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.

834: How to End Micromanagement Once and For All with Lia Garvin

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Lia Garvin discusses how employees and managers can work together to put an end to micromanaging.

— YOU’LL LEARN — 
1) The three telltale signs of micromanaging.
2) How micromanaging makes everyone less effective.
3) How to expertly respond to a micromanager.

— ABOUT LIA GARVIN — 
Lia Garvin is the bestselling author of Unstuck, TEDx speaker and workplace strategist with experience leading team operations across Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Bank of America. As the Founder of the The Workplace Reframe organizational strategy firm, she equips innovative organizations of any size and industry with the tools to cultivate inclusive, motivated, high performing teams resulting in higher retention, more efficiency, and better business results. She is a sought after expert in the media, featured across Inc, FastCompany, ABC News, CNN Business, US News & World Report, HBR, and more.
• LinkedIn: Lia Garvin
• Website: LiaGarvin.com

— RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THE SHOW — 
• Tool: Otter.ai
• Study: Women in the Workplace study
• Book: Lead to Win: How to Be a Powerful, Impactful, Influential Leader in Any Environment by Carla Harris

— THANK YOU SPONSORS! — 
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Lia Garvin Interview Transcript

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

Lia Garvin
Thank you so much for having me. So excited to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into what you’ve been up to lately, and I understand, in particular, you have developed a fascination with the topic of micromanagement. What’s the scoop here?

Lia Garvin
Yes, with micromanagement and how to end it once and for all, I would say.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, lay it on us, what’s the story?

Lia Garvin
Yeah. Since we last met, I actually ended up leaving my corporate job and launching an organizational consulting business really dedicated to bringing out the best in teams. And since we’ve all heard people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers, diving in and really making sure managers are equipped with the tools they need to be effective and empower their teams, that was one of the first places that I wanted to start. And then micromanaging was one of the biggest sorts of acute problems in that space.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I’ve heard it many a time. So, maybe to kick it off, could you precisely define what is micromanagement? Because some folks will say, “Oh, no, no, that’s just management,” like if there’s a gray zone. Is there a bright dividing line between, “This is when you’ve gone too far, buddy”?

Lia Garvin
So, I think a lot does depend on the kind of job and the industry, so I’ll say that. I don’t think there are the hard and fast answer that applies to every situation, and I think that’s where it can get tricky because if we’re used to something in one environment, we may be bringing that to the next environment. Let’s say we’re in a sort of job where instructions need to be followed exactly one specific way. And if you deviate from that, it’s a real problem, maybe a safety issue.

Let’s say we bring that into a job that’s more about ideas and many paths to success, then you’re going to be in a real complex. So, I think the first thing to do before we dive into how to recognize if you’re micromanaging is if you’re a manager, to being open to adjusting, and saying, “Hey, what’s the right way to interact with my teams depending on what kind of the working norms are in this team?”

So, as I thought about it a lot, reflected on my own personal experience with many, many managers over the years and feedback that I heard from other colleagues, I think there was three real tells that I landed on around how to know when you’re a micromanager. And the first one is you are spending every waking moment in meetings.

So, this is a big problem that I think has gotten even worse with COVID and remote work and everything we do with a video conference but this is not an excuse to not reflect and say, “Hey, am I in the right meetings?” So, when a manager is in every single meeting, it’s a sign that they’re too far in the weeds, they’re too much in the details. And if you are finding yourself where you have no time to drink a glass of water, go to the bathroom, or eat lunch, there’s an opportunity to let your team members step up.

And so, I would suggest in that situation to take a look at your calendar and see, “Which meetings am I absolutely critical, critical to be at? Am I a decider? Am I approver?” And all the rest, which one of those could you delegate to somebody else to drive?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And what are the other two tells?

Lia Garvin
Number two is everybody’s coming to you for every single little decision, nobody is actually taking action, it’s always coming back to you. This is a sign that people either don’t feel empowered to make decisions, or they think that you want to be involved in making all the decisions. So, if you’re finding yourself where every single kind of question decision comes to you, this is a moment to have a conversation with your teams around what decisions you want to be and should be involved in, and which they’re empowered to run with on their own.

So, I think sometimes one thing I’ve suggested to managers is to classify the kinds of decisions, “Which ones are this category where they need leadership, discussion, and buy-in? And which ones can they push on the organization?” Because if everyone is coming to you, that means they’re responding to a signal you’ve probably sent them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And number three?

Lia Garvin
And the third one is if people are constantly telling you, “Hey, I have bandwidth. I’d like to take more things on,” kind of putting the line out there, and you’re not taking them up on it. It’s a sign that people are asking for you to let go a little bit, and in that moment, it’s important to reflect on, “Hey, am I taking them up on it?”

I think a lot of times we don’t realize how we’re coming across. When we’re at meetings…Oh, my gosh, did you hear that? That was a huge lightning and thunder.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, was that the scraping of the du-du there?

Lia Garvin
No, there’s a huge thunderstorm.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s actually in the environment. I thought, “Oh, hey, we bumped the mic.” It happens. Okay. Well, do you want to try again? The third thing…

Lia Garvin
So, the third thing is when people are continually coming to you and saying, “Hey, I have bandwidth. I want to take on more responsibilities,” or, “What can I help with?” and you’re not necessarily taking them up on it. And this is a sign that people are recognizing that you may be spread really thin as a manager, you’re not noticing it, or you’re holding on to too many things. And when people are actually asking you to let go, that’s a real moment to listen to them and think about that.

And if you’re finding that situation, it’s a moment where you can think about, “Well, what are all the tasks on my plate? What’s everything I have this week or this month? And what are the things I can let go of that are actually worthy for someone else to take on?” Delegating isn’t about giving people all the list of stuff you didn’t want to do, that nobody wants to do.

It’s about finding, “What are the high-impact activities that someone else can do that’s going to be worthwhile because it gives them visibility or development opportunity, or something in line with where they want to go in their career?” So, if we’re finding ourselves in those three places, too meetings, too much control over decision-making, and people are asking for more, that’s a sign, “Oops, I’m in too deep. Got to take a step back and let go a little bit.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s how we know when we’re there. And I’m curious, could we maybe zoom out a little bit on the macro scale, do you have any sense for just what’s the cost of micromanagement? And I don’t know if there’s a study, like billions of dollars, or attrition rates, or percentage of people who say they suffer it. What’s kind of the scope of things here?

Lia Garvin
Yes. So, there’s a lot of data coming out of the Gallup organization around employee engagement going down. And one of the big reasons that’s cited is a micromanager, or feeling your manager either doesn’t have the right sort to skills, is not invested in you, or is not managing effectively. And I think the cost of someone being a micromanager is pretty widespread.

So, first, for the manager themselves, they are so much more likely to reach a state of burnout because they are taking on too much. And so, I think if only it affected the managers, this is already really an expensive cost because people are getting burned out. They’re feeling like, “Okay, I can’t scale right now. Folks are having to do more with less, with layoffs and cutbacks.”

And so, it ends up putting so much more work on someone’s plate and creating more single points of failure. But it’s really detrimental to the broader team because when people can’t step up and own more, they often feel kind of disillusioned with the work. They start losing motivation. I think this is a real contributing factor to quiet quitting, people feeling like, “Well, I’m kind of giving it bare minimum and that’s about it because I’m not really empowered to do more.”

And, also, what can lead to so many people leaving the workforce because they’re not given the space to really grow, to demonstrate their strengths, to solve problems in their own way. So, micromanagement, I think, can really light the spark that starts to have someone questioning, “Do I have a future here on this team?”

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And then I’d love to get your take, what’s your sense of…I’m going to trim that out. Okay, we’ll just see how this goes. All right, Lia, so we’re talking micromanagement. We’ve also had some guests speak about the concept of undermanagement, they’re kind of managers sort of checked out, not paying attention, not really aware of the stuff that folks are working on. Do you have a sense for which is more dangerous?

Lia Garvin
Ooh, I love that. I think it goes back to depending on the situation and, potentially, the level of seniority that you’re managing, the level of complexity of the work. But undermanaging is a serious issue especially for folks that are newer, if there’s no onboarding, if you kind of get hired, you’re working out a year, bedroom, you haven’t seen anybody in person, and you’re trying to figure out how to navigate life in a new company, and your manager said, “Okay, figure it out.”

This can drive that same sense of disconnection with the work and with the company than having someone with all the details because you feel like you’re left on an island and you have no idea what to do. So, I think they both have serious consequences but they both kind of have the same, I would say the issues at its core, of a manager not having potentially the right confidence or the right skillset around how to actually manage effectively.

So, there’s a real skill gap, and that’s what I love to dive in with teams, is just figuring out, “Well, here’s the sharing, the fundamental skills that will help bridge that gap, how someone can feel more comfortable assigning responsibilities, or reining it in a little bit, but finding that balance, finding your own authentic style, and then where to deploy these different tools and different situations.”

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a sense for, given the state of management these days, roughly what proportion of managers are micromanaging, managing about right, versus undermanaging? It may vary wildly by industry, by geography, but what’s your sense on the ground?

Lia Garvin
I got to say I think a lower number are managing just right.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Lia Garvin
I don’t know, I would say, the under and over. I think I know less about, like, the percentages-wise. I think what I would guess is they come as a pair. Micromanaging can often look like that helicopter managing, which you know we’ve all heard of helicopter parenting, where you’re really, really in it and you’re kind of out on the sidelines where I think it can look like both.

And for different people, I think, doing micromanaging and then being absent, that’s a reaction to needing a sense of control, or feeling stressed, or feeling overwhelmed. People sort of fall onto these different patterns. So, I think it could both be a personality type and situational, which is your tendency as a manager when you have this skill gap. But I think, like I said, the lowest, and I got to say I think the lowest percentage would be people that found that balance and are doing it just right.

And that is because, again in this Gallup data, most managers are in the position of a people manager because they’ve been in the company a long time, or they were a really, really strong individual contributor, or they have really strong technical skills, so they’re given a team, and it’s like, “Go for it.” And there are some stuff that’s got to happen between getting a team and leading a team effectively that, I think, not enough companies are investing in.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Well, let’s say we see some of ourselves in that description, we’ll go both sides, as the manager and the managee, or the person working with the manager, if we are the manager and we’re doing some micromanaging, how can we cut it out?

Lia Garvin
So, the first thing I think, one of the actually…I’d say redo.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Lia Garvin
So, I think the biggest thing that managers can do is switch from problem solving to coaching because when managers take on the responsibility of, “A team member brought this up, so I need to solve it for them,” they are never going to teach that person how to fish, so to speak. They’re always going to be needed to solve that problem again and again.

And so, talking to your team members using a coaching mindset, using open-ended questions when someone comes to you, saying, “Hey, I can’t solve this problem,” you’re saying, “Here’s how I would’ve done it.” You jump right in with a solution. That person hears that and maybe they go in, take that solution, and they don’t deploy it exactly as you would, and then they’re still stuck. Or, they take the solution and they deploy it, and it works out well, but then that happens again. Now, they come back to you for another solution.

So, I think when folks come to us with a problem, one of the easiest reframes a manager can do is to ask some open-ended questions, “What do you think went wrong? What are some of the other factors we can consider here? What did you learn here that you want to try next time?” So, these different kinds of open-ended questions allow the problem to be kept in the sort of problem-bringer’s court so that they’re working through the solution.

There’s absolutely opportunity to course-correct, and say, “No, no, no, here are some of the things that I’ve seen go wrong in that situation,” or offer more support, but really keeping that in the other person’s court helps ensure that you’re not holding on to too much control over a problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Anything else?

Lia Garvin
Yeah, I think I mentioned the strategies of making sure you’re checking in with yourself continually. I think for managers, when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed or burned out, or you’re in too many things, to just check in. So, maybe you start and put in the calendar, “Every Friday, I’m going to do a gut track. What does my calendar look like?”

“What kind of questions did people bring me this week? Where does my delegating look like?” so that you’re not letting it get too far where it’s been six months and you realize, “Oh, gosh, I’m in it and I think people are starting to quit, and I didn’t even realize it.” So, I’d say, to really have a routine where you check in on those three tip-offs of being really too far in the weeds so that you can course-correct before it gets worse.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if we are the one being micromanaged, how do we speak up effectively? That could be tricky, that managing up discomfort.

Lia Garvin
Oh, it can be really tricky. And this is why I think sometimes we take the route of just quitting, and going, “Well, I’m going to look for someone because I don’t want to deal with it.” I think a lot of folks struggle with doing that managing up, as you call it out, and giving that feedback.

And so, I think a couple things that I’ve tried in my career, I’ve seen folks find in order to deal with this, are, first, have a conversation with your manager around skills and things that you want to develop so that, at least, you’ve put it out there on, “Hey, here are some projects I’m interested in taking on this year. Here are some different things that I want to be building. Here are some things I’m interested in.”

So, you, first, feel like, “Okay, I’ve done the first step of having the conversation, putting it out there,” to the extent that you feel comfortable. If you’re in a situation where your manager, let’s say, dives in and starts, like, line-editing an email you sent, or telling you who to add to all the invites to a meeting, or whatever is happening that feels a little bit heavy-handed, saying something like, “I’m really excited to take the lead on this and to try and demonstrate that I kind of got this and I’ve figured it out, so I’d love the opportunity to take the first step and then come back to you for feedback.”

I’ve tried this, something along those lines, and it’s been well-received because you’re not saying in an accusatory way. You’re framing it around the way that you’re wanting to learn, and a good manager wants you to be wanting to learn, so it’s a little bit of a win-win there, and you’re still offering them an opportunity to give feedback.

So, you’re not saying, “Get out of here. I got this,” but you’re saying, “Hey, I’d like to try this. And can we check in once I’ve done the first round of it so that I can learn and then you still have an opportunity to give feedback?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, now could you give us some stories, examples, case studies, with just…what’s the word I’m looking for? Let’s see. No pressure. Sometimes I just think…this happens to me a lot, this is where I am in interviewing these days. Sidebar. It’s like I can imagine a dream-come-true response, but just like asking that direct question directly feels invasive, like I’m putting someone on the spot and setting them up to fail. So, that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

So, here’s what I really want, Lia. Give me awesome stories and examples full of so much detail I can feel my skin crawling with dread in self-recognition of the profound discomfort of being in that micromanagement space. So, see, that’s a ton of pressure. It doesn’t feel great. So, like, how does I say that better? That’s what’s going on in my head when I pause, Lia.

Because I like what I said, when you said, like, the specific people to add onto the email, like, “Oh, I can see myself there. Laptop and someone over my shoulder, and pointing, and me being like, ‘I hate this.’” I love that. I love that visceral emotional juiciness, and I want more of it. So, I’m curious if you’ve got some clients or horror stories that you can share with us. And now I’ll just ask that question like a normal person.

Well, Lia, could you give us some really juicy stories of micromanagement and the uncomfortable details folks are living with and, hopefully, some happy endings for how they resolved those issues?

Lia Garvin
Yes, absolutely. So, one of the examples that comes up a lot is with writing and communication. I mentioned line-editing emails, and I worked with folks that have shared they’ve had managers where they had to…let’s say they had to send out an email that’s going to the whole team, maybe a couple hundred people, and the manager wants to read the draft of the email, give inputs, they have 95 iterations.

Then it goes from structure into word choices, then you have a really robust in the Google comments on the side, a discussion of “Do we even want to send this? Is this the right word?” you’re getting grammatical suggestions, you’re getting all sorts of things, another person is added to the chain, that person is removed, we go back to thinking, “Do we want to do this email?” when you’re just supposed to write one email that was going to not really be a big deal. It’s announcing, like, a lunch that’s happening next Friday.

And so, I think this is the kind of thing that happens, is someone either they’re feeling out of control and so they go in and they just go to town on you. Imagining if you’re that person, “I was just trying to send this email out,” and the amount of kind of time and energy being spent on picking apart your little insignificant trivial email, it starts to really feel yucky for that employee.

Pete Mockaitis
It does, indeed. And so then, in that world, do we do just the things you mentioned? How might we say that? Like, “Hey, I’d love to show you I got this. I’d love to demonstrate my skills. I’d like to take the first crack at it.” It sounds like there are multiple cracks taken in this story.

Lia Garvin
Right. Which of the cracks are we…? Well, I think in that situation I might ask, and again it always depends on the relationship with our manager. I want to caveat that because I know some people listening might say, “Well, I can’t say that to my manager.”

So, let’s say if you have a dialogue where you feel like you could say something on the lines of, “It’s looking like we’re spending a lot of time on this email, and I want to better understand which of the situations where we really want to roll up our sleeves and dive in with this level of involvement? Or, which are the ones I can kind of run with to just be done with and get off our list?”

So, I think it can sort of flag, like, “Hey, this is a little bit much,” and also giving opportunity for feedback by asking an open-ended question that doesn’t sound defensive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Could you give us some examples of these questions or key verbiage, sentences you love that can be really handy here?

Lia Garvin
Yes. So, I think a little phrase that’s really useful is “I want to better understand.” Another could be, “So we can all be successful, I’m eager to learn and give this a try on my own, to build up my own skills here.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, “I want to better understand” is way better than “So, what’s your deal, dude?”

Lia Garvin
“What the hell, man?” Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Well, and that really does help you out because that’s, I think, what’s frustrating with the micromanaging situation, is that that’s how I felt, it’s like, “Am I missing something here because it seems like this isn’t that big of a deal? You know, the time and effort and iterations you’re putting on this would make it seem like it is a big deal. So, seriously, help me, like, genuinely, help me understand. Isn’t this just a fun lunch that we’re announcing? Does it matter if everyone goes or doesn’t go?”

And then maybe, sometimes you’ll get a great answer, it’s like, “Well, actually, the issues being discussed at this lunch are very sensitive from a legal and liability perspective, so it’s very important that we don’t say anything that, in the course of a discovery, should we be sued, is going to put…” It’s like, “Oh, I had no idea.”

Lia Garvin
“Well, now I know.” Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
“Well, thank you, that makes a lot of sense why we’re getting into it.” Or, maybe they’ll just chill out, it’s like, “Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry.”

Lia Garvin
Exactly, yeah. And the key here, I think, a couple things, is really it could be frustrating when you’re in that moment, it’s like, “Oh, my God, literally, what’s going on?” When you’re under the micromanagement wrath, it can be very frustrating. But to take a step back, to sort of let that subside, to remove the frustration from the way you’re communicating, and to not come across as defensive, offensive, whatever, whichever one is more appropriate, like to not come forward with that.

Because I think when someone on the counterpart feels accused, it just makes it…it throws the whole thing off, and that’s going to be, I think, someone could say, “Well, of course, it’s important.” Especially, if they had a real big reason, they could think, “How do you not know that? Are you not taking care in time?” So, I think really having the conversation when you’re not feeling defensive or frustrated, really having an open, with curiosity, “I’m genuinely curious around this level of oversight and involvement, I’d love to learn more, I’d love to better understand.”

And so, this might mean it should not be written in an email or a chat. Like, I think there’s so much open for misinterpretation in written communication that just walking up to your…if you’re in person, walking down to your boss’ desk, and saying, “Hey, got a second? I want to better understand,” or asking to have a quick five-minute meeting over video conference, I just think it’s going to spare so much further miscommunication to actually talk face to face or over the phone if needed.

Pete Mockaitis
And as I think about the times I’ve been micromanaged, it’s funny, I think sometimes it’s my own fault and it’s necessary, it’s like, “Hey, Pete, there were several errors last time that were problematic, so we’re going to take some time to make sure we go through those.” And, in a way, that really was coaching.

But it felt like, “You’re all up in my business and I don’t like it,” but the older, wiser Pete recognizes it was necessary at that time and that season and that piece of work in that context for them to be up in my business, even though it was unpleasant and I didn’t like it. So, I think those were kind of my takeaway.

Lia, is it fair to say, sometimes, like the boy who cried wolf, the colleague who cried micromanagement, it may, in fact, just be appropriate management that just is uncomfortable and unpleasant in the moment?

Lia Garvin
Absolutely. And so, this is why one of the core programs and workshops that I offer for teams is how to give feedback effectively because, I think, feedback given ineffectively can feel like micromanagement. When you don’t have a strong relationship with your team, it can feel like micromanagement but, actually, we should be able to give feedback.

And I don’t want any manager listening to this to go, “Well, I can’t say anything to my team members.” It’s not that. It’s about, I think we said in the beginning of the conversation, getting to understand the style of communication that’s really the norm in the organization, in the company, in the team, and then meeting that, and if you’re really finding yourself hitting those kinds of tip-offs.

And that’s why the tip-offs weren’t people coming to you and saying, “Stop micromanaging.” It’s like, “What are the external signals that I’m too much in the weeds?” And so, that’s the difference there, is if we’re finding, then it’s a moment to check in. But giving feedback is critically important, and it’s one of the most important things you can do as a manager. And receiving feedback effectively is one of the most important things you can do as a non-manager because this is how you’re going to grow and develop.

So, I think feedback and micromanaging is very different. I typically see micromanaging as level of involvement, I think, in your direct reports or in your management chain beneath your business affairs day to day. And then if your level of involvement sort of could feel like you may think it’s feedback if it’s around some kind of deliverable.

But feedback, let’s say, on an email or on a presentation is reviewing it at a certain point maybe later on, not every second, and then giving some specific tips and waiting for someone to come back to you, as opposed to rolling up the sleeves and thinking you’re going to sit side by side and finish banging out the email together.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that expectation alignment is huge because, like, when it comes to decision rights or how that unfolds. I’m thinking other times I felt micromanaged, both of them I was like planning social stuff, and so I thought, “Okay, this is just for the kids,” if you will, the folks on the team who are in larger numbers, and there are relatively fewer sort of managers, directors above.

And, one, it was to say, “Okay, so what are going to do for the office-wide fun time?” And so, I did the survey, I put it out there, and I said, “Hey, what do you know, sailing is the thing they like the most out of the options. That is kind of cool.” And so, this director just kept digging into it, like, “Well, I’m curious if we really segment that data, my hypothesis is there’s a small subsegment of folks who are strongly in favor of this sailing, and many others…”

And it was like, “Okay, that is pretty convoluted, and, well, no, we could slice the data survey another way,” which we had, which is kind of ridiculous for a survey about the social stuff, it’s like, “Well, no, it still looks like this.” And then so what my takeaway was, “All right, dude, you just don’t want us to go sailing. It’d be nice if there were options that were totally unacceptable to you that you just let us know in advance, like, ‘For whatever reason, hey, sailing sounds really cool and fun but we can’t do that because of X, Y, Z. that’s going to be problematic for a large swath in our office who are seasick.’”

I was like, “Okay, fair enough. All right, you know what, we won’t even put it on the survey, and it’s good to know that upfront,” as opposed to, “We’re all stoned out sailing and then…”

Lia Garvin
And he said no, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Then to approve for these not great reasons in terms of, like, if we squint and sliced the data in such a way we can get there. And other times, there’s just a team event, like, “Hey, let’s go let’s do laser tag.” And I guess the manager who was in the room, and there was a lot of enthusiasm for that, like, “Yeah, yeah, let’s do it,” and he’s like, “You know, I don’t recall seeing a survey collecting the team input regarding the team activity.” I was like, “Oh, sorry. Well, we just got to talk about a few things, and this one was, by far, had the most energy and enthusiasm.”

And so, it was just sort of like…and then I was sort of shamed for inappropriately gathering incomplete feedback. It’s like I would just respect them so much, it’s like, “Dude, just say, ‘Hey, I want to participate, too. I know this is like for the kids or ‘whatever’ and I hate laser tag, and so I’d really appreciate it if you could find something else to include me.’” I guess maybe that’s too humble and vulnerable, or I don’t know, for them.

Lia Garvin
No, but I think that and then the example around the previous, where we’re talking about the email, what you’re saying is it’s transparency and context. Like, if there was a reason, say it upfront.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally, yeah.

Lia Garvin
Yeah. And I think you mentioned director in that, and that stood out to me as I think that’s a real…the level of seniority and the level of depth should match. And I think that’s another thing that can be frustrating, is when you have a VP or SVP or director that’s very in the details around planning something or orchestrating something that it just doesn’t feel like an appropriate match.

I think a senior leader, it’s really critically important to demonstrate interest and support for the team, this kind of stuff, but is it really necessary to be providing inputs on activity level beyond setting some expectations and constraints? Not really. Because what happens is that person, whether they mean to or not, will have veto power because they have the highest level of hierarchy, and then it throws off the whole dynamic.

So, I think for any senior leaders listening to this, I’d say recognize your own position in a company or a team, and think, “Hey, do I need to be in this conversation? Am I actually inadvertently throwing it off? Am I sharing my opinion and it’s carrying more weight because of my hierarchy, when it really shouldn’t?” and then taking a step back.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And just expectation, alignment, I guess I was thinking, like, “Hey, the senior leaders…” I guess the way I view the activities were, “These are primarily for us, because, one, we outnumber you, and, two, you make gobs of money, and then this is part of the recognition and appreciation for that.” So, anyway, maybe that’s an unfair view or characterization or expectation for the social activities. Wow, this is really…

Lia Garvin
Well, that’s interesting because I had that same observation working on my roles in tech or around team operations and establishing team process. And I always found that the recipients of process were actually very open to it. It was like other people that would say, “Oh, I don’t know about this,” other team operations or other managers, never the recipients of that thing.

And I think I understand what you’re saying because, like you said, the people that want it, they were going to engage in the activity, they’re all like downed with the laser and with the sailing. And so, that’s another question maybe to think about when you’re maybe shutting down an idea or giving feedback. When I talk about feedback, I always think I encourage people to ask, “Am I the right person to give that feedback?”

And so, in your situation, like, “Am I the right person?” is, “Am I even attending this event? Do I really care? And what’s my stake in this situation?” And I think, for the leaders in your situation, it’s like, “You know, I’m best suited just to support the activity, to pay the bill, and show up and welcome everybody, and like leave it at that.” So, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And then, again, if they had a differing expectation, it’s totally cool to share that, it’s like, “Hey, you know what, this is a cool opportunity we have to really just flatten the hierarchy, in which the managers, directors, VPs, whatever, get to be silly and ridiculous right alongside, and it’s so stressful dealing with blah, blah, blah.”

Lia Garvin
Exactly. So, it’s setting that context up front.

Pete Mockaitis
“So, I know it might seem silly but we want to play, too.” And I would find that endearing, it’s like, “Okay, okay, director. Thank you. I understand. That’s cute. Let’s do this thing you like, too.”

Lia Garvin
Exactly. And so, like you said, it’s setting the context. I think with these team-related activities, there’s a lot of…I think it’s really important to be inclusive, make sure everybody can actually participate in the activities, that there’s not overtly focused on alcohol, or in they’re in the right times of day where people can participate if they have to be doing caretaking and pickup.

So, like there’s a lot of constraints, and I think sometimes, so it’s really important for leaders to set that context for folks so that they can then plan something that’s inclusive and appealing to everybody. So, there’s a lot to navigate, and it can be a trap for micromanagement, so a little bit of both.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it really can because I think it’s funny because, it’s like, “All right, let’s let the junior employees run with something.” It’s like, “This isn’t that important so you can just own it, but you don’t own it.”

Lia Garvin
Yeah, “But you don’t really own it.” And so, this is something when I talk about delegating that is so critically important, is there’s a lot of ways in delegating but saying, “What is the task? What does success look like? And then what is my expectation of involvement?” I think that’s the one thing that managers don’t always talk about.

They say, “Okay. Here, go run with this. This is what success looks like. We’re all good.” And then the manager is like, “Well, where we at with that?” And they want it to be regularly updated, they want to be in the loop, they want to know what’s going on at these different time periods. That goes in the conversation upfront.

So, if we say, “I want you to take on this status report that goes out every Friday,” if you really want a preview of that status report on Wednesday, you’re going to say that, not just show up Wednesday, like, “I need to see this today,” because someone thought they had till Friday, and then they’re going to feel like, “Oh, gosh, I had no idea that was coming.”

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

Lia Garvin
Yeah, I think there are so much opportunity right now with so much change in the workplace to really get right how teams are operating. And I think a lot of that comes down to, as we talked about today, really making sure our managers are set up for success, both for themselves so they’re not burning out, and for their team members so that they’re staying motivated, engaged, and enabled to do their work best.

So, I love working with teams, that is my focus, diving into figure out what’s really getting in the way of teams operating their best. So, if you want to learn more about that work or how to support your team, reach out at LiaGarvin.com.

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

Lia Garvin
Ooh, favorite quote. Oh, man, I’ve got to think about this in a bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. No problem.

Lia Garvin
Oh, man. Ooh, okay. So, something that I’ve been finding inspiring is the quote, “Make the why bigger than the fear.” And this is something, I think, for any of us to think about that are doing something new. So, this was really motivating for me as I launched my own business and left the corporate world, was the thing that’s really fueling you to do it, let that be bigger than all the reasons that are telling you to stop and go back and keep it safe.

And I think, for teams, right now where there’s a lot going on, it’s really uncertain, people are cutting back, and so remembering, “Why are we here? What are we trying to create?” I think that can really help, especially if you’re a manager. Create a sense of certainty even when there’s so much uncertainty happening.

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

Lia Garvin
Yeah, my favorite study, I’d say, year over year, is the Lean In and McKinsey & Company Women in the Workplace report. It’s a wealth of information around people’s experiences. They’ve added in the recent years the intersection of gender and race, and really deeply understanding the experiences of women, why women are leaving the corporate world in higher rates than ever.

This year, a lot of the information talked about lack of recognition and visibility. This is something that managers have so much control over, making sure people feel seen, like their work matters, making sure it’s getting the right level of visibility. So, that’s a study I go back to every single year as they put it out to really inform where I focus and some of the things that I can highlight for the teams I work with.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Lia Garvin
Favorite book, one book that I read over the holidays was I think “Expect to…” No, it’s “Lead to Win,” let me say that again. Let me make sure of my Audible super quick, make sure I got it so I don’t…okay. So, a book that I read over the holidays was Lead to Win by Carla Harris. And Carla Harris has these series of books around her pearls of wisdom. She was vice chairman at Morgan Stanley and has a ton of great insights around career, sponsorship, how to really build up your skills as a leader.

And this one specifically dives into how to build great teams, how to drive inclusion on teams, really kind of a playbook for managers trying to break through the next level. So, that’s something I’ve been really loving reading.

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

Lia Garvin
Tool, yes. Otter.ai, I believe, it’s called. It’s an app where you…it’s a voice notes app, but it does AI transcription, so it’s pretty flawless transcription. And whenever I have to write an email, now this is great if you’re, like, writing a cautious response to maybe some passive-aggressive behavior, or you’re trying to get your ideas out. I will speak out this email into the voice app, and then I have a great thing to copy and paste into my email.

I think a lot of times when we’re writing, we can get stuck on having the perfect wording. So, if I’m writing a bio for something, or, like I said, a difficult email, or something I’m just getting stuck on, grabbing the app, talking it out into there, and then copying and pasting, and taking the good parts, and having that be the written form is just a huge shortcut.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Lia Garvin
Favorite habit, I guess it’s called multitasking, but I have a walking desk, and I do work while I’m walking on the desk. So, I like to do two things at once that allow me to get two things done at the same time. Some call it multitasking. I would call it layering two activities.

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

Lia Garvin
Yes. When you’re feeling stuck, or you encounter rejection or failure, it’s not you. It’s your approach. And when you change your approach, you will change your outcome.

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

Lia Garvin
Yeah, so I would say connect with me on LinkedIn. Wait, let me do that again. Sorry. Connect with me on LinkedIn. I’d love to hear from folks, especially what resonated from this episode, or reach out on my website at LiaGarvin.com.

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

Lia Garvin
Yeah, I think for folks, giving yourself a little bit of permission to be figuring it out right now. Right now, it’s a really, really hard time in the workplace. There’s so much uncertainty. And figuring out what do you need to be able to face every day feeling more optimistic or more supported. So, if that’s taking a walk, doing a meditation, whatever, making your favorite coffee, whatever it is, figuring what that thing is and building that into your routine so that you have a sense of, “I’m doing something for myself every day.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lia, thanks. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and little micromanagement.

Lia Garvin
Thank you so much.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

833: The Four-Step Process to Influencing People and Decisions with Andres Lares

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Andres Lares reveals the surprising psychology behind decision-making and shares a four-step process to influence others.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to tap into the hidden driver behind most decisions
  2. The critical steps that set you up for greater influence
  3. What to say when you’re losing the other person

About Andres

Andres Lares has been the Managing Partner and CEO of Shapiro Negotiations Institute since 2017. Prior to this role, Andres served various roles including Chief Innovation Officer where he led the company’s development of technology and content. For over a decade Andres has advised professional sports teams in the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL on contract negotiations, trades, and other critical negotiations. He has been featured in publications including HBR, Forbes, CNBC, Entrepreneur, and Sports Business Journal.  Andres guest lectures at conferences and institutions around the world and teaches a course on negotiations at Johns Hopkins University.

Resources Mentioned

Andres Lares Interview Transcript

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

Andres Lares
Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to hear your insights on persuasion. Could you kick us off with a particularly striking, fascinating, mind-blowing, counterintuitive discovery you’ve made in this domain? No pressure.

Andres Lares
Yeah, no pressure, huh? So, yeah, this is kind of like if I give this up and there’s no really reason to listen to the rest of the podcast…

Pete Mockaitis
Keep it short, yeah.

Andres Lares
Exactly. So, people would be done in one minute. So, there is one thing that really struck me. So, when we got into this, I’ve been doing this for about 12 years now, and pretty early on, the thing that struck me and sticks with me is, essentially, kind of a quote that we use in our trainings that’s been around, really, since Aristotle. He was kind of teaching this many years ago, and perhaps not enough people listen. But it’s that, “People make decisions emotionally, and then they justify them rationally.”

And that has really stuck with me. We have done an enormous amount of research that indicates that is definitely the case all over the world, regardless of culture and language and everything else, so that really has stuck with me. So, that’s it, we’re done, we can pack up and go.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I really want to dig into that. So, I’ve heard that and that seems sensible. Can you unpack that with some of your research and some examples of what that really sounds like in the internal dialogue and practice?

Andres Lares
Yeah. So, really, where does it come from? And, really, where it comes from is kind of heuristic, all the shortcuts in our brain that we take because we have to. And so, there’s a lot of this that’s covered in one of the books that I have enjoyed, and it has impacted the most ever, is Thinking, Fast and Slow, and no surprise it’s a Nobel Prize winner that wrote it.

And another that would’ve won one if he was around, but it was one of those things that, because there’s so much that we have to compute in our brains in a short period of time, we really, essentially, are struggling and taking as many shortcuts as we can. So, what does that look like? So, I’ll give you an example that we often talk about.

So, this is a study done many years ago, and, actually, you know what, there’s a couple. So, the best one, I’ll shift gears here and convince myself of another one. So, here’s a perfect example of a shortcut and how emotions drive things. So, many years ago, there’s a study done at Harvard, and it was at a library or, essentially, where folks didn’t realize what was going on but it was a study that people were in a copy machine, a line to the copy machine.

So, again, just the context here, a line to the copy machine, you really are doing nothing else while making copies. Well, in this study, they basically had actors approach real people and ask three different ways in order to butt in the line. So, the first was, “Can I go in front of you?” and so that was the first thing they asked.

The second one, they said, “Can I go in front of you because I’m in a hurry?” And the third one, they said, “Can I go in front of you because I’m in a hurry? I need to make a lot of copies.” So, that’s the three, so you’re asking someone. So, now, the percentages here will tell you how long ago this was. I don’t think they would stand at the time. But, in the first example, basically just asking to go in front of you, 60% of people approved.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s so nice of them.

Andres Lares
I know. And so, that’s how I know this was not done recently. In the second, they literally said, “Because I need to make copies,” and 93% of people let them in front. And then when there’s kind of a reason that was a little bit more reasonable, which would be the fact, “I need to make a lot of copies. In addition, I’m in a hurry,” it went up only to 94%.

So, what’s happening there, right? Just simply the word because, and someone sharing a reason with you, is enough. It’s compelling enough for your brain to think, “Oh, yeah, that’s probably a good reason. Then go.” Even the actual reason itself rarely even matters that much. Now, you can’t always do this, and there’s different circumstances will provide different results.

But similar studies have been done all over the place and with adjustments of all types, and there’s always that aspect where our brain is taking that shortcut and it almost doesn’t matter what comes after the word because, “I hear because, there must be a reason. It must be good. Go ahead.” And so, as an example, and there’s millions of them where people make emotional decisions.

And I’ll give you one more that I particularly enjoy. This has been done with jellybeans and things like that. Imagine this big jellybean, one of those where if you pick the number of jellybeans in a container, you get a prize. Imagine that. And so, they said, “You have a choice, in this one there’s 10 jellybeans and one is red. And if you picked the red one, so one in ten chance, you will $100.” In another one, they said, “Look, in this case, there’s a hundred jellybeans. Eight of them are red. If you pick a red one, you’ll get a $100. Which would you choose?”

Now, most people, more than 50%, again, all over the world, will choose the second. Now, why did they choose the second? The first one has a 10% chance. The second one has an 8% chance, eight out of 100%, one out of ten. But what happens is, well, one is kind of a denominator issue where the math may be a little bit more complicated for folks in the moment. But the second is, emotionally, they feel like they have eight cracks at that red jellybean to make the money rather than the one crack.

And so, that feels more important than the denominator, how many jellybeans there are, and so they pick it. So, those are two kinds of very different examples of that at play.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, now I’m thinking about counter examples just to put this to the test. I think I’ve often been in a situation where I do exactly that. I want something or I don’t want something, I just like something, I don’t like something, and then I find a way just to rationalize it afterwards. Sometimes, what’s interesting, I find that I fail.

Like, for example, when I saw the…it took me a long time with the iPad. I said, “Okay, I’ve had some good experiences with Apple products – the iPhone, the iMac, the MacBook Pro. I like all three of them. I really see their place in my life. But for the longest time, the iPad is just like, “I don’t see how I need this. I have got a laptop which can do just about all those things and more.”

And so, I think I went for years without an iPad. Friends, roommates, others had iPads, loved them, and I kept looking at it, thinking I wanted it but it just didn’t click for the longest of times. I guess I was not able to martial the logical reasons until I had just enough experiences of being on a plane and not being able to open up my laptop all the way to actually be able to view it and sit it on the thing, because I’m a tall guy, and try to get it a comfortable angle.

And then I thought, “Well, okay.” And then I think there are some lower price options, it’s like, “I don’t need the newest one, and, yeah, I’ve got a birthday coming up.” So, the things all kind of align. But I found that intriguing that. You tell me, am I abnormal or is there a certain threshold that has to be met here? It’s like, “I could have desire but be unable to bring enough logical justification,” even though I’m so good, I think, at rationalizing and justifying a lot of things in order to get me to do the thing that I want or don’t want. What’s going on on the second layer here?

Andres Lares
So, when I hear that story, my first reaction is, “It was the emotion that drove you.” So, what I hear in that story was, “It wasn’t until I was cramped like this in an airplane where I was thinking, ‘What am I doing here? I’m on this four-hour flight across the country, and I can’t do anything. It’s frustrating,’” whether you want to watch Netflix and just relax or you want to get some work done.

And that’s the moment where kind of how you felt in that moment was the true compelling kind of emotion that enabled you to get the iPad. In my opinion, that’s part of what happened there because that’s really what drives it. And then you can justify, “Okay. Well, iPad is the best because I’m an Apple user and it’s going to sync in very well,” or whatever.

Then the logic will kick in and kind of work through all the details. But that first desire, or that shift from desire to actually doing it, I think that probably happened on an airplane where you said, “Enough is enough. I need this thing.”

Pete Mockaitis
That is interesting. I guess I thought when the iPad was first unveiled, I had some desire, like, “Ooh, that looks cool and shiny. I like it. I want it. But I don’t really need it. Where does it fit in into anything?” So, I guess maybe, in your model, what’s happening here is I have insufficient desire until I had a new emotional experience of, “I’m very uncomfortable in this seat and want to have more comfort in the seat.”

Andres Lares
So, it’s interesting because I think that is a none kind of money version of what we often see, which is that folks will want stuff. There’s something that you want that’s got some strength. But avoiding something you don’t want has even more strength, and that happens with money, right? So, we see someone, $100 for sure versus 50% chance to win 200 or zero. Mostly you will pick 100 because what happens is they miss out. And it happens even more strongly if it’s a loss.

And so, I think what’s happening there is the fact that, “Hey, this thing is shiny,” whatever you want. The thing that’s compelling but the level of how compelling it is when you actually then face a negative emotion, where it’s like, “This is really frustrating, and I could get rid of this frustration if I bought a tablet, and that tablet happens to be an iPad,” I think that’s the one that’s going to be more compelling, which is why that happened. And so, when it’s nice and shiny, that’s compelling but it’s typically not as powerful as the other.

Pete Mockaitis
And then I’m curious about sort of business-to-business type decisions. Like, I think, in a way, at least if you are a director at a publicly traded corporation, for example, you have a legal obligation to look out for the shareholders’ best interests. And so, it seems like there are some solutions that, it’s like, “Oh, this should produce ROI.” So, in some ways, like we’re really “supposed to” think extra super duper logically about the financial logical consequences of a thing. Are emotions still running the show here, too?

Andres Lares
So, I mean, yes, but there are some things that remove some of that, right? So, for example, if you’ve got a decision that takes a long time. So, the longer you put something through a decision-making process, and the more people are involved, although group-think does happen, but more people, more time. There’s a bunch of these variables that will do that, so in the moment.

If you think about…let’s move to a totally different world. Let’s go to a grocery store, and that’s another example, the grocery store. Why is it that there’s gum and snacks while you wait to pay? So, those gums and snacks are also in another aisle but they’re bought significantly less. But in that moment where you’re just waiting and you’re sitting around, it’s going to take three more minutes, which feels like 15 where you’re waiting for the next person to pay, you make this kind of emotional decision of, like, “Oh, yeah, this is what I need.”

And so, what happens is I think that’s kind of taking advantage of that. Now, over time, if you saw that in the aisle, you wouldn’t have gotten that piece of gum, or you wouldn’t have gotten that candy bar. And the same thing would occur with corporate decisions. If you’re the director of the company, if you make a decision over a couple of weeks, it’s less and less emotional. Now, emotions are still at play.

I remember kind of finding this stat which still shocks me to this day that the first and last, as far as like those two, typically, in an RP type process where it’s a little bit informal, or in a fully informal kind of bidding process, the first and last are selected more than 50% of the time, even when there’s more than four or five vendors. So, it’s imbalanced in the first and last. And, again, that’s another way where we’re emotional beings, and the first sets the tone, the last is the one we’re most likely to remember.

And so, the first sets the tone, and others don’t necessarily stack up to it, or they say some things that are unique, or the last does something that’s impressive in any way, they’ll last with us, and you pick them. But it’s unbelievable that you may not be picking the best partner for your company. You’re literally picking who went first or last potentially. And even worse, we don’t know it. And even if we do know, we often can’t do anything about it.

Now, of course, there are ways. So, writing things down, decision-making processes, taking time to digest and think through it, creating a criteria, there’s things you can do but it is amazing how emotional we are as beings.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is so shocking and striking, I almost feel to construct a counter narrative that explains it, such as, “Well, the first person, they really got their act together. They got some hustle. That is a high-performing organization that moves quickly, and that’s an advantage so they deserve stuff. And the last folks, boy, they really put some fun into this. They took their time. They did their research and their homework and their preparation. And so, the first and the last may disproportionately, in fact, be superior potential partners.” I might be stretching here, but that’s where I kind of go.

Andres Lares
In the cases where there’s no choice, I think we see it happen too, but it happens just about everywhere. So, another one is called the winner’s curse often. So, if you think of like a bidding system, typically the person…and this happens in sports. We do a lot of work in sports. And if you think of an athlete goes to a team, oftentimes, and this happens in baseball perhaps in more than any other sport. It’s okay, you’re willing to pay $10 million a year for 10 years.

I’m willing to pay more, if you’re willing to pay more, then you go back and forth. Then you find the person that wins is, essentially, cursed because they win, by definition, by overpaying for that player. And so, again, and that’s typically emotional. When we’ve been in the trenches with teams, that is because they get caught up in the deal making, or because it is a blurriness, it is an emotional piece because, I would say, 99.9% of the time when we meet with the teams and we’re kind of involved in these kinds of decisions, they have written down a number as a walkaway that’s lower than they end up paying.

So, they end up going well above what they said they would, what they think is reasonable, and so that is where the justification comes in. “Oh, I am going over but things have changed,” you know, fill in the blank. Now, of course, there are times when things have actually changed. Maybe you start a negotiation early. Now, five other players get signed, now the market has moved up. That, of course, is a possibility.

But very rarely is that the reason that’s happening. It’s deal fever. We’re in it, we spent so much time, and there’s a sunk-cost fallacy, “I’ve spent this much time on it. It’s only this much more,” and that’s where the justification comes in and, really, it becomes more emotional rather than if you’re objective, you’d say, “Look, the max I was going to pay is probably ten years, 10 million a year, and it’s better for me not to do that than it is to pay more.” We just very rarely come across that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Andres, we’re having so much fun jumping all around the psychological world here. Maybe let’s get to the fundamentals here. Your book Persuade: The 4-Step Process to Influence People and Decisions, we’ve already got some tasty tidbits from it. But what would you say is the core message, thesis, big idea of this one?

Andres Lares
So, it’s a four-step process to influencing others.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Just like you said.

Andres Lares
Exactly, that’s it. Build credibility, engage emotion, demonstrate logic, facilitate action. So, really, it’s building credibility, people will not care if you’re not deemed credible. Think of a toothpaste commercial. Every toothpaste commercial has someone whether is or looks like a dentist, that’s because they don’t have credibility without that kind of the dental-looking attire. And so, that’s an example, and a crude one, but it is an example.

Then engage emotion. As I talk to people, people make decisions emotionally, and then they justify them rationally. Then comes demonstrate logic. Now, of course, there is a time and a place for logic. So, it isn’t that you just never do it. It’s that you typically and most compellingly do it after you build credibility and engage emotion.

And then, finally, the fourth is facilitate action, which is if you can think of all the situations where you say, “Is this a good idea?” and your teammate says yes, your colleagues say yes, “Okay, are we going to move forward?” “Yes, we are.” And then, all of a sudden, you check in two weeks later and nothing has happened. I think just about everyone can relate to that.

And so, facilitate action is about creating an environment where it’s as likely as possible that the behavior that you want to be taken will be taken.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, it sounds good to me. Lay it on us then, let’s say we want to do some great persuading, can you maybe give us some example demonstrations for how we’d step through each of these pieces from building the credibility to engaging the emotion, to demonstrating logic, and to facilitating action?

Andres Lares
Yes. So, let’s try to pick something that potentially anyone can relate to. So, you’re working with a colleague at work, so potentially, let’s say, they’re not necessarily someone above you or below you. They’re kind of a lateral position, and so, hopefully, this is generic enough that it works for everyone. So, the first thing is you want to think about, “Okay, do I have credibility with this person? I’m trying to convince Pete to do something, okay, so how am I going to do it? Well, first is, does Pete know who I am? Does he think that I’ve got good ideas? What is his perception of me?”

And so, let’s assume that it’s a neutral perception. Met a few times and not much there. So, the first I think about, “How do I build credibility?” So, the build credibility might be simple things. So, spending time with someone, unless you actively do something very negative. Generally, spending time with someone helps you to build rapport, trust, and credibility.

But also, you can give yourself a few things. So, when you bump into Pete, and there’s an opportunity to say, “Hey, I thought of you the other day when I read this article. I’ll send it to you by end of the day tomorrow.” That’d be an example of manufacturing an opportunity where you, in this case, you should genuinely have thought about the person and think that article might make sense. And then I sent it to Pete in the time that I said I would.

Well, now, you’re starting to create not only that connection based on thinking of the person, but also a sense of reliability, “I said I would do something by end of the day tomorrow, and I did.” So, you can do a few of those things, and you start to get the ball rolling. And, of course, any time you drive value, you write good ideas, things they can nibble on at work, anything that is important and valuable to the other party would help build credibility.

So, then comes emotion. So, let’s say, in this case, you’re working on a project together, and, again, to pick an example most people could relate to, Pete has this as priority seven and I have this as priority two. And so, my job is to try to convince you to bring it up to maybe not two but certainly higher than seven.

Well, then you think of, “Okay, what’s the emotion that we’ll trigger?” So, let’s pick two examples. Well, one would be achievement, “Pete, this is one of the reasons I asked you in particular to kind of be involved in this project is because I know that this is going to get a lot of attention for the senior leadership team, which is a really important project.”

So, this was done very well. Again, it has to be true. This is genuine. If it’s disingenuous, then please don’t use the model. But if you go back to that, okay, so if that’s the case, and there’s a sense of achievement, doing a good job in this, and that includes time, but also high quality, a sense of achievement that it’ll be better for everyone, and so that could be an example.

Another one could be fear, the other way, “So, I’m a little bit worried, Pete, that we’re a little behind schedule. Being behind schedule right now is not a big deal, but if we were to end up being late, I think this could be a disaster for both of us. I saw one of our other colleagues late two months ago on a similar project, and they ended up getting…” fill in the blank, right, as whatever the repercussion would be.

So, that would be an example of fear or achievement. There’s a lot of them. Then the next might be demonstrating logic. So, there, what is the logic you could say? So, “One of the things that I’ve found is, because we’re currently meeting once every two weeks, by the time we actually get to the next meeting, we’re forgetting what we covered. So, I think rather than doing it once every two weeks, and this will take eight weeks to get these meetings, if we were to meet a couple times in one week, I actually think we could pump it out faster.”

“So, rather than our estimation of 20 hours total, we could probably do it in 10 or 15. Would you be open to considering something like that and we’re kind of done it faster for both our sakes?” So, something like that would be a logically compelling argument, that, “Hey, I’m going to save you time and more efficient and get this off your plate faster, so you can get to other priorities.”

And then, finally, facilitate action might be to provide them with options. So, providing with options could say, “So, two ideas that I have are, one, do you want me to do this piece and you do that piece? Or would you prefer the other way around, I focus on this priority, focus on that part? What would you prefer?”

And you, ideally, be offering a set of options, and you might be thrown a third, but you’re willing to accept any of them, so they’re all acceptable to you, but that way the person feels, and do in fact, have some control over the result because we surely know that when you come up with a collaborative solution, they’re more likely to become committed, rather than if I say, “Hey, Pete, here’s what I need you to do, and here’s when I need it done by. Please go and execute and come back here when you’re done.”

So, that would be a bit of a generic example but, hopefully, give you some sense of how those four phases would come into play.

Pete Mockaitis
I appreciate that, yes. Well, now could you maybe give us a couple of top do’s and don’ts within each of those domains? So, when it comes to building credibility, for example, what are some great things we can do versus not do? In your book, you’ve got a few sections, “The Influencer’s Toolbox.” I love toolboxes, so if there’s anything that’s leaping to mind that’s extra handy, lay it on us.

Andres Lares
Yes, so do’s and don’ts. So, I’d say for credibility, the do is…well, something else, some of the don’t is, “Do not skip this step, this is potentially the most important step.” If you think of kind of your life right now, and how much you get bombarded with messy, whether it’s emails at work or calls and spam calls, and all the stuff that’s going on, it’s easier to just ignore something than it is to deal with it.

So, credibility is the thing that stops you from ignoring it. It’s what cuts through and it helps to cut through the clutter, if you will. And so, I think I see this a lot in…we’ll take away a little bit from kind of the job piece, and I’ll go to sales for a second. This is a perfect example in sales. Often, I see a rush through to get to sale, and they skip the personal, the credibility-building, the trust-building, they get right to the sale.

And so, what happens is when you miss that first part that even allows you to get there, so people just don’t care, “You’re just selling me something, and I don’t want to be sold to. I want to be part of the buying process.” So, the credibility piece is the don’t is don’t skip it. It can be easy and oftentimes you wonder, “How important is this?” Well, it’s really important.

For emotion, as far as do’s and don’ts, so it’s got to be, I think, the don’t again would be it has to be genuine. And so, really, the emotion is about thinking about, “Okay, what is…?” So, here, for example, we’re doing fear and scarcity. I’ll give you an example of a don’t would be, although it can work, it’s sleazy and doesn’t work long term, that’s why you see at commercials late at night, “This deal is only good for the next 15 minutes. If you call now, you get three easy payments rather than four easy payments.” It’s that constant.

Now, the thing is, where most of us are far enough to know that once this commercial ends, this commercial will run again tomorrow night, and the next night, and the next night. It’s a fake exploding deadline. And so, I think there, when you think of fear, when you’re thinking of scarcity and those things, especially if they’re negative, it’s got to be genuine. In that example I gave, the consequence. It has to be a real consequence, that actually you saw someone faced because your credibility will be lost if it’s made up. And so, it’s a don’t again in emotion.

And then for logic, I think do tell stories. The best way to communicate evidence, logic, data. Oftentimes, when I’m doing this big chart and graph, and that is helpful, it’s important for visual learners but then take the extra step, tell a compelling story of how that potentially helped another client, or why you should get a raise, or whatever it is. But if you can tell a short and compelling story to communicate the same message as you could be sharing in another way, you will be more effective in the former.

And then, finally, facilitate action, I would say some do’s are consider providing options, for sure. And then, well, the one other thing is consider a safety net. So, safety net meaning, again, I’ll go to the crude late-night informercials because they use a lot of psychological warfare on all of us, but it’s the money-back guarantee.

And the constant of that is, “How many people actually buy that product and then send it back?” Very, very, very small number of people in almost all cases. But just the mere fact that if we purchase it and we’re not satisfied, we can then send it back. That makes us more comfortable to purchase it in the first place.

So, an example in business, certainly sometimes there can be a warranty of some sort. That’s an example of almost any product that’s sold in the B2B space or B2C space, but if you could remove some of the risks for another party, you’ll make it more likely that they move forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, I also wanted to get your take on some body language pieces. Are there any really reliable cues or indicators that we can feel somewhat confident about when we notice, and what do they mean?

Andres Lares
So, what I’d like to do is slightly tweak that, if you’re okay with this, and say the thing that you can count on is to only make decisions when you’re getting a consistent message from the body language. So, that’s the only thing that’s reliable. What do I mean by that? I cross my arms like this while having a conversation. Technically, that is not the best sign, but on its own, it means nothing. It happens to be particularly cold in this room, and so that could be just literally a physical response that I’m being cold.

But, now let’s take me crossing my arms like this, turning a little bit away from you, so I’m actually facing another direction, and, potentially, say, I slow down my smiling and now start having facial expressions that are more neutral or potentially negative, then you can really start to read into that. That’s kind of a pattern at that point.

And so, what you want to see is consistency with the tone, what’s being said, and the body language. And if there are more than one, typically two or three that tend to lean negative, you want to change what you’re saying, change the environment, ask a different question, think of another approach, whatever it may be.

But I would say, so the do’s and don’ts, the do’s is look for consistency, look for multiple things that point in the same direction, negative or positive. Lots of smiling, open hands, leaning in would be the positive. Crossing arms, turning away, less smiling would be the negative ones but you want those to be consistent and multiple if you’re going to read anything into it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, in terms of a real-time adjustment we might make, what are some of the options there?

Andres Lares
So, two of the most common, one is kind of, “Oh, did I say something … Do you have any questions? Did I say something that maybe was off a little bit?” And so, in my opinion, lots of people recommend that. I think that can be something that is doable but that can take a lot of confidence. It’s almost like calling someone’s head on it, “Oh, no.” And there can be a little bit…but that is something that people do.

But generally, I would say is try to ask a question or try to change where your conversation is headed. So, I’ll give you an example, potentially, this would happen. Let’s say in an interview. Let’s say you’re in an interview for a job, and so you see that, someone has crossed their leg, turns away, and starts, all of a sudden, you see eyebrows changed a little bit. It’s a little more negative. Then, whatever you’re saying you might try to finish it kind of rather quickly.

And then, seeing that, “Pete, I’d love to tell you more about that, but I did have a couple questions for it, if you don’t mind. Is this a good place I can ask you some,” and then say, “Okay, tell me more about…” then fill in the blank of questions you have ready. “So, you were saying something,” or the opposite. If you’re asking a lot of questions and the person’s kind of doing those negative things together, they may be signaling to you the fact that, “You know what, you’re kind of done asking questions. Now it’s my turn. I want to get to know you, and it’s been too one way.”

So, essentially, what you’re reading is whatever you’re saying or doing in the moment, they’re not particularly appreciating, so any pivot from that, and then see how the body languages react. After a minute or two, are you still seeing that negative body language? One other thing I would say, and this gets into NLP and things that are a little bit less science-based or that are a little bit more controversial. But there definitely is growing evidence that you can do something that is called mirroring, which should be to try to also move towards the body language that is more positive and they’ll kind of follow you.

So, for example, if I noticed that you’re tilted a little bit this way, and you’re kind of leaning back a little bit, I would first mirror. So, I would tilt a little bit the same way, I would try to speak at the same pace as you are, so whether it’s a lot faster and then really, really fast, or slower. And then what I would do is, over time, over the next few minutes, I would start to kind of tilt my head this way, I would start to lean in, I would start to open my body language.

And so, what you can do is you can also shift that way. So, not only what you’re saying and the tone of your delivery, but if you actually mirror their body language that’s potentially negative, in particular in this case, and then start to move towards more positive body language, they should follow you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Good deal. Thank you.
Well, now could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Andres Lares
I think a few that come to mind. So, one I particularly like that one of our facilitators often says is, “Much is lost for the want of asking.” So, to remind us that if you don’t ask for it, you can’t get it. You don’t always get what you ask for, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get it.

I think there’s another one which is often attributed to Epictetus. I’m not sure if, necessarily, it was in fact him or not, but it’s, “God gave us two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” I think that is a good reminder, and just kind of the value of listening, asking questions and listening. So, I like those.

And there’s one more. Harry Truman, I believe is credited with this, but it’s, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that really counts.” And I think that one is brilliant. So, those are three that come to mind. You asked for one, I gave you three. I hope that’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. And could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Andres Lares
So, I would hate to kind of duplicate but I’d probably go back to the copier study, the jellybeans study, some of these. Those were the originals and they were done the first time, and I find it particularly interesting that was done 20, 30, 40 years ago, in some of these cases, and so much has changed in the world but they continue to be…when they’re redone and adjusted, they continue to have the same results. So, all those, kind of reminding us of human nature and how if often doesn’t change.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And could you share a favorite book?

Andres Lares
I would probably go back to Thinking, Fast and Slow. I think from, certainly from a nonfiction perspective, that would be my number one. It’s a big read, but really an incredible one.

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

Andres Lares
For the personal side, I’ve got family all over the world, and friends all over the world, so I cannot live without WhatsApp. From a professional side, any good calendar app. Currently, it’s Google Calendar, but that is another one that I can’t live without.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Andres Lares
It would probably be playing hockey. So, I play hockey every Monday night, been doing it for years. Awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a key nugget you share with folks that really resonates with them; you hear them quote it back to you often?

Andres Lares
So, yeah, I would say one, and this is more on the negotiation side and the influencing side, but it’s, “Negotiation is a process and not an event.”

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

Andres Lares
So, we’re not as active as we should be on social but we do have a bunch, you know, LinkedIn, Twitter, all the usuals. But I would say probably the website, ShapiroNegotiations.com, and feel free to reach out if you have any questions. We’ve got a blog that’s weekly that goes out there, too, that deals with job-related issues plus things you might do, buying a house, buying a car, lots of B2B stuff as well. That’s our focus, so feel free to reach out.

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

Andres Lares
For me, it’d be having a process. I think one of the things that I’ve appreciated in this journey that I think when we go out and train and coach folks, we often will learn as much as they do just from the way people do and kind of the best practices. But I would say the concept of having a process for persuading others, for often negotiation, communicating, has really kind of increased my performance.

And I would say it’s something that I’m so excited about. And so, I would challenge others to, when it’s say to say, “I don’t have the time,” or, “I’m just going to wing it,” to prepare and follow a process to do it, and you will definitely be more successful.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. This has been fun. I wish you much luck in all of your persuasions and negotiations.

Andres Lares
Well, thank you for having me. I hope it’s helpful to folks as they do a great job at their jobs, and, hopefully, this is helpful there.

832: How to Restore Yourself from Burnout with Dr. Christina Maslach

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Leading burnout expert Dr. Christina Maslach shares the fundamental causes of burnout and what individuals and organizations can do to fix them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why burnout isn’t just an individual problem
  2. The 6 key areas of job mismatch that cause burnout
  3. What to do when you’re burnt out 

About Christina

Dr. Christina Maslach is Professor of Psychology, Emerita, at the University of California, Berkeley, and the co-creator of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the most widely used instrument for measuring job burnout, and has written numerous articles and books, including The Truth About Burnout. In 2020 she received the Scientific Reviewing award from the National Academy of Sciences for her writing on burnout.

In 2021, she was named by Business Insider as one of the top 100 people transforming business.  She also consults on the identification of sources of burnout and potential interventions.

Resources Mentioned

Christina Maslach Interview Transcript

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

Christina Maslach
Well, thank you for inviting me. I’m pleased to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to talk about your latest work, The Burnout Challenge: Managing People’s Relationships with Their Jobs, which I understand is hitting lists which is really cool. Congratulations.

Christina Maslach
Thank you. Thank you. We’re very thrilled.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to ask, I understand that you didn’t set out to become a burnout expert, yet you ended up one. What’s the story here?

Christina Maslach
Yeah, burnout found me rather than the other way around, I think. This was back in the 1970s, I had gotten my PhD, I had gotten a job at UC Berkeley, and I wound out to start doing research. I had been doing laboratory research on emotion, and when I got to Berkeley, they didn’t have a lab ready for me to use, so I thought, “Well, I’m going to go out and talk to people who deal with the…” you know, I was thinking about, “How do you deal with intense feelings when it’s important for you to be calm and cool and do your job? And how do you understand all that?”

So, I started talking to people that I thought might experience this on the job, and give me some ideas that I could then test out in my research. And what would happen, so I was talking to people, what we would call now first responders, people working in the ER, police people, social workers, teachers, and so forth, and as we finish up the interview, I was often asked, “Could I tell you some more things that you haven’t asked me yet about my job?” And I’d say, “Yeah, sure. That would be great. Sure.” “It’s confidential, right?” “Yeah, yeah.”

And they started telling me other things about the work that I hadn’t really understood or heard about in the same way. And after a while, I began to hear the same kind of rhythm, the same kind of pattern, the same kind of story from people from very different kinds of occupations. And I’d asked them, “Do you share this with…?” They’d be, “Oh, God knows, no.” “Yeah, but how do you talk about or think about it? Is there a name?” “Oh, I don’t know,” kind of thing.

So, I tried finding concepts in the research literature that I thought might be relevant, like, “Dehumanization and self-defense where you treat people like objects rather than human beings, so was that it?” “Oh, no, no, no, no.” “Okay. Well, medical sociology talks about detached concern that you have to have when you’re a healthcare provider and working with a patient. You’re concerned but you also have to sort of back off and be not too involved.” “No. Well, I don’t know how you…no, no, no.” “Okay.”

So, then the second serendipitous thing happened, and that was I was at a dinner for new people to the Berkeley campus, and I was chatting with the people on either side of me, and one of them was a woman from the law school. I ascribed a little bit about what I was doing to her, and she said, “Oh, my God, I don’t know what you call it, but in legal services poverty law where I just came from, we call it burnout.” And I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting.”

So, then when I ended the interviews, I’d ask, “What about dehumanization?” “No, no.” “Detached concern?” “Uh-uh.” “How about burnout?” “Yes, that’s it. That’s it. That’s the word.” And so, it just became something that I just got intrigued by because not only…so that was where the word came from, or people resonated to it, and said, “Yes, that captures what I’m going through and feeling.”

But people would get angry as they talked about things. They would cry sometimes when they talked about things. It was clearly something that was really, really important for people. And I kept thinking, “I’m stumbling across something that I hadn’t been prepared for but this seems like it deserves some more attention. I got to find out what’s going on here and see if I can understand it better.”

So, the first paper I ever published, I couldn’t get published in an academic journal because they thought it was pop psychology, but I ended up publishing it in a popular magazine at the time called Human Behavior. And, at that point, it went, what we would say today, viral. This was before internet though, so I was getting sacksful of mail in the department office from people saying, “Oh, my God, I’ve read your article. I thought I was the only one. Let me tell you my story.”

And so, it just exploded at that point in terms of people being interested in the phenomenon, or saying, “I know what this means, and I want to share that with you as well.” So, it’s just sort of grabbed me along with everything else I was doing in research and just decided, “I need to study this some more and figure out what’s happening. And if we can learn something about it to prevent it, or help people deal with this, then that would be a contribution that would be important to make.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is a very rich story. Thank you, Christina. And I’m thinking about almost like how, etymologically speaking, I’m thinking that they say someone, like, discovered The Beatles or whatever. Well, The Beatles were talented, they didn’t invent The Beatles, but someone kind of realized, “Oh, this is a thing,” and made it huge.

And so, in effect, you are sort of the equivalent discoverer of burnout, maybe not so much like, “Go figure, this is a phenomenon that affects humanity,” but rather, “Oh, we have some themes and some language, and poverty law,” huh? I guess that’s where the origin story. I never knew.

Christina Maslach
That was one. But actually, if you look more broadly, I mean, that was my personal origin story, it’s that other woman. And, in fact, I did an interview with her, which was amazing and I’ve cited her as well because she was so thoughtful about all this. But if you look at the word burnout, it was appearing earlier. There were burnout shops in Silicon Valley in the ‘60s, ‘70s. There was burnout in engineering language.

I’m the daughter of an engineer who did work for NASA on rarefied gas dynamics, and rocket boosters burn out, and lightbulbs burn out, and ball bearings burn out. So, there’s a much longer history that goes before anybody was connecting it to something about the job. So, even the word stress comes from physics, engineering kind of stuff. And the load you put on like a bridge and under, what conditions will the bridge handle the load or will it break, or some sort of thing like this?

So, I’m actually not the discoverer of the word. I certainly discovered people who were applying it to their job experience but there’s even a novel Graham Greene wrote, A Burnt-Out Case back in 1960, I think it was, or ’61, so there’s longer routes.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, my wife and I met at a book club that was reading a Graham Greene book. Fun fact. Well, let’s talk about burnout. Tell us, you’ve had a role in popularizing the term for usage in humans in relation to their jobs. With all this research and history, any really striking discoveries you’ve made about burnout that are maybe not so well understood or counterintuitive to folks?

Christina Maslach
Yeah, that’s a good question because I think, for a long time, and certainly still now, the really dominant response to burnout is to say, “What’s wrong with the people on the job?” It’s looked at as an individual problem, a weakness, an illness, a medical condition, and so somehow, you’ve got to be cured or treated or send off to a doctor or a psychiatrist, “What’s wrong with you?”

And often, the solutions when you ask the question, “Who is burning out?” are, “Well, what do we do for our people? Maybe we take Fridays off, or we’ll shut down the company for a week, or maybe we need to do some other kinds of things,” and it’s fixing the people. Actually, what you’re doing is focusing on the effects of burnout but you’re not looking at what’s causing it, and that’s a different question. That’s, “Why are people experiencing this?” not just who they are but “Why?”

And when you look at “Why?” then you’re looking at, “What’s the causal factors?” And it turns out that burnout is a stress response to chronic job stressors that have not been well-managed, so it’s a management issue. It’s like there are stuff on the job, chronic. The important part about that is it’s most of the time it’s high frequency, it’s a lot. It’s always there. The stuff that wears you down. It’s the pebbles in your shoe that are always getting in the way and making you uncomfortable and posing little obstacles to just getting the job done on time and do it well.

And what we know about stress and coping is that it’s much harder to recover from chronic job stressors, or chronic stressors, period, than it is for what we call acute stressors, occasional, “Oh, we’ve got an emergency,” “Oh, there’s a little crisis,” but then we recover, get back, ready to go again, and get a good night’s sleep, etc.

So, what happens with burnout is that it’s not just stress, the exhaustion response, and people often use the word burnout to mean just that, “I’m so tired. I’m burned out.” No. Burnout is when you’re not only stressed and exhausted, you don’t have energy to do anything more, but you are becoming incredibly negative, hostile, cynical, “Take this job and shove it.” So, the whole job situation, the conditions, the people, the things you have to do, are really…you are getting very negative about that, and doing the bare minimum rather than trying to do your very best and still get a paycheck and get out of there.

And a third component intertwined with all of this is you may begin feeling negative about yourself, “What is wrong with me? Why am I here? Maybe I made a mistake going into this kind of career. I’m not proud of what I’ve done. Maybe I’m not really good at this. Why should I do it?” So, when you get that trifecta, that triumvirate of the exhaustion of stress, the cynicism about the workplace, and the sense of your job ineffectiveness, that’s burnout. That’s when you go numb. That’s when you start having other health problems. That’s when you quit, or figure out, “How can I hang in there?”

And so, the quality of performance of the work that you do is going downhill, and you’re not being really much good to not just the people on the job, but your family or friends or anybody else, so it can have rippling effects to be on the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s how we know we got it, or in it, or in the midst of it, that’s the view. So, what are the root causes?

Christina Maslach
Well, what we have found, and when I say “we,” I’m talking also about my co-author on the book, Michael Leiter from Canada, but also researchers around the world who have been doing work on this that led to the World Health Organization recognizing job burnout as an occupational phenomenon. And what we have found is that there are at least six areas in which the match, or the good fit, between people and their job are really critical.

If there’s a better fit, better matches, then people are more likely to be engaged with work and satisfied with it and feeling good about it. If there’s really big mismatches, gaps, between people and the job, then they are more at risk for burnout. So, the six areas are, and they’re not in order of importance at all, they’re probably just in terms of how well known they are.

One is workload, and, there, the mismatch is high demands but really low resources. You don’t have enough time, equipment, colleagues, information, whatever it is, to get the job done and meet the demands. But often, more important is the second area, which is control, how much say, discretion, autonomy do you have to do the job the best way possible, to course-correct if something unexpected comes up.

And when people talk often about their workload, they’re saying, “It’s an uncontrollable workload. I don’t have any say about how much I have to do and when and where, and dah, dah, dah.” So, control is important. Third area is reward, and what that means is positive feedback when you do something well. So, it could be salary and benefits, but it’s also social recognition, that people recognize, thank you, pat you on the back, say, “Wow, you really saved that meeting with that client. That was really good. Or, maybe you could give me some tips on doing this.” So, you’re getting a sense that you’re doing a good job, people know you are, and you have new opportunities perhaps.

The fourth area is the workplace community, and that means all the people whose paths you cross in some fashion during your work, and are those relationships one of trust, mutual support, that we figure out how to get together on the same page, we have different points of view, we help each other out, we mentor each other, we have good times and celebrate when things go well.

Or, we work in what is often called these days a socially toxic workplace where you don’t know the other people well; they’re aiming to throw you under the bus before they do anything that’s helpful for you or you for them; there’s bullying, there’s harassment between people on the job; incivility, people not treating each other well. And we have seen that area of socially toxic workplace is really growing even before the pandemic.

The fifth area has to do with fairness. Whatever the rules, whatever the policies, whatever the practices, are they fairly applied equitably? That people who did something special, get the next opportunity, or the office with the window, or promotion comes fairly, as opposed to people who are unfairly cheating the line to get ahead, brown-nose the boss, the goodies go to the wrong person, the award process here is rigged. The people who really do something special never get recognized, that kind of thing.

And that can build a lot of the cynicism of burnout, if you feel that you’re working in an unfair place. This is where, by the way, discrimination lives, where glass ceilings are. It’s not a fair environment in which people are moving ahead. And, finally, the sixth area is values, also talked about as meaning. And I think, more recently, people have said purpose. But it’s the sense that I’m doing something that is important, makes a difference, I’m proud of the kind of work I do, the values of the organization where I am are in line with what I think is right.

Or, for burnout, I’m in a job where there are ethical conflicts where I’m being pushed to do things that I think are wrong, or not to say something when I see something that should be reported because it is illegal, or doing things that’s just so go against my values, “This is not why I went into medicine. I’ve got to get out of here because it’s not just about making money. I want to be in a place where I’m really helping people. That’s why I want to do this kind of work.”

So, those six areas can give you a sense of what’s working well, but also what things are not working so well. And those can then give you some thoughts about, “Okay, how do we make that a little better? How do we deal with the chronic stressors in fairness, or values, or reward, or whatever, and improve the condition so that people are going to thrive in that workplace rather than get beaten down?”

Pete Mockaitis
And what have you found to be some clever, best practices, or approaches to bring matching back-in-action, maybe either on the employee side or on the employer side?

Christina Maslach
Both. Rather than making an either/or, which is a tendency people have, “Is it the job or is it the person? Is it the boss or is it the employee?” It’s both/and. All of them. And in many ways, when it says that job stressors have not been successfully managed, it could be managed by the individuals, by the team, by managers, by professional organization.

There are a lot of ways in which things could be altered, or changed, or ideas can be proposed that, “How about we do it this way? How about if we redesign intake so that we don’t have this kind of problem that we all complain about? Maybe it would be better if we…or, no, how about if we do it this way, which would be a rotation? Well, how about if…?”

But come up with ways of identifying the chronic job stressors and what are the various options that we could do to get rid of them, modify them, make them less intense in terms of negative outcome? There’s a lot of ways of doing it. We have a lot of examples throughout the book in the six areas, saying, “Here’s what different kinds of places did and tried to improve the match there.”

And one of them involved fairness which, when we did an assessment, this was an organization that had about 800 people, and it wasn’t workload, it wasn’t reward. To the surprise of the C-suite, it was fairness, and they’re saying, “What do you mean? People think we’re unfair?” And they were looking and asking people, “What’s the problem?” They found one thing that everybody hated, really hated, and that was the distinguished service award that got you an extra little bonus check. And it was kind of like, “Wait. Money and it’s unfair?” It was unfair because people said, “The wrong people get that award.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Christina Maslach
“They haven’t done anything special.” They didn’t get a promotion so they went to their supervisor, and said, “Can you help me out?” “Okay, I’ll give you the award instead.” Or, went to the leader of a team, and the team members who actually did all the work of the special thing don’t get anything, just the leader. I mean, there were like 50 reasons why the award was considered so unfair. People hated it, didn’t want anybody to know that they might be nominated for it.

So, once that was kind of we presented the results of it, and said, “This is what you guys said,” they put together a group, a taskforce with people from different levels of employees in different units to work on it and come up with a better solution. The first thing was to point to the CEO, and say, “Fix it,” and he said, “I didn’t know we had a problem. You better help me figure out what to do.”

And it was not easy at first, there’s all different kinds of things you have to consider and come up with, but they came up finally with a proposal for how to do…how to really recognize people who’ve done something really special, and it was voted on and put in. And when we went back a year later to do some follow-up interviews, because we were following people over time, that fairness issue had dropped out, because people said, “Okay, now we’re doing it right.”

And also saying in the interviews, “And if we could fix that, guess what else we could fix?” It built hope, optimism, “Hey, we could actually think of ways of making our working life better by identifying the problems and doing something about it.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. Well, that’s really counterintuitive and good to know that your intentions might be nice but, in practice, things can get abused, such that that recognition harms more than helps.

Christina Maslach
Yeah. And fairness, if you think about it, it’s a really important core psychological need, social psychological need that we all have, everybody, human beings. We want to be treated fairly in life. We wanted to be treated fairly in court, for example, legal system. Even if we end up not winning a case, let’s say, in the legal system, if we feel we’ve been treated fairly then we’ll be okay with it.

Or, for example, just to take it back to a small example from my own career. I teach a lot of students in classes, and sometimes a student will soon come in, and say, “Oh, I think I got an unfair grade on the test, or on the paper, and I think I need more points.” And I’ll set up a process, and other people do too, “We’ll get somebody else to do a new grading not knowing what the original one was, and whatever that second grade is, it could be better, it could also be worse. And you can lay out what you think entitles you to a better grade on that.”

And then you let them know, “Here’s what a second independent person said,” it could be me, the teacher, as opposed to my teaching assistant, and then it’s kind of like, “Oh, okay. Got it.” “This is why you didn’t get the full thing here,” or, “Yes, we should’ve given you more recognition of what you did.” But the fairness of the process is critical, that it’s not being biased, that it’s not being slanted in different ways towards some people and not towards others and that kind of thing.

So, the kind of fit that we’re talking about here is a more psychological fit with these core needs, like fairness, belongingness, psychological safety, much like we have always been for many, many years. We’ve always been concerned about the fit physically between the body, the human body, and the chair you sit in, or the computer station. And we’ve redesigned those so that you don’t blow out your fingers and wrists with carpal tunnel syndrome.

So, it’s like recognizing that the human body functions best if supported in certain ways, and how do we change the environment to better fit and support the body doing whatever the work is. What we’re finding is the same principle exists when what are the things that make people feel competent, and getting better at their job, and feeling like they’re a part of a good team, and being treated fairly. And those matter a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So much good stuff. Thank you. So, I’m curious, if one finds one’s self burnt out, what do you recommend the very first steps, one, two, three, about where to go from there?

Christina Maslach
Well, I think one of the first steps is to realize that you may not be alone. There may be other people who are having similar issues or problems or whatever. So, part of it is to find out a little bit more about, “Do other people share some of these responses to these chronic job stressors?” If you’re the only one, then it may suggest to you, “This is not the place for me. I better go somewhere else.”

But if there are other people who are also, it doesn’t have to be burned out, necessarily, but are also struggling with the same, “Ahh, we don’t have the things we need to do the job well,” then it’s a way to sort of shift from me to we, and say, “How can we do this better?” People often ask, “Do I have to go to my supervisor or manager and say I’m burned out, and can you accommodate me in some way?” And I’m saying, “No, because I think that’s just going to make it more your problem and stigmatize you. That’s not the way to go.”

But if we could say, “How do we put in a process for our unit, our team,” or whatever the sort of reasonable grouping is here, “to handle some of the problems we’re all feeling about an unfair procedure? How could we make it better?” That’s a different question than, “What’s wrong with you?” or, “What’s wrong with me?”

So, having a little bit more of a social power somehow, or to ask that as part of the regular meetings we have, “Do we have something where we can kind of periodically check in, like having an organizational checkup instead of a medical checkup? How are we doing? Are there any signs of problems coming along? The world is changing, do we need to actually rethink the jobs a little bit because we’re not quite on?”

So, having a focus on, “How do we make it better?” actually allows for more thoughtful action and collaboration and customization to actually improve the job conditions. And that’s ultimately what will prevent burnout rather than just helping people cope with it, because coping doesn’t usually change the sources of the problem.

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

Christina Maslach
I think just to sort of re-emphasize the point that burnout is as much about the job conditions, the social environmental conditions as it is about the people who are in those conditions doing the job, and we have to look at both. Getting a better match, a better fit can involve changes, redesign, thinking new things on both the person side and the job side. And, particularly, if it’s things that are affecting more people, a lot of people, it’s important to look at that.

What we have seen recently in, say, Gallup polls, both for this country and for globally, is that the vast majority of workers say they are not engaged with their job. It used to be about, oh, about 30%. Only 30%. I always used to wonder about the other 70. Now it’s dropping down to 20%, globally, people are not engaged. So, it’s like you don’t have to focus on the extreme opposite engagement of burnout. People all along the middle of that continuum are also not so happy with their work.

So, the idea of, “How do we make the job better? How do we evolve?” We didn’t see COVID coming maybe but we had to adjust to that. But in five years, the world probably is going to be different from what it is now. We’re still going to have to adjust and figure out, “What do we not need to do? What could we do differently? What is the most important stuff? And what are things that…? How do we just kind of rethink this job and not just keep doing it the same way it’s always been done?”

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

Christina Maslach
I think one of the things that has always been important for me is something that I think I learned being raised in a Quaker tradition, and it was not what my parents had been raised as but it was something that they chose at that time. And one of the things about that is that the sort of the general beliefs about other human beings are the assumption that there is always some good in everyone, and your job is to look for it and make sure, whatever you can do to help it blossom even more.

And so, rather than just sort of saying, “Oh, these people are not good. They can’t do the job. They’ve got a problem, dah, dah, dah,” saying, “Wait a minute. There could be ways in which they could be really valuable assets,” and you invested in them and hired them. And, “How do we make what they’ve got to bring, come out and really make a good contribution on that?” And it may be different in different kind of cases but I think that basic philosophy of always looking for what’s good in people is something that has always been a part of my research and teaching.

And so, it’s like, “How do I, if I learned something, if I found out about something, how do we pass it on and make it usable so that things can get a little bit better?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And could you share a particularly favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Christina Maslach
I think of, in my own work, some of the interviews that I’ve done with people that have really just completely changed what I understood and thought about the kind of work that they do.

And I had one person who, when he saw…he was a practicing psychologist in a mental health clinic in the Midwest, and he read the article I wrote in ’76, the first article in the human behavior, as I said that somehow was generating all kinds of attention. He wrote me a letter that was one of the most beautiful letters and completely grasped everything about burnout that I could ever imagine, way better than I could even think of with all the data and stuff like that.

And he just kind of put it all in these beautiful amazing words, which I have then quoted in my books and everything since then. And one day, there was a knock on my door, and it turned out it was this man who had moved out to the West Coast, had decided to get his PhD, he had a Master’s but he was going to get a PhD, and go into practice, and he has become an expert on treating people and helping people deal with burnout issues.

And not only has he become a lifelong friend, he is a musician, and we share jazz music. He has concerts and all those kinds of things. And he is someone who had been at the darkest point of burnout and ended up having a life that was really great, overcame all these things, and was able to make a good life and to help other people better understand what they could do about it.

So, knowing those kinds of stories, what’s possible, it’s just really…that kind of thing really has given us a much better understanding of what burnout is all about.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Christina Maslach
When I was young, my friends and I became enamored of Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, and it’s been interesting because it’s always been there’s something happening, and there’s clues, and you’re trying to figure out what it is, and can you come up with a solution, and come out with an answer that might prevent bad things from happening.

The other thing I would say is that, again as a young child, somebody gave me a children’s book of archaeology, and I fell in love with archaeology. And, again, you’re looking for clues, you’re trying to understand how people lived in earlier years in different places. And I discovered later on in life that Sigmund Freud was a great admirer of archaeology, so I thought, “Oh, okay, this is good.”

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

Christina Maslach
Well, I don’t think of it as a tool but I think of it as a critical thing for what I do, and that is getting at least one other pair of eyes on what I’ve written. We haven’t got a tool yet that really quite does it, but it’s like a really good editor, a colleague, somebody with a different point of view, who kind of looks at your writing, and says, “Have you thought about this? Why don’t you say it this way? I don’t understand that example.” And then talking with them about how they’re seeing it, and what I said, and what I’m trying to do, and maybe it’s not coming across clearly and stuff.

So, I just find that kind of interpersonal sharing of work, and having different people weigh in on, and giving me feedback is probably the most important thing that I’ve had in the work over the years.

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

Christina Maslach
I would point them to my website at the University of California Berkeley in the psychology department. And there is a listing there, I’m now an emerita professor, which means that I’m retired but I’m still actively involved. And so, that would be the psychology department at UC Berkeley. Also, I would recommend the Healthy Workplace Center at UC Berkeley.

I’m a researcher affiliated with that, and I’ve learned a lot more about the workplace because, in that center, Interdisciplinary Center, I get to talk to architects, and designers, and economists, and all kinds of other people who each have a different kind of perspective and point of view and contribution to make to what the workplaces look like, and how they function, and how they go about doing the kind of work that they do.

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

Christina Maslach
I would say that the challenge is really to see this as a continuing process of, “How do we get better at supporting people doing the kind of work that our society needs?” And I think this is a particularly important challenge now because I’m hearing about all kinds of people who are leaving jobs. They are not going back into nursing or being physicians. They are not going back to teaching.

We need teachers, we need doctors and nurses, in terms of our health and wellbeing.

So, the challenge of designing a better workplace is the answer to burnout rather than trying to figure out what’s wrong with people who get too stressed and burned out by the job. There’s a larger lesson of, “How do we…” how can I say this, “…get the best return on the investment that we make in people and their contributions to all of our society?” And that means really focusing on the environment and the job conditions in that situation as well as on the training and the feedback and stuff as well for the individual employees.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Christina, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun and very little burnout.

Christina Maslach
Thank you. I wish the very same to you and everybody else. That’s a great way to end.

831: How to Manage Multiple Projects without the Overwhelm with Elizabeth Harrin

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Elizabeth Harrin lays out the five critical steps to making the management of multiple projects more manageable.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The easiest way to make managing multiple projects manageable
  2. How to ensure follow through when you’re not the manager
  3. How to strike the right balance between time, cost, and quality

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Harrin teaches people how to juggle multiple projects so they can meet stakeholders’ expectations without working extra hours. She is a project management practitioner, trainer, mentor and founder of RebelsGuideToPM.com. 

An author of seven project management books, Elizabeth prides herself on her straight-talking, real-world advice for project managers. She uses her twenty years’ experience doing the job to help people deliver better quality results whilst ditching the burnout through her community membership programme, Project Management Rebels.

Resources Mentioned

Elizabeth Harrin Interview Transcript

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

Elizabeth Harrin
Hello. Thank you for having me on the show.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom but, first, I think we need to hear a little bit about your ritual involving the song “Firework.” What’s the story here? 

Elizabeth Harrin
Well, when I go live on a video or something like that, I feel like I need to get into the zone. And having that break between just doing my emails or whatever I was doing before, and focusing on showing up and being present in the moment, I do that with music. So, I play a song and I just got stuck on Katy Perry’s, so I play that to get into the right frame of mind before going live and talking to people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, “Firework” is actually a really fun tune, and I love the metaphor at the beginning, like, “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?”

Elizabeth Harrin
Absolutely. Drifting around, isn’t that what every project manager feels like at the beginning of a new piece of work, and you have got no idea what you’re supposed to be doing?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Elizabeth, you’re a master of the segue and tying it together. All right. Well, I want to hear a little bit about Managing Multiple Projects. You’ve written the book on it. Could you kick us off with a particularly surprising or counterintuitive or extra-fascinating discovery you’ve made when it comes to managing multiple projects?

Elizabeth Harrin
I think one of the things that surprised me was I did a survey to get some numbers, a bit of research for the book, and most people are managing between two and five projects, and that doesn’t sound like very many, but having to constantly switch between work does create that overhead, and workload is the biggest cause of burnout. So, if you can’t manage that workload effectively and switch between all things you’re juggling, it can be really quite difficult.

And the most surprising thing for me about that survey, and the results I got back when I was interviewing people for the book, was how sad it is that people are feeling so unhappy about the work that they do. And the verbatim comments were, just shocked me that people show up to work, they want to do the best that they can, and they’re not in environments where they can do that.

And I felt that that was something that we need to change in the world because we all need to be happy at work. We spend so much time there, it’s not worth doing things that we don’t enjoy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Elizabeth, that is powerful, and thank you for sharing that. That really does connect emotionally in terms of overwhelm, burnout, sadness. When you say verbatim comments, are there a couple that have lodged into your brain and haunt you, that you could share to tee up just what we might be able to escape here?

Elizabeth Harrin
There was a comment from a woman called Kimberly, and she wrote, “I work in a fast-food project management environment that expects a sit-down service.” And I thought, “Don’t we all?” So many people must feel that they’re in environments where you want to do the best quality work you can, and actually it’s got to be a quick turnaround. There has to be speed and shortcuts, and we have to apply all these hacks just to get through the day because we don’t have the time to focus on the people that matter and the work that matters.

And so, that analogy about feeling like you’re in a fast-food environment but all your customers and the work that you want to be able to deliver, you won’t be able to provide this five-star dining service. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And it’s really funny, and I have felt both of those work desires. Sometimes it is a blast to just shred through a lot of stuff at medium quality and high speed, and just enjoy the thrill ride, like, “Woohoo! Look at all these things checked off and out the door. That’s really cool.” And other times, you really do want to be, I don’t know, sort of like an artisanal, craftsmanship, bespoke, excellence, maximum beauty, maximum quality, and what’s challenging is often you don’t get to choose.

Elizabeth Harrin
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“That might be your mood but what’s required is this.” And if they require both speed and excellence at the same time, yeah, that’s a tricky one.

Elizabeth Harrin
It’s a tricky one, and people end up working longer hours. That was certainly my experience when I went back to work after maternity leave and was in this situation where I was managing multiple projects myself. My choices were do things less good, to a less quality standard, or work longer hours. And neither of them really appealed to me in terms of wanting to be the best professional that I could be and do good things in my career. So, I had to start rethinking what work meant and how I could work more productively because the tools I had only gave me those two choices, and that wasn’t good enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s powerful and it sounds like some of your thoughts made it into your book, Managing Multiple Projects: How Project Managers Can Balance Priorities, Manage Expectations and Increase Productivity. If you could give us the key thesis or big idea behind the book, what is it?

Elizabeth Harrin
I’ve put together a five-part model that helps people break down their work, structure it differently, and then keep all their balls in the air. Although, the thing I would say is that no book will ever tell you there’s a one-size solution that will fit every need, so it’s written very much from a perspective of, “Here’s a ton of different tools and techniques that you could try. Test them out in your work environment. Find what fits your working style,” because everyone is different, aren’t they? And everyone’s work environment is different. But, broadly, with a few tweaks, hopefully, you can make the work a little bit more manageable.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds exciting. Could you share with us a case study or a particularly inspiring story example of someone who was able to upgrade their managing multiple projects game to see great results?

Elizabeth Harrin
Yes, I can. I do a lot of mentoring as well, so a lot of the people I talk to will pick and choose a couple of different things to apply. I can give you my own example and then I can share some examples from other people. The thing that made the biggest difference for me is the first of those five steps, which is working out what’s in your personal portfolio. So, what was the totality of my workload? Because I had three or four projects that I was managing, but also, I was mentoring my colleagues, I was organizing events at work, I was having to turn up and deputize for my manager at different meetings.

And all the other things, they never really make it into your mental to-do list because they’re the stuff you jot down on a Post It note and you never find the time, really, to put those on a project schedule or anything. They’re just expectations. So, when I had a complete picture of all the things I was responsible for, I then got a big shock about how many hours that actually equated to within a week, and being able to then have an intelligent conversation with my manager, and also to plan my own time, it became a lot easier because I had full visibility.

And I think that’s something that I know from teaching about managing multiple projects, that other people have take away as well, just that realization of all the extra things that we’re expected to do, whether it’s time sheets, or finance reporting, or organizing a party for the end of the year celebrations, whatever it is, all of those things take time away from us being able to deliver the main part of our job, the projects that we’re working on.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And I’m thinking about mandatory trainings, I’m thinking about the sort of meetings, I’m thinking about email. Email is tricky because, on the one hand, are these emails about your projects. Well, then I guess, in a way, that time might get counted. Or, are the emails about everything else from the CFO and the CEO and this and that cross-functional group here and there.

Elizabeth Harrin
Yes, team meetings, briefing your colleagues, all that kind of stuff. So, that personal portfolio step was really helpful for me. And one of the other things that I talk about in the book is dependency management. So, how do you work out how your work interacts with other people’s work, and how each of your projects interact with each other?

And I can tell you about Robert, who told me that once he’d planned out those different dependencies between his workload, he felt that he already knew that in his head. But having plotted it out and writing it down in a matrix, he could then use that as a communication tool to help other people in the department understand how their work impacted other people.

And that was valuable then because he could use that to help people talk about, “When does their work need to be done? What’s going to happen if it’s late? This is the implications for these people or this team or that project.” And they could talk about how they could help each other, make sure all of those expectations were met.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, lovely. That is handy. And so, just like a snazzy chart graph, flowchart, bit of graphical loveliness?

Elizabeth Harrin
You could do it that way. I just wrote it in a spreadsheet. I’m very good at simple things. So, the spreadsheet is a list of all my projects, a list of all my other responsibilities, a list of the way that my work interacts with other people’s work. The way that we did the dependency matrix was we had a list of projects down the side, and then a list of the same projects across the top.

And where they met, we could say, “Well, does this project have anything to do with that? Does this piece of work have anything to do with that team?” And you could sort of write in the box, “Yes, we need to be aware of this,” or, “Yes, we have to do that before this one.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay. Well, those are handy right off the bat. And could you share, when it comes to managing multiple projects, there are many books and works and tools and trainings on project management, and your corner of the project management universe, managing multiple projects, is distinctive. Can you share with us, what are some of the key differences, distinctions about the game when you’re managing multiple projects versus one super project?

Elizabeth Harrin
I think the biggest challenge for me is having different stakeholders, more stakeholders. If you’re managing a big gigantic project and it’s taking up all of your workload, then you’ve probably got quite good relationships with the people that you work with because you’re with them every day, working with them every day. The team might be large, and I’m not saying there’s not a lot of people and relationships to manage, but there’s one common goal that you’re all working towards, which is delivering the project, and you’ve probably got experience of working with them on a regular basis.

Now, let’s say you’re managing four projects. That’s four potentially quite separate, different teams, each of who want a piece of you at some point in the week, and you’ve got to switch between managing their expectations about how important their work is because not all projects are the same level of importance. Someone has to work on the stuff that’s low importance. And it might be that someone wants more of your time than you can actually give because you’ve got other things to do in your week as well.

So, I think those relationships are probably the hardest thing and the most different thing about managing multiple strands of work rather than just managing one. And that could be managing four different clients. If you’re in a client-facing role, maybe you’ve got four different clients, maybe you’ve got four different internal projects but, ultimately, the more people you have to work with, the harder, I think, the job becomes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then, now could you share with us, you mentioned at the very beginning that burnout, sadness, overwhelm stuff, do you have any strategies, specifically, that are targeted toward the internal game, our emotional landscape?

Elizabeth Harrin
I would say having boundaries is probably the most important thing because often, when people give us work to do, there is the expectation that we have the time to do it. And because we are good employees, and we don’t want to rock the boat, we say, “Yes, of course, I can take on that extra piece of work. When would you like it done by?”

And I think having mental boundaries around, “How do you accept new pieces of work when it’s within your gift to be able to do that?” Are you going to make the point about saying, “Well, I can do this but it will mean I’ll have to stop doing something else. I can do this but not by tomorrow because I’m working on something else. I can get it to you by Friday. Is that okay?”

And having that kind of sense of protecting your own time and your own mental health so that you’re not saying, “Yes, I can do everything, of course. Just lay it on me, and I’m just going to stay up till midnight and be at my keyboard all night.” By being aware of what your own limitations are and how many hours you’ve got available, what else you’ve got going on, planning out the next couple of weeks, you can start to think about, “If I say yes to this, and I have to because my boss is asking,” let’s be honest, you haven’t really got a lot of choice, “How can I make this fit? Whatever help do I need? How can I have that conversation?” And I tend to default to the, “I can do this, and this is when I can get it to you.”

There’s another tool that I can share, if you like.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, please do.

Elizabeth Harrin
One of the things that has helped me has been the two-week look ahead. So, I will take a point in the week where I’ll look at what’s coming up in the next fortnight with the team, to say, “Okay, what do we know about the next two weeks? Who’s got holiday? When have we got big meetings that we need to prepare for? What deadlines do we have?” and then nothing really surprises you, or you’ve built in a little bit of time to be aware of the things that are coming up, so if you do get a surprise, it doesn’t throw your whole schedule off because you’ve already built in some resilience for what you know is coming up.

That’s been really helpful for me because it also means that I can look ahead in terms of just how busy I’m going to be. So, you talked about protecting yourself and being mentally ready to be busy and juggle all these things. If I know I’ve got another week coming up in the future and it’s very busy, lots of big meetings, high stress, I can prepare for that because I can make sure that I’ve got things for the children’s lunchboxes in the freezer, I can make sure I’ve got childcare organized, I can make sure I’m not booking any late-night social events for me that week.

Or, if I am, I’m planning the next morning so that that’s easy. And so, I’m trying to holistically look at work is coming up and what that affects me, how that affects me personally so that I can be more prepared to show up ready to work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s lovely. Okay. Well, let’s dig into your five key concepts. They each start with P, which is handy to remember: portfolio, plan, people, productivity, positioning. We’ve already gotten a couple tidbits for each. Could you perhaps give us a quick definition or articulation of the concepts, and then perhaps a top do and don’t within each of the five?

Elizabeth Harrin
Okay. With portfolio, I talk about having full visibility of the work that you’ve got on the go at the moment and the things that you’re responsible for. So, my top tip for that is just to take an hour, perhaps even less, and just look through whatever notetaking tool you use or your notebook or the notes you’ve got on your phone, and try and write down everything that you are currently working on, looking at how much time does that need to take per week.

And I know working out hours is very difficult, so what you might want to do is just think, “It’s a big thing, a medium thing, a small thing. That’s good enough for this exercise.” And then that’s the portfolio piece done. It gives you a good sense of what’s going on. The thing not to do is to keep that information to yourself. Use that as a talking point tool with your manager and with your team to say, “Look at all these things I’ve got on the go. Can you help me prioritize so that I’m focusing more of my time on the things that really matter to the organization?”

The plan step is about scheduling, working out when you’re available to do things, and the tip I have for that is to look at all the different projects you’re working on, and then look at where they’ve got their big milestones, when are they going live, or when do you have a big meeting about them, and then plot those on – again, I did it on a spreadsheet – because then you can start to see, “Oh, project number one and project number four have very similar schedules.”

“Maybe we could work on them together and maybe there are some benefits in looking at how we can streamline and combine the work, if it makes sense to do so, so that we’re not doing everything twice.” With that you’re going to need help from other people. So, again, the tip not to do is to try and do that alone. Other people will have a different insight about what’s important and what’s coming up on a project schedule, so it’s worth involving the rest of the team in your planning.

The people element of the model is all around working with others, as you guess from the name, and that is to do with thinking through how you use other people’s time. So, my suggestion there, if I have to give you one thing, would be to look at where you can combine meetings. And I can tell you about a time I did not do this.

I went along to a meeting with my project sponsor, my main manager I was working with on that piece of work, and I was all ready to talk about one project, but he was also involved in another project, and he asked me questions about that one and I wasn’t ready to talk about that, I didn’t have any of my notes, so I baffled, made episode, went along, and got through it. But it made me think, actually, other people are working on multiple things, too.

And to them, they might have multiple things they want to ask you about, so let’s try and combine the communication so that we’re only contacting people once rather than contacting them multiple time about each different thing that you’re involved with because you then help them manage their time as well.

With productivity, which is the fourth P, it’s really around managing your own time, thinking through what works for you, what productivity tools and techniques you want to use, and how you can help other people in your team be productive as well. The thing not to do with that is to get sucked into the latest shiny tool or what’s working for your colleagues because, in my experience, everybody has quite different ways of working to the best of their ability.

For me, I’m very much a pen-and-paper person. I do use electronic tools for project scheduling and task management and all that, but I always have pen and paper as well. Whereas, I know people who would never write anything down. So, you need to find out what works best for you and then use that in the way that you work.

Positioning is the last P. It’s also the one that’s the most convoluted because I kind of have to find the P that fit it, but it’s more around, “How do you set yourself up for success? So, what does the environment look like?” So, this is all around checklists and templates and processes, and what can you change in your environment to make life easier for future you.

So, one very simple thing to do would be to think through, “What do I do on a regular basis? How much time do I spend thinking about that? Would it be easier if I just had a checklist or a work construction or something like that? Then, if I’m not here, someone else can do it, but, equally, when I need to do it, I can make sure I just wheeze through it. I don’t have to worry about any of those steps.”

And I wonder if this is part of me getting older, but I used to be able to hold a list of things in my head. Now, I struggle more to think about the different steps involved in every process and making sure that nothing gets forgotten. So, anything that can be written down and templated just saves you time in the future.

Pete Mockaitis
And when it comes to the holding in the head, I’ve really noticed that. It’s a little bit of a stressor in terms of, I guess, maybe the psychologists would call it our working memory capacity. That might not be right construct but something like that in terms of there are so many things we can put there, and then when we try to push it for more, I actually feel sort of stress signals popping up.

And so, what I find interesting is if there is a task that is already somewhat stressful, or I’d be prone to procrastinate on because I’m worried I might screw something up or overlook something, make a mistake, or it’s just unpleasant for any number of reasons, having that checklist in place is very satisfying because it’s like I can free up all the potential stress associated with thinking and remembering the steps because they’re just there, and I can feel a little bit of fun momentum associated with, “Okay, I checked this piece of a checklist. It only took 30 seconds but I did it, and it’s checked. And now momentum is there visibly on the page before my eyes.”

Elizabeth Harrin
Exactly. Who doesn’t love ticking a box on a spreadsheet, right, to say it’s done, cross off that task on your to-do list? Project managers love that kind of stuff. And it’s exactly true, and it gives you a better-quality result because you’re not going to forget things. You’re going to go through a set of steps. And, honestly, the first time I did it, my checklist was a bit rubbish, and as I went through the actual task, I went, “All right, I have to do that as well. Oh, I’ve forgotten to involve that person.” So, you just add it on and it becomes checklist version 2.0, and you keep improving and iterating as you go. But the next time you have to do that, you don’t have to think so hard.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay. Well, now just a couple follow-up questions across some of these five Ps. I’ve had the experience, and apparently there are some psychological truths or principles that suggest that we humans have a real hard time, in fact, estimating how long something is going to take. Is that your experience? And what can be done about this challenge?

Elizabeth Harrin
Yes, that’s very much my experience. It’s really hard to estimate. And a lot of what we do is knowledge work where we’re thinking of things or changing something, and we probably haven’t done that before, so you don’t even have past projects where you can go back and say, “When we did it the last time, it took us this long, so, therefore, we can just use those estimates.”

Sometimes that’s because organizations don’t really capture the data in a format we can go back and use again but, also, it’s because people suffer from optimism bias. And when we think, “Oh, yeah, we can do that in four hours,” meanwhile forgetting about the fact that we all need toilet breaks in the day, and to take calls, and to check our emails, and to turn up and do other things.

So, my suggestion for people who are struggling with estimating is to think about how many hours you’ve got in the day, and then to schedule yourself and other people in your team, or have conversations with other people about what’s realistic for them to do, but only think of yourself as available 80% of your time because that then gives you time for those team meetings, the mandatory training we talked about earlier, and taking phone calls on things that are completely unrelated but still relevant to your job, and then you’ve got a bit of a buffer in your day.

The other big challenge with estimating is that people often approach estimating, thinking that they’re only doing this one thing, whereas, in real life, we’re probably juggling multiple different strands of activity or many projects, and switching between projects also cause us some time. So, time blocking has helped me.

Blocking out some time, a few hours to work on a particular thing, or an afternoon to do a particular type of task, and talking to our colleagues about best ways to get things done, what productivity techniques work for them, how do they organize their time, when have they got holidays coming up that they might need to do more things beforehand to hand over, and that might make them less available for your project because they’re supporting something else is just a lot about talking.

And I think contingency as well. Do you think that would be useful?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Elizabeth Harrin
Yeah, contingency is a buffer time. People often ask me, “But how much contingency should I add to this estimate?” or, “I think this task is going to take five days, but what’s reasonable contingency?” And I tend to, “Contingency should be something that’s based on uncertainty.” So, if you’re not really sure and you’re just guessing, you want to slack on a bit of extra time. Quite a lot probably if you just don’t have the information to make an accurate guess at the moment. But if you’ve done the work before, or you’re quite confident in how long things are going to take, you could probably get away without adding a lot less extra time.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. That makes sense in terms of the variable driving whether you want to add more or less contingency is uncertainty because we just don’t know, so let’s play it safe by having some more in a high-uncertainty zone. So, let’s say that the uncertainty is small, you’ve done it before, but it’s a little different. Do you have a go-to percentage that you utilize?

Elizabeth Harrin
I like 10%, I would add 10% extra on. There are lots of estimating models, so if your organization is quite mature in the way that they approach time tracking and estimating, then there’s a lot better ways to do it than just to add on 10%. But if you are just working on something yourself without an awful lot of other guidance from a project management office or anything like that, then give yourself a bit of a buffer, and 10% seems to cover most scenarios.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And when it comes to the people side of things, when you’re in the tricky position of having to lead without the authority, like you own the project but you don’t own the employees, you have to do the stuff to make that proceed, it could be a tricky spot to be in. Do you have any top tips beyond being considerate in leveraging their time, of being extra influential, persuasive, to have people to say yes, and, in fact, follow through with their stuff?

Elizabeth Harrin
In my experience, I think it helps to tell people…well, to not tell people, to invite people to participate and explain the reasons behind why their participation is valuable. People like to do things because there’s a reason behind, not just because they’d been asked. So, the great thing about projects is that often there’s a change or a benefit that’s coming at the end of the work. Projects sometimes have bad outcomes, like, “We’re closing down an office, so we’re making your department redundant,” or something like that.

But, often, we’re trying to do something that will be beneficial for the organization and bring about something that’s good. So, if you can tie their contribution into the vision, or the bigger picture of why we’re doing the work in the first place, they can draw those lines and make the connection between how their contribution matters. That can be quite a powerful way of helping people to feel motivated about doing the work in the first place.

The other thing that works is allowing them to set their own deadlines. So, if you go to somebody, and say, “I need this by Tuesday,” their instant reaction might be, “Oh, I can’t do that. You can’t tell me what to do.” Whereas, if you can say, “We need this piece of work done, and your boss has suggested that you’re the right person to do it. How do you think…how much time do you think this might take?”

Obviously, this is not a conversation you’d have in three sentences, but you’d sit with them and explain what the requirements are and help them see the bigger picture of the project as well. And people can then say, “Well, if I need to involve this person and do this and work with that, then I think I could probably get that done by a week on Tuesday.” And that’s the date that goes in your project plan.

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they’re trying to do projects is they make up all the deadlines themselves. In fact, I’ve sat in a room with senior managers, and they’ve drawn out a project plan on a whiteboard, and said, “Right, that’s what we’re going to do.” And I thought, “But none of the people who are actually doing the thing are in the room.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, “You don’t know what it takes.”

Elizabeth Harrin
“You just don’t know. Why are you making this stuff up?” And then, of course, you just caused delays later because you’ve set expectations that are unmanageable. So, using other people’s expertise, and tapping into what they know, and trusting them to suggest the right timeframes can help. And I feel I’ve gone off the question now. Did I answer the question?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, it’s all juicy stuff in terms of you cast the vision for, “Okay, this is how things can be better when the project is done and how you’re contributing to that.” But the deadline-setting stuff, I think, is handy in terms of thinking like there might be a date by which it’s extra valuable to have this done, like, before the tradeshow, or the big meeting, or the big conference. So, that’s, I guess, would be nice to have it done, and executives can determine that.

However, I’m thinking about this is maybe the first project management lesson I learned I thought that was really useful – was it the triangle? You can probably describe it better, Elizabeth, than I can. What’s the time management or the project management triangle?

Elizabeth Harrin
We talk about the iron triangle, the triangle of constraints, of balancing time, cost, and quality. Although, the thought process behind that has moved on a bit now, and we don’t just use time, cost, and quality as a measure of success. But in terms of talking to your stakeholders, your colleagues, and your project sponsor, and your boss, it is really helpful because you can say, “Well, I can deliver to this level of quality, and it will cost this much and take this long.”

And then they could say, “But I want it faster. I can’t spend that much money. I want it cheaper.” And then you can adjust the corners of the triangle, and say, “Well, if we want it cheaper, it will have to be less quality, or maybe it will take longer because we’ll use cheaper resources to do it. Or, if you want it to take less time, it’ll probably cost more because we’ll throw more resources at it. We might be able to maintain quality but we might have to take a few things out of the project scope and maybe add those in as a phase two later, but then we’ll hit the deadline.”

So, it’s about balancing all these different success criteria. And that’s a really helpful point that you’ve put out there because you need to know what people feel is important, and maybe it’s the deadline, maybe it’s, “Do what you need to do but get it done by the tradeshow.” I worked in healthcare, and I was on a project once, and people didn’t really care about when it got done. Well, that’s not true. They did care when it got done, but what was most important was that when it was delivered, it was good quality.

Elizabeth Harrin
And if that took a couple of extra weeks, then a couple of extra weeks didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. They just needed it to be good. So, some people will say the date is important. Some people will say, “You’ve got a ceiling on this much money that you can spend,” or, “This quality criteria has to be met,” or it might be something like sustainability, customer satisfaction, or some other kind of measure that they think is important. And if you know that, then you can make all of your decisions based around, “How do we get to that?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is powerful to see what is the priority there. And when you say quality, I think my own synonym for quality is how much good stuff, in terms of we can have more…it’s almost two dimensions, like a scope thing in terms of how excellent is the thing and how many of the things are there. Like, if we’re doing a bunch of home renovations, it’s like, “Okay, you want 30 updates across the kitchen and the bathrooms and whatever. And so, we can sort of do fewer of those updates, or those updates could be chintzier, or we’re going to have to have more people working on it, contractors, etc. which will come with the paying for it, or we just take more time to do it.”

So, I think that has been handy for me as I think through stuff, and I get stressed out, like, “Uh-oh, how on earth….?” This feels bad to say but I guess it’s real and something has to give somewhere or else we will be those sad, burnt out, overwhelmed people, is that usually what I sacrifice is quality. It’s like, “All right, well, it’s going to be worse.” But because my quality expectations are usually so insane, we sent you a microphone, so I’m told that no one else does that, and I thought, “Oh, really? They probably should,” but whatever.

So, I’m able to back it up, it’s like, “Okay. Well, we’re just going to allow that, and it’s good enough for 98% of the people who are encountering this thing that I’m making, and I’m just going to have to take a breath and live with it, and that’s fine.”

Elizabeth Harrin
And that’s very much the case at work, isn’t it? There are some things that you absolutely have to get perfect. And if you’re a lawyer writing a contract, you can’t just go, “Oh, well, it’s 80% good enough.” Your client is not going to live with that. But if you’re drafting an internal document just for review to brief your colleagues on something, you know, I prefer not to send out things with typos, but if something did slip through, no one is going to die. It will be fine.

And if it means that you get it out the door at 5:00 o’clock, and you go home on time, and you have a life instead of sitting there stressing about every full stop, and staying at your keyboard till 7:00, because I guarantee that half the people who read that document won’t even notice whether a full stop is there or not. 

Pete Mockaitis
I really like what you said there about no one is going to die, and that is a perspective I’ve come to again and again, because it’s true. There are some things in healthcare, in transportation, in military, police, and other fields where it truly is life and death. The quality of your work will make that impact. And many other times in the land of spreadsheets and memos, it’s usually not.

And so, I find that quite comforting if I’m getting a little bit too worked up about something, is to recall that no one will die no matter how horrible an episode we produce, Elizabeth, although you’re doing great. So, that’s cool. Well, now tell me, Elizabeth, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Elizabeth Harrin
Something that you can do to start managing your multiple projects more effectively is to think about how you can group them into different buckets. So, if you do a couple of things for one client, or you’re leading on a couple of initiatives for one particular department, how can you bring those things together to streamline the communication, try and have meetings where you cover multiple things in one go instead of scheduling lots of meetings about the same thing?

So, looking for connections between the work you do can make it feel a lot less overwhelming. If you’ve got 15 things on the go, for example, that’s 15 things you have to think about. But if you can put them into buckets, and you’ve got five things in each bucket, then you’ve only got three things to think about, and it could be around the solution that you’re building, the person you’re doing it for, the type of technology that’s in use, the date it’s got to be finished by. It could be anything. But if you can group the work, I found in people I worked with have found that it relieves some of the overload because it gives you a way to think about things at the next level up.

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

Elizabeth Harrin
The quote that I have on my wall is from Francine Jay, and it says, “My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do.”

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

Elizabeth Harrin
I like the copy machine study by Ellen Langer, which is about providing a reason for why we want people to take action. When people know there’s a reason, they’re more likely to do the action that we want. 

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Elizabeth Harrin
If I was on an island, I’d be taking Les Miserables. I really love that book by Victor Hugo. If I was choosing a business book, I’d choose Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers by Anthony Mersino, which really changed the way that I look at our profession.

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

Elizabeth Harrin
I use a tool called Infinity for task management, and a Maltron keyboard to help me type more easily.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. That’s cool. And a favorite habit, something you do to be awesome at your job?

Elizabeth Harrin
I do Pilates once a week. I think I need to have that time just to be focused on me.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and listeners, and they say, “Yes, Elizabeth, you’re so right when you said this”?

Elizabeth Harrin
Maybe communicate more than you think you have to.

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

Elizabeth Harrin
You can find me on LinkedIn and on all the normal social media channels. And you can find out more about project management at my blog, RebelsGuidetoPM.com.

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

Elizabeth Harrin
I would say to remember that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. So, if you want to just organize your work in a different way, just do it. Most managers want action and results, and they don’t really mind how you get there, as long as you get there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Elizabeth, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck with all your projects.

Elizabeth Harrin
Thank you for having me on the show.

830: Lessons Learned from the World’s Longest Scientific Study on Happiness with Dr. Robert Waldinger

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Dr. Robert Waldinger breaks down key insights on happiness gathered from the Harvard Study of Adult Development.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The top stress regulator—and how to cultivate it in your life
  2. Two big happiness myths to debunk
  3. How to foster warm, authentic relationships with one question 

About Robert

Robert Waldinger is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development at Massachusetts General Hospital, and cofounder of the Lifespan Research Foundation. Dr. Waldinger received his AB from Harvard College and his MD from Harvard Medical School. He is a practicing psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, and he directs a psychotherapy teaching program for Harvard psychiatry residents.

He is also a Zen master (Roshi) and teaches meditation in New England and around the world. Robert is the co-author of the book The Good Life: Lessons From the World’s Longest Scientific Study on Happiness. 

Resources Mentioned

Robert Waldinger Interview Transcript

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

Robert Waldinger
I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Bob, I’m so excited to hear about your wisdom from your research project, as well as you’re also a Zen master. How does one become a Zen master? What does that consist of?

Robert Waldinger
A lot of meditation and a lot of training. It was years and years of training in Zen.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, who bestows the title of Zen master? How does it…? I’m thinking, like, a chess grandmaster, like I know how that works. But how does one become an official Zen master?

Robert Waldinger
Well, there are no points involved.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Robert Waldinger
Zen is essentially an apprenticeship, and so we end up studying with teachers. I studied with a teacher and, eventually, she gave me authorization to teach. It’s called Dharma transmission. And now I’m a fully transmitted Zen teacher, a Roshi is what it’s called.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s just so fascinating. I took one class on Zen Buddhism in college, so that’s the extent of my background, but it was fascinating. I’m curious, any particular insights that you found.

Pete Mockaitis
That was transformational in a very practical sense in terms of, “Huh, I am more effective and happier because of this perspective or insight or discovery”?

Robert Waldinger
Probably the biggest insight for me has been that everything constantly changes. And, on the one hand, that may sound trivial but, on the other hand, when you really sit on a cushion hour after hour, and you watch all the things that come up in your mind and then pass away, times when you start to get furious, or are euphoric, and then in a moment it’s gone, it really helps you to notice that some of the things we think are so terrible and are always going to be that way, never stay around that long. Similarly, a lot of the joys pass away, and that it’s a helpful perspective to realize that everything comes and passes away.

Pete Mockaitis
That is powerful. And I heard someone once asked Daniel Kahneman something like, “What’s a huge insight everyone needs to understand?” And he said that, “Nothing is as important as we think it is while we’re thinking about it.” And I see a little overlap there, it’s like, “Whoa,” because when you think about something, it is the thing, like, “These drapes, that is absolutely mission critical,” for example, but, really, it doesn’t matter.

Robert Waldinger
Exactly. We have a saying “Don’t believe everything you think,” that one of the things you see when you meditate a lot is how the mind just makes up stories. We’re just constantly making up stories about the world. And we need to do that in a lot of ways to get through. Like, I had a story that I was going to come talk to you right now, and that’s helpful because it got me to get here for you and for us to have this conversation. But many of our stories are just completely out of touch with what’s real. And the more we can have perspective on that, the less we suffer and the less we make other people suffer.

Pete Mockaitis
That is powerful. We had a great conversation with Rene Rodriguez who talks about framing and storytelling, and it’s powerful to convey a message to somebody else but it also really shone a light on, “Whoa, we’re telling stories to ourselves as well all the time.” And the stories we choose and entertain and give airtime to in our brains really affect the way we see things and feel about things. And it’s powerful stuff.

Robert Waldinger
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, Bob. Well, we’re already starting deep, so I think that’s a good backdrop for talking about your latest book The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study on Happiness. And I’m excited to chat about this because I’ve read a few articles about this study. Could you, first and foremost, orient us, what is this legendary study?

Robert Waldinger
It is the longest study of adult life that’s ever been done, the longest study of the same people as they go through their whole lives. So, starting with a group of teenagers in 1938, following them all the way through adulthood, into old age, almost all have passed away, and now we’re studying their kids, and their kids are mostly Baby Boomers. So, now, it’s been two generations, thousands of people.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I understand that we have two populations; one, Harvard undergraduates, and, two, folks in a more disadvantaged community situation. Could you expand on that?

Robert Waldinger
Yes. In fact, there were two studies and that they didn’t even know about each other when they both started in 1938.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, how convenient.

Robert Waldinger
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Same year?

Robert Waldinger
One was started at the Harvard Student Health Service. It was a bunch of Harvard undergrads, sophomore, who were chosen by their deans because they seemed like fine upstanding young men, and it was to be a study of normal young adult development. So, of course, if you want to study normal adult development, you study all white men from Harvard, like it’s the most politically incorrect research sample you could possibly have.

But at that time, that’s what they chose. We’ve since expanded, brought in women. But then the other study, the other group was a group, as you said, of boys from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods. They were all middle schoolers at the time in 1938, and they were studied because they came from some of the most troubled families in the city of Boston.

And the question that the researchers had, also at Harvard, was, “Why is it that some kids who grew up in families that looked like they are destined to fail, grow up with two strikes against them, how do these kids stay out of trouble and stay on good developmental paths? What are the factors that foster resilience even in the face of so much disadvantage?”

And so, that was the question guiding the inner-city group study. And then, eventually, those two studies were brought together, and now these two groups and their children are studied together.
Pete Mockaitis
And so, can you give us a little bit of a summary statistics, if you will, in terms of “We’ve seen a number of outcomes”? And it looks like you have the luxury of attracting tons of different options associated with income and health and death. So, I’m curious, just how much of a difference does having that leg up with Harvard make in terms of wealth and health and whatnot?

Robert Waldinger
It makes a big difference in wealth, certainly. It makes a big difference in health, we think, because the Harvard men were more educated and they got the messages sooner that were coming out that smoking is really bad for you; alcoholism and drug abuse, really bad for you; exercise, hugely important; getting preventive healthcare, hugely important. So, they got those messages.

And what we found, actually, was that 25 of the inner-city men, 25 out of 425, actually went to college and finished college. And those men lived just as long and stayed just as healthy as the Harvard men, and we think it’s not because they had college diplomas. It’s because, first of all, they had the support growing up to get to college and stay in college, and because they had the education that they needed to keep in mind some of the things that were going to set them up for a good health as they went through life.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, so that’s one fascinating little nugget right there, and you got lots of them. So, Bob, I’m going to put it in your court, you’re going to be our master curator here. Could you share with us some of the most surprising, fascinating, actionable discoveries that have come about from this research?

Robert Waldinger
One great big one that, at first, we didn’t even believe, what we found was that the people who had the warmest closest connections with other people stayed healthy longer, they lived longer, and they were, of course, happier. So, relationships with other people were a huge predictor of health as well as happiness.

We didn’t even believe it because we thought, “Well, we know the mind and the body are connected, but how can having good relationships actually get into your body and change your physiology?” So, we’ve been studying that for the last 10 years as other groups have as well. And, as I said, we didn’t believe that at first, and then other research studies began to find the same thing.

And when different research studies all point in the same direction, that’s when you start to have more confidence in your research findings that it’s not by chance.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember reading an article, I guess that was your predecessor George Vaillant running the study, when interviewed, said that a key takeaway is, as he put it, “Love. Full stop. That’s what it’s about.” I think The Beatles and wisdom traditions have been sharing this message for quite a while, and now it bears out in a long-term study hardcore.

Robert Waldinger
Well, that’s what’s cool about this. Our clergy could tell us this, our grandparents could tell us this, for centuries back they’ve told us this, but the science now says, for those of us who are skeptics and want some data, the data really shows that warm connections with other people make a huge difference in our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s dig into this then, warm, close relationships. What’s constitutes warm? What’s constitutes close? And how do we get more of those going in our lives?

Robert Waldinger
Yeah. Well, first of all, let me say it doesn’t have to all be close, and we can talk about that later in terms of the different kinds of relationships. But what we’ve been finding is that everybody needs at least one person who has their back, and that’s not always the case. So, when our original guys were asked, “Who could you call in the middle of the night if you were sick or scared?”

Some people could list several people they could call. Some people couldn’t list anybody, not a soul on the planet. And some of those people who couldn’t list anybody were married. So, what we know is having that sense that there’s somebody there who will be there when you really need them, that that’s an essential component of wellbeing that it makes the world feel safer.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Robert Waldinger
And one of the things that we’re finding is that this seems to have a lot to do with good relationships helping us manage stress. If you think about it, life is full of stressors. You have young kids. I imagine you have stressors every day, like, “Oh, no, this is happening. Whoa!” And when I have something bad happen in my day, I can literally feel my body start to get revved up. I go into fight or flight mode. My heart rate goes up.

And that’s okay. We’re meant to respond that way when we have stressors. But then, when the stressors go in the body, it’s meant to come back to equilibrium. And what we find, if I have an upsetting day and I have somebody at home I can talk to, or someone I can call up, and they’re a good listener, I can literally feel my body calm down when I talk to them about my day.

What if you don’t have anybody in the world? What we think happens is that those people who are lonely or socially isolated stay in this chronic flight or fight mode. And what that means is they have higher levels of circulating stress hormones, they have higher levels of chronic inflammation, and that those things actually wear away your coronary arteries. They wear away your joints. They break down different body systems. And so, we think that what’s so valuable about relationships is that they are real stress regulators.

Pete Mockaitis
Someone once told me I listened for differences or disagreement, and so I think that makes total sense to me. I guess I’m thinking, in the hierarchy of stress regulators, I suppose there are any number of practices from deep breathing to mindfulness, to yoga, to exercise, to hobbies. Do we have a relative sense that are relationships sort of the ultimate stress buster? Or, is it comparable to, I don’t know, if this could be measured, like, how does having a great friend or partner you can rely on compare from a stress-relieving asset perspective to a good exercise or mindfulness routine?

Robert Waldinger
I don’t think anybody has done those comparisons exactly but there is a little bit of evidence there. So, they did a big analysis of lots of studies of loneliness, and they found that the experience of loneliness, if you’re chronically lonely, it’s as bad for your health as smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day or being obese. And what we know is that, on average, about 30% of people will tell you they’re lonely.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay, so that tells me, if you have a good smoking buddy, and you only smoke two or three…just kidding. Just kidding.

Robert Waldinger
And you eat a lot of Big Macs, yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that is handy. Okay. So, relationships, huge. And then zooming into professionals and being awesome at their job, I understand there are some takeaways associated with some drivers of differing income levels. What’s the story here?

Robert Waldinger
Yeah. So, we’re always asking the question, “Does money make us happier?” and people have actually started to study it. Like, how much does our happiness go up as we make more money? And it turns out that, yes, in recent years in the United States, your happiness goes up until your basic needs are met. So, until you reach about $75,000 a year in average household income, until you get to that point, your happiness keeps going up as you make more money.

But once you get to that 75k and you keep making more money, you hardly get much of a boost in happiness at all. What that means is that once our basic needs are met materially, more money doesn’t make us happier.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Good to know. Good to know. So, there’s the impact of money on happiness. If I’m flipping it around, what are the drivers that you’ve discovered within this study that tend to explain or point to earning more money even if, as you just said, it’s not necessarily going to make us happier?

Robert Waldinger
Well, we don’t find greater happiness or greater unhappiness. So, earning more money isn’t bad. It just doesn’t make you happier. You just have more money. And so, the difficulty is that, as you might know, when they survey young people, like people on their 20s just starting out, and they say, “What are you going to prioritize as you go through your adult life?” most of them, the majority will say, “I need to get rich.”

So, we’re giving each other the messages all day long in the media that, “Boy, if you buy this car, you’re going to be happier,” “If you buy this kind of pasta and serve it to your family, you’re going to have the best family dinners ever.” There are just all these ways in which we are given the messages that if you buy the right stuff, if you have enough money to buy all the right stuff, you’ll be happier, you’ll have a better life. And it turns out, that’s not true.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, money doesn’t do it, more so warm relationships does it. And then there’s also the associations with the warm relationships, people who have them also earn more money.

Robert Waldinger
Yes. Well, it turns out that if you have better relationship skills, you’re more successful at work. So, they studied this where they’ve put people on teams, and they say, “Which teams perform best?” And it’s not the teams that have the highest collective IQ, it’s not the smartest folks. It’s often the most emotionally attuned and skilled folks because they cooperate better, they are more relaxed, and, therefore, more creative, they’re more engaged in their work, they’re less competitive.

So, what we find is that this thing we call emotional intelligence, which involves having better relationship skills, it’s hugely predictive of how well you do in your work life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then, tell us, we have some do’s, cultivate close relationships; we’ve got a don’t, don’t chase maximum money, what are some other top takeaways in terms of folks who want to be happy, successful, flourish, be awesome at their job? What are some of the top things that you recommend they do do or don’t do based on these insights from the study?

Robert Waldinger
Well, one is, don’t expect to be happy all the time. We can get the impression, like when you look at social media and you see what we all present to each other on social media, like, me on a great vacation or about to dig into a great plate of food, it can look like I’m happy all the time, like I’m always having a party.

And what I can tell you from studying thousands of lives is that nobody is happy all the time. And that’s useful because it can seem like other people have it figured out and I don’t, and that turns out not to be the case, that everybody has hard times, everybody struggles with things. And I say that because it can help us feel a little less like an outlier when life isn’t always happy.

The other thing we know is that relationships are not always warm and harmonious. Now, you might be the exception, and you and your partner may never argue ever or disagree ever, but I’ve never met a person who’s in a relationship like that, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Robert Waldinger
So, what we know is that all relationships have conflicts and disagreements. That’s not a problem. But what matters is how we work out our disagreements and if we can find a way to work disagreements out so that we come away feeling okay with each other and like nobody has lost and nobody has won, that’s a big help. And to know that as long as there’s a kind of bedrock of affection and respect, that relationships are quite solid even when we argue with each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s expand on some of these best practices then when it comes to these warm close relationships. It’s okay to have some conflicts, some disagreements, but we fall back on having a fundamental foundation of respect. Got it. What are some other things that make all the difference in terms of cultivating these warm close relationships?

Robert Waldinger
Yeah. Well, one thing probably is curiosity. Like, to be genuinely curious about somebody else is a great starter for a relationship. So, let’s say there’s somebody at work and you noticed something on their desk and get curious about it, it gives somebody an opportunity to talk about themselves. It gives you an opportunity to get to know them in a way you might not otherwise.

And it’s not just in starting new relationships that curiosity helps and we do love to talk about ourselves. It’s old relationships. So, you know a coworker, or you know your partner, you think you know everything there is to know about them, but actually you don’t. And it turns out that when we start taking each other for granted, we stop paying attention to who the other person is as they grow and develop. So, if you can bring that sense of curiosity back to an old relationship, that can really liven it up.

One of my meditation teachers had an assignment for us once. He said, “As you sit there, doing something routine or talking to somebody you’ve talked to a hundred times, ask yourself this question, ‘What’s here now that I’ve never noticed before?’” And when you do kind of come with that mindset, it can get really interesting really fast.

Pete Mockaitis
“What’s here now?” You mean when you say here…

Robert Waldinger
Like, “What am I noticing?” So, I’m going to go have dinner with my wife, that we’ve done that for 36 years, lot of meals together. So, what if I come with that mindset? Like, what’s here right now in our discussion? Or, how is she right now that I might not have noticed before? Like, if I’m looking for something new, I get really curious, and that can set me up in a whole different way than, “Ah, yeah, I know what she’s going to say. We’re going to have the same dinner we always have, the same conversation,” right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s good. Our brains love that novelty stuff, and so that really seems to unlock a lot of cool motivation-y dopamine-y…is that a word, dopamine-y?

Robert Waldinger
Dopamine-y? I like that.

Pete Mockaitis
In the mix. Very cool. And so then, we can do that in our work relationships, and there are some really cool research associated with the power of having warm close relationships at work, in particular, as well. Could you expand on that?

Robert Waldinger
Yes. The Gallup organization did a survey of 15 million workers around the globe, all ages, all cultures, and they asked the question, “Do you have a best friend at work?” And what they meant was, “Do you have somebody you can talk to about your personal life at work?” Now, many CEOs then, “That’s a distraction. You don’t want that kind of socializing.”

Well, it turned out that only 30% of workers said they had a friend at work, but those workers were seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. They were better at engaging customers, if they were customer-facing. They produce higher quality work. They were happier in their jobs, and they were less likely to leave their jobs because the job wasn’t as interchangeable because they had a friend there they wanted to see.

And the people who didn’t have a best friend at work, so seven out of ten people, they were 12 times as likely to be checked out of their work, to be disengaged.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, there you have it. Okay. And I also remember that alcohol was something that came up in the study as being potentially quite destructive. What is the takeaway here?

Robert Waldinger
Big time. Alcoholism, that means abuse, dependence, it destroys people’s families, it destroys their work life. So, the people who became alcoholics, in our study, had marriages that fell apart. Half of the marriages that ended in divorce had one or both partners stuck in alcoholism. And what we found was that the people who were abusing alcohol chronically had a downward trajectory at work. They couldn’t perform well. They didn’t get promoted. Even if they didn’t get fired, they plateaued pretty quickly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so how do we make sure that doesn’t happen to us? I mean, you enjoy a beverage from time to time. Any pro tips? Because if you’re watching people year after year after year, that’s an interesting vantage point in terms of, “Huh, this is kind of creeping in there.” And I guess, one, how do you precisely measure that? Do you ask them, “How many drinks do you have?” Or, are there any warning signs? So, if we enjoy a happy hour, how can we make sure we don’t lose control, slipping away over the decades, and fall into this category?

Robert Waldinger
Yeah, key questions. So, we measure it in different ways. So, one way we measure it is, “How many drinks do you have?” And for men, two drinks max a day is all that really is okay for your health. And for women, it’s one drink because, physiologically, they process alcohol differently. But another way to think about this, if you’re just kind of thinking, “Am I drinking too much?” is to ask the people who care about you. Ask them if they’re worried about your drinking.

Do you feel guilty about your drinking? Do you try to cut down and have trouble? Do you find that it’s getting in the way of your getting up in the morning and making it to work or making it to your parenting activities, or whatever they might be? If it’s getting in the way of your life, then it’s probably a problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right, Bob, anything else we really should know about this study, its insights, and being awesome at your job?

Robert Waldinger
I think just to think about work as not so separate from the rest of your life but to really let yourself say, “Okay, how could I enjoy myself more at work? Particularly, how could I have better connections with other people because I’ll have more fun at work if I do that?” Sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no problem. Okay. Well, then, now I’d love to hear a little about your favorite things. Could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Robert Waldinger
Yes, there’s a quote by Joseph Campbell, he’s the guy who wrote a book called The Power of Myth, and he was like a PBS guy. And he had a quote that I love, which is, “If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on somebody else’s path.” That has really helped me. When I keep thinking, “Oh, I really should do that because everybody else is doing it,” or, “That’s what seems to get the most applause,” it’s really helpful to be reminded that, “You know, everybody is doing their own thing. Everybody is taking their own path through life.” And I’ve seen that studying these lives over decades.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, next, I want to ask you about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research. You’re intimately involved in a legendary one. Any others that leap to mind?

Robert Waldinger
Any other research that leaps to mind?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that you think is super cool.

Robert Waldinger
Yeah, when we asked people how they spend their discretionary income, so you got all your needs met, and then you have some income, what are you going to do with it? And are you happier if you buy material things or if you pay for experiences? And paying for experiences could be tickets to a basketball game, or taking your family on a trip, or it could be anything but experiences. And what they find is that the people who use their money to pay for experiences are happier and they stay happier longer than the people who buy material things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And a favorite book?

Robert Waldinger
Favorite book. Well, actually, one of my really favorite books is so old school. It’s Pride and Prejudice. I just love that book. Another favorite book is The Overstory by Richard Powers. It’s about ecology but it’s a really cool novel. And there’s a book by a Zen teacher, Barry Magid, called Ending the Pursuit of Happiness.

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

Robert Waldinger
A favorite tool is serving lunch.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Robert Waldinger
People really like to be fed and they loosen up and they get more creative when they’re sharing a meal.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you are the lunch provider.

Robert Waldinger
Yup, for my research group, and they love it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, I want to know what sort of lunches we’re talking about here.

Robert Waldinger
Oh, we get takeout, we get Mexican, we get Thai, we get healthier stuff, too.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Robert Waldinger
Favorite habit is going for a walk every day, and looking at simple stuff, like trees.

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

Robert Waldinger
It’s a quote from a 19th century writer. He said, “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I just saw that written in some random decor somewhere. I don’t know, but I like that.

Robert Waldinger
Yeah, yeah, because it’s like it doesn’t look like it from the outside, but everybody has got stuff.

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

Robert Waldinger
Well, to our book, so TheGoodLifeBook.com, you can order the book but, also, to our website. There’s a website about the study, it’s AdultDevelopmentStudy.org. And there you can read some of our highly technical papers and learn more about the study.

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

Robert Waldinger
Yes. Think about somebody you’d like to connect with more at work, and reach out to them and ask them to have coffee, take a walk, do something. Reach out. Make a commitment to do that tomorrow. And just notice, it’s a small decision, and notice the ripple effects. Notice what comes back to you from that small action.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Bob, this has been a treat. I wish you much happiness and goodness in life.

Robert Waldinger
And you, too. I envy you having small kids. I miss that time. My kids are in their 30s and they’re wonderful, but I really miss the time when the kids were young.