This Podcast Will Help You Flourish At Work

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

675: How to Boost Your Brain for Better Happiness & Performance with Eric Karpinski

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Eric Karpinski reveals why investing in your happiness leads to better performance at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret to boosting your brain power at work
  2. The one question to jumpstart your happiness habit
  3. How to make stress work for you

About Eric

Eric Karpinski has been on the cutting edge of bringing positive psychology tools to workplaces for over 10 years, with clients that include Intel, Facebook, TIAA, IBM, T-Mobile, Kaiser Permanente, SAP, Deloitte, Eli Lilly, Genentech and many others. 

He is a key member of Shawn Achor’s GoodThink team, and developer of the Orange Frog in-house certification program, where he’s trained more than 100 facilitators to lead positive cultural transformation at their organizations. He was trained as a scientist at Brown University and has an MBA from the Wharton School.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Eric Karpinski Interview Transcript

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

Eric Karpinski
Pete, I’m super excited. I’ve been listening to a bunch of your podcast. You get in deep and I love listening, so I hope I can step up to the quality of everything else you’ve done.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Well, I have no doubts. But I think the first thing we need to cover is beekeeping. What’s the story here?

Eric Karpinski
So, I wanted to be a beekeeper for years and years. They’re fascinating, fascinating little creatures. And so, yeah, it’s something I’ve been doing the last four or five years, and I learned so much about community and teamwork from them, and you get the occasional sting and you get the occasional jar of honey. It’s perfect balance.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I imagine having your work product repeatedly robbed from you might be disengaging in terms of happiness at work.

Eric Karpinski
They just keep working. I’ve got this fun device called a Flow Hive, and so it kind of drains part of the honey out without them even noticing. They still get mad at me when I have to do hive inspections and stuff but, obviously, you need to make sure you leave them plenty for the dry summer here in San Diego but, no, they don’t seem to be bothered by that as much they are about me coming in and looking in trying to find the queen.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Duly noted. And how about the stings? What’s the story there?

Eric Karpinski
It just happens. I wear a suit. I like to use feral bees, which is I save bees from people’s walls and their gardens and the trees where they don’t want bees. I’ll come and sort of capture them and bring them home. Sometimes you get a little more Africanized genetics, and sometimes that really…they get a little ornery when you start looking in instead of the nice European bees that you can buy and manage really easily, but bees are fun. You take stings with the territory, that’s what part of beekeeping is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I’m sure this can be a whole podcast episode but I must ask in brief, to what extent is the human species at risk of extinction because of bees not being able to pollinate stuff in the future?

Eric Karpinski
What I love is the Flow Hive that I mentioned. It is making so many people into hobby beekeepers, and for those that are, especially those that are taking local honey, like hives, and local colonies and bringing them, you’re maintaining the genetic diversity of the bees. And so, there’s a huge benefit, so lots of hobbyists, because the commercial ones need to have very predictable bees but the rest of us can just go. We don’t need things really efficient so we can come in and nurture the genetic diversity that I think is really important for countering a lot of the things with the colony collapse issues.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, good to know. Now, we’re going to talk about happiness.

Eric Karpinski
Let’s talk about happiness. Bees make me happy but there’s more direct ways to do it than having to get your own hive.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, you’ve got a book Put Happiness to Work. Can you tell us, what’s one of the most surprising, counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made along the way about happiness and engagement when you were working on this stuff?

[03:12]

Eric Karpinski
Yeah. So, starting at the top, we spent over a third of our waking hours working, so we should invest in our happiness. In our relationships at work and finding meaning at work, we spend so much time, it makes sense that we actually focus on those things, and the ties between happiness at work. I think one of the biggest things is, over the last 10 years, really understanding how much being happy at work actually ties, and specific types of happiness, really ties to being awesome at your job.

So many people think of happiness as that thing that happens once you get what you want. And the most surprising thing and the most important thing is happiness is the way to get a lot of the other things that you want, the way to success. I spent years working on my own, “Look, if I can be as successful as I can be then I’m going to be happy.”

And so, I worked hard, did all the things except that “work hard and success thing” became this loop of, “Hey, all right, I got a degree from Brown University. Awesome. I got this great job. Great. I got an MBA from Wharton. Awesome. Look at all the success I have. I have this incredible job where I’m doing a venture capital job, and I’ve got all these things.” Well, I kept milking at those success and then I would stress so much about the next level of success, the next promotion, the next raise, the next thing, and I never stepped from that success down to the happiness piece.

And I got stuck in this loop and I ended up stress turned into anxiety, anxiety turned to insomnia and then depression, and I’m supposed to be getting happy by the success and instead I’m driving it into the therapist chair and Paxil, not the path. So, when I found positive psychology research though, I realized you can flip that around. There are so many things we can do right now in our lives and in our work. And, actually, when we’re happier, our brain works better. And there’s specific types of happiness, we can talk about, really helps drive engagement at work and all the positive emotions that come with that.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so I think that’s a huge idea, and I think I first learned this from Shawn Achor and his TED Talk, and I understand you worked with Shawn, which is cool.

Eric Karpinski
Yeah, for almost 10 years we’ve been working together. He’s incredible. He helped shift the world and the boardroom from happiness is one of those little things that you don’t really need to worry about at work to say, “This can be central.” And, obviously, the work is still ongoing in terms of creating that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Well, we love positive psychology stuff over here and we had his wife, Michelle Gielan, on the show and she was great.

Eric Karpinski
Yeah, she’s awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s get into it a little bit. So, what are some of the top things we can do to boost our happiness and engagement at work?

[06:05]

Eric Karpinski
Yeah. If I can take a second to sort of round out sort of the idea behind the book which is there is so much in the positive psychology research, 20 years of positive psychology, neuroscience, organizational psychology research, and I’ve spent 10 years actually implementing that with organizations. And I think 80% of this book is really good for any of us that want to be happier and spread that happiness and be awesome at their jobs. The other 20% is really focused on managers and leaders and how they can help create engagement at work through a specific set of strategies and using positive emotions.

So, with that sort of frame, let’s get into the topics, let’s get into, “How do we apply it?” One of the topics that I think is most important, particularly right now at this moment, as we’re 14 months into the pandemic, so many of us have just lost our ability to socially connect. And maybe we’ve got that ability still with a few people, but we’re out of practice. And as the vaccines get more well-distributed, there are so many opportunities for us to reactivate that and to bring that. And I think that that’s true for our personal lives for sure and I think it’s really true with our work lives.

We’ve gotten so stuck with sort of Zoom fatigue and all these different issues and we just aren’t spending the time. Most of us aren’t spending the time connecting with people as much as we’d like. As Adam Grant says in his recent New York Times article, “We’re all languishing. We’re just sort of sitting in this pause mode, not everybody, but many of us, many more than normal.”

And so, when I think about social connection, and there’s a whole strategy about this about work, and I wanted to bring a couple of the habits that I talk about in the book that I think are really good at retraining us, reopening us to connection, and then helping us actually motivate and start doing things. So, one of them, the first one is a simple one.

Everyone that talks about positive psychology talks about gratitude, and targeting this really for gratitude for others. Sitting down and just spending a couple minutes each day writing down three people that you appreciate in your life and something specific you appreciate about them. So, it can’t just be, “I love my mom because she’s always there for me,” or, “I love my partner because…” something else. Like, not just “Because I love my partner,” but what specifically do you love about your partner or your children?

Like, my son is 16. He’s just got his driver’s license, he’s driving around the world now, but he also is always willing to give me a hug. He’s always wanting to just stop his day and hug me.

Pete Mockaitis
At 16 years old.

Eric Karpinski
Touch being one of my love languages, it’s really huge. So, that’s one of my gratitude that pops up from time to time. And this idea just opens you. And make sure you include one person from work, a work-related person each day. So, that’s one. Another one is something Shawn did on the original research on, we call it conscious acts of kindness message. It’s an email or a text.

[09:16]

When you first get to your phone or you first get to your email, just send one two-line, two-sentence email each day to someone appreciating them, sharing some good news, sending some encouragement, just something that’s kind, something that’s thoughtful. It just takes two minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to dig into that a little bit because I’ve heard of that. And so, I like the conscious kindness communication. Is that how you called it?

Eric Karpinski
Yeah, conscious acts of kindness.

Pete Mockaitis
Conscious acts of kinds and its message. And so, that’s broader than only thinking, or sorry, thanking and/or praising. It can have a variety of flavors there, which I like. You’re expanding this for me. So, we can also have encouragement. How about you just give us a few examples of some recent messages you’ve sent out that fall into those categories? It could be thanking, it could be praising, it could be encouraging, it could be any of those.

Eric Karpinski
Sure. Well, I just launched a book so there’s so many people that have helped me and that have encouraged me. Every time I get someone who posts a photo of them with my book, I’ll send them that authentic message of, “I really appreciate that you…it wasn’t just you bought it but you bought it and you’re reading it and you’re sharing with the world that you got it.” So, I sent a couple of those each day just because this is still the time when everyone is still getting the book and sharing it.

Then another good one is my wife helped write the book. She was there. She read it all. She was there to bounce ideas off of, and she’s got a full-time job. She’s a senior executive in a healthcare organization, and she makes the time to do it, so I told her that yesterday. When someone is in person, you can absolutely do it in person. The idea is make sure you do it. And so, the easiest way is to just say, every time you get to your email, every time, when you first get to your phone, send that message. Make it the first thing you do and it’ll happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I love it. Well, hey, keep them coming. Keep them coming. What else can we do?

Eric Karpinski
Yeah. So, the third one that is really awesome. Some people, it’ll strike as kind of hippy dippy woo-woo except I want to say it’s got total backing from researches at Stanford, from the University of North Carolina. It’s something I call connection meditation.

Connection meditation is really what’s known as a loving kindness meditation. And this evolved along with mindfulness meditation for years, for thousands of years, and what’s awesome is it brings…by the way, all three of these are things that bring happiness to us immediately. It’s not just about creating connection. It’s also about it feels good to do these things. And so, that reinforces sort of the need.

So, to describe it then, if you’re talking about connection meditation, you envision someone that is really easy for you to love. Maybe it’s a wonderful niece or nephew, or a grandparent, maybe it’s your partner if you’re not in some kind of conflict with them or have something that’s kind of dragging you down. But bring someone to mind that you love easily, that love comes easily, and then you just bring them to mind and you send them little wishes, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you find peace in your life.”

And while you’re saying those things, just opening yourself to the love and really trying to connect with them and open yourself to those emotions. You do that once or twice. And once you get a good head of steam going, then you bring it to someone else that you love. Maybe this is your partner, or maybe it’s one of your children, or something else, but someone that maybe there’s a little bit of conflict and a little bit of holding back, and you bring the love to them, and you bring the same statements to them.

And then you bring it to someone who’s kind of neutral, someone you don’t know that well. It could be a neighbor, it could be someone at work that you just haven’t spent much time with, or it could be, again, someone who at work that you kind of have a little bit of conflict with but you want to overcome that. And then you bring them to mind and you bring the same wishes to them.

And what’s so cool, Barbara Fredrickson did a lot of research in this space and said, “We feel so good when we do that.” Now, not 100% of the time, not always, but people stick with this connection loving kindness meditation longer than they do mindfulness meditation. She actually did a head-to-head study which was really cool.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s not surprising. Mindfulness meditation is hard.

Eric Karpinski
It is. It is.

Pete Mockaitis
This feels good.

Eric Karpinski
And we feel so…we get so judge-y about, “Oh, I didn’t stick with it. No, now this,” the same stuff we’re not supposed to do when we’re doing mindfulness meditation but, anyway. Then the Stanford group saw increases in empathy, increased desire to actually reach out to others. It’s a great way to just prepare your mind for connection and it feels really good, so that’s one that I really integrate that and mix it up with my mindfulness meditation from time to time, so highly recommend that.

And not a lot of people talk about that, especially in a work context. I haven’t heard anybody else mention this in kind of a work context but it’s really useful to help build those social connections, build your own preparation for social connections. And then I think I’ve got a couple really good ones that can help you connect with others and help create that connection amongst your teams.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. Well, let’s talk about the loving kindness meditation a bit. So, I think it may feel, I don’t know, woo-woo or hippy dippy for some folks. So, when you mentioned science, it’s awesome. So, we talked the boost in empathy, I think that just makes sense. Can you share any particulars associated with the studies, the results, or the numbers?

I mean, I can sort of imagine or extrapolate, like, “Oh, well, if you have an increased in empathy, you’re more likely to be patient with the people that you work with, and much less likely to be overly critical, and improve your working relationship with them such that they like to…they enjoy being with you and you feel more comfortable sharing feedback, positive and negative, which improves performance.” So, I can just imagine how these turns into improved work results. Can you share any hard-hitting stats?

Eric Karpinski
They haven’t done those studies yet. They measured the increased empathy, so I see all the benefits that could happen but I haven’t seen it actually put into practice in an environment where you’re then looking at downstream benefits. So, that’s a study that’s going to be there but, as you say, I can imagine so many of them, and just the ability to…and I actually recommend this for people that don’t feel like they are that caring or that they care that much about connection. And I try to avoid the should. You shouldn’t be picking things that you should do.

Pete Mockaitis
“Don’t be a selfish jerk.”

Eric Karpinski
Right. So, only if it sounds intriguing. We’ll talk about that in a second. But a big thing is to pick these habits by which ones get you, are drawn towards and that bring you energy, you get excited about. But, at the same time, if you know that caring for others is something that can often derail you, it’s a nice practice to try out for a little while and see if you take to it.

Pete Mockaitis
That is cool.

Eric Karpinski
So, anyway. But that increased in empathy and the ability to take someone else’s side. And I remember hearing one of your other podcast, someone was talking about compassion and activated empathy is kind of an important aspect, that you can’t be like, “Oh, yeah, I know what they feel like, and I’m going to utilize it to make myself better.” Like, compassion and action, putting empathy to act is kind of an important step on that. So, it’s not just about increasing that empathy, but then how do we actually then do things for others and help relieve the challenges that they’re facing, or share positive emotions that they’re feeling? Both of them are important.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And I think about some people who work within a religious or wisdom tradition could very readily integrate this right into their existing prayer or whatever time since a lot of it feels like kind of morning ritual prep, get a great start to the day type stuff here.

Eric Karpinski
Yup, yup, it integrates with so many different prayers and different types of meditation. It’s nice to just slot in if you’ve already got…and anytime you’re doing a habit, if you can lock it next to a habit that you’ve already got. So, if you’re already sitting and doing a little prayer, maybe this fits as an add-on to that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. What else?

Eric Karpinski
So, let’s talk about when we’re at work and some things we can do because these are habits that we can do individually. One of my favorites that I just learned about because of writing the book, Scott Cabtree is a friend of mine who works, he does happiness talks and things up in the Northwest in Oregon, and he talks about something called a “Pecha Kucha” presentation. Now, the name doesn’t matter. But what it matters is that you ask everyone in the team to collect 10 photos of their life outside of work that they’re willing to share. And you have them put it together in a presentation, and then you ask one person at the weekly meeting to just spend two minutes, because here’s the ticket, you only get 20 seconds per photo, so you can’t tell any kind of long story. You can just mention a couple things.

I’ve done this with several different groups I’ve been with and so when I present it, it’s like all you can say is, “Hey, I’ve lived in these 12 cities,” is one of mine, “I struggled with cancer this year,” and give them a couple facts about that. “I’m a beekeeper.” And those are the things that you show a photo, and you something, you show your family, you show the important people to you too, but then it creates these opportunities. You can’t tell whole stories but it creates all this, “I’ve been curious about beekeeping.” Just like you and I had that conversation at the beginning. Some people are going to be like, “Oh, wow. Don’t you get stung all the time?” and they’re going to come asking me on the side, and that’s going to create a fun conversation even if we didn’t have that connection before.

And, for me, that’s the real thing. We get knowledge about our coworkers and we get a chance to seed some really cool conversations that might create these high-quality connections, these experiences of positivity resonance when we’re like connecting and kid each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s so cool. And I think about managers or teammates, I mean, that can just be fun to have either in your cubicle or somewhere, a home office as the case may be, on display in terms of, “Okay, that’s Eric…”

Eric Karpinski
Visible in the Zoom window, right?

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s Eric and there are these 10 photos,” and that’s helpful just in terms of just continually reminding yourself because it’s obvious, but we forget it, I think, at the emotional experiential level that, “Oh, this is a human being with needs and values and priorities and concerns outside of work. And, oh, yeah, and here they are right on display visually. Okay, cool.”

Eric Karpinski
Yeah. And I envision that usually in a sort of a PowerPoint kind of setup but to then transfer it over is perfect because then it’s always there, it’d be like, “Wait, there was something I wasn’t curious about.” And once we’re, for people that are in their offices, “Oh, wow, right, beekeeping. I wanted to ask you that question. It’s super cool.”

And you mentioned managers, like one of my favorite habits for a supervisor or manager or someone who’s got direct reports is to start those one-on-one meetings, we all have one-on-one meetings with some of our key people, asking, “What’s one awesome thing someone on your team has done today?” or, “What’s one awesome thing that someone at work has done this week?”

And if you just take a minute or two right at the start of your meeting, and ask that question, and you don’t let them off the hook. Some people will be like, “Oh, I can’t think of anything.” That’s all right. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing. It can be something small. Just think of something and they’ll come up with one.

And then in the next week, or next Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. when you’ve got your weekly standing meeting, you ask the same question. And then, by the third time, they’re coming with…they’re often coming with answers with, “Oh, here, Eric is going to ask this question. Here’s the thing I’m going to say.” And so, it starts to actually train the people that you’re working with to start noticing the good stuff at work and sharing it with you so that you, now as a supervisor, if you’ve got three or four of this every week, you can create a list of all these great things.

And I love to ask them after they tell me, “Have you shared this with them? Have you told them that you thought this?” And they’re like, “No, but I should,” is often the response you’ll get. Sometimes it’s inappropriate. And then I’ll ask, “Would you mind if I mentioned it to them too?” And now you’ve got three things, three incredible benefits.

First, you’re helping them do, essentially, gratitude for people at work practice. They’re starting to learn. And, hopefully, over the course of you doing this consistently, they’re going to start noticing things as they’re working. They’d be like, “Oh, that’s awesome. I’m going to bring that to Eric, and I’m going to tell them right now.”

And then, I, as the supervisor, I get this long list of all these great things that are happening in the team and for the team. And then you’re also starting the conversation off in a positive way. You talked about Michelle Gielan, she talks about those power leads, those happiness questions that you start with. This is a powerful one because it starts the conversation in a positive way that then makes the rest of your agenda much more productive and much more creative and much more flexible in their thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
And then just some good contagious emotional stuff because we’ve got a bit of a natural negativity bias in our thinking to have these things being surfaced again and again and again, just kind of puts you in a better groove in terms of, “You know what, work doesn’t really suck as a matter of fact.”

Eric Karpinski
That’s the hope of all of us. You realize there are so many opportunities for connecting and smiling and laughing. Look, we don’t have to be happy all the time. All we need is, two or three times a day where we just get a nice little pop of positive emotions. And all we’re doing, all these habits are just about planting seeds for that to potentially happen. If we don’t create space for it, it’s not going to happen nearly as often. So, let’s create space. That’s what these habits are for, that’s what these interpersonal sorts of habits do, is create space for potential connection, for potential happiness. That’s the best we can do when we’re going to work, is create space for others to have those experiences and for ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Any other key practices?

Eric Karpinski
There’s lots of things that we can do. I don’t want to pooh-pooh the whole idea of doing a picnic or a happy hour. I think those are important but I think the most important thing is that we find ways to integrate it into our day, just like in these one-on-ones, just like in our weekly team meeting, like we have someone do their Pecha Kucha each week till everyone has done one. Finding ways to make it part of our day, make it part of our routine is the key because if we don’t, then if we only rely on the happy hours and the picnics, it’s just not going to happen very often, and then we’re going to continue sort of languishing and not really creating that positive thing.

So, I want to make sure that we do those things. I’m not saying don’t do picnics. I’m just saying make sure you also pick some things that can create those daily and weekly experiences of one another and of happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think the high frequency makes a world of difference there. Well, let’s talk a little bit about stress here. How do we think about it? How do we use it well?

Eric Karpinski
Yeah. So, there is some really powerful research that’s coming to light and that more people are talking about. But what we know is that most of what we hear about stress is how it’s such a problem, that it’s a problem for our productivity, that it’s a huge problem for our health. And, of course, that’s only been multiplied with all the stress that we have from the pandemic and from COVID.

But the thing is we evolved stress for a reason. When we’re stressed, like our hearts start to beat faster, we also start to breathe faster, our liver releases glucose and fats into the bloodstream. All of this is to help us get ready to act. And recent research has really talked about how we can actually change and put a mindset around stress that can help us actually experience that benefit.

So much of what we think about sort of one stress response is fight or flight. And, actually, there’s a lot more sort of a continuum. There’s what we call the threat response, what researchers call the threat response which is what hear so much about. This is when we initially hear about something that we don’t think we have the resources to respond.

And this response is to really address the issue that’s caused there, and we get this flood of cortisol and it has these negative effects on our performance and on our health. Blood is actually centered away when we have this threat response, away from the evolved parts of the brain so we can’t think clearly and we can’t choose how to react. So, when we’re in this reactive place of avoiding what’s happening and trying to kind of run away or just totally freeze and just forget about it, that’s not good.

And, by the way, we’re also narrowing a lot of the arteries in our whole body that causes the high blood pressure which causes a lot of health problems associated with stress.

The other side of the continuum is something we call the challenge response. The sciences have really understood now this challenge response, and this happens naturally when we see that something difficult is coming but we believe we have the resources to actually address it or at least try to address it and start moving it, moving towards fixing it. And what’s cool here, we still get cortisol and we still get a stress response, but it’s countered by this other stress hormone called DHEA.

And what happens then is actually that combination of the two hormones opens the vascular backup in your brain and in your body. You get access to the full of your brain, so you get access to the prefrontal cortex, which is the home of reason and logic and of choice, and we actually get to choose then how we’ll respond and what we’re going to do. Our hearts are still beating fast but those open vessels drive our blood pressure down, and that’s a much healthier state for us to be experiencing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, challenge response sounds lovely relative to the alternative. So, how do we have more of those?

Eric Karpinski
Yeah. So, I have an acronym called ASPIRE. I’m aspiring to utilize the stress that I feel and so there’s a lot of things. I’ll just hit on a couple. The A of ASPIRE is acknowledge your stress. Notice when you’re stressed and call it out. Now, some of us, we’re so reactive to our stress we don’t even know when we’re in it. And so, there’s work in the book about how do we notice, what are our signal for stress.

And then, “Oh, man, I’m feeling stressed right now,” or, “I’m feeling a little bit of stress right now,” whatever it is. Just by calling it out, we change where we process that stress from the amygdala and the limbic centers of our brain, which are much more primal, to the prefrontal cortex, which is, I said, is a place where once we activated that, we have choice. We can actually decide how to move forward and so it shifts us. Just that alone, acknowledging it can shift us towards the challenge.

The other is S of ASPIRE is shifting your mindset. Simply recognizing that stress can be helpful changes how you respond to it. So, just listening to this podcast, reminding yourself when you’re feeling stressed, “Oh, wait, didn’t Eric say that stress can be good for us?” And they’ve done studies with LinkedIn employees, with investment bankers, with college students at MIT, with high schools, with students preparing for the GREs, again and again, just by teaching a simple, sometimes just a five-minute exercise, reading a couple of articles about how stress can be helpful changes the way that people respond. It moves them to a challenge response.

So, simply remembering this podcast and what we talked about already can change how we respond here.

So, P is purpose. What’s really interesting, and Kelly McGonagal has done a lot of work in this space and shared a lot about this, talks about the stress paradox, that when we are stressed, behind every stress is something that matters to us or we wouldn’t be stressed. We care about the outcome in some way. So, if we can spend the time thinking, “All right, why am I so stressed about this? What’s underneath it? Not that someone said something bad to me but that respect is a value of mine and I don’t feel like they respected me.” Okay. Well, let’s go deeper in that. And what is most important about this?

And if we can find things in that meaning, particular that somebody else, what benefit might there be if we’re successful, to my family, to end users, to patients, to whoever it is? Tapping into the meaning behind why we’re feeling that much stress and just understanding who this is for, what this is for, can help us switch over to the challenge response.

Eric Karpinski
So, I is inventory your resources. When we hear about a stressor, we do this lightning quick, so fast we can’t even have conscious thoughts response, “Oh, my God, I can’t do it. I’m overwhelmed. There’s no way it’s going to happen,” and it throws us into the threat response. If when we notice that, we can just pause, take a breath, step back a little bit, be like, “Okay, this is big. This is going to be hard. But what resources do we have? What strengths can I bring into this? What experiences, when have I had something like this before, and what happened? What skills do I have?”

“Who’s in this with me? Who’s the team that’s going to help us do this? What skills and experiences and knowledge do they have? And can we reach out beyond just our team? Like, who else in the organization has seen this? Or, can we bring in some outside expertise for people that have dealt with this? Is there technology that might be able to address this problem?”

And just by categorizing and inventorying the things that we have, it often brings us into that sort of natural challenge response, like, “Oh, there’s more here than I thought. Maybe we can do it.” And it starts to bring you, it activates you into bringing energy towards the problem rather than stepping away. And then the final one is, the RE is reach out to others.

There’s Shelley Taylor at UCLA has done all this work about the tend and befriend response to stress. A lot of people, when they first feel stress, they want to bake cookies for others, they want to bring them into the office, and they want to reach out to others and just connect and help others. Obviously, you can’t, you’re stressed about your own work, you can’t spend hours and hours helping others. But if there’s some five-minute favors in your inbox, someone asked you for a reference to somebody, or someone asked you for a quick advice, go and do that. And then when you come back, it feeds your courage and your hope to sort of address your own challenges. It helps you move, again, into that challenge response.

So, these are the four. I’ve got a whole worksheet on my website at PutHappinessToWork.com/resources, I’ve got a worksheet that people can just download and it’s great to do when you’re feeling stressed or when you’re doing your planning for the day or the week. Just bring that out and everything that you know is going to stress you, run through the ASPIRE toolset real quick, “How can I shift my mindset? What’s the purpose and the meaning behind this? Let me inventory my resources.” Whichever one works for you, try them out, experiment with it, and then see how you respond and how your stress changes.

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

Eric Karpinski
Yeah, one of the other things I think that is a fun one to do, two of the chapters really need some introspection before you can get value out of them. One of them is really about strengths. And the thing that we need to do there, there’s lots of great strengths assessments. I love CliftonStrengths. It’s a great place to start. The University of Michigan talks about your best self, and you ask 10 people that know you really well for stories of you at your best, and then you harvest that for the things that you’re good at.

But then the important thing that you have to do personally is then think, “Which of these strengths actually energize me when I do them? Which ones give me energy?” And then prioritize those strengths that came out of the assessment, whatever. Feel free to add ones. Like, one of my strengths was, for years, analytical. I’m really good at taking datasets and pulling it out and figuring out what the answer is, but I hate it. It drains me of energy now. I used to love it but now it drains me so I knocked that one off the list and I looked for something else to pop into that top five, and then prioritized those by how much energy they give you when you do them.

And once you’ve got that list, now there’s lots of things you can do with your work, like how you view your work, “How am I actually using this strength that I didn’t even know? Or, what are some things that I can take on that will allow me to use these strengths more?” And that’s magical. That’ll really get you. That provides the energy that really helps us be happier and more engaged all at once.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, thank you. Now, can you share with us a favorite study?

Eric Karpinski
Yeah. So, Harvard Business School, this goes back to the stress stuff I talked about. She did this study where she had a group of students that were going to have to do a last-minute public speaking opportunity. They were going to be recorded and they were going to be evaluated by their peers. And she told one group to say, “I’m calm. I’m calm. I try to calm down this stress and this anxiety. Try to counter it.” So many people think that that’s the right thing to do.

But the other group, she said, “Hey, just tell yourself you’re excited. Yeah, your heart is beating fast, you’re breathing faster. This is excitement, getting ready for it.” And the objective evaluation of that study were incredible, how much better the “I’m excited group” performed. They were more confident, they made their points better, they were fully understood, versus the “I’m calm” group which is kind of going against their biology. They physiology was going, “Ahh, I’m getting up here,” and they’re trying to say, “Calm down. Calm down. I need to calm down,” instead of the excited it goes with what’s happening with the physiology.

And so, that one thing. When you’ve got like an explicit event that’s happening, like you’ve got a difficult conversation coming up, or you’re doing a presentation, or you’ve got something that you’re worried about, hey, when you feel that stress, this is, “I’m excited. I’m excited about this. This is going to help me.” Just that one little switch can change you into that challenge response. So, that’s my favorite.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And how about a favorite tool?

Eric Karpinski
I’m going to go back to the connection meditation, that habit is something that I do regularly, and I want to reinforce that that’s something worth trying even if it sounds a little weird to listeners.

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

Eric Karpinski
So, PutHappinessToWork.com, all one word, is the book website. And so, learn about the book and it’s got all the purchase links there too when you’re ready to buy it. And then my full website is at EricKarpinski.com. And Eric is with a C at the end, and Karpinski starts with a K, K-A-R-P-I-N-S-K-I.com.

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

Eric Karpinski
Pick one thing and do it now. If there was something, I like to refer to this, when I do talks and when I do podcasts and in the book itself, I like to refer to it as an action buffet. There are literally dozens of tools and ideas in there. Don’t wait till you can do multiple of them. As soon as you find one that sounds interesting, take a little helping. Try it out for a day or two, or a week, never just one day, never just one time. You always got to try it two or three times. And any time you do something new, it’s going to be a little awkward and weird. But after three or four times, hey, if it doesn’t take, that’s okay. Go back to the list and pick something else.

But if it does take, now figure how do you really take a full helping, how do you integrate into your day, how do you make a habit of it. Number one is move to action. Stop just reading, stop just listening, and actually pick one thing. And it only has to be a couple minutes a day but do something, move to action.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Eric, this has been a treat. Thanks so much. I wish you much happiness at work.

Eric Karpinski
Thank you so much. This was fun. Yeah, I appreciate it. This was really good. It was really energizing to talk to you and I love your questions. So, thanks for that.

674: Nailing Your Interview, Resume, and Negotiation FAST with Steve Dalton

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Steve Dalton says: "The hard part of the job search isn't getting your resume right. It's getting your resume seen"

Steve Dalton breaks down the most efficient path to landing your dream career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to answer the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” question 
  2. Just how much time and effort you should put into your resume
  3. The simple trick to negotiating a better job offer 

 

About Steve

Steve Dalton is a senior career consultant and program director for Duke University’s full-time MBA program. He holds his own MBA from the same institution and a chemical engineering degree from Case Western Reserve. 

Steve is also the founder of Contact2Colleague, a corporate training firm that helps organizations increase retention, drive sales, and develop internal expertise by teaching their employees to proactively and systematically build better professional relationships. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Steve Dalton Interview Transcript

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

Steve Dalton
It is great to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so glad to have you. And I realized one thing that I neglected to mention last time and ask about was you have done, is this true, 87 Escape Rooms?

Steve Dalton
It is. It is true. Absolutely. I traveled around a bunch to talk about my books and it’s a great way to meet people in whatever city you’re going to, and to just have a really interesting time, find a good part of town.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. I’ve had some really fun adventures and memories there. And so, do you have a favorite room or company?

Steve Dalton
I really got my start with Escape Rooms in Nashville, and so my heart goes out to The Escape Game. I’ve done almost all of their games, and Gold Rush is my absolute favorite. So, all my friends out at The Escape Game, thank you so much for the wonderful times. You’re my favorite. All-time favorite out of all 87.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s where I went in Chicago again and again, and each time was a blast whether it’s with all people I know or a blend. I’ve had it fun both ways.

Steve Dalton
I think I’ve accidentally joined a team girls birthday party in the past, and it still was an excellent time. But it’s really random and incredibly fun.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, we’re not talking about Escape Games. We’re talking about your latest The Job Closer: Time-Saving Techniques for Acing Resumes, Interviews, Negotiations, and More. So, could you maybe distinguish between this book and your previous that we talked about last time for us?

Steve Dalton
Absolutely. So, last time we talked about The 2-Hour Job Search which provided an extended recipe for the squishy middle of the job search. And by squishy middle, I mean that period after you figure out what you want to do, but before you get into that first interview because that’s where people seem to get stuck most frequently. With the The Job Closer, my follow-up book, it gives similar style recipes. It’s more in a cookbook style for all the steps that precede that and follow that. So, it skips over network and networking and focuses on choosing what you want to do, getting your resume together, getting a cover letter drafted on the frontend, and how to interview well, and negotiate, and get off to the best possible start on the backend of the process.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And recipe is the word. That interview, it’s really memorable for me. If you haven’t checked it out, and if you are seeking interviews to appear in your life, like I’ve never seen a more clear, prescriptive, detailed, like, “This is roughly the word count you’re shooting for. This is when you follow up.” It was excellent. So, no pressure, Steve, but I want more of that from you.

Steve Dalton
It only took me nine years to write a follow-up book so I’ve had plenty of time to think about it and I’m really excited to have these concepts out of my head and onto paper finally so other people can discuss them and give them a test themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, I’m tempted to dig, to jump right into the particulars. But, maybe, if you can kick us off with an inspiring story who used some of these approaches and had some transformative results?

Steve Dalton
Honestly, I see this on a daily basis during my busy season and on a weekly basis, but it’s every time I see somebody embrace the FIT model for answering “Tell me about yourself.” I think, historically, we’ve all been bludgeoned with this concept of selling yourself. And what I’ll see is my job seekers will come in to do a mock interview, and you’ll ask them, “Tell me about yourself,” and you’ll have been talking, you’ll warm up any interview with a small talk, the, “How is your day going so far?” “How is your day going so far?” “Where are you from?” “Oh, I was up watching the basketball game. Did you catch it?”

And then they’ll say, “Tell me about yourself” signaling the interview is about to start, and people will go from that fun person who has hobbies directly into a robot who is like, “Okay, I’ve got the next two minutes memorized completely word for word,” and it’s very jarring when it goes from, “Here are the three reasons why you should hire me.” It’s all the goodwill and rapport that you’ve built during the first three minutes of small talk is suddenly wiped out. Like, “Now, I’m uncomfortable. You’re a completely different person.” And that’s how I see so many of my job seekers that I start to work with.

But when they embrace this FIT model, which is FIT. F is for your favorite part, I is for the insight that you gained, and T is for the transition you made. It’s just a pattern, a lather-rinse-repeat pattern that you take through each stage of your career. So, “My favorite part about being a chemical engineer was breaking difficult problems down in smaller pieces, but the insight that I had was that I wanted to apply that rigorous logic to a wider variety of challenges, so upon graduation, I made the transition to strategy consulting.”

So, the nice thing about that is it’s completely authentic. You’re just saying what your favorite part was. The funny thing about saying the word favorite though, it’s so powerful because I can give you three statements, only one is true. Can you guess which one? “I really enjoy cleaning the toilet.” “I’m passionate about cleaning the toilet.” “My favorite chore is cleaning the toilet.” Only one of those is true. Which one is it?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess it’s the favorite because among the less competitive arena of chores. And if you’ve got some of those tools, it’s actually quite satisfying. It’s called the pumice, I think. Boy, you really scrape that stuff off. I’m in an Escape Room game, we’re getting shoutouts already.

Steve Dalton
For me, it is absolutely my favorite chore because minimal time investment, maximum impact of cleanliness. But to say I enjoy cleaning the toilet, that’s a lie. To say I’m passionate about cleaning the toilet, that’s definitely a lie. So, I can say something is my favorite, have it be an absolutely true statement so it’s authentic, deliver a neutral energy which is accurate, and not lose the goodwill of my interviewer who thinks I’m lying to them.

But I see so many people, it’s actually a safer statement than saying that you’re passionate about something, to say that something is your favorite and you don’t laundry list that way so it focuses attention. But when I see people, like the light switch goes off and they actually try FIT, and for each promotion that they’ve had through their career, each stage of their life, they go from this memorized robot into a person who’s just helping you catch up on their life like you would help a long-lost uncle you never knew you had catch up on your life. Being authentic and real and meaningful, and seeing that light bulb go off never gets old for me.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that FIT model sounds perfect for “Tell me about yourself” because you’re telling them about yourself and in a professional context and “Why are we here?” which is kind of sometimes the subtext really of “Tell me about yourself.” So, is that FIT model primarily for that question or for a broader array of questions?

Steve Dalton
It’s to a job seeker’s advantage to treat “Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me through your resume” in identical fashion. I consider those to be identical simply because the job seeker, you want to provide novel content. And where people go wrong with “Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me through your resume” is they do what I call the transcript where they basically read their resume out loud to you.

Pete Mockaitis
“I know that. I read this.”

Steve Dalton
Yeah, it doesn’t add value. You’re just saying these words out loud that they’ve hopefully already glanced at, but probably haven’t. Either way, it’s not interesting. It doesn’t help me get to know you any better. The why, why you did what you did, why you made the career change when you made that. That’s not in your resume. That’s far more interesting. It makes you a stickier candidate in terms of memorability.

So, getting away from what you did and more into why you did what you did, that’s really helpful. The nice thing about favorite is it’s a great humble-brag. If you say something is your favorite, you’re going to get credit for being good at it. If you say you did it a bunch, you don’t get credit at it the same way from an interviewer.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And it really is true. As I think about my own transition from strategy consulting to, I guess, podcasting is that my favorite part of strategy consulting really was making a discovery in terms of it’s like my heart would start thumping. It’s like, “Okay, we finally got all the data. We got it all cleaned. I’m about to push the button that pastes it into the chart, which will reveal ‘What is the primary reason for customer loss?’ or whatever the question is.”

Like, I would get fired up, like an adrenaline rush in that moment before discovery. And then I could say, “Oh, it’s really fun to dig in.” And so, as a podcaster, it’s like I get to do that in rapid fire. It’s just like new guests, new questions, new discoveries. I didn’t have to spend three weeks cleaning the data before I got there.

Steve Dalton
Cleaning data. Your energy for it is palpable though. I absolutely 100% believe you. And that’s so critical, is maintaining that authenticity and trust with your interviewer because so much of interviewing is back-solving, “Do I like this person or not?” and then finding the data that justifies why I do or don’t like you. So, keeping their goodwill is huge. So, “Tell me about yourself” to me is like a spoon when every other interview question is like a fork. It serves to transition you away from small talk into the content of your interviewer. So, it’s a general transition question away from chitchat to sell yourself. It’s a nice easy introduction to you making an argument for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Okay. Well, we jumped right into the “Tell me about yourself” question. Maybe let’s rewind a bit to let’s hear resumes.

Steve Dalton
Oh, my gosh.

Pete Mockaitis
How do we think about them? How much time should we put into the resume, and the cover letter? And let’s just start from square one.

Steve Dalton
If you’ve read the book, you’re familiar with Ed’s 3-hour rule and I can’t stress this enough. It’s so neat and tidy. So, Ed’s 3-hour rule is this, and this is after my boss, Ed Bernier, he says that, “Assume your job search is going to take you a hundred hours of time. Don’t spend any more than three of them on your resume. Any more is too much. Any less is probably not enough,” but it signals how unimportant in the grand scheme your resume is. People so badly want to believe that if they put in enough work on their resume, they may not have to do this networking thing, which is really what I wrote The Job Closer to do, to help people get back to the more meaningful activity, which is networking as quickly as possible.

But Ed’s 3-hour rule, basically, in three hours, you can get to what I call good resume status, error-free and have some accomplishments. Basically, bullet points that serve as a cheat sheet for your interview. These are the stories you’re prepared to tell because they are your greatest hits. And if it’s intuitive to you, you can add results and quantify them. But if not, error-free is going to be okay.

The Ladders did a study where they found that, on average, hiring managers were spending six seconds per resume. They hook their eyes up to eye-tracking software, and the shocking thing was when they looked at what these hiring managers were looking at, they found what they were looking at were where you went to school, where you worked, what your job titles were, what your dates of employment were.

The unifying theme between all those items, they are things you can’t change but that’s not the stuff that people stress about when they do their resumes. They stress over the bullet points, they need a wordsmith, “Should it be managed or supervised?”, and that doesn’t really matter. They only spend 1.2 seconds, on average, reading all of your bullet points combined. So, really focusing on getting it error-free and objectively correct is going to be good enough for most job seekers most of the time and save you hours and hours of anguish, and hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of hiring coaches to disagree on what a perfect resume looks like.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. So, let’s just say we’re spending three hours there, and so that’s enough to collect the facts and make it true and accurate and error-free. Anything else we should be doing with those three hours in particular for our focus?

Steve Dalton
I think the best way to look at it, again, is as these greatest hits or a cheat sheet for your interview. In your interview, you’ll be asked a lot of what I call behavioral interview questions, which tend to begin with “Tell me about a time when you did something, led a team, failed, collaborated with others.” And you’ll need to have a two-minute story, a CAR story, for challenge-action-results. There are a few different formulations of that. I like CAR, it’s the simplest one.

So, each of these bullet points should represent one of those CAR stories, those two-minutes stories you’re ready to tell that demonstrate why you were better at the job than the person who had that job before you were. It’s not about listing responsibilities. It’s about talking, it’s about highlighting what you did with those responsibilities, and why it was uniquely good. That’s really the bright way. You’re going to have to do that before an interview anyway, come up with those stories.

My recommendation for maximum efficiency is think of those stories while you’re writing your resume so it is a cheat sheet for you. You don’t have to do double work. If you make special bullet points just for your resume, usually people list out their responsibilities, “I’m responsible for…” is a giveaway sign that it’s a terrible bullet point that anyone else who had that job could list, so it’s not a differentiator.

But you’re going to have to go back and think of those two-minute stories later. If you just put responsibilities in your resume, might as well get that work done upfront. Think about those kernels of experience, that one week, or that one month, where you did something excellent, and that should be your bullet point, not your overall responsibilities.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s the resume. And cover letters, do they matter? And how should we do them?

Steve Dalton
Oh, cover letters sometimes matter a lot and they sometimes don’t matter at all, and you never know for whom they matter. So, my recommendation is acquire that skill, learn to write them well, that way you don’t have to worry about what a particular employer considers their importance. So, the technique that I recommend for this one is called RAC, for reason-anecdote-connection. It’s the same technique I actually recommend for answering the why questions that you’ll get in your interview, “Why do you want to work for our company? Why do you want this role? Why do you want to work in our sector?”

That same technique can be ported over to a cover letter because, ultimately, that why question is, “Why should we interview you?” So, the best way to treat that cover letter is to keep it short. So, I demonstrate that it can be done easily and under 300 words. What they’re looking for is a candidate that is authentic, specific, and informed. So, you can quickly convey that with this RAC model.

You have an introductory paragraph about the role you’re applying for, any referrals that you might have from current employees, and then you say, “I think I’d make a great candidate for the following three reasons.” Then you list reason number one. You cite a personal anecdote. It could be an experience you had, a conversation that you had with a current employee, an article that you read, something personal that can’t be used by any other person that’s applying. So, unique to you is always authentic and meaningful to you, that’s what counts.

But then, to finish that bullet point, connect it back to why the company should care. So, a lot of people will say, “I’m a great communicator. Here’s an example of when I communicated well,” as their reason. But then to connect it back to the employer, “This communication ability will help me quickly align my cross-functional teams towards a common goal to get my work done on time and effectively.” So, you’re demonstrating, “Okay, I understand this role. It involves managing cross-functional teams.” So, that’s where you get that informed piece.

A lot of people will forget that connection piece, connecting it back to why the employer should care. So, demonstrate an understanding. It’s a missed opportunity if you don’t do that, and you’ve done some networking and you actually understand what the role is. But the idea is we want to keep these minimalist, 300 words. So, know what each sentence is trying to accomplish. If you are repeating a sentence, or you don’t know where it’s headed, it can probably be cut. But I love cover letters. Personally, it gives me a preview of what this person will be, what getting an update email will be like if I hire this person. Are they going to tell me what I need to know or are they going to tell me all the work they took to get there? And I’d much rather the first option and not the second.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. Well, so then you mentioned that much of the heart of it is networking, and we talked a lot about that last time. Is there more that we should talk about here and now?

Steve Dalton
I think, in the book, one of the topics that I cover is the weekly manager meeting. So, this is after you get the job, you’re just starting out, or maybe you’ve gotten an internship because a lot of my students are looking for internships. I think people think that the networking stops. And, in reality, the networking is what gets you the full-time offer, or it’s what gets you promoted at the head of your class, so the networking shouldn’t stop. And the first person whose allegiance you need is your manager. You need to give them the tools required to advocate for you at promotion time. You need to let them know that you’ve taken their feedback, you’ve made progress this past week, and here’s what you’re going to be working on in the coming week so that you don’t make any mistakes or you don’t have misaligned priorities.

So, the networking never really stops. It’s just a matter of keeping people’s trust in you. So, the weekly manager meeting is just a simple format when you meet your manager. Walk them through the updates you have since your last meeting, so key accomplishments that you’ve hit, any progress that you’ve made, and then give them in order, your top priorities for the coming week, and list out any additional priorities that you have that you aren’t going to get to this week so they know they’re still captured.

And then, my assistant, Dave Soloway, he highlighted this wonderful piece, ask some questions that help you deepen your understanding of the role, or maybe the help of how to handle a tricky situation at work, or maybe just different approaches that you’ve identified for tackling a problem to get your manager’s feedback on which they think the best approach is.

Asking for mentorship is an incredibly likable behavior, when you want people to give you advice, it’s back to that Ben Franklin effect. You can build a relationship more quickly if you’ll allow people to help you multiple times instead of if you try to repay favors. And the weekly manager meeting is just a different spin on the networking that we focused on so deeply last time.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I think part of it is then is making sure that you get that weekly manager meeting and that it appears that it’s on the calendar and it doesn’t get pushed, pushed, pushed. So, any pro tips there?

Steve Dalton
Absolutely. And I’ll see this a lot with my interns because, often, it’ll be new managers that take them on for the summer, so they aren’t getting necessarily great managers and you still are responsible for making that relationship work. If they’re going to go on vacation, ask them to pair you with a peer manager to kind of help you in the ensuing week so you can at least broaden your network. My intern manager, when I was in business school, he actually left the company shortly after I finished my internship, so he’s kind of looking for his way out and I still had to find a way to get enough people to say my name in that room when they made decisions on who got offers at the end of the summer.

Thankfully it worked out, but it’s terrifying when you think that your manager knows what you’re working on and is engaged. And if they are canceling your weekly manager meetings, that’s a reason to sit them down, ask them, “Are these meetings too frequent? Would you like to meet less frequently? Is there another way I can keep in touch, keep you up to date on what I’m working on?” but, really, you want to start broadening your network outside of just your immediate manager so you’re not beholden to a single person to advocate for you when you can’t be ever be certain that anyone will.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that makes a lot of great sense. So, then any pro tips on how to have those conversations with other folks within the organization?

Steve Dalton
Absolutely. That ties back to one of the topics we discussed last time called the tiara framework. So, setting up coffee chats and getting to know them. These are going to be a little bit more personal, whereas tiara framework informational meetings were a bit more rigorous and methodical. These will be a little bit more casual. But invite people who are peers to your manager. Let your manager knows you’re going to meet some other people in the organization, you’ll get their blessing. That way, they won’t think you’re doing anything weird. You’re just trying to learn more about your role in the group and the broader team.

And then extend that to any other people that you meet whose work impresses you or whose work you find interesting. Not everybody will take you up on your offer and that’s totally fine, but the people who do take you up on the offer will appreciate your proactivity. It’s just so hard to demonize someone that you’ve shared a meal with or you’ve shared a coffee with. It’s hard to kind of not look out for that person who humanize yourself in their eyes. You learn from them. You use that time not to sell yourself but to extract as much knowledge out of them as you can while also establishing that rapport.

But the only thing you need to do, really, is loop your manager in that you’re going to be setting up coffee chats for other people. Usually, they’ll be happy to hear that because it’ll only make you smarter at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. All right. Well, let’s talk about interviews then. We’ve hit the first question nicely, “Tell me about yourself,” and we’ve got a bit of a framework with the CAR, the challenge, the action, and the results. So, can you share with us, are there some nuances, extra tips, or key questions that you could demonstrate this in action?

Steve Dalton
I mentioned that the same template that I use for cover letters is the one that I recommend for answering “Why this company?” So, let’s jump into that one because I call a subset of questions the big four. Those are “Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me through your resume,” same question in my opinion. They’ll only ask you one or the other.

That usually comes first in most interviews. It’s usually followed immediately by, “Why do you want to work for us?” or, “Why do you want this particular role?” The other flavor of that that you might receive is “Why do you want to work in consulting?” or, “Why do you find the autonomous vehicle space interesting?” So, “Why this sector?” is the fourth question of the big four.

You can use the same RAC model for any of those three variances of the why question. And where I see it helps people is, typically when I am interviewing job seekers and I’ll ask them, “Why do you want to work for this company that you’re about to interview with?” one of the reasons they’ll invariably bring up will be, “You’re the market leader in blank, and everybody looks up to you. You’re the most well-regarded company,” and they’ll just kind of restate that point three or four different ways, and then move on to their next point without actually saying anything of value, and without actually helping me understand, like, “What do I get out of this?” I’m, as the company and the ultimate customer in the room, so is this a win-win? It sounds like it’s just really good for you, the job seeker.

So, the way that I would recommend attacking this would be have a reason, “You are market leadership position.” So, now we need an anecdote to substantiate why that’s a true statement or why it’s meaningful. So, for me, it might be, “I’ve worked at a variety of companies from tiny startups to larger Fortune 100 organizations. And I found, when I was working at larger Fortune 100 organizations, I loved taking advantage of their infrastructure for professional development, for mentorship, for programming to help me to get to know my start class so I could just deepen my bonds with the organization easily. I thrive when there’s infrastructure provided so I could bring this appreciation of all the great world-class infrastructure that you have for developing excellent people to your organization, meaning that I’ll grow faster and add value to your organization more quickly.”

So, taking that kind of clichéd point of, “You’re the market leader,” which tends not to lead anywhere, and if you’re going to use a point like that that could be perceived as cliché, add an anecdote to it, “My best work has come when I have the resources of a large company,” connect it back to why it’s a win-win, “This means I’ll get up to speed faster and grow more quickly.”

Pete Mockaitis
And maybe, as you’ve done your research, that you’ve got something even more compelling than, “You’re the market leader,” because being a market leader tends to correlate with a lot of other good things in terms of if you’re growing, then you’re exploring new cool opportunities, or you’re innovating, or just fill in the blank. There’s profit available to fund great things as opposed to we’re pinching every penny.

Steve Dalton
Exactly right. I think another kind of sibling answer I’ll hear a lot is, “It’s the people. Your people are amazing,” but then that never gets developed, “Who specifically did you talk to?” or that’s such a clichéd point. If you’re going to say a clichéd point like that, put it into the words of someone specific, “I was talking to Rachel Franklin, and she mentioned that she worked for a lot of companies who called themselves family but, at your company, she actually believed it. That was the first time she actually felt that family vibe. That really resonated with me because I’ve had the pleasure of working with an organization where we weren’t focused on our individual goals. We’re focused more on the company’s overall goals. We’re in it together. So, this will allow me to more quickly develop the trust with my cross-functional teammates or my immediate work team so that I can be integrated more quickly.”

As long as you make an attempt to frame it as a win-win instead of just why it’s good for you, and demonstrate that you’ve done a little research, you know who Rachel Franklin is, you’ve chatted with her, it differentiates the serious candidates from the ones who just prepped for this at 11:00 p.m. last night.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Okay. Well, any other thoughts then on the interview? It seems like we’ve kind of got that covered?

Steve Dalton
If I could add one more, the CAR matrix. A lot of people really like the CAR matrix. So, where the CAR matrix is on the Y-axis, on the vertical, you list all the stories that you’re prepared to tell in the interview, and on the X-axis, the horizontal, you list all of the questions that you expect to be asked or the genres of questions that you expect to be asked, and you match up which stories would apply to which questions. You’ll have some favorite stories that you want to tell, so just knowing what variance of popular interview questions you can use your favorite stories for, helps you deploy them in the most effective way because a lot of interviews aren’t longer than 30 or 45 minutes. It’s really important to get your best stories out there as quickly as you can, having a strategy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s wise because you want to share your greatest hits, and sometimes they ask questions that aren’t quite a bullseye. It’s like a politician in a debate. They’re not answering the question that’s posted. They’re answering what they want to. And as an interviewer, when I hear that, it’s off-putting. So, yeah, having that prep stage right there is useful in that you’re not making too much of a stretch at any point but you’re still getting to share your greatest hits.

Steve Dalton
Absolutely right. Just a little bit of planning because most often you’re going to tell the same three to five stories in every interview because they’re just your best stories, and that’s absolutely desirable. But you want to make sure that you have a story ready for, “What’s your biggest weakness?” or a story ready for, “Have you ever faced an ethical dilemma?” And sometimes those are stories you only use when you get that particular question. But having the matrix in front of you really helps you identify any blind spots you may have of questions that you don’t really have a story that you’re comfortable so that you can develop one.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, are there any particular variance you’d recommend for particular questions or is that challenge-action-results kind of the way to go for just about all of them?

Steve Dalton
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, I actually recommend for different formulas of questions, you will sometimes add a component to the start of the CAR story, or sometimes at the end. Sometimes you’ll get the question of, “Tell me about a time where you failed.” So, this is weird because they’re asking you to talk negatively about yourself, at least that’s what the question states. What they really want to see is, “How did you become a better candidate as a result of a setback?”

So, a lot of novice job seekers will focus for two minutes on the failure and, in reality, we want to bury that failure at the beginning of your story so that we can talk about something that’s more flattering or appealing to you. So, I recommend converting your CAR story into a scar story or as a setback, “So, early in my career, I did not verify my data before I started working on a project, and I realized that the data was faulty, so I lost weeks of work and had to deliver my product late. Thankfully, I learned from this occasion on my next project.” And now you’ve transitioned to a positive CAR story about where you analyze data effectively or handle data effectively.

You’re not getting paid a premium or they’re not concerned whether or not to hire you based on how great your mistakes were but how you developed from them.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Wow, that was very impressive how much you blew it.”

Steve Dalton
Right, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
“My hats off to you, sir.”

Steve Dalton
“You get the job, yes.” And, similarly, on the backend, sometimes you’ll be asked a superlative question you may not know how to answer, like, “What’s your best accomplishment? What’s your biggest weakness, especially?” So, you may want to add a T at the end, so a scar-t, or a cart story, where you end with a takeaway.

I like these for superlative questions, “What’s your proudest accomplishment?” because it allows you to put a bow on your story. Maybe you talk about the marathon that you ran, or the patented product that you invented, but at the end you can say, you include a takeaway which just finishes on a nice note, “The reason this is my favorite accomplishment is because…” and that revisits, as you said, the questions they asked in the first place.

So, even if you’re not sure if the story truly answered their question, you can find a nugget. You had a minute and 45 seconds to refresh your memory on that story. Find a little nugget in that story that applies directly to the question they stated, and you can add a takeaway at the end. Like, it rewords their question and states how your story is applicable, or it just highlights, “Here’s the reason why this is such a superlative experience for me.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now let’s talk about negotiation.

Steve Dalton
Oh, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, first of all, should we negotiate or is that rude?

Steve Dalton
Absolutely. If I hire 10 people and only one of them tries to negotiate, that person is getting my most important project. If I can’t trust a new hire to advocate for themselves, I certainly can’t trust them to advocate on behalf of the company because it’s going to be awkward. Some people find that deeply awkward. I have to hope that the person who advocates for themselves is going to be best able to handle the negotiation on behalf of the company as well. So, absolutely, yes.

There’s a great research study I’ve just dug up that shows that when you accept the first offer you receive, you make the person who extended the offer doubt whether it was a decent offer so they feel like a sucker, “Maybe I overpaid you,” or, “Why did I do that?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

Steve Dalton
So, negotiation actually helps reassure them that they’ve made an appropriate offer so it makes both parties happier. A lot of people don’t realize that by negotiating, you’re actually making yourself and your counterpart feel better about the decision to hire you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I guess that’s true. Like, if they say, “Hey, this job pays 120 grand.” You say, “Awesome!” They’d say, “Wait, maybe I should’ve…”

Steve Dalton
Yeah, “Oh, I feel dumb. Oh, gosh.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. Although, I will say that, I guess as the employer, I feel great that I’ve pleased people but I guess it’s something about my personality, in terms of, “Oh, cool. I’m so glad that you feel gratitude and appreciation.” But then, also, it makes me think, “Although I probably could’ve gotten away with paying you less.”

Steve Dalton
Absolutely. It’s terrifying. Nobody likes to think they’ve been taken. And, yeah, you think you’re trying to be, like, “I want to minimize conflict and minimize waves by accepting whatever they give me. I don’t want to take that 0.5% chance that they’ll rescind the offer.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, has that ever happened in the history of mankind? I don’t know. Maybe somewhere but I don’t know.

Steve Dalton
It is kind of an urban legend more than it is a reality. Typically, when I hear about it in reality, the very rare case where I hear about it in reality, there were extenuating circumstances. It was the negotiation was presented in a very unprofessional way. It’s typically the most common reason you would hear that. So, as long as you’re not…

Pete Mockaitis
“Steve, you’re going to have to pony up a heck of a lot more cash for me to even…”

Steve Dalton
“This offer is ridiculous.” Yeah, that’s where I hear that urban legend come to life. It’s something generally pretty deeply inappropriate. But if you’re just asking, and so I tee something called the pre-negotiation call in The Job Closer. I’m kind of amazed nobody else has kind of come up with the concept or named it, but it’s made life so much easier for my job seekers at Duke. Basically, don’t negotiate in your first call to talk about the offer. The pre-negotiation call is a non-negotiation call.

It’s a free information gathering call for you if you’ve just received an offer. And it consists solely of you going line by line through the offer asking this question over and over, “Do you have any flexibility around blank, salary?” “Do you have any flexibility around signing bonus?” “Do you have any flexibility around vacation time?” And if they say no, that means no. If they say, “Ah, we don’t have that much,” that means yes. So, make a note as you go through line by line on the offer where there’s apparent flexibility.

When they’re hiring a big star class, you often see a lot of reservation about negotiating starting salary but there won’t be that same reservation for vacation time or relocation bonuses, or those other non-salary-based assets. But the nice thing about this is when you actually, “Okay, thank you so much for this information. This is very helpful. I’m going to take the weekend to reflect and we can chat next week about the offer after I’ve had a chance to process everything.” And, now, you can negotiate on only the items that you know are in play so that you don’t run into that brick wall of trying to negotiate on salary when this company can’t negotiate on salary with you. That helps you kind of take the awkwardness of hitting a brick wall out of the equation and you can focus on a more productive conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. And maybe in that same conversation, it could be interesting to ask about all the benefits not listed just to kind of make…because, I don’t know, if I’m in that position, they say, “Oh, do you do this, do you do this, do you do this,” and sometimes the answer is, “Oh, I actually didn’t quite think about that,” such that I kind of feel like I should have that in there. And the fact that I didn’t makes me think, well, maybe we can add that, like, “Okay, that’s not a big deal to have…” I don’t know, fill in the blank, a relocation stipend. But I hadn’t considered that and they brought it up.

But then if they say, “Oh, no, you’re bringing up lots of good things that maybe should have been in the offer that are not, and I’m saying probably no to all of them. I feel a little bit of a tug like I should probably make a concession elsewhere if I keep stiff-arming no, no, no, no on all these pretty reasonable requests that are found in many other offers.”

Steve Dalton
Yes. So, one of the books that I took great inspiration from was Getting to Yes for writing the negotiation piece. It was the first negotiation book I’d read and it’s considered a classic in the genre. It really focuses around principles-based negotiation or basically to share your motivation, don’t hide it. Have a because is how I refer to it in shorthand. So, don’t just ask for more money. Ask for more money because you’ve created a budget, you’re looking to path your educational debt with a certain number of years. This will really help you accomplish that with more certainty. Or ask for a larger signing bonus because you’re looking to really lay down roots to make this a long-term commitment so this would help you to put a down payment on a house.

But, as long as you bring them into that bigger factor, and then they may say, “We can’t give you a bigger signing bonus but what we can do is cover your closing costs or we can cost-share your first down payment or something like that. We can loan you money at zero interest.” Like, there are ways they can help you that you won’t know to ask for, but if you bring them into that deeper concern, they become your partner in solving this problem of, “How can I make buying a house when I first move there more attainable?”

That’s much more attackable than, “I want $25,000 more,” without backing it up with any sort of underlying desire or need or data. If you don’t have a comp to show, “Actually, it looks like people from top schools are making this range. It looks like people at top companies, your competitors, are making this range. Could you meet me at that range instead of the lower range that you offered?” So, it’s important to either have some data however applicable as long it’s favorable to your case but then have reasons why. Have a because for everything that you plan on asking for, how is this point going to unlock a win-win.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, any other choice tips or phrases that you love in negotiation?

Steve Dalton
“Can you help me? Can you help me do this?” I think that’s a very unthreatening way to ask for more. Like, “Can you help me close this gap on our salary difference?” Again, it constantly frames your negotiating partner as a partner, you’re on the same team so it engages them creatively instead of getting focused on position, positional bargaining, which is, “I want this number. You’re saying that number. How do we save face and not hate each other in the process?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I’m really thinking back to what you said with regard to if only one negotiates, that’s the one you’re going to entrust with a big project because I think that really reframes the whole thing. Like, negotiation is not rude or inappropriate or ungrateful, but rather it is a further demonstration of what you’re going to be bringing to the table. And not only might you be hurting yourself financially, because you don’t ask, you could be hurting yourself professionally because of the impressions that sends.

And I don’t think, yeah, I keep thinking about the urban legend, I just don’t think that the fear is real and it might just be like, “No, hey, seriously. Compensation is standardized across all of North America.” It’s like, “Okay. Well, I asked, and you answered, and I guess that’s it. And maybe there’s a couple little areas that we can go after, but I’m not going to ask about the sunny bonus, or the salary, or the 401(k) match, or the target year-end bonus, because I guess it’s standardized across North America. But here’s a couple exceptional situations, and we can go there instead.”

Steve Dalton
And you still won even if you asked and get shut down 100% across the board. You still tried. You still advocated for yourself so that makes me more confident that you’ll advocate for the company. So, it’s a brand preservation, it’s a brand protection measure, and that’s a certain loss if you don’t negotiate or at least even attempt. That’s a certain ding on your reputation that you didn’t even try to advocate for yourself. Whereas, this urban legend, “I’m afraid of the offer getting rescinded,” that is an uncertain very, very rare occasion that usually has extenuating circumstances around it. So, make the less common mistake is always my guidance.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Steve, any final things you want to share before we hear about a couple more of your favorite things?

Steve Dalton
No, what’s up next?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, sure. Can you give us favorite quote?

Steve Dalton
I am going to give a shoutout to my late mother, Dorothy Dalton. She has one of my all-time favorite quotes, and I found myself, while I was writing The Job Closer, saying it more and more. Her quote, and I don’t know where she got this, this is it, “The difference between a good meal and a bad meal is about an hour.”

I just love that quote because sometimes you have the right technique but you’re not in the right mental space for it. You just need to get a little bit hungrier. And so, I liken The Job Closer to a cookbook a lot, and so having that quote in mind, “The difference between a good meal and a bad meal is about an hour,” is just very top of mind right now. I will always treasure that bit of wisdom from her.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay, it took me a second. It’s an hour of extra hunger as opposed to an hour of cook prep time.

Steve Dalton
Yeah, that’s a thinker. It’s a thinker, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m with you now, Steve. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Steve Dalton
I talk about this one in the book too. There is a study by Frieder, Van Iddekinge, and Raymark about how quickly decisions are made in interviews that I’ve just been all about lately. So, they showed that 5% of decisions are made within the first minute which is crazy. That’s just small talk and first impressions. They showed that 30% of decisions have been made in the first five minutes. So, I talk about the importance of small talk and especially “Tell me about yourself,” 30% of decisions are made based on small talk and maybe “Tell me about yourself.”

They further say that 60% of interview decisions are made within the first 15 minutes, and what’s covered there, small talk, plus “Tell me about yourself,” plus the remaining questions of the big four, the why questions. So, I think so many people go into their resume or their interview worried about their CAR stories when they should really be worrying about getting those big four to be super compelling because over half of decisions are made then. Only 18% of decisions are made after the 15 minutes in the interview, and the balance, the remaining 22%, are made after the interview is over.

So, don’t stress about the CAR stories as much. I try to make it as easy as possible to kind of make them memorable for you but, really, if you’re going to worry about anything, worry about the big four. That study is amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Steve Dalton
I’m loving Unwinding Anxiety by Jud Brewer right now. It’s brand new. It just came out a couple months ago. He does a lot of research on habit formation, breaking bad habits, essentially, whether it’s substances or any other kind of detrimental behavior. But he really marries it with mindfulness and he does it in such a simple applied way.

I reduce anxiety for a living, that’s how I view my role. I take away people’s anxiety around this job search. Don’t take on yourself the stress of curating job search tips. Let me give you the first draft. Follow it, try it this way first, and don’t indulge the decision anxiety. But I still struggle with anxiety myself, so it’s really helped me kind of break those patterns, those habits of bringing irrational anxiety upon myself, and then blaming myself for indulging that feeling. So, can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone else out there who’s feeling anxiety about their job search or any other topic.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Steve Dalton
My favorite tool is, honestly, it’s the concept of the least bad option. So, in The Job Closer there are some controversial stuff, I mean, I disagree with the concept of selling yourself, which may be jarring to a lot of the listeners out there right now because, “How can something I’ve heard so many times possibly be false?” So, everything that I put forth in The Job Closer is about the least bad option. Maybe it’s not a great option but it is the least bad option available so it’s going to be better than the other ones that are out there even though nothing is great.

Really embracing the concept of the least bad option, trying the recipe, and then seeing if you can improve that recipe after you’ve tried it, the original way the first time, or seeking out a different approach that will be better than the one that you’re currently employing, that’s really just a mindset that helps guide people through a rather unpleasant activity.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Steve Dalton
Honestly, my favorite habit is asking for directions before you’re lost. I’ve done this all my life. I’ve seen so many people get into fights over not wanting to ask for directions, and I’ve always gone the other route. Whenever I sense I’m about to get lost, I don’t want to have any ego on this. Let me pull over and ask for directions, that way there’s no personal stress on the line there.

So, when you’re feeling like you’re spinning your wheels, you’re not getting a great return on effort, don’t allow yourself to get too dug in. Instead, just seek out an expert, seek out a recipe that you trust. Ask for directions before you get lost because it’s so much harder to do after.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget – that kind of sounds like it right there, I mean – that you share that is frequently quoted back to you?

Steve Dalton
One that I’ve gotten a lot of traction with lately, “The hard part isn’t getting your resume right. The hard part of the job search isn’t getting your resume right. It’s getting your resume seen.” And that takes networking effort, and networking effort is scary, but don’t be scared of it. It’s like being scared of playing the violin. If you’ve never played the violin before, it’s not scary. You just haven’t been trained. You haven’t practiced. It’s going to sound terrible the first time you try it, but you can get better at it quickly. So, don’t worry about hyper-engineering your resume because it’s not how you get interviews.

For every one person who’s hired through an online job posting application, we talked about the New York Fed study the last time, the Brown, Setren, and Topa one, 12 people are hired through internal referrals. So, get internal referrals, that’s the modern challenge of the job search. And everybody’s on equal playing field. We’re all terrible at asking strangers for help, for their advocacy. So, the quicker you learn this brand-new skill, the better off you’ll be.

Even those people who come in and you think they have perfect networks for this, very rarely are they exactly relevant. And if they are relevant, great, they have an advantage, but that’s a small minority of people. Most people don’t. Embrace networking earlier because the hard part isn’t getting your resume right, it’s getting it seen.

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

Steve Dalton
The fastest way on Twitter @Dalton_Steve. You can also find me at TheJobCloser.com for the new book. And the place that I’m most active is “The 2-Hour Job Search – Q&A Forum” LinkedIn group. So, if you’re active on LinkedIn, look up the LinkedIn group “The 2-Hour Job Search – Q&A Forum” and you’ll find me there. There’s about 7,000 of us currently. I’m on there several times a week answering questions, trading ideas. It’s a good time so please join me.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Steve, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck, and your students as well, as they’re closing bunches of jobs.

Steve Dalton
Thank you so much for having me back. It’s a pleasure as always.

673: Maximizing Wellbeing at Work with Gallup’s Dr. Jim Harter

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Dr. Jim Harter says, "70% of the variance in team engagement is influenced by the manager."

Dr. Jim Harter shares the key practices that improve wellbeing at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The five key ingredients to a thriving work life
  2. Top tips for developing each area of wellbeing
  3. What most organizations get wrong about wellbeing

About Jim

Jim Harter, Ph.D., is Chief Scientist for Gallup’s workplace management and wellbeing practices. He is coauthor of the No. 1 Wall Street Journal and Washington Post bestseller, It’s the Manager. He is also the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller 12: The Elements of Great Managing.

Dr. Harter’s book, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, is based on a global study of what differentiates people who are thriving from those who are not. His research is featured in First, Break All the Rules, and he contributed the foreword to Gallup’s updated edition of this groundbreaking bestseller.

Dr. Harter is the primary researcher and author of the first large-scale, multi-organization study to investigate the relationships between work-unit employee engagement and business results. His work has appeared in many publications, including Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company and Time Magazine, and in academic articles and book chapters.

Dr. Harter received his doctorate in psychological and cultural studies in quantitative and qualitative methods from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Dr. Jim Harter Interview Transcript

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

Jim Harter
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into much of your wisdom and research. I understand that your latest here has involved a hundred million plus people. What’s the story here?

Jim Harter
Well, we’ve had a chance to study workplaces all over the world for quite some time, to study individual strengths of people in the workplace. We’ve developed various tools for selecting people into the right jobs, and we’ve studied workplace environments extensively both inside organizations. So, think about thousands of organizations conducting census surveys and mapping the data down to the team level so that managers get a report on how they’re building a culture.

Then, also, we do polls of the entire globe, the only real-world poll of the entire globe, on issues like how engaged people are in their work, their wellbeing, how they think about their lives, and how they experience their days. And so, those accumulated interviews with people add up to actually, a hundred million is pretty conservative.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s interviews not survey responses. Interviews. That’s just huge. Hotdog! Well, while we’re here, I’ve got say the Gallup Engagement Research has been cited so many times by the hundreds of guests on the show that it’s just sort of an institution almost. And so, I’d love it if you could maybe, for everyone who’s wondering, how do we bucket it in terms of putting a person into the engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged categories? How do we arrive there?

Jim Harter
Well, we started off by studying which elements of human nature at work predict performance outcomes and conducted very large-scale studies looking at which particular survey items predict not only how people feel about their jobs overall but also performance outcomes like productivity, whether they’re likely to stay or leave an organization; profitability, were their customers are getting served the right kind of way; safety incidents; absenteeism. We’d looked at all these kinds of outcomes and we found that there were 12 elements that best explain what a great workplace culture looks like.

And so, we had questions we tested over and over again. And so, there are 12 elements that go into that formula that we apply to get at the percentage of engaged, not engaged, actively disengaged. And the percentage that we come up with is really a high bar. If you look at our global data, only about 20% of people are engaged globally. And, in the US. we’re talking about 36% as of the end of 2020. The good news is those numbers have been going up.

And when we study organizations, we have seen them move from less than 20% engaged all the way up to over 70%. I say it’s a high bar because the criteria is performance. There’s a lot of organizations out there using other metrics like combining, on a one-to-five scale, the fours and fives together, and coming up with a percentage of favorable, oftentimes calling that engaged. That’s a pretty soft metric. That’s more like a satisfaction metric than a high bar kind of metric.

The reason for the high bar though, again, is it gets you to a real culture when you improve on it and it gets you to real performance outcomes when you improve on it.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s a high bar in terms of the robustness of the study. Is it also a high bar in terms of like the, I don’t know, strictness of the grading on the 12 questions? Or how do you think about that?

Jim Harter
Yeah, it is, because we looked at how each of those questions relate to performance outcomes. And so, if you think about like a on one-to-five scale, there’s a big difference between someone. I’ll give you an example of the question, “I know what is expected of me at work.” Only about half of the people globally can strongly agree to that. That means the other half are at least somewhat confused at what they’re supposed to do. Think about the problems that creates in the work environment when people just don’t know what to do next. That’s why managing is so important.

But a difference between a four and a five is very significant, and so we lean more toward people given those more…those strongly agree kinds of responses. It doesn’t mean that they have to strongly agree to every question, of course. But it’s a formula we apply based on how that scale relates to different performance outcomes. So, yeah, it’s a higher bar in terms of how we’ve determined, you can call them cutoffs, to determine whether you’re engaged or not, but there’s a reason. And the reason is it really gets an authentic culture when organizations improve on it. It gets into a very authentic culture where a leader can feel like they’ve got something reliable that they’ve built.

And it’s been particularly important to see this play out during crises. We’ve studied this research. We’ve conducted ten meta analyses now of how engagement predicts performance outcomes. But we’ve had a chance to study the relationship between engagement and performance during two previous recessions and now this one. And we find the correlation between engagement and performance is a little bit stronger during tough times.

And so, think of it as like an insurance policy, when the going gets tough, are your people going to get into more of a fight or flight mentality or are they going to be resilient and have your back because you’ve had their back?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. I’ve wanted to know that for a long, long time. I’ve seen the 12 questions, I’ve heard the 36% figure many times, and now we know that the 36% is a high bar. But I think it’s also a true bar in terms of if you just talked to your buddies, maybe a little over a third will say, “Yeah, I’m engaged. I dig it.” And others are like, “Yeah, it’s okay, I guess.”

Jim Harter
And there’s a big chunk in the middle there where they’re just kind of if they get a better opportunity, they’ll take it with another organization. They show up, do the minimum required, not much else, but they’re not the people who really are going to be resilient during tough times and surpass the competition with innovative ideas during the good times.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it’s encouraging that some workplaces have indeed gotten to 70% and that feels true as well in terms of if you talked to some folks at some amazing places, it’s like, “Yeah, the vast majority of people really are digging this here.” So, thank you. That was just an appetizer, an amuse-bouche to our main topic today. Wellbeing at Work is your latest. Kind of what’s the big idea here and some of the most intriguing discoveries from these many millions of interviews?

Jim Harter
Well, we wrote a wellbeing book back in 2010, and that one, we leveraged the global discoveries from that world poll I was talking about earlier. And the question we asked for that book was, and all the research we did leading up to it, was, “Are there some universal characteristics in people or elements that drive wellbeing in terms of people having a thriving overall life and experiencing really good days?

Well, we know that every region in the world is somewhat different culturally but we found there are five elements that were universal and consistently predicted thriving lives and great days for people where they had high interests, high enjoyment, lower levels of stress, worry, anger, or sadness, all those negative emotions we can list off.

And the five that we found, that writing was directed at individuals, “How do we help individuals live more thriving lives?” And the five are career wellbeing, social wellbeing, financial wellbeing, physical wellbeing, and community wellbeing. And they’re in an order for a purpose. This particular book, we decided to aim it at organizational leaders and managers, primarily because we see an issue right now where most organizations don’t have what we’d call a net thriving culture, where employees not only their work life in terms of their engagement, but also their overall life is either struggling or suffering.

And we saw this play out during the pandemic, in particular, where we saw drops in the percentage of thriving employees, in spikes in worry and stress in our global data. We’re seeing a continuous rise globally in the percentage of people that have negative emotions. And even before this pandemic, Pete, we were trending on what the new workforce was looking for. And one of the things the new workforce was looking for was a workplace that improves their overall life. It isn’t just a job. The separation between work and life had already started to fade away primarily because we carry these devices around with us that connect us to our work more often, maybe sometimes than we like, and sometimes we can connect with the work when we want to in our spare time.

But people in the younger generations, you can think about Millennial and Gen Z, expect their workplace to improve their lives. And all these trends that we saw pre-pandemic just got magnified. The number one perk people were asking for, pre-pandemic, was flex time. Boom! We had the great shift and a high percentage of people had that flex time. And there’s all kinds of things I can get into in terms of we trended a lot of data during COVID and continue to, so there’s a lot underneath that as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s interesting right there. I mean, hey, so we got our flex time but my hunch is that we’re not so much feeling a whole lot of wellbeing during pandemic times.

Jim Harter
Yes. It’s interesting. Pre-pandemic, the people who worked from home 100% of the time, and, by the way, that was only about 4% of the population who were 100% worked from home, and suddenly that jumped up to 48% full-time work from home after the great shift that we call it. And 70% of people in jobs, at least some of the time, and most of those some of the times were most of the time working from home. But the interesting thing was pre-pandemic, those people who worked from home 100% of the time, that 4%, they had lower levels of reported burnout.

During the pandemic, the 100% work-from-homers actually had higher levels of burnout than the others. So, there’s something there. As I talked to organizations, almost all of them that had a lot of work-from-home folks during COVID or continue to, are planning on some type of a hybrid type option going forward.

The good news there is the hybrid employees, pre-pandemic, were the ones that had the highest levels of engagement at work. So, there’s a factor inside engagement around autonomy that’s really important. And great managers find ways to build autonomy into jobs and, at the same time, get involved with people in setting goals and holding them accountable but still have autonomy and connectedness with them.

So, the solution part of all this really does sit not exclusively but highly with managers because they’re in the best position to know what people are going through and get close enough to people to know their individual situation.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, what are some of the key practices that contribute to teams and organizations becoming net thriving?

Jim Harter
At the organizational level, there are some, I think, really important foundational things you have to get right. I’ll come back to this later if you want me to, but there are some threats and some risks, there are barriers to organizations having a net thriving culture that if you don’t take care of those, you’re going to have some issues.

But one of the things is that it’s really important for organizations to think about those five elements of wellbeing that we listed. They’re all science-based. We know we can rely on them. If we work on those and improve them, we can make a big difference in people’s lives, and they’re all changeable to some extent. They’re areas everybody can work on.

But I would argue, the organizations need an organizational structure so that everything that they’re offering employees, they are aligning with at least one of those five elements or more so it makes sense to people, so people know why it exists and why it was developed by the organization. Too often, people might have programs, policies, perks that are offered by an organization, they either are unaware of it, or they don’t know why it exists, or just doesn’t come top of mind to them until there’s a crisis or something. So, the organizational structure is important.

It’s also important that the CEO is highly involved in building a net thriving culture. The reason for that is anytime we look at culture change, it’s owned from the top of the organization, not just stated but actually owned and an important value that the organization holds close. And we’re going to see more and more of that, I think, going forward with all the pressure on ESG, the Environmental, Social and Governance standards that are kind of finally coming to a head, I think, in terms of some more official standards. And at Gallup, we’ve been working on the people component of that, the social part you could say.

I think another thing that’s really important from a practice standpoint is to equip managers to move from a boss mentality to a coaching mentality, and equip them to have the right kinds of wellbeing conversations that don’t feel forced but rather are more natural. So, for them to have those natural conversations, there’s a progression that has to happen in terms of how they become upskilled.

I think, also, what organizations can do is develop a network of wellbeing coaches. And what I mean by that are people who’ve become experts in particular areas and gather best practices and share best practices. Part of that is peer to peer, I think, is really important. In the wellbeing space, people learn a lot from their peers because, “These are people like me. They’re not somebody who’s making a lot more money or whatever,” trying to tell them how to have higher wellbeing. It doesn’t have as high a credibility for them.

So, “Learning from people like me and getting ideas from people like me,” but collecting best practices and having some experts internally. An example would be there’s so much information out there about nutrition. You can look all over the place and you see little tiny studies that say something, and in the next month they say something else. I think organizations need someone who integrates the best science and teaches it back to employees so they know what they can rely on.

And then the other thing, I think, is important from a practice standpoint is to go through an audit how you’re doing things right now, your rules, your guidelines, how you communicate, your facilities, your incentive systems, how you recognize people, the different events and developmental opportunities you have available. Those can all be audited through the lens of, “Does this improve an individual wellbeing?” You can do it statistically, you can do it qualitatively, but just to go through and hold yourself accountable for everything that you’re doing right now and whether it’s really one utilized into, related to higher levels of wellbeing for people.

So, you can go to that level of detail on this but most organizations just want to start somewhere. And to start somewhere, you need to get some good measures in place and you need to see where you have variance, where you have some highs and lows, and start digging into what’s going on, and study some best practices inside your own organization. But, above all, equip your managers to have the right kinds of conversations to move on that boss to coach journey.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, when we think about some of the particular practices that the coaches are learning and sharing, could you maybe give us one or two inside each of the five elements of wellbeing that really make a world of difference for a relatively small amount of effort?

Jim Harter
Well, we’ll just go down the list. Career wellbeing, probably the simplest and most efficient practice you can get really good at is through strengths. So, Gallup has a tool. It’s called CliftonStrengths and it’s a scientific assessment that will list off your strengths, your 34 strengths and there’s all kinds of combinations that anybody could get, but the key is to understand what your strengths are individually.

And when I’m talking about strengths, I’m talking about innate kind of characteristic that are not likely to change significantly once we become adults. We still change and evolve but they’re less likely to change and evolve than something like how we view our workplace or skills. It’s more innate. So, leveraging your own strengths, knowing about them, and leveraging them. It just leads for more efficient activities inside organizations where people don’t try to be something that they’re not and they develop through who they are in unique ways.

So, that’s probably the most direct one on career wellbeing. When people are using their strengths, we’d measure these in the moment, they report much higher levels of energy when they can do what they do best. So, continually figuring that out and refining it, but that tool I’ve mentioned can give people a big head start there.

Social wellbeing, it starts with onboarding, I think, in organizations. We have to make it a priority during onboarding where people get to know other people right away. And I think that became a challenge for organizations that were doing onboarding during COVID. There wasn’t a lot of hiring going on but, going forward, I think organizations are going to have to have strategies for how they do that because the advantage on the social wellbeing front is there for people who already knew each other in working from home and remotely. That’s not difficult to connect on Zoom and to have conversations if you already know somebody and have worked with them for a long time, but it’s really the newer people where I think there’s a big gap there that needs to be filled.

But social wellbeing, we have a question we ask on our engagement survey called…it’s worded “I have a best friend at work.” It’s kind of controversial because not everybody thinks that that’s important in the workplace but it links to all kinds of outcomes so we kept it in there. That’s a social wellbeing component. And people ask me, “How do you change that? How do you effect that?” I would argue it’s the easiest of the engagement elements to act on because it requires creating situations where people have a chance to get to know one another and kind of getting out of the way and letting human nature take over. We’re human beings. We’re social. We tend to connect naturally if we know something about someone else. So, it’s not one you have to try to force or anything like that, but just a couple of thoughts there on social.

On financial, the financial wellbeing is about two things if we’re going to boil it down. It’s about reducing stress. It can be related to money, of course, but it’s not completely about the amount of money you make. It’s also about how you manage that money to reduce stress, daily stress, and increase longer-term security.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How should I be spending my money to do that?

Jim Harter
Well, one thing is we have so much automation now, we don’t have to think about paying bills as much anymore, which helps a lot to reduce stress.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, when I have to write a check and I’m kind of irritated.

Jim Harter
Yeah, it is the activity of writing that check. So, automation can help. The other thing is once you take care of your basic needs, reduce stress, spending money on experiences, we’ve seen, other people seen, and the academic literature, spending on experiences less.

You develop stories, the stories might even evolve that you had during those experiences but they live on. Whereas, the physical purchases, while they’re nice for a short period of time, it kind of fades a bit. We’ve all kind of experienced that. But spending money on the right kinds of things so you’re building those stories and experiences with people, I think, is a really kind of creative way of prioritizing the extra money that you might blow on something else. So, I think that money management is a big factor, of course, but then kind of aiming it at, “How do I create more really good experiences with other people with the money?” Sometimes it’s your own individual experience but, in many cases, it’s experiences with other people.

Physical wellbeing. You might immediately think of physical wellbeing as disease burden or the lack of disease burden, and that’s certainly a part of it. Imagine your life in such a way where you reduce that. That became so apparent during COVID where the people who had less disease burden or just more resilient to the virus. And so, we had some of our researchers develop a model around that and it’s amazingly accurate at predicting mortality rates.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, when you say disease burden, does that just mean I have a lot of diseases or how do we think about that?

Jim Harter
Well, it can range anywhere from obesity to heart disease, to preexisting condition, cancer. Hypertension, so even depression anxiety falls into disease burden but those are more psychological. But the point we try to make about physical wellbeing is that the end goal should be…because some of our disease burden, we can’t do anything about, it’s genetic, right?

So, the goal under the physical wellbeing umbrella should be that we manage our life, in whatever situation we’re in, to increase energy so that we can get things done that we want to get done. And the things that we can influence involve what we eat, involve the quality of sleep that we get, and the movement, our movement. We call this exercise now. The people that we studied, George Gallup did a study of, he called them the oldsters but they lived to be 95 plus. And one thing that they had in common was that they kept working, by the way, until their, many of them, 70s and 80s. They just kept working but they had jobs that required them to move around a lot, not just all farming jobs either. There are all kinds of different jobs but they moved a lot.

They also ate smaller meals. They had jobs that they loved. They loved their work. Their spare time was spent with family and friends. So, you can kind of see those five elements coming out. They lived in a variety of different types of communities, some urban, some rural, some suburban so the type of community wasn’t a differentiator. But I just thought that was interesting that a lot of what he learned back then studying these people who lived long lives, even though their practices weren’t identical to what we can do now. They had some of the same themes that stuck out.

Pete Mockaitis
And while we’re talking physical, so move more, that’s good. Any quick best practices associated with the sleeping better and the eating better?

Jim Harter
Well, one is both too much sleep and too little are both bad, that’s what all the research is showing. But it’s really the quality of the sleep that’s the key, if you wake up feeling well-rested, refreshed. I’m a big fan of the short power nap, going conscious for 10 minutes, that’s very refreshing. I reviewed some research that I found very interesting that said, that showed, actually there’s a YouTube on as well that shows visually there’s a fact with sleep that it’s the only organ in our body, apparently, where the waste cells only leave, only get drained out or cleaned out when we sleep. The rest of our body is continuously getting rid of wastes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, the brain is the only organ?

Jim Harter
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah.

Jim Harter
And you can kind of feel that when you take a nap or wake up feeling well rested. I use sleep in my writing, not that I’m writing when I’m sleeping. I just kind of learned this trick where day one, I’ll kind of try to get my head all the information I can around the topic I’m writing on, and in the next morning, after I sleep on it, it somehow kind of gets integrated better, and it comes out a lot more smoothly where I’m kind of struggling day one to even write good sentences. But I think sleep is a really good one to just kind of think about how you do it and when you do it and how you manage that effectively.

On diet, to me, and again there’s all kinds of advice on diet, but to me, from what I’ve read, the two takeaways are try to reduce processed food and eat smaller amounts. The calorie thing is still a thing. It still means something. There’s been so much emphasis on what you eat but the amounts still matters, and that’s the hardest thing to manage, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s physical. And how about community?

Jim Harter
Community, at a basic level, is about making sure you live in a safe area, having a safe place to live, and having housing that’s adequate for you and your family. And at a higher level, community wellbeing is about giving back, giving in a way that makes sense for you. And the giving part can vary by person. It can vary by stage of life, but organizations can really set people up for that by just sharing opportunities for giving, connecting people who have similar passions and interests together, and just providing a wide range of opportunities, and giving as an organization first.

So, “Here’s what we’re doing as an organization to contribute to our community and to society in general.” And many, probably most cases, organizations can do that through what they do in their work, their business, but outside of the work that they do, they can do it so many other ways as well. So, that’s an important one.

Neuroscientists found that the part of our brain that lights up when we get something, lights up even more when we give, so sort of the helper’s high. And so, again, I think organizations can play a huge role there and on all these elements by putting some defaults in place that make it easy for people to do what’s in their best intentions.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so we got some principles in terms of how organizations and leaders can facilitate some more good stuff happening and some specific practices for individuals. Can you share with us a cool story or example or a case study of a team or organization that went from, you know, not so much wellbeing to boatloads of wellbeing and how that unfolded?

Jim Harter
Well, those areas I listed off are the ones that I have seen leveraged the best. I think there’s still long ways to go for most organizations in the wellbeing front. So, for instance, on the career wellbeing component, we’ve seen people move from the bottom of our database over time all the way to the top decile of our database, top 10%. And they did that by being persistent, that’s one thing. But there’s kind of four patterns we saw in organizations that create change.

And one of them is, and I mentioned this earlier, it’s got to start strategically with the CEO and the board thinking about why they’re trying to create a net thriving culture or a highly engaged culture and articulate that and explain it to people so they know why it’s happening, that it’s not just a flavor of the month kind of thing, and it’s really a part of who we’re going to be as an organization.

Second, they had excellent communication. They just continuously communicated best practices and they continuously communicated “What we’re doing and why,” and it’s almost like over-communication so people know the why. And then all the way from when they’re fielding a survey to what they‘re going to do after it and how they’re going to create action plans and train managers.

The third is that manager piece. It’s upskilling managers from boss to coach is really important. And then the fourth pattern we saw was accountability. They make it clear that’s part of the manager’s job to engage their workers and to improve the lives of their workers. So, those are kind of some general patterns we saw but, yeah, we’ve seen organizations move from the bottom all the way to the top of the database. So, I know this stuff is changeable.

I think wellbeing is more difficult to change than engagement but you got to get the engagement part right first because that’s what I think as the nuts and bolts of managing. If you want to help individuals in your organization improve their lives, you’ve got to start by taking care of the work part of it because that builds trust where people aren’t second-guessing your intentions, and it builds more comfortable conversations so that managers and the individuals they’re managing can have open dialogue. And not everybody is going to want to talk about their whole life, and that’s fine, but it opens the door.

And, at minimum, managers can direct people to the right resources and help them know what’s there from the organization. But, at maximum, managers become coaches that actually help people improve their lives, give them some advice, and connect them to the right other people who might be on the same path as them.

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

Jim Harter
I talked earlier about some barriers or risks to improving a culture from maybe struggling to what we would call net thriving, where people in the organization not only have very positive views of their present life but also think the next five years will be even better. Those five elements I listed lead to that. But there are some barriers and they can kind of trick people, I think, a little bit.

Well, one of them, in particular, I’ll just list off a couple of them. One of them that I think maybe most commonly becomes a barrier are to assume that, “Our policies, programs, and perks will change your culture.” If that were the case, a lot of organizations wouldn’t have culture problems. I think policies, programs, and perks are very important but they won’t necessarily change your culture. What you need to change your culture are managers who are well skilled to lead other people because they’re, again, the ones closest to the lives in their organization.

And so, having poorly skilled managers is another big risk. And so, upskilling managers to move from boss to coach, I think, is really important. And that involves integrating several things that are kind of disparate in organizations right now. Over here, you might have a wellness program that’s offered to people. Over here, you might have employee engagement survey and program. Over here, you might have performance management. And over here, you might have learning and development. That boss-to- coach journey needs to bring all those things together so it makes sense to managers and so that it also leverages the strengths of each person. It’s a strengths-based journey where you’re starting off with who you are as an individual and building on top of that instead of trying to make everybody the same or trying to get people to become someone who they’re not.

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

Jim Harter
One of my favorite quotes is one that was attributed to the great Albert Einstein, but I actually looked it up, he actually said this in a more complex way, but, “Make everything as simple as possible but not too simple.” I’m a researcher, and the complexity is already there so, to me, one of the things I learned along the way is, “We’ve got to make sure that the research is A-accurate but also not too simple, but also applicable and useful to people.” So, I really like that quote.

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

Jim Harter
I’ve often referenced the Whitehall studies, the particular part of the Whitehall studies, were done over in Europe, where they tracked people longitudinally. And one subpart of those studies where they looked at mortality and heart disease and other future health issues. One subpart of that big study looked at workplaces, and they found that workplaces with better environments, they call it organizational justice, but workplaces with better environments, the concepts overlap with what we call engagement. Those better environments had lower risks of coronary heart disease and lower mortality rates, and they controlled for all sorts of things. So, I reference that a lot and I think it’s a really important research.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jim Harter
I like Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. I think it just does an excellent job of bringing together two parts of wellbeing, the remembering self and experiencing self, which we talked about in wellbeing at work as well. I think it’s important to think about those two parts of how we experience life.

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

Jim Harter
This is kind of geeky but I leverage a lot Google Scholar and PubMed because they’re just great sources for finding things quickly and searching.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jim Harter
I think that 10-minute power nap. I try to get it as many days as I can. It’s really important to kind of have a refreshing afternoon.

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

Jim Harter
Probably the one that I see quoted the most is “70% of the variance in team engagement is influenced by the manager.

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

Jim Harter
You could go to Gallup.com and we have a whole series of new articles and findings coming out all the time, reports, or I’m on LinkedIn as well. I’m pretty active on LinkedIn, that’s another place.

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

Jim Harter
I would say make sure you know your strengths and have them clearly in mind, and the strengths of your coworkers. And one thing to build on that is you got to direct your strength at something. Make sure you have a minimum of one meaningful conversation per week.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jim, this has been fun. Thanks so much and much luck to you with all your good work on wellbeing.

Jim Harter
Thank you, Pete. Appreciate the invitation.

672: How to Ask For and Get What You Want with Heather Hansen

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Heather Hansen says: "There's always another way to look at things."

Trial attorney Heather Hansen shares the top ten tools from the courtroom to help you get what you want.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to advocate like the pros
  2. How to turn your inner critic into your biggest ally
  3. How one question can get people to agree with you

 

About Heather

Heather Hansen gives her clients the tools to advocate for themselves, their ideas and those around them. She has been a trial attorney for over 20 years and was consistently named one of the Top 50 Female Attorneys in Pennsylvania. Heather uses her psychology degree and her years in the courtroom to help her clients ask for what they want and get it. She’s also an anchor at the Law and Crime Network and has appeared on NBC, Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, CBS and Sirius Radio. Heather has helped thousands of keynote audience members in Kuwait, Ireland, Mexico and across the U.S. become their own best advocates. 

Heather is the author of the best-seller The Elegant Warrior: How to Win Life’s Trials Without Losing Yourself, which Publishers Weekly calls a “template to achieving personal and career goals” and the host of The Elegant Warrior podcast. Heather’s next book, Advocate to Win-10 Tools to Ask for What You Want and Get It comes out May 25th. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Blinkist. Read or listen to summarized wisdom from thousands of nonfiction books! Free trial available at blinkist.com/awesome

Heather Hansen Interview Transcript

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

Heather Hansen
I’m so excited to be here, Pete. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy, me, too. Me, too. Well, I’m sure you have a lot of stories in your career in the courtroom. Could you maybe share with us one of your most exciting tales of advocacy?

Heather Hansen
Oh, my goodness, there’s so many to share. But I will tell you one that seems to resonate with a lot of my audiences. And it was a recent trial before COVID, of course, since COVID, very few cases have been tried. But this was a case where I represented a podiatrist, and one of the dirty little secrets about trial law that you might not know unless, maybe, you’ve served on a jury is that jury members fall asleep and a lot. It happens worse after lunch, it happens worse when we turn off the lights if we’re playing a video for them of an expert or something, and it happens in almost every case.

And in this particular case, I represented a podiatrist, and I always represent doctors when their patients sue them. The patient had alleged that he had a skin cancer on his toe that had gone undiagnosed and he sued two primary care doctors and two podiatrists. And so, I represented a podiatrist, the patient himself was a middle-aged man; the attorney for that patient was a middle-aged man; the first podiatrist was a middle-aged man; his attorney was a middle-aged man; the primary care doctor, a middle-aged man; his attorney, a middle-aged man; secondary primary doctor, same deal; my doctor, middle-aged man; and then there was me.

And when the trial started, we almost immediately saw that this jury was a sleepy jury and, to give them their due, it was very difficult medicine, talking about the doubling time of cancer cells, and so they were falling asleep even more than usual. But I noticed, Pete, pretty early on that every time I got up to speak, they would wake up even if it was just for a minute. And can you, I bet you can, you of all people, guess why they were waking up?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I mean, you’re a beautiful woman.

Heather Hansen
Well, thank you. That’s very complimentary. But it was really my voice. My voice sounded different than all the other voices that they were seeing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, contrast.

Heather Hansen
That’s right. And like the surprise of it. They’re like, “Oh, boring, boring, same, same, same. Oh, look at that. That’s something different.” And so, I decided to maximize on that. So, usually when I ask my questions, I start with going through resume and going through the foundation, and then I hit with the big punching question towards the end of my questioning. And you have to sort of lay a foundation but I worked really hard to get to the good stuff first because I wanted to take advantage of the fact that the jury was awake.

And at the end of the trial, the jury found everybody, including the patient, was negligent except for my doctor, and I don’t think that’s because of the fact that I am a woman and my voice sounded different, but it couldn’t have hurt. And the lesson that I learned from that is to use your differences. So many people say, “Is it hard to be a woman as a trial attorney because less than 5% of trial attorneys are women?”

And I think it’s an advantage if you choose to see it that way. And no matter what your differences are, I think that you can choose to creatively use them as advantages and use them to win.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Well, that is a nice illustration and a clear point and a happy successful outcome there. Well, cool stuff. Well, maybe let’s start with some exciting stuff. What would you say is perhaps one of the most surprising or counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about persuasion, advocacy, and negotiation over your career?

Heather Hansen
So, one of the things that people are always surprised at is that we win our cases not by arguing. You know, when I tell people I’m a trial attorney, almost always someone will say, “Oh, I should’ve been a trial attorney, I’m really good at arguing.” And we don’t win by arguing. The way that our trials are set up, Pete, the openings are supposed to be opening statements. They’re meant to be an outline and you’re not really allowed to argue. The closing is the closing argument and that’s a small fraction of the case.

The majority of the case, all I do, all day every day, is ask questions. And so, the surprising thing is that asking questions is how you win. Asking questions is magic, and so that’s a lesson that I have taken from trials and carried on into my life outside the courtroom.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so asking questions is huge. And what are the kinds of questions we should be asking? Any special top faves, or scripts, or principles?

Heather Hansen
So, I have one favorite question that has become a huge calling card for me in my keynotes and so forth, and it’s not even my question. It’s a question that was asked by a woman named Judge Rosemarie Aquilina. Judge Aquilina was the judge in the Larry Nassar hearing. Larry Nassar was the gymnast doctor accused of molesting all of those women in Michigan. And one of my hats that I wear is I’m an anchor at the Law & Crime network, and I happen to be working the week of that hearing. And we only intended to cover it for a day because only a few women were planning to come forward and most of them didn’t want to use their names or their faces, which makes it not such great TV.

By the end of that hearing, over 100 women had come forward to tell their stories and most of them used their names and their faces. And I attributed that, having sat there and listened and watched, to Judge Aquilina and, specifically, to one particular question that she asked each woman as they came forward. Because, Pete, she didn’t say, “Why are you here?” She didn’t say, “What happened to you? What do you have to say?” She said, “Tell me what you want me to know.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Heather Hansen
And that question allowed the women to tell their story the way they wanted to tell it. Some of them talked about the way it impacted their relationships with their husbands. Some told the way it impacted them physically. Some told the way it impacted them in their confidence. They told her what they wanted her to know and that changed everything. And now I believe that question, with your clients, with your customers, with your bosses, with the people who report to you, and with your friends and your family and your children, that question can be magic. So, that’s probably my favorite question.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, it is beautifully broad but also points us in a direction. It’s a lot better than, “So, what’s up?” which is also wide open, like that can go in any number of directions that they can choose their own adventure with, but, “Tell me what you want me to know” is really hitting that sweet spot. So, thank you for that. So, that’s just one of many tips you’re putting forward in your book Advocate to Win: 10 Tools to Ask for What You Want and Get It. What’s kind of the main idea or thesis behind the book here?

Heather Hansen
Advocate to Win shares the 10 tools that I used in the courtroom that every one of your listeners can use to ask for what they want and get it. So, the 10 tools are elegance. The root of the word elegance is to choose. And so, elegance, to me, is choice. And when you’re advocating, you have to choose who you want to be, how dirty do you want to get, how difficult do you want to be. So, the first is elegance.

The second is words. The choice of words makes such a difference. Words that speak to your jury of clients, or customers, or bosses, friends or family. It’s really important to choose your words carefully. The next is perspective, making sure that you understand your jury’s perspective because you can’t change their perspective until you understand it. The next is questions. We just talked a little bit about questions.

The next is credibility because if you don’t believe me, I can’t win. The next is evidence which is the facts that we use to build our case. The next is reception. That’s reading body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Number eight is presentation. That’s using your body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Number nine is negotiation and number ten is argument.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Heather, I love the speed you’re cooking with so I might just go for the gold and say can you give us a top do and a top don’t inside all ten of these tools?

Heather Hansen
So one of the things that I should sort of lay as a foundation is I mentioned that every listener has their jury. So, their jury is going to be their clients or customers, anyone they want to persuade or influence. It could be your boss. It could be your direct report. Right now, your listeners are the jury that we want to influence and persuade.

But every one of those tools in my book I recommend that you use it first with your inner jury. And the inner jury is the part of you that chooses. Now, a lot of my coaching clients think the inner jury is the part of them that is critical, and that’s not really true. In the courtroom, the jury listens and they choose, and that’s what your inner jury does.

And so, you probably have an inner voice that says, “You’re not smart enough. You’re not good enough. You shouldn’t do that. That’s not safe. Stay in the cave. Don’t go out. Don’t take that chance.” And you want to also give your inner jury the choice of a voice that says, “Go for it. You’re good enough. You can do it. Why not try?” And then the inner jury gets to choose. So, for each of those tools, I go through and apply it first to the inner jury and then to the outer jury.

Heather Hansen
So, elegance, the root of the word elegance is to choose, and I believe you choose your elegance. And I think it’s really important to recognize, before you start advocating, what you’re advocating for and who you want to be when you’re advocating. Those are choices. In the book, I have a three-step process to make good choices, to make sure that you’re choosing.

And the first is to know that you’re choosing. So often we fly off the handle, or we react out of anger, or we hit the snooze button in the morning rather than getting out of bed, and those are all choices that we make. And when you know that you’re choosing, you’re more likely to make the best choices.

And then the next step is knowing who is choosing, because too often it’s our moms, our partners, or habit, or our egos, and you really want the best part of you, your inner jury to be making that choice. And then the last thing is to know your reasons. I encourage my clients to list out their reasons on each side. And, usually, if you sit down and look at a list of reasons for a particular choice, the choice becomes much more clear.

So, that sort of summarizes what we talk about in the elegance chapter of the book. It’s really about making choices and making choices that are going to serve you well. Because, in the courtroom, you make so many choices when you’re trying a case and you always think like, “Maybe I shouldn’t have crossed that person. Maybe I should’ve asked this question.”

And in life, too, you always think, “Maybe I should’ve stayed in that relationship. Maybe I should’ve left that job.” You’re never going to know whether a choice was right, and I’m putting air quotes here, “right or wrong.” But if you like your reasons, then you can at least have confidence in that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well said, as opposed to, “Oh, we just never knew,” because you didn’t do the work in advance to think it through and take the time.

Heather Hansen
That’s right. The words chapter, words are the tools of an advocate, and the words that we use matter. Maya Angelou believed that words had energy, and if someone was using words like racist words, negative words in her house, she would make them leave her house because she didn’t want those words to be in her home. And I think that words have energy as well.

And so, you want to be careful with the words you use with yourself, with your inner jury, and the words you choose with your outer jury. So, with your inner jury, your self-talk, you just want to be careful of those negative things that you tell yourself, that you’re not good enough, that you’re not smart enough, or worse, that you’re ugly, dumb, old, too old, those types of things. You really want to be conscious of that.

And then when it comes to the words that you use with your outer jury, there’s an idea, I can’t really find the research to back this up, but I have read that if I say one word that my jury in the courtroom doesn’t understand, they don’t even hear the next ten words I say. That makes sense to me, Pete, because if I get up and I said, “This is a case about osteomyelitis,” the jury immediately is going to…

Pete Mockaitis
“What the heck is osteomyelitis?”

Heather Hansen
Right. Or, “I told this lady I shouldn’t be on this jury. I don’t know anything about medicine,” then they start to get angry, and it’s gone. So, you want to recognize that everyone has the curse of knowledge, everyone knows something so well that they forget what it’s like not to know it. And with words especially, like if you’re in a business with acronyms, I work a lot with real estate people and they have so many acronyms, and they know them so well that they forget what it’s like not to know them. But their client, who is their jury, might not know those acronyms. And so, the more that you can be really conscious with the words that you’re using and how they will best resonate with the jury, the more likely you are to win.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Keep it going.

Heather Hansen
All right. Okay, the next is perspective. So, perspective is it really is so important. Viktor Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, which is one of my top books of all time. He was a psychotherapist who survived Auschwitz, and while he was in Auschwitz, he wrote his book. And a lot of the book is about how the only choice that he had in that dire circumstance was he could choose his attitude or his perspective. He could choose how he saw the world. And he actually talked about this bowl of “soup” which was really just brown dirty water with a fish head floating in it, and how he chose to see it as this delicious bowl of soup.

And that’s where your inner jury is choosing perspective. There’s always another way to look at things. And as much as that doesn’t always feel true, it’s where your power lies. It’s where your choice is where your power lies. And so, choosing a different perspective when you’re feeling down or negative or defeated is a really important thing. And then, to change your outer jury’s perspective is your ultimate goal.

One of the quotes that I often use in my work is that, “When you communicate, you share perspectives. But when you advocate, you change them.” And so, the first step in that is really understanding, getting to know your jury’s perspective because you can’t change someone’s perspective until you know it. And then once you know it and understand it, then you can get to work asking the questions and using the evidence and future things that will allow you to change it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m curious, when with a jury, how does one elicit that? Because, to my knowledge, you can’t just sit down and have a chat, “So, where are you coming from? Where are you coming in on this so far?“

Heather Hansen
It’s such a great point and I always say that because in life and in business, you can. You get to talk to your jury and ask questions, which is an advantage you have. We have to base it upon those few questions we get to ask during Voir Dire at the beginning of the trial, when we sit down with a jury and ask them questions and, also, to be honest, some presumptions.

I know, for a fact, that every single one of my jurors ever is a patient or has been a patient. Everyone in the courtroom has been a patient, including the doctor, and I know that that means that they are going to see the world through a patient’s eyes.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, as opposed to a hospital executive or a doctor, yeah.

Heather Hansen
Or a doctor. I’ve never had a doctor on my jury and that’s a different perspective so I can’t talk to them as if they’re a bunch of doctors and just show them all the studies that support my case. I have to talk to them about the relationship between the doctor and the patient, and why the doctor did what he did, using words they understand, and maybe remembering, “Oh, yes, that juror told me that he liked to do woodworking, and that juror told me that she used a contractor and she builds buildings. Let’s compare the surgery to putting up a house, and speak to their perspective in that respect as well.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Cool. Okay. So, then questions, we hit a favorite. Any others you want to mention?

Heather Hansen
Well, I just want to mention that you can use questions to challenge as well. I have a young associate who was struggling a little bit, and I said to her, “Tell me how you would respond if you were the partner in that situation.” And that question sort of made her realize that she wouldn’t respond very well to the thing that she had done. Instead of saying, “You did this thing and it was bad, and you should recognize that it was bad,” asking the questions, “What do you think you could’ve done better? How do you think this felt to that person?”

Questions are just magic and you can use questions to challenge. They don’t always have to be, “Tell me what you want me to know,” is a very friendly…I would think of it as a direct examination question to a friendly witness. But the cross-examination questions are sometimes deadly, and you can do them as well. Just really considering where you want to get to with the question and then just crafting a series of questions that get you there.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. And so, that goes a lot farther than saying, “Hey, how do you imagine a partner would feel in that situation?” versus, “Well, you got to remember, partners, they’re concerned about their clients and their credibility…” It’s like, “Okay, yeah, I don’t want to be lectured. I would rather make them do the work and think a little bit there.”

Heather Hansen
Exactly. There’s a great study, and my mentor is John O’Brian, and he used to always say that about juries, like, “Don’t shove it down their throat. Make them feel like they’ve discovered something.” And there’s a great study that shows that if I make a piece of origami, I’ll price it at a higher price than if someone else made that. And so, when you ask questions, the people are speaking the answers, and by speaking it, they own it. And so, now, all of a sudden, they’re agreeing with you where maybe they never would’ve.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Let’s talk about credibility.

Heather Hansen
Credibility is…I also have what I call the five Cs of an advocate. One of those Cs is credibility and it’s a double. It doubles up because it’s so important because if you don’t believe me, I can’t win. If the jury, they can think I’m smart, they can think I’m nice, they can think I’m cute, they can think I’m funny, but if they don’t believe me, I will lose.

Well, let me just start first with the inner jury because you have got to believe before you can make anyone else believe. A lot of times, people will say to me, “What do you do if you know a doctor made a mistake?” And my answer is, “I find a story that I can believe.” Sometimes that means admitting that the doctor made a mistake but then arguing the case on damages, “You know, it’s not worth what the other side wants to be paid.”

Or, sometimes it’s explaining exactly how the mistake was made. But I have got to believe in my story before I can make the jury believe it. And that means that when you’re advocating for yourself and your ideas and your bank account, you have got to believe in those things before you can make anyone else do so.

And then you want to make them believe. And the way that you make people believe is, with you, it’s two things. You want to believe in you, which means that you start to collect evidence, which we’ll get to in a minute, but you want to start to collect all of the things that you have done in your life that support your ask.

Like, I waitressed for years and years and years, and I always look back at waitressing and say, “You know, I was good with people. I was good with numbers. I was quick on my feet. I could remember things.” And that, for me, has allowed me to believe in my ability to do things affiliated with everything I just listed.

So, building your credibility by really looking…and it doesn’t have to be in the same business. Your listeners are looking to switch jobs or switch complete industries. What’s transferrable? I coached some women who have been out of the workforce to be moms to raise children, and then going back into the workforce. And I can give a bunch of examples of the things that they’ve done as mothers that are evidence of their ability to do things in the workforce. And we talk about those to help them believe in themselves, build credibility with themselves.

And the other part of credibility with yourself is believing yourself. When you make yourself a promise, you have to keep it. And when you set an expectation, you have to meet it because, if you don’t, you lose your own credibility, and that’s pretty deadly.

Pete Mockaitis
Say more. Deadly how? Because I think many have said, “Okay, I’m going to wake up tomorrow. I’m going to go for a run,” and they don’t. What’s the consequence of that?

Heather Hansen
Yeah, every time you do that, the next time you tell yourself you’re going to do something, you believe it a little less. And if you don’t believe it, then how are you going to persuade anyone else to believe it? I lost a hundred pounds when I was 18 years old.

And I always say, “I’m so grateful that I had the weight to lose,” not for losing the weight, which, of course, I am for a million reasons. But that I had the weight to lose because, at a relatively young age, I built so much credibility with myself. I know that if I make myself a promise, I will keep it. And if I set an expectation, I will meet it because I’ve done that, and I’ve done it in a pretty big way.

And it doesn’t mean…so it’s the same with your outer jury. Those two, you want them to believe in you, and we can talk about how to do that. You want them to believe you, and it’s the same thing making promises, setting expectations. But the fastest way to build credibility with yourself and with others is when you can’t keep a promise and you can’t meet an expectation, you own it.

Like, in the courtroom, if I say, “My expert disagrees with my doctor on this point.” Immediately, the jury is like, “Wow, that lady just told us the truth even though it doesn’t help her.” And then when I tell them other things that do help me, they’re more likely to believe them. And it’s fast, and it’s easy once you put down your ego.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay. And how about evidence?

Heather Hansen
So, evidence is all of the things that you use to build that belief in you. And when it’s yourself, I give my clients, when we start working together, an evidence journal, and I ask them at the end of every day to write down evidence of their skills, their talents, their capabilities, their resilience, their power, anything they can think of, three things a day. And then you go back and look at that when you’re feeling less than credible. So, that’s for the inner jury.

For the outer jury, there’s a famous maxim in advertising that says that, “In order to make someone remember something, you have to repeat it seven times.” And I think that that’s true. But in the courtroom, I feel like if I repeat something seven times, the jury is going to fall asleep, as we discussed, or hate me. So, I’ve kind of expanded that and I say that you need to say it seven times seven ways.

So, as you’re collecting evidence to give to your boss or your superior or your investors or your clients or your customers, what ways can you present that evidence? Can you make a chart? Can you use pictures? Can you make a video? Can you bring in someone else as testimonial? Can you tell a story? In trying to really come up with seven ways to share that evidence to make sure that you’re hitting all of the different inputs, all of the different sentences that people might understand information through but, also, that you’re actually repeating it seven times.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And then reception.

Heather Hansen
Reception is so important and everyone wants to lead with presentation. Like, a lot of times I’ll get consults to start coaching with me, and they’ll say, “Well, I really want help on camera. I really want help with my body language. I really want help with my tone of voice,” and we’ll get there. I mean, that’s the next tool. But listening, the best listener in the courtroom wins.

If I’m in the courtroom, so focused on, “How am I going to look, sound, and move my face the next time I ask a question?” and I’m not listening to the answer, I’m missing out on important vital lovely evidence. And it’s really important to listen to tone of voice. So, you could read body language a little. I mean, body language is a lot of context and you don’t have a lot of time with many people to build up that context to do it well, but tone of voice.

There’s a study out of Yale that tells us that tone of voice tells you more about a person’s emotions than their body language and their facial expressions combined. So, if you really are present and listening, you can often tell if someone is faking a smile, if they’re tired, if they’re angry, if they’re frustrated, and then you can use that information to advocate, and it’s super effective. So, really, listening and paying attention and receiving the other person is a key tool to advocating.

Pete Mockaitis
And any tips on how to train that skill or your ear to zero in on the emotion behind the tone?

Heather Hansen
I think that it’s being present. So, there’s actually recent studies that show that when people are talking on the phone, they may be better at turn-taking if it’s like a group rather than Zoom, which is interesting but people are really tuned into verbal cues if the phone is down and they’re not writing other things. The main problem with the phone is a lot of times people will start doing other work when they’re on their phone because no one’s watching them.

But that’s why when you’re listening…I meditate so I try to be very mindful when I’m listening, and I try to be very aware of my feet and fingers, my toes and fingers. When I’m meditating, my toes and fingers will sometimes tingle, and so I will really tune into, like being present in my body. I will often say to myself, before the call, “Be where your ears are.” That’s based on the old saying, “Be where your feet are.” Be where your ears are and just really being present.

And then, also, thinking, like making it into a game, “What am I hearing in this person’s voice? What are my guesses as to how they’re feeling?” And the more that you do that, it becomes a habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, beautiful. Okay. Well, now let’s talk about presentation.

Heather Hansen
So, presentation is all of body language, tone of voice, facial expression. There’s lots of things to talk about there. One of the main things that I would talk about is the use of hands, and I’ll tell you a story from the courtroom. This is a great way to talk about this. My doctors are often very nervous before they testify. They’re very confident, competent, fabulous doctors but this is different. They’re fish out of water in the courtroom.

And so, normally, Pete, what I try to do is, right before they on the stand, if we’re at lunch break or if it’s the beginning of the day, I’ll try to be like, “What TV show are you watching?” or, “What book are you reading?” trying to sort of divert their attention from what they’re about to do.

So, this particular doctor was going out to the stand after a lunch break, and I tried to sort of distract him, but I had just read in this book Captivate, which is by a woman named Vanessa Van Edwards, that she had studied TED Talks, and she had compared the most-watched TED Talks and the least-watched TED Talks. And the major difference between the two was, in the most-watched TED Talks, the speaker used hand motions and gestured with their hands many, many, many more times than the least-watched TED Talks.

I was captivated by this, just like the book said, and I made the mistake of telling my doctor about this study right before he went up to testify. He went up to testify and he proceeded to conduct an orchestra from the witness stand. He knocked over the microphone twice, I was like, “If the jury was looking at my body language, they would’ve seen like a grimace on my face and tight muscles and shoulders as earrings.” But the jury loved him.

Now, it wasn’t just because he moved his hands a lot. But when you see my hands, and for the listeners, if you’re still in Zoom world, the world is starting to wake up, but some of us are still in Zoom world, or if you’re in person, if you could find a way to naturally use your hands, and especially on Zoom, so that your hands occasionally get into the screen, it makes the other person feel at ease because when I can’t see your hands, Pete, I don’t know if you’re holding a weapon.

Pete Mockaitis
I could be.

Heather Hansen
And so, you are a threat to me. You could be.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got a sword down here.

Heather Hansen
I also don’t know how far away you are. You could be close enough to hurt me and I can’t sense you because our reception is not on in a computer. And even in real life, if you don’t see my hands. So, there’s a great study, it’s in Joe Navarro’s book, which is What Every Body Is Saying, and he talks about the use of hands, and says that, “If criminal defendants have their hands on counsel table, rather than under counsel table, for the majority of the trial, they’re more likely to be found not guilty.” So, there’s something about our brains that wants to see hands, and that’s just one of many little tips that you can use to help yourself be a more effective advocate.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And let’s talk about negotiation and argument now.

Heather Hansen
Yeah, so negotiation, there are so many great books about negotiation and I don’t want to take anything away from those. I do think that we need to, both with ourselves in our inner jury and our outer jury, be aware of our non-negotiables. Like, we talked a little bit about hitting the snooze button when we wake up in the morning. If you make getting up at 5:00 a.m., which is what I do, a non-negotiable, you no longer sit in bed and say, “Oh, should I get up? Should I wait? Maybe five more minutes.” It’s not a negotiation. You just do it.

I think that that’s why, you know, Mel Robbins is famous for her 5-Second Rule. She’s a speaker and an author who says that, and she’s done enormously well, but she talked about this 5-second rule where she goes, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” and then she does the thing. And I think that the value in that is you don’t give yourself time to negotiate with yourself.

So, having non-negotiables and having non-negotiables with someone else too, having your boundaries. But then, with others, making sure you also have negotiables. If you’re going for a job and you want a certain salary, think of other things that would make you just as happy as that salary. So, maybe you’re willing to take 10K less if you can work from home two days a week, or you can take more PTO, or you can get a daycare center that is partly paid for. There’s a million things that you can start to think about how, “What’s a negotiable for me? What else would I take?” And that makes it a lot easier to negotiate and, ultimately, get what you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, right on. Okay. And argument.

Heather Hansen
So, argument is the last resort of the advocate and, hopefully, you never have to get there because the thing about argument is it’s only really effective if a third party is deciding. So, if I’m arguing with opposing counsel and the judge decides the motion, then arguing makes sense. And if you’re sort of fighting with a competitor for a raise or an opportunity, then arguing makes sense. But if you’re trying to convince the person you’re arguing with, it rarely works.

All of the other tools that we’ve talked about – questions, evidence, perspective, words, credibility – those are the tools that are going to help you to persuade someone to share your perspective, to come along to your perspective. When it comes to argument, you just want to be very careful that you don’t win the argument and lose the relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, Heather, that’s quite the rundown. Much appreciated. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Heather Hansen
No, I mean, I think I’ve gone through it pretty well. You’ve tested me. It’s great because you write the book, and then there’s like a period of time that you’re sort of not paying as much attention to it. So, to go through those ten tools has been a fabulous opportunity for me to talk about them, and I’m glad you gave me the time.

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

Heather Hansen
So, I’ve already mentioned it but it’s something that really works for me, and that is to, “Be where your feet are.” I really think that so many times, our heads are off in the clouds or we’re looking at our phones, not present with the person in front of us, not present with the task in front of us. And when I remind myself to be where my feet are, it really helps me to be present, be focused, and be productive.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And could you share a favorite experiment or study or piece of research?

Heather Hansen
My favorite study is one that I talk about a lot in my keynotes and I’ve written about, and I read about it in Daniel Pink’s book To Sell Is Human, which is a fabulous book. I highly recommend it. It is a study that you ask the people, and we can do this now, Pete, you want to ask the people to snap five times with their dominant hand, looking at the person in front of them, and then draw a capital E with their index finger on their own forehead.

Pete Mockaitis
On my own forehead or your forehead?

Heather Hansen
On your forehead.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m drawing.

Heather Hansen
See, that is phenomenal. So, Pete, drew the E facing me so that I could read the E.

Pete Mockaitis
Am I a sweetheart?

Heather Hansen
Yes, you really are. You could have drawn the E facing yourself, Pete, and that’s not…I often do say, “The people who drew the E facing the person in front of them are very empathetic and very good at perspective-taking and the other people are selfish jerks.” But that’s not really true. We all have times that we’re more focused on ourselves and what we’re thinking. But when you can do what you just did and see things through the other person’s perspective, it’s going to make you a better advocate. And Daniel Pink says, “Make you better salesperson.”

The research is really based on whether it’s going to make you more empathetic. But the point is that that little exercise I use in a lot of my keynotes, and it’s interactive and it’s fun, and it really shows how often we are in our own heads.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it’s intriguing because I think it…well, I guess I’d have to run the experiment again a few times but, yeah, I have a feeling, like if you were boring me, and I were thinking about dinner, that my thoughtless means of doing this could very well just go my way just because I’m not fixated on your face.

Heather Hansen
I think you’re 100% right. I was going to see Daniel Pink speak, and I stopped at a bar before because I was early, and there were two bartenders working, and one was starting his shift and one was leaving his shift. And I told them about the study and I asked them, “Snap five times, draw the E.” The one who was coming on to his shift, drew the E facing me because, of course, he had to be focused on me and his customers. The one who was going home drew it facing himself because he was going to focus on his dog and his laundry, so you’re 100% right about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And a favorite book?

Heather Hansen
I would say that, right now, the book that has been most impactful for me is Chatter by Ethan Kross. It is about the chatter in our brains and it really resonated with me because it’s a lot about what’s in my book about the inner jury. So, that’s probably my current favorite. To Sell Is Human is also a favorite and I really love The Law of Divine Compensation by Marianne Williamson. It’s more of a spiritual book but it’s really about the abundance of the world and how, if you can see things that way, it often becomes that way.

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

Heather Hansen
Calendly is really helpful for my calendar. I definitely love that one. I just switched from…I won’t say what I switched from, but I switched to Asana, and that’s a project management tool that my team really loves, and I’m trying to get used to it. I use a Blue Yeti microphone for podcasting and I love that. So, those are probably some of my tops.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Heather Hansen
Meditation. The other day I posted I had meditated, not in a row, but I had meditated, per Insight Timer, 1,111 times. And it’s definitely changed me. It makes me more present. It allows for that space between stimulus and response.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Heather Hansen
The one that resonates the most, and that I hear about the most, and I get emails and letters about the most is Judge Aquilina’s “Tell me what you want me to know.” And, also, as a reminder, you can use that question with your inner jury as well.

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

Heather Hansen
Okay. So, the best place to reach me is my website. It is AdvocateToWin.com. And if you go there, you will see my podcast, you will see my books, you will see some videos, and you can contact me through there. Oh, and the other thing, I’m sorry, the other thing I would add is my Instagram. I post really regularly and a lot of it is the tips that I share in the book and in my keynotes. And my Instagram is @imheatherhansen.

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

Heather Hansen
Yeah, I think that my call to action would be to recognize that you are your own best advocate. I think that we often look out, especially women, we want someone else to do it for us. Like, “If someone else would just get me that raise, ask for that raise, get me that thing, get me that opportunity,” and that seems like it would be nice, but no one can do it better than you can. No one knows your needs, your passions, your competencies, your skills, no one knows your heart better than you do. So, have confidence in that, that no one can do it better than you can. And then use these tools and get advocated.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Heather, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much in all the ways you’re advocating.

Heather Hansen
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s such a pleasure to be here with you.

671: How to Make Change Happen Faster, Easier, and Better with Jake Jacobs

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Jake Jacobs reveals why organizational change doesn’t have to be difficult and provides  key levers that make the difference.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to keep change from becoming overwhelming 
  2. The hack to accelerate change 
  3. How leaders accidentally kill enthusiasm for change 

About Jake

Jake Jacobs helps organizations, teams, and individuals make monumental changes. He’s worked in 61 industries, from high tech to manufacturing. He’s consulted for 96 organizations, from Fortune 50 to community theaters and supported more than 210,000 people in changing strategy, creating cultures, and mergers and acquisitions. 

Jake has partnered with CEOs, front-line workers and middle management at Ford, Kraft and Marriott. He’s also helped create change in the City of New York, U.K.’s National Health Service, and the United States Army and Navy. 

Clients call Jake when they need faster, easier, better results. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Jake Jacobs Interview Transcript

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

Jake Jacobs
Thanks so much, Pete. I’m glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m glad to have you and I’ve got so many things I want to hear from you about how to leverage change but the first thing I want to hear from you is about your massive baseball card collection. What’s the story here?

Jake Jacobs
Well, first of all, we should tell your listeners it’s 45,000 cards, so for some people that’s considered massive; for others it’s just puny. But I started when I was about eight and just got the bubble gum and the packages, and then I hit about 15 and decided this was a potential way to send my kids to college at some point. And so I started ordering full sets and not opening them, which took the fun out of it but at 15 you’re kind of moving onto girls and other things. So, it sits actually in my parents’ basement, Pete, all 45,000. They’re not even with me. I moved into a house that I fell in love with a woman five doors down, so I can keep a ready eye on those cards.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. Now, 45,000 cards, how much space does that consume in a basement?

Jake Jacobs
It’s a healthy pile. It’s a healthy pile. I think it’d go about waist high. And if I did the splits, I’m not terribly flexible, but if I did the splits it’d probably be about that far wide.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. That’s substantial. And then, in the basement, are you worried about flooding? What’s the estimated value when you think on this collection here?

Jake Jacobs
No, you haven’t met my father so there’s no flooding in that basement, brother. And I do have several Mickey Mantles and one card when the Padres were going to move to Washington. Nobody remembers this, but in ’72 they were going to move to Washington and they printed 500 cards with Washington on the card and then they decided not to go to Washington, so I’ve got one of those 500 cards. So, who knows? Neither of my kids ended up going to college.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, hotdog. There are just so much there in terms of do you view these as an economic-type investment or do you go and look at them from time to time? I’m just fascinated by people with big collections.

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. On podcasts that I’m on, generally, Pete, I refer to the economic benefits because some people think that I’m crazy having that many baseball cards and possibly even immature. But in my place in the world, I have a heart connection to them because it brings me back to mark, row, sorting baseball cards, putting rubber bands around them with the teams in little pieces of paper, and so I don’t need to open them, and I figure, yes, they’d be worth more if I don’t open them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Fun. Well, so now we’re going to talk about leveraging change. I don’t have a great segue there. Just as sometimes teams change locations and then don’t change locations, some organizations fail to follow through with their changes.

Jake Jacobs
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, can you give us the rundown on when it comes to change in organizations, how often do those changes succeed versus fail and what’s behind that?

Jake Jacobs
Well, if you go by the Ready Reports, and in this is in the Harvard Business Review, this is in the Sloan journal, there’s all kinds of books that had been written on this, and the common number is 70% fall short of the objectives they set out to achieve. So, that doesn’t mean that they fell on their face, it just means that what set on to achieve, they didn’t. This is going to sound odd, but I actually, in 35 years of doing this work and had great mentors so this is not all on me, I had some of the mentors who started my field of organizational change, but I haven’t had a client disappointed.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Jake Jacobs
After all that time and all that work. And I think part of it, Pete, goes back to like a “Never say no” attitude. So, if we haven’t gotten done what we need to then we’re not done with the work that we set out to achieve. And so, that notion of continuous improvement and hanging in there, and so when I work with clients, we get very clear on the outcomes at the beginning and what the deliverables are, and that’s what we work to. And I don’t have a clock going. Some consultants track things by time, I track things by outcomes. So, if we’re short of the outcomes, then there’s work to be done.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Okay, cool. Well, sounds like a good consultant work. Good stuff. Well, so then you’ve packaged a good bit of your learnings and insights when it comes to change in your book, Leverage Change: 8 Ways to Achieve Faster, Easier, Better Results. So, can you maybe hit us with a power punch to start. What’s a particularly surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive discovery you’ve made in your decades of work on change when it comes to change? Like, what’s something most of us don’t know but should know about this?

Jake Jacobs
Sure. So, Pete, what I would say is that you, your listeners, people who’ve written about change, studied change, practice change, both been changed and changed others, that’s what they focus on is, “What’s going to be different? What’s changed? What’s going to be different?” And at face value it makes sense. I mean, it’s what you’re trying to accomplish so why wouldn’t you focus on it?

I talk with my clients about what not to change. Now this is a different perspective. It’s what I call a paradoxical approach. So, each of the levers in this book states a common problem that organizations and people bump up against when they’re trying to bring about successful change. And then I have a lever, or a strategic action, a high-impact action, people can take to remedy that problem.

So, in organizations where there’s too much change, a lot of people talk about change fatigue, it’s like, “Oh, there’s one more coming down the pipe,” and what people hope for is, “This, too, shall pass. So, maybe we can get another leader and survive this change effort.” And I have a lever that’s called “Pay attention to continuity,” so what not to change.

And what I tell clients, very simply, is to make a list of all those changes that are going to occur in their organization. And they make a list, it’s a couple of flipcharts long, and it gets a little depressing in the room because it’s overwhelming. You’re surrounding yourself by all of these things that you’ve got to do differently. Then I tell them, “All right, we’re going to change gears. Now, what I’d like you to do is make a list of all those things that are going to stay the same, that are based on continuity. This time I want you to make the list twice as long.”

Well, people have a lot of ideas once they start thinking about what’s going to keep going the way that it’s always been, whether it’s who they work with, how they get paid, where they work, I mean, all kinds of things stay the same. But once they see this continuity lever, it shifts the energy in the room, it shifts the purpose that people have, how driven they are going to work. It changes the organization.

And I think that all of this focus on change is good and right, and it’s half the story. And it’s like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together with half the pieces. You get a great picture of what’s on half that front of the board but you’ve missed half of reality. And so, that’s one that I think has been really powerful with people that I’ve worked with.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I mean, that sounds powerful right there in terms of just the feelings you get, when everything is changing, is kind of uncomfortable. It’s sort of like a rising sense of, I don’t know, dread, anxiety, overwhelm.

Jake Jacobs
Those are good words.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you think about all the stuff that’s going to stay the same, it almost feels like after that it’s like, “Oh, no big deal. Okay, so I still got the same boss, I still got the same colleagues, I still get paid the same amount at the same frequency, I go to the same office, I use the same computer. Oh, but a couple of the software programs we’re using to insert inventory orders, or whatever, is going to be different? Okay.” It’s like, “What are we so stressed out about? Game on.”

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. And it really is I think it’s an emotional thing. I think that change goes to the heart of empowerment. And I’ve had clients tell me, “Everybody minds being changed and that people don’t necessarily mind change.” And so, if I’ve got my hands on the steering wheel and I’m starting to make some decisions about my future and I see that some of those are repeating the past, the way I describe it is that people find much firmer footing on that continuity side of the cliff, if you will, and they get a much firmer push-off into the unknown future. And so, you can be a lot more confident about how far you’re going to get because you’ve paid attention to the continuity.

So, when I even have executives give townhalls or they do communications, I had a client once that literally, in the working sessions that we held, it was about a rapid growth strategy and they needed to change a lot of things about how they did business and their roles and relationships and all kinds of stuff. And, in the meeting itself, he made sure that every time they worked on an issue around change, they worked on the same side of the issue but dealing with continuity.

And it was a very powerful session because it gave people permission at some basic human level to reclaim what was theirs. And I think that envisioning and creating our future is the most powerful thing that we can have and making that possible by reminding people of the things that are going to stay the same makes a big difference.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, heck, Jake, let’s just get into it. That’s one lever and that’s beautiful. You’ve got eight of them. So, you tell me, should we just maybe do a quick overview and then dig deep into perhaps two or three more that make a world of difference for a lot of folks?

Jake Jacobs
Sure. I’ll tell you what the problems are that people bump up against and then just a short bit on the lever because I think there are a few that can lead to immediate action that people can take. Levers can be used by individuals, teams, organizations. They can be used with existing methods that people already have in place, and it’s like, “No, no, don’t give that up. Build on it and turbocharge it.”

They can be used at the beginning of a change effort or in the middle. They can even be used as informal tools where you don’t have a formal change effort but you’re just looking to do business a new way because the subtitle of the book says, 8 Ways to Achieve Faster, Easier, Better Results. So, if you’re into faster, easier, better results, these are good things for you.

And let me say one quick thing, Pete, because people may wonder, “Why levers? Like, what does this mean?” And it comes from a story about Archimedes who was a 3rd century BC Greek mathematician, and he was known for describing the power of leverage by saying, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and, single-handed, I shall move the world.”

And so, I believe people can move their worlds in the arena of change by taking these levers and putting them under with the right results with a fulcrum and making change, something that can be faster, easier, and better.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. All right. Well, let’s hear some levers. Well, problems and levers.

Jake Jacobs
So, “Change takes too long.” Now this is one that you hear a lot from leaders and there is a lever, and I think I can talk more about this, which is “Think and act as if the future were now,” right? That’s number two. We’ve got one, “People reject your approach because it’s not invented here.” So, a lot of people will say, “Have you ever done this in my industry? Have you ever done this with an organization my side? Have you ever done it…?” And the answer to that is “Design it yourself.” There’s a lever that talks about “Taking the best of what you’ve used and actually looking back at your own organization’s capabilities with change and putting that into place.” So, design it yourself.

There’s “People don’t know enough to make good decisions.” In a lot of organizations, leaders appear to be making decisions that don’t make sense to frontline employees, and frontline employees are taking actions that leaves to throw their hands up. And so, this whole notion about not knowing enough, I have a lever called “Create a common database,” and it addresses this directly. And I’ve got a great story about that one with a client, too.

Then we’ve got “All change efforts must begin from the top.” So, this is one of my favorite ones because every consultant will come in and they will say, “Start with the senior executive team, get them on board, then cascade this through the organization. One needs to be transformed before they transform others. This is the way it goes.” Well, I say start with impact, follow the energy. So, that means start where you can make a difference and then follow where people want to do the work. And that’s a very different model than the waterfall approach that’s quite common.

So many ask, “What’s in it for me?” So, anybody who’s been in an organization may recognize the “WIIFM” way of talking about this, that’s, “What’s in it for me?” laid out in letters. So, the “What’s in it for me?” a lot of people see this as a problem, asking the question, like selfish, like there’s something wrong with the person asking it. And I look and I say, “No, this is a normal human reaction. This is not unreasonable to be asking ‘What’s in it for me?’”

So, the lever that I developed to address this is called “Develop a future people will want to call their own.” And if I developed a future that I want to be part of, then the “What’s in it for me?” question comes off the table, no longer is an issue. People get to only do their routine work of their daily job. Now I’m not saying that that’s unimportant but what I’m saying is that people yearn to make a significant contribution in their lives whether it’s in their places of worship, in their families, in their communities. It’s also true at work. And so, finding ways for people to make a meaningful difference is another one of these levers.

And then the last one. So, “People’s plates are already full.” You hear this all the time at organizations, they’re like, “I don’t want to take on change. I’ve already got enough to do.” And I have a lever that reframes this to say, “Make change work part of daily work,” that it shouldn’t be another item on the agenda, it shouldn’t be the meeting on Friday afternoon. You should be looking at it every day in everything you do, and that will actually change both your paradigm of what’s going on but also your experience of it.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to this extra bolt-on thing, it is rather the thing.

Jake Jacobs
Yeah, and it’s part of it. I had a client that was a team and they were looking at improving their performance, and they did an assessment and I was working with them instead of somebody else, and so they were like, “Well, let’s put a sub-team together, a committee, and they’ll study this,” and all this extra work that people resisted.

And I said, “No, no, let’s make this part of your weekly meeting. Every week we’re going to do something that improves your performance, whatever it may be.” And we started out taking part of the next meeting with feedback and the boss getting feedback first, and deciding what to do differently. But rather than separating change as “Another event, another item, that I got to deal with,” make it part of daily work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Well, so let’s hear about the common database. You said you’ve got a great story there. Let’s hear it.

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, this was in a merger and acquisition. And in that merger and acquisition, they needed to get a lot of people on board with the culture change. One of the organizations, I’m not going to be mentioning the organizations, but was a little slower, a little less rigorous, and worse-performing, and the other one was on the better side of that coin. So, what we needed to do was get everybody up to speed on what was going on with the merger and acquisition.

What we had were meetings. This actually took place around the world 200 people at a time but they don’t have to. You could do this with 10 people around a table. But what we did is we taught the frontline people about convertible bonds and debt and floating interest rates and all these things that the CFO and their people should be paying attention to, but what they were asking of these frontline people would not make sense unless they understood these business terms.

And so, they got a mini-MBA as part of these sessions. And that’s about people knowing enough to make good decisions. And so, that common database, it’s different for everybody. I do these LinkedIn videos, and one of them that I put up recently was “Do you know something that somebody else should know? Don’t keep it a secret.” So, this basic question of, “Do I know something, Pete, that you should know to be able to do your job better?” then it’s my responsibility to reach out and make sure that you know it rather than being too busy with my own work or having these senior leaders say, “People aren’t getting on board.”

Well, they don’t have the information you do. They don’t understand what the payoff is if we make these numbers this year instead of next year, and how much money saved, and what their bonus could be, and all those questions, I think, in that situation, needed to be information everybody knew. So, you get a mini-MBA if you need it as part of the work that I do.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s intriguing, and I recall, boy, with my very first internships. My boss, Kevin, we were working in channel strategy for electrical components in terms of like, “How can we get distributors to sell more of our stuff,” basically is what we’re trying to figure out.

Jake Jacobs
Good internship.

Pete Mockaitis
And he mentioned, numerous times, how he did a training in finance, and that he thought of it again and again and again with regard to what shows up with like the share price and the earnings and the expectations, and how things bubble up. And I thought that was interesting in that that’s not sort of directly essential to know that, and, yet, everything you hear from the CEO just makes a bit more sense forever when you have that internalized. And I want to hear you elaborate on how the frontline workers understanding the convertible bonds improved what they were doing.

Jake Jacobs
Well, for one thing, it shifted their motivation immediately because if you understand that if you pay off that debt sooner, you save money for the company. And that money for the company, yeah, it’ll go into innovation, and it’ll go into next year’s budget, but some of it was going to go into their pocket. So, understanding the relationship between how fast they paid this debt off and what they could buy at Christmas was fundamental. They didn’t understand that.

And once they understood that the floating interest rate was there and why was it that they paid so much for this other company if it was underperforming, they understood what it meant to have those assets and what it meant to open new markets that they weren’t in previously on a global scale. And so, rather than just being US-based, they diversified their risks by going global and they diversified their customer base.

And all of these things which could’ve been on the rumor mill, which is very efficient, it’s one of the most effective communication strategies any organizations had, but around the rumor mill they were like, “We paid all this money for this company, and why did we? Look, they can’t even do their regular jobs right.” And that was the scuttlebutt on the street. And when they understood what that new business made possible for them, it made a lot more sense.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool in terms of immediate motivation for your compensation this year and what you can do as well as I think just enhancing some trust forever in terms of, “Okay, our senior leaders aren’t morons. In fact, they got a deep understanding of this thing, I’m just now learning about, that has implications for what we’re up to, okay. And I see how I fit into this.” So, even if there is not that direct connection to, “What can I buy at Christmas?” there’s a huge, I think, emotional energy lift that occurs there. So, that’s beautiful. Thank you.

Jake Jacobs
Sure. One other thing I’ll just jump in with, Pete, this is not just about people who don’t have to do with finance getting financial information. This is like even about what I do on my daily job and having information. So, years ago, there was something called open-book management that came out, and in plants and factories, they would post numbers on production numbers, and people hadn’t seen those before. They didn’t know what they were.

So, it’s not always this big leap in logic to say, “Well, we should teach somebody who’s on an oil platform enough to get an MBA.” But it’s like within your own team, do you know things that other people know? And like I said, if you’re keeping it a secret and you’re frustrated that your team is not performing well, then, I don’t know, it was Michael Jackson who said, “Take a look in the mirror and you might realize that you’ve got a lot more power in this situation than you thought you did.”

Pete Mockaitis
And just while we’re here, what are some things leaders ought not to disclose to more junior team members? Is more transparency, more openness always better? Or are there some guidelines, or limits, or times less is…?

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, there’s an approach that I take that really says you can have too much of a good thing, that there needs to be a balance between the sharing of information and the protection of information. And so, I worked with the Department of Defense and there was a lot of information they weren’t meant to share with other people. But if I have personal information about your performance, about the issues that you’re working on, about your family, about your development plan, there are a lot of things that I might know about you as a direct report of mine, and it’s probably not appropriate to be sharing all of that. It’s not helpful.

So, one of the things I would tell your listeners, and this answers the question simply, directly, and, I would argue, correctly, which is, “What do these people need to know to do a great job for this business and themselves?” And if you can answer yes to that 95% of the time, it’s a good thing to be talking about. And if sharing this is not going to make a profound difference for the performance of that team or that organization, like me talking about your personal issues, it doesn’t have a place in that, then they’re going to be safe sharing the information, and they’re going to be in a good place to protect what shouldn’t be shared.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, could you give us another story about a lever and action that made all the difference?

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, this is the one, when I talk about it, Pete, think it’s most unique. And it’s the one about change taking too long, that it being too slow, and leaders happen to complain about this a lot because they see what the benefits are, what needs to be different, and they’re trying to get things to move faster and they’re not for whatever reason. And I came up with this lever called “Think and act as if the future were now.”

So, what this means, it’s a paradigm shift, you got to think differently. Rather than the future being something that’s out there that will occur later, which sounds like common sense, what we’re going to do is we’re going to get some image of that future, however clear we can be, grab hold of that image of the future, pull it back into the present, and start thinking and acting as if that were our present now.

So, here’s a story that I have. There was a group of executives who were in deep debate, they had a day-long meeting set aside to figure out how to come up with a sales strategy in this new market, and they spent the whole morning arguing passionately about it, not as an unhealthy team. I mean, they listened to each other, but they came up with two answers to the question by lunch. And then people started to pick on sides and I could start to see this was not going to be a helpful way to spend the afternoon.

Now, this organization had said they wanted to create a participative culture. So, knowing my lever, I said to them, “Well, what could you do to create a more participative culture around this sales strategy issue?” Some of them looked around the table, didn’t know what to do, but there were a few of them who said, “Well, we’d probably get more salespeople involved in this conversation.” And that seemed to make sense to everybody.

So, they got out their version of a calendar, whatever it was at that point, and they started to make a meeting for next week when they would bring these people in. So, I saw this as a big, fat fastball down the middle, to go back to my baseball cards. And I thought, “All you got to do is swing,” because it’s going to make a lot of sense. And by that, I mean, I said, “Why wait for next week? You said you wanted to make a difference. And if you think and act as if the future were now, if you became that participative organization right here and right now at lunch, what would you do? Be in that future.”

And they said, “Well, we would grab the salespeople who were walking the halls here, and we would call up the ones that are out in the field, and we’d probably might even get some customers involved in this because we said we wanted to be bridging relationships with them.” And I said, “Great. Set it up for 1:00 o’clock, finish lunch, and let’s go to work.”

And what they found in the afternoon was this common database lever came into play, and a lot more people learned about what the issues were, and people on the frontlines talking about a new region of business, they had opened new regions before, they knew what was needed, they knew what was going to be a good or a bad idea.

And so, by learning that and by thinking and acting as if that participative organization was part of one that they were members of, they came up with an entirely different solution. It was a third solution that nobody in the morning had come up with but one that everybody in the room, customers included who were in on the phone, thought, “I got a lot more confidence in this being a path to take.” And what they found was they opened that new region faster than they’ve ever opened another region before, and it got to profitability faster than any region had before.

So, they came up with a good idea but it goes back, for me, to this, “Well, do we want to wait a week?” No, you lose time, you lose money, you lose energy, you lose political capital, all of these things. Why wait to get a better answer when you can start behaving as if you already knew it?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. And I think it’d be really fun if you are a salesperson in that afternoon who are just kind of surprised, pulled into a room full of senior executives, like, “Oh, okay. Well, I feel kind of special and important right now.”

Jake Jacobs
A little nervous too.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And then that creates all sorts of good things in terms of some of the other levers with regard to they all make meaningful difference in that work and bringing it together.

Jake Jacobs
Absolutely. Absolutely. And the levers, Pete, work together that way so you can focus on one and start to make gains on two more where you don’t have to think, “Well, let me find a meaningful way for people to contribute. Let me find a way to create a common database.” They were working on thinking as if the future were now, and they got freebies in terms of what the results were on those other two.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, can you tell us, Jake, what are some key things to not do when we’re trying to get a change going?

Jake Jacobs
Yes. So, one of them, I think, is the notion that people see change as something that happens to them instead of with them. And so, if you can engage people in conversations that matter about their future and talk about the meaningful difference that they can make, avoiding those conversations, being nervous about those conversations.

I once had a client, it was a plant, and they were going to close. It was in Cleveland, it was a casting plant, I won’t tell you the company, but it was going to close. And so, they held a big meeting, there were 300 people, to talk about it. And there’s one woman who stood up and she said, “Look, if closing this plant is going to create an opportunity for my son to work at the plant the next town over, I’m willing to close it here.” The place went dead silent and it’s like, “Was she serious?” I mean, that’s something that you’re not really supposed to be talking about. It doesn’t make sense to talk about and, yet, for her, she decided that that was important.

So, a lot of people, when they deal with change, emotion is something that’s off the table. You shouldn’t be talking about how people feel. And what she did is she put on the table, her bare to her soul, and I’ve worked with clients a lot of times. I had a leader once who basically said, “We’re not dealing with feelings; we deal with facts and figures in here.” And his people were dying because of the support they needed and they couldn’t even ask for it because they saw it as a sign of weakness.

And so, if you can create a culture in your team or your organization, where people can speak the truth, and including their emotions and put it on the table, even this woman, it was a safe enough environment for her to stand up and say, “Look, I’ll put my job on the line.” But I think, too often, we look at change as a project, and it’s got deadlines, and it’s milestones, and it’s got resources, and it gets very cold and calculated, and we’re dealing with human beings, and that’s not how we’re wired.

Sure, you’ve got to pay attention to all those things but if you’re not looking at people’s experience of the change and asking them, “What’s going to make it better?” you don’t have to have the answers, but if you ask them, they know most of the time what’s going to work better for them. And so, that ask, and then you got to listen. So, if you’re asking and don’t pay attention, you’re in worse shape than if you hadn’t asked in the first place.

Pete Mockaitis
“Man, you don’t care.”

Jake Jacobs
Right. Charlie Brown, Lucy and the football, and Lucy pulls the football out and Charlie Brown ends up on his backside. It’s like asking people what they need and then ignoring it entirely – not smart.

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

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, this one is actually one that I’ve used a lot of ways in a lot of places. So, this comes from Thomas Jefferson and it goes back to 1820, and he said, “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves. And if we think they’re not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is to not take it from them but to inform their discretion.”

So, I think what he was saying is if people don’t know enough to be smart about decisions they need to make, then educate them. Help them make good decisions. Don’t take those decisions away from them. So, I’m a big believer in engagement in organizations for all the right reasons. It’s not right all the time but in a lot of organizations today, we err on the side of not informing discretion. So, I think that’s less of an issue for most people to deal with, but I think Thomas Jefferson in 1820 had it pretty darn well.

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

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. My mentor’s mentor, Ron Lippitt, people don’t believe this but actually, was a significant player in the invention of flipcharts, being if you want to claim the fame. Ron was at the University of Michigan, and what he studied was the difference between what he called preferred futuring and problem-solving. So, what he did is he gave two groups the same situation. One of them was to go about it as solving a problem, “What’s wrong? What do we need to do to fix it?” The other, he came up with this thing called preferred futuring, which said, “We’re in our future and what did we do to get there?”

And what they found at the end of this study was that people who were in the problem-solving group had less energy at the end, greater blame on other people, and they had reduction of pain solutions. So, it’s like, “It won’t be as bad if we do this than it normally would.” The preferred futuring group was the exact opposite. They were more energized at the end, they took more ownership of the situation, and they found innovative solutions to their problems.

So, this preferred futuring is actually the precursor or the father of all the visioning work done in organizations today. Until that time when Ron did this experiment, problem-solving ruled the day, and this was in the ‘40s, but he had the insight to say, “Maybe there’s another way.” And now it’s so commonplace, people would look at you like they had their heads screwed on backwards if you didn’t think about what the vision for your organization was going to be.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Jake Jacobs
So, for me, I think that my favorite book is a book called The Practical Theorist. It was written by a guy named Al Marrow, and it was written about the founder of my field of organization change, his name was Kurt Lewin. And The Practical Theorist was saying, Lewin said, “There’s nothing so practical as a good theory.”

So, to me, it’s very concrete because I love the story. It’s very useful for the listeners. He was in Germany before World War II, and they used to sit and have coffee at the cafes, if you can imagine, and students would sit with them, and they had this wondering about, “Would the waitress remember the bill better before or after it was paid?”

And what they decided was it was going to be before it was paid. Other people decided after. So, they asked the waitress what it was before and what it was after. She could remember to the Deutsche Mark before it was paid, she had no idea what it was afterwards. A woman named Bluma Zeigarnik took this on as her doctoral thesis and it became known as The Zeigarnik Effect.

And what it says is that people have greater recall and motivation to go back to unfinished tasks. So, don’t tie a bow around something at the end of the day or the end of a meeting. Keep it open and you will find that people would be more motivated to go back to it the next day, or the next meeting, than if you finished something at the end of the meeting. So, a lot of times there’s this mad rush to get through the last slide or to get the last agenda item covered, and I would say don’t. Leave it for next time and you’ll find a lot more energy to work on it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. And, likewise, I think, for, I don’t know, books, movies, stories, TV shows, like if the story is not quite finished, it’s like, “Ooh, what’s going to happen?” You got to know and you keep going.

Jake Jacobs
Absolutely. I think a lot of sitcom writers probably studied Kurt Lewin before they got into sitcom-writing.

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

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, this one for me is that I find that listening is the most powerful tool that I have at my disposal and it’s readily available anytime, place, or with anyone. And when I say listening, I mean listening to see the world through their eyes. And so, I talk with my clients about four magic words that they can use whenever they’re in trouble. It’s like you get a little hot under the collar, you start breathing a little faster, you start interrupting the other person, like we all know what it looks like for our own version of that.

And I tell them, “As soon as you start to feel that happen, say, ‘Could you say more?’” And that gives an invitation to the other person that they have the floor still, and it creates a safe place for that person to go deeper into whatever it was that they were saying because you’re inviting them. So, when I give you an invitation, Pete, that says, “Could you say more?” you’re going to feel better about sharing it with me.

And the other thing it does is it interrupts that whole building of interruption and heat and breathing, all those things when we get a little ticked off. But when you say, “Could you say more?” well, one thing is they see Jake in their face saying, “Say it,” and hopefully your listeners will hear me next time they get in that situation. But it’s very practical advice. I think, like this guy who wrote the book “The Practical Theorist,” it’s like, “If you can’t put theory and put it into practice, then it’s not worth knowing in the first place.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget that you share that really connects and resonates with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, this one goes back to that lever about “Think and act as if the future were now.” I interviewed people to put on my website, clients, and half of them came back to me and said, “You know that thing you say about living in the future and making it happen today? That’s been really helpful.” And one of the people said, “Yeah, I went back to my team the next day and there was a guy, after I said that, who was like the chief engineer, had a whole list of things that he needed to start doing differently if he was going to operate and do business in new and better ways.”

And so, that has been something that a lot of people have come back to me and said, “You know, one thing, for sure, that I’ve taken away from my time with you is that quote and putting that quote into practice.”

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear it one more time.

Jake Jacobs
“Think and act as if the future were now.”

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

Jake Jacobs
I would point them two places. One, my website JakeJacobsConsulting.com. The other thing that I would encourage them to do, if they’re not on LinkedIn, I’d get on it, but if they’re on it, look me up there, I’m Jake Jacobs. And I’ve got a short Jake on Change, two-minute videos, that I put up there, there’s articles, there’s quotes, there’s all kinds of materials because I believe you go into the world with open arms. And the more you share the more you receive. So, it’s really important to me to make sure that I continue to push my own thinking, and I continue to give whatever gifts I have to other people so it will help them create faster, easier, better results, whatever they may be working on.

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

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. I think that the final challenge is for them to picture a day when the results they’re working on for their change effort are achieved, for them to picture a day when somebody who’s been resistant to their change work comes up to them and says, “I’m really glad I got involved. I’m excited about the future we’re creating,” and to picture a day wherein their organization, faster, easier, better results just become the way of doing business. It’s not something special or different. It’s just the way that we operate.

And if they could sit back and picture those days when those things are happening, I think they end up getting pulled into the future more by what Ron Lippitt would call their preferred future or vision, and less of it is about getting mired trying to solve today’s problems. It’s much better to get pulled forward than pushed from behind.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jake, thank you. This has been a treat. And I wish much luck in all the ways you achieve faster, easier, better results.