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481: Easy Ways to Have More Fun at Work with Drew Tarvin

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Drew Tarvin says: "Would you rather do something that is fun or not fun? You're going to pick fun pretty much all the time."

Drew Tarvin shares how to bring more humor and fun into the workplace.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The power of humor on your work-life productivity
  2. How to craft good work humor that considers medium, audience, and purpose
  3. The 3 specific situations when NOT to use humor at work

About Drew

Andrew Tarvin is the world’s first humor engineer, teaching people how to get better results while having more fun. Combining his background as a project manager at Procter & Gamble with his experience as a stand-up comedian, he reverse-engineers the skill of humor in a way that is practical, actionable, and gets results in the workplace. Through his company, Humor That Works, Drew has worked with more than 35,000 people at over 250 organizations, including Microsoft, the FBI, and the International Association of Canine Professionals. He is a bestselling author; has been featured in The Wall Street JournalForbes, and Fast Company; and his TEDx talk has been viewed more than four million times. He loves the color orange, is obsessed with chocolate, and can solve a Rubiks Cube (but it takes like 7 minutes).

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Drew Tarvin Interview Transcript

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

Drew Tarvin
Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me on such a nicely-titled podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Yes, I like the direct approach. I want to hear all sorts of things from you. But, first, I want to hear about how you’re left-handed except when it comes to shooting pool. What’s the story here?

Drew Tarvin
You know, I don’t know. Growing up, everything would go left-handed, which is not so great when you’re doing handwriting. And then I tried shooting pool and I could not shoot left-handed. It was just weird and awkward. So, then I switched to the right side and it worked, which is bizarre. So, everything, I write left-handed, I throw a baseball left-handed, I cut paper with left-handed scissors and all that, but shooting pool, it’s on the right side. I don’t know what that says about me. I don’t know what that means for coordination but that’s just a fun fact.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I wonder about like darts or bowling.

Drew Tarvin
Darts, yeah. You think of like the pool hall game, it’s mostly, yeah, darts is still left-handed. I try to act like I’m ambidextrous, that I can use right-handed, and, in fact, my handwriting is almost as good with my right hand as it is with my left hand, but that’s just because my left-handed writing is so terrible that whatever the right hand does isn’t that bad in comparison.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, handwriting was, I believe, my worst subject in my entire academic career.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, and people are like, “You’re going to need this for your entire rest of your life.” And now our computers are like, “No, no, actually.” I mean, I sign things but, aside from that, I don’t really do much handwriting.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to dig into your career. You are a humor engineer – intriguing – and you’ve studied humor in the workplace for many years. Can you share with us what’s perhaps one of the most fascinating and surprising discoveries you’ve made as you’ve dug into this topic?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, I think that it’s a surprise for many people especially when they hear my background. So, they maybe see me speak, and like, “How did you get into this?” I’m like, “Well, I got a degree in computer science and engineering.” And they’re like, “That doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t seem like the background and then get into standup comedy and do speaking and all that for a living.”

But I think that’s part of what led me to one of the biggest realizations, is that humor is a skill. I think a lot of times we think of humor, making people laugh, being jovial in certain ways is kind of something that you’re born naturally able to do, and if you can do it, great, but if you can’t, you’re kind of out of luck. But that’s a big learning, is that it’s something that we can learn, that there’s an art and science to using humor, which means that we can teach this, the humor side, the science part of it, while also allowing people to practice the art side of it as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And so, I want to dig into the art and science and the skill-building, how we can all have more of it but I want to hear a little bit about the why first. So, you make an argument that humor is not just kind of, “Oh, nice to have. It’d be a little bit more fun if we could have it.” But, rather, like a must-have or a critical source of advantage. Can you share some of these benefits with us?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, absolutely. And so, part of it comes from the realization that 83% of Americans are stressed out at work, that 55% are unsatisfied with their jobs, and that 47% struggle to stay happy. And so, it leads to this recognition that with 70% of the workforce being disengaged, it costs the US economy an estimated $500 billion in lost productivity every year.

If you do that math on that based on the number of people working and the estimated cost, that costs a $4,638 per disengaged employee. And so, to me, as an engineer looking at all that, what it’s saying is that the current way of working isn’t actually working. And, for me, I discovered that humor was a way for me to stay more engaged in my work. And when I use it, other people actually got into it as well. And so, there’s all these benefits to it that have been backed by research, case studies, real-world examples, so evidence-based examples of why humor is valuable.

So, it leads to things like an increase in productivity, a decrease in stress, an increase in happiness. At a company level, when organizations embrace it, you see an increase in positive workplace culture, an increase in engagement, a decrease in turnover, an increase in profit. There’s all these different benefits that are factually based that speak to the value of using humor in the workplace, and that’s why I say it’s a must-have.

And the way that we work today, where work-life balance is no longer is a thing, and it’s more about work-life integration, and the challenges that we have day-to-day of always feeling like this need to do more with less-type thing, humor is a skill that can help us with all of those, the changes that are happening in the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m intrigued in that world of do more with less. Some might say, “Hey, Drew, we can’t burn all this time just joking around and being goofy. We got to produce some stuff.” So, how do you think about that?

Drew Tarvin
I would say, yeah, that’s 100% right. And if you were working with robots or cyborgs, yes, agree. But even something like, imagine running your phone down and being like, “All right. I need to be efficient with my phones so I refuse to charge it,” you would be great for about 24, maybe if you have a newer phone, maybe 48 hours, and then the phone is going to be burned out, it’s going to be dead, and it’s not going to work at all.

And that’s one of the things that I joke about is that, as an engineer, I’ve done a lot of research on productivity. I’m a huge fan of getting things done and thinking about that mentality and all that. But I’ve learned that it is very difficult to be productive if you are dead, or if you feel like you’re dead too, if you’re sick, if you’re tired, if you’re burned out, if you’re stressed out, if you’re worn out.

And so, recognizing that this was a huge aha for me in the workplace is that there’s a difference between being efficient and being effective. And you can be efficient with things like computers. You don’t need to motivate a computer to work, you don’t need to convince it to turn on, it doesn’t need a cup of coffee before it starts in the morning, right? But you can’t be efficient with humans because they have emotions and feelings, and because they have to eat and sleep, and because they get sick and tired. And so, instead of being efficient, we have to be effective and recognizing that humor is a way that we can be more effective.

So, you’re absolutely right. Maybe it’s not the most efficient thing in the moment, but it is long term more effective. And when you think about it, what’s efficient longer term, you explaining something once where people actually kind of get it, they remember it a little bit more, they understand it, or you having to explain it eight times down the road because you’re trying to do it as efficiently as possible?

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve heard, and maybe you can unpack this for me, Mr. Humor Engineer, that when we have recently laughed, our brain state, the neurochemical, biochemical situation is that you are more receptive to receive and hear and absorb information. Can you unpack that a bit?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, absolutely. There’s a lot of both physiological and psychological benefits of using humor. And part of that receptivity is you can kind of explain it more simply with a dumb question. And the dumb question is, “Would you rather do something that is fun or not fun?” It’s a dumb question, right? But you’re going to pick fun pretty much all the time. So, that means if you were to make your content a little bit more fun, do you think people would be a little bit more open to wanting to hear it?

And I see this all the time as a speaker. So, I speak to a lot of maybe sometimes dry or more conservative organizations, so engineering groups and accounting firms and things like that, and so they’re used to a certain type of speaker. And so, I might go up towards the end of the day, a lot of the times I’m a closing keynote speaker, they’ve had a lot of content, a lot of great content, but it’s been on the drier side.

So, when I first go up, you’ll see a lot of people kind of on their phones or looking through their notebook or whatever, and then I say a line and it makes a couple of people laugh, and you’ll see people look up from their phones and be like, “Wait, I want to laugh. Why did that guy laugh? Oh, I’m going to listen to this guy to see why he made people laugh. Oh, okay.”

As a great speaker named Tami Evans says, “Once you give people laughing, you get them listening. And once you get them listening, you get them learning, you get them taking action, whatever it is, because you’re making that process a little bit more fun.” And, yeah, there’s some science in some of this stuff too in terms of showing that getting people to laugh makes them less defensive, you’ve kind of lower their defenses, or they’re a little bit more likely to see things from a different angle, because part of humor is also changing perspective.

So, if you get people to look at things a different way. So, for example, maybe a silly example is I don’t like mint chocolate. Are you a mint chocolate fan?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I do. I very much like them.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, you’re a mint chocolate? Okay. See, I’ve never been eating chocolate, and then like, “You know what would great with this? Toothpaste, right?” And so, that’s not necessarily going to convince you to be like, “Oh, I don’t like mint chocolate anymore,” but it’s expressing that rather than me just saying, “Oh, I don’t like mint chocolate and it’s dumb,” right, it’s just giving you a slightly different angle that you now laugh about, and you’re like, “All right, well, I can at least kind of see that perspective,” right? So, it’s lowering your defenses because humor started it.

And that’s kind of one of the many benefits to using humor in the workplace is that, one, it gets people listening because they want to laugh, and then, two, once they’re listening, it helps them understand something a little bit more and maybe changes their perspective around it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, Drew, I have to ask, what’s that line, not that it’s the end-all-be-all and applicable to all circumstances, but we want to hear it? I think one of my favorite humor moves, I saw that to start a speech was this speaker was being introduced and they were sharing all of the great accolades, like, “Featured in the Wall Street Journal,” and all these things. And he just said, “Oh, my, that’s impressive.” I thought that was awesome because, like, anytime you’re being introduced you can pull that schtick a little bit because they know you wrote the bio and it’s being read about you, and for you to pretend that you’re surprised and like, “Hmm?” it just made me chuckle. So, what was your line?

Drew Tarvin
So, I have in my bio, in my introduction, one of the ones that I like, and it’s maybe not necessarily super hilarious, but like I give my client list as Microsoft, the FBI, the International Association of Canine Professionals is kind of my comic trip which, because it’s one of the most interesting groups that I’ve ever presented for.

And, of course, kind of my joke about it is that, and it’s kind of I had that split second when I first got the emails, it’s like, “Is this an association for dogs who have jobs?” I was like, “Oh, no, it’s an association for people who are dog trainers.” And that’s one of the things that I love about speaking is that I get to work with all of these different groups that, “Oh, yeah, of course, canine professionals, one, have a title like Canine Professionals, and, two, they have a conference where they get together and get to know each other a little bit better.”

And so, yeah, anytime you can kind of incorporate those types of things it helps. The other thing that I’ve started doing is in the bottom of my bio, I include that I love the color orange, which is kind of a random aside, and I love chocolate. Because what I found is when I spoke in Europe for the first time, I shared, “Oh, he’s obsessed with chocolate,” I started getting chocolate as my speaker gift because sometimes people are like, oh, not that I’m expecting a speaker gift, but if people are going to be like, “Hey, here’s a bottle of wine,” or, “Here’s X, Y, or Z,” I love chocolate so I’d rather inform them to say, “Hey, here’s something that you can get me that if you present me with a box of chocolates, I’m going to be delighted by.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. Well, so there we go. We got some good benefits, and it’s possible for anyone to learn this art and skill. So, I guess, where do we start or how would you orient us to sort of the components of what makes humor work?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, I think that the starting point is probably around the definition of humor and making sure that we’re kind of aligned on that because I think we have a certain mindset when it comes to what we think of with humor. And that definition is really important. I kind of relate it to—so I was recently in the UK, and it took me going to the UK for the very first time to realize that I don’t speak English, right? I speak American because British English is different than American English. There are certain words that they say versus what we say.

Like, we say in the US, we say elevator, they say lift, right? We say fries, they say chips, and chips is something different for us. We say, for the most part, we say like bathroom, they say toilets, right, or the loo. And so, when you’re out in the public, I think that that’s more accurate because if you are out in the public and you say, “Hey, where’s the bathroom?” there’s typically no bath in that room. And as an engineer, I’m like, “Okay, that’s more specific, that’s accurate.” So, I was like, “I’m going to start using that in my language.” I’m going to start asking, “Where are the toilets?” or refer to them as toilets.

So, I’m in a Starbucks here in New York City, and I go up to a barista, and I’m like, “Excuse me, where are the toilets?” And she was confused, she was like, “Ah, in the bathroom?” Right? And so, there’s just that idea that language and how we think about it is important. We want to make sure that we’re on the same page with language. And so, when it comes to defining humor, to make sure that we know what we’re talking about, humor is more broad than comedy, right?

Humor is defined as a comic, absurd, or incongruous quality causing amusement. And so, so often people think laughter, they think standup comedy. They hear humor in the workplace and, suddenly, they’re like, “Oh, does that mean that I have to like start telling jokes? Does that mean that I have to try to become the class clown or a jester?” And that’s not at all what we’re talking about. Instead we’re talking about this broader definition where maybe it’s not about making the workplace funny, but about making it a little bit more fun.

Because the bar for comedy at work is much, much lower than, yeah, if you were trying to get up on stage and rock it at a standup comedy club or get a Netflix comedy special, the level of “funny” that you need to be is pretty high. You need to be getting four to seven laughs per minute, they need to be good laughs, solid chuckles, really kind of cohesive ideas, things that you’ve probably practiced many, many, many times before, versus if you’re just trying to get a little bit more humor into a meeting. Simply having an image behind you that isn’t just a wall full of text but is kind of an interesting image that you’re speaking to might be a simple way of getting a laugh.

Or, like you said, in your bio, having a quick line about, like, “Oh, that sounds impressive.” That’s not necessarily the funniest joke ever written, but it is something different, and in that context, it makes things a lot more interesting. And so, I think understanding that definition and recognizing when we’re talking humor in the workplace, we don’t mean about making the workplace funny, but more about making it more fun, I think, is a good starting point for people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. Well, that’s great. That’s really reduces some of the pressure and lowers the bar and it’s true, I have seen certain contexts where someone tells a joke, there’s a whole lot of laughter, I’m thinking, “Boy, you know, if that person were not…whoever they were, or wherever we were, there wouldn’t be nearly that kind of response.” So, that’s great. Okay, so it’s not too hard. So, how shall we proceed?

Drew Tarvin
Yes, so the way that we kind of frame using and getting intentional about using humor in the workplace is around what we call a humor map. And the humor map stands for your medium, your audience, and your purpose. So, your medium is how are you going to execute that humor? Is it in an email? Is it in a phone call? Is it in a one-on-one situation? Because we know that your medium impacts your message.

Something like sarcasm or satire, you’ve maybe sent a text that’s meant to be a joke before, and you learned from the other person that they took it the wrong way, or they read into it a little bit more. So, sarcasm and satire are very difficult to do, say, in a text form because people, they can’t see that you are joking, they can’t see the paralanguage of the body language and the tone of voice and everything that  you’re saying it with, and so your medium impacts it, right? So, understanding what that’s going to be – email, phone call, one-on-one, live video, or life, or video version, or whatever it is.

Pete Mockaitis
I have to chime in. Have you seen the Key & Peele sketch where they’re texting and have completely different interpretations of what’s going on?

Drew Tarvin
Exactly, yeah. And that’s a great – and Key & Peele, one, fantastic, a great place to kind of share things. And also, they’re sometimes a little bit not safe for work with language, but the other thing about understanding kind of what we can talk about this with the map is recognizing humor in the workplace, you don’t always have to be the creator of humor. But, instead, you can be the shepherd of humor, right? You can share funny things out.

So, if you wanted to make that point about the importance of medium, you can then share the Key & Peele sketch, right, share a link to it on YouTube or Comedy Central or wherever it resides, and then be like, “All right. You know, this is kind of a funny reminder how someone says something in text might be taken a different way.” And there you didn’t create the humor but you’re now leveraging it in this way to still get a specific kind of result. That’s it.

I forgot about that sketch. That’s a great sketch and really demonstrates that idea.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, we think about the medium and note that some things work well or not so well for them, such as, “Do we have the facial expressions and the gestures and the tone of voice or do we not?” Anything else to consider with regard to the medium?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah. Well, I think, and this is where things like memes or GIFs or things like that can help because they introduce a visual element to your message, and you’re seeing emojis come up even more. I was just reading an article recently that emojis are coming up in court cases as well, and judges don’t necessarily know what to do with them. But the whole point of emojis are to help you better convey a message because you can’t visually be there.

Now, does that mean you should, in a very formal email to all of your clients and your boss and all that, include a bunch of emojis after every sentence to make sure that they know what message you’re sharing? No, but in a more conversational kind of text, you might. If you’re making a joke, you might put a smiley face at the end of it, or you might put, kind of the wry kind of dry winky face or something. So, emojis can be part of the communication.

But a big thing is kind of really with GIFs and memes, you might also express humor maybe in that way. So, it’s really just understanding the medium and how it might be received, and recognizing that the safest is kind of in person. Because if someone does take something the wrong way, you can kind of react to that more in the moment, you can react to it. In text, it might be a little bit easier just to link to things, to reference other things as opposed. If you’re not a great joke writer, then maybe you’re not going to write your own jokes but, again, you can, as so and so said, boom, quote someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay. So, we got the medium. And how about the audience?

Drew Tarvin
So, the audience is, who is the audience? What do they know? What do they need? What do they expect? Because part of using humor is not to replace the work, right? To borrow kind of from Office Space, if your boss is like, “Hey, do you have those TPS reports?” You don’t want to like make a quick joke, and then when they say, “No, seriously, do you have them?” you don’t want to be like, “Well, got to go. See you later.” Right?

So, it doesn’t replace the work. You still have to actually do the work. And so, you still have to deliver on what the person needs, but you might do it in a way that they don’t quite expect, right, that’s bringing some of the humor, some of the fun element to it. So, that’s what you need to understand about your audience, is, “Okay, what does this person need and then how can I do it in a way that deliver against it whether maybe not quite expecting it? Oh, they know they need this information, they’re going to hear a presentation about it, they know they’re going to see some slides, oh, but if I make those slides a little bit more interesting, now they’re going to be leaning forward a little bit more because they’re like, ‘Okay, how does this picture of a dog relate to what I’m going to talk about?’” And then you can think of connect how that interesting picture of a dog leads to what you’re talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And can you provide some more examples here?

Drew Tarvin
Another example, say, you want to build rapport with someone, and they need to get to know you a little bit more, right? So, they ask you a question. Think of maybe stereotypical networking questions of like, “What do you do?” So you could answer like, “What do you do?” with, for me, I could say, “Oh, I’m a speaker or I’m a trainer. But what I most I identify with is I’m a humor engineer. So, I used to be a computer science engineer, I used to solve problems in the workplace using things like technologies and computer-to-technology and computers. Now, I solve problems in the workplace using humor, so in that way I feel like I’m a humor engineer.”

And so, when people ask, “What do you do?” I say, “Oh, I’m a humor engineer.” That’s delivering kind of what they need in a way that they don’t expect it, and it usually leads to more questions. Because it’s a made-up term, they’re like, “Okay, what does that mean?” And that allows me to say, “Oh, well, I do a lot of speaking and training on the value of using humor to get better results.”

And so, it’s just something that stands out a little bit more, something that is a little bit more interesting. And then I might go into a story, right? So, stories, when people ask those questions like that, a story, or facts told in story form are 20 times more likely to be remembered than facts told in bullet point form. And so, if you’re at a networking event, if you want to stand out, rather than just being like, “Oh, yeah, I’m a speaker. I train on this,” giving a little bit more background, one, helps you remember things, but, two, it also builds connections.

So, I say, “I’ve always been an engineer. I’ve always been obsessed with efficiency ever since I can remember, really since before I can remember because I was born three weeks early, so apparently a human in the womb. I was like I don’t need a full nine months, I’m ready to go right now. So, then I went to The Ohio State University, got a degree in computer science and engineering. And after I graduated, I started working at Procter & Gamble, and that’s where I realized there was this difference between being efficient and effective.”

And, now, in that conversation, I’ve now answered the question, I’m getting to the point of, “Okay, how did I get to humor engineering?” And in that story, one, it’s a little bit more interesting than just kind of sharing “humor engineer,” or even just sharing “speaker-trainer,” but it also gives people a connecting point. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, you’re trying to find ways to build rapport with that person. And in that story, I’ve now told them, “Oh, I’m an engineer.” If they’re an engineer as well, they’re like, “Oh, okay, I’m mechanical,” or, “I’m in civil engineering.” Now, we have a connection over engineering.

Or, I say, “I went to The Ohio State University.” They might be like, “Oh, I grew up in Ohio as well. What do you think of like Cincinnati versus Cleveland, or Greger’s ice cream versus Jeni’s Ice Cream?” Or, if they’re not from there, they might be like, “Why do you guys say The Ohio State University?” And the answer, “I don’t know. I just know that if we don’t say The Ohio State, then we get our degree taken away, I think,” right?

Or if it’s like, “Oh, I work at P&G.” “Oh, I used to know someone that worked at P&G.” There’s all these small things that they can now connect to that build rapport that they’re getting from me, that they won’t even get if I just said, “Oh, I’m a speaker-trainer.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. And then did we hit the purpose part here?

Drew Tarvin
Yes. And then the last piece, well, the other thing that I would say about the audience piece is that your relationship to that person matters as well because a joke that you would say with someone that you’ve known for 10 years is very different than something that you might say with someone that you’ve met for the very first time.

And so, understanding what is your relationship with this person, and recognizing that when you’re first meeting someone, or if you’re doing it in front of a large group of people, if you’re using humor in front of a large group of people, you’re probably going to be a little bit more broad, a little bit more, safer kind of with your humor versus someone that you know very, very well, where it’s like, “Oh, okay, this person likes this type of humor. I know that I can say this, and I know that they know that I’m joking, that we have that rapport, we have that relationship kind of built up.” So, that relationship piece with the audience is really important as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha.

Drew Tarvin
And then the last piece, yeah, is the purpose. And this is the most important one, and this is, “Why do you want to use humor?” Because, humor, for the sake of humor is fine, I guess. But as an engineer, what I love about it is that we can use it for a specific result. And so, we kind of frame this around it’s my general belief that there are five skills at work. No matter who you are or what you do, it kind of comes down to five things.

Any thoughts on from your perspective? What do you think is included in kind of—if you have a job, what types of things are you doing?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thinking, communicating, creating stuff.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, absolutely. Right. So, you have to be able to think, right? You’re creating strategic plans, you’re being critical, you’re also being creative kind of in that thinking mode. Like, you said, communicating. You articulate the intelligence that you have. You’re sharing the ideas that are in your head. Actually, creating stuff, right, so in a way I would call it, kind of execution, you’re actually completing tasks, you’re getting things done for sure. Any others come to mind?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think about how you do it with regard to just your own self-management, care, and energy, and attentiveness.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, right. Kind of a component, a little bit of that, the thinking side of things, of actually creating the plan of, “Okay, what do I actually need to work on? How do I prioritize these things? And how do I actually get it done? What’s my motivation for it?” And then I would add also like you have to be able to connect with people, right? You have to understand emotional intelligence.

We recognize that emotional intelligence is one of the strongest predictors of career success. People who, I think it’s something like 90% of top performers have high EQ, high emotional intelligence. Where less than 20% of low performers do, so it is one of those skills that does tend to stand out. Because we work with humans, we have to be able to connect with them on a human level and understand how they work.

And then you also have to be able to lead. You have to be able to influence people to some type of goal to kind of move them in. In every job is what we would say is those five things of executing, actually completing tasks, thinking, right, strategically creating a plan, critically and creatively, communicating, connecting, and leading. And so, every job kind of comes to some percentage of those five things.

And so, what we say is using humor in the workplace isn’t going to change those five, right? They’re all still going to exist. It’s simply how you do those five, kind of what you’re talking about, the motivation and things like that. So, humor can be a how across those five. And so, the purpose piece is maybe you want to use humor as a way to increase your execution, right, to execute faster. So, you might use humor as a way to increase your efficiency.

And so, one way to do that, one strategy is to play-work, is to find ways to add gamification in your work so that it’s more enjoyable. Back to that question of, “Would you rather do something that is fun or not fun?” Well, if you make your work a little bit more fun, you’re more willing to engage, and you’re more willing to do it.

And so, this might be something as simple as listening to music while you’re doing kind of a mundane task. One of the things that I like to do is I’ll start to read emails in a different accent in my head. This is way to kind of stay engaged with emails that I’m going through. You might decide to do a task with a friend and compete with them. Be like, “Hey, we both got to do our expense reports right now, so let’s set a timer and see who can get through the most expense reports in 15 minutes.”

And, again, it’s not the funniest thing, it’s not a Netflix comedy special, but it’s making the work a little bit more fun, changing your perspective around it so that you’re a little bit more engaged with it and willing to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you know, I would love it if you could share all the more of these. I do this when I am, I guess, proofreading. I’ve written something and I find, boy, when you read it out loud you just find stuff that reading it in your head doesn’t. So, I don’t know what character I’m assuming when I read things out loud but it’s kind of almost like a very earnest broadcaster who’s also talking very fast because it’s like, “Andrew Tarvin is the world’s first humor engineer teaching people how to get better results while having more fun.”

And so, I don’t know, I guess, and again, it doesn’t make me sort of laugh out loud, like, “This is ridiculously hilarious.” But if it gets the job done, I am proofreading by reading aloud, and I’m having a little bit more fun with it than if I were just reading the words like a school child is reading a book aloud.

Drew Tarvin
Exactly. And I think that’s exactly that makes it a little bit more interesting. And this is where I encourage in a lot of ways, you know, bringing things that are an outside passion in your work as well. Or maybe, yeah, if you were a kid and you always wanted to grow up to be a broadcaster, absolutely, proofread things kind of as a broadcaster. If you love doing accents for whatever reason, read it in a different accent and see what it would kind of sound like. Whatever it is, it’s just small tweaks.

And this is a form of humor called self-enhancing humor. And it’s kind of epitomized by, there’s a great quote from Kurt Vonnegut that said “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration.” I, myself, prefer to laugh because there’s less cleaning up to do afterwards.

And so, it’s this idea of, hey, you have to do the proofreading anyway. You could choose to say, “Hey, this is annoying and I hate it. Ugh, God, this is just the worst.” Or I can be like, “All right. I’m going to do it anyway. Yeah, let me put on a broadcaster voice to make it a little bit more fun. Or let me try to be an auctioneer and see how fast I can get through it. Or let me try some of these accents that I think are kind of fun. Or let me do it to music.”

In fact, I’ve just started doing this, because I have a bit of a nasal voice, getting over a sore throat, so it’s a little bit deeper now. And at times it is a little bit monotone. And so, someone was saying, “Oh, when you’re practicing your speeches, practice it to inspirational music.” Like, put on an inspirational instrumental behind you, and that’s going to automatically, kind of, you’re going to start to add musicality almost to your voice.

So, these are just small things that you can do to make the process a little bit more fun. And the other beautiful thing about these as examples is that no one can stop you from doing them. So there’s all these benefits to humor in the workplace, but not everyone was using humor. And so, I wanted to understand why.

And the number one reason why people don’t use humor, at least according to the survey that we ran through our site, was that they didn’t think their boss or coworkers would approve, right? They didn’t see that as a culture in the workplace. And the reality is that 98% of CEOs prefer job candidates with a sense of humor and 81% of employees said that a fun workplace would make them more productive.

Most people want it but they haven’t necessarily created a culture of it and so people think that it’s not welcome. And a lot of times it’s just because people haven’t tried, so a lot of times you can start out and it’s usually received pretty well. But even if you’re in an organization where like, “No, my manager has like explicitly told me no fun whatsoever. If you’re laughing it means you’re not working hard enough. They call it work because it’s work not because it’s play, and it has to feel like it.”

Like if you work in an environment like that, well, maybe consider kind of why you’re continuing to go to that, but also recognize that no one can control how you think. No one can stop you from if you’re proofreading these things to yourself, changing the voice in which you do them. If you have a commute that you have to go through, no one can stop you from listening to a comedy podcast, or making it a regular thing of, “Hey, every day or every Monday or whatever, I’m going to make sure that I’m listening to the Awesome at Your Job podcast because it puts me in a good mood, and I have a good time, and I’m going to relieve some stress to show up more presence for my family when I get there,” right? No one can stop you from doing that in your car.

And so, these are all things that you could choose to do no matter the work environment, and that’s why it’s a starting kind of first strategy that we share is that it is something that you are entirely in control of.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to hear when it comes to we’re worried about it may be unwelcome, what are some of the easiest little baby steps for, “Okay, I’m entering a meeting, I’m doing a presentation, like, here are some safe things you can do that will make it a little bit more fun and have extremely low risk of folks flipping out about it”?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah. Well, I think going back to if you’re clear on the map piece, because I think that when people tend to get in trouble with humor in the workplace, it’s usually one of two reasons. One, it’s inappropriate humor. So, it is important to understand there is a difference, say, bad humor and inappropriate humor.

Pete Mockaitis
The joke which is not funny versus, “What? Why are you discussing these lewd sexual acts?” Not the place.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So, a bad joke, yeah. And they’ve done studies where if you share a joke that is appropriate but people don’t laugh, there’s no real negative gain to a person, there’s no like perception change or anything like that, especially if it’s a positive-inclusive and a positive-inclusive joke that doesn’t get a laugh just becomes a positive-inclusive statement, so it tends to be okay.

However, an inappropriate joke, even if it’s successful, even if it makes people laugh, can have a negative impact on people’s perception of your competency in the workplace. It doesn’t affect their confidence in you, but it does affect their perception of your competence, right? And so, inappropriate humor is typically inappropriate for one of three reasons.

One, it’s an inappropriate topic, exactly what you were talking about. Using humor is not an excuse to talk about sex or drugs or rock and roll in the workplace. It’s not going to be, “Hey, this is typically a taboo subject, but because I’m saying a joke about it, it’s okay.” That’s not true. It could be inappropriate because it has an inappropriate target. So, some humor has a target that is someone else. And so, if you’re using humor as a way to make fun of someone, or if it’s a racist joke, or a sexist joke, right, that’s still very much inappropriate in general, but particularly in the workplace.

And then the third time is that it could in an inappropriate time, right? So, humor is just one tool of many tools that we can use in the workplace, and it’s not to say it’s always going to be the best tool to use so you do have to recognize that there might be inappropriate times. So, if you’re firing someone, that’s not the time to like bust out your “Frozen” parody and be like, “I’ve got to let you go, let you go. I’m not going to pay you back anymore,” right? Like, I can’t sing at all. But it’s not like, “Oh, this is going to make it more fun.” That’s an inappropriate time.

So, I think understanding that is one way to make sure that we keep things appropriate and that we don’t run into trouble, to make sure it’s more positive-inclusive. And then I think the other thing is going back to the map piece and specific to that purpose piece, that it’s not just, “Hey, I want to be fun to be just so I’m seen as funny.”

So, sometimes people ask me about, “Okay, but what about Michael Scott in The Office? He was always trying to have fun.” And the problem is that Michael Scott, you know, he’s a fictional character, his primary motivation of humor seems to be validation, right? He just wanted to be liked by everyone, and he wanted everyone to see him as a funny person, and that’s not a great starting reason for using humor. You want to be more specific about it, like, “Okay, I want to use humor in this meeting to keep people engaged in the content and help them understand it better.” That’s going to change the type of humor you use over, “I want people to see me as really funny.”
And so, some simple ways around to do that is I’m a big believer in if you’re doing presentations, rather than having a wall-full of texts, do include more images because the images themselves can be part of the punchline and you don’t have to be the one that created the humor. If you go to, like, Flickr.com and do a Creative Commons search for, hey, if you’re talking about new initiatives in the workplace around stress management, go in and do some searching for stress. Or if you recognize, “Oh, yeah,” and smiling is something that can kind of help in the workplace, find a picture of a dog that’s smiling and it makes people laugh.

Or, in my TEDx Talk, I share a picture of – I say that I work with some pretty conservative organizations and will admit that sometimes when I’m talking about the benefits of humor, they are a little bit skeptical. And when I say skeptical, as I click to the next slide, and it’s a dog that kind of looks skeptical. And so, people are now laughing, and goes, “Oh, yeah, that is kind of funny. That dog kind of looks like it has that expression that it is a skeptical-looking dog.” And so now they’re laughing, and it’s just an additional kind of punchline, and I didn’t have to put the word skeptical behind me. I didn’t need to put all the research and everything there. It was just kind of one way to keep it, and make it a little bit more engaging. So, I think images can be a great way to do that.

I think activities is another way to incorporate some humor in a way that everyone is included. And so, another form of humor, so we talked about self-enhancing humor. Another form of humor is affiliative humor, and this is positive-inclusive where everyone is part of the end group of that humor. So, I think of kind of Ellen DeGeneres.

And so, when you’re starting a meeting, as a project manager, I used to start meetings with a simple question that people could answer pretty quickly to go around the room, if it’s a group of like eight people or so, to be like, “All right. Just before we get started, I want to…” and I’ve set this up before but, like, “We’re doing these questions as a way to get to know each other a little bit better, remind ourselves that we work with fellow humans and not just resources. So, today’s question is, very quickly, go around the table and reply with the first thing you remember buying with your own money.” Or something that you think is, “What’s something that you think is true for you that you don’t think is true for anyone else in the room?” Or just these kinds of specific questions that get people to kind of share a little bit more about them because it goes back to this resource piece.

Like, as a project manager, I labeled people as resources, and most workplaces label people as resources. And, over time, you start to forget that the other person on the other side of an email, or the other side of a phone call, or the other side of a conference desk, is a fellow human being with human lives and human emotions and, maybe, just maybe, the reason that they’re email is late to you is not because they secretly hate you, but because they have a sick kid at home.

And that’s part of what humor is doing, is it’s reminding us kind of our humanity in the workplace, and saying, “Hey, we’re all in this together as people.” And so, small things that we can do that can remind people, that can be a great way to kind of introduce humor in a safer and easier way.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve also talked a bit about how to use humor to diffuse conflict. How does that work? Can you give us a demonstration?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, so a lot of times it’s just kind of becoming a reminder of that situation of kind of what the situation is and creating a pattern to interrupt. Because so often our conflict is we get so kind of narrowed in on a focus, or a problem that is coming up, or a conversation that’s happening, and we need to be just kind of interrupted from that to kind of take a break and step back. And sometimes just observing, kind of giving an observation or sharing an observation about the room can help or the situation.

For example, I was at a meeting at P&G and it was getting pretty intense, we were a little bit behind on a project and so there are some kind of blame, kind of calling out and blaming people and things like that. And my manager, at one point, was like, “All right. Everyone, listen. We need to remember that at the end of the day, we sell soap.” And that wasn’t to discount P&G’s mission, it wasn’t to say what we were working on wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things, but it was to remind us, “Hey, we’re in this very intense argument about selling soap. This isn’t World War II, this isn’t the Civil War. We can take a step back, we can take a breath,” and that was enough to make us laugh and for us to kind of recharge.

And so, sometimes it’s like to say, okay, you use a comment, or get people to take a break, and then say, “Okay, maybe let’s take five. Let’s take five minutes, let’s relieve some stress, let’s use some humor, whether it’s watching comedy video, or do a quick activity, or everyone just go for a walk and then come back,” because you need that kind of space between the stimulus and the action that you create, and humor can help you create that space.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Drew, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we talk about some of your favorite things?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, so I would say there’s two quick things that I would say. One, kind of given the audience that I know is listening, recognizing that there is a difference sometimes in how humor is received between men and women. So, in one study they found that when men use humor, now, I’m going to mess up the percentages but they’re kind of close. When men use humor, it was met with a positive response 80% of the time, I think. When women use humor, it was met with a positive response 20% of the time.

In that same study they found that 90% of the humor that men use was off-the-cup humor, kind of conversationally in the moment, and 70% of the humor that women use was self-defeating humor or self-deprecating humor. And so, that brings me to a third style of humor. So, we have affiliative humor, we have self-enhancing humor, there is a self-defeating humor. And self-defeating humor is where you kind of poke fun at yourself. It’s a negative form of humor that you poke fun at yourself which can be great in a high-status position but it’s not great, one, if you’re low-status position.

And so, there’s obviously some challenges certainly with women in the workplace in terms of how status is sometimes perceived that something that we, as a society, need to work on, but it’s something that people should be conscious of. And, two, self-defeating humor works when it is used sparingly. Like, if you constantly always use it, so the women that were using self-defeating humor 70% of the time, the problem is that people stop laughing at it, because they’re like, “Ah, does this person have kind of self-esteem issues or is this a pity party? I don’t think that I should laugh.”

And so, recognizing just the style of humor that you’re using and who you are, how it’s perceived, it is an important thing to keep in mind. So, that’s just one thing that I want to say. So, stick to typically more affiliative and self-enhancing humor is going to be a little bit more helpful for you.

And the last thing that I’ll say before we get to the five questions is if people are feeling a little bit overwhelmed, like this seems like a lot, it seems like there’s a lot to go into, the last strategy, so we have 10 humor strategies that we talk about in the book, the last bonus strategy is to simply practice or strive for one smile per hour. Just try to think about one thing that you can do each hour of the day that brings a smile to your face or the face of someone else and that gets to a starting point, right?

Just think about, “Okay, I’m going into this meeting. How can I elicit one smile?” Or, “I’m getting ready to have my commute home, what’s one thing that I can do to make myself smile?” And that starts to help you develop your humor habit, then you can get into some of the more complex details stuff that we talked about a little bit later and that we talked about today, but it really starts with kind of that choice and choosing to kind of practice one thing each hour.

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

Drew Tarvin
Sure. So, a favorite quote I would say, I heard this many, many years ago, and it’s a cliché but it’s the best career advice that I’ve ever been given, which is that, “It is better to beg for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.”

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

Drew Tarvin
So, there’s a great humor and problem-solving study that, they took three groups of kids. One group of kids watched a comedy video, one group of kids watched a math video, one group of kids watched no video whatsoever. They then had to do a pretty known problem called the candlestick problem, and the kids who watched a comedy video were nearly four times more likely to solve the problem than the kids who watched the math video or no video at all. So, it just kind of showed that, one, comedy is a way to warm up the brain. It helps you see different solutions and different ideas, and it introduced me to the candlestick problem which I think is kind of a fun problem.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Drew Tarvin
Favorite book? My favorite book of all time is The Complete Anthology of Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Drew Tarvin
Evernote. One of the big things for being a humorist is to keep a humor notebook. Anytime you’re going throughout the world, and something kind of piques your curiosity, write that down in a notebook somewhere. And I personally use Evernote so that it’s always on me whether I’m on my computer or on my phone.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Drew Tarvin
Favorite habit? I would say if I can complete it in five minutes, I actually do the task rather than putting it on the to-do list or waiting to save it to do it later.

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

Drew Tarvin
The one smile per hour, I think, is sometimes popular and I think the idea that, again, that humor isn’t about making the workplace funny. It’s about making the workplace more fun.

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

Drew Tarvin
If they want to learn more about humor in the workplace, they can go to HumorThatWorks.com. We’ve got plenty of free blog articles and resources there, free newsletter they can sign up for, also access to the book, the online course, some of the workshops that we offer. If they want to connect with me, if they like puns, I like tweeting out puns and things like that, so if they want to connect with me on social media, if they have specific questions, they can find me @drewtarvin on any of the social media.

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

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, I would say just start, right? You choose every single day how you’re going to do your work, so why not choose to be more productive, less stressed and happier, why not choose to get better results and have more fun, why not choose humor that works?

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Drew, this has been fun. I wish you lots of luck and laughter in all you’re up to.

Drew Tarvin
Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me.

479: How to Slash Anxiety and Keep Positivity Flowing with Anne Grady

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Resilience expert Anne Grady shares how to decrease anxiety and stay in a more positive, productive zone more often.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How the negativity bias hijacks us–and how to fix it
  2. Quick ways to put your lizard brain back in its place
  3. How to better savor “delicious moments” and enjoy each workday more

About Anne Grady

Resilience expert Anne Grady is an internationally recognized speaker and author. Anne shares humor, humility, refreshing honesty, and practical strategies anyone can use to triumph over adversity and master change. A two-time TEDx speaker, Anne has been featured in Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Inc., FOX Business, Entrepreneur, and more. She is the author of “Strong Enough: Choosing Courage, Resilience, and Triumph.” Learn more at www.AnneGradyGroup.com.

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank You, Sponsor!

Anne Grady Interview Transcript

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

Anne Grady
Hey, Pete, thanks so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, I’m glad to have you and we’re talking about resilience and gratitude and more. And I want to kick it off by hearing a story from you about a time when you found some resilience and how you found it.

Anne Grady
Well, you know, resilience is one of those things you don’t find until you realize you need it. And, in my case, my journey started with my son Evan. So, Evan is now 16 years old but when I was pregnant, I knew something wasn’t right. He would like kick me so hard I would just fall to the ground. And my doctor joked he was going to be a soccer player. He cried all day and all night.

And when he was 18 months old, my husband left, and so I was a single mom, I had just started a consulting career, could not figure out what was wrong, and just things continued to escalate. And when he was about three years old, I know this is unbelievable, but he tried to kill me with a pair of scissors, and he was on his first antipsychotic by the time he was four.

By seven, he was in-patient at his first psychiatric hospitalization in Dallas. By 10, he was hospitalized again. And at that point, I got diagnosed with a tumor in my salivary gland that resulted in the right side of my face being completely paralyzed which, two days later, scratched my cornea, and was told by my doctor that my face probably wouldn’t recover, and I needed to have a gold weight implanted into my upper eyelid and a stitch put into my bottom eyelid, and I needed to do that before I started six weeks of radiation.

So, the weekend before my eye surgery, my husband and I went to Vegas. He had recovered from a motorcycle accident and we went to Vegas, and I fell down a flight of stairs and broke my foot in four places, and then he fell off a ladder, breaking his arm ribs and hip. And so, it’s just kind of been a constant state of needed resilience.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, and that is quite a lot.

Anne Grady
And my face came back, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, with stories. Yes, people wonder how they ended. And so, that’s a lot. Wow! And, tell me, how did you find the resilience, the power, the courage, the gratitude, the something to keep on going such that you’ve been able to get to a good place?

Anne Grady
You know, it’s fascinating. My background, I have a master’s degree in Organizational Communication and, similar to you, I spent 20 years in the organizational development space, so training and professional development, communication, leadership, emotional intelligence, productivity, lots of soft skill type training.

And then, after everything that happened, I got contacted by a couple of different TEDx organizations wanting me to speak for them and the topic of resilience was really what they were curious about. They had heard my videos and seen me on YouTube or read articles, and so they wanted to hear about my story.

And I had never told the story before in terms of resilience. I had told it in terms of I was having opportunities daily to practice what I was teaching because of my situation with my son. And once I started digging into the resilience research in 2014, I realized that there were some things that I was doing naturally do build resilience without even realizing I was doing them, and there were things that I was not doing that were really hindering my ability to build those habits and skills.

And so, I started pouring over the neuroscience. I’ve studied the brain since Evan was born trying to understand how to help him and have learned a lot along the way, but then I really got and sort of geeking out on all of the neuroscience behind resilience. It’s incredibly powerful and it’s one of those things that most people think you have to wait until you need it to develop the skills, and it’s exactly the opposite. These are skills and behaviors and habits that you can proactively cultivate so that you have them when you need them.

Pete Mockaitis
And what are some of the most potent practices there when it comes to building those in advance?

Anne Grady
Well, things that sound like common sense but are not common practice. Self-care is huge, and people kept telling me to take care of myself, and I thought, “Well, okay, I’m raising…” I got remarried when Evan was nine years old, and I was like, “Okay, so I’ll go ahead and take a spa day while I’m raising two children and running a full-time business. I don’t have time for that.”

And what I learned is that, one, self-care doesn’t have to be a spa day. There are lots of different tools that you can use, but it’s also not selfish. It’s a requirement for resilience. My mom is a flight attendant and she started when she was 51. She was a court reporter for 30 years. And when she was 51, she became a flight attendant. She turned 70 this June and she’s still doing it.

And I’m not supposed to tell which airline so we’ll just call it Southwest. But she basically does these great announcements, and the one for the oxygen mask is my favorite. And she says, “In case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, please place your mask on and then assist your child. And if you’re traveling with more than one child, please pick your favorite or the one with the most potential.” But there’s a reason they tell you to put your mask on first.

It’s nice to think, “Well, I’ll sleep when I’m dead and I don’t have time to take care of me. I’ve got to take care of everybody else.” But life has a way of stopping you. Gratitude, mindfulness, humor, social connection, making meaning out of challenging events, values, goals. These are all different tools that you can use to build resilience. And you don’t need to use every single one all the time but it’s nice to have an arsenal or a toolkit that you can pull from.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then if you’re not taking the spa day but you are doing self-care, what are the things you found that made a world of difference when you did them?

Anne Grady
So, I was diagnosed with depression when I was 19 years old, and every doctor, every therapist, everyone I talked to had said, “Anne, you really have to exercise.” And I thought, “Yeah, that’s the last thing I want to do. I’m not an athletic person, I don’t want to exercise.” And my grandmother said, “Annie, if enough people tell you you’re tired, maybe it’s time to lay down.”

She also used to say, “If you act like an ass, don’t be surprised if people try to ride you.” But that was my grandmother. But enough people told me to do it, and I was so desperate at one point, I was really having a hard time. It was after Evan’s first hospitalization, and I was really struggling, and then my husband was in a motorcycle accident, and I just felt lost.

And we moved into a neighborhood that had a junior Olympics-sized pool. And so, swimming was always something that I didn’t hate. It was the only exercise I didn’t hate. And so, I started swimming four days a week, and I noticed such a drastic improvement in my mood. Medications didn’t change. The exercise was the only thing that had changed.

And so, I dug into the research. You know, I’m an academic at heart and I realized it’s not just like lose weight, be healthy. It’s literally changed your brain. So, that was one of the things that just blew my mind. I was saying all the time, “I don’t have time to exercise.” But I always had time to watch Law & Order. I like SBU because I like my crime, especially heinous. But, really, that made a huge difference.

Sleep. It’s a non-negotiable for me now because I don’t do well when I have less than 7, 8 hours of sleep. And so, I don’t care what I have to do to make that happen. I very rarely go without it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Excellent. So, exercise and sleep, indeed, common sense but often not common practice, and it makes a world of difference not just in terms of weight. But tell us a little bit about the rewiring of the brain.

Anne Grady
Well, let me first just really quickly back up and say, self-care could be something as easy as not eating lunch at your desk. It could be as simple as strategically stopping during your day and taking three really deep breaths. It could be giving yourself the same grace and compassion you would give your best friend. It could be not should-ing on yourself, “We should. I should’ve done this. I should do this. I should be here. I should be that.” And we should on ourselves all day long. Self-care is going, “You know what, I have permission to be human and, no, I’m enough.”
So, it doesn’t have to be the same types of things that we – sleep, exercise, diet, all those things are important for sure. But it doesn’t have to be those. It can be taking 10 minutes to sit and snuggle your dogs and drink coffee before looking at social media. So, it’s really subtle things that you can do that end up making a very big difference.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you sort of zoom in to the professional work life, many of the slights and offenses and challenges we encounter, not nearly as difficult as many of the things that you tackled but, nonetheless, we can feel threatened, attacked, stressed out, freaking out about things. Can you explain to us a little bit, like, where does that come from and what should we do about it?

Anne Grady
So, our brain is this phenomenal organ, right? It’s gone through three levels of evolution. The first one being just basically a snake brain, your reptilian brain. It’s heart rate, breathing, respiration, fight or flight. It’s the most primitive part of your brain. The next evolution is tucked in the middle of your brain, it’s called your limbic system, and it’s got the hippocampus and hypothalamus and amygdala, and so it’s got a bunch of different components, but it’s kind of the emotional cockpit. It’s where all of your emotions are generated. It’s where your habits and your memories are stored.

And then the newest evolution is the neocortex. It surrounds the outer part of the brain but, specifically, the prefrontal cortex right behind your forehead. And that’s the part of the brain that differentiates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. We’re the only species who can think about the way that we think. It’s where creativity and innovation come from. It’s where higher-level thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, cause and effect, attention management, emotional regulation, all the hard stuff comes from there.

And so, there’s, one, it’s understanding that our brain will take anything we repeatedly think, say, or do and convert it into a cognitive shortcut which is a habit so it doesn’t have to work as hard. It’s like going through the express lane. It’s just easier. And so, if you, for example, if you’re listening right now, cross your arms, right, for your listeners, cross your arms. Now, cross them in the opposite direction. You probably noticed that the second time was more awkward, and it’s because those two things happen from different parts of your brain.

The first time you crossed your arms, it came from your limbic system. You’ve done it a million times, when you’re cold, when you’re angry, whatever. The second time, it came from your prefrontal cortex. You had to work at it a little bit more. And if you were to do that all day, every day, or for extended periods of time, and you were to practice that, eventually that would become a habit.

Over 45% of everything we do every day is a habit. And our brain depends on these cognitive shortcuts to make our life manageable but it doesn’t know which habits are helping us or which habits are hurting us. It just takes however we’re repeatedly thinking or behaving and converts it. So, that’s one, is recognizing which habits.

Are you anxious because you have an anxiety disorder or are you anxious because it’s a habit? Are you worrying because there’s like something legitimately challenging that you don’t know how to navigate or are you worrying because it’s a habit, right? So, our life becomes this state of habits and we just kind of live on autopilot if we’re not careful.

The second challenge with the brain is that we have something called the negativity bias. And it’s a primitive built-in protection mechanism so that if you were being chased by predators, your brain encoded that message very powerfully to keep you protected, and you were way more able to notice the saber-toothed tiger charging at you than you are the pretty flower that’s standing next to you as you’re walking down that path.

And it was built as a protection mechanism but, unfortunately, as we’ve evolved, the brain continues to constantly search for threats, so it overestimates threats, it underestimates opportunities, it magnifies the negative, it’s like Velcro, and it diminishes the positive, it’s like Teflon. And so, we can change the way our brain is wired through, Rick Hanson calls it, experiential-dependent neuroplasticity. And it’s basically a fancy term for saying every time you have a positive experience or an experience that you want to encode as deeply as a negative message, you have to ruminate on it just like you would the negative one.

We replay the negative stuff over and over and over in our mind, but if somebody gives us a compliment, we’re like, “Oh, thanks. It’s nothing,” rather than sitting in that and truly like feeling the gratitude in that. Or, you know, when you have, I call them delicious moments. So, a delicious moment, and we all read these fairy tales growing up, or read them to our kids, and they all end with, “And they lived happily ever after,” and then you get a divorce, or you lose a job, or you have a sick child, or something happens and you feel like, “Well, great. I have completely failed at this whole thing called adulting” without realizing that there’s no constant state of happy. It happens in micro moments. It happens in blips.

And most of us are so busy focused on finding that constant state of it that we miss those. I call them delicious moments. It’s the first sip of coffee in the morning. It’s a really great hug. It’s a delicious meal. It’s a belly laugh where you can’t stop. It’s a great podcast interview. It’s just a moment that you want to savor. And I write them down and I either take a picture or put it on a cocktail napkin, or write it on a sticky note. I put those all over my office on these huge corkboards. Because every time you find something that makes you feel that moment, you get what’s called the dopamine squirt. And I know it sounds dirty.

But every time you have that moment, like, for example, yesterday I spoke in Fort Worth, and I was speaking for about 3,000 teachers and educators. And at the end of the speech, I got an amazing standing ovation, and that was just such a delicious moment for me. I felt like I really made an impact and I felt like I really belonged. I was right where I was supposed to be. So, I took out my phone, took a quick picture of the audience, printed it, it goes on my board.

And sitting in that, and going, “All right. How did that feel?” Well, I felt pride and I felt like I was legitimately making a difference and contributing. And I felt like I was paying back all of the teachers who’ve helped us along the way. “And where did I feel that?” Well, I felt it in my stomach and I got goosebumps. And I felt it by the hair on the back of my neck.

And simply sitting in that for 20 seconds is enough to embed that into the neural network as powerfully as the negative events that happen and the negative self-doubt and self-talk. But we have to be deliberate about offsetting so much of the negative with bringing in a more focused approach at searching for the positive, and then you start training your brain to find the positive in different situations. So, the more you do it, the more you find it.

The more time you spend feeling grateful and sitting in that and why and, “How can I communicate that and how can I make somebody stay better because of it?” Those are all things that if you sit in them for even 20, 30 seconds, you start to re-circuit your brain. And they say, “What fires together, wires together.” The more time you spend in these activities that are going to build resilience, the more likely you are to start your brain down an entirely different path than was intended or where it would go on its own.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that really is fascinating when you talk about the negativity bias and how we’ll just naturally ruminate on the bad stuff, and then not so much naturally ruminate on the good stuff. And so, to really take that time. And I think the turn of a phrase delicious moment is great because, you know, delicious it’s visceral and we know what that feels like with regard to, “This bite of prime rib on this camping trip was exceptional and it’s a wow!”

Anne Grady
Pete, I want to camp with you because when I go camping, we are not eating prime rib.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, they had this like acorn, like smoker, delicious. I was very impressive what these guys were doing, I was like, “I can wrap the potatoes and boil, guys, as my contribution.”

Anne Grady
I can add salt.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, it was, yes, so that moment is there. And then I think it’s true in terms of, I don’t know, you’ve made a sale, you get the email saying, “Yes, Pete, here’s the order.” And it’s like, “Great!” And then you were like firing off the email reply with like, “Okay. Well, I’ll get back to you on this date with these things,” as opposed to, “No, no, no, the right answer is to just appreciate and relish that for 20 to 30 seconds is all it takes, not say, ‘I’m off for the rest of the day.’”

And so, that really makes a lot of sense to me. And I like how you’re very proactive in terms of, “I’m going to think about those prompts. Like, where did I feel it? How did I feel it? How am I going to capture it? Is it to sort of you write it down or you take a photo?” And so, that’s good in there.

And so, well, now I’m thinking about in a work scenario, I think like a little thing can happen and then it just gets you ruminating, going over it repeatedly. Let’s just say, okay, hey, you got busy and you weren’t quite doing something someone else in another department had asked you for, maybe once or twice, it wasn’t one of your priorities.

Then that someone has the audacity to email you again and CC your boss. And then you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, this jerk. Well, I’m going to get to it soon enough, you know. You really could’ve called me if it was that urgent and I would’ve handled it. And now my boss thinks I’m some sort of a yogle who doesn’t ever look at his emails, or whatever.” So, your brain can just kind of spin and in a small thing. So, how do you recommend when you catch yourself in the non-delicious moment? How do you get out of there and start the rewiring?

Anne Grady
So, your brain doesn’t know the difference between a saber-toothed tiger or a snarky email. Your brain interprets perceived threats and real threats exactly the same way. And what basically happens is in your limbic system, in your reptilian brain, your amygdala basically creates cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline, norepinephrine, all of these neurochemicals that are draining 20% of the blood from your brain and your heart, and placing them into your limbs so that you can fight, freeze, or run away. And even though this is a very primitive neurological response, it has not changed.

And so, when you are, one, is to know what triggers you and to be aware physiologically, psychologically what has triggered you. The next step of this is, because when that happens, you’ve been emotionally hijacked. You flip your lid, your ability to think logically flies out the window, and our emotional brain, that limbic system works 80,000 times faster than the prefrontal cortex, than the logical system. So, one, it’s recognizing that you’ve been hijacked. Do your palms sweat? Do your shoulders tighten? Do you get nauseous? Like, what has happened that lets you know that you have been triggered?

Like, for some people, it’s visceral, “I feel like I was punched in the gut.” For other people, “It’s like my neck just tightens and my hands sweat.” Whatever it is for you, it’s recognizing it’s happening is the first step.

The second is letting yourself feel whatever emotion is generated as a result. Most of us don’t like to be in uncomfortable emotional states. And so, we try to just either not feel anything or we try to fake it and flip it, and that doesn’t work. Your emotions are a neurobiological process. You cannot control them. It’s like you put your hand on a hot stove, you’ll bring your hand back very quickly without having time to think, “Ooh, that’s hot. Maybe I shouldn’t touch it.” Your brain does the exact same thing.

And so, where you do have control of this emotional management process is the thought that is generated as a result of that emotion. So, if you imagine step one is the trigger, “Bob sent me a second email, copied my boss, really pissed me off.” That emotion is anger and hurt and a little bit of fear and embarrassment. You can’t change that. The thought process is, “Bob’s a jerk. He tried to intentionally embarrass me,” which leads you to a response, most likely defensive, closed off, agitated, which ultimately has a negative outcome.

You don’t have control over the trigger, you don’t have control over the emotion, but you do have control over the way you interpret that situation. So, rather than being like, “Bob’s a jerk,” it’s, “Gosh, I wonder if Bob has got something going on personally and he didn’t mean to do this. He just copied my boss because he’s under the gun on a lot of different competing priorities. Or maybe this is the third time I’ve missed the deadline, and Bob is just getting short with me, and he’s kind of tired of it.” It’s how do I interpret that differently so it shifts my behavior?

And this is not easy at all especially in an organizational setting when someone throws you under the bus, or when you’ve missed a deadline, or you didn’t meet a deliverable. Like, whatever it is, it’s really paying attention to how your brain hijacks you and then doing some things to get un-hijacked. For example, three deep breaths from your abdomen reset your entire nervous system and gets your prefrontal cortex back online. So, when you are frustrated or angry, or you read the email, Arianna Huffington calls it email apnea when you read an email and stop breathing, which I think we’ve all done. Three really deep breaths from your abdomen will get you back online.

Counting backward from 10 or 20 will get you back online because you’re having to go to the prefrontal cortex to access higher-order thinking. Talking to yourself in third person, strangely enough, has been found to put you back online. So, like, “Hey, Anne, you got this. You’ll figure it out,” unless your name is not Anne and then you should replace your name. But there are some things that you can do to get un-hijacked. You just have to know it’s happening first.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, yes. And so then, I’m with you. So, you’re there, you have the trigger, you had emotional response, and then I like that notion of sort of feeling it and identifying it in terms of, “All right. It’s made me angry. It made me feel like I don’t have my act together when I absolutely have my act together.” And so, there we are in terms of the breaths or the counting backwards and reclaiming the control there in the prefrontal cortex.

Anne Grady
But more often than not, here’s what happens. More often than not it’s, “Uh-oh, they think I don’t have my stuff together. Now I’m insecure. Do I not have my stuff together? How do people think of me? How am I perceived by others? Does my boss now think that I’m not staying on top of things? Am I going to lose my job? What’s going to happen? Am I going to be embarrassed?”

We start down this path of these negative loops, and it’s very normal. But if you don’t catch yourself and stop it, and re-route your attention, which is why mindfulness is so incredibly powerful for your brain, then you say stuck in that habit loop, and it becomes a cognitive shortcut, and you just start thinking that way.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s talk about mindfulness in terms of, specifically, the practices that make the difference, and then what difference does it make.

Anne Grady
Sure. I used to think mindfulness was the dumbest thing in the world. Exercise and mindfulness, for me, really, the dumbest, like, “I’m not doing either of these things. I don’t care how helpful they are.” But the research doesn’t lie. You find enough research supporting it.

Mindfulness, we spend 47% of our time thinking about something other than what we’re doing right now. Like, if your listeners are driving, they’ve thought about different signs they’ve seen. If your listeners are sitting at their desk, they’re probably checking an email or two, or looking at their phone, or checking their Facebook feed at the same time.

We have this very difficult time controlling our attention. And mindfulness is simply brain training to help you be in control of what you pay attention to. So, anytime that you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s recognizing that and sitting in that, going, “Okay, what is this I’m feeling? Let myself feel it,” and then move on. It could be meditating. And this, I felt like I was playing whackable with my thoughts. Everybody told me how Zen-like this was supposed to be and it wasn’t for me.

And so, I really start digging in and realized it’s not supposed to be. Even Buddhist monks, they call it your monkey brain. Your monkey brain is going in all kinds of different directions. And every time you catch your monkey running around, and you bring it back and focus on your breath, you’re training your brain to focus on where you want it to be focused not where it actually goes.

Like, I meditate to sleep every single night. And what this does is it expands the grey matter in your brain, so does exercise, yoga does it, sleep does it. And the grey matter of your brain is the part of your brain that’s responsible for emotional regulation and attention management, and it’s the part of your brain damaged by stress.

So, mindfulness is it’s not touchy fluffy feely. It can be. You can find all kinds of, like, oh, say Om and drink tea and sit here in full lotus. But, for me, it’s simply paying attention to where you are when you’re there. If you’re sitting around the couch at night with your family, are you all watching TV and on your phones? If you’re eating dinner, are you paying attention to how the food tastes and feels? Because if you do that, you’re sitting in the moment.

When you’re sitting in traffic, instead of being angry, taking a few deep breaths, and, “All right. This is good. I have time to process my day. I can get through that so that when I get home, I can choose the mood I want to be in.” It can happen anywhere, anytime. It’s just a matter of bringing yourself back to right now. And it is not peaceful, and it is not priming. It is not this belief that we have of the perfect yogi. It’s really just being deliberate about where you want to bring your attention.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, you mentioned some ways to practice that in everyday life. And if you are hunkering down for meditation, how do you approach that?

Anne Grady
Well, one, the magical number is nine minutes. If you can meditate consistently for nine minutes a day, you will change your brain. And so, I had no idea how to do it, so I downloaded an app. There’s Calm, Buddhify, Happify, Headspace, there’s a bunch of different apps.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, don’t forget Simple Habits, sponsor.

Anne Grady
Simple Habits.

Pete Mockaitis
Hey, thanks, guys.

Anne Grady
Thanks, guys, yeah. Oh, I love them. I think I’ve done an interview for them as well. They’re great. So, it’s really whether it’s using an app, or whether it’s going on YouTube and getting a guided meditation, I suggest learning how first being guided by that. And sometimes your brain is so un-still, it’s so busy, that it’s really helpful to have a voice outside of you guide that. So, there’s power in doing it together if there’s a meditation place that you can go to. Personally, I prefer to be alone. It’s just really not rocket science. It is so hard but so easy. And it is really just focusing on your breath. Period.

You start by taking a few really deep breaths and just kind of get centered. Many programs will tell you to do a body stand. You can either feel like you start at the tip of your head, and then you feel relaxation down your forehead and your eyes, and you relax your nose and your mouth. And the way I view it as this warm blue light that’s surrounding me and I just watch it go through my head and neck and shoulders and sternum and stomach and all the way down to my toes. And that’s one way to stay present because you’re focused on your body.

And then you sit in silence and just focus on your breath. And your mind is going to go everywhere, “What are we going to have for dinner? Why does my leg itch? I forgot to pick up the dry cleaning? Crap, I didn’t send the email to so and so.” That’s normal. That’s what it’s supposed to do but you train yourself to go back to your breath, which is training your brain, training your attention management skills.

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

Anne Grady
No, I think the only other thing I would say is gratitude is really super, super powerful and it’s really, really easy. Right now, you can practice this by sending someone a text message, thanking them for something specific, whether it’s they helped you on a project, or they covered for you, or they helped you jump your car when the battery died.

It doesn’t matter what it is. You can take out your phone and just send somebody a text message and, literally, change your brain and theirs at the same time. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out thing. Simply send a one message a day to somebody in your life will change the way your brain looks at the world. So, it’s simple but it requires persistence.

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

Anne Grady
One of my favorite quotes is by Ray Wylie Hubbard. He’s a singer-songwriter from Texas, and he has a lyric that says, “The days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, well, those are good days.” And I just love that. it’s a simple reminder when our expectations don’t match reality, that’s when we’re angry, frustrated, and disappointed. And if you can control your expectations, you can control your mood.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that really resonates in terms of it seems like I most often get angry, frustrated, and irritated when I’m in a rush, like I have an expectation of time that is not being delivered upon.

Anne Grady
Me, too. Me, too.

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

Anne Grady
The one that just came to mind right now is, when you said that it’s a study that was done with monkeys. They put these monkeys in a cage. And I am not an animal research advocate but in this particular study, what they did is they put a ladder in the cage with the monkeys, they dangled bananas from the top of the cage. Every time the monkey went up the ladder to get the banana, they sprayed the monkey with water.
Ultimately, they ended up replacing all of the monkeys that were originally part of the group and no monkey would go up the ladder even though none of the original monkeys were there. And it just demonstrates how our corporate culture just feeds on itself, our habits feed on themselves. We don’t even question why we’re doing what we’re doing. We just do it.

And really breaking away from that takes courage, which is my other favorite quote. It’s from Mary Anne Radmacher, and she says, “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day, saying, ‘I’ll try again tomorrow.’” And sometimes it just takes us stopping and going, “Am I living my life on purpose or am I just reacting my way through it?”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Anne Grady
Oh, my gosh, there’s so many of those too. I think my favorite one growing up was “Where the Red Fern Grows.” I don’t know if you remember that book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Anne Grady
But, like, Little Dan or Big Dan and Little Ann, I absolutely love that book. Now, I really am geeking out over Brene Brown as I’m sure everybody is. I love Rick Hanson’s work around resilience. He has a great book called “Hardwiring Happiness.” Let’s see, what else am I reading right now? I’m looking at my bookshelf. Oh, Rachel Hollis has a couple of really great books.

And something interesting I’m reading, “The Upside of Stress” by Kelly McGonigal. She has a great TED Talk as well. She basically aggregated all this research, and one study, in particular, found it’s not the stress that’s killing us, it’s the way we perceive it, and I found that just incredibly fascinating and powerful. So, those are just a few that I’m reading now. And then I’ve always got a James Patterson murder-mystery novel because everybody has got to have some brain candy.

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

Anne Grady
I’m sorry, say again.

Pete Mockaitis
A favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job.

Anne Grady
So, the biggest tool that I use is planning my day. I take time before I ever turn on my computer to think through what my day is going to look like. Or if I do have to turn on my computer to look at the calendar, I resist the urge to go check email and start working out of my inbox. And then I recap my day at the end, “What did I accomplish? What can I feel proud of? What did I not get done? When do I have time to do that?” So, for me, that’s important.

The other is a concept by Shawn Achor and I also love his work “The Happiness Advantage.” He’s got a new book out as well. It’s basically creating a mental moat around your day. The first 30 minutes and the last 30 minutes of your day are when you have the least cognitive energy, so your brain is most likely to stay in whatever state you put it first thing in the morning. And most of us turn on the news and look at social media and check our email within the first 30 minutes of being awake. And we basically just relinquish control of our entire day.

So, one of the biggest tools that I use is I sit and have my morning coffee. If I’m at home, I snuggle with my pups. If I’m on the road, I wake up a couple of minutes early to sit in the hotel room and really just be, without reading anything, without looking at the world around us, and I start being deliberate about what I let enter into my brain. The other thing is surround yourself with the right people. If you’re around constantly negative people, either you’re the common denominator or you have to find a way to get around different people.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate and gets quoted back to you often?

Anne Grady
“You find what you look for.” If you look for all the reasons life is unfair and it’s tough and it’s an uphill battle, you will find them in spades. Like, I have a sign on my bathroom mirror that says, it’s written in Sharpie, it says, “What do you want to find today? Good. Go look for it.” Right? You find what you look for. And so, make sure you’re looking for things on purpose rather than just what your brain naturally will find.

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

Anne Grady
Well, there’s a couple things you can do. One, if you text the word strength to 555-888 you will get a resilient self-assessment along with a self-care sheet and a poem I wrote while sitting in a Philadelphia airport for nine hours with a couple of vodka sodas. It’s actually quite good. And you’ll also get a monthly resilience inoculation. You’ll get a tip tool or strategy regularly. You can join us on social. We have a gratitude challenge right now with our company.

The week of Thanksgiving, we will give $250 to a charity of your choice or a gift card to the place of your choice. And, basically, all you have to do is find us on social media, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, it’s all AnneGradyGroup and tell us what you’re grateful for, and we have a giant gratitude jar we’ll be drawing that from. Or you can go to AnneGradyGroup.com and Anne with an E. Check us out there. Lots of free resources and tools as well.

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

Anne Grady
Yeah, I would say spend the rest of this week, Thursday and Friday, or whenever you air this, spend the rest of that week really deliberately looking for five things every day that you would consider a delicious moment.

Well, I would say you can do this by putting five pennies in your righthand pocket, and every time you find one, you move a penny over to your left-hand pocket, and you don’t leave the office at the end of the day until you’ve transferred your pennies.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Anne, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you all the luck in the world and many delicious moments.

Anne Grady
Well, thank you. I wish you the same. And I hope you have a fantastic day. I appreciate you and your audience and I hope you guys really find lots of delicious moments.

480: How to Become Ridiculously Likable with Vanessa Van Edwards

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Vanessa Van Edwards says: "The fastest way that you can become more likable is to work on your own ability to like faster and more deeply."

Researcher Vanessa Van Edwards explains what causes people to like one another and how to make great impressions.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Proven ways for making a fantastic first impression
  2. What builds and what kills likability the fastest
  3. Good and bad questions to ask during first meetings

About Vanessa

Vanessa Van Edwards is a behavioral investigator at her human behavior research lab, the Science of People. She is a professional people watcher—speaking, researching and cracking the code of interesting behavior hacks for audiences around the world. She is a columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine and the Huffington Post. Her popular courses on Creative Live and Udemy have over 120,000 enrolled students. She’s been featured on NPR, CNN, Forbes and USA Today, but more importantly, she’s addicted to sour patch kids, airplane coffee and puppies.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • BetterHelp provides affordable therapy on demand. Get 10% off your first month at BetterHelp.com/AWESOME with the discount code AWESOME.
  • The Simple Habit meditation app can help you gain greater control over distractions for faster learning. Visit SimpleHabit.com/Awesome get 30% off premium subscriptions.

Vanessa Van Edwards Interview Transcript

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

Vanessa Van Edwards
Oh, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into this conversation. I’ve seen you appear in all sorts of places, so I know you’ve got the goods and a lot of great research behind your insights. But I want to hear about your experiment where you stared up at nothing.

Vanessa Van Edwards
The Look Up experiment. Oh, my goodness. Yeah, I love doing street experiments and I was dying to try this one, which is, you know, a lot of the time I teach about eye contact and I talk about body language. And one of the kind of interesting things about eye contact is we cannot help but look where other people are looking, right? If they’re looking at something that might be interesting, which we like, or it might be threating, which we need to know.

So, I wanted to test it, a very simple experiment. I stood outside on the street and I looked up at nothing and I counted how many people stopped and looked where I was looking while they walked by. And it was almost every single person, unless they were on their phone. In fact, I was looking up and a lovely lady stood next to me for quite a long time. And I’m standing there and she’s standing there, we’re both looking up at nothing, and I wonder, “Who’s going to break first?” And she kind of leans over and she says, “Is he going to jump?”

And I was like, “Oh, my goodness.” And I just laughed, and I said, “Oh, my goodness. I’m so sorry but it’s actually a social experiment. There’s no one up there.” And she had made up this whole story that she thought that she saw a man in a window and that’s where I was looking and, really, it was a great experiment because, one, it told me that, yes, we are absolutely very attuned to where people look, but, second, our brain makes up stories for things we can’t explain.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is perfect. Thank you. Well, that’s a juicy takeaway and I’m sure you’ve identified many such takeaways. But I’d love to hear what’s perhaps the most surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made in all your years of investigating people behavior?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Ooh, that’s like asking to pick a favorite child. Hmm, but I only have one child so that’s pretty easy to do for me at this moment. Most surprising or interesting? Probably learning about personality. So, I’ve always been interested, I’ve always been that person who signs up for every personality quiz, “What Harry Potter house are you? What Disney character are you?” I just love personality quizzes.

And I was really interested to find out that there really is only one personality science that’s reliable, and that’s called The Big Five.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing, yes. And so, reliable just in terms of when the same person takes it, it shows up again and again and again the same way.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, and not only that but also that across genders and culture and races, everyone has the same vibe traits, and that’s pretty surprising because we usually think about culture shaping our personality and it definitely does. But in terms of these five personality traits, we can measure everyone on these same five traits. And that creates kind of a universality which I like. I am always looking for universals. I want to find the things that apply to all of us because if we learn them, they help us in every situation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so I want to dig into the particular practicals when it comes captivating folks, you’d put a lot of your efforts in that dimension. And so, why don’t we start with hearing what are the keys for making a fantastic first impression?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, so first impressions are really important and we kind of know this but we don’t exactly know how it works. And what’s interesting is, for my introverts listening, so there’s actually a common misconception. Introverts often think that their first impression happens the moment they open their mouth. So, an introvert will often go into an event and kind of survey the room, and then once they decide to approach someone and say, “Hi. I’m Vanessa,” that’s their first impression.

But, actually, your first impression happens the moment someone first sees you. And that’s good and bad news. So, it’s bad news because we can’t always hide in a corner until we make our first impression, until we’re ready, it actually happens the moment we walk in. The good news is all you really have to worry about is that grand entrance. Once we make the first impression, it actually stays pretty permanent.

So, the one thing that you really want to focus on when you’re entering into a room is having some kind of purpose or intention. The worst that we can do in our first impression happens by accident a lot. So, let’s say that you’re out at a networking event, you walk into the room, and you’re not sure what you’re going to do first. Should you get a drink? Should you go to the bathroom? You’re carrying your coat and your purse and your briefcase and that coffee that you just got at Starbucks, and you just need a few minutes to kind of calm down for a second. Your first impression has just been made from everyone who’s seen you right as you walk into the room.

So, what I would rather have you do is think about, “Okay, what’s the very first thing you want to do when you walk into a room?” For me, it’s almost always, if I can, trying to get something in my hand. So, that could be a name tag, that could be a pen, that could be the free pamphlet they’re giving out, it could be a drink at the bar. That has a secret affect of making you very purposeful and that also makes you look more confident.

It makes you walk more confidently. It makes your eye contact more focused. It also gives you a kind of purpose when you’re mentally walking in. If you’re a recovering awkward person like me, it’s nice to have a sense of purpose. So, the very first thing you want to do is figure out, “What are you going to do the moment you walk in a room?”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I am confidently, purposefully acquiring that name tag or that beverage, or placing my items down.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, exactly. And that seems like a silly thing but, actually, what we are looking for in other people when we’re trying to gauge our first impression, is the very first thing we’re looking at is, “Is someone a threat to me?” So, luckily, in the modern business environment, most of the time people are pretty safe. And one way that you can make sure that people know that you’re safe is actually showing your hands.

So, the more items you’re carrying, the more distracted you are, if you’re still on your phone when you walk into a room, and someone can’t see your hands, it actually is a little bit of a red flag for people in their brain. When we can’t see someone’s hands, it’s as if we can’t see their intention. You know, that cliché about hiding hands, or, “He isn’t showing me his hand.” That actually has a lot of real truth. When we can’t see someone’s hands, we’re just slightly nervous. It’s like you have a hidden intention.

Pete Mockaitis
You can have a weapon. You could be a threat.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yes, exactly. So, from caveman days, if we couldn’t see someone’s hands, we wonder if they’re carrying a rock or a spear. Are they going to reach out and punch us or are they going to reach out and handshake with us?

So, this other reason why I want you to purposeful is if you are going in ready to take your first item, you’re going to be hands-free, right? You’re not going to still be on your phone. You’re not going to be carrying a bunch of items. Hopefully, you can leave them in the car if you can. That actually helps also people see you as a friend not foe.

And the second thing that people are doing is they’re trying to gauge, “Are you someone who we’d like to get to know?” And we like to get to know people who are purposeful, right? No one likes to have someone who is distracted or wandering. And so, interestingly, even just having something as simple as, “I’m going to get my name tag,” or, “I’m going to get a warm tea because I’m cold,” even those two things give off an air of confidence that’s very easy to get.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Super. So, that’s the first impression side of things. I think perhaps the most captivating piece of your table of contents for “Captivate” was how do we become ridiculously likable?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yes. So, likability has always fascinated me. And I’m a recovering awkward person but I joke about it in the book and I was always fascinated by the cool kids at school, right? Like, they would walk into the cafeteria and just everyone wanted to look at them and know them. And I always wondered, “What’s going on there? They weren’t necessarily more attractive, or smarter, or even the best athletes. So, I wonder do they have this quality that was kind of a secret magical charisma dust?” That’s kind of what I always wondered.

And then I studied, I come across a study by a researcher named Van Sloan and he actually studied this. He looked at high school students across a variety of high schools looking for patterns of why the popular kids are popular. And I’ll have you guess. I don’t know if you read the study in the book yet. But can you guess what made the most popular kids popular?

Pete Mockaitis
Vanessa, my guess is that they were quite interested in other people, what they were interested in, what they were up to, and they kind of seemed genuinely curious and ask follow-up questions and such.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Ah, Pete, curiosity is a very good guess but, actually, what it was and, by the way, there was a number of variables in this so it could’ve been GPA, it could’ve been athleticism, it could’ve been, first, the athlete, it could’ve been attractiveness. So, what he found was very clearly the students who were the most popular actually liked the most other people.

So, when they asked them, “How many people do you like?” The most popular kids actually had the highest number of people that they liked. So, what’s interesting about this is that it puts you in control of how likable you are, that if you go into interactions, and typically we would hold our likability. And what I mean by this is we are so afraid that people won’t like us. We’re afraid that they’re going to judge us or they’re not going to accept us for who we are, or that we’re too weird or too awkward, right? I can absolutely speak to this, feel this.

And so, we think, “Okay, I don’t want to like them first just in case they don’t like me.” And, actually, that is the thing that kills our likability the fastest. When we withhold our likability, when we’re assessing for longer than they are, it actually makes us even more unlikable. And so, the greatest way, the fastest way that you can become more likable is actually to work on your own ability to like faster and to like more deeply.

And I was so relieved to hear that because I genuinely am a very curious person, and curious is something you mentioned in your guess. I genuinely assume the best in people. In fact, sometimes I feel that’s burned me in the past. But I realized that carrying that fear, that history with me actually was contributing to a negative spiral, right? The more I withheld my liking, the more afraid I was, the less likable I became.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, how does one work on one’s own capacity to like more and more readily?

Vanessa Van Edwards
So, I think this is an absolutely a mental game. And the great thing about this is you are in control of it, right? You’re not going into a room hoping other people like you. You are actually in control of how you do this.

So, the mental reframe is if you were about to introduce this person on stage, what would you have to find out about them, about how important they are, or how impressive they are, to be able to introduce them? That is a nice kind of mental reframe of asking questions that are searching for good. And this is something that I talk about in my TED Talk about how I think that we have to assume good in people. And when you assume good, all different kinds of amazing things happen.

If you assume that you’re going to like someone, and you’re looking for reasons to like them, you ask completely different questions especially if you like them with a purpose. So, liking them with a purpose means, “If I had to introduce this person on stage, if I had to introduce this person to my boss in a second because they wanted a job working next to me, what would I have to find out about them to say that?” Or, “If I knew I was going to about to spend a month with this person alone on a cruise ship, what would I want to know about them or find out about them to like them so that we have a nice month together?”

That’s a very, very different kind of mindset than, “Is this person is going to be my client? Should I pitch this person? Who is this person?” Right? It’s a very, very different kind of assumption. And I think, actually, our assumptions can help us.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, within that search, are there any sort of go-to questions you found valuable again and again?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, I actually think, but first, before I answer what works, I would love to answer what I think doesn’t work. So, I have found that the question, “What do you do?” is one of the worst questions for likability, and there’s a couple reasons for this. One is that it immediately engages what I call a social script. So, the moment you ask someone, “What do you do?” it’s like you’re saying to them, “I’m going to stick within the norms, I’m going to stick within the comfort zone, and I’m going to ask a comfortable question.” And, of course, you’ve answered that question a million times before         so your brain immediately clicks on to autopilot and you go into the rote, “Oh, well, I’m an author and I research human behavior blah, blah, blah.”

What I found, if you listen to people when they answer this question, they actually answer it as if they’re apologizing to you or as if they are reading a boring excerpt from their school textbook because they’ve said it so many times that it doesn’t interest them anymore. And the problem is that it begins this cycle of autopilot that goes like this, “So, what do you do?” “Uh-huh. And where are you from?” “Great. Yeah. So, ah, great talking to you. Yeah, I’m going to go get some more wine, and have a good night.” Right? Like, it’s the same over and over and over again.

And so, I would challenge you to go on a “What do you do?” diet of never asking that question again. And the second reason why I don’t like that question is because sometimes people don’t like their answer to that question. If you ask someone “What do you do?” right out front, it means or it implies that you are going to define them by what they do.
And so, what I found is that if people really love what they do, they will find a way to work it into the conversation without you asking. If someone doesn’t mention what they do after 10 to 15 minutes of speaking with them, it means that they not only don’t feel it defines them but they might not even like it. And not knowing that might actually allow you to discover other things about them.

So, when you go in that “What do you do?” diet, I would highly recommend other kinds of questions. So, you can ask a slight variation of that question which is so comfortable, which is, “Working on anything exciting these days?” So, the reason why that one is really nice is, it’s still comfortable, it’s not like too crazy, it’s not like, “What’s your biggest worry?” Like, that can be a little deep. And it allows someone to say, “Oh, you know, I’m learning to garden.”

Or if someone isn’t working, if they don’t have a traditional job, they can say, “Oh, you know, my daughter is starting kindergarten next month.” So, it’s a way of opening up the conversation to let them talk about something positive, and this is something I really truly believe in interacting for good, is that it also assumes good.

If you ask someone “Are you working on anything exciting recently?” it asks their brain to search for anything in their life that’s exciting, which is a wonderful experience mentally, right? If you’re thinking about, “Argh, my parking, and the weather, and the food, and this networking event, and got to work on that project. I have so many emails. I have a long to-do list,“ that’s just mental trap after mental trap.

But if someone invites you to talk about anything you’re excited about, that could be a vacation you have coming up, that could be a side hustle, that could be a work project. It’s a much more pleasant mental experience, and, in that way, I feel like it’s giving a gift to the people we’re interacting with.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m thinking now in advance as I’m headed to the podcast, to the conference, and I’m thinking about there’s lots of times I’ll just be meeting all this people in different contexts. But if you are interacting positively and searching for something good and exciting, well, then there’s all sorts of safe yet also positive openers like, “Oh, what’s the best thing you’ve seen so far? What are you really looking forward to, to go into? Did you hear anything that’s surprising?”

And then we’re all at the event, that’s kind of what’s on our minds, and so they’re going to share, “Oh, yeah, I heard this really cool speaker who mentioned this. I had no idea that that even existed.” And then there we go.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Right. And so, by the way, you just did it exactly, any variation   of that question is exactly what you want to do. So, maybe it’s, “Are you working on anything exciting recently or coming up?” It can also be, “Did you hear anything exciting from the speaker?” It could be, “Hey, do you have any exciting episodes coming up?” It could be, “Is this an exciting season for you?” Whatever. You can do a variation of that for whatever you’re from. The whole point is to ask someone to look for good and that totally changes the dynamic of your interaction and it also helps them give you reasons they are likable.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, so I also want to get your take on you mentioned there are seven universals, you like universals, facial expressions. I’m curious, what are they and how can they help us?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, this is actually the science that hooked me in the very beginning of my career. So, when I read this research, I was absolutely flabbergasted that it wasn’t taught in schools. I mean, I was like, “How was I not taught this? How does not everyone know this? It’s such applicable, easy science.”

So, the research done by Dr. Paul Ekman, and Dr. Paul Ekman, I don’t know if you’ve seen the show “Lie To Me.” It’s a great show on Netflix if anyone wants to go watch it, which was based on his research. And he is a researcher who discovered that facial expressions are universal. And this was a really big surprise in the research community.

They used to believe that babies, that they learned facial expressions, that a baby was born and looked at his father and mother’s face, and then mirrored it or mimicked it. But, actually, what he found is that congenitally-blind babies, babies who’ve been blind since birth, show the same facial expressions as seeing children at the same time, meaning there’s something innate, there’s something coded in our DNA that causes us to make these faces.

And so, Dr. Ekman discovered seven universal expressions. They are happiness, my favorite of course, sadness, fear, disgust, contempt, anger, and surprise. When I learned this, whenever I teach this, I teach this in our online course, I warn all my students, “This is a blessing and a curse. Once you learn this facial expressions you will never be able to unlearn them, and it’s kind of like someone just switched your television set to HD, high definition. All of a sudden you’re seeing things you never noticed before and those can sometimes be uncomfortable truths.” But I would always rather live in real truth than ignorant bliss.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you contrast for me disgust versus contempt and say what they look like?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, I mean, it’s a little hard on audio. I have a whole free guide you’re welcome to look at on my website, it’s ScienceOfPeople.com/face, and you can see in video and in action. But you can try this with me as you’re listening. So, you asked for disgust and contempt. Were those the two?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Okay. So, contempt is a one-sided mouth raise. So, if you just raise one side of your mouth, it’s the simplest microexpression. It kind of looks like a smirk. So, if you try that with me, just one-sided mouth raise, you kind of begin to feel a little better then, a little like smug, a little scornful. It’s actually a very negative microexpression. Whereas disgust, think of smelling something bad. So, crinkle your nose up and flash the upper whites of your teeth, so like, “Uggh!” that face you make. So, your lip is pulled up as high as possible. That is the face we make when we’re disgusted by something. And, by the way, it’s not just smelling something bad or tasting something bad, we make that face if we hear something we don’t like too.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, then when you have it switched on HD like that, you can suddenly see everyone’s reactions to stuff, even your own stuff, like, “What I’m doing disgusts you.” Or is that with contempt?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, and I think what’s really important is I like to think of it as like reading between the lines. So, oftentimes, I give a couple of examples in my book of scenes or reality television shows where there’s a scene that plays. And if you just look at the verbal, it seems like everything’s fine. One of my favorite examples, I’m obsessed with “The Bachelorette” – “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.” I joke with my husband that I watch them for work, that’s how I’m able to get the TV from him, of course. And I play a Bachelor Fantasy League and I always win every year because if you look behind the words, you’ll see the real emotions there.

So, in one of the examples I give is she says, “Yeah, I love that you did that. Everything’s great. That sounds like it’s going to be really fun.” But she actually shows a flash of contempt, she shakes her head, “No,” and then she flashes sadness at him. And, sure enough, he ends up going home. And on the verbal, on the surface, people think, “Oh, yeah, she liked that.” But if you actually know what to look for, you can see he had an opportunity at that moment. He had an opportunity to see those emotions and address them.

So, instead of taking just the words, he could’ve said, “Let me explain more about it. Let me talk to you what I do. Are you okay with that? How are you feeling with that?” He had an opportunity to dig deeper and, possibly, I think, address it and then he maybe could’ve stayed.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when they’re always saying, “I feel like Vanessa and I have a real connection,” if they really mean that or they don’t mean that, and that’s how you come out on top.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Exactly. Exactly. And it seems like you’ve been watching some “Bachelor.”

Pete Mockaitis
Just a little.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Gotcha. I got you.

Pete Mockaitis
Small doses go a long way for me.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Sure. Sure. Sure. “Sure,” that’s what my husband says to me. My husband says, “I only watch it in the background.” Okay. He’s also grabbing a glass of wine with me on Monday night. So, okay.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, we’re in our final few minutes so I want to hear a couple of your favorite things. Could you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah. so, I have a quote that I have on my computer, I read it every day, and it says, “May anyone who comes into contact with me, whether they hear about me, or they see me, or they think about me, experience a benefit and happiness.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Oh, man, I’ll say the book that kind of changed my life was “Why Men Don’t Listen and Why Women Can’t Read Maps.” It’s by Barbara and Allan Pease, a couple. And it was the first self-development book I ever read. It was on my mom’s nightstand when I was a teenager and I looked at it and I wondered why she was reading it, and I kind of snuck the book, read it without her knowing.

And it was the first self-help book I had ever read, and it was the first time I ever realized there were scientific differences between the genders and, therefore, there could be other scientific differences between people. And I remember reading that book and understanding my dad better, understanding my brother better, understanding my crush better, and just feeling so empowered with the knowledge, and it made me get into self-help. It made me want to write a self-help book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. Thank you. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Vanessa Van Edwards
Oh, with me? Oh, I would love to get in touch. ScienceOfPeople.com is where everything is. We have all my YouTube channel, and my research, and, of course, “Captivate” is wherever books are sold.

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

Vanessa Van Edwards
Yeah, I would say the most important thing you can do is assume the best. And I don’t just mean in others, and that’s great too, assume that people are likable, assume they’re interesting, but also assume the best for yourself. There’s a very, very powerful scientific principle called the expectancy effect, which is that what you expect is more likely to happen. So, if you expect to be good at something, you’re more likely to be good at it. If you expect of something to go well, it’s more likely to then go well.

And so, I know that it’s very common to say, “No expectations. No expectations,” or, even worse, “Going with low expectations so I don’t get disappointed.” And I know that we’re afraid of being disappointed or disliked, but if you assume that you’re going to be liked, and if you assume the best, then that actually sets you up for greater success, and it also sets up this nice idea of sweet anticipation, that sometimes hoping is a great exercise in itself.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Vanessa, thanks so much for sharing this good stuff, and I wish you all the best of luck in all the ways you’re captivating folks.

Vanessa Van Edwards
Thanks so much for having me.

478: The Simple Secret To Better Trust and Culture with Randy Grieser

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Randy Grieser says: "Shift judgment to curiosity."

Randy Grieser offers actionable pointers to keep a workplace culture healthy and thriving.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How trust is built in the workplace
  2. The 6 key elements of a healthy workplace culture
  3. Do’s and don’ts for effective conflict management

About Randy:

Randy Grieser is the founder and CEO of ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance. He is the author of The Ordinary Leader, and co-author of The Culture Question. Randy is passionate about sharing the importance of creating healthy workplace cultures, and believes leadership requires us to always be intentional about what we do and how we do it.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank You, Sponsor!

Randy Grieser Interview Transcript

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

Randy Grieser
Yeah, thanks for having me on your show.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Well, could we start by hearing about some of your mountain biking escapades?

Randy Grieser
Yeah. well, it’s all about having fun and being happy. I think all of us need at least one thing that just really gets us going. I was in Canmore, Canada which is just a beautiful mountain biking area, and I hadn’t been on my bike for about a week, and we flew in. My wife and I grabbed our bikes, went to the hills and we were having supper that night, and I said, “Oh, that just made me happy,” right?

So, yeah, I like to get out as much as I can. I’m not like top of the world-class athlete by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a great way to explore the wilderness. We’re also headed into the Isle of Skye in Scotland in September which is going to be super cool.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Well, another thing I find super cool, other than forced segues, is you did a huge study on workplace cultures. Can you tell me what was sort of some of your most striking discoveries there?

Randy Grieser
Yeah, absolutely. When we started to put some work into our book “The Culture Question” we also put together kind of a survey of things we’d like to know about. And the fascinating thing with that, of course, is you don’t know what you’re going to get. So, we had some ideas about what we might find but probably the most exciting thing we found was the secret to having your employees trust you as a leader.

And so, we correlated 20 questions to the question of, “I like where I work.” And for everyone who said, “I like,” where they worked, the two strongest questions that correlated was this, “I trust my direct supervisor.” And for any of you listening who is a manager, is a supervisor, you know how important that is. Trust is the holy grail.

When your employees trust you, they’re going to move mountains with you. You’re not going to have to beat them or to use the saying “the carrot and the stick,” right? You’re not going to have to beat them or give them a reward. They’re going to work towards your mission and vision because they want to and because they’re inspired by you.

And so, the statement that most correlated with “I trust my direct supervisor” was this, “My supervisor cares about me as a person.” Think about that, Pete. To us that was just like, “Wow, we didn’t expect to find that.” But the secret to trust is simply just caring about your staff at a human level.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, we’ve heard that theme come up a few times from places like a Navy Seal and more. So, yeah, let’s dig into that. So, caring, what are some ways that supervisors do a great job of caring and some ways that they frequently fall short and maybe just totally overlook it?

Randy Grieser
Absolutely. Well, first of all, I should have full disclosure here because when people attend my presentations or go to my workshops, they see that I’m actually a clinically-trained social worker, and so they roll their eyes, and say, “Well, of course, a clinically-trained social worker would talk about caring leadership.” It’s like the C word is this very scary word for people.

But I always tell people, “I’m a social worker. I don’t do therapy with my employees but I just ask them questions. I just care about them at a human level.” Like, right now, one of our employees, a partner, is in palliative care, and we’ve been really thoughtful about, “How do we support someone who’s going through something like that?” I have another staff member who has a child that has special needs, and, “How do we support an employee who periodically needs to leave the office to go care for the child?”

Probably my favorite story I like to tell though that really gets at the heart of caring leadership is I was giving this presentation and speaking about this, and someone came up to me afterwards and said, “Randy, this is so important to have a caring leadership. I’ve worked in my organization for two years, and my supervisor doesn’t know I have children.” And I said, “Well, you know, you should be asking someone if they have children the first day of the job.”

But, Pete, anybody you know who’s got children between the age of 5 and 15, on a Friday at the end of the day, if you say to them, “Hey, weekend is coming up. What are you doing this weekend?” What do they say, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
It depends with the kids.

Randy Grieser
Yeah, I’m taking my kids. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, at a fundamental level, caring is not about doing therapy, it’s just like care about your staff, “What did you do this weekend? You’re going away to a vacation. We’re in the midst of the summer. You’re taking a week off. Where are you going?” “Oh, I’m going with my kids,” right? So, it’s really just about caring about people at a human level.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is quite illustrative in terms of maybe a wakeup call, and it’s like, “Oh, I guess I’m not in a habit of asking. If someone says I’m in the habit of asking those questions,” then you may very well find yourself in that boat where you don’t even know about them having kids.

Randy Grieser
Yeah. And even at just a practical level, I mean, you said, “What more can you do?” Like, one of the things that I meet so many managers, is they’re so busy working that they never eat with anybody else, right? And I don’t spend an hour eating with my staff. I don’t even spend half an hour eating with staff, but I’ve consciously chosen for that 10 minutes where I’m going to scarf down food, I mean, you can’t really work on the computer while you’re scarfing down food, right? So, I might as well spend it with people and just chat with them a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, I’d like to hear some more of that. So, asking basic questions, spending some time with food. Other key ways that supervisor show care and fail to show care?

Randy Grieser
Yeah, really, we just need to spend time with people, build relationships. One of the core tenets of a healthy workplace culture that we talk about in the book is building meaningful relationships. And it’s not just with managers and employees, but with everybody. What are we doing as an organization where we are fostering genuine connections?

And one of the things we found in our interviews with people, and we found even just in our work as consultants when we go into organizations, is organizations that are healthy, people like each other and people laugh, people smile, people spend time together. It’s just so clear when you walk into an organization, you feel that, right?

My wife and I, when we were in Canmore this weekend, we went to a couple different restaurants. And there was one restaurant where it was just striking that people hated being there. The service was terrible, people weren’t smiling, people weren’t connecting. And then you go to another restaurant, and it’s like the waiter staff, they’re having fun with each other, right? They’re bumping into each other, they’re chitchatting.

And so, if you think about that, even in just your daily interactions, you go to the coffee shop, you go to the grocery store, you can see a healthy culture at work and people caring about each other. And so, when we build workplaces where people genuinely enjoy each other’s company, we’re knocking one of the things that we need to do out of the park right away. And, again, I’ve yet to come into a healthy organization where people don’t like each other and don’t have a little fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Like each other, having fun, makes total sense. Are there maybe some common workplace, I don’t know, practices or policies that get in the way of that, that maybe should go?

Randy Grieser
Well, yeah, I’ll name a few things here. One is the obvious which is in the spirit of trying to improve workplace culture, people focus on perks, right? And so, nothing drives me up the wall more than when I see some national publication release, “Our best places to work” And, inevitably, we have things like, you know, free beer on Friday nights, “Yay, let’s all go get drunk with our friends.” Really? Like, that’s what makes a great place to work? And the proverbial foosball table, right?

Exactly. Or bring your pet to work day or free yoga. And there’s nothing wrong with those perks but in a lot of time, management will check or tick off the list, and say, “Listen, we’ve done what we needed to do to create a healthy workplace culture.” And many organizations just can’t even afford these things, right, to be frank. We work with a lot of not-for-profit agencies, I’m doing education systems. They can’t afford perks and so you’ve got to do stuff beyond that as well.

Some policies and practice I’ve seen that have gone the wrong way is mentorship programs. I love mentorship programs, mentoring people. My most important task as a leader is to mentor people. And some formalized mentor programs get it wrong because they only mentor some people, “And, Pete, you’re special, you’re one of the few. Aren’t you lucky you get to be mentored by me?” And what does that do to everybody else, is it demotivates them, right?

And so, our approach with mentorship is like everybody should be motivated, everyone should be growing and working towards. And so, we really don’t like those mentorship programs where there’s the kind of like, “You’re special.”

Awards, right? You know, for achievements, for doing things, right? Awards have that kind of counterintuitive effect where for anybody with young children, you’ve always promised that you were never going to say, “I need you to clean your room, and if you clean your room, I’m going to give you something,” right? And the moment you break down and you do that, and you say, “Son or daughter, if you clean your room, I’m going to give you an award.” What happens the next time you need them to clean their room?

Pete Mockaitis
They want the award.

Randy Grieser
They want the award, right? And so, then award becomes kind of this expectation as opposed to a way to actually motivate people. And so, there’s nothing wrong with perks for the sake of perks and within reason, but when we only focus on perks at the expense of those other things that really help us make healthy workplace cultures, we don’t do ourselves well in terms of helping us create that culture.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you laid out six key elements of a healthy workplace culture: communicating purpose and values, providing meaningful work, focusing leadership team on people, building meaningful relationships, creating peak-performing teams, and practicing constructive conflict management. I want to talk about the last one because I think there are many organizations where there’s just a whole lot of fear going on. It’s like, “I can’t really tell you what I’m thinking, so I’m just going to say nothing,” or, “Boy, if we argue, we’re not arguing well. There’s like collateral damage.” So, how do we pull that off?

Randy Grieser
Yeah, absolutely right. I always say you can do a lot of things well but the moment people hate each other, the moment people are living in fear, it’s going to be very difficult for you to be a successful organization and to function effectively, right? And so, when it comes to practicing conflict management, a few things that we really want to focus on is we want to start with leaders.

Interestingly, the second highest correlated statement that we found was that when leaders practice conflict management effectively, employees also do as well. We teach conflict resolution skills in one of the trainings that we offer. And one of the common themes we get from participants is, “I wish my manager would’ve been here,” right?

And managers think they’ve got it all figured out, but there’s a lot of managers that don’t. They tend to avoid and even I sometimes, I’m like, “Are we five years old? You got two kids in a sandbox, like, you’re not five. Learn to figure it out.”

So, one of the most important things is to just be aware of how detrimental on manage conflict. Conflict is inevitable. It’s going to happen, right? It’s natural. We’re human beings. In and of itself it’s not bad. It’s how we manage it. Ironically, one of the ways that we build a culture that manages conflict effectively is we actually have to have some experiences of conflict and some experiences of getting to the other side, and going like, “Oh, you’re not a terrible human being. Like, we had a disagreement, but then we had a natural human conversation and we resolved this issue.”

So, it’s kind of counterintuitive but you do need to experience some level of conflict to actually learn to deal with it effectively. And so, absolutely, I run a training organization so I believe in training. One of the problems we get, Pete, is often we get requests for training like conflict resolution skills or respect for workplace training too late. It’s when we hate each other, you know.

And then it’s like, “Well, the training was actually meant to be before we hate each other so that we can actually work through these things. Now that we hate each other here, you might need to do some things like mediation, or some assessments, and group conflict mediation-type work, but a simple training is a band-aid effect when we’re really not doing well.” So, right away from the get-go we want to be establishing a culture that manages conflict effectively.

For those of you in leadership, that means holding people accountable. It doesn’t mean jumping in and saving the day, right, and being the hero for everybody. Sometimes it means meeting with people and coaching people, “Hey, I noticed that you and Susan aren’t talking anymore. What’s that about?” And holding people accountable and saying, “You need to figure this out because this isn’t going to be healthy in the long run.”

I’ll tell you one of the worst experiences I had with conflict and not being managed effectively, in our own organization, that’s one of the things I want to note, Pete, is a lot of our insights that we talk about in our book and that we teach in our presentations as training has come out of when we weren’t doing well, right? There’s been periods where we’ve learned the hard way.

And one of the worst experiences I had with conflict was with when someone was withholding information because they wanted someone else to look bad. And then when a mistake happened and it made us look bad, he gloated and said, “I knew that was going to happen. I just wanted you to see for yourself.” And I was like, “Oh, my, this conflict has gotten too far.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so, okay, that’s something clearly to not do. Don’t hold information and look to make people embarrass themselves and fail. Check. What are some of the other key do’s and don’ts for effective conflict management?

Randy Grieser
Yeah, you know, really from an employee-to-employee perspective, it’s creating the culture of honest mutual feedback, giving people feedback, being sensitive about it, not being a jerk about it. But when you see something, say something. If something bothers you, don’t wait for it to fester, right?

And so, one of the things that I do, within our organization, is we partner people up. We say, “Listen, if you have to have a difficult conversation with someone, we have a lot of people here who have experienced doing that, get together with someone and roleplay.” Earlier on in my career as a manager, one time I did the classic, you know, the appropriate coaching someone, “Well, instead of me saving the day, why don’t you go have that conversation with that person?” Well, the person went ahead and had a conversation with this person, it was like, “You know, you swear words, swear swords, swear words. “If you ever do this again, I’m going to knock your head off.”

And I went back to the other person and say, “I told you to go talk to him.”

“Well, you told me to go talk to the person and I went and talked to him my way.” And I’m like, “Oh, so when I’m coaching you to actually have the conversation, I had assumed you knew how to have an appropriate conversation but I actually need to walk you through that.”

I’m a big believer in roleplay as a leader. When I used to have difficult conversations, I roleplay with some of my peer leaders to just kind of practice it and get it out there. One of the most important things we encourage our staff is to not to see the other person as a terrible person. Most people genuinely are reasonable people. 95% of us are pretty good human beings, we don’t really actually want to hurt people’s feelings, but we do stupid stuff sometimes, right?

And so, the first thing is just to shift. You know, we have a T-shirt actually, Pete, and I should send it to you actually. And it’s a great T-shirt that says, “Shift judgment to curiosity.” And, really, what that’s about is, like, when you think that someone is being a jerk, actually just be thoughtful for a second, and go, “Well, maybe they don’t mean that.” So, instead of judging them, be curious, “Why are they acting in this way?” It doesn’t mean how they were acting is right but it kind of humanizes our relationship a little bit more. So, it’s one of our favorite sayings, “Shift judgment to curiosity.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. And so, I’m curious, so screening the swear words is not the way to go, and doing some roleplay in advance can be super valuable. Any other pro tips for the actual conversation?

Randy Grieser
Yeah, really, one of the things that we try to stay away from is the emotion when we have a difficult conversation and focus on the problem and the task at hand, right? So, don’t make it about what your intent was but actually just focus on, “This is how it made me feel.” And so, we go back to the classic communication 101 I-statements, right? “When you do this, this is how it makes me feel.”

Most of the time that person didn’t know that. Most of the time that person wasn’t aware that your intent, right? We have a little diagram we have, it’s called Action, Intent, and Effect, right? And the action is what’s out in the public for people to see, but the intent is hidden, and the effect is hidden. So, sometimes even I will do something I have no clue how it would’ve landed on you. And so, we really encourage our staff to focus on the intent and the effect of people.

First of all, we just want to build a culture that has low levels of conflict to begin with, right? And, again, that’s where we start to get into some of our other areas. When we hire people, that’s one of the things we focus on. Like, one of our core values is that we want people to embody what we teach. We teach people to be respectful in the workplace. We teach people to manage conflict effectively so we expect people to do that.

And so, we’ve crafted our interviewing questions to hire for people who fit our culture. And so right away, when we have new people come in into the organization, if we sense that they’re fit in our culture, we nip things in the bud right away. So, in general, when it comes to implementing some of these six principles and elements of healthy workplace cultures, when it comes to the people effect, we need to start right from when we hire people.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. And so, if you’re talking to a professional who is not in control, they’re not sort of leading the organization, shaping the culture from the top, are there some basic things you recommend that all people can do to contribute to oozing the culture and fun and liking each other vibes?

Randy Grieser
You know, absolutely. I mean, first of all, I’ll say that clearly leadership sets the tone of healthy workplace cultures, right? And time and time again I run into employees who really want to improve that healthy culture but leadership is not on board. And so, one of the first tasks that you have to do as an employee is try to influence leadership.

And I use the experience, when we go back to the point about negative conflict, because I say, “This is not just about the wellbeing of employees in the workplace. This is about your financial wellbeing as well.” And so, sometimes I use that approach to senior leaders, right? By the fact that we don’t have a healthy workplace culture, people aren’t sharing information, we’re not communicating well, people are not engaged because they’re just putting in their time for a paycheck, and so they’re not being as innovative. Like, this is affecting our ability to be successful as an organization.

So, one of the reasons that we need to care about this as leaders is because it’s actually going to help us, if you’re a business, it’s going to help you financially. If you’re a social service agency or not-for-profit, it’s just about being an effective contributor to whatever role you’re doing. And so, when I’m giving this talk to C-suite professionals who sometimes need a little bit more grease to get them to think and care about the wellness of their employees, I really hammer home this point about, “When you have a healthy workplace culture, this is your competitive advantage.”

And one of the persons interviewed, he clearly said to me, “Randy, I could’ve jumped ship to a competitor, it would’ve increased my salary.” He was already making a six-figure salary, and he said, “I could’ve made 50% more, but I didn’t go because I love the place I work. And a couple of years ago I went to this Angelina and Brad Pitt divorce scenario where it was just like all over. It was terrible. Like, I was in the courts all the time. And my senior staff, they had my back. They knew that this was important to me, they didn’t make me feel bad. So, why would I leave this place? They’ve been great to me. Why would I?”

And so, one of the things we talk about is money matters at the lowest end of the level, but for many people, I mean, there are some professions, I think of the sales profession as an exception there, but for many people, man, when they have a great place to work, they don’t want to leave that environment, right, because they worked in places that aren’t a great place to work.

And so, when you get senior leadership, as an employee if you kind of get senior leadership to talk and do that, I’ve had frontline employees grab this book and just show it to their leader, and say, “You know, it would really be great if you could read this and we can talk about this,” right? And there’s been slowly, you know, people begin to change.

One of the most exciting things that I’ve seen within healthy organizations is, time and time again, when I talk to leaders and managers, they say one of their biggest issues is access and retention to key talent, right? Well, the secret to access and retention of key talent is be a great place to work and your employees will bring in people for you. When there’s job openings, they’ll say, “Hey, you should come work here because we’re a great place to work.”

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Randy, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear a couple of your favorite things?

Randy Grieser
Well, it depends on what else you’re going to ask me. You know, absolutely. I like to just kind of review the six key elements, if I may. I’ll do kind of a quick summary. We’ve talked about the importance of conflict management. Communicating your purpose and values, like most employees want to work in an organization that matters, that makes a difference. Most in organizations want to be guided and connected to that purpose.

Meaningful work. Most people don’t want to do work that is just boring and irrelevant. And so, making sure that people’s interest and ability and purpose all align together. There’s things that you could do there. Focusing your leadership team on people. Really, that caring about people we’ve talked about. Building meaningful relationships, people want to like who they work with. We’ve spent the vast majority of our waking hours at work. Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually liked each other?

And one of the kind of unique things that we’ve focused on in our book was the importance of creating peak performance teams. It’s really hard to know that we have a culture if we literally don’t work together. And I’ve walked into organizations that’s, true, they don’t work together. We have a bunch of individuals who show up, they don’t even say hi to each other, they go to their little cubicle, they do whatever they do all day, and they leave. So, it’s really difficult to establish a culture when we’re not working together in teams.

So, those were kind of the six key things that, really, we want to focus on. And, again, instead of perks, focus on these six things then you’re going to have your healthy culture.

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

Randy Grieser
You know, I don’t memorize things well, but I’ll be honest, my daughter inspires me. She’s 16 years old. She’s super ambitious. Last weekend, we climbed a mountain together and we spent seven hours. It was seven hours and it was quite the slug. And there were several things that she said on the trip that I thought, “This is so cool that my 16-year old daughter can think this way.”

And one of the things that we talked about was sustained effort. We’ve been hiking up this mountain for four hours and it got really steep, and it was she said it’s like two steps forward, one step back. And we had a conversation about sustained effort. What was kind of funny is we lost my partner and her mom, right, along the way. When I say we lost, she just stopped climbing because she got scared. And my daughter had said to her, my daughter was trying to be encouraging her, and this is a great quote from a 16-year old, right, “Don’t let fear stop you from living life.”

And I thought, “How brilliant is that?” I’m super inspired by my daughter for thinking that way and for persevering and continuing on.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Randy Grieser
You know, I pick this book up probably six, seven years ago, and I just can’t help but always going back to it. Can I give you two books, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Randy Grieser
You know, one, I love stories of other people. I love stories of people building things unique. And one of my favorite books, it seems a bit odd, but it’s the biography of Warren Buffett “Tap Dancing to Work.” I believe passion is so important in how we work and if we want to inspire other people to be excited about their job. I love the fact that Warren Buffett is, what, 87, 88 years old now, literally still runs the business, not like a fake corner office but actually is doing real work. And, yet, he’s given away everything.

And even the title of the book “Tap Dancing to Work” so, he really taps into, man, we got to like what we do, right? I mean, my son has graduated from high school, and he’s torn about what he does, and I’m like, “I don’t care what you do, but you better like it. Be excited about it. Be passionate about it because it’s a long 40 years if you’re not passionate about work.” So, I just love some of Warren’s thoughts and quotes. And everyone thinks of him as a finance person, but he’s a great manager and a great leader as well.

Another shout-out is to who we really resonate when it comes to how to motivate people is Daniel Pink and his book “Drive.” I really, really kind of pinpointed in the three core areas of autonomy, mastery, purpose. We touched on even some of those in our six areas, right? So, really, he was a pioneer in kind of shifting the way we think about motivation and employee engagement.

So, those are my two big books.

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

Randy Grieser
Well, come to our website Achieve Centre. We are based in Canada. We do work in the US as well. So, Centre is spelled with an R-E. It makes it unique. So, AchieveCentre.com.

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

Randy Grieser
Yeah. You know, you want to be awesome at your job, just be nice, be a nice person, be kind, right? Somebody the other day asked me, “What do you look for when you’re hiring people?” I’m like, “We want to work with nice people. Like, at the end of the day, I want to like you as a human being.” So, you know what, if we’re all a little bit nice to each other, we’re going to be awesome at our job, and we’re going to make awesome workplaces.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Randy, thanks for this, and keep on caring.

Randy Grieser
Yeah, thanks for having me on your show, Pete.

477: Speaking Confidently and Effectively with Diane DiResta

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Diane DiResta says: "Give them what they need to know, not everything you know."

Professional speaker Diane DiResta shares invaluable tips and tricks to level up your presentations and boost your executive presence.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why knockout presentation skills are essential to your career
  2. How to structure the most effective presentation
  3. An effective way to overcome your fear of speaking

About Diane:

Diane DiResta, CSP, is Founder and CEO of DiResta Communications, Inc., a New York City consultancy that serves business leaders who deliver high-stakes presentations—whether one-to-one, in front of a crowd, or from an electronic platform. A Certified Speaking Professional, DiResta is one of only 12% of speakers to hold that designation. She was President of the New York City chapter of the National Speakers Association and former media trainer for the NBA and WNBA.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Diane DiResta Interview Transcript

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

Diane DiResta
It’s great to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And so, you have done a whole lot of work serving business leaders with their presentations. So, I want to hear maybe your backstory for how this came to captivate your fascination and attention?

Diane DiResta
Well, I didn’t plan on doing what I’m doing. I actually was going to be a high school teacher of English, my favorite subject. There were no jobs at the time, so I became interested in speech pathology. So, I started out as a speech pathologist. And I remember taking the first public speaking course. I needed a three-credit course, finally got it. And I remember the first speech, you know, that introduction speech where you have to talk about yourself. Well, I was very nervous, and I remember getting up and sitting against the professor’s desk. And the more I talk, the faster I got, and the more nervous I got, that I thought, “Well, maybe nobody will notice.”

And then, just as I was winding down, I heard this stage whisper in the back of the room, and she said, “Look, her shoulders are shaking.” I wanted to run out of that room so fast and never come back, but I did, and I stuck it out, and I got a B in the course. So, I was not a standout. And if you had told me then that today I would have my own business, DiResta Communications, working with leaders and executives and Fortune 500 companies, and speaking on five continents, I would’ve laughed. I had no inkling.

Today, my company specializes in three areas: presentation skills, communication skills, and media training. And it all comes under the larger umbrella of executive presence.

So, we show up through keynote speaking seminars and workshops, 101 executive speech coaching, and I’m also the author of a book called Knockout Presentations, which is in its third edition, so very exciting.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to get your take on if folks are not too committed at first in sort of really improving these skills much, they’re like, “Hey, you know what, I know what I want to say. I’m just going to say it,” can you tell me what’s really the kind of difference that it makes from having just like a fine presentation versus a knockout presentation and the time that it takes?

Diane DiResta
Oh, big difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you maybe give us a case study here?

Diane DiResta
Sure. I often say that gifted speakers are born but effective speakers are made. It’s like any skill, Pete, you have to practice. And the more you practice, the better you become. So, today, speaking is the new competitive advantage. It’s different from when I first started out. And if you are not able to present yourself, you’re going to lose opportunities.

What this gets for you, and I have seen it because I’ve worked with people, it gets you the promotion, it gets you the job offer, it gets you the raise, it gets you the buy-in, it gets you so much further when you know how to present yourself and communicate well. It is a leadership skill and no one can be without it anymore. It’s simply a must-have.

Pete Mockaitis
And can you tell us a story of a person whose career was struggling and then they turned it around?

Diane DiResta
I can. I have so many stories. I’ll give you the first one that comes to mind, which was not my typical client, but she was a second-year law student, and I was a gift by her mother-in-law. And this woman was very nervous about speaking in class and she was thinking of dropping out of law school. So, what she would do, she’d raise her hand and ask a question so the professor wouldn’t call on her for the rest of the time.

So, her mother-in-law said, “Why don’t you go meet Diane?” Now, we only had four sessions, but within those four sessions I was able to reframe her thinking and give her some basic tools that gave her the confidence. So, long story short, she graduated. And now, today, she’s able to present. She actually sent me a video testimonial saying, “Hi, Diane, I just gave a presentation and it went well, and I’m doing really well.”

So, it’s a skill that anyone can learn. So, that’s someone who almost lost her opportunity in law. I can tell you stories where someone wanted a job and it was very competitive. It was one job at the top, it required a lot of different skills, and she was a good candidate. But when I looked at her resume and I heard her presentation, it was so dense, and I said point blank, “There is nothing you’ve told me that would make me want to hire you. Let’s rework this presentation.” And so, we did. And, long story short, she got the job.

And I can tell you other stories like that. And I can tell you one other where it was the VP, the vice president of tax, and he was about to lose his job. He reported to the president, and the president was frustrated with him because he couldn’t get to the point, and he would want to know, “What is your recommendation on tax?” and he would hedge and haw.

And I said, “Well, what recommendation would you make?” He said, “Well, I would say A, but I have to tell him all of this before I can do that.” So, I said, “No, lead with what you’re recommending, and then tell him the reason.” Long story short, he kept his job, the president was no longer frustrated, and the Human Resource person said she was relieved that she didn’t have to give a pink slip.

So, it helps you keep your job, it helps you get a better job, it helps you get promoted, it helps you ace the interview. There are so many benefits.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, those are some great stories, and I like that notion that you know a lot of things, you feel you need to say a lot of things, and, no, that’s really not what the person on the other end wants to hear. You mentioned that the presentation was so dense and there’s nothing that made you say, “I want to hire this person.” Can you tell me a little bit about dense and how that’s a bad thing?

Diane DiResta
Oh, this is so common. In fact, I had a conversation with a reporter from The Wall Street Journal, and she said, “Diane, what’s happening in your business?” And said, “You know, the last few executives I worked with had trouble getting to the point, and a couple of them were CFOs, they were high level.” And that ended up becoming an article, and I think it was called “Talkaholics Can Kill Your Career, Your Promotion,” and something, or your presentation.

Long story short, when I have worked with people, they tell them too much. That’s the big thing. They get stuck in the weeds. The first thing you want to know is, “Who’s in front of me? What do they care about? And how do they like to receive information?” And then you tailor your message to their style, and less is more. And here’s why. If they want more information, they’ll ask for it. Just like that vice president of tax. He had a five-minute presentation and it was going to be by phone with the president. And I said to him, “All right. Let’s practice this. You cannot go over your five minutes.” And he said, “Okay.”

Well, afterwards I followed up and said, “How did it go?” And he said, “I think it went well, but I was on the phone for about an hour.” I said, “What? What happened?” And he said, “Well, I talked for five minutes, but then the president kept asking me questions.” And I said, “Congratulations! Better to be invited to stay at the table than to be asked to leave.”

So, give them what they need to know, not everything you know. And I’m going to repeat that because it’s so important. Give them what they need to know, not everything you know. And when you are crisp, they actually retain more. Keep it simple. Keep it short. 

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that notion of “give them what they need to know,” do you have like a systematic way that you go about identifying that?

Diane DiResta
Well, this is where you need to do your homework. It’s hard to go in cold and not know someone. But let’s say you do, then you want to engage them in a short conversation, ask them some questions, “What are you tackling with? What’s important right now?” etc. And then start with what’s important to them.

And I have a whole process that I put people through in how to structure and organize your talk and your message. I call it listener-centered communication. It’s Chapter 7 in my book. And what most people do, the big mistake, one of the big mistakes, is they’re speaker-centered not listener-centered. So, they start with what’s important to them, “Good morning. Today I want to talk to you about my idea.” They don’t care about your idea. They care about their own self interests. So, lead with what’s important to them.

So, if you’re talking to a manager, and you want to get an extra person on board to help you out, don’t start with, “I’m overworked and I need somebody to help me.” Start with, “I have a way we can be more productive in this department.” That’s a hook, a grabber. And so, when you lead with that, now you have the listener’s attention because, what do managers care about? They care about productivity. Now that you have that person’s attention, you can lead them down the path of how you came to that, what the problem is, and how you have a solution and you can do it in a really short period of time.

I’ve had people use this process and create a whole presentation and deliver it in six minutes and it is powerful. So, I would say less is more, but you have to be able to speak the person’s language. So, know yourself, know your audience, know your message.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I think Sun Tzu would say you’ll win a thousand battles or something when you know thyself and the enemy, or the audience here. So, I’m intrigued that you mentioned that in six minutes you have a nice package there and you start with the hook in terms of what they really care about. And then could you spell out a few of the pieces that come after that?

Diane DiResta
Well, sure. First, you want to get attention, so you want to start with something positive. What’s the dream? What’s the goal? And then, the next step is to ask yourself, “What’s in the way of that goal? What’s the roadblock? What’s standing in the way?” And then, what you’re doing is you’re leading them to understand that there’s a need or problem, so now you can bring in your recommendation.

Because here’s what we learned in sales training: until someone recognizes that there is a need or challenge, they don’t have any reason to buy or to act, so we really need to paint a picture of that need or that current situation. Only then are they open to hearing your solution. And then you need to talk about the benefits to them not to you, “Here’s what we’ll gain. We’ll be more productive. We’ll reduce time. We’ll be compliant with our paperwork. Our customers will be happier.” What are the benefits that that manager cares about?

And then, here’s the thing people need to know, you need to give them the overview or the agenda, and then save the details for the middle. So, if I go back to what I said about not getting to the point, I’ve seen a lot of people start with details. And when you start there, you get lost.

So, in my book, I have a picture of a speech sandwich. And so, if you think of a sandwich, let’s say a kaiser roll, the top of the bun and the bottom of the bun are probably the same dimensions. But the fit part is the middle. So, I always say, “Keep the meat for the middle. Save your details for the body, not the beginning.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And so, I’m also curious to hear a bit about you talked about you have to show a need or challenge or a problem. I’m thinking about selling from pain. It seems to be it often works better, a painkiller versus a vitamin, so they say.

Diane DiResta
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
It sells better. So, I’m wondering, if things are already going pretty well, and you’ve got an idea for making things go even well-er, better, how do you think about that with regard to painting it as there is a barrier or obstacle or need, when it’s like, “Oh, things are going great and we’re going to make it even better”?

Diane DiResta
Well, that’s it. It’s raising the bar. It’s being even better. So, we’re doing great. We’re really crushing it. However, it’s just a matter of time before our competitors can do the same, or it’s just a matter of time before this gets old. We know today you have to continually innovate, and I’m seeing a trend, or I see an opportunity that I’d like to talk about to you.

So, people understand—if they’re innovative—that times are changing, you have to move quickly, you have to be nimble, so that’s really the issue, “We cannot afford to sit on our laurels right now. We’re crushing it, but we’ve got to be nimble. So, here’s what I’m seeing as the next step.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And I want to follow up a little bit more on your law student story. So, this person had extreme fear about speaking up in class, but through some reframing and tools, you conquered it. That’s great. So, how might the rest of us do that?

Diane DiResta
All right. Well, here’s what I know. If you are nervous, you are being self-centered because it’s all about me, myself and I, “Oh, I hope I don’t trip,” “Oh, I hope I don’t lose my train of thought.” Get over yourself. It’s not about you. It’s about the audience. Change your focus. Change the picture that’s in your mind. That’s the first step.

And when I work with people, I work in two ways, with skillset and mindset, but first mindset because fear and anxiety begin in the mind. I know that if you’re nervous—and I’m not talking about little butterflies, we all get a little bit of that. But if you are really nervous, it means that you’re living in the future. You are envisioning everything that can go wrong.

So, what you need to do is come back to the present and be here with the audience. And the best way to bring yourself into the present is to focus on your breath. So, we work on breathing exercises to get you back into your body. Now, there’s no excuse or a substitute for lack of preparation. I can’t do anything if you don’t prepare. But assuming that you know your message and you’ve practiced and you’ve prepared, the rest is just mindset, going out there, doing it.

Now, the other thing is, people think that they shouldn’t be nervous. They get those butterflies and they think something is wrong. No, that’s adrenaline. It’s a good thing because what adrenaline is doing is getting you ready for a performance. And I’m sure people who are in sports have a little bit of that too. It’s helping you to get over the finish line. So, start to think differently about what happens.

Now, here’s the other thing, Pete. You need to reframe what happens in the moment. So, for example, what is the self-talk that you’re hearing in your mind when you’re watching the audience? Too often we give so much power to the audience, we make them our enemy, and they’re not. They’re really on our side. They want us to succeed.

So, I remember I was speaking at The Voice Foundation, and I was talking to speech scientists, and, oh, doctors and voice therapists on public speaking skills. And I was saying things that were not popular to them, like, “Don’t read your slides. Don’t read your research papers.” And at one point, this man right in the front, opened his laptop and started typing, and I thought, “Oh, no, he’s bored. He hates what I’m saying.” And in that moment, I caught myself and I said, “No, I think he’s taking notes on what I’m saying.” Now, to this day, I don’t know what he was doing but I had a choice to choose the story I was going to tell myself, and we all have that power.

By the way, if you see someone who’s looking negative or hostile, stop looking at them. Go look at the friendly faces who will give you that support. I have a client who I worked with on her keynote, and I went to see her, and I was giving her nods and thumbs up. And she told me the other day, “It was so helpful to have you in the audience, Diane, because I saw those signals and it gave me confidence.” So, look at those people who are going to be your true believers.

Pete Mockaitis
And I love that notion of you create stories and interpretations of events and that you feel emotions based upon those. I remember I just recently was camping, and then on our final night, my tentmate, Brad, was packing up, and I noticed he really wasn’t saying anything, I was like, “Oh, man, is he mad? Did I like elbow him in the night or snored or upset him in some way because he’s not really saying anything to me?” And then I asked him a question, and he like whispered a response, it’s like, “Oh, no, he’s just being considerate of the other people in the tents nearby, so good thinking, Brad.” And it’s just like I’m in my own little world sticking things in the backpack.

And so, that’s fascinating how we instinctively do that and we interpret something, we make stories, so how about making a great one that helps you out.

Diane DiResta
Exactly. There are the facts of what’s going on, or there are situations, and we decide what story we tell about it. That power is in your hands. Everybody can do that as speakers. And if something does go wrong, and let’s say you didn’t have a great experience, you can learn from it. You don’t have to beat yourself up. Find something that was effective, and it may just be, “I stepped up and I tried.” Good. Now, you know something new for the next time. But keep going.

Speaking is such an important skill. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to your career. The whole idea of executive presence, you will be judged on your executive presence. How do you come across visually? How are you dressed? How is your tone of voice? How do you use language? But, most importantly, I found one of the keys to success in executive presence is people who have executive presence are fully aligned with their body, their tone, and their words.

What that means is their body tone and words are giving off one consistent message because when one of these goes out of sync, now you’ve given off a double message, the audience gets confused, and so then body language becomes the default. So, work on these three areas so that you’re congruent. And that’s what builds credibility, and that’s what builds trust, and ultimately confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, that makes a lot of sense in terms of, okay, body tone and words are in alignment there, then it just seems like you have integrity, like, “Oh, this guy really believes that what he or she is saying,” and it packs a bit of a punch. And sometimes you believe what you’re saying, but it’s not coming across in how you’re putting your body or your tone is like a question when you’re actually pretty certain based on your deep research that this is the right way.

Diane DiResta
And that’s why having a coach is so critical because that coach can point those things out, because a lot of times people don’t know what they’re doing, “I thought I gave it my all, I prepared, but why aren’t I coming across in a certain way?” “Oh, let me show you on the video what happened.” And then, once you know, you can change that.

So, one of the things I do is I always put people on video and show them how to be their own coach, because once you know what the skills are, and once you can identify them, then you can turn it around and you have so much more control.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, yeah, coaches are great and I recommend them. If folks are not yet ready to take that step, and they are videotaping themselves, what are some of the top things you noticed most often, like, “Hey, stop doing that, or start doing this”?

Diane DiResta
All right. Well, some of the basics that can make a big difference is, first of all, make an eye connection. Too often people make what I call eye contact which is short and fleeting. But when you make an eye connection, you’re looking at one person at a time for about a sentence or two, or for about three to five seconds, as if you’re having a real conversation. So, in a large group, or even a small meeting, when you take the time to really look at someone, it connects with them and it builds a relationship and it builds trust. So, that’s the first thing.

Another thing is how you use your gestures, your hands. Whether you’re seated or standing, you want your hands above the waist, and you want to keep them in the box, the gesture box. And that is that your power space is from your face to your waist. So, get your hands waist-high as soon as possible. If you’re sitting at a meeting table, put your hands on the table, they should be visible, because hands that are below the waist make you look tentative or not looking confident.

Pete Mockaitis
Or like you have a weapon and that’s threatening to us humans.

Diane DiResta
Yeah, but as soon as you bring them up, you look much more confident. So, that’s one thing. And then gesture. You want to have gestures but you don’t want to be in perpetual motion. So, have a rest position that you can come back to.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, and that’s interesting. So, the waist, it’s quite common, I think, for hands to fall below the waist, they’re sort of just there if you’re standing on stage or you’re just standing. It’s common for hands to just sort of be at the sides. But you’re saying that’s not so much a powerful place to be.

Diane DiResta
No, it’s not powerful. If you’re there, get your hands off as soon as possible. Because when we’re speaking naturally in a conversation, our hands move. We don’t stand stiffly with our hands by our sides and we don’t talk with our hands folded in front of us draping down. When we’re animated, when we’re passionate, our hands are moving.

So, in American culture, gestures are a good thing. You want to use them. But I was going to say, if you’re in a small space, your hands are going to be closer to your chest but you don’t want to be flailing or going beyond the gesture box that I described.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, is it acceptable for the hands to occasionally fall down below the waist in a natural kind of a way? Or is your recommendation to be above the waist the whole time?

Diane DiResta
If you can be above the waist the whole time, that’s even better. But if they dropped to just bring them up, that’s all.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, in your book “Knockout Presentations,” you’ve got a whole lot of pro tips. I’d love to hear of the things that we’ve not yet covered, which do you think really provides the greatest amount of leverage? Like, we get a whole bunch of improved knockout power for not a whole lot of effort.

Diane DiResta
Oh, it’s so hard to pick out one or two. I just gave you two key ones. I would say the key physical skill is eye contact and eye connection. I’d say making a connection with the audience and having a conversation as opposed to talking at people is really important but it comes back to knowing your message. You’ve got to do the upfront work because it’s 90% preparation and 10% delivery, and I believe that’s one of the reasons people lose focus.

So, you need to be very focused, clear. You need to project your voice. Voice is important as well. It’s second to body language. And the meta message is in the voice. So, if you say, “I’m not angry. What makes you think I’m angry?” That’s the message, not the words. So, match your tone to the audience and that’s important. If you are in a group meeting where there’s going to be dialogue, and you have someone who’s soft-spoken, then you don’t want to be loud like this because that’s a disconnect.

So, pacing your audience is important, meaning the pace at which you speak, the level at which you speak, the volume, how fast or slow you move is important. You want to be in sync with the audience. That’s key. And then listen to your language. This is another thing that I’ve heard.

Too often when we’re trying to persuade or to be credible and confident, we lapse into what I call wimpy words or weak-speak, and I’ve listed that in my book. “So, hopefully, I’ve convinced you and maybe you’d like to meet with me because this is sort of a good idea. And I feel…” If you’re presenting like that, even if you have the greatest invention, nobody is going to buy into it because you don’t believe it.

So, when your goal is to persuade, you want to use powerful language. It’s not if, it’s when or by. Don’t use words like “hopefully,” not “I feel,” “I’m confident.” But if you’re in a conflict-resolution situation, that’s a different story, then you want to use softer language, such as, “You may want to consider…” So, everything is situational and I’d say that’s another key to giving a knockout presentation.

Knockout presenters seize up their audience, they meet them, they pace them, and they speak their language. So, if you’re speaking to someone who’s very proper and formal, you don’t want to be using a lot of slang. Model that, mirror that. But if you’re talking to someone folksy, you want to use an extensive vocabulary. You’re probably going to use colloquial terms. So, those are the key things, the key elements. It’s really, know yourself, know your audience, and know your message.

Pete Mockaitis
And when it comes to preparation being 90% of the game, I’d love to get your take on kind of just how much time does it take to prepare? How do you know when you are prepared? Because I think that it’s quite common for folks to say, “Okay, you know, hey, I made my slides, I know my slides, I’ve ran through them one time. I’m prepared.” Like, what’s the bar for checking the box, like, “Yes, preparation has happened”?

Diane DiResta
Well, I do it several times, and here’s a tip. If you’re going to go into a room that you’re not in normally, get there an hour early and practice in the room. There is something about practicing in the room that makes it go even more smoothly. If you have that opportunity, it’s a great thing to do.

Here’s what I will say. Because I’m a professional speaker and I get paid to speak, one of the misconceptions is that they’re paying for an hour of my time, and they’ll say, “Well, I’ll pay you this.” I said, “Well, that’s not my fee.” “But for an hour?” No, it’s not an hour. If you know the preparation that goes into that from the conversations on the phone, with the buyers, with the people who are going to be in the audience to any kind of surveying, to researching about them, to researching about your topic, to writing it up and structuring it, to editing it, to practicing it, to creating slides. There’s so much that goes into a presentation.

So, you went through your slides once, well, good. I hope that was enough for you, but you want to consider everything. Here’s the other thing. Are you thinking about what could go wrong? What if Murphy’s Law is in operation the day of your presentation? And so, one of the things that I do, Pete, is I work on recovery strategies with my clients.

So, I had a woman who was very nervous, and I said, “All right. Tell me, what is your worst nightmare?” And she said, “Well, what if I get up there and I trip?” And I said, “All right. Well, let’s imagine you tripped. What could you do?” And she was clueless. So, I said, “Well, how about if you said, ‘I want you to know I’ve been practicing that entrance for weeks,’ or, ‘Never let it be said I don’t know how to make an entrance’?”

So, if you have some of these one-liners, these adlibs lines, you’re recovering with grace and it’ll break the tension, and people will laugh, and you’ll be able to go on. The worst thing is to freeze up and not know what to do. So, think about, “What could go wrong? What is your biggest fear?” and plan for it. And sometimes there’s nothing you can do. If there’s a fire drill, then you have to leave. But when it’s under your control, use your recovery strategies.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m thinking one situation that is kind of spooky for people is they get a question, they don’t know the answer, “Aargh!” What are your tips for handling that situation?

Diane DiResta
Well, the first thing is don’t fake it because if somebody in the room knows the answer, you will lose all credibility. Nobody knows everything so you can acknowledge it, and you can say something like, “I’m not 100% sure of that, but let me get back to you.” And most people will accept that.

Another option you have is if you’re in a meeting or in an organization, and you have a subject matter expert on that, you could deflect it and say, “I’m not 100% sure, but let me turn it over to Pete because he’s really the expert in that.” The only downside to that is, number one, you have to make sure that he really, or she really is the expert. And then what happens is you lose control because the two of them can have tete-a-tete. So, you want to make sure that you use that technique sparingly.

The other thing that you can do is what politicians do. You answer the part that you do know, “I’m not 100% sure of that. What I do know is…” and then you talk about the aspect that you do know. And so, it’s not as if you’re just shrugging your shoulders and saying, “I don’t know.” So, it’s okay not to know the answer as long as you have a response.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Diane, tell me, any other key things you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear some of your favorite things?

Diane DiResta
I would say it’s really important that you develop the skill, whatever way you can, whether it’s starting with the book, or going to Toastmasters, or asking your company if they have any kind of internal training or coaching. Model from others. Watch TED.com, watch TED Talks, you will learn so much from other speakers and start slowly. Volunteer to speak whether it’s a lunch and learn or in your community, but you need to be out there practicing. It’s like a skill. It has to be used.

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

Diane DiResta
A favorite quote. Well, you know what, what comes to mind is what I wrote in my high school yearbook, “Quitters never win, winners never quit.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Diane DiResta
I like The Science of Mind by Ernest Holmes. That one is a really thick textbook. It’s huge. It’s like War and Peace, it’s a really thick book but it’s so much about how the mind works and spiritual energy. And I think all of that is related to what I do because what I do is I empower people through the spoken word, and it’s all about your belief system and managing your mind.

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

Diane DiResta
I like an app called LikeSo. I use it with my clients and I require coaching clients to download it. It’s a free app. And what it does is it gives you analytics. So, you talk into the phone for about 30 seconds, a minute, and it will tell you, it will give you scores on your speaking pace, how many words you use, your projection, and then it gives you an overall grade. So, it’s a good way to continue practicing, so there’s no excuse. So, I love that app.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Diane DiResta
I do a very short morning meditation when I’m commuting. It’s not the best because it’s noisy. I have it on my phone and it’s a way for me to ground myself. And in the summer months, right near my office, there is a little park with a fountain, and I sit there early in the morning before I go up, and that’s very soothing and grounding for me.

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

Diane DiResta
Well, they’ll say, “Speaking is the new competitive advantage.” They will tweet that, they will retweet that. And that, “Gifted speakers are born. Effective speakers are made.” Those two frequently, and also, “Know yourself, know your message, and know your audience.”

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

Diane DiResta
The best place is my website DiResta.com, and there is a free gift there, although that’s redundant because gifts are not charged. It’s a free audio course called 7 Deadly Mistakes Speakers Make and How to Avoid Them for Maximum Success. It’s a series of email, audio emails. So, you’re invited to download that. And you can also find my book Knockout Presentations there as well as online and in bookstores.

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

Diane DiResta
Yes. Do it. If you want to be awesome at your jobs, you have to be able to be a good presenter. There’s no question about it. So, whatever you need to do, make a commitment, before you get off this call, write down what you’re going to do to raise the bar on your presentations and your communication. One thing you can do, go to my YouTube channel. I have 110 videos on there. YouTube.com/DianeDiResta. That’s one thing that you can do right away. You can get books, you can go to Toastmasters, but do something to raise the bar on your speaking.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Diane, thank you and good luck with all your presentations.

Diane DiResta
Well, thank you. Hope you’ll be a knockout presenter.