a pedestrian in conversation. If I was talking to a friend, I wouldn’t say, “I saw this pedestrian the other day,” right? I would just say, “I saw a person crossing the street.”

And so, even those minor words that aren’t complicated words, but it’s not a word that we would actually use in conversation can make a huge difference in sounding natural and sounding like you’re just a human instead of a very buttoned-up robot.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Go ahead.

Erica Mandy
So, there are other more minor things. I think a lot of times people can just eliminate unnecessary words. For example, the word “that” gets used a lot and probably is unnecessary a lot of the time. So, if you think that your sentence still makes sense without the word “that,” I would usually say eliminate it. I also have a weird pet peeve about the word “literally” because I don’t think it’s used properly. Literally means that something is literally happening.

So, you don’t want to say, “Oh, I literally died,” because you didn’t die. So, I think that sometimes is used incorrectly and that can hurt your credibility as well. So, there’s a lot of little words like that that can usually be eliminated and it’s going to tighten up your writing without even changing a lot of the structure.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’m thinking that this also really applies in terms of just like the human language, not just if you’re emailing someone, but also when you – I’m thinking about sort of a website copy or stuff that’s supposed to be persuasive. I’m looking at something that says, somewhat… When I read through this website, I shook my head, I’m not going to say the name, but it said, “Brand names, customer engagement platform optimizes omnichannel conversion.” It’s like, “What?”

Erica Mandy
What does that mean? Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly. I think what you could say, it’s like, “Hey, whether your customer comes in via phone, or text, or email, or online, we’ve got just the thing to make them buy.” I mean, you know, come on. Like, that’s what you’re trying to say to me, I think. I’m not quite so sure.

Erica Mandy
Exactly. And a lot of times I’ll tell the writers that I work with, “So, read the three articles that you want to read and then walk away and think about, ‘What’s the bottom line here? How would I tell this information to a friend right now without referencing anything?’” Right? That’s the point that you want to get to instead of going through all of this jargon and all of these details that are in the three articles that you just wrote. So, sometimes taking a step back and saying, “How would I tell this to a friend?” is the best way to at least get started, and start writing like a human, and then you can go back and massage it a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I really like that notion, you say to walk away, I think is huge because if you don’t then you’re kind of very close to almost the same words that your source material is using.

Erica Mandy
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you say walk away, I don’t know how prescriptive you get, but what’s the ideal amount of time to walk away? Because I imagine if it’s five seconds, it’s like, “Okay. Well, you know, you’re still sort of real close to it.” If it’s five hours, it’s sort of like, “I don’t really remember a lot of the things that I…yeah.”

Erica Mandy
Well, I think it depends on your deadline. I’m a journalist so I work under a lot of tight deadlines so sometimes I don’t have the flexibility to walk away for too long. But I think, really, just even looking away from it and, again, asking yourself that question, “So, how would I repeat this in my own words to a friend right now, if I had to explain this topic or this thing to them?” And you’d be surprised at how quickly you can take all of this big information that you just read or that you just went through, and your brain automatically remembers some of the key points. You’re not going to remember all the details even right away.

So, I think even if you have to do it immediately, just looking away and asking yourself to say it in your own words can go a long way. Also, if I don’t have to send something right away, I will take a few minutes and walk away from my office, maybe go get a glass of water, and come back even 15 to 30 minutes later and reread it with fresh eyes, and then I can massage the script. I like that word massage the script because I do this often. We think we like how we’re saying it when we first write it, and then when you walk away and come back with fresh eyes, you’d be surprised at the things that you catch. So, even that 15 or 30 minutes can go a long way to review your script and make changes as necessary.

Pete Mockaitis
And I like, in particular, how you zoomed in on sort of the word “that” and how that’s something you can eliminate frequently.

Erica Mandy
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Are there any other sort of go-to tips and tricks or phrases that you really want to be aware of when we’re trying to be extra concise and omit these words?

Erica Mandy
Yes. Really and very can be overused and are often unnecessary. So, is there a better adjective you could use that emphasizes that this is very something, right, without having to use the word very, you could just say in one word? Or a lot of times it’s just not necessary, “It was great to see you today,” still comes across the same as, “It was really great to see you today,” right? It’s probably not necessary to say the really, and it can make you come across as a little bit wordy.

I also think we have to be careful especially in email communications about how many exclamation marks we’re using. So, I love the idea of using exclamation marks one or two sentences in an email to provide kind of that energy that you want to provide, but I think too often people are using them a little bit too much where it seems like we’re yelling at the person, or that we’re overly-excited and overly-eager. So, we have to find that middle balance and ask ourselves, “Is there a way that my words can convey a different tone instead of having to use an exclamation point?”

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I think there was like a scene from a Seinfeld episode where Seinfeld was critiquing a manuscript or something, it had too many exclamation points, he’s like, “What do you mean?” “Well, for example, ‘I was feeling chilly so I went to get my jacket!’” It just cracks me up, because I really do. When I see an exclamation point, I’m sort of like reading inside my brain their words, and I’m putting that exclamation point on there. So, when there’s a lot, it’s sort of like, “Yeah, I don’t know.” I don’t know if it’s genuine, it’s like, “You might be that peppy and fired up about this. I don’t know.”

Erica Mandy
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
“You make me wonder.”

Erica Mandy
Exactly. And I think the last thing is to consider your audience and the jargon that you may be using. So, one of the things, especially in news, that we have to deal with a lot is this jargon of whatever the news story talks about. So, for example, as a reporter, maybe I’m talking to a lawyer about a new story, and this lawyer uses a lot of legal jargon, stuff that my audience is not going to understand. So, it’s my job to research that legal jargon, make sure I have a good understanding of it, and then break it down into normal speak for my audience so that they don’t have to do the research about what I’m talking about. Because if they can’t understand what you’re saying, they’re going to tune out.

Pete Mockaitis
I really appreciated your story about there’s some fears that we can have a recession based upon an economic indicator.

Erica Mandy
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I took finance in college and so I know some things, but I read a news story, it’s like, “I don’t know why that would indicate a recession.” And then when you said it, it’s like, “Oh, okay, I got it. Short term versus long term. Usually it’s the other way around. Oh, okay, got it.” So, thank you. Yes, I think that is dead on, is to deconstruct the jargon.

And especially I hear this frequently in terms of executives when they are talking, they’re getting a report from someone, maybe it’s about technology or some analytics or research they ran. And so, they really just don’t even care about the details and the processes and the systems and the underlying technology. They kind of just want the bottom line, upfront implications, like, “This thing is broken, this place and people could get hurt. We need to fix it by doing this. It’s going to cost X dollars.” It’s like, “Okay. Understood.” As opposed to, “Well, you see, this system here is malfunctioning given the capacity or, you know…”

Erica Mandy
Exactly. And I think you bring up a couple of points there. One is using the correct terminology but also realizing that people are busy and they don’t necessarily need all the details that you know. So, after I read four articles of news, I know a lot more details that you probably don’t care about, and I’m going to leave a lot of the details out, and make sure that you understand the few key details that are important to what you need to know.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we talked about being concise. I’m curious about if there are any other best practices we can borrow from journalism to do better at business-writing.

Erica Mandy
Yes. So, I think there’s a few things from the journalism industry and what I’ve learned as a reporter that really overlap with how to be a good writer for business. One of them, I’ll go back to it because I believe so strongly in it, especially in today’s world, is accuracy. What are the facts and data that you’re citing? Are they credible sources? Did you double-check assumptions? Are you making assumptions that may not be true? So, just double-checking your work for accuracy is so important. And as journalists, that is one of our key roles. We know that even one mistake can hurt our credibility even if we did everything else right.

So, number two is really knowing your audience. So, as journalists, if you’re a local news reporter versus a national news reporter, you’re going to be talking about different things, you’re going to be including different types of details. So, the same thing goes with business-writing. If you’re talking to you boss, you may need to say something different than if you’re talking to someone that you’re the manager of, right, and you have to include different details. So, know who you’re writing for and how you can best communicate with that person instead of having this idea that it’s just a blanket script every time that you write something.

And I think that also goes back to some of the jargon, right? Does your audience, whoever you’re writing this to, or talking to, do they understand the same terminology that you use? And if not, how can you say it differently? It depends if they’re in your industry or not. Are you talking to someone, a coworker, or are you talking to a client that doesn’t understand as much about it?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’m thinking about jargon right now, and so I was talking to my mom about the Podcast Movement and all the insights and takeaways, dah, dah, dah. And so, I just sort of naturally, because I’ve been talking to podcasters and folks, and my mom said, “Oh, yes. So, what did you learn in all this?” And I said, “Well, I’m kind of excited about the opportunity to use idea of adding insertion to my back catalogue,” and that was just really very honest from the heart, like I am excited about that opportunity. And my mom is like, “I don’t know what that means at all.” And yet I was just at this event, right, where, well, you know exactly what I mean by that.

Erica Mandy
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
As do probably the majority of people I was interacting with, and they’re talking about the pros and cons of pursuing that path. And so, it was a funny little wakeup call, it’s like, “Oh, different audience.”

Erica Mandy
Yup, it’s so true. And I think it’s so true in business as well. And you know that if a customer or client is coming in, they probably don’t know the same things as you and your coworker, so you have to just talk and communicate with them differently.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m on the receiving end when it seems like whenever contractors come to my home, it’s like, “I don’t know what that means. Is that expensive?”

Erica Mandy
Exactly. And I think, too often, when we don’t understand something, we are quick to just use whatever sentence someone else used and repeat it because we can’t explain it well. And I tell my writers all the time, “You have to take the time. If you don’t understand this, you have to take those extra few minutes to research it and get an understanding yourself before you can communicate it well with someone else.”

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that is such a simple piece of advice but I love it. I mean, it makes all the difference. I think that’s where the rubber meets the road right there in terms of clear and succinct communication. It’s like, “Do you really know what that means or are you repeating the sentence? And if you don’t really know what it means, take another moment to really know what it means, and then you’re in much better shape.”

Erica Mandy
Because it can be harder to write in a more concise way than a very complicated way. You probably understand it more if you can explain it well in a concise way.

Pete Mockaitis
Very much. Okay. So, I’m intrigued. So, we talked about a lot of the writing side of things. Well, before we shift gears, I want to hear your take then, can we take it too far when we want to be simple, concise, clear, human-friendly? I’m wondering if you can go too far there in terms of, like, “This is informal and inappropriate, Erica, for this setting that we’re in.” What’s your take on that?

Erica Mandy
Absolutely. I mean, I think, one, go back to knowing your audience. You don’t want to get too informal if this is a very professional setting. But I think the other way that we can be too concise is not providing enough details, and that can lead to miscommunication, and then not everyone is on the same page, and that can lead to conflict and problems down the line, right?

So, we have to think about, “What are the details that this person, or these people, need to know and make sure that we’re still including all of the relevant information without using unnecessary words or without repeating ourselves?” Because I think the way that people sometimes aren’t concise is because they’re saying the same thing over and over again in a different way with different words, but it doesn’t really tell me any new information. That’s very different than telling me new information that I need to know and giving me enough details, right? So, differentiating between enough details and repeating and rambling, two different things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, well-said. And so, when you are sort of communicating in the verbal, spoken way, you got a great way of delivering the news that it’s kind of like night and day as compared to some broadcasters with a typical tone that ends like this, again and again and again. And sometimes it seems like their goal is to like shock and alarm me so that I keep listening. It just feels kind of tiring and manipulative at times depending on the broadcaster.

So, any pro tips on using that friendly, engaging, casual tone? I think it is a helpful one that can go miles in building rapport and likability such that it’s just like, “You know what, I do want to help out that person. I do want to collaborate with her because I just think she’s great.” That just sort of like vibe that can convey but a lot of people are pretty nervous. So, how do we get there?

Erica Mandy
Yes, and I think you bring out such a good point about some of the broadcast journalists out there that have the exact same tone for every sentence, and they’re trying to be authoritative but it just comes across as kind of harsh, right? So, it goes back to talking to people like they’re humans, like they’re your friend, even if you’re reading a script, even if you are emailing someone, without taking it so far that you feel like you’re memorizing something and then sounding like a robot, right?

So, I remember a time when I actually had to be on live television, and it was a lead story, it was this big story, and I wrote out kind of an intro that I memorized, which was a mistake because then, as soon as my cameraman started doing something that was a little distracting, it threw me off. And, suddenly, I couldn’t get back onto my script. And so, on live television, I’m fumbling around, right, and I had to kind of get through it quickly. But that was my mistake because I tried to memorize something instead of really understanding the content and being able to have bullet points or some preparation to feel like I can talk about it intelligently but without trying to memorize it exactly.

So, I think the same thing goes with speeches and that sort of thing where you do the preparation, have your bullet points, but don’t try to get word for word for word exactly right or it’s going to trip you up at some point as soon as you get distracted. And to that point, I like having some notes or some bullet points with me, especially if you have a presentation or something.

No one blames you unless you’re this professional speaker that does this every single day. No one blames you for having some notes. You don’t want to sit there and read it. But if it helps you stay concise and on point, to glance down at the numbers that you’re referring to, or glance down at what your next point is, people don’t even notice that. And so, I would say use that as your safety blanket if you can.

And then, before you go off to talk to someone about something, especially if you have some sort of script, read it out loud to yourself. This is a really good way to see if you’re not giving enough information or you’re giving too much, and you almost hear yourself talking to the person when you read it out loud versus just saying it in your head. It goes a long way. I tell my writers that they need to read every script that they write out loud to themselves, “I don’t care if people think you’re crazy, because you’ll notice a lot of things when you read it out loud.”

Pete Mockaitis
I tell my staff the same thing and they get used of me editing their work reading it out loud numerous ones in terms of training, it’s like, “Hmm, you know, actually, I think we can kill that word. Oh, we can kill three words. Let’s do that. That’s better.” And so, absolutely, it makes a difference. So, yeah, you’ve totally covered what I wanted to cover there. I want to hear, so you talk about the news, you’re delivering it in a way that is less depressing, which I love. It’s not zero depressing but it’s less depressing.

Erica Mandy
Right. Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, generally speaking, do you have any tips when we do need to deliver some bad news that we know someone is not going to be pleased when they hear it, how can we do that well?

Erica Mandy
So, I think this comes down to what details you’re going to include. So, yes, it has something to do with your tone, but I think the big thing is, “What is necessary to include and what can you leave out?” And that doesn’t mean shy away from hard conversations because we all need to have those tough conversations and I think we should embrace those when necessary. But I think that there are certain things that you don’t always have to include.

For example, your doctor prescribing you some medicine, they have to ask themselves, “Do the benefits outweigh the risks?” Right? So, for journalists, that looks like a story about something like suicide, for example. Most journalists do not report on many suicide stories because we don’t want to glorify it or anything like that. But, let’s say, a famous person has died by suicide, so that’s something that we need to talk about. Well, I can communicate that by being very upfront without giving unnecessary details that are either graphic or that glorify something like that.

At the same time, I can add details that help anybody who might be affected by this story. So, I can provide a National Suicide Hotline, for example, to let people know, “If you’re struggling with this, make sure you go to this number. There’s people there to help you.” So, I can add some details that are going to help soften the blow, and I can leave things out that are unnecessary to add value to that audience.

Pete Mockaitis
And as I’m thinking about it, like if you have to share some bad news with the boss, then you can add some additional details like, “Hey, this is happening and it’s such a huge mess, but I have cleared all of my afternoon schedule to address it.” “Yes, good to know.”

Erica Mandy
Yes, solution-based. I love that. And I think even when I’m thinking about news, I think about, “How are people finding a solution to this? How can the audience help with this?” So, let’s not just talk about the problems and the complaints when we walk into our boss’s office. Let’s talk about the solutions. And your boss is much more likely to listen to you if you quickly go through the problem and then focus on the solutions than if you come in and basically sound like you’re rambling and complaining about the problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, when it comes to kind of sharpening these communication skills, week after week, month after month, do you have any sort of all-time favorite or go-to books, blogs, resources that you think are super helpful?

Erica Mandy
So, it’s become something that I just do every day, and I studied journalism and writing in school and all of that stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Erica Mandy
So, one of the things I like to tell people, especially if grammar is their thing that they’re struggling with, my friend who is known as the Grammar Girl is a great resource. She has a podcast and a blog that goes over a lot of the very common mistakes that people make in English grammar. So, if you ever are writing something, and you aren’t sure if it’s this word or this contraction or how you should write it, she’s a great resource that you can quickly look up on her website, the best way to do it, and her thing is always to take the few minutes to know because then you’ll know forever, right, the next time you’re writing that, instead of taking the few minutes to find a different way to say it that might not be as effective.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. So, the Grammar Girl podcast, that’s Mignon Fogarty.

Erica Mandy
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that right, Fogarty?

Erica Mandy
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Not fillet mignon but there’s a mignon and an F, okay, good. All right. So, Grammar Girl, awesome. Thank you. All right. Cool. Well, tell me, Erica, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Erica Mandy
One of the things I forgot to mention when we were talking about tips if you’re nervous for a presentation, or a speech, or something that you have to deliver is to visualize it. Because visualizing yourself standing in front of the audience and feeling calm and confident can actually go really long way in making sure when the moment actually comes that you do feel more calm and confident.

And this has actually been proven with studies. There was one study from an exercise psychologist that had people physically go to the gym and they improved their muscle strength by 30%. And then there were people who just thought about those workouts in their head. They didn’t actually lift any weights, right? They still improved their muscle strength by 14% without actually going to the gym. So, sure, it wasn’t as much as the people that did the physical work, but it was still a really big improvement.

So, think about if we’re practicing out loud reading our scripts, we’re practicing with our notecards physically, and then we also take the time to visualize, the combination is going to make us feel super prepared and ready to get up and do that presentation or that speech. So, I definitely recommend, even a few weeks out a couple of times a week, visualizing for 5 to 10 minutes that moment when you’re standing in front of people. And you don’t have to go through the whole thing in your head. It’s more about feeling calm and confident as you stand there and see people, or as you’re walking on stage.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, that muscle strength study is striking. I want to read the whole thing. I’ve heard studies associated with doing basketball free throws versus visualizing basketball free throws. But to actually have the muscles in your body be transformed by imagining, that is wild. So, very cool. Thank you.

Erica Mandy
Well, because so much of what we’re able to do physically comes from our mental stamina, right? So, even just making our body believe that we can do it, maybe our muscle didn’t actually grow but our mind is telling our muscle that we can do it. So, so much of what we’re able to do physically comes from the psychology of it.

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

Erica Mandy
Yes. One of my favorite quotes comes from a guy named Light Watkins. I get a daily email from him actually that is very inspiring. I do recommend it for people. He also has a great Instagram account. But one of the quotes that struck me when it came in my email inbox was, “A convenient commitment is an oxymoron.”

And what I love about this is that it’s basically saying, “A commitment isn’t always convenient or it’s not a commitment,” right? It’s like a hobby or something that you do every now and then. If you’re truly committed to something, you do it even when it’s inconvenient and even when you don’t feel like it. And I felt this really strongly in my first year of business.

I was learning so much about business, I didn’t really have a big audience with theNewsWorthy just yet, but I stay committed to it. I put out a show every single day even when I didn’t feel like doing it, even when I was doubtful if it was ever going to become what I wanted it to become. And now I can look back and be so grateful that I was so committed to it because it’s paid off and it’s become more of what I wanted it to be, and I’ve been able to hire a team so that it wasn’t all on me.

So, I think that can apply to so many things in our lives, at work, or at home, where a commitment is something that we do even when it’s inconvenient.

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

Erica Mandy
Sure. So, one of the reasons I started theNewsWorthy was because of this idea that people were feeling overwhelmed or depressed by the news. Well, it turns out, a Pew research, from the Pew Research Center, found that 7 out of 10 Americans actually do say that they feel news fatigue. So, that was just a great study that proved that what I was hearing and seeing from people was true across the country and not just in my neighborhood.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Erica Mandy
So, one of the books that was really eye-opening for me early on in my career was called “Knowing Your Value” by Mika Brzezinski, and it was about women in the workplace, and how can you make sure that you know your own value to negotiate better. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be an aggressive negotiator, right? You can negotiate in your own way but still know your value and make sure that you present yourself in a way that people know that you know that you’re good enough, right?

Another one that I really like is called “Factfulness.” And it’s this idea that the world isn’t as bad as sometimes we think it is because of all the news around us, right? So, for example, poverty globally is actually decreasing but we don’t talk about that that often. So, I think it’s important to remember to question those assumptions and know that there’s a lot of good in the world even when it feels like there’s none.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Erica Mandy
My favorite tool? I’m really into Boomerang right now in my email because I get a lot of email and I’m still not that great at going through it all but it helps. You can hit the snooze button and it will remind you in a few days. I think it’s a really nice productive way to go through your email and make sure that things don’t get lost in the inbox.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Erica Mandy
Exercising and meditating. So, I notice a huge difference, if I don’t get outside and exercise or take a class, in my productivity level, in my happiness. And meditating is something I started just in the last couple of years. Just 10 minutes a day or even a few times a week really goes a long way for me to feel a little bit more calm and confident and not let things affect me as much as they probably would if I didn’t take a step back and look at the big picture.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, that they say it back to you frequently?

Erica Mandy
Well, I have to say, I mean, I am so passionate about helping people stay informed, that when I hear, my audience does say it back to me often, that they feel depressed and overwhelmed by the news and that this helps them stay informed. So, I think just this idea, you know, going back to that Pew research that it’s actually true, people always nod their head when they say, “Well, people kind of feel depressed by the news.”

That really gets people’s attention because it’s so true and I think a lot of people can relate to that. And so, again, that, the idea that we can help people stay informed and stay part of the national conversation, I think goes a long way.

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

Erica Mandy
I would just say go to theNewsWorthy.com. That has all my social links, a way to contact me, and you can check out the show.

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

Erica Mandy
Yes. I would say read the next email out loud to yourself and see if you catch anything that can be changed. And also think about what your end goal is with that email or whatever communication that you are doing. Do you want to help explain something? Are you doing it like a human? Or are you trying to get the next steps in a project?

Because I think, too often, people forget that they’re so worried about what something sounds like that they forget the overall goal of that communication. And sometimes it’s to setup a meeting, right? So, let’s make sure we put at the end of the email, “Here are a few dates that we can setup this meeting.” And think about what your goal is for that particular piece of communication.

Pete Mockaitis
Erica, thank you. This has been a ton of fun. I wish you and theNewsWorthy tons of luck.

Erica Mandy
Thank you so much. This was fun.

486: How to Build Powerful Relationships, Better with Dave Stachowiak

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Dave Stachowiak shares how to develop the strongest personal and professional relationships.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The productivity hack that helps you be more present
  2. The under-appreciated value of small talk
  3. What to do when you don’t like networking

About Dave

Dave Stachowiak is the host and founder of Coaching for Leaders, a top-rated leadership podcast downloaded over 10 million times. With more than 15 years of leadership at Dale Carnegie and a thriving, global leadership academy, Dave helps leaders discover practical wisdom, build meaningful relationships, and create movement for genuine results. He’s served clients including Boeing, The University of California, and the United States Air Force. Forbes named him one of the 25 Professional Networking Experts to watch.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Dave Stachowiak Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Dave, welcome back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Dave Stachowiak
Pete, thanks for the invitation. I’m pleased to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you, whether it’s being recorded or not. So, it’s been a lot of good, fun things that have happened since you last appeared on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast. And I’m anxious and excited to talk about building relationships because I think you’re really a master of this. But first, I want to talk about your relationship with your wife, Bonni, who’s also a podcaster. What is that like?

Dave Stachowiak
Well, Bonni and I are just best friends. We just have had the best time together as a couple in the 15, 16 years that we’ve known each other now. And the question I often get from people is they say, “What is it like to work with your spouse?” And I suppose it’s a hard question to answer because I don’t know anything different, right? And I just have found it to be a tremendous blessing for me, and I think she would say the same thing, that we both work in related fields, we both host podcasts.

And the amount of learning and perspective that I get from her in any given week or month when we’re talking about things is just tremendously valuable to me. And I think she would say the same for things that I help her with. And so, we are better together, way better together than either of us would be separately from a business standpoint but also, more importantly, all the personal things too.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to get your big picture, I guess, start with your philosophy when it comes to beginning and building relationships, and I mean, primarily, like professional relationships, but friendships can count too. As I have just sort of watched you over these years, it’s pretty clear that you’re very good at this. And I want to kind of first dig into sort of what’s your mindset or philosophy when it comes to people, networking, connecting, relationship-building, that whole world?

Dave Stachowiak
Well, thank you very much for the kind words, first of all, because I do feel very much like this was a learned skill. It was not something I was naturally good at for a good portion of my life. And to answer your question directly, philosophy, I think it really comes back to something that I learned from Zig Ziglar back when I used to listen to his tapes and driving around in my pickup truck years ago, that you can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.

And so, I’ve really tried to build my relationships around that. I, and we, have really tried to build our business around that, of, “How do we help and serve others well?” And if we do that really well, and our heart and our intention is there consistently, that the other things sort of take care of themselves. And I think, largely, I found that to be very true throughout my career, that if I can get over worrying about myself—which is not always easy to do, right?—but if I can get past that human trap that we all find ourselves in, and on my better days of really think about, “How do I serve people well?” that those are the times that I do my best work.

And when I’m worried about myself, or I’m thinking about just business or things like that first, then I don’t do as well, and that’s very much been my experience, too, throughout my career when I’ve made big missteps, that’s where I’ve fallen short.

Pete Mockaitis
And can we sort of zoom into your brain and your internal self-talk a bit in terms of what are some sort of self-oriented kind of internal conversations versus service-oriented internal conversations? Because I imagine it’s entirely possible to be performing the same tasks with a different worldview, philosophy.

Dave Stachowiak
Yes, of course. And, I, for years, was an instructor for Dale Carnegie. And one of the questions that would come up around the book that Carnegie is known for, which is How to Win Friends and Influence People, which, by the way, is a marvelous book and everyone should read it if you haven’t, the question that would often come up in training programs was, “Well, couldn’t you use these tactics and strategies in this book to manipulate people?”

And the answer is, “Of course, you can. Of course, you could.” Anything, just about any principle, and the things you talk about on the show here, Pete, could be used for nefarious reasons. And so, when I think about great relationships, and the relationships in my life that are really amazing—and Bonni is probably the best example of that—I really do try to think of both parties benefiting from it.

And I see it as kind of like a pendulum. On one side of it—and we’ve all have this where we’ve had relationships where the other party seems to benefit a lot from the relationship and we don’t very much. And if that happens consistently over time, it breeds a lot of resentful feelings in ourselves about that relationship.

And then the opposite end of that is that I benefit a ton from the relationship and the other party doesn’t or benefits very little from it. And that’s, to me, manipulation. If I go into a relationship with the intention of, “I’m going to get as much out of this relationship as I can. I don’t really care that much about whether the other party gets anything out of it,” then that’s manipulative. And the same tactics can apply in both those situations. The difference is the mindset.

And so, what I am trying to do most of the time is to zero in on the center, which is, “How do I create relationships where I get something of value and the other party gets something of value too?” And that is where I think the sweet spot really is. It’s not so much that the tactics, the strategies, the things you would do, the things you would say. The questions you may ask are substantially different, but it’s the intention behind it. It’s the intention of wanting to see both people do well, both organizations do well if it’s organization-to-organization. And that is where I think the art is in—really trying to do that consistently.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ve just been re-listening to Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and I hear his voice, “Think win-win,” in my head right now as you’re unpacking this and that’s really dead-on. And it’s interesting, even if you are doing a lot of benefitting, it’s sort of like, “I feel bad either way.” It’s like, “I’m not getting much value out of this,” or, “I am getting too much from this relationship.” I’m thinking about a time I emailed Scott Anthony Barlow…

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, yes, our mutual pal.

Pete Mockaitis
…of the Happen to Your Career podcast, which is excellent. And I remember one time, I said, “You’ve just done so much for me, the urge to reciprocate is very strong with me. So, is there anything that you need?” And it was cool, and he said, “Oh, reciprocation. That’s kind. I feel the same way. Thank you.”

And I think that’s really a beautiful thing. It’s just sort of like almost like an embarrassment of riches. It’s like you are receiving so much and then the other person is also receiving so much, and I think sometimes we might discount our own contributions to others, especially if there’s maybe some self-esteem issues in the mix. So, yeah, I’m right with you in having lots of value both ways.

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah, indeed. And you also allude to a point which I think is really important. But in the micro-moment of a particular interaction, or particular season, or particular week, or a project, that this balance may not always be there, right? But it’s over the course of the relationship long-term. And coming back to Bonni, speaking about something that’s long term for a lot of us is our partnerships and marriage. In our case, there are absolutely times, and even seasons, in our life, in our marriage, where one party has benefited more from something else than the other party did, or something was really inconvenient to someone in their career at that time because someone else made a choice to do something differently. And we’ve both been on both sides of that.

So, there are times that, you know, it’s felt that there are certain things that I felt more resentful, and there’s also times that things have felt like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m getting more benefit in this than she is.” What I think is really key is to think about the big picture, like over the course of months and years of, “Are we pretty well-balanced on this as a relationship as a whole?” And I think that’s where the greatest beneficial relationships, friendships, over time come from, is really finding ways for, not just individual interactions, but over time for both parties to really feel like they’re getting something that’s truly, truly valuable to each person.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious how you go about sort of eliciting, questioning, discovering what really would be the most valuable to people?

Dave Stachowiak
Questions. The things that I tend to start with is I think very little about script anymore and I think a lot about structure. And so, let me explain that. When I started, years ago I was working with Dale Carnegie, and my job was to go out and talk to people who were taking classes through our programs. And my boss, at the time, said, “You need to go and have a conversation with every single person who enrolls in one of our courses, and sit down with them one-on-one.” This was before the days of video conferencing.

And so, I would drive all around southern California every day and I’d go have these meetings, and sometimes I had six, seven meetings in a day, it would be half-hour, 45-minute meetings. And what I discovered over the course of doing this several years, and iterations of meeting after meeting, day after day, week after week, is the conversations where I really found, like I ended up serving people well and we built a good connection, and we had a great relationship, and they actually got more out of the experience, were the conversations that I didn’t walk into with a script, but I walked into with the intention of, “How can I discover as much about this person in the next 25 or 30 minutes as possible, and then at the very end, help to maybe make a few connections as far as how we can help?”

And those conversations would go really well for the most part where I would stumble and have a lot more difficulty, especially early on as I started to do this, I’d walk in with a script, I’d walk in exactly with what the questions were going to be, or where I was going to go next, and having overthought the interaction instead of just coming in with intention and curiosity.

And so, iterations of that year after year, I found that if I come in with a structure of thinking about, “How can I discover more about this person?” and I set aside the script, that that curiosity, that genuine desire to learn would end up bringing us some really wonderful places, I would help that person to get a lot from the relationship. And then, of course, we would benefit too because they do work with us.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’m thinking we had a guest, Rob Jolles, who did a lot of sales training, and he sort of said, “They pay me all this money to go around and talk about how to sell better, but it really just drills down to ask questions and listen.”

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s what I found on the receiving end of, I guess, potential sales conversations. It’s like the folks who do that, I go, “Yes, this person cares about me, they get me, they’re trying to give me the best they can.” And those who don’t, I don’t have a lot of rapport or goodwill. It’s sort of like, “Hurry up and tell me the price so I can end this conversation.”

Dave Stachowiak
Well, it’s funny you bring that up as a sales interaction. We, too, have a bunch of work done on our house for a situation I won’t bore you with—it’s not that interesting—but we ended up spending a bunch of time talking to contractors this week. It’s one of those things. I had three different contractors come in one day to talk through this situation and it’s just fascinating, watching the different processes of how people approach influencing, right, because they all, of course, want you to do business with them.

And some people have their script. They know exactly what they’re going to say, in what order, for the most part, and they may go off it a little bit. And one person, in particular, came in and said, “Tell me what questions you have and what’s important to you in this project and start there.” And it was a totally different kind of a conversation, and that’s just one aspect of it. But what you said a minute ago, Pete, I’m just thinking ports of listening, but then also being curious and being willing to ask the second or third question, and listening for meaning and what someone is not saying, those are the things that tend to open up a really wonderful—if not a relationship, at least an understanding between two people that I think is really missing in a lot of interactions, certainly in our North American business culture.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really good stuff. And I’d love to hear then, they ask, that contractor, “What’s important to you?” and that was powerful. One of the things you’ve asked me a couple of times as I kind of am rattling on about an issue, and you just sort of say, “What are you trying to accomplish here?” I was like, “Oh, yeah,” and it really just brings a bundle of clarity in a hurry and it’s so basic and fundamental, and I’m often kind of afraid to ask that. I’m wondering, are there any other kind of power questions that seem to do volumes when it comes to producing that insight?

Dave Stachowiak
Well, a couple. So, one of them, to connect to what you just said, I find in the work I do, especially, which is a lot of coaching, facilitation, helping leaders get better through conversation, is really the focus of my work. I often find that we get down into the minutiae of something and it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. So, I often find myself bringing people back to kind of the 35,000-foot level, saying, “What are you trying to accomplish on this? Like, big picture, like three months from now, what would be a success here?”

And it is easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the individual meat here, the individual moment, and to lose sight of that big picture. And I think to the work of David Allen, the bestselling author of Getting Things Done and I really love his two principles, I think he said that there’s really only two problems that people have. One is, “Where are you going?” and then, secondly, is, “What’s the next step?”

And so much of what I find, especially in my work with leaders, are those two things. It’s interesting how often there isn’t clarity on especially the first one, “Where are we going?” and then the next step of, one or both of those is not clear. And when the clarity comes through a few of those questions, then the tactical stuff kind of comes together, it makes sense. Like, “Oh, okay. Well, if we’re going here in a year, then it makes sense that we’d spend the next 90 days doing this.”

But the other, on a bigger picture, Pete, to your question of, like, “What are some questions that just start off conversations?” We all run into this situation in life on a fairly regular basis, almost daily for most of us, in, I run into someone, I meet them, I’m introduced in some capacity, either they are a customer, or I’m running into another parent at Back to School Night, or I’m on the sports field and I’m running into someone I’ve never met before, whatever, and all of a sudden we’re starting a conversation. And what do we do to begin that conversation?

And a question that I really like that I’ve used many, many times is, “What’s keeping you busy in life these days?” And I’d like to ask really broad, open-ended, general questions like that, and then stop and listen for where someone goes with that. Because that is a question that almost anyone can answer and they can kind of take in any direction they want to go. If they want to talk about work — great. If they want to talk about their kids — great. If they want to talk about a hobby — fabulous.

But then I listen for where they go with that, and then if I’m doing a good job of listening and being curious, then I just follow them down the path, they’re like, “Oh, you really like to spend time going to the beach. Tell me, where do you go? Like, what kind of things do you like to do at the beach?” Or, “My job is really busy right now.” “Oh, what’s causing it to be so busy?” And then you start to have a conversation that is following their agenda and their path versus me imposing what my agenda or my path might be.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Good stuff. So, you mentioned that this was a learned skill for you and that you didn’t always have it. I understand there’s a time in your career where you failed with this in a big way.

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, my gosh, so many times. It’s hard for me to nail down just one. I grew up, and I’m not sure what caused this, I’m sure there’s some psychology behind it, but I grew up with a view of the world that’s very black and white, and things were right or wrong, and there wasn’t necessarily a lot of gray zone in between there.

And I can remember very early on in my career, I was the general manager of an education center, and I had this very distinct memory of a couple years into my role of a customer coming into our center, and they get signed an agreement for a first month of our program and had paid some money. I don’t remember the logistics of how the agreement came, but they had basically signed this agreement, and if they didn’t cancel, they got charged for the next month, that kind of a thing.

And, long story short, whatever, I don’t remember the details anymore, but the customer didn’t do what they were supposed to do. They were supposed to cancel something by a certain day or send a letter or something, and they didn’t, and so they got charged for the next month. And they came to us, as any customer would in that kind of situation, and said, “You know, what happened? We got charged again. We didn’t use this service,” or whatever. And, Pete, it didn’t compute to me that we would do anything different other than follow the rule of the contract that was there and not refund them for it. And they were upset, they were really, really mad.

I remember talking on the phone with this gentleman and he was angry. He was yelling at me on the phone. And I was very polite, I was very professional, but I said, “Well, you didn’t submit the document by the day and so we can’t make an exception to a policy that we have as a business.” And so, he called my regional manager to blame him.

And, Pete, I called the regional manager, too, and I made my case, and I was right. In the letter of the law, a contract, I was absolutely right. And I convinced my regional manager I was right, I convinced his boss I was right, I convinced her boss that I was right. This whole thing.

Pete Mockaitis
How long did this take?

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, days, Pete, days of my life.

Pete Mockaitis
The boss’ boss’ boss.

Dave Stachowiak
It did. It went all the way up to the desk of the person right below the CEO of the company who got one whiff of it and was like, “What on earth?” She must’ve seen it and just like banging her head against the wall. This whole thing, when I tell you the dollar amount, you’ll just be horrified. It was over like $120. And I had spent days convincing everyone in our chain of command that I was right, I had made the case, and the customer, of course, at this point was livid, and our senior executive finally put an end to the misery, and saying, “Refund the customer.” And I was livid, Pete. I was absolutely livid. And I told my regional manager, “I’m not going to follow through on her directive.”

There’s not a lot of times in my life where—I’ve never been in the military, but I’ve got a direct order to do something, but it was a clear direct order, “Refund this customer.” And so, I issued the refund, I’m like, “Okay. Well, whatever. I lost and this issue is done.” And, of course, it wasn’t done. I can recall seven months later, families in the community would come into our business and they would talk to us about the program, and people would say, “Oh, I really like what you’re doing and we’d love to sign up our family for this membership. But I heard that you all treat people really poorly when disputes come up.”

And this particular family, they had gone around and talked in the community about just what a poor job we had done as a business, and by we, I mean me, of treating someone poorly. And it had never occurred to me, Pete, to do anything different than that, that we had this contract, we have these rules, we ask customers to follow them, and when customers didn’t, and of course I was right in the letter of the law, but I wasn’t using common sense.

And that whole situation, and I’m embarrassed to say, I can’t even remember the name of the people involved, of the customers. I remember all the people on our side, I don’t remember the name of the customer. And that was 20 years ago. And shortly after that happened, it really caused me to do a lot of soul searching around not just customer service but more broadly, “How do I handle relationships in my life when something happens and something didn’t work for another party?”

And I am proud to say there’s a lot of things I haven’t figured out in life and I still make mistakes, but that is something I have shifted 180 degrees on where, a year later, I became known as the champion in the business, and the person that, “We do not have fights with customers. We find a way to solve problems.” But it was not something that came naturally to me. And I think that for a lot of us, like, we get in those situations where there’s a really rigid framework, or there’s expectations, and we don’t think sometimes to step back and really think about, “I guess there’s a framework here, but what are we trying to do in order to actually serve this person? And does the framework sometimes get in the way of serving this person well?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s very well-said. And it’s, really, I think a lot about sort of the letter of the law and the spirit of the law and I guess in certain circumstances, like the IRS, they don’t really care about the spirit of the law.

Dave Stachowiak
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
But in most sort of human interactions like friend to friend, or business to customer, the spirit of the law matters plenty. And so, the spirit of the law is, “Hey, don’t flagrantly abuse the subscription to get way more than you paid for.” And if there’s sort of a day or a couple grace period, then by all means do that. And even credit card companies, which don’t have the best reputations for delighting customers, will usually waive a late fee if you give them a call and ask.

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, yeah, absolutely. You know, we’re all human beings trying to get through life, right? And, at the end of the day, there’s policies and there’s structures of course, but like we can treat people in a human way. It’s funny you mentioned the IRS. Speaking of the IRS, I had this funny situation where the IRS sent us a cheque a couple of years ago, and I was thinking, “We’re not owed a cheque by the IRS. Like, what is this money doing here?”

And so, I sent it back. And it turned out we really were owed the money. We had made a mistake on our taxes. And so, long story, I had sent the cheque back, and you know how it is, it takes forever to kind of figure that out. But the IRS was perfectly wonderful. Like, I sent them a letter, I explained the situation, what happened, why I was an idiot, and you know what? They were gracious. I think it was even they sent back this funny letter of like, “Oh, no worries. Have fun with the money.”

I was like, if you really stop and take the time to think, like, “Okay, how do I explain this to the other party? How do I walk through what happened? How do I think about it from their perspective of having to handle thousands of these situations, and just make it as easy as possible?” how quickly things can resolve themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is good, that you talked to some good folks there. And I have as well had some good phone conversations with the IRS when you got the actual people there.

Well, so in addition to that worldview, I’m intrigued to hear about sort of like when you’re in the actual moment of conversing with someone and you’re curious and you’re listening, it really seems to me as though you just sort of have all the time in the world. You’re in no rush and I, or the person you’re talking to, is the center of your universe. And I’m curious how you do that so consistently when I observe you. It’s impressive.

I don’t know if you’re meditating or if you’ve got super GTD, Getting Things Done practices so everything is off of your mind, or you just feel well-equipped for all of life’s many demands. But I don’t get a whiff of being rushed from you. And, frankly, I’d like more of that in my life when I’m conversing with people. So, what are your secrets?

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, wow. Well, thank you. That’s very kind of you to say. Hmm, what would be my secrets on that? I guess I would say two things. I was not a popular kid. I was always the kid who was picked last for a sports team. I hope they do this differently in schools now than they did when I was a kid. I didn’t have a ton of close friends when I was a really young kid, and I was, and still am, in some ways, the classic introvert.

And so, I know what it feels like to be unheard and unnoticed. And I think that I have a wish and a desire for the places where I have the privilege to connect with people—which is very, very few places in life—but the places where I do have that privilege, if I can create a space, or at least a few moments, of being heard and being seen, to me there’s something that speaks to me at a visceral, fundamental values-level of just being seen and being heard. So, I think that’s the value behind it that drives it for me.

On a practical level, I don’t use a task list. I run my day off a calendar. And I forget who I got this hack from a while back, but someone had done some research on looking at the most successful people. I don’t know how they figured out who was successful or who wasn’t, but they figured and they looked at people how they planned their day. It may have been Kevin Cruz, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis
That does sound right.

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah, it may have been Kevin Cruz. I think I heard an interview with him. And what was interesting is, they found, and he found, I think, that if you look at the people who are really successful, that they tend to run their days off calendars not off task lists. And I thought, “Oh, interesting.” So, I started really working my day around a calendar of, I have blocked an hour, or two hours, or four hours, or half hour, whatever time, to do this. And that ends up benefiting me in a couple of key ways.

First of all, I’m really bad with a task list because I just am going to chase whatever the shiny thing is, or what the thing is I feel like doing at the moment, which usually is not what I should be working on, right? So, if I had to spend time in advance, like usually the week before, thinking through, “Oh, what should I really be doing on Thursday morning? What would be the best use of my time?” I make way better decisions than if I try to make that decision in the moment.

But the other really good side effect of that is—what you described—is I already have Thursday morning from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. blocked off so I know that that’s my time with Scott, or with Pete, or with Bonni, or whoever in my life that is important, either professionally or personally. And it makes it easier to set aside everything else and to stay there in the moment because I’m not in the moment trying to decide, “What should I be doing? What should I be doing right now? What should I be doing?” because I’ve already done that.

It’s not that I don’t have all that chaos going in my mind, I just try to confine it to once a week so I go through that process. And then when it comes to the day, I just work the calendar that day. And that allows me to then be more present with someone. I don’t need to be sitting there thinking like, “What’s next on my task list?” because that’s already got thought through in advance. Instead I can be present with the person I’m with. And I am sure there are times I fail at that a lot but I know that I am better than I was when I used to run my day off a task list.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. That’s great. And so, I’m curious then, over time do you just have the discipline, such that when it says you’re doing this thing on your calendar, you consistently just do that thing?

Dave Stachowiak
Consistently is probably a stretch even now. There are days that I’m really, really good and really disciplined, and there’s days I completely go off the rails, and most days are somewhere in between, right? But I’m generally pretty good at getting the big things done if I blocked two hours to do something of significance. I generally do that. It may not always be in the exact two-hour timeframe I found, but I generally have done that.
And by the virtue of putting together a calendar, there ends up being, “Okay, I’ve blocked two hours to do this, an hour to do that, and two hours to do that.” What order they happen in, what time of the day, what gets pushed because some other meeting pops up, or something like that happens, or sometimes something gets pushed to the next day or next week, which happens all the time.

But just having gone through the thinking about that, I’m thinking usually in the framework of, “Okay, there’s two or three big things I need to get done today I said I’m going to do,” and if it turns out that something is going to prevent me from doing those, then I need to make a choice. I need to make a choice to be able to say to the person, or persons, who are requesting time or resources, “I’m not able to make that commitment today.” Or, I am able to say to that person, “Oh, yeah, I am able to accommodate that. Here’s what I’m not going to be able to do as a result of that.” Or, I just decide that on my own if it’s something that’s more specific to me.

And what I find, it’s like Eisenhower said years ago, “Plans are worthless, but planning is indispensable.” Having gone through the process of thinking about what’s important, and then when other things come in, I do a better job then, of being able to focus my time on the things that are hopefully the most important things.

Pete Mockaitis
Actually, I never heard that quote before but I love it.

Dave Stachowiak
I’m pretty sure it’s an Eisenhower quote. We may discover after I go through the notes.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s applicable. I’ve kind of worked with a decision matrix before, and it’s sort of like, in a way, the final product output of that decision matrix is like a spreadsheet or something. It doesn’t really matter that much, but having rigorously thought through all the stuff that goes into it, you feel pretty good, like, “Oh, yeah. Okay, it’s clearly option B, right? Boom!”

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah, yeah. And it is really remarkable how spending a little bit of time thinking that through, or thinking about the meeting that’s coming up, or thinking about connection points with someone of significance for a relationship, like, doing some thinking about that in advance, even if it’s just a minute or two, really does make a big difference on how you show up and how present you are or not, and what then drives that interaction.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Well, so I also want to get into a few of your, I don’t know if they’re adages or concepts. But I’ve heard you say that small talk leads to big talk. Tell us about that idea.

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah, I borrowed this from my friend Nathan Czubaj who’s also a Dale Carnegie instructor. He does this beautiful two-minute videos teaching people about human relation skills. I’ll send you the link for it because he’s really masterful at doing it. He made the point recently: if you want to get to big talk, you need to start with small talk. And I thought, “Boy, that’s so brilliant.” That’s one of the things that kind of got indoctrinated in me, and doing all those meetings at Carnegie for years, of hour after hour of connecting with people and sitting down and building relationships.

Because I admit it’s not my core skill set at all, Pete. Like, my core personality—as I mentioned earlier—I’m an introvert by nature. If I walk into a room of 30 people, my first inclination is to go sit in the corner and read a book, or sit at the back of the room, or not to raise my hand. That is where my mind just goes. And, for all kinds of reasons, I’ve learned in life that it’s not always possible, or practical, or even the best decision to do that, right?

So, the thought of doing small talk with people is, I think most people don’t really like small talk. A lot of people say they don’t like small talk. And I really don’t like small talk. You know, the thought of sitting down, having small talk with someone for like 30 minutes is just not at all appealing.

And I really changed my mind on that over the years, of going through and doing all these interactions, and meeting people, and connecting with people, is that if you want to get to big talk with people and talk about things that are really concerning to them, the things that are important in their lives, the things that they’re struggling with, the kinds of conversations that most of us want to have more of in life, that you start with small talk.

And you start small talk with just knowing someone’s name. And that you can’t make that jump. Most of us are not going to sit down with a stranger and get into a very in-depth heartfelt conversation about the most important things in our lives without having built some trust. And if you think about dating, virtually no one goes on a first date and asks someone else to marry them. And yet, for whatever reason, in a lot of our professional relationships, we don’t appreciate the importance of small talk.

And so, I’ve learned to, I don’t know if I would say force myself because I don’t think that’s the way I would frame it, but I’ve certainly learned to lean into small talk more with people over the last decade than I did earlier in my career. And what I’ve discovered is, there’s a lot of times that you end up just having small talk, and that’s fine. And there are some times that small talk leads to really great amazing conversations and beautiful relationships that would never have emerged had the small talk not happened.

And so, I’ve really changed my mind on this, and now I find myself more, it’s still my tendency to walk in a room and be the quieter person, but I do find myself more engaging and just asking a couple of questions, like, “What keeps you busy in the week?” like I mentioned earlier because I find that, oftentimes, that will open the door to then ask the next question. And then the next time you see that person, you know a little bit about them, and then ask the next question. And the possibility for a bigger and more heartfelt relationship to emerge.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I really love that because just having a view that there’s value in small talk can change the entire game because I’ve been there before where it’s like someone mentions, “Oh, so it’s getting hotter out there, huh?” And I was not in the mood, like, “Seriously? Like, is this what we’re going to talk about?”

Dave Stachowiak
Right. And there’s a right way to do small talk and there’s not a right way, right? But let me also address something around small talk, too, because one of the other, I think criticisms, rightfully so, with small talk is, well, people come up and they try to do small talk with me and they just seem really creepy. And I get that. I’ve had people do that to me too.

And I think what keeps it from being creepy and being much more curious is how you do it and the intention behind it. And so, that’s where asking a general question, and then following people where they go, is really meaningful. So, if someone starts talking about their career, I ask them, rather than going on about the weather, or whatever else I was planning already to say, is that I follow them where they go.

So, if they start talking to me about their kids, I follow down that path and I ask questions as they’re telling me more about that. If they talk to me about their career, if they talk to me about their hobbies, I follow that path and I don’t go down a path or a door that they don’t open up, especially for someone that I don’t know very well or I just met the first time.

And I find that I rarely run into that with people where I sense that I’ve stepped on an area that they’re not comfortable talking about. I think the way you keep it curious is that you let them lead you where you want to go, where they want to go rather, and that illuminates the path for the conversation forward. And if they’re driving that, then they are in control and you’re learning about them and you’re learning about one aspect of their lives.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that metaphor there in terms of they open the doors and then you enter them. And I remember one time I had a perfectly bad date and it seems like I kept trying to open some doors, like, “Oh, hey, let’s have some fun, you know, have a conversation.” And then she just sort of didn’t. I’m thinking of the opposite of “yes, and” from improv. It’s just like, “No, not going there,” you know? It’s just sort of like little things like, “Okay, not exactly.” You know, just sort of shut down, not entering this door, not entering that door. And then later I remember she texted, “Oh, I had such a great time.” I was like, “Really? This was a terrible date. Are you just being polite or is that what you…were you having fun? I don’t understand.”

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah. It’s so much about how we ask questions too. And I think about—like going back to that general question of, “What keeps you busy these days?” The generic question that so many people ask is, “What do you do?” right? And there’s so much baggage in that question. First of all, it assumes that the person works, which may or may not be true. They could’ve lost their job today. They could be unemployed. You just never know what’s really going on in a person’s life, right? And maybe they don’t work and they choose not to. Maybe they’re retired. Like, who knows, right?

The other thing that it assumes is, “I like my job enough that I want to talk to a stranger about it.” And that’s absolutely not the case for a lot of people I discovered over the years of, like, gosh, work is work, and it’s not something they really want to talk about outside of the workplace. And then the other question that seems to come up a lot is some version of, “Do you have kids?” at least in the circles I’m in who have young kids, and like, “Oh, do you have kids, family, all that?” And I’ve really tried to avoid ever asking someone a question like that of someone I don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. “We’ve been struggling with infertility for a decade and circumstance.”

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah, as my wife and I did for seven years and almost didn’t have kids. And so, I feel like a tremendous amount of heartache for people who won’t have kids, or for whatever reason children aren’t in their lives, or have chosen not to have children. And, especially here in North American culture, there’s the assumption that, “Well, if you didn’t have kids, what’s going on?” And I don’t want to even go down that route.

If someone opens the door, and the first thing they say is like, “Oh, let me tell you about my kids,” yeah, go for it. Then I’m asking all kinds of questions about kids and family. But I wait for them to open that door. And that’s why that general, like just being really broad at the beginning of asking some of those general questions, just seeing where the conversation goes, I find it’s just a really nice and easy way to start the relationship but also to do it in such a way that honors whoever the person is showing up from.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is so excellent. Dave, I love the way you are just clearly articulating some of the mystery forces for, “Why do I like that person and why don’t I like that person? Why was that a good conversation? Why was that not a good conversation?” You’re just sort of shining a bright light on the distinctions that make the difference. So, this is super valuable. You also have a distinction, I’ve learned, about prioritizing relationships over agenda or content, like when it comes to events or conferences. Tell us about that.

Dave Stachowiak
Yeah, I really do try to think about, if I’m going to show up somewhere, or we’re going to do something, like, “What are we trying to achieve in this?” And I think about you and I. When we first met, we met at a conference for podcasters. Believe it or not, there are conferences for podcasters. And when I showed up at that conference, I wasn’t thinking that much about what would be the sessions I’d go to. In fact, I think I only made one session of that whole conference.

What I was really showing up to do was to build relationships with some key folks, and you were one of them, and with the intention that those relationships would go long term. And, in fact, you and I and a bunch of other podcasters work together regularly and have a mastermind together where we’re helping each other.

And that was the direct result of showing up for that event and thinking in advance, “What are the relationships that I want to build?” versus “What’s the next thing on the agenda at this conference?” And that’s because that’s what most people do, right? They show up at a conference, or an event, or professional development activity, and they follow whatever has been laid out. And, by the way, that’s a wonderful place to start. And, not or, and what else do you want to get out of that experience for you and how can you then make decisions that will help you to really get out of that experience, what’s most meaningful and what’s most beneficial? And most people don’t spend the time to do that.

So, if you are someone who’s willing to do that, and take the lead on that a bit, that’s something that I think is really special. As much as I’m an introvert—and I still don’t know what drove me to do this, Pete—years ago when I attended a conference, and I didn’t know hardly anyone at the conference, I had traveled internationally to this event, there was a whole bunch of people in the room, that was like, “Wow, there’s a lot of people here that I feel that I’d like to meet and yet I don’t know hardly anyone. Like, what can I do to build relationships?”

And there was a breakout session at one point, it’s hard for me to imagine me doing this 20 years ago, but at the end of this breakout session I just stood up as people were leaving the room, and I said, “Hey, for anyone who would like to, I think it would just be fun to have a conversation about this wonderful workshop we’ve just experienced, and lunch is next. I am going down to this restaurant in the hotel, or whatever it was, and anyone who’d like to join me, I’d just love to have you join me for a conversation about this.”

And like 20 people followed me out of the room. I was amazed, Pete. And that was kind of one of the first times, I was like, “Oh, if you show up with some intention around relationships, it’s really interesting what you can create.” And it was a wonderful experience because of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love that so much because I’ve been there. I’m in the conference, it’s like, “Okay, what’s coming up? I really don’t have a plan. I don’t really know anybody in my vicinity.” And then it’s like, “Oh, it’s a lifeline. Yes, now I have a lunch plan. You’ve saved the day.”

Dave Stachowiak
Well, that’s what happened, there’s a couple of other people who did end up coming with me that day, or a couple said, “I’m so glad you said that. I was kind of thinking that in the back of my mind but I never would’ve thought for me to do it.” And I’m not sure what possessed me to do it in that moment, but I’m so glad that I did.

And I think that that’s the, if we, all of us, can stop for a minute once in a while, and just like, “Okay, let’s stop and think about, like what’s the human relationship piece of this? How can I get better connected with people? How can I care genuinely about folks better?” And if we’re willing to, in most situations, stop and think about that for a minute, we can pretty quickly think about, like, “Okay, what could I do to make a more genuine connection in this case?” And I still struggle with that every day but I’m better at it than I was five years ago.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that. And what’s interesting is I’m thinking now in terms of the sort of content versus relationships. I was recently at Podcast Movement again, and I wanted to go to this session, I thought it’d be really interesting but I just got caught up talking to people, which is a good problem to have. But then afterwards, as some people were leaving the session, and I kind of got a two-for-one deal because I said, “Oh, man, I really wanted to make it in the session but I kept bumping into people. What were some of your biggest takeaways?” And they said, “Oh, yeah, this, this, and this.” “Oh, that’s really cool.” And so then now I’m talking to somebody.

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, you’re smart, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And I got the content and a new relationship in less time. It’s like, “Oh, I should do this all the time.”

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, super smart. Yeah, we’ve done a couple episodes, and I’m sure you have too over the years, of just how to really kind of rethink showing up, specifically at conference and building connections with people. Especially nowadays, so many conferences. You can get the slides afterwards, you can get the audio, you can get the video, almost all conferences have some ability to do that online now.

And so, the missing the content piece is even less an issue than it used to be. But the relationship-building, you can often only do in that moment, at least in a natural, organic ways. So, I think being able to think about that, prioritize that, is really key. And I found that in most situations in life and in business, if I will spend some time upfront building the relationship, the content, the project, the issue, the disagreement, whatever else that ends up coming up in the course of work, which does for all of us, ends up not being as big an issue because we already have a relationship, we already have trust, or at least some trust, and that stuff gets resolved faster.

And if you don’t have that, then all of that consumes your time. It becomes a huge issue and a lot of effort like me years ago spending days of my life trying to save $120 on my P&L, right, and being right more importantly. But at what cost? So, it feels better but it’s also good business too.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think, if anyone is thinking, “Oh, my gosh, relationship-building sounds great and fun, but I’m so busy. I got so much stuff to deal with. There’s no time for it.” It sounds like you’re positing that, in fact, the time you invest in building these relationships will be more than pay back by time saved dealing with the stuff.

Dave Stachowiak
It’s certainly been my experience. And the common frustration point I hear from people is they’ll say some version of, “Well, I don’t like networking. I don’t want to go to networking events.” And, Pete, the thought of going to a “networking event” is like the last thing that I want to be doing too, so I totally get that criticism of it.

And, for me, I just think like, “How many people in my life today that I’m already going to see, can I serve in some way?” Because for most of us, that is a non-zero number. There is one or two or five or 20 people that we’re already going to see in meetings, that we’re already going to run into at our kid’s school, that we’re already going to interact with in the grocery store, whatever the venue is. And what can I do to get a little bit better at noticing people and taking the time to ask a question and to learn something about them, maybe even just taking the time to learn someone’s name?

You don’t need to go to a networking event to find opportunities for that. In fact, I think it’s better if we don’t. Most of us have plenty of work to do with the relationships we already have in our lives to get better at doing that, and probably are the relationships that are most important to us anyway, so why not start there.

I know I have so much work undone with so many relationships with people I already know that I’d like to do a better job, being a better friend, a better husband, a better dad, a better consultant of all the things I do, and so I’m always glad to meet new people. But, really, my focus tends to be the people I’m already connected with of, “How can I get better with the people I already know?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Dave, we got a lot of good stuff here. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear a couple of your favorite things?

Dave Stachowiak
Oh, gosh. I just think it’s not about you. It’s the same thing I tell folks when they’re asking for advice on giving a really good presentation. I taught presentation skills for many years for Carnegie and I would, at the very beginning of the six-week course, I would get up in front of the room, and I’d say, “Here’s the key thing to know about this class in four words. It’s not about you. It’s about the audience. If you’re coming to give a presentation, you already know everything you’re going to present. And, yeah, there may be some benefit you get if it goes well, but it’s really about how do you serve the audience well.”

And I think relationships are very similar. And to my point earlier, like in the long run, yeah, both parties should benefit, but don’t worry about that at the start, “How can I help the other person? How can I serve? How can I listen? How can I at least remember their name, if nothing else?” And if I am willing to do that, and it not to be about me, at least for a couple of minutes, that I think the people are willing to do that go way further than most people are willing to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Dave, thank you. So much good stuff. Could you share with us a favorite book?

Dave Stachowiak
How to Win Friends & Influence People is always my favorite recommendation. But since I already mentioned that, the other one which fits in beautifully with this conversation is The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier. Michael has done fabulous work at figuring out what are seven great questions that leaders can ask that do so much of what we talked about today in helping leaders to be curious a few minutes more. And it is the best book I’ve seen in the last decade on helping people to be more coach-like which most of us want to be.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Dave Stachowiak
My favorite habit is getting out and going for a long three-, four-, five-mile run because my body is better afterwards but my thinking is also better.

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

Dave Stachowiak
CoachingForLeaders.com.

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

Dave Stachowiak
Don’t worry about confidence. Try to do a little bit of courage. Pete, you and I both went to the University of Illinois, and when I showed up for my first day of my freshman year, I lived in a residence hall. And the RA, the resident advisor, of that hall got everyone together, it was the middle of August, it was like 95 degrees, no one wanted to be there in this big hall meeting, I remember. He was trying to take volunteers for people to serve as floor officers, and no one wanted to run.

And so, eventually, this meeting got to the point where he said, “Well, who would just like to be the president of our floor this year?” And I thought back to what a poor job I had done throughout my life up to that point, of leaning into discomfort a little bit, of being willing to raise my hand, of being willing to speak up. And I sort of raised my hand.

You know how you raise your hand for something, Pete, once in a while, like, you kind of want to get credit for having volunteered but you don’t really want to be picked? I sort of sheepishly started to raise my hand a little bit, and my hand was like halfway up, and he’s like, “Dave, he’ll do it!” And like everyone else in the room was like, “Whew!” like breathed a sigh of relief, like oh my gosh I immediately regretted it.

And it was the best thing I ever did in my life because I can trace back that moment to campus leadership, to getting recruited for some organizations, to getting to move cross country, to the jobs that I had, to meeting Bonni, my wife, to doing the work I’m doing today. Had I not raised my hand sheepishly that day, I would not be doing this.

And so, all that to say, it didn’t come with confidence at all, and it still doesn’t a lot of days, but it came with a little bit of courage. And so, my invitation to anyone listening is don’t wait for confidence, but be willing today to do something, maybe just one little thing that’s a little bit courageous. And if you do, you will open up new doors.

Pete Mockaitis
Dave, thank you. This has been such a treat. You have been a blessing in my life and now for all these listeners. So, thank you and keep doing what you’re doing.

Dave Stachowiak
The feeling is mutual. Thank you, Pete, for all the work you do on this fabulous show.