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379: The Four Steps to Creating Chemistry with Others with Barney Feinberg

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Veteran life coach Barney Feinberg shares how appreciating your many values can help you better connect with others and facilitate chemistry for smooth working relationships.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to identify your values from your life’s peak moments
  2. Approaches for discovering the values of others from what they say
  3. How we end up settling in our relationships

About Barney:

Barney Feinberg began his career as a CPA learning the language of business. At the age of twenty-five, his career journey took him to live in Asia for seven years, where he was COO for a large clothing conglomerate. There he learned how to assimilate into a multitude of cultures, always with the purpose of building strong relationships at work. His career in executive placement began in 1994 and in 2002, he became a certified coach with the Coaches Training Institute. Over the past 25 years he has worked with thousands of executives, coaching them on how to strengthen their chemistry factor for greater success.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Barney Feinberg Interview Transcript

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

Barney Feinberg
Thank you for inviting me Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into some of your perspectives when it comes to chemistry, but I want to maybe go back in time first. You at one point worked as a tennis instructor. What’s the story behind this?

Barney Feinberg
Wow. Well, tennis ran in my family. Since I was a little kid a tennis racket was put in my hand. Everyone in my family played. And it’s interesting that you bring up tennis because it happens to be something that really when looking back and writing my book, there was a peak moment that really exemplifies what I’m sharing with people. If you’d like me to share that story, I’d be happy to.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I can’t resist. Let’s hear about a peak moment.

Barney Feinberg
Okay. Well, as I mentioned, tennis was everything. I mean I was in high school playing on the tennis team. My big ambition outside of that when I went to college was to make the team at college.

It’s my freshman year, first week at school and we’re having tryouts. What I find myself doing is I’m playing not to lose, which inevitably, last day of practice the coach came to me and said, “I’m sorry, you didn’t make the team,” which frankly was really embarrassing and devastating. I was like, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I had all this free time on my hands, so I joined a concert committee, grew my hair down to my shoulders, got a beard and a moustache, digging on groups that came to college, which were like Springsteen, some really good groups, Arlo Guthrie. Anyway, here I am overcoming this major defeat.

Sophomore year rolls around and I show up for practice to try out again and the coach looks at me and says, “You’re late. You can’t try out this year.” Again, a blow. But I’m having a good time. I never had so much time on my hands to really enjoy myself and get into the music.

When my junior year came around, it was my last chance. I wasn’t really nervous about it. I started playing my game. I was playing really, really well, fully expecting to make the team.

The last day of practice the coach comes up to me and one of the other players that had been on the team for two years, he was also a junior, looks at both of us and says, “You’re going to play one set. The winner is going to make the team and the loser is not going to make the team.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow.

Barney Feinberg
Yeah. Here I was suddenly wondering what happened because I had played this guy earlier and beat him. It’s beginning to dawn on me as we’re walking to the court, the coach says to him, “Go out and beat him.” I’m like, “Oh man, this guy doesn’t want me on the team.” Then it dawns on me, well, he’s ex-Navy. He’s got a crew cut. I’m wearing long hair and a moustache at this point.

I walk on the court again playing not to lose. Inevitably it’s 5 – 3. He’s leading. Triple match point on his serve. This is a big guy. He’s ex-football player. As I’m going to the Ad court expecting to lose, suddenly out of nowhere, across the quad, one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs comes on, China Cat Sunflower, which has this real upbeat rhythm.

As I’m walking to the Ad court, I transform. Suddenly, I’m relaxed. Suddenly, I’m smiling and I’m having fun. He hits his first serve and I bang it down the line. I get a winner. He hits the next first serve and I do it again. Next one he double faults. He starts playing not to lose and I make the team.

Here’s the interesting thing, what happened was, the circumstance changed. The song shifted who I was in the moment from being disconnected from confidence to being totally connected to it because I shifted to having fun.

Now that happened by just pure luck. I swear I think it was angels above looking over me, but when I looked at it again as I was writing this book, I realized that I value shifted. I shifted from what was disconnecting me to something that purely connected me. The results were inevitable. Obviously it worked. By the way, good news, the guy I played against, he stayed on the team.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I was wondering.

Barney Feinberg
Yeah, he stayed on the team.

Pete Mockaitis
After two years it’s kind of intense to say, “Yeah, you’re out if this one match doesn’t go your way.” Well, that’s really intriguing on many dimensions. I want to kind of dig into your phrase; you said you were playing not to lose.

Barney Feinberg
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Then later you said you were having fun. What do you mean by playing not to lose versus playing to have fun? What are the alternatives along that spectrum?

Barney Feinberg
Here’s the deal. Playing not to lose is living in the expectation of winning. Some famous person once said that expectations are the mother of frustration. When you look at work, how many times are we working with expectations in our mind?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Got you. As opposed to-

Barney Feinberg
As opposed to actually empowering your values. Expectations take us off the game. Expectations put us in the finish line before we start the race.

My daughter’s a runner. If she’s thinking about the finish line before the gun goes off, she’s not going to run very well. It’s going to seem like it’s taking her forever to get there. But if she’s thinking of the moment, if she’s empowering say the value of confidence and she’s not looking at the future or the past, but in the moment, she’s going to run a much better race.

It’s kind of like do you ever get directions to go someplace and it seems like it’s taking you longer than it should?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Barney Feinberg
Yeah. When you go back the same way, it seems to go a little shorter because now you know how to get there. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm. Okay. Then-

Barney Feinberg
Go ahead.

Pete Mockaitis
So playing not to lose mean you’re thinking about the outcome, the end, the finish line, the expectation as opposed to the moment, the having fun, the what’s immediately in front of you right now.

Barney Feinberg
Whatever value you choose to empower. It just so happened that fun came up when I was playing that tennis match with that song. It just brought me into that jovial place, which took away anything about winning or losing away and just playing the game.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, you’ve used the phrase a couple of times, ‘the value that you empower,’ what do you mean by that?

Barney Feinberg
Well, it’s a practice. Most of the time we have a lot of values and what I call DNA values. DNA values are values that are ingrained in us that we’re brought up with, that create our success formulas. They more likely control us than we control them. When circumstances come about that disconnect us from a value that we find is important, life becomes hard, difficult. However, we have the ability to empower.

What is empower? It’s the difference between being in love and thinking of being in love. It’s story. That’s really what I focus on. When you look back in time, the communications that were most important in the tribe before there was the written word was from the storyteller. The storyteller would tell us stories that would empower or emphasize values that were important to us.

You watch movies now. I can watch a movie and there’s a scene that just catches me. It’s empowering a value. We have our own stories in life that empower values that are important to us. Imagine instead of allowing the circumstances dictate who we are, we get to choose who we want to be by allowing that story to take us to that value in that moment. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
So you say that we’re choosing it as opposed to hey, the song comes on and there you go. Maybe could you walk us through a couple of examples in practice in terms of you’re kind of living and experiencing one thing and you make a choice to empower a value through story and then things are transformed?

Barney Feinberg
Okay, I can give you a story of someone that I coached. Does that work?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure, yeah.

Barney Feinberg
Okay, good. I have two professions, really three, but we’ll talk two: coaching and recruiting. I’ve been in executive placement for 25 years. As an executive recruiter I was talking to one of my clients who was looking for a new job.

She’d only been with the company that she was with for six months. I said, “What happened? What makes you want to leave?” She said, “Well, I took this job. I was really excited. Then I got this new boss three months into the job. This boss is just a micromanager, driving me crazy.” I’m like, “Wow, yeah.”

We talked about it. I started coaching her for a while. What was showing up were certain values that were just disconnecting her. This happens to us all the time at work. We just get numb to it. We just think that’s just the way work is.

But values such as independence, she didn’t have any. She felt, “Oh my God, this woman is not giving me any independence.” Very, very frustrating. She felt she wasn’t trusted. She felt efficiency wasn’t being honored. All of these things were really making it difficult for her to be effective and productive.

We talked about trust. She came up with a story after some coaching about where trust was everything for her. It happened to be with her husband down a ski slope going down a black and how much she trusted him to help her get down. It all worked brilliantly. Every time she thought about that moment, trust was empowered.

I challenged her. I said, “Start empowering the value of trust with your manager.” It wasn’t easy. It took her some time, but it took her some time because you can’t just do it on a dime sometimes. It takes practice. She got better and better at it. Suddenly, the manager was trusting her because she was authentically trusting him and that made a world of difference.

Micromanagers drive themselves crazy more than anybody else. They overextend themselves because they have to check everything twice. When they can trust somebody to do the work, boy, it takes a lot of relief. Suddenly life became a lot better for her. She got promoted rather quickly because not everybody was able to deal with this person as she was.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so then the key then was, she reconnected to an experience, which sort of trust became all the more real and felt and lived and experienced, kind of like when you said thinking about being in love versus actually being in love.

Barney Feinberg
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So she got there. Then as a result she was able to bring that kind of an attitude to the manager and treat her in a way as though she trusted the manager even though she wasn’t maybe as naturally inclined to do so. She kind of summoned that up from within her to-

Barney Feinberg
When you empower a value, that is your rule of conduct. Values are our rules of conduct. They characterize your sense of self and are elemental in the actions you take. You can’t fake it.

But here’s the deal. What was happening before she did that was she was making the manager wrong. Even if she wasn’t saying it outwardly, inwardly it is felt. The circumstance was dictating who she was.

She was having these values that are on automatic pilot with her, which I said before, control her more than they control – she controls them. They were coming up and saying, “Warning, warning.” Frustration, anger, misunderstanding, boredom, whatever it may be, they were putting her off the game and the manager will feel that.

But when you’re truly authentically connecting with somebody, the world changes. It changes 100%. By the way, I became really good friends with the guy that I played against. He knew what was going on too. But it’s something that is just permeates.

Thank God it’s Friday was invented because we get disconnected from our values throughout the course of the week. We don’t even realize it’s happening. We’re numb to it. We’re so used to it. But when we start learning how to empower our values consciously, the world changes. Suddenly, we can start looking at the values we have in common with people and choose to connect to those rather than the ones that disconnect us.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. We use the example of trust, so then can we dig into some more in terms of-

Barney Feinberg
I’d be happy to dig into one with you. How do you like that?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing.

Barney Feinberg
Oh good. Okay, great. Talking to you, I would imagine that collaboration is a good value for you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. I do enjoy a good collaboration. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s energizing.

Barney Feinberg
Great. I want you to imagine that that’s the value that you’re holding important right now. That’s the one that you are connecting to.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Barney Feinberg
Now, I want you to imagine that I’m connecting to independence. I want nothing to do with collaboration. How do you feel?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s just a little sad. It’s sort of like, “Oh, Barney, we were going to have a fun time creating this thing together, but I guess we’re not. Okay.” It’s disappointing.

Barney Feinberg
Right. That’s what happens. We get frustrated, angry, disappointed. Whenever you’re honoring a value that’s not being honored in return – we put up a brave face. I’ve seen a lot of people who will smile on the outside and turn on the inside. In fact they get so used to it, they don’t even realize they’re doing it. But then they wonder why they’re so tired and they need the weekend to recover. It’s because of that.

But it begins with knowing yourself. Imagine now you’re collaborating. That’s what it’s all about. I am too. I love collaboration in case you didn’t realize it. How do you feel now?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, it’s a lot of fun I guess. But what I’m thinking about though is, how do we make the leap? How do we bridge the gap?

Barney Feinberg
Well, it’s really a four-step process the way I show it in my book.

Pete Mockaitis
Do tell.

Barney Feinberg
The first step is to better know yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Barney Feinberg
How many values do you think you have?

Pete Mockaitis
Brene Brown says two.

Barney Feinberg
God bless her.

Pete Mockaitis
I mean I don’t know. In a way you could – I don’t know. We’ll say two to nine in that range.

Barney Feinberg
All right, I’m going to say this to you, most people will tell me two or three. Those that are really self-aware maybe will be able to tell me ten. But those that are self-aware when they say ten, how long do you think it takes for them to actually be able to articulate that?

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe a lifetime.

Barney Feinberg
It takes a while. Trust me. It takes a while. We are very clueless to the values that we have. I’m going to tell you, you have tens, you have hundreds of values. But what we tend to do for convenience sake, is we mesh them into a giant value, like the value of integrity.

You look at most companies that have these are our values, many of them will say integrity. I’ll applaud. I’ll say integrity is a great value. Then I’ll ask how many values do you believe there are in integrity.

Pete Mockaitis
I mean we can subdivide it infinite ways.

Barney Feinberg
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It covers everything from not stealing to not being late.

Barney Feinberg
Well, yes, exactly. Exactly. You’re 100% right. Yet, here’s the thing, there may be, let’s just use an arbitrary number, 30 values in integrity. Maybe 29 of them you have in common with the person you’re working with, but you’re connecting to the one that disconnects you. Crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Now you say I’m connecting with. What does that phrase mean?

Barney Feinberg
You are noticing the timeliness, as an example, is not being honored.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’m connecting with – as I’m noticing it isn’t there and it’s ticking me off.

Barney Feinberg
Yeah, …. Yeah. Then you go to other values that affect it, like my efficiency is being drawn down or I’m bored because I’m not getting anything done. All of these things show up, but it’s all about timeliness.

What happens? We get into a rut. Suddenly, say you’re working – look I work with advertising, public relations, media services. Those are my forte industries. Say you’re working with a creative who consistently is late. Well, if every time you set up an appointment that’s in the back of your mind, you’re already disconnecting from that value.

You may be smiling, “Oh, you’ll be there on time, won’t you?” but in the back of your mind, you’re like, “They’re going to be late again.” Because of it, they’re going to be late again.

Pete Mockaitis
You say, because of it, they’re going to be late again. Can you say more about that?

Barney Feinberg
Sure. You’re making them wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. As a result of me making them wrong, they respond in a-

Barney Feinberg
… by either being late again or they’ll do something else because nobody likes to be made wrong. Nobody. That’s probably the biggest disease we have in business, is being made wrong. People were taught to do that. That’s how we were brought up.

We were brought up in what I call a test society. I think they’ll look back a thousand years from now and say, “Oh my God, these people were giving and taking tests every day of their life.” Hey, not only were we taking tests, but we were taught to learn what we got wrong, so we wouldn’t repeat it, so we’re always looking for what’s wrong.

A lot of us are really like that, not all of us, but a lot of people are always looking for what we could do better and what someone else could do better. It creates a lot of wrong and people don’t like being wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re saying that if someone’s late, I value timeliness and I make them wrong, whether I verbally express it or not, they are picking up that I’m not too pleased with something about them and then they react in way that is unfavorable, kind of like a vicious cycle.

Barney Feinberg
Well, it gets to be. Einstein gave the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That’s kind of what we are on automatic pilot. We’re on automatic pilot with people.

Some people we just don’t trust. There may have been something that happened years ago that they did that made us lose trust in them. Ever since then we always question trust. Maybe we’ll get over it. Maybe we don’t. Trust is important, but it ain’t everything. Sometimes because we’re not trusting somebody, they’re not trusting us. It just happens that way.

If you can connect with someone with a value authentically – you can’t fake empowering a value – but if you’re authentically connecting to someone with a value that you’re empowering and they are empowering it at the same time, believe it or not, suddenly you start trusting each other again.

Pete Mockaitis
In the realm of the timeliness example, what would we do there?

Barney Feinberg
With timeliness?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so someone’s late-

Barney Feinberg
It all depends on where …. Connect with that person. You could go to sense of humor. You could go to so many different values. We have so many to choose from. Maybe they appreciate honesty. Maybe there’s something about the situation that calls for empathy. I don’t know.

But the point is there are four steps. We’re jumping the gun. First step is to know yourself better. I challenge people to have at least 20 or 30 values that they can empower consciously.

Because if the person is late and you’re thrown to them being late and making them wrong, you’re allowing the circumstance to dictate who you are just like when I was told you have one set and the winner take all, I sensed he didn’t want me to make the team, I went automatically to playing not to lose, being upset, all of that. We do that all the time. We do that all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve got your 20 values that you can empower. It’s sort of like, let’s say gratitude. I’ve got a-

Barney Feinberg
I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
-a story, an experience of gratitude raring to go. It’s sort of like it’s in my repertoire to summon it. Then if I can pick up on – I guess we’re jumping the gun again – if I can pick up on the notion that this annoying late person also values gratitude, then I can kind of change the focus such that we’re vibing on this shared gratitude value thing and thusly have more of a positive rapport and less of an I’m irritated with this tardy person.

Barney Feinberg
There’s no such thing as perfection. We’ll all have values that disconnect us from each other. We’ll all have values that connect us. We’re just really good at noticing what’s missing. Business teaches us to be that way. We do that in relationships.

I’m a believer that the biggest asset any company has are the people they have in it and the talent. If you know how to help people connect with each other, you’re going to have much better productivity, much more satisfaction, much more innovation. When people disconnect with each other, we tend to listen more to ourselves than to the people we’re talking to.

You ever notice that when you’re angry or upset? Imagine you’re in a meeting. You’re in a meeting and the value of I call it full expression, you have something to say in this meeting, but you’re basically being told to keep quiet. You want to say it. How do you feel?

Pete Mockaitis
I hear what you’re saying there with regard to talking to yourself. You’re sort of muttering, like, “Oh, this is bull crap. They never appreciate anything I have to offer.” All that kind of stuff.

Barney Feinberg
Yeah, but we’re so numb to that. We hear those voices, we don’t even realize we’re talking to ourselves. We just think we’re hearing the truth. I lost my train of thought there. You got me off a bit.

Pete Mockaitis
We had four steps.

Barney Feinberg
All right, the second step, once you have say listed 20 values, the second step is to learn how to empower them. That takes step-by-step process.

What I do is I have people free write. I tell them to free write a peak moment in their life. If you looked at my book, you’d see what I did with it. You free write a couple of paragraphs of a peak moment and I can promise you you’ll learn at least 20 or 30 values from that one story if you go through it a number of times. You’ll see so many different values that pop up.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Barney Feinberg
Once you list the number of stories – I actually break it down. I mentioned DNA values; they’re values that are on automatic pilot, that just show up all the time. Then there are other values we never even bring to work that could be brilliant if we realized that we could actually use them, but we don’t. We just go with what’s on automatic pilot usually.

The next step is to find the story that empowers that value. It’s your story. If you can’t find it, you can find a story that you’ve read about or a scene in a movie, something that every time you think about it, it just lifts your soul.

I’ll tell you, once I realized songs helped me out in tennis, I was listening to the Rocky theme song a lot when we were going to matches. It really pumped you up. You know what that’s like. That’s what people – song is great. I use song as a trigger to empower values.

Once I have the value defined as to what my definition is, and it’s mine, it’s nobody else’s. I could have a definition of a value that’s different from your definition and we could disconnect or your value of A and my value of B are the same, but we have different names for it. It’s really to get to know who you are. Once you have a better sense of who you are, ah, now it’s easier to understand where you connect with others because now you understand it better.

It’s like if I go to Alaska and I look at the snow, which you were just talking about, I’d see three kinds. I’d see wet, dry and icy because that’s what I shovel. But if I spoke to an Alaskan, they’d say 50 kinds that you can drink from, that you can walk on, that you can camp on, that you’re going to fall through. They have names for them.

Once you start being able to better articulate your values, it’s much easier to understand the ones that are connecting with you. I mean, “Oh, he’s out of integrity.” Okay, maybe you’ll call it late. Maybe it’s something else, but we generalize. We generalize. I think it’s much more powerful to let them free, to really get to understand them better so that you know exactly where you’re disconnecting and where you’re not.

I’ll say this, in every sentence there are multiple values, multiple. If you listen for them, you’ll hear them. You’re not going to get them all in the beginning. It takes time, but all you have to do is find a couple. …-

Pete Mockaitis
So I’m listening for them-

Barney Feinberg
-really works with him and I or with her and her whoever. I mean, wow. Suddenly, you’ve got the ability not to allow that circumstance to dictate who you are.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess with the listening am I looking out for strong emotion, like, “Whoa, that person is mad about that,” or “Oh, that person is passionate about this thing,” or “That person really seems to be quite disappointed by this.” What am I listening for to zero in the values?

Barney Feinberg
I’ll give you – one of the things I help people do is learn how to listen for values in the interview process. I say the most important factor in taking a job or hiring is the chemistry you’re going to have with people. I have them listen for values. I’m going to give you one sentence that I use. I use a number, but I’ll use this just one to give you as an example.

I have people ask what makes you and your company successful. Usually when I’m talking to people about that, they’ve already listed 20 or 30 values in the conversation we’ve had. I say just look at the values you have in front of you. Aren’t they what make you a success? Generally speaking they will agree. Absolutely.

With that in front of them, I give them a couple of sentences to understand how many values can be in one. I’ll give you one. What makes me and my company successful? “Gee, that’s a good question. What makes us successful? Well, we’re always looking for better ways to accomplish the job and we do a brilliant job.” Now, I’m going to ask you, what values did you hear in that?

Pete Mockaitis
I’d say innovation, execution, maybe praise or celebration.

Barney Feinberg
Awesome. Okay. Let me tell you what was intended. “Gee, that’s a good question.” I just acknowledged you. Acknowledgement is a value some people really appreciate.

Pete Mockaitis
… a good time to think.

Barney Feinberg
Well, no, no, no, no, no, but you’re not going to get – look, I don’t want to be unfair. It’s four steps. The first step is to know yourself better. It doesn’t happen that quickly. It takes time, but if you do it step-by-step, it’s a practice. It’s not a one and done situation. But it’s for people that really want to have a better way of connecting with each other. I think the better you connect, the more successful you’re going to be.

But just to go through that sentence quickly, I’ll just throw a couple out there. Acknowledgement, full expression. I said, “That’s a good question.” I’m maybe someone who encourages other questions. “What makes us successful?” I find reflective thinking an important value. I just repeated the question, so maybe I’m a reflective thinker.

Then “We’re always looking for better ways,” strategic thinking, efficiency. “We do a brilliant job,” dedication to excellence. Then what’s peppered in there are three us and we’s, which could indicate collaboration, team play, whatever the value is you choose to name it, but you can see, oh my goodness, how many values ….

What usually happens in a good conversation is people have a gut feeling. Gut feelings are great, but they’re coming from your stomach. They’re not coming from your head. When you can actually understand what’s causing it and it’s these values that are actually being – showing up in the conversation, it gives you a lot more wisdom to make decisions and a lot more wisdom to know how to connect with people.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting how you said maybe there a couple times. It’s sort of like you are generating hypotheses and then sort of finding further reinforcement with subsequent sentences. It’s like, “Oh, well, you know what? That collaborative thing only showed up once, but then the other showed up again, and again, and again, and again. Maybe the collaboration was more of a fluke or a lesser value from that one sentence.

Barney Feinberg
Maybe I misheard it. Maybe I was listening for what I wanted to hear and it wasn’t there because a lot of times we go in on what I term a test mentality. If it’s an interview, we’re trying to pass the test. When we’re testing, we’re absolutely listening more to ourselves than the people we’re talking to. It’s when we’re – I shifted.

To listen for values, you want to be using what I term a field trip mentality. When you’re on a field trip, there’s much better chance you’re in curiosity, open mind, and discovery, three values that I find really important. What I do with everyone that I talk to and you can do this right now, think of a moment when you were on a field trip or a vacation that was just amazing. Tell me when you get it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, got it.

Barney Feinberg
Yeah. How did that feel?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it was-

Barney Feinberg
Thinking about that vacation.

Pete Mockaitis
It was cozy. There was just great people just enjoying each other. We didn’t actually do a whole lot. We mostly stayed inside. It was very snowy out and it was a pretty remote location, but it was just great times together, whether we were talking or playing video games or cooking or eating. It was just great fun.

Barney Feinberg
Imagine going into an RFP feeling that way rather than trying to pass a test. Imagine going on a blind date that way rather than that test mentality that generally shows up in a blind date conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I see there. So we use the vacation prompt to get us to a place of hey, feeling good and enjoying in a relaxed way.

Barney Feinberg
Yes, here’s the deal. If you’re talking to someone and you’re in that mentality and you’re not feeling that way, I suggest it’s probably disconnection from the person you’re talking to. What is it that’s disconnecting?

If it’s an interview, it’s a good chance maybe that’s not a person you want to work with every day. But if it’s someone you’re working with every day, what is it that’s throwing us off? What are the values that are disconnecting us and what are the values I’m hearing that would?

Pete Mockaitis
Once you’ve sort of identified, “Okay, I think this person values this and I’ve got that within me as well, so I’m going to try to bring it forth,” I guess that’s with either the music or the story or the memory. Then you’re just kind of showing up and interacting with that person with that kind of in the background of what’s going on for you.

Barney Feinberg
But …. You’re being that. If you’re truly empowering a value, it is dictating who you are. It clarifies your voice. It focuses your mind. It aligns your visions. It’s who you are. Some people will say to me, “Gee Barney, how come I have to change? Why should I be the one that changes?”

Pete Mockaitis
I just think that’s so funny because we just talked about making other people wrong. It’s like-

Barney Feinberg
Yeah, but people do this. They say, “Well, I’m right. They’re wrong.” A lot of people like being right. Being right is fine, but when you’re making others wrong because of it, it doesn’t help you that much. It doesn’t. It certainly is not going to build a relationship.

What I say to people that say this to me is you’re being yourself. You’re just choosing to connect rather than disconnect. I’m not asking you to be a value that doesn’t – isn’t who you are. I’m suggesting you try something that really will connect you and build bridges of connection to knock down the walls of disconnection that might have been there for a long time.

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

Barney Feinberg
Well, I would say one other thing we didn’t get to discuss. There are three types of relationships. One is dysfunctional, one is stagnant, and one is on the rise. Dysfunctional we know. We’ve probably had them. But on the rise is what I call out for everyone.

However, unfortunately, most of us settle for stagnant, which means, yeah, we are connecting. We are connecting. We have values that work, Barney, and we’ve been using them for years and years and years. I’m like, yeah, so if you were a business and you just kept doing it the same way over and over again for years and years and years, chances are you’re not going to be as successful.

I challenge people to look for new values that can connect them to people even the ones that they’re connected to because it can create a whole new opportunity for innovation and satisfaction. I use a quote from Michelangelo, who said “The greater danger for most of us is not that we aim to high and miss, but we aim to low and succeed.”

Pete Mockaitis
Got it. Thank you.

Barney Feinberg
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now could you share with us a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Barney Feinberg
A favorite – well, there was something that came out for 2017, SHRM, Society for Human Resource Management. They looked at the satisfaction levels of people in 2017 at work. They made an announcement that it was the best they’ve seen in five years. They said people that were very satisfied equaled 38% of the population.

I was like, 38%, very satisfied. That means the rest of us are either simply satisfied or not satisfied. I never – people that are looking to succeed are not looking just for satisfaction. I think that’s an optimistic thing because that means there’s a lot of opportunity to rise up.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Barney Feinberg
Well, then I’m going to go way back. This is a book that really captured me when I was in high school, Siddhartha. Are you familiar with it?

Pete Mockaitis
I think I read it a while ago. Hermann Hesse?

Barney Feinberg
Hermann Hesse.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Barney Feinberg
Yeah. We’re all on a journey for self-discovery. I just look at life that way. Had a big impact on me.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Barney Feinberg
Every morning before I start officially working, I practice empowering my values. Then I get to choose which one I want to start my day with.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate and folks repeat it back to you often?

Barney Feinberg
Well, one that really is a nugget that people really can relate to and appreciate, the better you know yourself, the easier it is to know what you want. The better you know what you want, the easier it is to achieve.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that sounds true. Yeah. And yet overlooked in terms of taking the time to get to know yourself better and then getting to know what you want better because what I like about that is it connects some very practical kind of results-generating utility effectiveness type thinking to maybe more fuzzy kind of feel good introspection thinking and say, no, no, in fact one is a pathway to more of the other.

Barney Feinberg
Buddha said this, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” When your thoughts are empowered by your values, the world becomes a brilliant place to be. By the way, that was my ending. That was me at the end.

There’s one other – if you were asking me quotes, I could quote you all day. There’s so many quotes I love. Do you know the Gandhi quote about values?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m not sure.

Barney Feinberg
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, and your habits become your values. Your values are your destiny.” Then I paraphrase. When you’re empowering your values, reaching your destiny is easy and you can go beyond it. But when you’re disconnected from your values, it is a hard road and you’ll never reach it to the point you want to.

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

Barney Feinberg
Discover the wealth of values you have, rea  lly. Know them. They’re tools that you can use that you haven’t been using consciously most likely. Empower them and it will give you greater opportunity to authentically connect with people at work and in life. This works for everything, but I’m focusing it on business.

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

Barney Feinberg
Barney@TheChemistryFactor.com, www.TheChemistryFactor.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Barney, it’s been a whole lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck with The Chemistry Factor and all you’re doing.

Barney Feinberg
Pete, it’s been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for your time.

378: How to Tackle Uncertainty–and Enjoy It with Josh Kaufman

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Josh Kaufman shares his research regarding tackling uncertainty, the value of persistence in new skill acquisition, and best practices for self-directed learning.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The PICS formula for assessing your goals
  2. The five parts of every business mental model
  3. How and Why to pre-commit to learning a new skill

About Josh

Josh’s research focuses on business, skill acquisition, productivity, creativity, applied psychology, and practical wisdom. His unique, multidisciplinary approach to business mastery and rapid skill acquisition has helped millions of readers around the world learn essential concepts and skills on their own terms.

Josh’s research has been featured by The New York Times, The BBC, The Wall Street Journal, Time, BusinessWeek, Wired, Fast Company, Financial Times, Lifehacker, CNN, and many others.

Josh has been a featured speaker at Stanford University, World Domination Summit, Pioneer Google, and many others. JoshKaufman.net was named one of the “Top 100 Websites for Entrepreneurs” and his TEDx talk was viewed over 12 million times.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Josh Kaufman Interview Transcript

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

Josh Kaufman
Pete, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for the invitation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to get into this discussion. One fun thing I learned about you as I was stalking you in preparation for this discussion is it still active that you have a monthly Dungeons and Dragons group going? What’s the story here?

Josh Kaufman
That is absolutely accurate. Actually, we just had I think it’s our one-year group anniversary this past Saturday.

Pete Mockaitis
Congratulations.

Josh Kaufman
It’s fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me, what’s the – Dungeons and Dragons, it’s so funny. It has all sorts of connotations, but I want to hear straight from the horse’s mouth, what is it for you that drew you in and keeps you coming back?

Josh Kaufman
Oh, it is the most fun game that has ever been invented. It’s this really wonderful combination. When I try to explain it to people who have never played, it’s like imagine a game where literally anything is possible and people can do crazy things that you have not prepared for and don’t expect and there’s some way of figuring out if a character who tries to do something crazy in a story, if they can actually do that thing.

I love it in two ways. It’s this wonderful combination of group storytelling and improv. The storyteller kind of knows where it’s going to go, but doesn’t know for sure. The players have agency and latitude to do whatever they want.

Then the players can explore a world where they can and try and pull off things that are just really fun to think about and come up with creative solutions that the person w ho’s telling the story just never anticipated. It’s this wonderful combination of story and surprise and creativity. It’s the best.

Pete Mockaitis
Not to get too deep into the weeds, but I’m intrigued. How do you make the call on whether something that someone invents out of their head – I guess I just saw matches like “You are locked behind a dungeon door.” It’s like, “I’m going to pull out some – a bazooka and blast it away.”

I guess how do we determine whether or not they in fact can or cannot pull out a bazooka and blast it away? That’s always kind of been my sticking point looking out from afar, having not experienced it first-hand.

Josh Kaufman
Sure. There’s actually very active conversations in RPG circles about how you deal with this. I think the term is verisimilitude, so how much do you want to try to emulate real life in this fantastical story that you’re all telling together.

Every system has different ways of doing it. At least in Dungeons and Dragons, all of the player characters are playing an individual who has certain goals and desires and also, very important, a list of equipment that they have on them at their disposal, so pulling out a bazooka from nowhere is totally not kosher as far as the rules of the game.

Pete Mockaitis
It would be on the equipment list in advance is what you’re telling me.

Josh Kaufman
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Josh Kaufman
Imagine somebody like Conan the Barbarian fighting a dragon at the top of a mountain. The dragon is hurt and tries to flee and Conan flings himself off of a cliff and tries to grab the dragon in midair. Most games don’t really have a good system for figuring out what happens next.

The whole point of a rule system in a role-playing game is essentially giving you the tools to figure out just that. What is the situation? How difficult is it? What is this player? What are they good at and what are they not good at?

There’s a way to essentially reduce it to statistics of you don’t know for sure, you’re going to roll some dice to figure out what happens next, but how great are the chances that Conan will be able to leap far enough to get to the dragon and then hold on if they’re able to make contact. Things like that. It’s really fun.

Pete Mockaitis
I see, so you’re kind of jointly deciding that as a group.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, and the really interesting parts are when the players figure out a solution to a challenge that you didn’t anticipate. At risk of going too deep, my players were fighting ice demons that exploded when they died this past Saturday.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve all been there, Josh.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, as you do. It was really interesting to see the group brainstorm and come up with solutions of how to isolate and then put these monsters in a position where they could be defeated without doing damage to the party.

There were five or six different solutions. Every player came up with their own take on it. But it was just really interesting to see with all of the different personalities and the different sets of skills at the table, everybody came up with their own little solution to figure out this thorny problem.

I was telling the story and I had no idea what they were going to do. The fun of it for me was putting a whole bunch of people in a situation and seeing how they tackled it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s nifty. You’ve compiled some wisdom when it comes to fighting fantastical and mythological beasts in your book, How to Fight a Hydra, but there’s more to it than just a fun fantasy fiction romp. Can you unpack what’s this book all about?

Josh Kaufman
Sure, so How to Fight a Hydra is compiling a lot of research into a universal problem that all of us have that’s we may have a big ambitious goal or pursuit, something that we want for ourselves and we’re not quite sure if we’re going to be able to pull it off. There’s a lot of uncertainty. There’s a lot of risk. There might be fear of the unknown or uncertainty that we have the skills that we’re going to need in order to get what we want.

A huge tradition both in ancient and modern philosophy about how to deal with topics like uncertainty and risk, but also a lot of new cognitive psychology or behavioral psychology. How do you get yourself to do something that you know in advance is going to be challenging or is going to be difficult?

I started researching this and started doing it the way that I did my previous two books, which were research based non-fiction. The funny thing about writing about uncertainty and risk and fear is that if you treat it that way, you start writing a book that nobody wants to read because those topics are inherently uncomfortable to think about too long.

That’s where the idea of instead of explaining how to do this, approaching it from the perspective of a story. Let’s take a person who is deciding to pursue something genuinely difficult, something that they don’t know if they’re going to be able to do and let’s follow them as they go through the process of accomplishing this very big goal and experiencing all of the normal challenges along the way.

Then watch them skillfully apply these things that we know from research works in these sorts of situations. It’s fiction. It’s a story, but it’s a story with an underlying logic and purpose that is very firmly rooted in this universal challenge that we all face.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. We won’t spoil the story elements, but within it, there are some components associated with sort of physical training and getting tougher as well as acquiring or crafting a sword in order to pull it off. Could you – at the risk of us entering into the boring territory for the book that nobody wanted to read – what are some of the fundamental steps and scientific insights associated with flourishing when you’re tackling a big project like this?

Josh Kaufman
There are a bunch of insights around – let’s group it around expectations going into something – a new big project, something you’ve never done before, something that is at the limit of your capability. And there are a few common patterns or denominators in how you approach that, and how you approach it makes an enormous difference.

Let’s say you want to enter a new career. You want to start a new business, pursue a creative project. Whatever it happens to be, there’s this undercurrent of, like, “I don’t know if this is a good idea. I don’t know if this is going to work. I don’t know if I invest my time and energy in this way I’m going to get the results that I want. I may have a vague idea of what I’m trying to do, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next.”

Those are all very common things that I hear from lots of different people and experience myself. One of the things that’s very useful to know from the beginning is that that is completely normal. It doesn’t mean that you are not up to the task. It doesn’t mean that this is a bad idea or there’s something wrong with you. It’s just a fundamental feature of the world.

These big things that we want to achieve, there’s an inherent element of uncertainty, complexity, variability, ambiguity and risk. Those things are never going to go away. If you understand that from the beginning, you can shift your mindset more from “How do I get this uncertainty to go away? How can I make it stop?” to more of a you are pursuing an adventure. You’re exploring something interesting. You are challenging yourself in important ways.

One of the things that makes an adventure interesting, or exploration valuable, is you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. That’s part of the fun. That’s part of the challenge. Just thinking about these things that we want to do more along the lines of adventures or exploration is a very useful way to think about the process of pursuing something in general.

Pete Mockaitis
That is really cool in terms of just reframing it as an adventure because we pay good money to experience adventure, whether you’re going to REI and buying some outdoor backpacking-type stuff and going out on a trail or a mountain or a campsite or whether it’s more indoorsy, a room escape adventure, you know?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, definitely.

Pete Mockaitis
Paying money for that kind of experience or just a trip to the movies or a novel or whatever. Yet, elsewhere in life, we want that uncertainty gone. We would like to just sort of know how it’s going to unfold. That’s a pretty clever move in terms of by reframing the uncertainty into adventure, now it’s no longer terrifying and doubt-producing, but rather it’s fun and interesting.

Josh Kaufman
That’s absolutely the case.

Pete Mockaitis
Nifty. I imagine some ways that may be easier said than done, but let’s say you’re in the heat of it. Someone’s looking to change their career wildly from we’ll just say one field of accounting to another field of pinball machine design.

Josh Kaufman
Fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve always loved pinball and this is kind of a crazy switch, but they think they’ve got some special skills and abilities and things to contribute there.

Let’s think about it. One person may very well be freaking out in this situation, like, “Oh my gosh, where would I even start? Why would anyone want to hire me? Should I quit my job? Should I not? That’s pretty crazy. How am I going to support my family, pay the mortgage?” Here we are in the midst of uncertainty and big dream and fear. Where do we go?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, the first bit is exploring more fully what the new thing looks like. I’m guessing that our fictional example may have some experience doing this but may not have completed an entire project start to finish.

One useful thing about thinking about all of these transitions as adventures is there’s a certain amount of exploration that’s always going to happen, particularly at the beginning. There’s actually – I did a full essay about this on my website, JoshKaufman.net, about exploration versus exploitation.

There’s a lot of research about it in computer science, but it’s one of those generalizable things that’s useful in a lot of circumstances. When you’re doing something new, it is in your best interest to spend the vast majority of your time exploring all of your different options.

Maybe in this case, the individual is still working their day job, so there’s some risk mitigation going on there, but then most of the time and energy devoted toward this new activity is spent exploring.

What types of pinball things sound good? What are some of the different industries or businesses that you could work with? What do they tend to specialize in? What do they need? Are you going to build your own pinball machines or are you going to outsource it to a contract manufacturer? Are you selling it yourself or are you selling it through somebody else? There are all sorts of unanswered questions around this topic.

Spending a lot of time and energy in the exploration phase makes a lot of sense. You’re gathering information. You’re trying new things. You are testing to see what are the parts of the business or the venture or project that you really like and what are some of the things that you would rather avoid.

All of that exploration is extremely useful later when it comes to the second phase, which is called exploitation. Exploitation is when you’re spending most of your time doing the things that you know are rewarding.

Imagine you move to a new town and you don’t know which restaurants are good. You spend maybe the first couple years that you live there, you never eat at the same place twice. You explore lots of different options to see what you like and what you don’t like.

But the longer you live there, the more you know what’s going to hit the spot at any particular moment, so you spend more and more time doing the things that you know work and doing less and less of the time with things you don’t.

So for our aspiring pinball designer, after that period of exploration, they’re going to have a much better sense of what works and what doesn’t. Then the more and more things that work, the easier it’s going to be to make a transition from accounting to pinball.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing example there when it comes to the food. It’s so dead on because I found myself, particularly when I’m at a restaurant that I’ve been to several times, it’s like I’m torn. It’s like, okay, there’s one thing I know that will be delicious and wonderful, so I’m naturally drawn to that and yet, I’m also intrigued by the new and seeing what could be there.

I’ve had it go both ways. I try something new and it’s like, “Wow, that was even better than the thing I loved. I’m so glad I did that,” versus “Oh, this is kind of lame. I could have just stuck with the thing I knew was good and then been feeling more delighted post meal.”

I like that you’ve provided a particular rule of thumb here, which is in the early phases, you’re going to get a better bang for your buck by doing more of the exploration versus once you know the lay of the land, you’ll have a better return by doing the exploitation.

Josh Kaufman
Absolutely. And the additional wrinkle to this, so this is often in the research literature called the bandit problem because the classical mathematical formulation is you’re playing slot machines, which I do not recommend by the way, but for the sake of understanding, it’s a good example.

Imagine you go into a casino and you can play any slot machine you want. You don’t even have to spend money. It’s just the time that it takes to pull the lever and see the result. If you’re given this opportunity and you want to maximize your return from this experience, what do you do? Well, that’s where the exploration and the exploitation phase comes it.

You spend quite a bit of time testing different machines gathering data. Then after a while you start shifting to the machines that you know provide a much better pay off.

The interesting thing is you would think at a certain point that exploitation is the way to go. You just do the thing you know works over and over and over again. When you look at the studies and you look at the math, that’s actually not the case. There’s always a certain amount of your energy and attention that is going to be devoted to exploration because you don’t have perfect information about what is going to be the most rewarding thing you possibly could do.

The more time you spend, the more confident you can be that you’re on the right track, but it’s always beneficial to you to reserve at least some percentage of your capacity for trying new things and seeing if they work out.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. I guess it’s just my personality or strengths or whatever, it’s just like I find that exploration of the new is so much more exciting and interesting.

Josh Kaufman
I’m right there with you.

Pete Mockaitis
And sometimes to my detriment. It’s like, “No, no, Pete, just continue doing the thing that’s really working for you instead of gallivanting off to some crazy thing,” but the gallivanting is fun. I guess when you talk about the context of slot machines, which is gaming is for the purpose of fun, then that may be all the more true.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, I think a lot of it comes down to – in the personal context, why are you doing this thing in the first place? There may very well be situations or decisions that you might make from a career standpoint that might get you a lower financial return than other options, but if you have a payoff in another dimension, so maybe it’s personal interest and engagement maybe it’s exploring an area that you really love and you’re willing to make tradeoffs in order to work in that area.

There are all sorts of things to optimize for that aren’t necessarily financial return. I think the more broadly you think about what’s the reward for this thing that I’m trying to do and how can I get more of the things that I care about, the easier it is to make those sorts of tradeoffs.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. Okay, when it comes to the hydra fighting, any other kind of key takeaways that you think are particularly on point for those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, I think the understanding that it’s going to be difficult and that’s okay, is a really great mental framework to begin and that most of these sorts of challenges are met by both improving your skills, so getting better at doing the things that are critical to achieve the results that you want, and persistence and specifically persistence in the face of frustration and difficulty.

And so it’s very easy, particularly early on – this is actually a theme in my second book, The First 20 Hours. When you’re doing something new or something you’re not familiar with or something you’re not very good at yet, that early experience of trying to make progress and not getting the results you want is extremely frustrating.

Understanding that persistence is the thing that allows you to push through those early barriers and solve the challenges and get what you want, the more you can understand that that is the path to victory. It’s not being naturally skilled. It’s not having some sort of magic problem-solving device. It is consistent effort, attention and energy over a long period of time.

That is setting you up for success in a way that a lot of messages in broader culture, just don’t really help you with.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us a couple, quotables or articulations of the counter message that’s suboptimal?

Josh Kaufman
Well, I think the best way to frame it—that I’ve seen in various forms is don’t compare your inside versus somebody else’s outside. social media does not do us many favors here because you tend to see the highlight reel of other people’s lives. You see the promotions. You see the vacations. You see the raises. You see the major status-oriented achievements. You don’t necessarily see, the struggle or the fear or the anxiety or the work that goes into a lot of  the achievements that other people have.

Understanding that everyone deals with the same challenges of not knowing what’s going to happen next, not knowing if an investment is going to pay off not knowing if something is a really great idea that’s going to change their life or career or a terrible idea that is going to blow up their life or career. It’s a universal problem.

Giving yourself a bit of grace and being comfortable saying “I may not be where I want to be yet, but I am on a path and I am working towards getting there,” that goes a very long way.

Pete Mockaitis
Not to kill dreams prematurely, but I guess the counter side of persistence is knowing when is it appropriate to shut down a plan that is not going to cut the mustard. Any pro tips on that side of things?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, the biggest advice I can give in that regard is be very, very clear about what you want upfront. The way that I like to think about this most people’s goals or dreams if they’ve articulated them to themselves are very broad and very general. Broad and general to the point where it doesn’t really give your brain anything to work with in figuring out how to get there.

The acronym or approach that works really well for me is PICS, P-I-C-S. That’s positive, immediate, concrete, and specific. Those are the qualities that should apply. When you write down what you want, try to make it as concrete, specific, vivid and something that you can look into the world and figure out, “have I achieved this thing or not. Am I there?”

“I want to climb a mountain,” is very not specific. “I want to climb Mt. Everest by next year,” is much more specific. You can do something with that.

Pete Mockaitis
I like the acronym PICS just because that’s kind of what you’re getting at is we’re trying to paint a picture that’s super clear, that we know if we’ve hit it or have not hit it.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, the more vividly you can imagine what your life looks like and what this thing you want to achieve looks like when it has been accomplished, the more useful it is going to be in terms of figuring out what to do next to get there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Then it’s easier to make that call. It’s like, “This is what I was going for and what I’m experiencing is in no way, close to that nor getting closer to it, over time,” so there you go as opposed to if it were fuzzy, it would be tougher to know that we’re not where we’re headed or where we wanted to be.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, I think a lot of people experience that particularly early on in their career, where they have this image before they enter the workforce or in a new role about what it’s going to look like and what it’s going to feel like and what their life is going to be. And a lot of times, the early experiences don’t match up very well with that. it helps to be able to really articulate what am I trying to get out of this, what is the benefit for me, what do I care about and what do I not care about so much? And then be able to figure out, okay, on a day-to-day basis, is this thing taking you closer in the direction of where you want to be or is it actually taking you farther away?

In my corporate career, I was actually in product development in marketing at Proctor & Gamble, which a huge consumer goods company. I was really excited. I loved creating new things. That part was really great. I decided to move on from the company when I was in a meeting to prepare for a meeting to prepare for a meeting to prepare for a meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you unpack that?

Josh Kaufman
Four levels of ….

Pete Mockaitis
The layers of the meetings. I’ve got to hear this.

Josh Kaufman
A lot of how product development works was we’re individual teams who are working on things and they would essentially pitch it to the vice president/president level in order to get funding.

I was having a meeting with my manager to prepare for a meeting with the brand manager of the product that this would be under to prepare for a meeting with the marketing director, and then to prepare for a the final pitch to the vice president and president to get funding.

And all of those meetings were important. And then I just looked at my life. I’m like, “I don’t want to exist in meetings for the rest of my career. There are other things I want to do.”

Pete Mockaitis
What’s intriguing is that the final, final meeting was still an internal one as opposed to say a venture capitalist or Wal-Mart, Amazon. Are they going to carry your product? It was still an internal one.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, absolutely. I actually had quite a few meetings with Wal-Mart and Target and Costco and all the big retailers and somehow those were more straightforward than the internal meetings about how to allocate funding. It’s kind of funny.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Okay, well, so that’s a little bit about the hydra story. I cannot help myself if I’m talking to Josh Kaufman, I’ve got to get some of your wisdom when it comes to self-directed learning. I first heard about you when you came up with the notion of the personal MBA which sounds great. What’s your take here in terms of should nobody pay for a traditional MBA and how do you view this world?

Josh Kaufman
I think that if you’re already working at a company you like, you know you want to move up in that company internally there’s a requirement to have an MBA, uh, to have the position that you desire and the company is willing to pay for it, then that’s probably a pretty good reason to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, some stringent criteria.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah. Anything else aside from that it’s probably going to be more expensive, both in terms of financial time and opportunity cost than you expect and the value of the credential in and of itself is just not really great. In a financial sense, it’s almost always a negative ROI.

If the goal is to understand what businesses are, how they work, and either how to start a new business or make any existing business better, you can learn how to do that on your own. You don’t necessarily have to spend years and tens, hundreds of thousands of dollars to learn business skills. Business skills are very learnable on your own.

The goal with The Personal MBA was to create the best possible introduction, that I could make to the world of business. So assuming you know absolutely nothing about how businesses work, how can you understand all of the parts, that go into making a business work in a way that allows you to do important stuff, whether that’s making a new product, new company or just doing better in your existing job?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. You did a nice job of unpacking the key sub skills that are associated with the MBA and then you’ve got an infamous – maybe just famous, I don’t know about infamous – reading list associated with when it comes to strategy and these marketing and all these things that are handy to know to comprise what an MBA knows and getting there.

I’d love to get your take then when it comes to doing this learning on your own as opposed to in a classroom or a group environment, what are some of your pro tips for pulling that off successfully outside those supports?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah. I think the biggest thing is aside from the basics of setting aside time to read and research and think and apply, that’s going to be necessary in any case. There’s a particular type of thing that when you’re self-studying you should, look for.

A lot of traditional academic book learning is all about memorizing terms and techniques, so specific things that apply in specific situations. I think a much better way to approach learning for application in general is to look for things that are called mental models.

A mental model is basically a conceptual understanding about how a thing in the world works, what it looks like, how different parts of a system interact with each other. It’s essentially one level of abstraction higher.

It’s being able to see the same principles at work in, businesses in different industries, different markets, different products, products to services, understanding how things work at a deeper level and that gives you the ability to look at a situation you’re not familiar with and that you have no context about and have a place to start and have a place to figure out how you would go about getting more information or make decisions in this particular area.

And so, The Personal MBA is really designed around that idea. Let’s learn the most important mental models about business, about people because businesses are created by, run by, and run for the benefit of people, so let’s understand psychology and communication and how that works.

And then systems because most successful businesses are essentially comprised of systems, processes that can be repeated in order to produce a predictable result. The more you understand about systems in general, the more you’re going to be able to take that back to a functioning business or a new business and say these are the things that would probably make the biggest difference right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us an example of a mental model? It’s like, “Oh, because I understand this one thing, I can now take that with me and apply it to having a starting point for this other thing.”

Josh Kaufman
Sure. So one of my favorites, which is, early in the book for a reason is what I call the five parts of every business. And it’s uh, this very universal way of deconstructing a system or deconstructing a business into, universal parts that help you understand how it functions at a very fundamental level. The five parts are value creation, marketing, sales, value delivery, and finance.

Every business creates something of value to other people, could be it products, could be it service, could be a shared resource like a museum. There are all sorts of different ways businesses create value, but it always makes something that other people want or need. So it’s important to understand what that is and why people want or need it, how that value is created to the people who ultimately pay the business’s bills.

Marketing is all about attracting attention for this valuable thing that you’ve created. So how do you make sure that people know that you have something valuable to offer them?

And then from there, you can attract all the attention you want, but if nobody ever pulls out their check book or credit card and says, “Yes, please. I’ll take one,” you don’t have a business. You have something else. And so sales is the process of taking someone who is interested in what you have to offer and then encouraging them to become a paying customer of the business. It’s the part where, money flows into the business instead of running out.

It turns out, if you take people’s money and you don’t deliver what you promised, you’re not running a business; you’re running a scam.

Pete Mockaitis
You find yourself in prison.

Josh Kaufman
Exactly. So value delivery is the part where you have a paying customer. This is great. You have something valuable that you’ve promised to deliver them. Let’s deliver this thing in a way that makes the customer deliriously happy. This is everything from the construction of physical products, the, service, delivery, follow-up calls, and all of those things that turns a paying customer into a happy customer. That’s all in value delivery.

And then finance is essentially the analytical step. So, in, value creation, you’re usually spending money to make this thing. You’re investing. Same with marketing. You may be spending on advertising. You may be spending on any form of outreach to attract more attention to this thing you’ve made.

Sales is the wonderful part where money comes in. Then value delivery, when you are making your customer happy delivering what you’ve promised, you’re usually spending money there too.

And so finance is the process of analyzing all the money that you’re spending and all the money that you’re bringing in and answering two very fundamental questions. One, is more money coming in than is going out, because if not, you have a problem. And then, number two, is it enough. Is it what we’re bringing in from this system worth the time and energy that it’s taking to run the whole thing?

And no matter how large or small the business is, whether you’re one of the largest companies in the world or you are a company of one starting something new for the first time, if you’re bringing in money and it’s enough and it’s worthwhile to keep going, congratulations, you have a successful business. That’s all it takes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so then that mental model there is you just said, hey, we’ve got these five components, so even if I know, know jack diddly squat about, real estate investing and, buying homes and renovating them and renting them out, by applying this model of the five key areas, I can sort of quickly get an understanding in terms of saying, “Okay, what is it that customers, people who rent apartments want?” and then away you go.

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, that’s exactly it. I was doing consulting and advising related to personal MBA for many years. It was really fun talking to people who worked in wildly different industries and markets, being able to come back to the same core process of okay, I may be speaking to someone who is implementing electronic health care records for midsized doctor’s offices with 10 to 20 doctors practicing.

That’s not an area that I had any direct expertise or experience in, but coming back to this framework, it was very easy to understand what was going on, what was important, where the opportunities were just based on a conversation around, “okay, these are the areas of this particular business that I need to know before we can dig in on here’s what’s going to be most beneficial and what you should focus on.”

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you.

Josh Kaufman
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well so then I’d love to go a little bit deeper when it comes to the how associated with, developing these skills. You’ve laid out kind of a four-step approach for learning a new skill within a mere 20 hours, not 10,000. How does this go?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah. This is part of my research for I did for my second book, The First 20 Hours. The goal for that one was to understand how to go from knowing absolutely nothing about something you’re trying to do to being reasonably good in a very short period of time. Usually that early learning is slow and frustrating, so anything that we can do to make it a little bit faster and way less frustrating is going to beneficial for us long term.

That goes back to the PICS acronym we discussed earlier. Like, getting very clear, very specific about what you want to do, how you want to be able to perform, and what that looks like when you’re done.

And so from there you’re able to take that image of what you want and, do what’s called deconstructing it into smaller parts. usually the skills that we want to learn, aren’t single skills in isolation. They’re actually bundles of different skills.

So a good way to visualize this is imagine a complex game like golf. So playing golf actually involves lots of different things. I don’t play myself, so apologies if the terminology is wrong. But driving the ball off of a tee and putting it into the hole, on the green, are two very different things.

And so the more you can understand what those isolated sub skills look like and which ones are most important to get what you want, the easier it is to practice the things that are going to, to give you the best return for your invested time and energy. You practice those things first.

Learning just enough to go out and be able to correct yourself as you’re practicing gives you the biggest return.

Too much research can be a subtle form of procrastination. That’s actually something that I, struggled with quite a bit. I want to know everything about what I’m trying to do before I do it. Spending just a little bit of time and energy researching just enough to go out and try to do it and to be able to notice when you’re doing something wrong and then try, go back again and self-correct. That’s really important.

There are two other things that are particularly important, so removing barriers to practice, some of those barriers can by physical, mental or emotional. Make it as easy as possible for you to sit down and spend some dedicated time getting better at this thing that you want to do. Then pre-commit to learning the most important sub skills first for at least 20 hours.

The pre-commitment is a very powerful tool from a psychological standpoint that makes it much more likely you’re going to practice long enough to start seeing benefits. So the early hours, super frustrating, so you need to have some type of method, some way of getting past that early frustration.

And the best tool that I found is pre-committing to a relatively short period of time and I recommend 20 hours as a nice happy medium for most of the skills that we would learn either in a personal or professional context.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy with the pre-commitment upfront. “Hey, this is what it’s going to be and I’m ready for it. I’m strapped in and we’re kind of pushing past it,” as opposed to, “Hey, it turns out I’m not good at this and I hate it, so we’re done.” That’s nice there.

When it comes to the sub skills, could you – I imagine it varies quite a bit skill to skill – but could you give us a further example of, what’s the approximate breakdown in terms of when it comes to sub skills, I think I might make it a bit too granular in terms of “There are 83 sub skills.” What do you think is kind of the right level of detail when defining the sub skills that we’re going to tackle?

Let’s say I want to be handy. I’m a homeowner now. I want to be handy around the house. It’s like, okay, well, we can talk about screwing screws. We can talk about drilling holes. We can talk about drywall. We can talk about furniture assembly, etcetera.

I think that it might be possible to subdivide it into a huge number of things and maybe, well, hey, being handy is a very broad thing that warrants that. But could you give me a sense for what’s roughly the right size of the piece when we think about a sub skill that we’re going to get our arms around?

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, so in an instance like that, I’m really glad you brought it up because you’re right, being handy is like a state of being that you develop over time. It’s hard to look at your day-to-day life and experience a moment where you think to yourself, “Wow, I have really accomplished being handy.”

Pete Mockaitis
I have arrived at handiness.

Josh Kaufman
Yes, like I’m here. But one thing that’s really useful in situations like these is to think in terms of discrete projects. So look around your house for all of things that you would want to change or improve.

So I think the drywall example is a really interesting one. Let’s say there’s a section of your house where for whatever reason the drywall needs to be replaced. Maybe it has dents in it. Maybe it wasn’t done well the first time, who knows. But there’s some section of wall where you want to do that.

That is breaking down this very meta ‘I want to be handy’ into ‘I want this particular section of my house to look good and having it look good requires drywall work.’ That gives you the context to figure out, “Okay, if I’m going to work on this piece of the house, here are all of the things that I’m going to need to learn how to do and here are some of the tools I need and here’s how I’m going to have to figure out how to get the drywall down.” You can start breaking it into smaller and smaller parts.

And then the practice of it might look like saying, “Okay, I’m going to try to replace this myself. And I’ve never done it before. I’m a little hesitant to do it, but it’s either going to be done or I’m going to put 20 hours into the doing of it.”

If you’re terrible and everything looks horrible and you need to hire somebody to fix all of your problems after the 20-hour-mark, great, but in the meantime you’re going to focus on solving this specific problem with the time you have allotted to it.

Pete Mockaitis
What I love about the 20 hours, to jump in there, is that it’s – on the one hand that seems like a crazy big amount of time if you think about someone who already knows what they’re doing. It’s like, this could be a one-, two-, three-hour job max for, uh, someone who’s uh, experienced with drywall. But you have laid it out that I’ve pre-committed to the 20 hours. The goal is to learn the thing such that I can deliver on this one project.

I think that does a huge service in terms of short-circuiting that frustration because if—if you find yourself in hour 16 like “This is insane. It’s taken me over five times as long as somebody who knows what they’re doing would take them,” you’d be like, “Ah yes, but I’m almost done and according to my 20-hour commitment, therefore I’m winning.”

Josh Kaufman
Yeah, totally. I really like um – there’s just something about making the commitment that short circuits all sorts of very detrimental things. The First 20 Hours, the first edition of the book was published in 2013.

And now like, five years later, having lived with this for a long time, every time I pick up a new skill, I have to think to myself, “Okay, I’m going to do this. If I’m terrible, I’m going to be terrible for 20 hours. If I don’t like it, if I’m having a miserable time, then I only am going to be miserable for 20 hours and then I can stop.”

But just making that mental shift of it’s okay if I’m not good at the beginning. It’s okay if it’s frustrating. I’m just going to push through that because I know that if I stick with it long enough at minimum I’m going to be a lot better than I was when I started.

Um so, there’s just a whole lot of excellent goodness in both letting it be hard, like not expecting it to not be because it very often is. It usually is. But then also helping to really shift into the mode of, um, not comparing your skills or abilities versus other people who have probably been doing it for a lot longer than you have.

Like, that’s a huge trap, both in skill acquisition, but also in business and creative endeavors in general. Like looking at somebody else and their level of development and expecting ourselves to have those skills and that level of development from hour zero.

This—this approach really helps you to hone in on, “Okay, where am I right now? Where do I want to be?” And then as you’re putting in the time, you can see yourself getting better and better and better.

It’s called the Power Law of Practice. It’s one of the most reliable, effects or studies in cognitive psychology. The first few hours that you practice something new, you will get dramatically better very, very quickly. It’s just a matter of sitting down to do the work in the first place and then persisting long enough to actually see that improvement happen.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that. I also really appreciate the notion of the comparisons and how, I guess, silly and futile and unproductive that is in the sense of I can imagine, it’s like well, you can think about something that you’re amazing at and then say, “Well, what if my contractor tried to start a podcast or deliver a keynote speech or write a book?” It’s like, things that I’m good at.

It’s like, “Well, he’d probably not so graceful and elegant, kind of the way I do right now as I’m hacking through this drywall and doing a comically poor job.”

Josh Kaufman
Absolutely. That’s exactly the way to think about it. Like, there are things that you have become amazing at because you have learned and practiced consistently over a very long period of time. That—that’s just how humans fundamentally improve at everything.

And so you can take that general insight is if you approach the early part of the process in a skillful way, so knowing it’s going to feel hard and it’s going to feel frustrating. And that’s okay. That’s expected. If you can get through that early part, then you can become better at anything that you put your mind to. It’s mostly a decision of what to work on and of all of the things that you could work on or improve at, what are the things that are going to give you most of the results that you want.

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

Josh Kaufman
This has been really great. I think the um, underlying theme of my work in general, and I have some new books that are in various stages of, of research right now, but I really try to focus on, on the, uh, straightforward, practical wisdom if that makes sense, just trying to understand important areas of life, figure out how to get really good results in that area, and describe it in a straightforward way.

If anyone decides to explore my work, I really hope that’s what they take away, whether it’s business or learning a new skill or tacking this big ambitious project you’ve always wanted to do, I hope you’ll take away some, um, very straightforward, very practical approaches and techniques that will help you get what you want.

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

Josh Kaufman
I love quotes. I collect them. It’s hard to pick a favorite. So there’s one attributed to Andy Rooney that I think about a lot, which is, “Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all of the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.”

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

Josh Kaufman
Well, all of my books are my collected research,so that’s kind of an ongoing uh, uh project. Part of how the personal MBA came to be, was reading a bunch of business books and—and pointing folks to the ones that I—I found most useful.

A book that I’m in the process of reading now, by Mo Bunnell called The Snowball System, which the best way I can describe it is like, sales and business development for normal people, who may approach the sales or business development process with a little bit of trepidation or not wanting to be a salesy person. Mo does a really, really great job of making sales and relationships very practical and very accessible. I’m about halfway through it and I’m really enjoying it so far.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. How about a favorite tool?

Josh Kaufman
Favorite tool. Well, we were talking about this a little earlier. I’m doing a lot of podcasts and audio book recording.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, you sound amazing.

Josh Kaufman
Thanks, yeah. So, so the microphone I’m talking into right now is the Mohave Audio MA-200. No joke I ordered I think it was 12 different microphones from various manufacturers. I spent—I spent like three solid days recording the same thing into each microphone and trying to compare how they sounded. This one is a really good one. If you do any sort of recording of any sort, I would highly recommend it.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Josh Kaufman
Favorite habit, so I am,  in the process of really firmly establishing a strength training routine. I have been exercising with kettle bells, which I love for all sorts of different reasons. They are inexpensive and compact. I used to live in New York City, so I could imagine myself having this in my former 340 square foot apartment. You can get a really excellent workout in about 25 minutes. In terms of return for your time and effort invested, it’s really high. You don’t have to spend hours in the gym every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks? They keep retweeting it and quoting you back to you.

Josh Kaufman
I think that one of the recent ones, which was related to Hydra, is about the idea of exploration. By virtue of doing it, you’re kind of committing to wandering lost in the woods for a while if that makes sense. So many of us feel really bad when it’s not immediately obvious where we should go next or what we should do next.

Part of understanding that this is an adventure and that adventure requires exploration and exploration involves being lost for a while. That’s something that a lot of people have seemed to find very useful recently.

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

Josh Kaufman
Best place to go is my website, JoshKaufman.net. From there you can find links to the various websites for The Personal MBA, The First 20 Hours, and How to Fight a Hydra.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a final challenge for folks seeking to be awesome at their job?

Josh Kaufman
Sure. We’ll go back to our conversation about defining very clearly what you want, what that looks like, what your day-to-day life looks like when you get it, what you’re going to be able to do when you reach the level of skill or development that you’re looking for.

The more clearly you’re able to articulate to yourself what you want, what that looks like, and very importantly, what you’re not willing to do in order to get it – so are there lines you won’t cross, are there tradeoffs that you’re not willing to make? The more you are able to understand the full details, the full scope of what you’re trying to get, the easier it’s going to be for you to figure out how to get it and figure out what you should do next.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Josh, this has been a load of fun. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise with us and you’re lovely sound over on the microphone.

Josh Kaufman
Thanks.

Pete Mockaitis
I wish you tons of luck with the hydra fighting and all you’re up to.

Josh Kaufman
Pete, this has been great. Thanks so much for inviting me.

377: How to Disarm the Energy Vampires at Work with Dr. Judith Orloff

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New York Times bestselling author and psychiatrist Dr. Judith Orloff shines on light on highly sensitive people, how to connect with them, and how to defend against forces that drain your energy.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The difference between ordinary empathy, highly sensitive people, and empaths
  2. Two ways to avoid absorbing the emotions of your environment
  3. The important skills the rest of us can learn from highly sensitive people

About Judith

Dr. Judith Orloff is a New York Times bestselling author who specializes in treating sensitive people in her Los Angeles based private practice. Dr. Orloff is on the psychiatric clinical faculty at UCLA. Her work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, PBS, and in USA Today and The Oprah Magazine, and the Los Angeles times.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Judith Orloff Interview Transcript

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

Judith Orloff
You’re very welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into some of your wisdom and expertise here. Could you maybe tell us the story of your journey and how you came to understand the concept of sensitive people?

Judith Orloff
Well, I wrote The Empath Survival Guide because I’m a psychiatrist and an empath. Being an empath is being an emotional sponge. It’s being so sensitive that you literally can absorb the emotions and even the physical symptoms of other people into your own body.

I knew that I had this ability when I was a little girl. I couldn’t go into shopping malls or crowded places because I’d walk in feeling fine and walk out exhausted or with some ache or pain I didn’t have before. My mother who was a physician, my father also a physician – I have 25 physicians in my family – she would say, “Oh dear, you just don’t have a thick enough skin.”

I grew up believing there was something wrong with me in terms of my sensitivities rather than they’re a gift and they need to be managed in a positive way so that’s why I wanted to write the book was to give sensitive people and empath skills on how to be sensitive and open and caring without absorbing the stress of the world into your own body.

Now how do you do that? What skills do you need? As a little girl I knew that I had these abilities and then when I went through medical school, I went to USC. I went to UCLA. My empathic skills kind of went under. I became more immersed in the science of behavior and the science of the body and biological truths of what was going on. It wasn’t until I opened my private practice in psychiatry that I began to use them again.

In fact, I had a dream about a patient that she was going to – actually, it wasn’t a dream; it was a wakened intuition that she was going to be commit suicide. I didn’t see any evidence clinically for that, so I didn’t bring it up with her. I ignored the dream and she in fact overdosed on the pills that I prescribed for her and luckily she lived.

But that was my wakeup call as a physician that I had to listen to my sensitivities and my intuition because it could extremely affect my patients’ health and wellbeing if I didn’t. Since that point, which was a long time ago, I’ve really incorporated my own sensitivities and my empathy and my intuition into patient care and into my personal life.

[3:00]

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that’s a powerful story. When it comes to the terminology, I just want to make sure we’re on the same page. When you say empath, I guess I’m thinking of Deanna Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation. You don’t mean that you can read people’s thoughts, but rather that you’re sensitive. Are these interchangeable terms, empath and a highly sensitive person, or how would you think about it?

Judith Orloff
They’re a little different. There’s a spectrum of empathy. Whereas, ordinary empathy, which is so beautiful is when your heart goes out to somebody and you feel what they’re feeling in joy or in pain. That’s kind of the middle of the spectrum.

Then if you go up a little bit on the spectrum you have highly sensitive people. These are people who are overwhelmed by sight, smells, sounds, noises, scratchy clothes, and like to be quiet. They’re usually introverts. They’re very sensorally sensitive.

Then if you go up one more notch on the empathy spectrum, you get the empath, who have all the sensory components of sensitivity to light and sound, etcetera, but their poor systems tend to absorb other people’s positive and negative emotions and other feelings into their own bodies and physical symptoms.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Now, I had heard in a previous conversation that the highly sensitive person has a different nervous system. It’s like biochemically structures are in fact different than that of a quote/unquote typical or non-highly sensitive person. Is the empath also have a nervous system that’s differentiatable from that of the highly sensitive person?

Judith Orloff
Well, I think empaths – interesting research on this that empaths have hyperactive mirror neuron systems, which means their compassion neurons are working overtime. They can see somebody they don’t even know who is in pain and they feel it in their own bodies. It’s too much. It’s overkill. It’s not healthy for the empath to do that. But it’s thought that the mirror neurons are hyperactive.

It’s thought in terms of the dopamine system in the body. Dopamine is a pleasure hormone that empaths need less of it to feel satisfied. That’s why they’re happy at home reading a book, whereas other people, extroverts require much more of a dopamine rush, so they love going to stadiums and big football games and parties and lots of dopamine there.

But it’s thought that empaths don’t need to have that dopamine rush because they’re satisfied with much less, which accounts for more of the quiet behavior.

[6:00]

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. All right, so if you find yourself in that situation, like you’re highly sensitive or an empath, what are some of your top tips in terms of just – you’ve got the book called The Empaths Survival Guide – surviving, not getting the illness or getting bogged down in feeling blue because of what you’re picking up around you?

Judith Orloff
Right, good question. The first thing that sensitive people need to do is conscious breath, where the minute you feel like you’re picking up something from somebody else, whether it’s their anger or their depression or their low energy, you have to begin breathing it out.

The breath is sacred prana. It’s a purification system in the body. The more you breathe, the more you can begin to circulate whatever it is that you picked up. That’s important because many empaths hold their breath. They get afraid and they get overwhelmed. They get on sensory overload, which is very common for empaths, and they just hold their breath. The first thing you do is breathe.

Then the second thing, I always teach my empathy patients, is to learn how to set healthy boundaries as you have to learn that no is a complete sentence and that you have to be ready to say, “No, I’m sorry. I can’t go out tonight,” or, “No, I’m sorry. I can’t take on that project, I’m too booked already,” something like that because empaths are people pleasers.

They wear an invisible sign around them that says, “I can help you,” so people flock to empaths from far and wide just to tell you their life story.

I could be sitting in an airport minding my own business in my little bubble and somebody will sit next to me and start up with the most intimate things, which I’m not really open to at that point. I’ve learned to set limits and say something like, “This is my time to be quiet and do my work on my computer, so I’m not really open to talking.”

But empaths are not used to speaking that way to people. They feel like it’s impolite. They feel like they’re going to sacrifice themselves just so the other person would be happy. Empaths need to set healthy boundaries. It’s often a process, where you just have to set a small one and then a bigger one and a bigger one, so you get used to it because an empath who doesn’t set boundaries is going to be exhausted.

That’s the downside of being an empath is you take on so much. You’re tired, exhausted, on sensory overload, too much is coming in too fast, you don’t know what to do with it. It affects your relationship. It affects your health. Empaths get fibromyalgia, adrenal fatigue because their stress response is going constantly because they’re always taking in stimuli.

[9:00]

That’s just not healthy, so the setting of the boundaries really helps to say no and narrow what you take in via your ears or your eyes or who you communicate with or how long you talk on the phone. You don’t talk for two hours; you talk for three minutes. You begin to understand and work with these very practical issues so that you can have a healthier life, where empaths can thrive.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve got the breathing and the setting of boundaries. I’m also curious to get your take on if we don’t find ourselves in the categories of sensitive people or empaths, what are some of the potential ways that we can kind of tap into some of the wisdom or perspective or super power, if you will, that our counterparts have?

Judith Orloff
All right, well the first thing I teach my patients who are non-empaths is to listen to their intuition rather than just stay in their head because if you stay in your head and you’re analyzing and thinking all the time, that’s stopping you from empathizing and feeling.

It’s important if you want to empathize and develop that, to have good eye contact, not intrusive eye contact, but just really look at somebody in the eyes rather than having your eyes darting around or checking your texts or whatever to take you out of your sense of presence. Listen from your heart.

If somebody starts sharing a lot of emotions – this happens with a lot of couples that I work with, where one is an empath and one is an intellectual. The intellectual has to learn how to listen from his or her heart and not try and get in there and fix things too quickly. That’s very irritating for an empath to have somebody do that.

Pete Mockaitis
In practice, how does one listen with your heart well?

Judith Orloff
Well, I call it holding space, where you can hold a space for somebody without judging them, without having to say anything, without intervening, just having a very loving countenance and sending loving energy from your heart and wishing the person well basically and not getting in there and doing anything other than holding a very positive energy for somebody and a loving look in your eyes.

It’s really liberating to have someone do that when you’re going – as an empath, I’ll just speak for myself, if I’m going through some intense emotion or if I’m going through something where I really need to be listened to and held and contained in a certain way with safety, just to have somebody hold a space like that, lovingly, makes all the difference.

Instead of reacting to me, instead of trying to fix me, instead of trying to solve the issue, just holding that space in the beginning is really helpful and calming.

[12:00]

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so in a way it’s more about what you’re not doing than what you are doing it sounds like in terms of it’s not so much that we need to access some profound sense of connectedness to the particular emotions as it is just kind of keep your mouth shut and pleasantly smile and listen and allow the conversation to unfold without judgment or rushing to fix, analyze, solve something.

Judith Orloff
Well, that’s certainly a good beginning.

Pete Mockaitis
Great, okay. That’s good stuff. Then I want to get your take on, you have in particular, listed out, enumerated five emotional or energy vampires. Could you identify what those are and particularly how they might pop up in the workplace and how we should go about defending against them?

Judith Orloff
Yeah. Well, I hope I pick the five that you’re speaking of. There are a lot of different kinds of energy vampires.

But one of them is the victim or the ‘poor me’ person, who everything is not their fault. Everything is the world’s fault. Everything is falling apart. His mother doesn’t understand me. My boyfriend just broke up with me. My boss is not appreciating my work.

They keep you on the phone for two hours complaining and when you try and put in a solution, they say, “Yes, but-“ “Yes, you’re right, but-“ and then they start up again.

If you identify with having people like that in your life, the key is to set limits with the amount of time you talk to them. Don’t enable them because a lot times people enable these victims by saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that,” and on, and on, and on. Then they call you the next night with the same story, and the next night, and then you’re screening your calls, and you don’t want to pick up the phone. It’s a vicious cycle.

You have to begin to speak up. It’s the victim is the first one. It’s very common in the workplace.

Also the drama queen, that’s another type of energy vampire. This is somebody who wears you out with off-the-chart dramas, where everything is a drama. The little spot on my arm is cancer. The world is falling apart. I’m going to be fired at any moment. This person-

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Or they invent like someone said something and they kind of infer from that all kinds of ill will and “Could you believe that they think that blah, blah, blah, blah.” It’s like, “Well, they never really said that. You just kind of made that up. It might be accurate, but it might very well not be.”

[15:00]

Judith Orloff
Yeah, no, exactly. That’s a drama queen or king. It’s both sexes when they get into it. Most importantly don’t ask this person how they’re doing at work. You don’t want to – you see them coming, you just want to smile and not ask them because then they’ll start up.

Then you want to use the I’m-not-interested body language, where you just kind of subtly point your body in a different direction rather than looking deeply into their eyes or pointing directly at them and looking intensely at them as if you’re interested, which you’re probably not because you have your own work to do and you have other things happening. You don’t want to – you don’t have the time to take to listen to all this.

When you don’t give them juice, they go on to another victim. If you say, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you and I’ve got to get back to my work. I’ll hold good thoughts for you,” and you say it in a very matter-of-fact tone.

Now this is hard for empaths because they want to fix everybody. Coming from an empath soul, you see somebody who is in pain and you want to make them feel better. You just want to. You just can’t live that way. You can’t make everybody feel better. You can’t fix everyone.

Those of you who are sensitive people or empaths out there, if you notice you’re caretaker or you’re a fixer, you want to fix people, that’s something to really work on in yourself because you sacrifice your vital energy if you do that. You can certainly help family members who are in need or somebody who’s close to you, but not everybody. Empaths want to help everybody and then they end up exhausted in bed.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How about the next vampire?

Judith Orloff
The next vampire is a narcissist. The narcissist is someone who’s me, me, me. Everything is about them. They can be charming and seductive and intelligent, but the minute you don’t do something according to their program, they become cold, withholding, punishing, judgmental or give you the silent treatment. That’s what happens with some couples that I work with, who one is the narcissist and he or she just gives them the silent treatment for weeks as a punishment.

Narcissists have what’s called empathy deficient disorder. What that means is they’re not capable of empathy as we know it.

But there’s a toxic attraction between empaths and narcissists. I go into this in depth in The Empath Survival Guide because I want to warn people away from these relationships. They’re extremely toxic and dangerous to sensitive people. The narcissist, it doesn’t hurt them much because nothing much hurts them.

[18:00]

It’s so hard for empaths to grasp that because they think that everybody feels like they do in terms of caring. It’s so hard to grasp that there can be a human being who actually doesn’t feel things in that way. They’re wired neurologically differently than other people with regular empathy or being an empath.

They have to lower their expectations of narcissists, not confide in them, don’t get triggered by them in terms of asking them to understand deep parts of you that they don’t really care to understand, and just see them as being crippled in a certain sense in their hearts because they care about themselves and they’ll care about you as long as you’re doing something that pleases them, but the minute you go against them, they’ll wage war. This isn’t a good partnership possibility.

If you’re stuck with a boss who’s a narcissist, which is very common. I work in Los Angeles and work with a lot of people in the entertainment industry and it’s a real challenge to work with narcissistic bosses.

Pete Mockaitis
Are there a couple narcissists in the entertainment industry per chance?

Judith Orloff
Yeah, a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
If you do have a boss, what are your key steps then?

Judith Orloff
Well, to lower your expectations. Go through the book and see the criteria for narcissists. The great thing is they fit the bill every time. They’re very easy to diagnose.

You have to be able to recognize them and not be prone to seduction because they can act like they have empathy, especially in romantic situations. They, “Oh, you’re so beautiful. Oh here, let’s go on a vacation. Let’s – you’re,” whatever they’re going to do to sweep you off your feet. But the minute they really have to be there in an intimate way, they’re not – it’s not possible. It’s a false front, which is so deceptive.

They do gaslighting when you’re in a relationship with them. Gaslighting is when they make you feel like you’re going crazy. Where you say, “Oh, the sky is so beautiful today. The blue is so pretty.” “What the sky is not blue. The sky’s magenta. What’s wrong with you?” That’s how they beat an empath’s self-esteem down in a relationship over many years.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. What’s the next vampire?

[21:00]

Judith Orloff
The next vampire is the judger or the blamer, the criticizer, where they cut you down by criticizing you and saying, “Oh, you’d be so beautiful if it wasn’t for your hair,” or, “You look like you’ve gained a little weight, haven’t you?” Those kinds of cutting comments. They put you down to raise themselves up.

Pete Mockaitis
If you’re dealing with that at work, how we respond?

Judith Orloff
Well, work is always the hardest thing, but it depends who it is also. If it’s somebody who is an equal and you can speak honestly with them, you can say, “That really hurt my feelings when you said that. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t comment about my shoes or my hair or my appearance.” That’s when you can be honest with somebody. You have to keep setting those kinds of limits too with people because they don’t learn all at once.

But if it’s let’s say a co-worker who’s criticizing you, number one, don’t be emotionally triggered by it. You have to work on your own self-esteem and shift the topic away from that to a solution. It just depends on how honest you can be with somebody.

There are people at work you just have to put up with. Your work is to work on your own self-esteem, to meditate, to center yourself. Don’t buy into it, whatever they’re saying about you because people have all kinds of opinions and as it is said, opinions are the lowest form of knowledge.

You have to really strengthen your own self esteem if you can’t honestly give people feedback. But if it’s family members, if it’s friends, you better give them feedback because that’s not acceptable in a friendship or in a loving relationship to be criticized all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, how about the final vampire?

Judith Orloff
The final vampire would be the passive aggressive. This is connected to the rage-aholic and the anger addict. It’s the flip side of it. The rage-aholic is one energy vampire, who cuts you down with anger and rage and dumps anger on you, which to empaths feels toxic and painful.

I personally have a no yelling rule in my house or around me because it’s just – I’m sensitive to sound first of all, so a yelling voice and somebody who’s dumping toxic energy all over me  is just not acceptable. I set that limit for myself. I teach my patients to do that.

The way to deal with anger is to make an appointment to talk about it. Make a request. Say, “Is now a good time?” “No.” “How about tomorrow morning?” “Yes.” “All right.”

Then stick to one cause of the anger. It’s called venting versus dumping. You say, “I’m angry that you left me sitting in the restaurant.” You talk about that. You don’t bring in the kitchen sink with it and everything else you’re angry with. There’s a skill to dealing with an anger addict.

[24:00]

A passive aggressive is somebody who is angry but with a smile. They don’t have the angry affect, but they say these god-awful things to you that sting and feel like you’re being poked with a smile. It’s just the passive form of anger.

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

Judith Orloff
Just that if you’re a sensitive person, you can deal with these energy vampires. I look at them as teachers. How can they teach you to learn how to set clear boundaries? How can they teach you to develop your self-esteem if you’re being triggered by them? How are they going to teach you to improve your communication skills?

Instead of feeling victimized, try and see what you can learn from them and choose people who are positive and loving and creative and supportive to be around you in your circle. Don’t choose these energy vampires.

If you have a choice, which you don’t always because sometimes they’re family members, choose to have the positive, loving people around you so you can get all that love, and the positivity, and the connection, and the fun because empaths feel that to an extreme as well.

It’s extremely pleasurable to have a good friend that you can trust or to have that level of connection with people that is so gratifying and fulfilling. You want to have positive people around you as much as possible and … that.

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

Judith Orloff
Well, I love the Dalai Lama quote that “The most precious human quality is empathy.” It’s the most precious. Really think about that. The most – what is the most precious human quality is empathy.

Then also I love Emily Dickenson, “I am large. I contain multitudes,” just to remember how large we are and how multifaceted and vast our spirits are and how nothing can stop us and to feel that radiance in your spirit and the largeness of who you are and your connection to the universe. I’ve always loved that quote so much.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite study?

Judith Orloff
A favorite research study?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Judith Orloff
I love the study that was done on making intuitive choices. When you make a choice where you’re about to make a big choice like buying a car, buying a house, that this study has found – and it was done in Sweden – that when you sleep on the subject, you get better information and make a better choice than when you just make impulsive decisions.

[27:00]

What that means to me is that the dreaming process and the replenishment process that goes on during sleep can help with decision making and that we need to depend on that more than just our waking minds or in addition, as a companion to the waking mind when we make our decisions.

I’m a big believer in dreaming and remembering your dreams, writing your dreams down and using that information for your life. I have dream journals that I’ve kept since I was a little girl. I write a lot about dreams. In fact, there’s a type of empath called a dream empath. A dream empath is somebody who’s very attuned to their dreams and can remember them and seeks guidance from them and lets the dream time help to guide their lives.

This study is an elegant way of pointing to that in terms of framing it around decision making. It’s a wonderful study.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Judith Orloff
My favorite book – I have a lot of favorite books, but my favorite book was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Judith Orloff
I read that. That just saved me as a child because I’ve always been against conformity and I’ve always believed in the power of love, just – I don’t know if you saw the movie. Oprah actually made a movie out of it recently, where she was one of the magical female creatures that came to help the little boy find his father.

But anyways, they go to a planet where everything is censored basically. All the children have to bounce the ball at the same rate. Everybody has to look the same. Everybody has to do the same thing. That’s always terrified me. I always fought for originality and creativity. It’s a story about how you overcome that with the deep power of love and how you can reunite family and really create more love even when in the darkest of the dark situations. I love that book.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

Judith Orloff
A tool? You mean – what kind of a tool are you referring to?

Pete Mockaitis
Just something you use that helps you be awesome at your job.

Judith Orloff
A pen because I’m a writer.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular pen that you love?

Judith Orloff
I love the very thin Sharpies.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yes, me too.

[30:00]

Judith Orloff
Love the thin Sharpies. I take notes on everything, on napkins, on random pieces of paper. If I’m in the gym on the treadmill and I get an idea for my writing, I’ll stop and go get a piece of paper, write it, put it in my bra until later, and I’ll pull it out. I’m a big believer in writing, journaling, and having paper around and getting those dreams down, getting those ideas down.

I use the computer when I write. I use the computer way too much, but there’s something so elegant and wonderful about the written word and writing it with your hand, having a pen in hand. It‘s so archetypal. I would say those thin Sharpies. I have a bunch of them all over my house, and my office, and my car.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite habit?

Judith Orloff
Meditation. It’s a practice. I meditate first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening before I go to bed and hopefully during the day as well. It’s a way to center myself.

It’s a wonderful tool for empaths to decrease stimulation, to connect with your own heart, to quiet the stress response and all the adrenaline rushing through your system and to connect to a higher power, connect to spirit, however you want to define it by sitting and breathing and putting your hand on your heart and letting thoughts go by, not attaching to them.

As you reconnect to your heart, your breath, and your body, you can calm your whole system and you can begin to feel a sense of love that is sometimes hard when you’re just in your head, you’re thinking all the time. But you can feel a sense of love and connection, universal connection.

I have kind of an altar, which is very precious to me where I meditate. It has flowers and incense and fruit, candles, pictures of various spiritual teachers and Guan Yin, the goddess of compassion. It’s a place I love to go. I have cushions, so I sit and meditate. It’s very, very important to me, that ritual or habit as you call it.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect, resonate with folks and gets sort of quoted frequently about—from you?

Judith Orloff
Yeah, it’s a revelation to find out if you’re an empath. Ever since I’ve been discussing this I get so many emails and calls and workshop participants who are waking up to the fact that they are not crazy. There’s nothing wrong with them. They’re not being neurotic. They’re just sensitive. Empaths have a wide open sensibility and sensitivity, which is empowering. There’s nothing wrong with you.

[33:00]

I think that’s the nugget. There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s something right with you. If you can awaken your intuition and your empathy, the deep empathy for yourself and other people and begin to learn strategies, some of which we’ve talked about to protect your energy from getting exhausted, worn out or from energy vampires, I think that’s the nugget.

This is a particular personality type. If you fit in, then if you go into therapy, you don’t want to go on medication right away. There’s other strategies to dealing with this. It changes everything when it comes to freeing yourself from exhaustion and fear, negativity. You can then get stronger, energetically and emotionally so that you’re not absorbing so much angst from the world.

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

Judith Orloff
You can go to my website. That’s www.DrJudithOrloff.com. I also have an Empath Survival Guide online course there that people can watch at their convenience. It’s a video course explaining different aspects of being an empath. I do videos for each lesson, which can be very helpful to explain how do you be an empath at work, how are you an empath in love relationships, empaths in health. There are different areas to really understand yourself in a much deeper level. That’s also at DrJudithOrloff.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a final challenge or call – let’s just try that again. Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Judith Orloff
Dare to be empathic. Dare to care for people and not be self-absorbed with all of your own issues. Let your empathy and caring show. Tell someone, “You look great today,” just go out of your way for somebody else because everybody’s struggling with their own things. I can guarantee you that. When you just say a simple kind word to somebody or are empathic with them for just a moment, it can shift everything for them and it also, it gives back to you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Dr. Orloff, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks so much for sharing the good word and good luck with all you’re up to.

Judith Orloff
Thank you very much.

376: How to Become the Success Nobody Saw Coming: Research Insights into “Dark Horses” from Harvard’s Todd Rose

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Bestselling author and Harvard professor Todd Rose dissects how Dark Horses became successful and how you can apply their secret to live a reliably fulfilling career and life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The implications of pursuing personal fulfillment vs. power, wealth, or prestige
  2. The most important step to understanding what fulfills you
  3. Why fulfillment isn’t just for the rich

About Todd

Todd Rose was a high school dropout with D- grades and a GPA of 0.9.  He caused a ruckus in class and was suspended several times. He married his teenage girlfriend and by the age of 21, was trying to support a wife and two sons on welfare and minimum wage jobs.

In less than a decade, Rose was able to turn his life around from a dead-end factory job to the most influential spheres of American academia. Today he’s the director of the Mind, Brain, and Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and cofounder of Populace, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming how we learn, work, and live. His previous book, The End of Average, was a best seller and his talks have been featured at TedX, the Aspen Ideas Festival, SXSW, Google, Microsoft, Pixar, Costco, JP Morgan, Chevron, and Colin Powell’s America’s Promise.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Todd Rose Interview Transcript

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

Todd Rose
And thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom here, but first I want to hear a bit about your story because it’s a unique one with some twists and inspiration. Can you lay it on us?

Todd Rose
Sure. Yeah. Today I’m a professor at Harvard, but I have the distinction of also being a high school dropout. Actually, it’s even worse than that. I dropped out with a 0.9 GPA, which I really believe you have to work super hard to do that poorly. By the time-

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious, and did you or how did you find yourself with a 0.9 GPA?

Todd Rose
It was interesting. From a very early age – I grew up in rural America and the school I was going to was all about conformity and it just didn’t fit. It kind of snowballed, where it doesn’t work and then it really doesn’t work and then you’re like, “Screw it. I’m just going to do what I need to do.” And like, I think if I just would have shown up in class enough, they probably would have passed me just to get me out of their class.

But I did that and I ended up – my girlfriend got pregnant. She’s still my wife today. We ended up on welfare with two kids, working a string of minimum wage jobs before realizing I got to do something different with my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Todd Rose
Yeah, that was the short version. And then ended up going to night school at Weber State University, an open enrollment university, mainly out of desperation. Not because I had some grand vision for what my life was going to be.

Through that process, really discovered who I was, discovered what mattered to me. I was able to turn that into something, which in my case turned out to be academia of all places, which I just couldn’t believe at the time. I ended up getting my doctorate at Harvard. Did a post-doc at the Center for Astrophysics and then came back as a faculty member.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m just intrigued with this astrophysics. Fellowship at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Okay, wow. There you go.

Todd Rose
It was a funny thing because it actually came out of a hunch that I had that I was working with an astrophysicist named Matt Schneps. We had this hunch based on some of the genetic and neuroscience work we’d done that actually people who have trouble reading, would have very specific talents with visual stuff. And there was no better place than in astrophysics.

I got funded. We went there. I did a post doc. I got to learn a lot about science, truthfully, really taught me how to be a scientist more than anywhere else. But I got to study astrophysicists and how they detect black holes. It was so cool. It was to me just this luxury for a couple of years that was just fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is really cool. And I want to dig into a little bit of the Weber State part of it. This is a whole other conversation, but I think people talk about the – to what extent is America, United States, still a place where if you’ve got grit and hustle and determination, you can make something of your life and yourself regardless of the circumstances you’re born into versus are the scales wildly uneven.

That’s a giant conversation for a whole podcast, but I want to get your sense of so there you were. You sort of found the something inside of you to stick with it. What was that something?

Todd Rose
Well, at first it really was desperation because no kidding the last job I had before I decided I was going to go to college, I actually was working in a factory and then was a minimum wage job and then this home nurse assistant job came open, but no kidding I had to drive around and give people enemas. That was my job. I was like, look, it’s honest work and it’s important someone does it, but I was like, “there has to be more than this.”

For me, it was largely – my dad was the first high school graduate in our family. I remember when I was in middle school, he came home one day – and he was a mechanic. He said, “Look, for me I think there’s something more.” And he said, “I’m going to go to school.”

Well, no one in any of our families had gone to college. That wasn’t a thing that you do. And yet, he had figured it out. His parents actually weren’t happy about it. They thought he was kind of – he was big timing them. Yet, he still – he did that.

He became a mechanical engineer and he’s one of the most accomplished airbag designers in the country now. He’s got lots of patents. He’s done amazing work. I watched what education did in terms of changing our lives and life circumstances. So I realized that’s probably the way to go. I knew that much. What I didn’t know is like, “Okay, where does this path go?”

I got my GED. I went there. Didn’t want to go back. What was remarkable, it was really – it’s an open enrollment school. It takes all comers, which I think is the future of our country, frankly, is where the innovation has to go.

But it was actually the relationships I developed with faculty and people who taught me how to think about who I am and help me make I think kind of interesting decisions about what would help me get on a better path for myself.

But as I developed my abilities there, I went from thinking I was a terrible learner and didn’t have a lot of talent to thinking actually maybe I’m pretty good at a couple of things, to thinking actually maybe I’m reasonably smart. That was just a process. But it was just a remarkable one for me and something I’m always grateful for.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve done a lot of work there associated with The End of Average and how, we’re not average-sized people. We’re not average learners. That’s silly. We’ve got to really get customized on different dimensions of the brain and people and how they’re operating, which is really cools stuff. Could you orient us a little bit to what you’re doing now at Harvard? Then I want to talk about your book.

Todd Rose
Sure. So at Harvard I do a couple things. I’m the director of the Mind, Brain, and Education program, which is this really cool interdisciplinary program that brings neuroscience and psychology to issues of learning both in schools, but also workplaces and things like that.

Then I also run this thing called the Laboratory for the Science of Individuality. And in the lab, just as you were saying, there’s this cool revolution going on in science that most people don’t know about, which is we’re done studying averages, groups of people. It turns out that kind of science doesn’t really predict very much about individual people’s lives. That’s been true in everything from studying individual cells to cancer progression, to how kids learn.

Everything that people hear about, whether it’s personalized medicine, personalized nutrition, personalized education, is all coming because this science is giving us very, very actionable insights about individuals. We contribute to that science.

The third thing I do is I have a think tank that does a lot of my public-facing sort of work, called Populace.

I think academia is a fantastic place for science and reflection, but isn’t the best at action. It’s just not what it’s built for, so created this thing called Populace. Our purpose is to get these ideas to the public in a way that helps them be part of deciding where we go as a society because all of this technology and know-how is bringing deep personalization to everything that we do as a people.

That could turn out well. It could be really, really valuable, but it also could become incredibly manipulative. Right? It could be incredibly divisive in terms of the have’s and have not’s. Populace exists to ensure that we take the right path.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Let’s talk about your book here, Dark Horse: Achieving Success Through the Pursuit of Fulfillment, sort of what’s your main thesis here?

Todd Rose
The basic thesis is this: that we’ve been told that the way to be successful is essentially follow the standard path and try to be the same as everybody else only better. The thesis is basically, if you want the most surefire way to be excellent and happy, it’s actually to prioritize personal fulfillment and make choices off of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so you’re prioritizing personal fulfillment as opposed to what are the top alternative s that get prioritized instead of personal fulfillment.

Todd Rose
Yeah, and this is what we feel like society pressures us into. Usually it’s some combination of wealth, status or power. You think about picking the kind of college major you’re going to take or the job you’re going to do or the promotion you might go after. There’s a lot of pressure for prestige and showing that you make a lot of money.

That kind of view of success is very comparative. It’s like, “Am I better than somebody else? Do I make more than somebody else?” We know this. It’s like keeping up with the Joneses. We know this. It’s also terribly zero sum. We tend to think somebody has to lose for me to win.

Personal fulfillment just orients things internally. It’s about achieving things that matter to you. It’s very personal because the things that will matter to you aren’t the same as things that matter to me.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. This reminds me. I remember I had a buddy in high school. He loved cars, just all about cars. He knew the in’s and the out’s of the V6’s the V8’s, the V4’s, all the stuff. I don’t so much know cars. I remember his family – he said it was because “Oh, it’s my Indian parents.” I don’t want to paint with a broad brush. I’m sure people of all ethnicity and races can do this to their children.

But he said that he wanted to do something with cars, like own a car dealership and do repair or sort of body work and retool them, make them awesome, this kind of vision or dream for him and cars. His parents said, “Yes, yes that’s fine. You can do that. But you have to go to medical school first.”

Todd Rose
Medical school to be a good mechanic.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Todd Rose
…. But that’s a perfect example. The truth is most of these parents are doing it not because they don’t want their kids to be happy, but because they are convinced that there are a handful of paths that really bring stability. Right?

They think, “Well, look, if you just go to medical school, you’re going to have a great job. You’re going to get paid a lot and then you can kind of dabble in the things that make you happy on the side.” The truth is that was actually a pretty good suggestion for a long time in this country. Right? Through most of our sort of industrial age, there were just a few paths.

My argument is simply that that’s really not true anymore and that in an age of AI and automation and a very diverse economy, this idea of figuring out you love cars more than anything else, let’s have that person go ahead and find a career and a life that revolves around that because they’re going to be deeply engaged, which means they’re going to be more productive and they’re going to be happy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes. This is reminding me of some of the Shawn Achor research with the happiness advantage in terms of the engagement and the happiness and how it’s all kind of linked up there. You say that these dark horses, which you define as folks who just succeeded and no one saw them coming. It’s like, “Surprise. I have huge accomplishments now and you never expected that from me.”

Todd Rose
Yeah. What’s so funny is so this whole thing – it didn’t start out meaning to be a book at all. It started out as a project at Harvard, where we were just kind of interested why – we all know about dark horses. When they’re successful, there’s usually some media attention, people get excited about it like, “Wow, that’s amazing.” Then that’s it.

We feel comfortable just walking away as if there’s nothing we can learn from them because it seems like, too one-off, like, “oh, it’s too risk. They were lucky or super talented,” or whatever excuse we make. We thought, maybe that’s true, but let’s just study them.

We thought maybe someone’s looked at them and no one had. We ended up studying a wider range of fields and people from all walks of life as we could. After studying hundreds of people, I was looking for do they have anything in common.

I have to say, I’d like to tell you that I knew that it would prioritizing fulfillment, not even close. I like to, before we start any project, write down my hypotheses so I hold myself to them.

Pete Mockaitis
Of course I always do at this point.

Todd Rose
Yeah, like not revise it after. … new. Here’s what I thought it would be. I thought to be a dark horse you would have to have a certain kind of personality. You’d have to be someone who doesn’t mind bucking the system, like a Steve Jobs, Richard Branson because it’s kind of rough, right? You’re going to against the grain and people aren’t going to be that happy.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that just simply wasn’t true. Twenty people in, you realized their personalities are all over the place. The thing that was crazy to me is that I kept asking them questions about – I wanted to know were their tricks about they got great at things. All they wanted to talk about was how they figured out what really mattered to them.

Then they would use things like fulfillment. They’d talk about fulfillment or meaning and purpose. I was like, no, this can’t be it. It seemed too squishy and fluffy. I wanted – I’m usually a numbers guy. All of my research is quantitative up until this point. I just didn’t want to hear it. But it just kept coming through.

They prioritize personal fulfillment over someone else’s view of success. That is why they end up on these very individual paths. It’s also, we believe, what allows them to be successful and happy.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. In a way it sounds sort of too simple and somewhat squishy, but you mentioned that they kind of kept coming back to kind of tools or approaches, like how they came to these discoveries about themselves. Could you give us an example and tell us some of these strategies?

Todd Rose
Yeah. Exactly as you were saying. It’s one thing for someone to say, “Look, it’s all about living a fulfilling life.” Is that what you say after you’re successful?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Todd Rose
You rewrite your own history. We really pushed hard and realized, no, they’re prioritizing it early. What we were interested in is well, okay, how is this not follow your bliss off a cliff, right? Because it’s not the first time someone said, “Pursue happiness.” Follow whatever. We were digging into okay, what is it that makes this actionable really.

It turns out there’s a handful of things that they know that really does make this what we call a “dark horse mindset” a reliable path to success. The first thing – if you don’t get this right, we have plenty of non-examples, where if you don’t have this it doesn’t turn out very well, which is they have a deep, deep understanding of what really motivates them.

That sounds so simple. Who doesn’t know what motivates them. But I would actually argue most of us don’t really know what motivates us.

All you have to do is look at the engagement research. Gallup shows that the vast majority of Americans are disengaged in their jobs. Something like 30%, I don’t know the exact number, they’re called actively disengaged, which sounds kind of crazy to me, but actively disengaged. A majority of kids are disengaged in school in this country. Something’s wrong there. If we were so smart about what motivates us, wouldn’t we have made better decisions?

So dark horses do something that I thought was really, really interesting, which is when we think about what motivates us, most of us go to the way society talks about it, which is these big universal things, like, “Okay, are you more about …-”

Pete Mockaitis
….

Todd Rose
-or competition or whatever.” Some of those are true, right? But what we found with dark horses is that motivation is very, very individual, that people are motivated by a wide range of things, some of them big and universal and some of them are very, very specific to the individual.

All that matters is that you figure that out and you figure out that mosaic of what motivates you because then you’re going to make decisions that sort of check those boxes. When you’ve got a choice between A and B and A checks ten of your motives and B checks three, you know which one to pick. That starting point of figuring out what we call your micro-motives is by far the most important first step.

Pete Mockaitis
When you’re saying micro-motives, you’re saying hey, it’s much more individualized and specific and precise than competition. Could you lay it out for us, either yourself or a few of your dark horses, like this is what a micro-motive sounds like? Like it’s not competition, it’s like seeing my opponent squashed on the mat or …. I don’t know.

Todd Rose
It’s even crazier than that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Todd Rose
Again, certainly competition and those things are true for people. But – and we can imagine that being a motive. But what about aligning physical objects with your hands. That for me-

Pete Mockaitis
There we go.

Todd Rose
-saying it right now, I’m like, who in the world would be motivated by that, like truly motivated, not like it’s a nice thing to have, but I need this in my life.

Pete Mockaitis
So they’re misaligned, you mean the silverware drawer is askew or what do you mean by aligning objects with your hands?

Todd Rose
Like, for example, becoming an engineer that is actually aligning copper wire to fiber optic to solve one of the biggest problems in the telecommunications industry 30 years ago. That kind of stuff. This guy – we talked to this guy who – this is a primary motive for him, among other things. He’s this engineer, but then when that doesn’t – he gets out of it because – for a number of reasons.

But he is now the top upholstery repair person in New York City, which you’d never think of those two jobs as being the same, except for upholstery repair is terribly difficult and you’re fixing family heirlooms and leather, where you’ve got to align these things. He is just so happy and so good at what he does. We also-

Pete Mockaitis
I love this so much. It’s precise and beautiful. Please continue, more and more micro-motives.

Todd Rose
How about, again, we can imagine something like collaboration being great, but what about someone who truly is motivated by organizing people’s closets.

We talked to a woman who was a political rock star, who had basically worked at local, state, federal, all the way into a great job at the White House, so good at what she did. She realizes one day as she’s leaving the White House, she gets asked to help run Bloomberg’s government in New York. She realizes she can’t get out of bed. She can’t figure out why. This should be the next step.

She comes to the realization of what’s missing as she’s organizing her own closet. For her, everything is about being able to create order on behalf of other people, right? The benefits to other people that come from having their lives have order and meaning like that. She realized everything she loved early on in politics was about that, not about beating the competition, not about winning, but this.

As she rose in the ranks, you get less and less opportunity to do that. She said, “What am I supposed to do with that?” Except for she realized, wait a minute, there’s a whole field called professional organizers. She didn’t even realize they existed. She figures out, “Wait a minute. This is like what I’m born to do. I love helping people and I love organizing.” She literally loves closets more than anything because she sees it as the most intimate form of organizing for people.

She starts a company. Now she’s one of the most prominent in both New York and Florida. She makes great money. She loves what she does.

Over and over again, we found that what dark horses did got them on this right path is they really had this deep understanding of that quirky collection of things that matters to them. Even if they don’t matter to anybody else, that’s okay because it’s what gets them out of bed. They’re going to use those micro motives to start making decisions in their life big and small and that’s what gets you on the path to fulfillment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, so aligning physical objects with your hands, creating order on behalf of others. Let’s hear a few more micro-motives.

Todd Rose
Some of them get a little more familiar you think, we talked to a woman who owns a flower shop, florist stuff and decorator, like that. She has this really interesting motive, where it’s like she likes to arrange floral stuff, but it has to include non-floral stuff.

She has this really weird combination of things. If she’s just arranging flowers, that’s not good enough. If she was just doing stuff with non-flowers, that’s not good enough. When you combine the two, it’s magic for her.

Another one, which I thought was remarkable, I just – for me none of these things are actually motivating. It’s like, I’m like, “Are you sure?” When you talk them and they just light up. They can’t imagine a world where they don’t get to do this. Imagine someone being motivated by literally holding paper in their hands.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there’s some good papers out there.

Todd Rose
Yeah, right.

Pete Mockaitis
I could be fired up if it’s the right paper.

Todd Rose
Interviewed a woman who is one of the most famous art conservators in the country, but for her it’s not any kind of art. It has to be paper. Her ability – she said, “Look, to be able to hold it” and it’s history and everything it means. She talks about it in great tactile detail. For her, she wouldn’t even take a promotion or move onto something else that would take her away from doing that.

Now, as a result she has actually been responsible for the restoration, some of the most prominent paintings and other kinds of things in the country.

But, time and time again, this is it. We all have things big and small that motivate us. If we turn to what society tells us should matter, we get in trouble because we’re not really listening to who we are. Now I would say probably the next question because I know you’re all about practical stuff and application I like, “Well, wait a minute, how do I start to figure this out then?”

Pete Mockaitis
I will absolutely ask you that question. But if I could first get even some more micro-motives when it comes to – those that you mentioned, they seem to fall under the category of I guess maybe sensory, tactile. Could you share a few that are maybe not something that you can see and smell and touch?

Todd Rose
Yeah. We talked to a woman who – probably most things end up manifesting in some ways in having some physical interaction with it, but talked to a woman who was – actually one of my favorite people. She loved music. That seems like, well, of course, … people do, except for she doesn’t like being in front of people. She doesn’t want to be famous. She doesn’t even want to sing. She can’t sing.

She has very specific combination of wanting to be involved in music, but at a production level, like, “I want to be able to take something that someone’s creating and make it better. It’s really weird. It’s very, very specific for her. But combined for her, it was with this but it has to be for somebody else’s benefit. Somebody has to be moved by it, but, again, she doesn’t want to create. That’s not what she does. It’s not what she wants.

She goes on to become – she starts from nothing, absolutely nothing. She ends up becoming Prince’s sound engineer for Purple Rain. She does these spectacularly great things. In the book, her story is laid out in great detail, so I don’t want to steal too much more, but she’s just remarkable.

We have some of the more traditional ones. Talked to a guy who grew up blue-collar town, came from nothing and just scraped by and built up a little mini empire of restaurants and bars and real estate. He was kind of king – big fish, small pond. Now you can imagine, that’s it. That’s great. Everyone is like, “You’ve really made something of yourself.”

But he knew there was this creative motive that he didn’t understand. He knew he had to have something around this creative space, but there was nothing there. He used to have jazz night at this blue collar bar. People are like, “Why are we doing this?” like nobody wants to hear it and he’d make them listen to it. It was bad for the bottom line.

He wakes up one day and says, “Look, I’ve got to figure out what this is.” He actually makes a pretty bold move. He sells everything and he moves to Boston. He’s like, “Look, if I’m going to figure this out, I’ve got to be in the city.”

Anyway, flash forward through some crazy things that he ends up doing. He turns out to become one of the top bespoke tailors in the country. It turns out he has this amazing love for fabric and creating stuff for people and create – it’s remarkable. In fact, it was the first bespoke thing I’d ever bought. I had him create a jacket for me. I’m like he’s very, very good.

These range of things – here’s the thing, nobody can tell you what yours are. They just can’t. There’s no test to take. There’s no – because they come from all kinds of places. Some of them might be innate; some of them might be learned. It doesn’t matter. If they get you out of bed in the morning, you’ve got to understand them.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. I’d be curious, what’s yours, Todd?

Todd Rose
I thought a lot about that. I have – I think mine are probably common for a lot of people. But I have for sure the case that I am – I get bored easier than anybody I know. That’s a pretty big one, but I have to have a lot of novelty in my life.

One thing that I realized is that that causes a lot of problems if you’re not careful. Sometimes you’ve got to just keep doing things. You can’t just keep bouncing around because you get bored with something. You have to figure how to harness that.

I absolutely cannot have a boss. I just cannot have somebody telling me what to do. I think that’s – the ability to have control over the choices that I make matters more to me than anything else. I would take so much less money, I would take – to have that kind of autonomy is just so important.

The other thing is that I have this weird mix of what feels like contradictory motives. On the one hand, I need autonomy. I just need it. On the other hand, I deeply, deeply, deeply enjoy collaboration to the point where everything I do, I try to force to say I want to have a partner with it, I want to find someone to work with on these things because it’s just so meaningful to me.

It’s a fun kind of wait, but I want to have – I want complete autonomy, but at the same time I really need other people and I want to work together, so you’ve got to figure that out. Those ones are the big ones for me. I do actually have – I keep saying competition is not a – it’s definitely a motive. I definitely have that kind of streak, and what you do is try to harness it to be compete with yourself rather than other people.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Okay, well now at last, yes, micro-motives, that’s kind of what they look, sound, feel like in practice. How do you folks go about discovering and zeroing in on what they are for them?

Todd Rose
Here’s the thing. We’ve road-tested this not just on dark horses, but frog marched a bunch of our family members and all our friends and “Test this out and see if it really works. Let’s see what happens.” I might give you – it’s incredibly simple. All I want is for people to try it. Just try it a couple times and you’ll be really shocked.

A very easy thing to do is to just think for not very hard, but think a little bit about a couple things that you actually enjoy doing, like really enjoy doing and ask yourself why. The why is everything here. Most of the time when we engage in some kind of activity and we like it, we’re like, “Yes, I really love-“ for example, I really love football. I would say I’m pretty passionate about football.

What we end up doing is attaching – and we call it passion for something – but we attach it to that thing. That’s usually the sort of grain size that we deal with. Oh, I really love football and I like watching TV, whatever. But if you ask yourself why, is it the competition, is it the teamwork, is it the strategy involved, is playing outdoors. There’s a whole range of things for why you might actually like football.

If you start getting a handle on those – that’s really closer to your motives. If you do that a few times, you start to suss out some common themes. What’s really important about that is that once you realize why it is you like these things, that’s portable.

Let’s say for example, actually I can’t play football. I’m just too old now. I’d get hurt in two seconds and I‘d rather have a healthy back and knees than do that. But it’s like if I know why I liked it, I can actually make choices because there are other activities and things I can do that check those boxes.

It sounds really simple. I think you’ll be shocked at how much value it gives you in a hurry about figuring out why you care about the things you care about.

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

Todd Rose
Actually, I’ll tell you one thing that I think matters the most to me and if there’s one thing I can get across is this. When we think about the pursuit of fulfillment, it can easily sound like a luxury item. Like, “Okay, after I get all of the things taken care of I need to,” it’s sort of like Maslow’s hierarchy or something, that’s it. Fulfillment is for rich people or for people who have it made, whatever.

I think it’s exactly the opposite. I think this understanding of making choices based on personal fulfillment matters most to people who don’t have a safety net, who really have to hit home runs on choice after choice after choice because there is no backup plan.

Because there, knowing who you are really and being able to make decisions on that puts you in contexts that are going to be engaging, where you’re going to be productive. You can string those together. I think it’s the safest way to a successful life.

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

Todd Rose
Yeah, I love quotes. I’m like a collector of quotes. For me this was actually hard to narrow down, but here’s the one I think is awesome. It’s by Joss Whedon if you know the producer. It’s, “Remember to always be yourself unless you suck.” I like that quote because I think it’s both true and then true. Yeah, we always tell people know who you are, be great, but if there’s some really dark stuff inside, yeah, let’s work on that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s true for competence as well. It’s just like, “No, this is my style. This is how I do my thing.” It’s like, “Well, nobody likes that,” in terms of if it’s like a consumer or kind of commercial application market, it’s like, “That may well be, but it’s not working for the people who buy it, so you’ve got to change it.”

Todd Rose
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite study?

Todd Rose
That’s actually an interesting one. Basically I would pick – I’ll give you a specific one, but I would pick almost any of them in the science I’m a part of because when we get away from group averages and we study you on your own terms, we find remarkable things.

It turns out individuals aren’t snowflakes. You can actually find patterns and it matters. It matters for how we keep you healthy and how you develop and what you can become.

My favorite one of them because this is pretty actionable is the new work out of Israel by Eran Segal on personalized nutrition.

We have the glycemic index, which is supposed to tell us how certain foods elevate our blood sugar. It’s really important for pre-diabetes, diabetes, just health and wellness in general. It turns out the glycemic index, it’s all averages. On average a potato will elevate your blood sugar by a certain amount.

What these folks found is there’s literally nobody that responds the way the glycemic index says you should respond. Nobody. We’re so individual. But importantly, they were able to use the science and some machine learning stuff to be able to create incredibly precise predictions for every single person.

They turned that into an app. I have no commercial interest in it, but I did buy it. It’s called DayTwo. It’s amazing.

One concrete example, for me – they tell you on average that if you want to keep your blood sugar low to eat grapefruit. It’s supposed to be really terrific. For me, it turns out to be the single worst thing I can possibly eat. It elevates my blood sugar more than chocolate cake.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Todd Rose
So what I love about this is it’s an example where understanding individuality, it matters. Your individuality matters and it’s not noise. We can build systems that are responsive to you and to everybody else. We don’t have to choose anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
This is just mind-blowing in terms of its implications over the next century of boy, technological and human progress, just thinking about that. So on maybe more pedestrian question, how does an app figure out how much a grapefruit is spiking your blood sugar?

Todd Rose
You have to send it you get blood work done, gut biome and a bunch of other things, so rather than reduce you to a type, they actually collect a lot of information on you. It’s analyzed and then it’s fed through the app. There’s some crunching done on the backend and the app is just how I interface with it. But it helps me basically, anytime I want to eat, I know exactly what it’s going to do to me.

I think what’s so cool about that is pre-diabetes and diabetes is like a massive problem in the United States. You realize wait a minute, we’re blaming everyone for their poor habits, which maybe that’s true and I’m sure it’s part of it, but actually we’re literally telling them, we’re giving them advice that guarantees, guarantees that we’re not optimizing their nutrition. It’s like it doesn’t have to be that way.

For me, I’m excited about the future. There’s a lot of dangers and challenges in this brave new personalized sort of society, but the idea that we can understand you as an individual and build systems that are responsive to you and get the most out of you is really remarkable.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s wild. DayTwo is generating an individualized profile of you based upon your genetics and your gut biome and your blood stuff.

Todd Rose
Yup and it really doesn’t matter if there’s anybody else like you, you can still have an optimized nutrition. We can do this, by the way, we can do this for cancer treatment. We can do this for how you develop. We can do this for how you best learn. This is the future.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s wild. Tell me, from the food perspective, is there something you can eat that makes you feel awesome and you wouldn’t even know it had you not done this adventure with DayTwo?

Todd Rose
Yeah, yeah, that’s great. What’s really funny is my wife did it and we just have completely different – like, trying to figure out what we’re going to cook at night now is like, “Huh, which one of us is going to spike our blood sugar?” But what’s really crazy about this, so you can imagine – so rum, it’s sugarcane.

Pete Mockaitis
Delicious.

Todd Rose
Yeah, but it’s sugarcane. You would think that should be – you’re just guaranteeing you’re going to spike your blood sugar. Nope. It doesn’t spike my blood sugar at all. I’m like, made in the shade. This is fantastic. There’s these things like that which I can do. It’s probably not making me healthy, but it doesn’t hurt me as much as I should.

The other thing is – this is kind of crazy – but, I can have soft serve ice cream as long as it’s chocolate and not vanilla. It’s that fine-tuned.

Pete Mockaitis
You would actually feel it in your body?

Todd Rose
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
You will have a different sensation in your head and your feeling of fatigue versus sharpness.

Todd Rose
It’s the fatigue thing that’s so clear. I would have never, honestly, never done it because I don’t really have – I don’t have diabetes or anything like that, but – so I never really appreciated the toll that spiking blood sugar takes on your body. If you understand the sort of science of it, it’s like pretty obvious. It’s a very, very taxing mechanism.

Even people who aren’t even near getting pre-diabetes, it’s like it is what – it drives fatigue, it drives up – it’s just simply optimizing against your own individuality. I just can’t believe how much cleaner my mind feels. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s just like I feel cleaner and clearer and sharper to the point where there’s no chance I would go back. It’s like, I cling to this like I can’t believe. It’s so neat.

Then I think wait a minute, if we’re not careful, we’re going to live in a world where people who can afford get this kind of information and the people that can’t, keep getting the stupid faxed copy of “Here’s the glycemic index. You should eat this.” It doesn’t-

Pete Mockaitis
…. Yeah, that makes it a lot more real when you described Populace at the top of this. I thought, “Okay, that sounds important.” Then it’s like, “Oh, yeah, this is critical. Thank you.”

Todd Rose
It has to be about all of us. It has to. It can, but we’ve got to make good choices.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite book?

Todd Rose
Can I give you two or do I have to really-?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Todd Rose
Okay. One is my sort of nerdy one, but I think it’s really important called The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper. It’s the only philosophy book that I actually like. It really taught me what it means to do science versus not. It really changed how I do my work.

But one of my favorite books of all time is called City of Thieves by David Benioff, who most people would know from Game of Thrones, but it’s a fantastic book, just love it, that fiction book.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Todd Rose
I have – I do two things. I’m trying to sneak in a bunch of extra things. One of the most important things that I ever figured out because I am – I actually have really terrible working memory. If you ask me right now, “Hey, when we get done with this, will you remember to email me blah, blah, blah?” There’s a good chance I’m not going to remember to do that. Organization was really important to me.

One of the things that I do that I always do is spend the first half hour of every day organizing my priorities so that the rest of the day I’m actually doing things that matter to me rather than things that get put on my plate that are first in kind of like “Oh no, this is really pressing.” It’s like sure, but did it matter to me. This helps me stay prioritized and accomplishing things I want to.

The second thing that I do is related to my need for novelty, which is I really, really, really don’t want to become that person that’s so narrow in what I know and do because I just don’t think that’s good. I don’t think – I just think you don’t get any inspiration or new ideas just by doubling down on one narrow piece of the world.

I try once a week, at least once a week, I read or watch something that is absolutely not part of my wheelhouse. That doesn’t mean like high culture and …. Sometimes is just anything, just stay out of the same-

Pete Mockaitis
Like what’s up with this Kardashian’s business? Some people seem – I’m curious how do you get prompted because I think so often it’s like, “That’s not interesting to me therefore I’m not going to engage.” How do you kind of get over that hump?

Todd Rose
I have a really weird way of doing this. I don’t know, I’m probably revealing too much about myself. But I’m trying to use the way that Google and other things, they feed you stuff as a recommendation, which is actually up that – it’s super helpful in one way, but then it kind of narrows your world in a hurry.

So I create alternative – my alter ego kind of stuff, where I’ll go and set up stuff where I’ll look at different sites and set it up so that I know that feeds me things that are very, very different than what I’m actually looking at now, whether it’s political, whether it’s cultural, whether it’s even sports and stuff like that. If I can’t find it on my own, I always go visit my alter ego and get new information.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Tell us, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate and folks quote it frequently to you?

Todd Rose
Yeah, it seems a little self-serving for the book, but it really is this idea that the pursuit of fulfillment is actually a reliable path to success. That people come back to “Wow, I can’t believe that,” but it’s true. When you really think about it, it makes a lot of sense.

The other one is the sense of this is not about selfishness. One of the most highlighted things in the book for me is this quote that said, “To build a great … society, we must get the best out of everyone no matter who you are or where you’re starting from.” The idea that the pursuit of fulfillment is something that’s good for the individual, but it leads to a much stronger, more thriving collective.

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

Todd Rose
Sure. They can follow me on Twitter. It’s LToddRose or ToddRose.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d like to issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Todd Rose
Yeah. Getting back to the theme here, make choices based on fulfillment, not what you think will get you ahead or you’ll – or what you think other people want and you’ll be in the absolute best position to live a life of success and happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Todd, this has been a lot of fun, eye opening, exciting. I wish you tons of luck in all of the good work you’re doing at Harvard and Populace and books and more.

Todd Rose
Thank you so much for having me.

375: How and Why to Communicate Mindfully with Oren Jay Sofer

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Meditation practitioner and author Oren Jay Sofer hashes out the tenets of mindful and non-violent communication to help get ot the heart of every interaction.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Key steps for getting what you want without causing defensiveness in others
  2. Two points of subtext to listen for when someone speaks
  3. How to gain emotional agility

About Oren

Oren Jay Sofer leads retreats and workshops on mindful communication throughout the United States. A member of the Spirit Rock Teachers Council, he holds a degree in comparative religion from columbia University and is a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner and a Certified Trainer of Nonviolent Communication. Oren also creates mindfulness training programs for apps and organizations. He lives in Richmond, California.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Oren Jay Sofer Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Oren, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Oren Jay Sofer
Great to be back, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into it. We heard a little bit more about your backstory and fun facts in a previous episode, which wasn’t too long ago. I want to dig right away into the goods of you’ve got a book, Say What You Mean, coming out. What’s it all about?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, so the subtitle of the book is How to Find Your Voice, Speak Your Truth & Listen Deeply. It’s about understanding ourselves more clearly so that we can have more meaningful relationships and more effective conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
That sounds helpful. So you’re using the term in the mix, “non-violent communication.” What does that phrase mean, precisely?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, that’s right. The full title, Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Non-Violent Communication. What’s unique about this book and about what I do is that I bring together a few different worlds.

We’ve talked already about the power of mindfulness and the benefits of bringing more awareness and balance and groundedness into our life, into our work, and the kind of clarity and sustainability that comes from that. What’s neat is that mindfulness isn’t just an internal practice, but it actually has all kinds of benefits for our relationships and conversations.

Non-violent communication is a process of not only communicating, but also being aware of our thoughts and emotions, desires, and impulses in a way that lets us work with others more smoothly. The process of NVC, which is the shorthand for non-violent communication, is about using words in a way to create enough connection and understanding in our relationships to collaborate, to meet whatever needs are happening more easily.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe would you give an example of non-violent communication versus violent communication? Because when I think about violent communication, I think “I’ll kill you,” but I’m imagining there’s a whole range of subtle ways that we’re kind of aggressive in our communications.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, yeah. Thanks, Pete. Maybe just a word or two of history to contextualize this and then I’ll give an example or two.

Non-violent communication was founded by a man named Marshall B. Rosenberg. He grew up in Detroit in the 40’s. He lived through the race riots there. There were about 40 people killed within a couple blocks of his house as a kid. This had a deep impact on him. It was a very powerful education into our world recognizing that people might want to kill you for the color of your skin.

Then when he went to school, he found out that people might want to do violence to you because of your last name. He was Jewish and experienced a lot of anti-Semitism. This had a very strong effect on him. But he also was exposed to people in his family, like his uncle—who would care for their grandmother, who was paralyzed—with so much joy and devotion and happiness.

He had this question that was burning in him from a young age of “what makes the difference between some people who are able to take a lot of joy in contributing to the well-being of others, whereas other folks, when they’re challenged, will resort to violence to meet their needs?”

What he found through his research and his work and his studies was that how we think and how we speak plays a big role in whether or not we see violence as a viable strategy when things aren’t working. As you recognized, violence isn’t just physical violence. One definition of violence is any avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs. When we think about that—

Pete Mockaitis
I’ll chew on that for a while.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, yeah, so there’s a lot of violence in our world today, when you think about the level of human needs that aren’t being met.

How does this apply in our lives? Well, so if you and I are having a conflict, we’re having some kind of difference and I say, “Pete, you’re being really unprofessional and irresponsible.” In some way there’s a little bit of violence or aggression in my communication because I’m expressing what’s going on for me by blaming you.

In other words, one of the ways we’ve been conditioned to think about things, and this is so relevant for the workplace, is that when we don’t like what’s happening, when our needs aren’t being met, or some objective or goal that we have isn’t happening the way we would like it to, instead of being able to own that, to be conscious of it and say, “This is what I’m valuing. This is the objective I have and what I’d like to see happening. Here’s how what’s going on isn’t really matching with that. I’d like to talk about this.”

We make it about the other person being wrong or bad or somehow irresponsible or unprofessional or uncourteous, so we project our own unmet needs out on to others and blame them.

If we just kind of pause and step back and think about it for a moment, if I want somebody to do something differently, if I want somebody to help me out with something, change their behavior in some way that’s going to contribute to my life or my work in a better way, how useful of a strategy is it to blame them and tell them what’s wrong with them?

Has that ever worked? Does that ever inspire joyful giving and spontaneous change. “Oh sure you’re right. Let me do this differently.”

Non-violent is about understanding – part of it is about understanding this conditioning and learning not only to speak, the words are actually the last thing. What’s most important is where we’re coming from inside and learning to see situations differently so that we can communicate in ways that other people can hear and understand without getting defensive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, excellent. Well, so then, that’s a handy sort of backdrop there in terms of digging into the contents of your book. I’d like to get your view on first of all, with the title, Say What You Mean, what are some kind of key ways or categories that we fall short of saying what you mean and how is that detrimental?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah. I think a lot of the time we don’t know what we really mean to say. One of the things I talk about in the book in terms of the relevance of mindfulness is that to say what we mean, we have to know first what we mean and to know what we mean, we have to be able to look inside a little bit and be clear.

Instead of asking yourself, “What do I want to say?” you can recognize that whenever we speak, pretty much all of the time – most of the time if not all of the time, we’re speaking because we want somebody else to listen, we want somebody else to understand something. We’re trying to get some message across.

Instead of just focusing on what I want to say, it’s more useful to think about, “Okay, what do I want this person to understand? What do I want them to know or hear?”

When we only focus on what it is that I want to say or I want to blow off steam or I want to tell you this, without really placing our attention on, “Yeah, but what’s the effect I’m trying to have?” and “What is the information that I want you to really take in?” we end up wasting our energy.

When we fail to actually be aware of our purpose in communication and what we’re trying to really transmit to the other person, not only do we waste our energy and time and the other person, but we end up getting entangled often in things that don’t really matter.

How many times have you had an argument with somebody where you say something and then they get reactive and start responding to something that you don’t even mean? You’re like, “No, no, no, that’s not what I meant.” Now we’ve got to take ten minutes to kind of unravel this whole thing that is, isn’t even relevant.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. That definitely happens. I’d love it if you can maybe bring this to life a little bit in terms of making that switch from “what do I want to say?” toward “what do I want them to know or understand or to pick up from that message can make all the difference? Can you bring that to life for us?”

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, absolutely. Let’s take an example of something at work. Let’s say that your first impulse is to say, “You’re micromanaging me.” That’s not exactly saying what we mean. That’s just moving out of habit.

If we pause for a moment and think, “Okay, what’s the effect of this going to be?” Okay the other person is probably going to get defensive. “I’m not micromanaging me. You’re not a team player. You don’t know how to work with others.” Now we’re wasting our time arguing.

“You’re micromanaging me,” what do I really mean by that? We can use the steps that I lay out in the book to understand more clearly what’s happening.

First, we want to say, okay, what am I referring to? What’s actually happened? I’m not just making this up. This person has done or said something, perhaps several things that didn’t work for me.

We try to make some sort of a clear observation that the other person will recognize without getting defensive or arguing, like, “I noticed that last week you asked me to take care of this task by Friday and then on Wednesday you emailed me again asking if I had finished it,” so that’s what happened.

“You told me the deadline of Friday, but then on Wednesday, they were asking me if I had it done,” so there’s nothing to argue about there. It’s just like, “Hey, you emailed me, asked me to do this, and then you did that.”

Then the next thing we want to be clear about is what’s the impact this has on me? What’s the impact it has and why? What matters to me? What is it that I’m actually valuing in this situation? We can say, “I felt a little confused and slightly frustrated.” That’s different from saying I felt pressured. I felt blamed, which is again about putting the focus on the other person.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s them.

Oren Jay Sofer
Right, I’m taking responsibility for my part. I’m saying, “Look, I felt a little bit confused and slightly frustrated.” What is it I want? “Well, I really want to be able to work together in a way that we’re each doing our own piece and really supporting each other’s work with a lot of trust and collaboration.” That’s really clear. Those are values that we can get – that we can both agree on.

Then the last part is now I want to know, if I just stop there, the other person is like, “Well, okay. What do you want me to do about that?” or “Oh, I’m sorry, I guess.” We want to give the other person some kind of suggestion about what would be helpful. This is what we call a request, which is a suggestion or a proposal or some kind of indication of the direction we can go from here.

We might just want more information. We might just want to ask, “Could you tell me a little bit more about what your flow was? What was your process here because in my mind I was just expecting that I would email the report on Friday? I want to understand more where you’re coming from.”

Then when we find out, then we might start a move to making some agreements about, “Great, well next time I wonder if you ask me for something on Friday, but you actually need it sooner, could you tell me that so that I can kind of plan accordingly and we can work it out?”

Pete Mockaitis
So then the request phase seemed like you were kind of collecting more information and then sort of the agreement phase comes after the request phase?

Oren Jay Sofer
That’s right. Yeah. The more understanding we can establish between one another, the easier it is to make agreements and the more robust and reliable they’re going to be.

One of the things that we tend to get tripped up with in conversations and negotiations, particularly at work, is that we want the answer. We want to cut to the chase and get to the solution, but what that means is that we often don’t take enough time to really build the criteria for the solution.

What’s actually important here? What are we trying to accomplish and why? What are the goals the solution needs to meet and what are all of the concerns and considerations on the table? Let’s really suss that out and make sure that we all understand the full landscape as much as possible.

Whether it’s kind of a team decision, a project decision or an interpersonal situation, if we’ve established a really solid base of mutual understanding, it’s a lot easier to come up with an agreement because we both can see things from one another’s point of view. Then there’s more buy in for any agreement or solution we come up with.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s really cool. The first step is to sort of state that clear observation. The second is – well, the impact that that observation has on me.

Oren Jay Sofer
Mm-hm.

Pete Mockaitis
The third is declaring what you want for us in the collaboration. The fourth is kind of getting request or suggestion for some more information, understanding and then leading to ultimately an agreement in terms of how we’re going to operate a bit differently going forward. That sounds like it makes great sense in terms of being low probability of triggering hostility and defensiveness.

Oren Jay Sofer
That’s right. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, do you have any other thoughts when it comes to communicating to minimize the risk of the other person feeling like you’re attacking them or that you’re offensive in some way?

Oren Jay Sofer
You know, it’s a great question, Pete. I think that one of the things I emphasize over and over and over again when I teach is that communication is not about what we say. So much of our communication, so much of our relationships is in our body language, our tone of voice. It’s about where we’re coming from inside.

There’s a whole section on my book devoted to this, to the intention behind where we’re coming from because we can say things in really nice, pretty ways, we can use fancy words and whatever kind of communication technique you want to lay on top of it.

But if inside we’re actually saying in our mind, “You’re such a jerk and you’ve got to get your act together and I can’t stand working with you,” if that’s what we’re actually feeling and thinking and believing, they’re going to know that. They’re going to pick up on it.

The work in terms of taking that bite out and reducing the risk of getting embroiled in that kind of situation or just adding more tension to a workplace conflict that’s already uncomfortable is actually doing the work internally of transforming our own way of viewing the situation. This is why mindfulness is so essential for communication because you can’t do that.

You can’t really take apart your own emotions and perceptions and blame without some kind of tool to get in there and really say, “Okay, what’s going on here? Why am I getting so upset over this? Where is this getting me?” and start to actually understand more like, “Oh, okay, I see. I was wanting to be consulted in this decision and it feels like I’m not being valued enough,” or “I want clearer definitions of roles at work and it feels like this other person keeps doing my job. Oh, that’s what I need.”

Then it’s much easier to talk about. It’s not like you’re out to get me, it’s like, “Listen, I really want to make sure that we’re not stepping on each other’s feet here. Can we sit down and talk a little bit about what both of our roles are so that we’re both working toward the same end and not getting into these situations where we find ourselves locking heads?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, excellent. That’s good. Then when it comes to the intention, you talk about the work and the internal nature of it. I guess what that consists of is just really kind of thinking through clearly what do I want and I guess – I guess sometimes that can take a few loops or iterations to get yourself past “I want you to stop being such a jerk.”

Oren Jay Sofer
Exactly. Well, there’s a great tool we can use here. A couple of things. First, the single most powerful and transformative ingredient in dialogue is the intention to understand. When in doubt, just try to understand because that’s what communication is about. Even when we’re trying to just get something done, we rely upon mutual understanding. We need to be able to hear one another.

When in doubt, we can always come back to just the baseline intention of wanting to understand. “Let me see if I can understand you.” Just that phrase, just that phrase, ‘let me see if I’m understanding you,’ that in and of itself can start to change the tone of a whole relationship because the other person starts to feel our interest like, “Oh wow, you’re actually making an effort. You’re not just interested in getting your way.” Then they can stop trying to defend themselves and get about working together.

I said there were two things. Let’s see if I remember if I remember what the second one was. Intention. Okay, so the second one, so there’s a tool we can use to help us transform those knee jerk reactions and intentions to just blast the person or “Just stop being a jerk,” or “Get off my back.”

This comes from Marshall Rosenberg, who was as I said, the founder of non-violent communication. He suggested that when we want somebody to do something, that we ask ourselves two questions.

The first question most of ask, which is ‘what would I like this person to do?’ Now, if we stop there, if that’s the only question we ask, then we might go about all kinds of strategies to get them to do it. We might coerce them. We might threaten them. We might be passive-aggressive. We might manipulate them.

Now, some of those strategies can produce results, but they come at a cost. When I use my power to force someone to do something, I lose some of their trust and goodwill. This is huge, particularly for managers. Every time we get somebody to do something because we have more power than they do, we lose their goodwill. We lose that energy, that creative willingness to really engage in work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so true. I’ve been on the receiving end. It’s like, “All right, well, I’m just going to give you what you asked for and—“

Oren Jay Sofer
And nothing more.

Pete Mockaitis
“—keep all my brilliant creativity to myself since you don’t seem to care for it.”

Oren Jay Sofer
Exactly, yeah. We take away one of the things that’s the most meaningful, which is our opportunity to contribute and give. We don’t just start by asking “What do I want this person to do?”

We need to ask the second question, which is “What do I want their reasons to be for doing it? Why? Why would I like this person to do this? Not just because they fear me or they want to keep their job. No, I want them to do this because they understand its value, because they see how this is going to contribute to the project, to the company, to the bottom line.”

When we ask that second question, now we’re going to approach the whole situation differently because now we’re not just trying to get the person to get to point B, we’re actually trying to change their mind. We’re actually trying to help them to see things in a different way.

That’s where that intention to understand comes from is saying, “Look, I think I’m seeing things in a different way than you are and I want to see if we can learn from each other here. Tell me how you’re seeing this because maybe you’re seeing something that I’m not aware of that’s important. And there might be something that I’m seeing that you’re not aware of,” so now we’re actually having a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is a handy question in terms of what you’re seeing and then it covers a multitude of issues in which you’re just like, “What’s this idiot’s problem?” It’s like, “Oh, well, they may very well know something I don’t.” Then all of the sudden all sorts of things make a whole lot more sense when you go there.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, yeah. The other thing, all of us have to work with people who it’s just like, “What’s your problem? Why-“ just people are grumpy or they’re short. There I think what’s helpful with these communication tools and the mindfulness tools is learning how to genuinely have that feeling inside of we’re all just doing the best we can.

You know what? Maybe they had a fight with their wife or their husband. Maybe their kids got a really rough diagnosis. We just don’t know where people are coming from.

When someone is really rubbing us the wrong way, even if it’s not around a work-related issue, when we can shift out of that perception and that way of thinking in terms of blaming the other person and what’s wrong with them and why are they such a jerk, we can say, “Wow, maybe they’re having a really hard time. Maybe they’re really lonely. Maybe they’re really angry. Maybe they’ve been carrying anger around for years. God, that must be so hard.”

Two things happen there that are really important. The first is one, we release ourselves from the burden of resentment and pettiness and judgment, which is just not a pleasant state of mind to be in. The other thing that happens is we start relating to the other person in a more humane way.

What I’ve seen again and again in my own life is when I relate to people with respect and kindness and patience, it has an effect. It might not be instantaneous, but over time if I consistently come from that place, they come around.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really cool. Then I’d to get your take then in terms of, since we touched on that a little bit, where sort of in the other side of the equation, where we’re doing the listening, how can we do that and even if someone is kind of short or accusatory, how can we do the job of listening without feeling that feeling of being attacked, offended, getting defensive, bubbling up in ourselves?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, that’s the other side of it. It’s such an important skill. This is – actually this is one of the most powerful tools that we can develop is the ability to listen to what someone really means regardless of what they’re actually saying. Yeah.

I’m finding myself talking about Marshall a lot on this – on our call today, but that’s for a good reason. He was a very wise man. One of the other things that he said that I love is he said, “I suggest you never listen to what people think about you. You’ll live longer and enjoy your life more.”

What he means by that is don’t listen to the blame and the judgments and the criticism that are coming out of people’s minds. Try to hear what’s in their heart.

We can actually train our attention to listen beneath the words to two things. One, how someone’s feeling. In the workplace, that’s generally going to be more of a silent awareness. We’re just like, “Oh wow, this person seems” – whether they’re pissed or frustrated or hurt or upset or confused or irritated or annoyed or stressed.

We can kind of pick up on okay, what’s going on for this person on the emotional level. Then that creates a little bit of a sense of empathy. We can feel where they’re at as a human being. Okay.

Then the next part, which is where the real transformation occurs is, “what matters?” What’s important to this person underneath what they’re saying, whether they’re blaming me or complaining about someone else, what do they really value here, what are they needing. That’s where we can start to listen to somebody and deescalate a situation without taking it personally.

For example, someone says, “God, you’re so critical. Why are you so critical all the time? All that comes out of you is just judgment and negative stuff?”

I can hear that. I can hear that. It’s probably going to take me a moment because I’ve got to do this little aikido move, where I don’t absorb that energy, I just kind of sidestep it, let it go past me and say, “All right, what’s going on for this person. Maybe they’re wanting a little bit more recognition, a little more appreciation for what they’re bringing forward.

I might ask, I might say, “I’m hearing that some of the ways that I relate or express myself don’t really work for you. Thank you, I’m glad you’re telling me that. It’s not my intention. I want to check. It sounds like you’re wanting some more appreciation or acknowledgement for how hard you’ve worked on this and the contributions that you’re making or is there something else that – is it something else?”

I’m actually trying to understand you. I’m not taking on that story. I’m just really listening for what’s important for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, interesting. Well said, sidestepping and not taking on that story. It really kind of sparks a visual in terms of there’s a whole lot of – I don’t know. I’m always … to think someone’s got a bucket of tar and they’re just sort of going to shove it such that it flies out of the bucket and in your direction.

You’re saying, no, no rather than get the tar and say, “How dare you? I’m a mess.” We’re just going to sidestep it and say, “how interesting that this person thought that that was something that they needed to do.” Let’s kind of – I don’t want to call it fun, but let’s – or enjoyment, but it’s sort of like – it’s a bit of a puzzle.

That’s kind of how I’m relating to it is you can get interested and engaged in that thing on a different level of “Oh, I’m trying to kind of get to the bottom of this,” as opposed to “I’m trying to conquer and overcome and win and be right within in this.”

Oren Jay Sofer
Right, yeah, yeah. There are two levels to this. One is understanding that when people are blaming and judging us, they have some unmet need. That blame and judgment is just a tragic and counterproductive expression of our own unmet needs.

When we really understand that we we don’t have to take on the blame or the story. We can just, “Oh, what’s going on for you? Something’s not working. Let me see if I can understand it.” That’s one level.

There’s another level here, which is kind of a meta level on the conversation, which is how are we talking to each other and what kind of workplace culture do we have? That’s something that we can address, but that it’s better to address outside of the actual moment.

We have the conversation. We deescalate things. We hear what’s important for them. We offer some understanding. Maybe we make some agreements or if we contributed in some way, we apologize, say, “Hey, I’m sorry, wasn’t where I meant to come from, but I can see how that had that impact on you.”

But then we can also have a conversation saying, “Listen I wanted to just – I wanted to just talk a little bit about how things came out when you said that I’m so critical and judgmental and I’m always nitpicking and I never care about or appreciate anyone else. That was kind of hard to hear. I’d just love to find a way that we can both express ourselves with a sense of care and respect for one another.”

We can actually address the way we’re talking to one another, but it’s best to do that outside of the moment. We’ve got to handle the situation that’s happening first.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that’s well said. I did want to dig into your take on sort of the best practices for how does one ask for what you need in an optimal kind of a fashion? It seems like we’ve already got a few kind of principles and processes to work through, but do you have any extra things to point out when you’re making a request?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, absolutely. Requests are tricky because a lot of us have been conditioned to think it’s selfish to ask for things from other people. Some of this falls around gender lines and how we’ve been conditioned or what our social location is, so based on our conditioning, we may feel more or less comfortable or willing to speak up and ask for what we need. A certain part of it is some of that internal work of just checking, “do I feel okay asking others to do things or help out or contribute to me?”

One of the keys there, because a lot of us have stories that, “I should be able to do it on my own. I’m selfish if I ask for something. I don’t want to be needy or dependent,” all of these kinds of junk that we pick up along the way in life.

But if we turn the tables around for a minute and we just think about if a friend or a coworker came to me and said, “Hey, I could really use some help. Do you have a few minutes?” If someone’s sincere and we have the time, we’re more than happy to help. We’re like, “Yeah, totally. What’s up?” That feels good. It feels good to lend a hand to someone when we can.

If we contemplate that, then we can recognize if I can ask in a way that’s inviting, I’m actually giving the other person something beautiful. I’m giving them an opportunity to contribute in a way that feels good.

That’s kind of the key behind making requests. It’s one, finding that place inside where we’re not demanding that somebody do something, which takes all the joy out of giving and helping, but we’re inviting them. It’s an open door.

One of the things that makes that the most possible is letting them know how it’s going to contribute to us. We need to let someone know why we’re asking. How will this actually help me? What’s the reason behind my asking? Then that gives the person a reason to want to help.

The other part is really making sure that we’re clear that there’s no obligation or demand here. This is a suggestion. I’m just saying, “How about this? If this doesn’t work for you, I’d love to see if we can find another way that this could happen.” Then, again, it becomes a dialogue. It becomes a collaboration.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. You’ve got another term I want to hear and touch about because it sounds like something I want. What is emotional agility and how can we get some more of that?

Oren Jay Sofer
Oh, grasshopper. Yes, emotional agility is essential in life. Emotional agility is that ability to be aware of what we’re feeling and have the strength and the capacity to manage it without it dictating our actions or our words. This takes practice, but it’s completely feasible. There are a few steps to it.

The first step is learning to be aware of our emotions, just using mindfulness to identify how we’re feeling and finding a way to experience our emotions with some degree of balance, so we don’t get swept away in the tide of thinking and reacting and sinking in the emotion or lashing out or the other extreme, which is suppressing and avoiding our emotions.

We find that middle ground, where we can just feel the way we feel and stay balanced with it. That’s a lot of the work of mindfulness.

Then the next kind of phase is starting to actually understand our emotions and the function that they play in our life, in our relationships. Emotions are there for a reason. If we feel something, it’s because there’s something that matters to us. We don’t feel emotions if there’s nothing that matters to us in a situation.

Emotions are sending signals. They’re sending signals either that our needs were met. Pleasant feelings: things are going well, my values and needs are being confirmed or met in some way. Unpleasant emotions: it’s a message, it’s a signal that there’s something not working for me here, there’s some need I have that isn’t being met.

What’s essential in understanding emotions is connecting them back to what actually matters to us and being able to identify, “What am I actually wanting here? What’s important to me?” When we can understand that, when we can really see it clearly, there’s a settling that happens inside because the message has been received. The emotion has actually served its purpose. Now we can go about figuring out how to meet that need. What action is necessary here?

Then the last aspect of emotional agility – so we’ve got being aware of our emotions and staying balanced. Then we’ve got understanding our emotions, “What message is this sending? What’s actually important to me here?”

The last part is learning how to communicate them constructively, how to hear other’s emotions and how to express our own emotions in a way that’s helpful. This is really where that training and non-violent communication comes in where we’re able to be aware of how we feel on the inside instead of those stories of blame, “I feel ignored. I feel attacked. I feel judged,” which are all pointing the finger at you.

Instead, being able to talk about, “You know? I felt a little bit sad when I heard that I wasn’t invited.” To be able to own how we actually feel instead of “I feel dismissed,” which is again, telling you what you’re doing to me. Being able to state our emotions in a way that’s about us and then connect them to our needs, to why.

“I really wanted to be included,” or “I really value being a part of the team,” or “I really enjoy your company and want to be able to build our relationship,” so linking our emotions and feelings back to our needs. That’s the kind of overview, the snapshot of developing emotional agility. I go into that a lot more in Say What You Mean, in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, one of the things when I heard the term emotional agility that I got to thinking about is how often I am in one emotional state, let’s just call it irritated. There’s a distracting noise that a laundry machine keeps making a bunch of noise and vibration that is drawing my attention away and I don’t like it.

But then the emotion that would be most kind of constructive might be in a conversation could be, maybe curiosity or interest or compassion. Do you have any thoughts for how can we – I know we’re not robots that can sort of flip a switch and execute new emotion instantly, but—do you have some pro tips for when we kind of need to access a different side of ourselves to rise to an occasion? How do we do that quickly?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, how do we do it quickly? I think it takes practice. It’s not something that happens overnight. If we want to be able to come from that place of curiosity or more genuine care or compassion, we need to actually practice it. We need to cultivate those kinds of emotions and intentions in our self.

Then when we do, when we’ve actually trained our heart or our mind to know how to find goodwill, how to find curiosity, then in the heat of the moment, it’s there for us and then we can come back to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, I think one other key there – I appreciate the question – one other key there is one of the central perspectives to non-violent communication, which we’ve been dancing around, but I haven’t stated explicitly, which is a particular view or perspective on human behavior, which is at the heart of humanistic psychology going all the way back to Abraham Maslow and Mendel and Carl Rogers, which is that all human behavior can be seen as an attempt to meet some kind of basic needs.

When we view things in that way, we can always ask our self the question, ‘What does this person need? What matters to this person?’ That’s a way to get curious even if we’re reactive, to remember that sense of “Okay, human beings do stuff because there’s something that matters to them. What matters to this person?”

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Any final things you care to share before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Oren Jay Sofer
No, it’s been great talking. I’m really happy to share all these tools with you and your audience. I just hope they’re helpful for folks in their life and at their work.

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

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, absolutely. I’ve given a few already on the show, but I’ll share one more. This really points to an essential communication tool. “The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like that. Thank you.

Oren Jay Sofer
It’s that simple skill that a lot of times we do over email. We’ll say, “Let me know that you got this,” but we can do that during conversation too.

We can actually check, especially when we say something important or meaningful to us or it feels like someone else is saying something important or meaningful, we can check. We say, “I want to make sure I’m still with you. Let me just tell you back what I’m hearing and you tell me if I got it right.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, thank you. How about a favorite book?

Oren Jay Sofer
Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild is phenomenal take on culture, society and nature. It’s just a beautiful collection of essays that bring together a lot of wonderful ideas.

Pete Mockaitis
A favorite tool?

Oren Jay Sofer
A favorite tool, say more my friend. Do you mean a physical tool or a-?

Pete Mockaitis
It could by physical tool, it could be a piece of software, it could be a framework of thought.

Oren Jay Sofer
Great, yeah. Piece of software. I have a screen app that I use called Time Out that I can set it to different intervals and it reminds me to take a pause while I’m working at my computer for my physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Is there a particular nugget you’ve been sharing from the book that really seems to connect and resonate and get folks nodding their heads?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, one of the main steps that I encourage people to do in communication practice is to focus on what matters. That’s skill we can develop to keep coming back to that question of what really matters here in myself, in another person, in a situation and to get underneath the layers of the stories, and the judgments, and the what-if’s, and the who-did, and when, and why into okay, what really matters here. Focus on what matters.

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

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, there’s a great way to get in touch, which is through my website, www.orenjaysofer.com.

If folks want to learn more from me, I have a free gift to give away six guided meditations when you join my newsletter. The way to sign up for that is to text the word ‘guided’ G-U-I-D-E-D, like guided meditation, to 44222. You’ll get six guided meditations and then every month I send a free guided meditation or an article or a link to a free online event that I’m doing, so it’s a great way to stay in touch and also get some more teaching and tools.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, absolutely. Take this on as a practice. Communication is a learnable skill. It’s not just something that some people are good at and other people aren’t. You can improve your communication if you set an intention to work with it. Bring more awareness and presence into your communication and focus on what matters. If you want to learn more, you can check out my book, Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Non-Violent Communication.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Oren, this has been a treat once again. Thank you. I wish you tons of luck with the book, Say What You Mean, and all you’re up to.

Oren Jay Sofer
Thanks so much, Pete. It’s been great being back on the show.