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.

952: How Wonder Eliminates Stress and Improves Wellbeing with Monica Parker

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Monica Parker discusses the surprising benefits of wonder—and shares easy ways to experience more of it in your life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How wonder helps us at work 
  2. Easy ways to experience more wonder 
  3. How society discourages wonder—and how to overcome that 

About Monica

A world-renowned speaker, writer, and authority on the future of work, Monica Parker has spent decades helping people discover how to lead and live wonderfully. The founder of global human analytics and change consultancy HATCH, whose clients include blue-chip companies such as LinkedIn, Google, Prudential, and LEGO, Parker challenges corporate systems to advocate for more meaningful work lives. In addition to her extensive advocacy work, she has been an opera singer, a museum exhibition designer, and a homicide investigator defending death-row inmates. A lover of the arts, literature, and Mexican food, Parker and her family split their time between Atlanta, London, and Nice. Her wonderbringers include travel, fellowship with friends, and Trey Anastasio’s guitar.

Resources Mentioned

Monica Parker Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Monica, welcome.

Monica Parker

Hi, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m excited to hear your take on wonder and how it can help us be more awesome at our jobs. But for starters, could you tell us what do you mean by wonder?

Monica Parker

Yeah, sure. So, wonder as a word is something of a shape-shifter. So, you have wonder as a noun and wonder as a verb. Of course, wonder as a noun would be perhaps a wonder. It might be something that’s a catalyst for awe. And then you have wonder as a verb, to wonder, which would be perhaps how we might describe curiosity.

And so, my definition of wonder seeks to link those two concepts. And so, the way that I describe it, it starts with openness to experience, then moves into curiosity, then into absorption and awe. And it’s actually a cycle that, as we experience it, the more we experience it, the more likely we are to experience it in the future. And so, that’s my definition of wonder.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, that sounds pleasant. But can you tell us how that helps us be more awesome at our jobs?

Monica Parker

So, it starts by making us more awesome as humans. It makes us more creative, more desirous of studying the world around us. It makes us more humble, less materialistic, more generous, better community and team members. People who are higher in the composite elements of wonder are more likely to perform better in work and school, and build healthier relationships.

And recent evidence shows that wonder makes us less stressed and feel like we have more time. It’s basically what would be described as a pro-social experience. So, it simply makes us want to be better, more tolerant humans. And that’s just the psychological benefits. Physiologically, it also decreases pro-inflammatory cytokines and lowers our blood pressure. And the research shows a direct biological pathway between wonder and better health.

Pete Mockaitis

Fantastic. So, tell us, that all sounds swell, I’m wondering, is this teachable? Are some people naturally have the wonder groove going and others don’t? Or how do you think about someone who is not as wonder-y becoming more wonder-y?

Monica Parker

Sure. So, it certainly, because it has to do with our brain, there’s going to be natural elements of it that we have a higher propensity towards. So, pretty much the way our personality works is that about half of it is based on our genetics and the other half is based on our experiences up to about age 25. So, there’s no question that some people are going to be naturally may have higher openness, may be more prone towards curiosity, but it’s absolutely something that we can train ourselves to see as a mindset, and we can engage in activities that help us become more wonder-prone.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, I would love to hear a tale perhaps of someone who was less wonder-prone and went through some work and had way more wonder going on as a result.

Monica Parker

Sure. I can tell you some of the things that I find most exciting about this research is how it helps people who are, I think it’s fair to say that we’re dealing with a mental health crisis in America, as well as many other places. Forty million Americans right now are being treated for anxiety. Globally, 280 million people have depression. And so, one of the most exciting pieces of research that I’ve seen was working with people who had PTSD and who had trauma backgrounds.

After taking a whitewater rafting trip, which would certainly be wonder-inducing, they found that those people had a significantly reduced PTSD symptoms and, in fact, benefited for as much as two weeks after that experience. And so, what we know is that when people experience wonder, they become more better able to deal with what life throws at them.

And some of the research shows that that can be as simple as looking at some beautiful trees that give you a sense of wonder. Another piece of research shows that just three minutes looking at a particularly awe-inspiring grove of trees made people exhibit more helpful behaviors for the week following.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that’s fantastic. I’d love it if you could share with us some of these other quick yet super effective interventions. Three minutes of tree-looking for lasting benefit sounds right up my alley. What else can we do, Monica?

Monica Parker

Yeah, so the first is what I described, slow thought. Really, we are in such a rush all the time that we stop seeing what is around us. So, the more that we can engage in slow thought activities, and particular activities that help slow down our brain. So, we all have sort of that chattering monkey mind. So, these are things like meditation, chalk this up for again, another reason why we should all be meditating, things like narrative journaling, even a gratitude practice or prayer.

Any of those things that helps quiet down the brain and helps us engage in more slow thought, which, mind you, God rest his soul, Daniel Kahneman who just passed away, also talked about the power of slowing down and certainly how that can be effective in our work lives as well. Another way is to really open ourselves to novelty and new ideas. We get stuck in such the same rut of doing the same thing over and over again that we miss the wonder in the familiar.

So, the more that we can shake our noggins up a little bit and introduce new thinking and new places, new spaces help, and even just taking a wonder walk. And you might ask, “What’s a wonder walk?” Well, a wonder walk is you decide it is. It’s really a brilliant example of the power of priming. You tell yourself that you’re going to find things that will give you a sense of wonder on that walk.

And research found that two groups of walkers went walking for 20 minutes. One that was primed that they would find things to feel a sense of wonder about, the other group was not. And the group that went on a wonder walk had stress reduction benefits for the following week.

Pete Mockaitis

Fantastic. Now just how potent is stress reduction benefit are we talking here, Monica?

Monica Parker

Because it’s something that is so subjective, it’s hard to sort of give a specific definition of that. But what we do know is that it’s significant enough that it lowers people’s pro-inflammatory cytokines. And pro-inflammatory cytokines are those markers of disease that generally happen. If we’re actually sick, our body will release them as a mechanism to make us well, but frequently they will be released when we’re under stress.

And so, the stress reduction is significant enough, not just for the individual to sense that sense of stress reduction, but for the physiological changes to occur as well, where the pro-inflammatory cytokines actually reduce as well. And those are markers of conditions like heart disease, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s. And so, it’s pretty significant.

Pete Mockaitis

Fascinating. Well, while we’re talking medically, do you have a sense on the optimal dosage of this nature goodness or wonder experiences?

Monica Parker

To be fair, the more the better. The key, I think, is setting a mindset. And with practice, we can do that such that we start to see wonder in the quotidian. We really shouldn’t have to look for it. We should simply be able to find it. And that might be in a perfect autumn leaf. It might be this time of year, in the flowers as they’re starting to bloom. 

And so, really, it’s how much you’re willing to be open to it and find it in your life. But the more the better, there’s no question. But I would say like most things, a good practice would be if you can focus on doing one of the mind-setting activities for about 20 minutes in a day, then you will start to build the skills that will allow you to see wonder throughout your day-to-day life.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s just what I was thinking. When you said the word open, that really resonated for me because sometimes I am having wonder-y days and it’s a lot of fun, it’s expansive, it’s relaxing, it’s cool. And other times, everything is irritating and it’s kind of the opposite. And instead of being amazed at a leaf, I might be annoyed that the leaf is stuck to my shoe and crunching it all along the way. Do you have any sort of SOS or emergency stop-drop-roll kinds of things to shift us closer to the wonder mode?

Monica Parker

I’ll tell you, it’s probably one of the stop-drop-rolls that you’ve heard from a lot of other people because it’s what works. The first thing is to just take a big breath. We know that breathing helps quiet the amygdala. We know that it helps with our vagus nerve health, with vagal tone, which is one of the things that helps us stay calm. And so, really just taking a break to take a deep breath is probably the first SOS element. And I find that having a little mantra helps to just say there is wonder there, and then, hopefully, your eyes will be open to what you can find in your sphere that will give you that little bit of a wonder nugget.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And, Monica, you’ve got a lovely tidbit, five elements of wonder. They all start with the letter W. Could you walk us through these?

Monica Parker

Yeah. And so, these were a little bit what I started to describe at the beginning. So, I call them watch, wander, whittle, wow, and whoa. So, watch is the word for openness. Openness to experience is the personality trait that’s associated with the best, outcomes as a human, be it physical or mental.

And so, moving from openness to experience, we then, when we’re very open, what happens then, we become curious about something, and we become deeply curious. This is the watch element. And when I talk about curiosity, there’s really two types of curiosity. I’m focused more on the deep curiosity. You have surface curiosity, which would be sort of like Google searching to settle a bet, or maybe smelling the milk to see if it’s gone off. That’s not the kind of curiosity we’re looking for. We’re looking for the curiosity for the joy of the exploration. And this type of curiosity really starts to engage our brain in a different way.

We move from being deeply curious about something to becoming absorbed. That’s natural. We might find absorption in a flow state, but we might also find it from just being hyper focused. And this is where we call whittle. So, this is where we’re paring back attention. We’re really keenly focused on where we are hyper present. And then we move from whittle, if we’re lucky, into the fourth and fifth stages, which are the wow and whoa, and these are two stages of awe.

And the reason that awe has two stages is when we study the dynamic of awe as an emotion, it really does have sort of these two elements to it. The first is where we experience something that feels so vast. And that can be physically vast, like the Grand Canyon, or emotionally vast, like seeing your child take their steps for the first time. Our brain is shocked by that. And that’s sort of this wow moment. But then afterwards, our brain actually has to accommodate to understand what it is that it’s just experienced. And this is the whoa, where it’s sort of like mind blown. And those two elements together define the emotion of awe.

And after that, now our brain is in a hyperplastic state where we can embed all sorts of good stuff. And that brings us back to openness. So, now after that experience of the whoa, we are more open and, thus, more likely to be deeply curious, and then more likely to become absorbed and so on and so on. And so, I really do see it as this upwardly beneficial cycle that we can experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that is lovely, indeed. Well, could you make it all the more real for us by sharing several stories of individuals who experienced some of the stressed, overwhelmed, overloaded, “Aargh” kind of a vibe to regularly incorporating more wonder and the results they saw from doing so?

Monica Parker

Sure. So, one of my favorite stories, and this may not be something that everyone can directly, I guess, connect with, but it’s about a gentleman named Steven Callahan. And Steven Callahan was a famed solo sailor, and he actually went on a solo race and ended up becoming a castaway. He spent 76 days adrift on the Atlantic Ocean and actually wrote an incredible book about that. And I had the opportunity to speak to Steve.

And what he said was that he was certain that it was his sense of wonder that gave him the alacrity to be able to survive being out adrift at sea, because he said that there were moments where he had such a sense of crisis and panic where all hope felt lost, but he was so overwhelmed by the beauty and the power, even the horror, in a sense, of the sea and of nature, and what that could do to him. That that moment of feeling like a small part in a bigger system, and being, in a way, almost helpless actually gave him the strength and the ability to see more clearly in order to take every single day and engage in the activities that would get him to be eventually saved, which he was 76 days later.

And, in fact, strangely, many people report that. I interviewed a gentleman who worked with people who were at the end of having had experiences like this, or having been in plane crashes, or even having been kidnapped and held. The day that I interviewed him, he had just been speaking to someone who had been held in a hole in the Baltics, and then was saved. And what he found is that people who are able to have a greater sense of wonder and then convert that to a sense of purpose survive these intense cataclysmic experiences.

And he said that if there was one thing that he would advise people to do, it would be to, first, find a purpose and, second, find their sense of wonder, because he said that those are the keys to being able to survive any kind of crisis, big or small.

Pete Mockaitis

And it’s interesting when you said, “We had someone who’s a castaway, stranded.” And you said, “And many people share this,” like, “Wow, a lot of castaways.” But I hear what you’re saying in terms of crisis situations, kidnappings, etc. And even in a day-to-day professional environment where there’s less life-or-death stakes.

Monica Parker

But our brain thinks it’s life or death.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, and all those elements associated with how creatively, resourcefully you can operate really do. It makes all the difference in terms of whether you’re feeling like, “Oh, wow, cool ideas are coming to me, creative ways to use these resources,” versus, “Aargh, we’re screwed and there’s nothing I can do. Aargh.”

Monica Parker

Absolutely. And that’s where we start to get into one of the benefits of engaging in the slow thought. We know that one of the challenges that we’re confronted with in work environments is something that’s known as action bias. So, when we are, as professionals, usually, we are confronted with a situation where we really don’t have control, I think we saw a lot of this during COVID, we want to feel like we can exert control.

And one of the challenges is that society actually benefits that. Research shows that we will rate our leaders more positively if they made decisive decisions, even if those decisions later were found to be poor. And so, we have this real desire to act when sometimes we should just pause. And this is a little bit of wonder mixed with a little bit of Daniel Kahneman, which is to say that when we have the opportunity to slow down, we should.

And that is one of the things that Steven Callahan found being adrift. It’s one of the things that I heard from so many different scientists that I spoke to, that slowing down and allowing our brain to engage with what we’re really experiencing rather than catastrophizing or feeling the need to act, simply to act, really helps us make better decisions. And we see that in action bias, day in, day out in work environments. And we see that in more severe environments like being adrift at sea or, yes, being kidnapped by a terrorist organization.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, Monica, tell us, any other top wonder do’s or don’ts to share before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Monica Parker

Yeah, so one of my other wonder do’s is to make sure that we’re getting enough sleep. Add that onto one of the challenges. When we’re sleep deprived, our attentional control really goes out the window and we become more ruminative. It becomes really much, much harder for us to become present. And also daydreaming. You mentioned earlier that some days you feel like you’re really on the wonder train. And some of that, daydreaming has gotten a bit of a bad rap.

There was a piece of research that came out, and they said, “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” But actually, there is one type of daydreaming that’s really good for that, and that’s called positive constructive daydreaming. This is when we cast our minds forward and create in these play future scenarios. And that’s really, really good for us. So, I would encourage good night’s sleep, and then when you want to, allow yourself to have a good daydream.

Pete Mockaitis

Now, let’s see, I’ve read that paper, “A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind.” Let’s see, that’s Killingsworth and Gilbert.

Monica Parker

Correct.

Pete Mockaitis

And what was interesting, as I dug into the data, what I found was it seems like, yeah, being present to what’s going on around you is a winning happiness strategy. So, go mindfulness, go presence, that’s great. However, if you were daydreaming in positive territory, the happiness results are pretty comparable to simply being present. But the problem is our wandering minds tend to go into unpleasant territory, and that’s just no fun.

Monica Parker

Correct. There are two other types of daydreaming, one which is just poor attentional control. That’s something that really plagues people who are non-neurotypical. So, those of us who have ADHD certainly struggle with that. And then the other is that this catastrophic daydreaming, where we’re imagining something that’s really terrible that’s going to happen, or something stupid we did in the past.

But we daydream almost 50% of our day. It’s something like 43% of our day we’re daydreaming, so there must be some benefit or our brains wouldn’t do it. And so, it’s really about finding a way to harness that and create it into, you know, make it one of your slow-thought activities as opposed to something that just becomes distracting and ruminative.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Monica Parker

It is by Albert Einstein, and he says, “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe is as good as dead. His eyes are closed.”

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And could you share a favorite study or experiment a bit of research?

Monica Parker

I think one of my favorites that I haven’t mentioned really reflects on the power of mixed emotions. So, they took a group of widows and widowers, and they found that those who remembered their deceased loved one, the both positive and negative elements of their partner, were better able to manage their grief. And so, that really is just a, I guess, support to say that mixed emotions, like curiosity, like wonder, like awe, where there’s a little bit of positive and a little bit of negative mixed, are really, really good for our brains and we should try to do more of it.

Pete Mockaitis

Ooh, that’s powerful. And I’m reminded of a conversation. We had Susan Cain on the show talking about her book, Bittersweet. And, yeah, that hits hard.

Monica Parker

Existential longing, that’s another one, that’s another mixed emotion. Very positive for us, and it helps us to have better emo-diversity or emotional granularity. And the greater emotional granularity we have, the healthier we are. But really having those mixed emotions, fight it out in our noggin, is good for tolerance. It’s the anti-polarization. There are so many benefits.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite book?

Monica Parker

I love Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. It’s a great dose of wonder, a little bit of historical fiction, and, yeah, I just think it’s a fabulous book that everybody should read.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Monica Parker

Yeah, for me, one of my favorite tools, believe it or not, as terrible as they are, I still choose to see some of the positive of social networks. I’m global, my network is global, and I really do curate Instagram such that I find it to be an incredibly helpful tool for me.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite habit?

Monica Parker

Sleep. Sleep, sleep, sleep. Always sleep.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Monica Parker

I have a line in the book that says, “Wonder shared is wonder multiplied.” And I love that because it reminds us that wonder is not just a solitary experience, that it’s something that we can share with others and help it grow. We can share it in the moment or we can express it to others after we’ve experienced it. But every time that we share it with others, either in the moment or after the fact, multiplies the benefit and bestows that benefit on those that you shared it with.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Monica Parker

They can find me at Monica-Parker.com. And I have a weekly newsletter called Wonder Bringers that they can sign up for where I share other wonder nuggets.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Monica Parker

Yeah, my challenge is to follow wonder. And the best way to do that is to slow down. So, I guess I’ll put those two things together and say slow down and follow wonder.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Monica, thank you. This is fun. And I wish you many moments of wonder.

Monica Parker

Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

951: The Three Sentences that Improve (almost) Every Conversation with Chris Fenning

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Chris Fenning shares how to master the first minute of conversation for clearer, more concise, and more persuasive communication.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to capture your audience’s attention in 15 seconds
  2. Why meetings feel like a waste—and how to fix that 
  3. The one question that’s ruining your reputation 

About Chris

Chris Fenning makes it easier for us to communicate at work. He helps experts talk to non-experts, teams talk to executives, and much more. Chris’s practical methods are used in organizations like Google and NATO, and have appeared in the Harvard Business Review. He is also the author of multiple award-winning books on communication and training that have been translated into 16 languages. Find out how Chris can help you at www.chrisfenning.com 

Resources Mentioned

Chris Fenning Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Chris, welcome.

Chris Fenning

Hi, Pete. I’m really looking forward to our conversation today.

Pete Mockaitis

I’m excited as well. We’re talking about conversations today. Your book is called, The First Minute, which I love. It could really be like an action movie with a title like that, Chris. Tell us, what’s so important about the first minute of a conversation? Or is it just a catchy title?

Chris Fenning

Well, I’ve been told it’s a catchy title. The reason for the title is the whole book is literally about the first minute. So, it is quite an important thing. And you asked what it is, well, and why is it important? It’s important because, if in a work situation, if you’re at work and you’re communicating with other people, if you get the first minute wrong, you will pay for it through the rest of the conversation, your reputation can take a hit, and people may not want to communicate with you again in the future. But if you get it right, you can get people’s attention, keep their focus, and get their message across all in 20 to 60 seconds.

Pete Mockaitis

Chris, I love a very clear value proposition. There we have it. Okay. Cool. So, could you tell us a cool story about a professional who saw a transformation in terms of their first minutes were a little bit rough, but then they worked your magic, Chris, and on the other side, they saw some cool things? Do you have some tales like this?

Chris Fenning

Yes. There’s one person who really comes to mind, and she was a junior project manager at a time when I was a director in a large PMO. We were running big, big programs for a large American health insurance company, and this junior project manager had incredible potential but she was new in her role. And part of her role involved presenting to a senior leader, and this leader was a tough nut. They had very high standards, they expected everything to be in detail, to the point and complete, which is kind of a contradiction to do all of those things.

So, this junior PM did her best, and to prepare she did what many of us do which is include all the detail, help educate this person so they could really understand the message that was coming next. And, of course, that’s a crash-and-burn situation, because the more detail you put up front, the longer it takes to get to your point, the further you are from the value of your message.

And so, in working with her, we employed some of the things from The First Minute and also a technique that say only give three updates and then ask a question. And what happened is she went from delivering all of the detail up front, “Oh, let me tell you about this. This is what has happened and this is why it’s important. So that, blah…” and then she would get to her ask. She ended up coming in, and saying, “Hi, today I want to give you updates on three things. They are A, B, and C. What I want from you is a decision, some advice, and I literally don’t know what to do with the third one, so really looking for some help there. Let me start with topic number one.”

And she framed the conversation beautifully so that instead of feeling attacked and under pressure by that senior leader, the leader said, “Oh, great. Actually, I want to talk about number two. Can we go to that first?” And they had a conversation instead of this long, drawn-out introduction that led to the leader being frustrated because it wasn’t what they wanted to know.

So the impact for the junior project manager wasn’t just more effective communication in those meetings, which is an important thing. The biggest takeaway for her was her confidence went through the roof. She went from being scared going into these meetings, spending hours and hours preparing, and feeling that she would never be good enough going in – and these were her words – to after using these methods a couple of times, and seeing the impact, she felt confident.

Her preparation was cut more than in half, and she enjoyed giving the status updates, and ended up having a good relationship with that senior leader. So, it enabled her to shine in her role. And she went on to be a senior PM and do great things.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, Chris, I love that so much because what you’ve just demonstrated there doesn’t sound too hard to do, “What is your first minute?” I think it sounds like, “Oh, high stakes first minute. It’s a make or break. I could lose it. I could screw everything up. I need to dazzle them with a startling statistic, or a hilarious tale, or something in order to grip them in our TikTok-addled world of whatever.” But what you did is you just basically just set up a nice little preview, like, “Hey, this is what we’re going to do and kind of what I want.” And it’s like, “Oh, I can do that.”

Chris Fenning

Yeah, you’re exactly right. None of this is complicated but it does take deliberate effort to apply it over time. None of it is rocket science. I can say that, my background is rocket science. This isn’t it. This is definitely simpler than rocket science, but we need to remember to do it. And you gave a really good word there. You said it’s a preview of the conversation, and that’s exactly what it is. The method that I just described in the book is called framing, and it’s the first 15 seconds, maybe 20 seconds. And if you frame your message, you’re setting up your audience to pay attention and know what you’re going to tell them, and understand why it’s important to them.

And that preview addresses three questions that we will have if somebody starts badly. And the questions are, “What are you talking about? Why are you telling me this? And what is your point?” And you can avoid those three questions if you deliver a very simple preview, a simple framing in that first 15 to 20 seconds.

Pete Mockaitis

I love that because what you’re describing there is exactly what’s in their head in terms of like, “Wait, what are we doing here exactly?” And I’ve heard, and I think it’s so well said, that great copywriting, like, if you’re writing words to be persuasive like in a sales situation, is joining the conversation that is already in your prospect’s head. Like, they’re having this conversation with themselves, and you’re just joining right there where they are, meeting them in that zone, that spot, and it’s like, “Oh, perfect. This fits right here.” As opposed to, “Ugh, I’m annoyed, I’m irritated, or I want to change the channel. Get this away from me.”

Chris Fenning

Yes. Yes. One of the differences with that, so in that sales environment, you want to meet your audience with the problem that they’re having, with the goal they’re trying to achieve. When we’re at work, we’re in the other sort of advertising space of pattern interrupt. What we’re doing is interrupting someone else’s day, interrupting their thoughts so that they focus on what we want to talk about. And that’s always a tough sell anyway because people have got their own stuff to do.

And so, we have to go about it in a way that, very quickly, shows the other person the value to them or the importance to them, which is why the second thing in the framing is intent. The first part is context, “What is this topic? What are you talking about?” The second part is intent, which is, “What do I want you to do with the information?” And the third is key message, like, the point of what you’re trying to say.

And the reason that intent is so important up front is, until we know what to do with a piece of information, our brains literally don’t know how to process it. And because we’ve interrupted someone, whether we’ve bumped into them in a corridor, or even in a planned meeting, they’re thinking about something else, we say “Right. Now, Pete, I want to talk about this topic.” If I don’t tell you exactly why you need to pay attention, your brain is not going to be able to understand what’s coming next, and it’s because of something called working memory or sometimes called short term memory.

Now this isn’t, “Where did I put my keys? And what are the names of my kids?” This is the, where our brain receives information, it has to work out which part of the brain to fire up to do something with it. Because if I tell you a funny story, one area of your brain will engage. But if I asked you a question, a different area of your brain will start fire up and pay attention. And until your brain, at a subconscious level, knows which part to engage, it just gets stuck in a loop saying, “Well, what do I do with this? What do I do with this? What do I do with this?”

And if we don’t give our audience a clear instruction, “Hey, I need your help. Heads up, you need to know this. I’m about to give you an instruction,” so that’s very clear intent. If we don’t say that, your audience is just going to be wondering, “Why are you telling me this?” right up until the moment that we do.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good. And, Chris, I appreciate that new context in terms of bumping into them in a hallway or corridor because I was thinking, “Here we are at this meeting. It’s like, this is on the calendar. It has a title. We kind of know update about this project. We have some sort of sense for what it’s about,” but there’s still questions hovering around.” In the context you’ve set out, there’s even more of a wide-open field for, “Wait, what are we…? What’s going on right now? What are we even talking about?” So, that’s good.

Chris Fenning

And we start conversations in our own heads before we actually start the conversation with the other person. If I saw you across the office, “Oh, I need to talk to Pete about this. We’ve got this team meeting next week. I’m missing this critical piece of information. Oh, Pete, great, I’ve got you. So, blah…” and then I launch into the detail because I’ve already started that conversation in my head 10 feet away.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s true. Yeah, that’s really good to remember. I think, often, we’ll just sort of say something like, “Hey, can you send me the link?” “Can you give me the info? Do you have the newest data?” It’s like, “Wait, link, what link? What info? What data? Like, I really do need much more.”

Chris Fenning

“Can I talk to you about next week?” “Sure, I’ve got 39 meetings. Like, which one?”

Pete Mockaitis

Totally. All right. Well, let’s go into some detail. We got the context, the intent, the key message. You even gave me some seconds there. So, how about you give me a rundown of what do you mean by context? How many seconds is that? What’s a great example of context setting versus a poor example of context setting? And then do likewise for intent and key message. No pressure.

Chris Fenning

Absolutely. So, in terms of seconds, we’ll go with sentences instead, one sentence for each of those three things. One sentence for context, one for intent, and one for key message. If you want to get really tight, you can do it as bullet points because sentences can really run on. So, thinking in bullet points can help.

So, we start with context, and that’s, “What is the topic or the theme of the thing I’m going to talk to you about?” Now a good example would be, “Hi, Pete, can I talk to you about next Thursday’s team meeting?” I’m very specific on time and the event. If I said, “Hey, can I talk to you about next Thursday?” I’m thinking about the team meeting, you might be thinking about the meal we’ve got planned in the evening. And I’ll say, “Well, I’m struggling to get the location locked down.” Well, now you’re thinking about the place we’re eating and I’m thinking about the place that we’re meeting.

Rhyme aside, that is a very common type of misunderstanding because we’re not specific on time and event. So, clear context, “I want to talk to you about next Thursday’s team meeting.” You now know everything else I’m going to say relates to that and you’re not guessing with one sentence. Then it’s intent, and we’ve covered that a little bit, it’s saying what you want the other person to do, “Hey, Pete, I want to talk to you about next Thursday’s team meeting. I need some advice.” And you now know I’m going to ask for your help. Or, “Heads up, something’s changed.” You’re now preparing to adapt to whatever that change is.

So, you’ve got a very clear indication of what should come next and what to brace yourself for, and it’s not always bad things. I could say, “Hey, Pete, I want to talk to you about next Thursday’s team meeting. Funny story…” You now know I’m going to engage in a, hopefully, funny story at that point. And that gives you the option to say, “Oh, well, actually, I don’t have time for a funny story now. Can this wait till later?” So that sort of gives you an out, because it’s very clear what I want to talk to you about.

And the third part is that key message, which is the headline, the most important thing you want to put across. And one of the best ways to understand the value and importance of a headline is, imagine you were reading an article, a newspaper, a blog article. If you start on paragraph seven, how long does it take you to work out what that article is really about? Do you get it straight away? Or are you still sort of working it out as you as you go through and adjusting your ideas as you go through the rest of the article?

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, I’m still figuring it out.

Chris Fenning

And as we go through, we sort of adjust what it may be about as new information comes along. But if you start with the headline and the first paragraph, assuming it’s a well-written headline and first paragraph, in most articles, newspapers, and so on, the headline and the first paragraph tell you what that article is going to be about. And that makes it easy for you to understand all the detail that comes afterwards. And that’s why you have a headline, and your key message is the most important thing you want to put across.

In the military, it’s often “Bottom Line Up Front” or BLUF is an acronym that’s quite commonly used. Put the most important thing at the front and then you can explain it, justify, expand it afterwards. But don’t put all that info first because you’ll lose the audience and they won’t know what’s important. So, you start with context, “This is the topic I want to talk to you about.” One bullet point, one sentence, then the intent, “Here’s what I intend you to do with it. Here’s why I’m talking to you about it, why you should pay attention,” another one sentence or one bullet point, and then the key message.

And we’ll be nice, you can have two sentences for that if you really want to expand it out. But very, very short, and it’s not about compressing the entire conversation into those 15 seconds. It’s about previewing, it’s about framing, which is the name of the technique, so that you can then go on and have that conversation, and your audience is not thinking those three killer questions, “What is this about? Why are you talking to me? And what is your point?”

Pete Mockaitis

Well, so we talked about the first minute, but, Chris, it seems that we’ve accomplished this within 15 seconds. Do you have pro tips on the other 45 seconds? Or what do you think about there?

Chris Fenning

Yes, otherwise, I mean, the first 15 seconds just wasn’t as catchy as the book. So, in the first minute, there are some other things that we should do, and I want to put in a caveat at this point. Like, all great models and methods and everything that we learn, there’s always a caveat, there’s always an exception. And what I want to make it clear is, for anyone listening to this and thinking, “Okay, so when I start a conversation, the very first thing I say is context, intent, and key message.” I’d say, “Hold on. First, please be a human.”

So, when you interact with people, have that human connection, have that relationship-building, like, “Oh, hey, Pete, I heard there was a storm in your area last week, and there were some fences damaged. Is your garden okay? Do you have anything, any issues there?” Have that type of conversation. And then at the moment you say, “Oh, by the way, I want to talk to you about…” when you switch to the work, that’s when these methods begin. Otherwise, it’s very robotic and we can come across as a very formulaic way of communicating. So, be a person first, but when you start talking about the work, that’s when these methods begin.

Pete Mockaitis

And I was going to say, with regard to the human versus work perspective, it’s funny because there’s, like, a whole spectrum there in terms of you might have something you need to share with a friend or your spouse, and this could actually be quite helpful in terms of getting things framed up, so they say, “Oh, okay, I understand,” to make for an effective conversation. But on the flipside, they might say, “Dude, why are you talking to me like that? We’re just pals here. There’s no need for this.” What’s your thoughts on that?

Chris Fenning

Yes. My thought on that at the moment, as I’m picturing my wife, who recently said, “If you context, intent, key message me one more time…” so, definitely, definitely some limitations on it. However, it comes down to situation, to topic, to your particular style, your friend’s style, and so on. If you’re in a friendly, friend-based situation, you’re chatting to your pal, but you’ve got an urgent situation that you want to talk about, then this can help you cut straight to the point.

On the flipside, if your style with them has always been more casual, well, then be more casual. You can adapt the style, but just know that when you start talking about the important thing that you want to communicate, the longer it takes you to deliver those three pieces, the more confused they will be and the more likely they are to make assumptions about the reason for their conversation or what the topic might be, and so on. So, the quicker you frame that up, the less assumptions there are, and the less risk there is for the rest of the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis

Understood. All right.

Chris Fenning

So, the rest of the first minute includes one major piece and two small steps that can make the difference between you being polite or not. And the major piece is a summary. Now, this is useful if you’re about to explain something that’s big, or if you’re giving a status update, for example.

So, when we talk at work, we don’t have time to put in all the details. We have to summarize a much bigger piece of work, or a much bigger topic, or something that is more complex than we can fit into a conversation. And a way to do that is to deliver a summary in the next 30 to 45 seconds that make up the second part of the first minute, and that summary uses a method called goal problem solution. So, the overall structure of the first minute is frame it in that first 15 seconds, and then you can summarize your big message, and then you can have the rest of your conversation.

Pete Mockaitis

So, goal problem solution, are we hearing some of that in that 45 seconds then?

Chris Fenning

Yes, you are. Yes, and it’s a really, really good way to summarize or set up almost any topic at work. Let’s give an example. If I was giving you a status update, you’d say, “Hey, Chris, you promised you’d deliver this edited podcast episode in the next week. Where are we with that?” And I could say, “Well, my goal is to get it to you on Friday. The problem is my laptop died yesterday, but what I’m doing about it is I’ve borrowed a laptop for a friend and I’m making up some hours over the weekend. Would you like to know any more about any of those pieces?” So, I’ve summarized an entire situation. I didn’t say, “Oh, the dog knocked over my water, and the house nearly burnt down because there was an electrical fire.” I didn’t go into all that detail.

Pete Mockaitis

Sorry to hear that, Chris.

Chris Fenning

It was a tough day for the dog.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah.

Chris Fenning

And that’s what we add in. We tend to add all of that detail, we tend to add things that are chronological, things that happen in the order in which events occurred, and that’s a very natural way of telling stories and communicating, but it’s not a very effective way of doing it. And so, using goal problem solution gives you, as a listener, some critical information.

First is the goal, and that’s, “This is the thing that we’re trying to achieve.” In this case, in the example, trying to deliver an edited podcast episode, “Hey, I want to deliver this.” Now you understand what the whole topic is. It’s sort of an expansion on the topic. “Well, the problem was my laptop died. I haven’t been able to do it.”

And then I move on to a solution, which is forward-focused, and I’m looking at what I’m doing about it. I’m telling you the solution to the problem so we can achieve the goal, and the goal is what you care about. So, by doing all of that, I’ve condensed everything into a short summary, and then I finished it with a question, “Is there anything about that you’d like to know more about?”

And that gives you the opportunity to go, “Yeah, what happened with the water and the dog?” And you can expand on the problem, you can clarify what the goal was, or you can probe what the solution is going to be. You get to make those choices and it’s gone from being a very long monologue into a short status update followed by a dialogue where we both get to talk.

Pete Mockaitis

And I’m curious, with regard to problem, I mean, sometimes there just aren’t any problems. You know, the goal was, “I would get you this podcast by Friday, or whenever, and so my team’s working on it. And we should have no problem getting that done.”

Chris Fenning

There you go, that’s your problem.

Pete Mockaitis

I mean, so if there’s no problem, we just skip it, and that’s that?

Chris Fenning

That’s that. When it comes to status updates, if everything’s on track, just say everything’s on track. And that is one of the hardest things to do. I imagine a lot of people listening to this are thinking, “Well, my status update meetings are, we’re all in a room, and we go around the table, and everybody lists the stuff they did in the last week, and that’s the status update.” And that’s so painful and not efficient and, generally, doesn’t give value to everyone else in the room.

There are lots of reasons why we do it. There’s an innate human need to demonstrate value or a belief that we have to show we’re doing work otherwise people might not see we’ve got value in our roles. But in those situations, imagine if the updates – because nothing was going wrong – if your update was just, “We’re trying to achieve this goal and everything’s on track. Is there anything you like to ask me about?” If that was the update, how short would those meetings be?

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, that would be delightful. I think you’re really nailing something here with regard to meetings and the time they take, is folks want, I don’t know, sometimes we want someone, somewhere to say, “Good job,” and to know that, “I’m doing real things even if I’m working remotely,” or, “This is ambiguous knowledge work with lots of collaborators. I promise I’m actually doing my job.”

Chris Fenning

Yes.

Pete Mockaitis

Like, to be seen and heard and acknowledged, and that’s our humanity, and it results in long meetings. So, there’s our trade-off.

Chris Fenning

It is. It does. Now there’s a way that we, as the person speaking, can help find a middle ground, and it’s what I’ve been doing through this is always ending with a question, “Now here’s my update. Is there something you’d like to go into more detail about?” Or if I gave an update and everything was okay, so, I’m working on this super important project, but everything is on time, on budget, no risks, no issues, that utopia that very rarely exists.

But let’s assume that everything’s going well, and I said, “Yeah, we’re on this project. Here’s our next milestone. Everything’s on track. But can I take a minute to tell you just a couple of the great things my team has done, or a couple of the great things that we’ve done that has helped us stay on track?” And then the rest of the room can either say, “No, we don’t have time,” or, “No, we’re not interested,” or, “Yeah, sure you’ve got a couple of minutes to do that,” and you’re asking for permission rather than just taking time out of that group environment.

Pete Mockaitis

I like that a lot because you are asking permission, and, too, if I’m hearing that, I think that you’re a swell person who wants to give credit to your team and it’s not about you, “Can I tell you how amazing I am?”

Chris Fenning

That’s a tough one.

Pete Mockaitis

So, that’s really cool. And I’m feeling, like, the tug, like, the right answer is, “Of course, I should say yes, but I could also set parameters. Like, how about 40 seconds?” And then away we go. Or, “Chris, I think we all know that your team is full of rock stars, but tell them we appreciate them, and let’s move on.” And so, there we go.

Chris Fenning

Yes, exactly that. You’re giving everyone else in the room permission to say no, which comes back to, I mentioned there were two little things we can do to be polite in the first minute. And one is a time check and the other is a validation checkpoint. Now the actual semantics on those are less important than what they are. The first is, at some point in your first minute, preferably near the beginning, ask if the other person has the amount of time that you need. And here’s an example of how to do it badly, “Hey, Pete, do you have a minute?”

Pete Mockaitis

One minute?

Chris Fenning

And the reason that’s bad, yes, is most of us can’t organize our own thoughts in a minute, let alone have a conversation about whatever it is we want to talk about. So, if you ask for a minute, you better darn well need just a minute, because otherwise you’re setting yourself up to miss your own deadline. And I laughed while I said it, but this is a tiny but important reputation hit.

Because if I asked for a minute and then take five or ten, I’ve either badly misjudged it, I can’t time manage, I lied, I didn’t care, there’s all sorts of very, very small impressions that I give through that one statement. And if I keep doing that, over time, I’m becoming…I’m demonstrating that I’m less reliable. So, don’t ask for a minute. Ask for the actual amount of time or more than you think you’re going to need.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. Well, Chris, lay it on us, I’d love example, example, example, in very different professional contexts, maybe even some personal contexts, just to mix it up. We’ve got some nifty tools: the context, the intent, the key message, and a goal problem solution. Lay it on us, here we are at work, we got to say some things, say it for us in the format.

Chris Fenning

All right. So, we’ll go with somebody who works in a call center talking to their team leader because they want some time off. So, a great way to do it would be to go up, and say, “Hi, I’d like to talk to you about vacation. I’m looking for permission because I want to take next Thursday off work.” That’s the context intent and key message.

And then I could say, “Look, I’m trying to keep a good work-life balance, and I need to use my vacation by the end of the year, or I’m going to lose it. The problem is we are stacked as a team. I know that the call center volumes are high and it’s tough to take time off. So, what I’ve done is I’ve asked someone else in the team if they can cover my shift so that I can get this time off. Is that okay if I have the time off for next week?”

So, there was a lot going on in there and it would involve, in that case, finding someone else to cover a shift and so on, but in that situation, you can deliver a lot of information but in a very short period of time. And then the manager would have questions, “Well, when and who is going to cover you? And do they have the right qualifications? And what do you mean there’s a problem with using your vacation time?” There are all sorts of ways a conversation could go, but it’s been set up very clearly in the first place.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. How about another?

Chris Fenning

All right. It’s a different situation. You’ve got a merger and acquisition, small company being purchased by a large company, and there’s a problem, in this case. One of the managers in the small company is nervous about their, perhaps, nervous about their job. It’s a very different situation and quite emotive. And they could say to their new line manager, “Hi, I’d like to talk to you about the reduction of roles. I’ve got some questions. I’m actually a little bit concerned about what my position will be in the new company.” That’s the framing with the context, intent, and key message.

Then on the goal problem solution, “I know that our goal is to bring these companies together, and there’s going to be some downsizing. The problem is I’m really uncertain about what’s coming and it’s affecting how I think about what we’re doing next, and I’m struggling to deal with all of the integration activities we have. What I’d like to do is take some time with you to understand what that future hierarchy is going to be, and understand what my role in it might be.”

Now that’s a hard one to do. There’s a lot of emotion in there, and there are lots of different ways to approach it, but it very clearly lays out the conversation, and hopefully takes that emotion out at the beginning of the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s beautiful, and it comes across way better than, “So, are you going to fire me or what?” It’s, like, that may be the burning question that you have, but you are covering that and other bases, so you give even more good context and information if they, in good faith, engage you fully and candidly in that dialogue so it’s good.

And I think that it may be a good meta-lesson there is if you have, I don’t know, fear, resistance, trepidation, associated with saying a thing, for whatever reason, like it’s vulnerable or it might seem unprofessional, that’s what you want to know, “Am I going to get fired? Is this going to reduce my power? Am I still going to get paid my full bonus?” Like, “Oh, I feel so selfish, like not a team player, like they have these, you know, but this really is on my mind.”

I think that, in some ways, Chris, just taking the time to think through it with these key steps or ingredients can go a long way in bringing a little bit of peace and courage so you feel like you can go there instead of just wondering and keeping silent.

Chris Fenning

Oh, yes. Yeah, absolutely. Having a structure to help you plan a difficult conversation is so valuable. So valuable. And let’s explore the…we’ll give a slightly different example on that “Fear for my job,” and then I’m going to give a very everyday example of the start of a conversation that people have got, “Oh, yeah, I can see that in my day-to-day.”

But in this example where I’m worried about my job, “Am I going to get my bonus? Am I going to get my severance pay? Will I have a job next month?” I have a very clear goal for me. My goal is to find out whether I have a job. The problem is my boss is not telling me, so my solution is, “Go and demand from my boss.” That’s my internal version of goal problem solution.

Now I need to take a breath and think about it from their perspective and the organization’s perspective. So how can I find, how can I get what I want, get what I need, but talk about it in a way that isn’t just, “Me, me, me. I need to know my stuff. And you’re all bad and you’re the reason I can’t have it”? So, my goal is to find out, but the goal of the organization is to have a smooth transition with these two companies coming together.

My problem is I have no idea what’s going on, the company’s problem is there’s uncertainty about what’s coming next, and so the solution happens to be the same, “Can we please have a conversation and get clarity on what the time frames will be for knowing or what the announcements will be, or help me understand the process?”

So, your personal goal and problem are probably not going to be the things that come out of your mouth when you’re in a workplace situation. You need to find a way to frame them from the perspective of the organization, from the other individual, so that you can find that common ground, and it takes the conflict out, because as soon as you can find a common goal, in this example we want the organizations to merge together well, that’s a common goal. You get the other person going, “Yes, we do. I understand. We’re on the same page.”

And then you can introduce a problem that hopefully the other person will be like, “Yes, I want to help solve that problem because we’re trying to achieve that goal that benefits us all.” So, that little bit of preparation using a structure can help you find that common ground with the other person.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And you said you had one everyday example?

Chris Fenning

Yes. So, a goal problem solution for an everyday example is, “I’m trying to set up next month’s town hall meeting or our next month’s team meeting. The problem is I’m struggling to get approval from some of the individuals that are being invited. Can you help me get there, get in touch with their team leader, and get their approval?”

So, it’s a common goal, “I’m trying to get people to come up to next month’s or next week’s team meeting. The problem is I’m just not getting the feedback or interaction. So, as a solution, can I enlist your help, Mr. or Mrs. Manager, to get that interaction from the other team and get the feedback that I need?”

So, it doesn’t have to be a big topic. It’s still about finding that common ground so that the manager knows, “This is what we’re trying to achieve. Yes, I agree that’s important. This is the problem standing between us and that goal. Yes, I understand that that’s important,” and then you’re talking about the solutions. So, it can be big, it can be small, so it works in a great range of circumstances.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, now after the first minute, I’d love it, you’re big on being concise, any pro tips on keeping things succinct, concise, as you are speaking beyond the first minute?

Chris Fenning

Yes. Three points at a time and then a question. So, if you’ve made three separate points and haven’t paused for the other person to ask a question or interject or provide feedback, you’ve gone on for too much.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Chris Fenning

So, that’s one. The second is plan what you’re going to say. If you get the first minute right, you’ll get to your question, you’ll deliver the most important piece of information, you’ll have summarized things so that you actually don’t need a lot of what you might expect in the conversation. You’ve already stripped out the detail, you’ve already stripped out the backstory, and if the other person doesn’t need or want it, they might just say, “Yes, okay, here’s the answer to your question,” and you’re done. So, plan for a really solid first minute, and you’ll probably find that your conversations are all a lot shorter.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Chris Fenning

The last piece is the validation checkpoint. If you’ve done a great first minute, and I framed it and I’ve asked if you’ve got time, “So, Pete, I want to talk to you about this thing. Do you have five minutes?” and you’ve said yes, and I’ve given a summary. Once I’ve given that summary, I just want to check, “Is this, like, are you the right person to help me with this? And can we do it now?”

Because having heard the summary, you might think, “Actually, this is a much bigger topic. I really want to give this attention. Can we schedule time later?” Or, you might say, “Actually, no, I’ve realized I don’t have the info you need,” or, “I’m not the right person,” and you can redirect me. So, validate that the person you’re talking to has the ability and the availability to talk to you at that moment.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, now could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Chris Fenning

My favorite quote comes from my dad, actually, which is, “If you want to do something, don’t talk about doing it, go and do it.”

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Any favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Chris Fenning

Yes, there’s a piece of research that blows my mind every time I hear about it. There’s an experiment about our inability to read emotions from text, and it was called “Can we communicate as well as we think?” and it’s by Kruger, Epley, Parker and Zhi, and they published in the Journal of Psychology. And they did an experiment where they sent people text messages that was sarcastic, and tried to get people to understand whether they were sarcastic, and it was 50/50.

And then they did it with their spouses, and it was still 50/50 as to whether people got the sarcasm. We just can’t interpret emotion from text. And it’s a brilliant piece of research, and it comes up so many times in things that I read and teach as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, Chris, thank you for that, and props for having a specific citation. Extra credit for you. Extra credit. And a favorite book?

Chris Fenning

At the moment, my favorite book is, Thinking 101 by Woo-kyung Ahn. And it’s blowing my mind about my own biases and the way that I interpret and think about things. It’s really challenging the way that I approach problems and think. It’s a very eye-opening book.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Chris Fenning

Calendly. I couldn’t do this job efficiently without Calendly. It’s product placement, but playing calendar tennis with people, “Do you have time here? What about 10 o’clock there?” and juggling time zones. Calendly makes it so easy.

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome at your job?

Chris Fenning

I don’t do it as often as I like, but my favorite habit is going to bed on time. It sets up the next day, the next few days. And if I don’t do it, I really pay the price.

Pete Mockaitis

And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; you hear it quoted back to you often?

Chris Fenning

The thing that comes back most often, and this is the most highlighted phrase in the book from Kindle, so Kindle’s very nice, it shows you what people are highlighting, and 900 people have highlighted that framing should take no more than three sentences and be delivered in less than 15 seconds. Now for some reason, that is the piece that resonates with people, and I completely agree. Three sentences, 15 seconds. That’s all it takes to set up a great conversation.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Chris Fenning

My social hangout is LinkedIn. Come find me there. And my website is ChrisFenning.com.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Chris Fenning

I do. If you want to be awesome at your job and stand out, take 30 seconds to prepare for an important conversation. In fact, take 30 seconds to prepare for any work conversation. It’ll help you get clear on your message, you’ll have shorter conversations, and you’ll get the results that you want.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Chris, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you many fabulous conversations.

Chris Fenning

Thank you, Pete.

950: Cal Newport: Slowing Down to Boost Productivity and Ease Stress

By | Podcasts | One Comment

 

Cal Newport shows how to achieve more by doing less.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we’re measuring productivity all wrong
  2. The surprising math showing how doing less means achieving more
  3. The trick to eliminating tasks that don’t serve you

About Cal

Cal Newport is a professor of computer science at Georgetown University and a founding member of the Center for Digital Ethics. In addition to his academic work, Newport is a New York Times bestselling author who writes for a general audience about the intersection of technology, productivity, and culture. He is also a contributor to The New Yorker and hosts the popular Deep Questions podcast.

Resources Mentioned

Cal Newport Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Cal, welcome back.

Cal Newport
Well, thanks for having me. It’s always a pleasure to chat.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I have been loving your book Slow Productivity, and I would like it if you could kick us off with any particularly, strikingly, fascinatingly counterintuitive discoveries you made while putting this one together.

Cal Newport
The importance of doing fewer things is something that I think proved to be a pretty rich vein. So, I have this principle that’s in the book, it’s one of the three principles of Slow Productivity is do fewer things. And when most people encounter that for the first time, what they think I’m probably saying is like, “Look, it’s stressful to do a lot of things. You need to go easy on yourself. Stop trying to be so productive. Like, do fewer things and you’re just going to be happier.” But that it’s a sacrifice, right? You’re going to produce less, but you need to because it’s for your own sanity and psychological health.

As I really looked into this, though, one of the big surprises is, “Oh, wait a second. Doing too many things is like this endemic productivity poison. Like, it’s not just making people miserable, it’s an incredibly terrible strategy for trying to produce valuable stuff with your brain. And when you commit to doing fewer things, it doesn’t actually lead you to accomplish fewer things, and these are somehow separate.” And this was a pretty exciting discovery because I was ready for it to be like, “Look, we got to just reconfigure what we think reasonable amount of work is,” and this ended up to be one of these sorts of win-win situations.

Working on fewer things at a once not only makes your life much more sustainable, you’re going to produce more. Like, over the long term, you’re producing more. You’re finishing stuff faster. You’re producing better work. You’ll actually be better at your job in any sort of observable, measurable way if you’re doing fewer things right now.

Pete Mockaitis
So, doing fewer things in a zone of time, like a week or a month, results in more total things done over a longer arc of a year plus.

Cal Newport
Yeah. So, here’s the math on that, and really, let’s think about doing fewer things at once, like concurrently, “What is my count of commitments that I’m actively working on?” That’s the number that I want to reduce. Here’s the math of why this leads to more accomplishment, is that in knowledge work in particular, when you agree to a commitment, especially if it’s a non-trivial sized thing, like a project, it brings with it administrative overhead, like, “I have to send and receive emails about this project. I have to attend meetings about this project.” So, everything you say yes to has administrative overhead that is necessary to support the work, but it’s not the actual work itself.

So, what happens is when you’ve said yes to too many things, the quantity of administrative overhead goes past a threshold where it’s really sustainable, and now what you have is a lot of your day is now dedicated to talking about projects, like the talking to the collaborators, having meetings, sending emails, and these are fragmenting your day as well. So, it’s not just like, “Let’s do our administrative overhead hour this morning and then get to work.” No, no, no. These emails and meetings are spread out throughout your day, which means you really never have any ability to give something a long period of uninterrupted time to really give it your full concentration.

So, now you have a fragmented schedule, a small fraction of which can actually be spent working with real concentration on the actual projects, the rate at which you’re finishing things goes down. And so, by having, let’s say, ten things on your plate at once, the rate at which you’re finishing things is very slow. Like, most of what you’re doing is being in meetings and sending email. If you instead had three things on your plate, you’re going to actually finish those three things real fast because you have huge swaths of your day to actually work on them. And what happens after finish one of these three things? You can bring another thing on.

And so, if you work through this scenario, “How long will it take me to finish ten things if I work on them all at once versus if I just do three of them at a time?” That second scenario, it’s going to take much less overall time to get through those ten things than the first, and it seems counterintuitive because we’re used to thinking of ourselves like a computer or a robot, “This thing takes this much time, that’s just it. Ten things take ten units of time, that’s just it.” But it’s not like that. The overhead matters. So, doing fewer things at once actually moves things through faster and at a higher level of quality.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. And not only that, so there’s the administrative overhead situation fragmenting our time and our attention and our energy, and there’s also the psychological factor of, “Oh, hey, I’ve made some great progress today,” or, “Oh, hey, celebrate. That whole thing is done. Feel good.” And then there’s just the market responding.

Like, I remember when I was land-lording, because if I had a unit that was almost ready to go, it did not produce rent. It’s like, “Oh, no, it’s really close!” I could maybe have someone come tour and say, “Now just imagine this, this, and this will be different when you move in.” And that didn’t really work for them, in terms of like, “Yeah, no, I’m ready to go with another option, because that place already looks done and beautiful, and maybe I can imagine what it would look like done but it’s not done now, and it’s not visually appealing,” that’s why they stage homes, you know, all that stuff. So, there’s benefits on numerous dimensions psychologically, and then starting to reap the rewards of what you have sown.

Cal Newport
Well, it’s important to remember busyness doesn’t create revenue. So, just like you don’t get rent for the days you spent painting and working on a unit you owned. You have to do that stuff, but it generates no money. And if you spend more time painting and spend more time rearranging, it doesn’t generate more money. You have to actually rent it. The same thing is true in knowledge work. Emailing about a project doesn’t generate revenue, attending a meeting about the project doesn’t give you revenue. Finishing the project does, right?

And so, what we should care about is, “How quickly am I completing projects? How good are they?” because that’s what actually generates revenue. But in knowledge work, more so than in like renting buildings, it’s also obfuscated and complicated because, “Well, I was working on this but also this, and I have seven different things I kind of do, and other people are involved, and no one really knows what I did.”

In that obfuscation, we get a lot of the problems with modern knowledge work because it’s hard to just say, “You produced nine this year, and last year you produced six and you’re doing better.” Because it’s hard to say that, we tend to fall back on what I call pseudo productivity, which is, “Well, let me just focus on this high granularity activity that’s highly visible, emails, meetings.” I just see you doing stuff and so I assume you’re productive. Like, that’s the core of the knowledge work dilemma, is we’re focusing on visible activity in the moment as opposed to quality accomplishment over time. From that fatal mistake comes like almost everything negative about the current knowledge work experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Cal, this is beautifully articulated. Thank you. We love actionable wisdom here, but let’s go meta and slow down, and say I would love for you to take us through that whole journey of history, philosophy, perspective, principles on this very concept of pseudo-productivity, knowledge, work, and how we have found ourselves in this current state that is kind of jacked up.

Cal Newport
Yeah, I mean, it’s a fascinating story. It’s what the first part of my book delves completely into, is just understanding how we got where we are. Because this is, by the way, just as an aside, it’s a big part of my approach is because I’m also a professor and a founding member of the Center for Digital Ethics at Georgetown. I think a lot about culture, society, and technology and their interactions from the sort of removed of, “How do these systems work?” I think the systems matter.

And there’s a fascinating story when we look at what’s happening in knowledge work that spans from basically Adam Smith to Slack. Okay, so here’s what we get. Before knowledge work emerges as a major economic sector, which is really the mid-20th century, the term “knowledge work” is coined in 1959. Before that occurred, we had a pretty good handle on what we meant by productivity. It goes, “An economic concept that we could measure pretty accurately within specific organizations.” It goes all the way back to Adam Smith.

So, we first get good with measuring productivity in agriculture, and it’s a ratio, “How many bushels of wheat do I produce per acres of land I have under cultivation?” It’s a single number. And we also had in agriculture well-defined production systems, “Here is how I rotate my crops. If I change how I do this, and that number goes up, then I say, ‘Oh, this is a more productive way of doing it.’ And so, what we get here is sort of rapid innovation in cultivation of crops and planting systems because we have a number we can track.

Okay, we go to mills and factories. We could do the same thing, “Now I’m going to measure how many Model Ts are we producing per labor hour I’m paying for,” and that’s a number. And we have a very clearly defined production system, “And if I change something in that, we can see if that number improves.” This is what happened with automobile manufacturing. Henry Ford innovates the continuous motion assembly line with interchangeable parts and that number went up by a factor of 10. They’re like, “Oh, great, this is a much better way to build cars.”

And this sort of quantitative productivity journey was massively successful. The industrial sector, the wealth created by the industrial sector, grew at a staggering rate from the 1800s into the 1900s. Some economists would say, essentially, all of the capital in which the modern Western world was built came from the productivity miracle of being able to measure these ratios, adjust systems, see how those numbers got better.

Then we get knowledge work. None of this works anymore because we’re not producing Model Ts, and we’re not just producing wheat on acres of land. It’s a complicated position where I could be working on a lot of different things that shifts over time. It’s different than what the person right next to me is working on. How we do this work is highly personal. There is no production system we can tweak as an organization. Everyone manages their own work and time internally however they want to do it. So, we have no systems to tweak, no numbers to measure, and this was really a big issue because, “How are we going to manage knowledge workers without these numbers?”

What we introduced was pseudo productivity. A crude heuristic that says, “We can use visible activity as a proxy for useful effort.” So, I see you doing stuff that’s better than not. So, let’s all come to offices where we can have bosses. So, let’s make sure that you’re working all day. And if we really need to get ahead, let’s come in earlier and stay later. We can just increase the window of visible activity. So, we use this crude heuristic.

What happens where this goes awry is when we get to the front office digital IT revolution. So, we introduced computers and networks and then mobile computing and ubiquitous internet. And now suddenly, you can demonstrate visible activity, the thing that pseudo-productivity demands. You can demonstrate this at a very fine granularity, like sending individual email messages anytime, anyplace, and this is where pseudo-productivity begins to go off the rails.

Once I can be engaged in pseudo-productivity and measure pseudo productively anywhere at any time, and it has to be at this really fast, fine-grained granularity where it’s not just, “You saw me in my office during this hour,” but, “How many emails did you send to that hour? How quick were you to reply? How many things are you saying yes or no to?” It’s spun off the rails.

And we see this sharp discontinuity, if you study knowledge work, study how people talk about productivity in knowledge work, study how people talk about what’s good and bad about knowledge work, you get to the early 2000s, there’s a sharp discontinuity where suddenly we become unhappy. Just as email and laptops and then smartphones arrive, we suddenly begin to get much less happy.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And, Cal, what is the measure of that and what’s our approximate year when we start seeing that go, “Boom,” downhill?

Cal Newport
Well, you can see it in survey data, but where I like to look for this is actually in the tone of productivity books, because I’m a collector of business productivity. Look at the business productivity books from the ‘80s and ‘90s, like what are the big players here? It’s like Stephen Covey.

Pete Mockaitis
Getting Things Done, yeah.

Cal Newport
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, First Things First, you know, Eat That Frog. These are very optimistic books. Like, Stephen Covey’s whole thing is, if you’re careful in identifying what’s important to you and what’s urgent and what’s not urgent, you can figure out what to do with your day with the goal of actualizing all of your deepest desires and dreams as like a human, “We’re going to self-actualize you.” What’s the first big business productivity book of the 2000s? David Allen, Getting Things Done.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that was 2000, okay.

Cal Newport
And if you look at that, the tone is drastically different.

Pete Mockaitis
We’re overwhelmed. We’re drowning. We need help.

Cal Newport
We’re drowning, yes. I profiled him for The New Yorker. I really went deep on David Allen. It is a nihilistic book. Getting Things Done is like, okay, forget Stephen Covey trying to self-actualize our deepest goals as a human being. What is the goal of Getting Things Done? Can we find a few moments of Zen-like peace amid the chaos of the day?

Pete Mockaitis
After your weekly review, you can, Cal, and then it’ll pass.

Cal Newport
He’s trying to reduce work to this agnostic widget polling, like at least we can find some peace. It’s a very nihilistic book. But what changed between 1994 and 2003? Email. So, we see it. It’s just a change. And then what are all the biggest business productivity books of 2010s? We got Essentialism, The ONE Thing, my own book, Deep Work. All of these are books that are about, “How do we push back against the overload? How do we resist this? How do we find the things that really matter?”

I mean, it’s a complete tone shift where overload, having too much to do, being stressed out, becomes the defining feature of knowledge work once we get to the early 2000s. You don’t pick that up at all in the ’90s, in the ’80s, in the ’70s, and in the ’60s. So, the technology had this huge discontinuity in our experience of this sector.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And so then, when it comes to the measurement has broken down, what is to be done there in terms of like there are, I think in your book you said, we’ve tried some really stupid things, like, “How many lines of code have you written?” or, “How many words have you produced?” And it’s like, “Well, I mean, were those lines of code brilliantly efficient? Were those words tremendously insightful?” or, “Are they kind of like bloated and lame and blah?” So, it’s like those might have a purpose of, “Kind of, if I can constrain them with a quality-paired metric as well.” It’s a real tricky beast, Cal. What is to be done here?

Cal Newport
Well, as long as you’re in the pseudo-productivity mindset, all the solutions are going to be like that. It’s going to be, if activity is what matters, my biggest concern, if I’m a manager, is you’re taking breaks from activities. So, I want to make sure, like, what was the big concern of managers about remote work? It’s like, “Well, what if there’s periods of the day in which the person is not doing things? That’s taking away the bottom line,” because we imagine knowledge workers like they’re on an assembly line, “Hey, if you stop putting the steering wheels on the Model T for an hour, we can’t produce Model Ts for an hour.”  It’s just this very direct.

So, what is the solution? We have to move away from this activity-based notion of productivity towards something that’s more outcome-based. And that allows for a much slower definition of productivity that has a lot more variation, a lot more idiosyncrasies, and is a lot more sustainable and meaningful for the people involved.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Can you give us some cool examples, or stories, or metrics, or numbers we might use when we talk about outcome-based? I’m thinking, in some fields it seems pretty straightforward, like sales. Like, okay, there’s revenue or gross profit generated from the sales that you’ve made. And that could look very different in terms of you were cultivating a relationship with a multimillion-dollar account for months or years, and you landed it, and we can measure that, and it’s way bigger than you hustling with your cold-calling, your cold-emailing to get dozens of smaller clients. So, there’s one outcome.

Cal Newport
And sales is an interesting example because I just met a salesman from a big tech company at a book event talking about Slow Productivity. And you know what he said? He said, “Look, in our company,” because sales is clear, unlike almost every other knowledge work, you have these metrics, like, “What did you bring in?” And so, it’s an interesting natural experiment. If we take a knowledge worker where there is a clear metric of success, do we see a drift away from pseudo productivity? And we do.

This is what the salesman told me. He said, “Yeah, in our company, the sales staff doesn’t have to go to meetings. Everyone else does. Everyone else. You got to go to meetings. If someone invites you, whatever, everyone in these more ambiguous jobs, yes. But the sales staff, all meetings are optional because they have this number and they want that number to be better. And the sales staff is like, ‘That number is worse if I’m going to meetings.’”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true, “What you do is so important, we’re not even going to put that at risk for anything.”

Cal Newport
Which shows how important were those meetings in the first place, right? Another place where we’ve seen innovation, like this actually is in software development, because software development, it’s knowledge work in the sense that it’s all your brain, but it’s pretty closely aligned with industrial manufacturing because you’re producing products. So, there’s much more of this notion of, like, “We’re shipping something. How long did it take to ship?” Like, it’s more measurable than other types of knowledge work.

We’ve seen tons of innovation, tons of innovation in software development that try to get away from just this completely generic activity base, because they learn, like, “I don’t care if you’re busy. What I care about is do we get these features added quickly? What’s our turnaround cycle on updates to the software?” Like, they have things to measure. So, what do you see in software development? You see a move towards these agile methodologies where, A, workload management is transparent and centralized. It’s not just, “I have a bunch of junk on my plate.” It’s, “No, no, it’s all on the wall, and this is what you’re working on, and it’s just this one thing.”

You see things like sprinting in software development, “We want you to do nothing but work on this feature until it’s done, and then we’ll talk to you again tomorrow,” because, again, whenever we begin to see adjacency, the actual measurable outcome, all of these tropes of pseudo-productivity that are really killing us in digital age knowledge work, they all begin to shatter and fall away. So, it’s like we have to take that mindset from sales and software development, and we need to move this into more types of jobs, we’d be clear about the workload management, work on fewer things at a time.

Just measuring performance at the scale of the year makes a big difference, “What did you produce this year?” Because when you’re talking at the scale of the year, you don’t talk about meetings or emails or small things you did. You talk about things you finished. So, just having like an annual perspective for thinking about productivity, that makes a difference. So, all of these types of things, we see it in software, we see it in sales, we need to move that to many more jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot, the thought associated with, “What is the time horizon we’re looking at?” Because if it is a day, and I’m looking at, “How many emails did you send?” or, “How many hours were you logged on?” it’s like that tells me very little. If I look at a year, that could tell me a whole lot. And then, I guess, in a way, there’s some art and science right there in terms of evaluating, “What’s the ideal period by which we should be looking at and thinking about these things?” Do you have some perspectives there?

Cal Newport
Well, even allowing people to figure this out on their own can be really effective. Like, you say, “Okay, I want you just to make your pitch to me as your boss, like what you did that was valuable this last quarter or this last year.” Like, you can kind of figure out the timeframe when you write about it, just allowing the individual to report like, “Okay, here’s what I’ve been working on. I completed this and this, and we’re working on this big project, and we made this much progress on it. And I think this is all really important.”

Like, letting someone just describe why they’re valuable, because it’s not going to work if I ask you to describe why you’re valuable. You said, “Look, I just looked up my statistics. I’ve been sending 150 emails a day. I’ve been logging seven hours a day in Teams meetings. I’ve been in a lot of meetings.” Like, it sounds absurd when someone’s asking, “Quantify why you’re valuable.” You think about the big things. You think about it at a bigger time scale.

There are organizations that do this super explicitly. I profiled these in The New Yorker a few years ago, these organizations that had a very hardcore way of doing this, called ROWE, results only workplace environment, where it was all that matters is results, including when you show up to work, when you don’t, what days you don’t work. Everything is up to you, but they’re really, in these environments, they’re really hardcore about what are your results.

And because of this, it really banishes pseudo-productivity culture. If you’re like, “Hey, come to all my meetings,” you’re like, “No, because in the end, I’m going to be measured by these things I’m producing, and that’s going to hurt me. So, no, you’ve got to convince me to come to your meeting. And if it’s not going to be worth the time, I’m not going to do it, because all people care about is what I have produced.”

And they’re really interesting to study because, you see on the positive side, these hardcore results only environments, a lot of pseudo-productivity falls away. On the negative side, it is really difficult for a lot of people to leave the comfort blanket of all the obfuscation you could generate by just sending lots of emails and meetings because you can’t hide anymore. You produce or you don’t.

And there is, I think, a certain segment of knowledge workers, and it should be acknowledged, that do find some comfort or peace in being able to be much more obfuscated about their work, like, “It’s not really clear what I’m doing, but I answer my emails a lot, and I’m in a lot of meetings, and I sort of just, I’m around, and so it feels like I’m being productive.” When that goes away, it gets exciting for a lot of people, but it gets scary for some people as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’ve heard that in particular about the culture at Netflix, in terms of, like, it’s exciting and terrifying for this very reason. I think ROWE could also have some potential downsides with regard to collaboration and team camaraderie culture. It’s like, “I’m out to get my results. Period. So, get out of my way.”

Cal Newport
“Get out of my face.”

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s tricky to get all the pros without the cons. Well, the security blanket, you might feel secure in the moment, but I would venture to say, “If you’re not clearly creating value in excess of your salary and payroll costs, your security is quite slim come lay-off time.”

Cal Newport
I think that’s right. In the good times, where no one needs to be fired, it prevents you from being noticed in a negative light. Like, “Yeah, I’m not thinking about Pete. Like, I see him a lot. I’m sure that’s why I’m not thinking about them.” But you’re right. When times get tight, “All right, now we have to start reducing staff,” that’s suddenly when people shift their thoughts to not, “Are you doing something bad?” to, “What good are you bringing?” And, right, that’s when things get to be dangerous for you.

So, when times are good, you can just be really active and you’re not going to draw any attention. But when times are bad, ultimately people are going to wonder, “Hey, what do you do? What’s the value? Like, what would happen?”

Pete Mockaitis
“Like, what is it you do here?”

Cal Newport
I would say people, by the way, so my column for The New Yorker during the pandemic was named Office Space, in part because of exactly that reference that there was a lot of people in the pandemic, especially when they were forced to do all their work from home, and they could see like their partners and what their partners were doing for their jobs, and I think a lot of people in knowledge work had that same reaction of like, “What would you say I actually do here? Is it “I’m a professional Zoom meeting attender?” Like, is this really a good use of my graduate degree?” I think a lot of people had that crisis.

But, yeah, back to your point. If you’re producing stuff that’s valuable, not only does that give you security, it begins to give you leverage to slow down your definition of productivity. Because the more you can point towards, “I do this and I do this really well, but that’s also why I’m not just sending emails all day and a bunch of meetings. Hold me accountable for this. But in exchange for that accountability, you’ve got to give me more autonomy.” Like, that’s a fundamental exchange of trying to negotiate for a more sustainable, slower definition of productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And when it comes to this notion of doing fewer things, you mentioned the book The ONE Thing, which I love. And it’s so funny, when I read it, also with Greg McKeown’s Essentialism, it’s so calming to me, and I guess I like productivity books or non-fiction business-y books. But I think it’s also just like, “Oh, I don’t have to do everything. Okay, okay, that’s nice.” So, it’s just sort of reassuring.

But I’d love your perspective on, “How do we really select from a noisy world of thousands of options? What are those few things I’m going to do?” And the number you suggest is it, “It’s probably going to be more than one, but hopefully is less than five?” Is that the range you are shooting for?

Cal Newport
Yeah, for major projects. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, how do I pick and choose, like of hundreds of potentially good things, what really, really, really deserves my one to five?

Cal Newport
Well, there’s two environments here. So, one is you work for someone. So, if you’re in an organization, what really seems to matter is just add constraints, and then you will see pretty naturally like what makes the cut. So, for example, one of the things I recommend if you work within an organization, where you can’t just directly say no to a lot of things, what you do instead is saying, “I’m going to keep a two-tier list of what I’m working on. Tier one is actively working on. Tier two is queued up for me to work on next. And as I finish something in the active tier, I pull in the next thing from the waiting tier, and that becomes something I’m actively working on.”

So, you artificially constrain the number of things you’re actively working on. And the rule is why this works is you say, “Okay, administrative overhead can exist for the things I’m actively working on. If it’s in my queue, then I don’t do administrative overhead. So, if you give me something to do and I put it on my queue, and I make this public, and you can look at it, and it’s a shared document, you can watch it. I can tell you, ‘Watch this march up my queue until it gets to my active work tier.’ Once it’s there, email me about it. We can have meetings about it. You can ask me how it’s going. But until it’s there, the answer is ‘I’m not working on it yet.’ And where is it in my list? You can look at it yourself.”

So, now you’ve restricted the administrative overhead that’s being generated to only a small number of the things that you ultimately have committed to. Once you have those constraints, it leads to better selection because other people are now involved. So, a boss comes in and says, “This thing, I want you to do this thing.” You say, “Great. It’s on my queue, it’s back here.” They’re like, “No, no, I need this. This is way more urgent.”

Well, now you can involve the boss, and be like, “Great. Well, which of these three things that I’m working on now should I swap out?” And now they’re kind of involved. Like, “Actually, you know what? Stop working on that thing. I don’t think that’s as important as I thought it was when we first thought about it. Move this in here instead. And now that I’m looking at your queue, take out these four things as well. That’s not where the priority is.” So, once you have constraints, you begin to get wisdom.

So, another, this is an example from the book, but another place where this began to happen was a division within a large research lab where they had a lot of projects coming at them. And what they did is they centralized this, they said, “Okay, we’ll put every project we want to work on, on an index card and we’re going to put it on the wall under this certain column. These are all things we want to work on. And then here next to it are the ones we’re actively working on now, and we label it with who’s working on it. And so, when someone finishes something, we pull something else in here, we decide together what to do next.”

And they have this heuristic that arose over time, “If something’s been on that left side of the wall for a while, and we keep pulling other things in but we’ve been leaving that alone, that’s probably not that important. You know, let’s take it down.” Like, if you’re on the wall too long and it never moved over to, like, “Let’s work on it actively next,” that was their cue of, “This was exciting when we thought of it, but it’s not that important.” So, once you have constraints, wisdom about what’s important and what’s not, it begins to emerge because you’re thinking about this in a way that you don’t, when all you’re doing is just saying yes to things and trying to keep up with everything at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
So, if you have the constraints, it’s almost like a forcing mechanism such that it’s not so much like, “Oh, there’s a magical measurement, there’s a magical question, or a magical metric by which we use to measure that answers this question for us.” It sounds like you’re saying, “Yeah, that doesn’t really exist across all industries and types of work but, rather, put the constraints in and you’ll feel the tension, and you’ll see what just really, really has to get done soon and what can wait.”

Cal Newport
Yeah, just being forced to continually make the question of “What next?” forces a lot of wisdom. And I keep having to say, “Okay, what am I going to pull in next? What am I going to pull in next?” And making that decision again and again, what emerges from it is, like, a better understanding of, “Oh, this is the type of stuff that’s important to me. And this stuff I keep leaving over here, and moving other stuff ahead, oh, I guess that’s not really that important to me.” And it’s a lesson that comes out from people who use these two-tier pole systems.

It’s something I talk about often. You build up the muscle of understanding over time what matters and what doesn’t, because you keep making these decisions and keep getting feedback on what stays and what moves. And, then over time, you stop adding the stuff to your “to-work-on-next” list that you know, like that’s never going to be pulled off. And then you become much better at being like, “No, we don’t do that anymore,” because you’re like, “I’ve seen too many things like that type of project that we put on this list or we put on the wall and it sits there for two months that we finally take it down. I have now learned, I’ve gained wisdom, this is not the type of thing that we really need to be working on.”

So, you become much more self-aware of what you can actually do with your limited time and what’s worth doing with your limited time when you’re explicitly and consciously having to make these decisions again and again.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say “explicitly and consciously,” that reminds me of some of the interviews we’ve had about decision-making with Annie Duke and others who suggest having a decision journal. And I think the practice perhaps of writing out, “What is the rationale by which I’m using to place this in the top tier or not?” And then having that written enables you to kind of reflect on it and say, “Oh, yeah. Well, that was true at the time, but things have shifted,” or, “Yes, this is the pattern I see over and over and over again. Like, it’s really important to a really big client. Okay, that seems to be a prioritization principle that we keep going back to again and again.”

Cal Newport
I love that technique. By the way, yeah, I know Annie talks about it. My friend Dave Epstein from “Range” and “The Sports Gene,” he was on the show recently, and he was telling me about how he does this as well. And part of the reason why I think this technique, like a decision journal, is effective in knowledge work is that we don’t otherwise have clearly defined processes.

One of the defining features of knowledge work is that organizational strategies, processes, how I figure out what to work on or not, how I figure out how to manage my day, all of this is informal and personal, and most people just wing it, it’s like, “Oh, my God, I just got this urgent email, so let me do this. Oh, and there’s a deadline. I’m going to stay up and do this.” When you keep a decision journal, what you’re actually creating over time is process, you’re like, “Oh, this is how I deal with this. This is the right way to figure out what to work on next.” We forget the degree to which, in knowledge work, we just wing it all the time.

It’s not like we have, “Here’s how I build cars. How do I improve that?” It’s the equivalent in knowledge work, if the way we built cars was just put a bunch of tools and parts in a warehouse, threw a bunch of engineers in there like, “Guys, build me some cars. Let’s go.” Everyone was just running around like, “Hey, can I have the wrench?” That’s the way we do knowledge work. So, if in that world, you’re starting to actually think, “How do I figure out what to work on? What didn’t work? What did work?” you start to think about that clearly.

It’s like the one-eyed man in the world of blind people, you’re going to have this huge advantage, you’re like, “Oh, my God, I’m just really…why are people working so hard? Like, I’m really killing it over here, and I’m not even working,” because no one else is doing this. They’re just getting after it with Slack and email in their calendar, and just saying yes to everything, and trying to be busy. So, there’s a huge advantage once you start thinking process-centric within knowledge work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. And to The ONE Thing, that is one of my favorite questions I think about often, “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else becomes easier or unnecessary?” And I think that is one handy question. I’ve learned it’s not applicable in all situations, in all domains. But I’m curious, have you discovered any other organizing principles or questions that tend to serve people pretty well, pretty often?

Cal Newport
Well, I mean, first as an aside, have you heard Jeff Bezos’ version of The ONE Thing idea?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, until you articulate it. Lay it on me.

Cal Newport
So, this is like the big idea within Amazon when to figure out “What are we going to work on? And what are we not going to work on?” Bezos has this thing, “Is this something that’s going to make our beer taste better? And if it’s not something that makes our beer taste better, we shouldn’t be in that business.” And the case study he’s referring to was when, I guess, German brewers, beer brewers used to generate their own electricity. And then at some point, they plugged into a grid instead of generating their own electricity. There’s a lot of annoyance and logistical overhead with running your own generators and dynamos.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds tricky.

Cal Newport
It’s tricky, right? And they said, “Oh, we should just plug into the grid.” Why? “Because making our own electricity doesn’t make our beer taste better so let’s not put any energy into that. We want all of the people we hire to have their energy into making our beer taste better.” And so, Bezos brought that over to Amazon, “We should be focusing on the things that makes us money, that our customers really care about. Anything else, if we can outsource it, we should, or just not do it at all.”

And so, I really love that way, like, “What makes our beer taste better?” But that brings me to, I think back to your question, one of the other big principles is obsess over quality. And what this is really doing is, basically, in knowledge work, in some sense, figuring out, “What’s your equivalent of brewing beer?” Like, figuring out, “Me, as an individual employee, what’s the thing I do that’s most valuable? And if there’s nothing really there that’s valuable, what’s something I can learn to do that’s going to be really valuable?”

And once you identify that, you can focus more of your energy in, “My goal is not to be really responsive. My goal is not to make sure that everyone gets everything they need from me as fast as possible. My goal is not to be in every meeting where you need me. No, my goal is to do this thing better. I want to do this better and better because this bottom line helps our organization.” And one of the keys behind this idea is focusing on something that’s really valuable to your company or your organization, is like the foundation on which all radical engagements with slow productivity will eventually be built because it gives you leverage.

It gives you control over your job. It makes your value clear. You’re playing the right game. It allows you to focus on what matters and not these sort of accessibility routines that everyone else is trying to do with their email and with their meetings. And when you really begin to care on making your beer taste better, all of the busyness becomes unnatural to you. So, you say, “I don’t want to be on email or in meetings. That’s getting in the way of getting better at these marketing strategies or at writing this code.”

And so, slowness becomes natural, and as you get better, you get more leverage to make your work slower. So, that idea of figure out like what your equivalent is of brewing beer, what’s the thing you do best and focus on that, that unlocks almost everything else.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. So, if I’m doing marketing, what’s giving me more impressions per dollar, or more purchases per, whatever, what’s boosting my conversion rate, etc. Or if you’re creating products, it’s like the beer tastes better, what will delight the customer all the more, and make them say, “This company rocks. I love their stuff. I would tell more people about their stuff. I’m going to buy more of their stuff.” Very cool.

All right. Well, so we’ve talked about, so we got three principles here. We’ve spent some good time on do fewer things, and we hit the obsess over quality. Can you unpack the third one for us a bit?

Cal Newport
That’s work at a natural pace. And the argument here, it’s a psychological argument, the way that we work in knowledge work, which is all out, all day long, year-round, is really unnatural. It’s unnatural in a sort of literal sense that human beings throughout our whole history as a species are used to having huge variations and intensity of what we’re doing. There’s really intense periods during the day and really quiet periods. Some months are much more intense than other months. In the winter, we’re kind of hunkering down. And in the fall, we’re doing the harvest, and it’s super busy. And we have all this variation, that’s what we’re wired for.

And then we got mills and factories. And in mills and factories, it made more money if people just worked as hard as they could as much as they could. And so, we switched for the first time in human history to just like work hard all day long, but it was very unnatural and very intolerable. We had to invent labor unions and regulatory frameworks just to try to make these jobs survivable, essentially.

When knowledge work emerged in the mid-20th century, we said, “Okay, how are we going to organize this labor?” And we said, “Well, let’s just do the factory thing.” Because that’s what was going on, that’s what was in the air. The core of the economy was industrial manufacturing. So, it’s like, “Great. We’ll just approach knowledge work like we do building Model Ts, eight-hour days, work as hard as you can.” Like, if you’re resting at all during the day, that’s bad. Pseudo-productivity activity matters, and it’s the same all year round.

So, we adopted this way of working. It was actually super unnatural and required all these safety mechanisms. We adopted the same thing without the safety mechanism, and it’s an exhausting way to work. It doesn’t, over time, produce more productive effort even if in the moment it seems more satisfyingly frenetic. So, work at a natural pace says, “You need more variation in your intensity on all sorts of time scales. It shouldn’t all just be all out.”

It also says, “You should take longer to work on your projects, that we make our timelines too small. Give yourself more time so that you have room for these up and down variations.” Like, this is the way all the great thinkers through time past work, up and down in intensity over time until eventually something good came out. That’s how we produce things with our brain, not the Model T model of just, “Clock in and turn that wrench as fast as you can until you clock out.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then any sense for how do we tune in to knowing if we’re overall too much or overall too little? I know there’s going to be variability, busy seasons, lighter seasons, but any clues that we might focus in on to go, “Ooh, let’s crank it up,” or, “Let’s tone it down”?

Cal Newport
Well, that’s not the hard part. The hard part for people, actually, is just being comfortable with the idea that you shouldn’t always be cranked up. And then once you have that realization, there’s a lot more variation that just becomes natural. So, like a couple of things you can do. One, just start doubling your timelines for everything you agree to do. Instead of doing the typical trick of, “In theory, what’s the fastest possible time I could get this done?” and then falling in love with that timeline, “Oh, my God, that’d be great. If I could get this done before Christmas, this would be great,” and then we commit to this impossible timeline.

Double everything. So, give yourself much more breathing room. And, two, actually engineer seasonality. You don’t have to tell people about this if you work for someone else, but just schedule out your project so that the summer is going to be slower, but you’re really going to be getting after November. You can just start engineering variations in your workload. No one is tracking your workload so carefully.

There’s no graph somewhere in the central office, where they’re like, “I’m looking at Pete’s daily work project touches here, and they’re down in July versus whatever.” People, it’s all just chaos. They don’t know what’s going on. So, take longer and engineer seasonality explicitly into your project flow and your workflows. Just doing that is going to be like taking a deep breath.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Cal, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Cal Newport
Well, I mean, again, I think the key thing to keep in mind is don’t use the word productivity so confidently.

Pete Mockaitis
You live it.

Cal Newport
I mean, there’s a lot of talk where people are like, “I want to be more productive,” or, “Productivity is bad,” but people aren’t really defining their terms, and that’s a big problem. We all just assume we all know what productivity means, but we don’t. Like, when people say, “I want to be more productive,” what they really mean often is, like, “I want to produce more stuff over time.” When people are critiquing productivity, what they’re often doing is critiquing a sort of industrial notion of productivity, like, “The effort per day needs to be large.”

We’re not talking about the same things. Like, let’s define our terms. This is why I think it’s helpful to say pseudo-productivity is what we’re doing. Pseudo-productivity is different than quantitative productivity, which is what we used to do. Slow productivity is itself an alternative. Like, once we get clear about terms, a lot of the absurdity of what we’re doing just becomes self-evident. Like, a lot of this idea of, “I want to do this now instead of that. I’m going to do fewer things. I’m going to have more variation.”

When we realize that’s in contrast to pseudo-productivity, and that’s a part of slow productivity. Just having the terms clear, I think, really makes it better, much easier for us to make progress. So, that’s my final thing I would say is don’t be too confident that you know what people mean when they use the word productivity. I actually push on it, “What specifically are we talking about here?”

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

Cal Newport
Well, there’s an obvious answer to this question because I actually wrote a book with this quote in the title, so maybe I’m telegraphing I like this. Steve Martin, doing Charlie Rose interview about his memoir, “Born Standing Up.” And Steve Martin says, “People are always asking me, ‘How do you succeed in the entertainment industry?’” And he says, “The answer I give them is never what they want to hear. What they want to hear is, like, ‘Here’s how you find the right agent,’ or, ‘Here’s how you like get onto the writing staff.’”

And he says, “No, what I tell them is, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you. If you do that, all the other good things will follow.’” I wrote a book called “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” 10 years ago, 12 years ago now that was just inspired by that quote because that’s how important it is to me, because I ultimately think, especially in creative work, that’s what it all comes down to, “Be so good they can’t ignore you. The other stuff will work itself out if that’s where you’re focused.”

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

Cal Newport
Well, this always shifts, but there’s a new study someone just showed me, which I found very satisfying, because I don’t use social media, and I’ve often argued with people for various reasons why I should. And one of the reasons they give me is, like, “Well, this is how, like, you’re an academic, and this is how people know about you, and know about your work. You have to be yelling at people on Twitter about Trump. And if you’re not, you can’t be a successful academic.”

A new study just came out where they studied the citation count of academics correlated to Twitter engagement, and found Twitter engagement does not lead to more citations. It does not lead to more notice to academics’ work. What does matter? Doing really good important work. And so, I found that study very satisfying. You’re not going to be able to tweet your way into intellectual significance. You just have to do good stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Cal Newport
A book I just read, which I really liked, was Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath. It’s a 1950’s-era book by a great Jewish theologian, talking about the Shabbat. But I found a lot of secular resonance in this book because he was looking at the theology of Shabbat, taking a day off of work, like as it said in Genesis, right in the Bible. And he has this really cool argument. I wrote an essay about it.

But he has this argument that’s like, “Look, you take a day off from work. This is not instrumental. This is not you have to take a day off work so that you’ll be able to do work better when you get back. It’s not instrumental. You take a day off of work so that you can appreciate all the other stuff in life that’s important.” In Genesis, it was like God looked at what he had done and said, “It is good.” It’s like gratitude and presence.

I just thought it was, from 70 years ago, looking at something that was written 3,000 years ago, is a really sort of timeless idea that it’s not just, not everything is just the work, and breaks from work is not just about making the work better. It’s about all the other stuff that’s important to you. And it’s a slim book, it’s beautifully written, it has these original woodcut illustrations which are fantastic. A really cool read. I recommend it.

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

Cal Newport
I recently have gone down the mechanical keyboard rabbit hole.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Cal Newport
Yeah, because I wore off on my MacBook, I wore all the keys off because I write a lot, and the plastic was cheap in this generation. I wore every key off. You can’t see any key. And so, I got a cover for it with the keys on it, and I wore all those off too. So, I finally bought a nice, a NuPhy, N-U-P-H-Y mechanical keyboard, and, oh, I love it. Just the click and the clack. It’s substantial. I love writing on it. Your fingers spring back up with the keys so that you can type faster. I don’t know, I’ve enjoyed it. I write all the time. I enjoy writing more on this than I did when I was on just the MacBook keyboard, so I love my NuPhy wireless mechanical keyboard.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; you find it’s quoted back to you often?

Cal Newport
I think people, really, like more recently, one of the things that come back to a lot is this idea that activity doesn’t matter, busyness isn’t monetizable, your email inbox is not going to be remembered 10 years from now, but what you produce that you’re proud of, that’s everything, and just this idea of output over activity. That’s what keeps coming back to me. That’s what people seem to be quoting when they’re talking about this book or calling into my podcast, so I like that. Busyness is maybe satisfying in the moment, but is forgotten in the mist of history.

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

Cal Newport
Do fewer things. Like, trust this idea that if you cut down the number of things you’re working on right now, you will look back when this year is over and be much more impressed, and proud of what actually got accomplished.

Pete Mockaitis
Cal, this is fantastic stuff. I wish you much fun and slow productivity.

Cal Newport
Thanks, Pete. I’m going to go slowly get some things done.

949: How to End Miscommunications, Unclarity, and Endlessly Repeating the Same Conversation with Marsha Acker

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Marsha Acker reveals how to break free from the cycle of miscommunication and misunderstandings.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The root of misunderstandings and miscommunications
  2. The four actions of every conversation
  3. The more effective way to disagree with someone 

About Marsha

Marsha Acker, CPCC, PCC, CPF, is the host of the Defining Moments of Leadership podcast, the founder and CEO of TeamCatapult, and the author of two groundbreaking and thought-provoking books:  The Art and Science of Facilitation and Build Your Model for Leading Change (a workbook). Marsha has an international presence and reputation as a facilitator of meaningful conversations, a host of dialogue, and a passionate agilest. She coaches leadership teams to grow their collective leadership and to build the capability of achieving true, sustainable behavior change through dialogue.

Resources Mentioned

Marsha Acker Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Marsha, welcome.

Marsha Acker

Thanks, Pete. I’m happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m excited to talk to you, hear your wisdom. And first, I got to know, your pitch claimed you had the answer for “Why do organizations have the same conversations over and over again without getting anywhere, feeling frustrated?” So, I’m just going to put you on the spot right from the beginning. What’s up with that and what do we do about it?

Marsha Acker

Well, I think that so much of what we do every day is about having conversations with one another, and I think many of us would look at conversations and communication as not something that we need to go get any kind of development around it because we already do it. I mean, we do it all day every day, and I think many of us likely think we’re good at it.

But what, in the work that we do, I have found there’s a model that we use to help all of us look at the structure of conversations, and the structure can actually predict the outcome of the conversation. So, maybe a quick litmus test would be to think about “How often do you feel like you have the same conversation over and over again?”

Like, you had a conversation a couple weeks ago, and now you’re back in a conversation, and you’re starting to have that kind of Groundhog Day moment where you’re going, “Hey, wait a minute. I think we’ve been here before.” So, a lot of times I think many of us have those moments, but we don’t really know what to do about it. So, real quick, I think what we could do is, if you want to play with me for a moment, we could lay down a little bit of the theory, and I can tell you a story about how I apply it.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes. Well, I guess, first, I want to tee up the stakes here. Is it, in fact, possible to exit this? Because I think it was Dr. John Gottman who was talking about married couples, he’s like, “You’re going to be basically having the same couple arguments for decades until you die,” which, in a way, was heartbreaking. But in another way liberating, like, “Oh, okay. Well, then I guess we’ll need to figure out how to disagree in an effective, loving kind of a way.” But are you suggesting that, “No, we are not doomed to this fate”?

Marsha Acker

I think that if we notice that we keep coming back around to the same thing, the way I think about conversations is there’s likely something that, each one of us is thinking, but not really saying, or not saying it in a way that the other person can hear it.

And so, that leaves both of us, in some way, kind of leaving the conversation with a piece that we’re thinking but not saying. And I think that’s part of the work to do, is, “Can we be in the conversation and actually be authentic and be effective in how we’re communicating with one another?”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So, is it your premise that should we find a means of effectively articulating the unsaid, then we will escape the groundhog loop?

Marsha Acker

I think when we’re able to really fully name what’s happening for us, yes, because we can escape the groundhog loop because both of us are able to work with new information or new data that comes into the conversation. So, that’s partly what enables us to change the nature of the outcome.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. And so, you said then, in order to pull this off, you want to cover some conceptual territory?

Marsha Acker

Yes.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, go for it.

Marsha Acker

So, it’s work that comes from David Kantor in his theory of structural dynamics, theory of face-to-face communication. And, basically, what it says is that everything that we’re saying can be coded, and if we can code a conversation, that’s partly what will allow us to change the nature of it. So, there’s quite a bit of depth to it, but the very simplest way to start is in action. So, really, everything that we’re saying can be coded into one of only four actions, everything in conversation.

So, the four actions are, one is to set a move, which is to set direction in a conversation. So, move often points. You just made a move when you said, “Let’s hear what you have to say about the theory.” That would be a move. The second action is to follow. So, the follow gets behind or supports what’s happening in a conversation.

The third is to oppose. So, oppose offers correction. It says, “Hey, hold on. Stop. Wait a minute.” And then the fourth is a bystand. And a bystand offers a morally neutral comment about what’s happening in a conversation. So, to bystand, I might say, “I’m noticing I’m really engaged in a conversation right now.” It just puts some data into the conversation.

So, someone could make a move and say, “Let’s go get ice cream.” Someone could follow and say, “That sounds good to me.” Third person might say, “Nope, don’t like it, don’t want to go.” And a fourth person might say, “Well, I’m noticing we have two different ideas about what we’re going to do. What do we want to do next?” So, it’s sort of prompts for a new move.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m fixating on the, I think, did you say innocent? Or maybe I just added that myself, because innocent bystander tends to go together, like in comic books or something, “Innocent bystander.”

Marsha Acker

Yeah. No, just to bystand.

Pete Mockaitis

To bystand, you said that it’s just an observation. It doesn’t have judgment to it. But I got to know, in some ways, I don’t know, it almost feels like it can, like, “I’m noticing that your eyes are dimming and you are growling.” It’s sort of the implication is almost, like, “You’re behaving angrily and inappropriately in this context.” So, I don’t know, maybe I’m missing too much detail.

Marsha Acker

No, it’s great. So, here’s what’s really great about it. So, what you’re naming is, a lot of times, I think in conversation, what happens is we say one thing, so we voice one thing, and if you were just simply coding the conversation, you might code that as a bystand. But I’m on the receiving end of it and I’m going, “Hmm, that doesn’t feel…” like, I’m not experiencing it as a morally neutral statement because it feels like it’s loaded up behind it.

And so, a lot of times when that’s happening, what we’re doing is we’re saying one thing but we intend another. So, I’m speaking a bystand, but I’ve got judgment behind it, and so I’m really intending an oppose.

Pete Mockaitis

I see. Okay. Levels and layers.

Marsha Acker

Well, that’s the tricky part. So, I’ll tell you a quick story. My daughter, when she was much younger, I called it our Groundhog Day conversation, but it would be the, “Get your shoes on, please” conversation. And I would make a move, and I’d say, “Hey, Lauren, the bus will be in here in 10 minutes. I need you to get your shoes on.”

And her response will be, “Okay.” Walk away. Come back. “Bus will be here in five minutes. Need you to get your shoes on.” “Okay.” Five minutes later, at the door, and when I would turn around and say, “Lauren, the bus is here. Let’s go.” And there’s a little girl at the end of the hallway screaming because she says, “I don’t have my shoes on.”

And so, we had this pattern. I was making moves, and she was voicing a follow. She said, “Okay,” but she intended an oppose. It’s not what she meant. And it sets up this pattern of we’re saying one thing but we mean another. And it creates what we call, in the structure of coding it, it creates a covert action. So, what happens is the oppose, both in your example of you are bystanding, but what’s really behind it is a covert opposition.

My daughter was doing the same thing. She would voice a follow, but she would intend an oppose. Now, you know, why is that? Well, somewhere along the way, I might have laid down the expectations that “You’re not allowed to tell me no,” or, “I need you to do something different.” So, what I learned was that was really much more about…she’s a teenager now and we can still get into this pattern because every time when…so what happens is that we’ll have one or two of these actions that we can tend to do more in our behavior, particularly in different systems. So, in my home space, I’m often the one with her making moves, and I’m sort of expecting her to follow. But what’s not helpful is that she’s quite independent, even as a little person, definitely as a teenager, she’s quite independent.

And so, one of the ways that I started to change our stuck conversation, our stuck Groundhog Day conversation, was I stopped being the one making all of the moves, and I’d start to enter that conversation differently with the intent to give her the space to make the move that I could follow. So, our conversations would sound a little different, I would start to do more bystands, and I would say, “I’m noticing it’s 10 till 7:00. The bus is going to be here in 10 minutes or 15 minutes. What do you need to get done?”

And she’d think about it for a moment, and she’d be like, “Well, I need to put my shoes on.” And I’d be like, “Great. So, do you know where your shoes are?” So, I started to bring more bystand into the conversation and allow her the space to make a move. And it took a little bit more conversation in that way. But eventually, what she would come around to do is say, “Well, I need to get my shoes.” I’m like, “Great. So why don’t you do that? You’ve got 15 minutes. So, when do you want to do that?”

So, where I could, I began to shift the conversation, and it helped to change the nature of how we were engaged in that conversation. And I use that because I think it’s just such a really simple example, but it happens so often in leadership teams, across our workplaces. Particularly in American business, I think we have managed out or trained out the voice of opposition.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s intriguing on so many levels. And you said this happens thousands of times. I was like, “Yes, I have asked my children thousands of times to put their shoes on.” What’s intriguing in a number of dimensions, like one, just general coaching principle. If you pose a question and they think about it, then that is more active and engaging and more likely to feel rewarding. Like, “Oh, I figured out that I need to get my shoes.” And then they did, and like, “I’m taking care of things.”

It’s funny, my kids right now, they’re five and six, and one and a half, but the five and six-year-olds, it seems like they’re relishing these little tastes of independence. They could say, “I’m going to make some toast.” All right, you go for it. And so, they’re into it. They really just plow through bread because they enjoy making toast and it’s delicious.

But I think, even more than that, they like that, hey, they can’t use the stovetop on their own, they can’t use the oven on their own, but even the microwave can be dicey. But the toaster is like, “Okay, I push the button and then I walk away, and then there we go.” But in many ways, I think, Kwame Christian said, he was on the show, he’s awesome, Negotiate Anything is his podcast. In many ways, we have an inner toddler within us, and so that’s strong.

And I’m intrigued by, when you say covert action, with the shoes, I think that sometimes what’s going on is that they’re thinking, “Well, I’m not opposed to putting on shoes. But at the moment, I’m very engaged with this little mouse character or whatever.” And so, I think that’s funny because covert action makes me think of, “Okay, I’ve got a spy who’s like sneaking into enemy territory.”

But I guess that, too, can run a whole spectrum associated with, “How much am I willfully saying yes when I mean no because I’m hoping they’re just going to shut up and forget about it,” versus, “How much am I like, ‘Oh, yeah, sure. Cool, yeah. Sure, I mean I’ll get to that soonish, so it’s fine, yeah’?”

Marsha Acker

What I’m often going for is wanting leaders to become more aware, more self-aware, of their behavior, how does their behavior, it’ll likely be different how we behave at home, talking to our children versus how do we behave in our leadership team, versus how do we behave in our development team when we’re collaborating with eight, ten peers.

I think it’ll be different, there will be spaces. And I think a lot of it happens, it gets laid down for us at a very early age, in our formative years, we develop. One of my childhood stories is not to oppose because it’s rude. And so, that got laid down very early on for me. The way that translated into adult and business life is oppose has often been my least used. It’s been the one for me to work on the most. Regardless of the role that I was in, it would be the one, kind of unconsciously, that I would use some of the other actions.

Or, sometimes I’d just make a new move. If I didn’t really want to directly oppose you, I’d just change the subject, which is another pattern that sits underneath of this. Or, many teams fall into the place of they’ll just agree, they’ll say, “Yes,” or, “Sure.” Or, they’ll say, “Sure,” and then they go out of the room after they finished talking to you, and they tell six other people what they really think of your idea, but they don’t bring that conversation in the room.

So, ultimately, what I’m all about, because I think it’s what changes the nature of the conversation, is, “Can we bring the offline conversation online? And can we be more aware of what our behavioral tendencies are, and where we go to say one thing, but we actually intend something else?” and catching sight of the difference between the action and the intent.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s intriguing. And I guess, as you have this language and you can start to view conversations in this way, that’s intriguing. So, your goal is to get the offline, online, and get it in there. I think sometimes I follow, maybe often, I follow, I use the words okay, and I do the thing. But internally, I’m thinking, “This is so stupid.”

And I don’t know if that’s valuable, but I guess I’ve also had the internal conversation of, “But it’s pointless to bring this up because it’s not going to affect anything. So, the most efficacious, expedient thing for me to do is to just comply, even though it’s going to result in a worse outcome, but fine.” And I guess maybe sometimes there’s a time and a place where that’s just the reality, and so live it, but go ahead.

Marsha Acker

You and many, many, many, many other people. I watch it over and over. And I often say to folks if you’re in a group of people, and you’re not going to be with them for an ongoing basis, you’ve stepped in, somebody’s made a move, you’re following, like the juice doesn’t feel worth the squeeze, so you just say, “Yep, I disagree or I see it differently, but I’m willing to do it.”

I think doing that intentionally is one thing. Doing it out of a habit is another. And I think those things that you are thinking, what I would offer is those things that you’re thinking are actually quite valuable. But it definitely takes a system, like it takes a group of people that you’re working with on an ongoing basis. Because I think what matters is not that it happens one time or in one moment or with one group, but when it gets to be a stuck pattern, like when it’s a Groundhog Day conversation.

Because I think that’s where you’ll, if you talk to people, all the things that are in the news today about quiet quitting, and people are just burnt out, and they’re tired, and they’re exhausted, and they don’t feel connected, and it’s super hard to connect on Zoom. I hear all of that, and I go straight to this model of, “Yep, because we’re not having the real conversation.”

And people get really exhausted, “At the end of the day, if all I’ve done is have surface level conversations, I’ve not really been able to say what I think, I don’t think anybody wants to listen, so I just sort of fall into this victim mode or this apathetic mode, and I get into doing this sort of I’ll just show up and do the thing until I can do something better.” Like, none of us want to work in that kind of setting or in that kind of situation.

So, I always bring it back to, “Well, I wonder what the pattern is. I wonder which of these actions is being voiced and which are missing,” because those patterns, like things that keep recurring, there will be data in that. And so, I’m a huge advocate for teams, leaders at any level, building the muscle of, “Can we have the real conversation? Can we bring the real conversation online?” And it takes time. It’s not a one-time fix.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good. So, that’s the main thing is having the real conversation. This reminds me, we had Amy Edmondson on a couple times, talking psychological safety. Any pro tips for how we can have the real conversation more often? One, so we got some coding, we got some awareness, that’s cool. Anything else in terms of building our own conversational courage and/or creating an environment where people feel more comfortable speaking up?

Marsha Acker

Well, I think the work is highly correlated to Amy’s work. Actually, Amy Edmondson and David Kantor worked together at Harvard, so both of their theories are quite distinctly linked. It does take container-building or creating the space. I often say sometimes it can be just helpful to introduce your team to the four-player model as a way to name that, actually, we need all four of these actions in a conversation in order for them to be effective. So, sometimes just all of us starting to gain awareness that we need all four and be watching for when we’re not hearing one of them. So, I think that’s one way.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s great. That’s pretty simple. You just highlight, “Hey, this is what’s up.” And then someone might say, “Hey, I noticed that nobody opposed anything over this whole three-hour meeting. That’s interesting. All just coincidentally in unilateral consensus agreement? What are the odds? Or is someone not saying something that needs to be said?”

Marsha Acker

And, actually, Pete, what I love about what you’re doing is that you’re doing it with a little bit of humor, and I think that that is key to some of this work is to find a way to make it light and humorous, rather than…I realized really many years ago as I was starting to introduce this model to teams and leaders, so they’d take it and they’d be so excited, and then go off to the next meeting, and it was like, “You, you have made too many moves. You need to stop that,” with a bit of finger pointing.

And I was like, “Well, that’s not really what we’re after.” Like, it’s a model to create awareness, but I don’t think it’s really effective if we use it to sort of poke people in the eye with. So, I love the way you’re sort of tongue-in-cheek saying that.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you. And when it comes to opposing, I’m curious, do you have any, because I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I imagine for many, that might be the spookiest of the four to step up and do. Any pro tips or any magical words or phrases that are great for opposing? I imagine you’re like, “No, you’re wrong!” is probably not the best way to do it.

Marsha Acker

Well, actually, there is. Well, so two things I’d say. One is we likely all know someone who’s really good at it, so just think about the person. It won’t be hard for everyone. It is definitely based on our behavioral model, like our viewpoint of how we grew up and how we think about the voice of oppose and what it does. So, likely there’s at least one person usually in each group. We sometimes load them up and we call them the devil’s advocate or the naysayer, which I’d encourage everybody to just stop using the labels because I don’t think they’re helpful.

But if you find someone who’s really good at bringing oppose, you can just watch and listen. Sometimes, though, for people who are stuck in opposition, the thing that will be challenging for them is to make a new move. So, they can be really good at opposing, but not good at the suggestion.

So, a really effective oppose, like a way to bring a really effective oppose, is to actually start with more follow and bystand because those are the actions of more inquiry. They’re also the places that, so if you’ve made a move, and you’ve said, “I think we need to switch all of our computers out, and go from Macs to PCs.” And if I want to oppose that, if I just come right back and say, “Nope, I disagree,” it’s helpful because it’s a really clear oppose, so that’s great.

But really, if I just say no, and I push back without voicing anything else, then we’re kind of stuck because now you’ve got an idea and I’ve got an idea, and we’re actually put ourselves in this debate or clash about, “Which one of us is going to have the winning idea?” So, a more effective way for me to oppose that might be to start with a follow, so what’s something about what you’ve suggested that I actually do align with.

So, I might say something like, “Pete, I really appreciate, and I actually share your value about keeping us up to date in technology. I’m with you on that.” I might bystand and say, “You know, I’m noticing that that would create…it would be really expensive. And it’s the first part of the year, we’re not quite sure where our revenue is at.” What’s my clear oppose? “I disagree with doing all of them right now and in this time frame.” But my new suggestion, my new move would be, “What if we looked at it, doing it five at a time?” or something like that? So, what’s my new suggestion? Then it would be back over to you.

And now what’s happened is I’ve actually put some of what I’m seeing, what I agree with, into the conversation, and the idea is that now we can continue a dialogue because I’ve put new data in, and it gives us something to build off of.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good. Thank you. All right. Well, in your book, Build Your Model for Leading Change, you spend a good portion talking about self-awareness. And I wanted to hear your perspective on why self-awareness is important for change, when, really, Marsha, it’s the other stupid dummy heads who are the problem.

Marsha Acker

I know. I think life would be so much easier if everybody else would change, and then the world would work according to how we view it and what we want to do.

Pete Mockaitis

Exactly.

Marsha Acker

Yeah, I’m a big proponent of self-awareness. And I think that there’s so much to be gained from even just building on…so one aspect of Build Your Model for Leading Change is having a way to look at behavior because I think that behavior drives, like everything that you and I’ve been talking about, behavior and how we’re showing up in communication. Everything starts and ends with how we work with other humans.

And knowing, “Why do I do what I do? And where did I learn to do that? And why do I have such an affinity for following and bystanding in a conversation? And, more importantly, where can I grow my leadership range? Where can I expand my behavior so that it’s more effective?” And I think the way to go about doing that is through getting to know ourselves in various ways, and how we change based on the different contexts that we’re in, because I think context matters.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, so you actually delineate seven critical junctures of functional self-awareness. Could you give us the one-minute version of what are each of these critical junctures?

Marsha Acker

So, the junctures actually expand on the theory of structural dynamics. And without going through each of them, what I would say is they’re about “Where are you able to identify what you do? Are you able to expand your behavioral range? And are you able to notice, kind of growing the muscle for noticing in the moment, when the conversation isn’t working, like, when you’re clashing with someone?”

There’s another piece of it is “Beginning to understand when the stakes rise for me and how my behavior changes when the stakes are high.” We talk a lot about what’s happening today in leading from high stakes, which I think many of us are doing, and how when we’re not at our best, so, “How do we lower the stakes?” And then I think the big piece of it is, “How do we expand our tolerance for difference?”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, sure thing. Well, I’d love it, so there’s a lot that we could dig into. Could you share with us, I believe, was it Tasha Eurich, we had on the show, who says, “You’re not as self-aware as you think,” is her assertion? Can you tell us, is there a particular zone in which many people overestimate their self-awareness? And how do you recommend we get after that?

Marsha Acker

I watched many leaders believe, like even if we just look at the four actions, many leaders believe that they are good at communicating, number one, with others, and that they are being clear in their communication. And I think the biggest gap that I watched people discover is where they’re not being clear. So, just the small examples, like we talked about today, where I think I’m saying to my daughter, “I need you to get your shoes on.”

Like, I think I’m communicating, but really, I’m doing something entirely different. It happens to me all the time, even with my own team. I’m fascinated. I’ve built a structure where we can give one another feedback in the moment about that. And so, I think it’s noticing when I think I’m doing one thing, but I’m actually doing something else, and it’s being interpreted really differently than what I intended.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, could you give us an example of a common way this unfolds?

Marsha Acker

So, we have a monthly team meeting, and often the purpose of that monthly meeting is really for us to carve out some time and actually slow down our conversations so that we can talk about how we’re working together. And so, I had come in with a move around some reflection questions that I was actually teeing up for everybody to think about as we led into the conversation about thinking about how we were working together as a team.

And I have a colleague who would have agreed that the purpose of our meeting is to align on how we’re working together, talk about how we’re working together, but this particular person at that moment wanted to be involved in creating the agenda for the conversation, not to have me come in with some pre-canned questions. And so, the feedback to me in that moment was, you know, I hold on, “I think we set out with the intention to have a conversation about how we work together, and I feel like I’m being driven to your agenda, not a collective agenda that we would create together.”

And I think the stakes were pretty high for that person because it’s risky to say that. I think it’s really risky to name it. I, in that moment, so the stakes were pretty high for me in that moment because I kept thinking, “It’s not what I intended.” I felt quite misunderstood, and I felt like I was being accused of something that was really not my intent at all.

And so, it was in the moment of actually being able to park any further forward movement and talk about where the mishap was, where the misunderstanding was, that we were able to take what was a fairly high-stakes moment, and then I began to realize, “Okay, so it’s not so much an opposition. It was an oppose but not necessarily the intent, but it was definitely an oppose to how I started it off.” And it became a really, really fabulous conversation afterwards, so that sort of friction moment led to a much deeper conversation about how we work and where some of that pattern, even that dynamic that showed up, how it shows up in other places. But it was really challenging, and I am fascinated by the number of times that I watch that happen in teams.

So, when teams have the ability to name it, high stakes are happening all the time for us, and it either leaves us to keep talking about, like, I think about it, it’s like moving deck chairs around on a sinking ship versus talking about what’s really going on.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, it’s intriguing. And it was cool that they voiced it, and so you got to go there. And I remember, it is fascinating, one time I was coordinating in this leadership conference, and I just said something like, “All right. Hey, guys, now we’re off to the sketch session,” and then one of the volunteers, their mom, I heard this third hand, their mom said, “Oh, I think Pete just lost Matt as a volunteer for next year.” I was like, “What? What? I just said now we’re going to walk over here.”

But apparently, for Matt, it was rather an important tradition that he – I think he was dressed in a costume of some sort – like, I marched them over, and that was one of his favorite things, and I’m like, “I had no idea.” I looked at the clock, I said, “Oh, it’s time for us to go there.” And then I was completely oblivious that that mattered. And had I known, I’d be like, “Oh, well, let’s wait for a moment for Matt to return with his costume.” Just kind of a goofy camp kind of vibe.

So, you’re right, like we can just be utterly clueless about such things and, yeah, that’s really eye-opening to make sure that we’ve sort of built in those checks associated with asking questions in that context, like, “Hey, what’s the most important for your volunteer experience this weekend?” It’s like, “Okay, good to know.”

Because, I mean, hey, they’re volunteers, right? I owe them everything in terms of when this event occurred, I want to make sure that they’re getting what they need. But I was like, “Oh, I just didn’t make the agenda in terms of the weekend.” So, I’m just rolling the dice, basically. You don’t know who you’re alienating and why if you don’t take the time to get the info.

Marsha Acker

And I love your example because, here’s the thing, none of us will ever be able to plan or attend all the places that we could just make a mess. And unless we have people around us who have the communicative competency to really raise their hand and say, “Hold on a second. Like, that’s not what I thought we were doing,” or to say it rather than go out of the room and stew about it. We will never know, and I don’t think we can ever plan for all of that.

So, I think about navigating all the change and the turmoil that exists today. Like, we’ve got to have people around us that can say, “Hold up, we’re about to go over the edge,” or “I really see something differently here. I think we’re about to miss something important.”

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. Well, Marsha, tell me anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about your favorite things?

Marsha Acker

No, I think we’ve covered a lot, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Marsha Acker

It comes from James Humes, and he says, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.”

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Marsha Acker

I ran across this research, actually, a couple of weeks ago, and it really resonated, still along the same lines, but it was done by ZipDo. So, I think you could go to Google and search it, it was done July of last year. They found that 85% of employees at all levels experience conflict to some degree, and that 60 to 80% of difficulties in organizations come from strained relationships. So, I found that information fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite book?

Marsha Acker

There’s a book by William Isaacs, it’s actually been around for some time, called Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Marsha Acker

A journal.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite habit?

Marsha Acker

I wake up each morning before everybody else, I have a nice cup of coffee, and I journal.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Marsha Acker

I’m known for saying this phrase a lot, “Awareness precedes choice, precedes change.”

Pete Mockaitis

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

Marsha Acker

You can find me on LinkedIn, Marsha Acker, so I’m happy to connect with folks. And then you can read about the book at BuildYourModel.com, and you can also find me at TeamCatapult.com. And if you go to TeamCatapult.com, there is a Re-D-Room, so re, dash, d, dah, room, you can download a handout about what we’ve been talking about today.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Marsha Acker

Find a way to elevate dialogue.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Marsha, this has been a treat. I wish you many enriching conversations.

Marsha Acker

Thanks, Pete.

948: The 3 Simple Steps to Compelling Stories with Mark Carpenter

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Master storyteller Mark Carpenter shares handy keys for telling great stories that enrich all your communication.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why stories are more effective than numbers
  2. The science behind why our brains love stories
  3. The three elements of a memorable story 

About Mark

Mark Carpenter is a serial storyteller who is on a mission to bring more humanity into leadership and sales. 

Mark has leveraged his storytelling ability over the years in marketing communication, public relations, corporate facilitation, and as a college professor. Today, Mark works as a consultant and speaker to teach others what he has learned along the way, and he shares his secrets to purposeful and effective leadership in his best-selling book, Master Storytelling: How to Turn Your Experiences Into Stories that Teach, Lead, and Inspire. 

When he’s not speaking, training, coaching, or creating new content, Mark is likely hiking or snowshoeing in the mountains near his home in Utah, playing the piano, bragging about his grandchildren, or writing children’s books.  

Resources Mentioned

Mark Carpenter Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Mark, welcome.

Mark Carpenter

Thank you, Pete. Glad to be here with you.

Pete Mockaitis

I’m excited to hear your wisdom on storytelling, and I’d love it if you could start us off with one of your most surprising, fascinating discoveries you’ve made about storytelling over your whole career of working on this stuff with people.

Mark Carpenter

You know, I think one of the most surprising things that I found is all the research that’s there to support it. I got into this just because I practiced it. It was my wife who nudged me to write this book because she was saying, “You have this way of taking everyday experiences and turning them into stories that can teach lessons.”

And my first thought was, “Well, that’s just what people do.” And she said, “No, no, you do that. Not everybody does that. And you could help other people to be able to do that more intentionally.” So, as I got into the research on the book, I was a little surprised to find out the depth of research behind why storytelling works and why it’s so effective in our business settings.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, Mark, you’re already giving us lessons from a story in that when you said, “That’s just what people do,” and you had a dear, loving, trusted companion, your wife, who said, “No, that’s what you do.” I think that’s often the nature of strengths, is that they seem, “Oh, of course, it’s natural to us,” but, no, really there’s something. special there. So, look at you, already teaching a lesson with a story, Mark, right off the beginning.

Mark Carpenter

That’s what I do, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s just what everyone does, right? Well, lay it on us, what’s a particularly striking research tidbit or insight that is really strong?

Mark Carpenter

Ooh, if I can share a couple, I’d love to be able to do that. Well, one of them was some research that was done at a university, and off the top of my head now I’m losing which one it was, so I’m not going to try to cite it because I’ll probably get it wrong. But they took graduate students and they put them into three groups. And they shared with one group a bunch of data, some important information, told them it’s really important for them to remember.

They took another group, they shared that information with them, but they gave it to them with charts and graphs, too. This is what we do in business to help people remember, right? We put it in charts and graphs. And the third group, they gave them the information in the form of a story. Then they got them back together a couple of weeks later and asked how much they remembered, how accurately they remembered, and what the impact of that information was on them.

They found that the first two groups really had no statistical difference in how well they remembered or how accurately they remembered, how much they remembered, or how accurately they remembered. The third group remembered more of the information, remembered it more accurately, and the surprising thing to me was they found it more credible.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that is surprising.

Mark Carpenter

We think when we’re putting our charts and graphs out there, and we’re giving a bunch of data to people, that’s going to build our credibility. They actually found the information more credible coming into the form of a story because they could relate to it more, it meant something to them individually. It wasn’t just a bunch of numbers or a bunch of information. They could see the relation to themselves, and that’s why they found it more credible. So, that was one of the surprising findings that I discovered in the research that we did for the book. The other one is the work of Dr. Paul Zak, who has investigated what’s going on inside people’s brains.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, oxytocin.

Mark Carpenter

Yeah, the oxytocin guy.

Pete Mockaitis

A former guest on How to be Awesome at Your Job, so he must be a good guy.

Mark Carpenter

Oh, he’s a fabulous guy. I love listening to him. I’ll take me a dose of Dr. Zak just about any time. I love listening to that man. But he discovered that there were three changes that happen inside of our brains when we hear a well-told story. The first one is an increase in oxytocin, and we get that by hearing a relatable story, a relatable situation with relatable characters.

So, you hear somebody tell a story and you think, “Oh, yeah, boy, I’ve been there. I’ve been in that kind of situation before.” We get an increase of oxytocin in our brains. The cool thing is that increases your trust. So, as people are listening to your well-told story, they trust you more because of that increase of oxytocin. Isn’t that awesome?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m chuckling because I’m thinking, I don’t want to poke the bear here, but someone I know was listening to a podcaster who’s been semi-canceled, and I think potentially justifiably in terms of, “Okay, that was kind of beyond the pale.” But he told a story I totally related to, and I was like, “Well, maybe this guy is not so bad.” I was like, “Is that all it took? Is that all it took?” I was like, “Wow.” I was struck by my own reaction. And here you are saying, “Well, no, Pete, there’s biochemical stuff at work here that this is quite normal.”

Mark Carpenter

So, you’ve just given a great example of how that happens. You’ve seen it in reality. You also see it when you see somebody on the street and they’re wearing logo apparel of your alma mater, or your favorite sports team, and all of a sudden, you like that person because you can relate to them. There’s just that literal relatability that comes in. So, that’s one of the powers of storytelling.

Two other things that Dr. Zak identified. When you introduce a little bit of conflict, a little bit of risk in that story, which is what makes the story interesting, the listener has an increase of cortisol in the brain, just a little bit. And the effect of the cortisol is it makes people pay attention more. In small doses. Too much cortisol, it stresses them out. But a little bit of cortisol will make people pay more attention to what you’re saying. So, it’s no wonder people remember better when they hear things in a story, it’s because they’re paying more attention.

And then finally, when you get to a good resolution to your story, people get an increase in dopamine. That neurotransmitter that gives you that kind of, “Ahh,” feeling of satisfaction, when there’s a satisfying ending that comes to that story, that there’s a lesson learned, there’s a good resolution to that story. It’s like leveling up on the video game or checking off something on your to-do list, you get a little sense of dopamine. And that’s what connects people into stories. We all know we like stories, but Dr. Zak’s research shows why, what’s going on with us chemically that really makes stories attractive to us.

Pete Mockaitis

That is so good. That is so good, and intriguing in terms of the credibility piece, specifically. Well, tell us then, when it comes to professionals, I think they’d say, “Well, yes, stories are fun, Mark. I’d like to hear more. I’d like to be able to tell more. But really, how much of an impact is that going to make for my career? And how do I pull it off?”

Mark Carpenter

Well, our book’s subtitle is “How to Turn Your Experiences into Stories that Teach, Lead, and Inspire.” So, if you’re in a position where you need to teach, lead, and inspire – and if I had to do it all over again, I would add “sell” in there as well – teach, lead, sell, and inspire, then storytelling can be effective for you, and we’re not talking about creating fables. There’s great business books out there that are business fables, but that’s not the kind of storytelling we’re talking about.

We’re talking about taking your real-life experience and being able to turn them into stories that people can relate to, that they can learn something from, that will inspire some action, that will lead to some change. So, those are the kind of stories that we’re talking about, specifically, in our book Master Storytelling.

So, if you have a position where you need to do those things – and, by the way who doesn’t? – then storytelling can be of great impact to you. Think of it this way, I’m going to go kind of a baseline for everybody that’s in business that’s had to go through this: the job interview. You prep for that job interview, and you get in your mind what questions they’re going to ask, and you get your straight answers, and how you’re going to deliver those answers. But I pretty much guarantee your answers are going to be almost exactly the same as the person who was interviewed right before you.

Unless you answer the question in the form of, “Let me share a story about an experience that I had that illustrates that.” When they ask you about, “So, what do you feel like is your greatest strength?” Oh, we all want to say things like, “Well, I’m a really hard worker.'” But what if you said, “Well, one of the things that I’ve been praised for by other people is the level of attention to detail that I get. For example…” and then share an experience where you gave a high level of detail to something and were praised for. Your interviewer will remember that better than the person who says, “Oh, I’m really detail-oriented. I’m really good at getting to the details and solving problems.”

Pete Mockaitis

Mark, I love that. And, in some ways, storytelling sounds so lofty. We think of Stephen King just banging away at a typewriter. I’m sure he uses a word processor now. But, like the heroic novelist going through draft after draft, and throwing them into the wastebasket; or Hollywood; or I’m thinking about like “The Moth,” or epic keynoters on the TED stage. But what you did there was so easy. You made a statement, and you said, “For example…” and boom, and you go right into story. In some ways, the word example feels a little bit less lofty and intimidating than story. Like, yeah, but that’s the same thing.

Mark Carpenter

Yeah, absolutely. And we’re pretty practiced at telling stories. We come home from a busy day, and family or friends say, “Hey, how was your day?” And we tell them kind of the story of the day. But in that situation, we’re really just relating the experience. But if I need to teach a lesson from that, I’m going to be more intentional about the parts that I leave out, the parts that I leave in, and make sure I get to the point at the end of that situation or that story.

And so, we’re not looking at those epic novels or epic tales. We’re looking at those day-to-day things that people can relate to that will help them remember a point that you’re trying to make, and really lead to some action.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, now this is maybe the most meta question ever, Mark. We’re talking about storytelling. Can you tell us a story of someone who improved their storytelling skills and saw really cool benefits to their career as a result?

Mark Carpenter

Yeah, I’ll give you an example of an organization I worked with just last year. They had an annual event where they would bring people in from each of the different divisions to present to the leadership team about what their part of the organization was doing to drive forward the mission of the organization. And what they found was a lot of people were standing up and saying, “Our organization is doing these wonderful things,” and they try to give some numbers behind it, and give some kind of lofty words to it.

And the person who was organizing that said, “I really want people to start telling a story, to give an illustration.” And so. they selected people who had an example of something that happened, a specific event that happened within their organization. And I took them through my workshop and coached them on telling that story. And she said, “That event was totally different this year than all the other years.”

Most of the time, the leadership team is sitting there, kind of leaning back in their chairs, a little bit of a bored expression on their face. This time they were leaning in. And what they found was they were taking these words on the wall that were the mission statement, and actually turning them into behaviors in the hall that people could see, and relate to, and understand, and it really drove a lot of energy in the company around their mission, vision, and values.

Pete Mockaitis

I think that is a fine instance because mission, vision, values can really get fluffy, like, “What do we even mean by that?” It’s like, “No, here’s what we mean by exceptional customer service. Get a load of this. Someone bought some shoes, but their dog died, and so we looked them up on Instagram, and drew a picture.”

I think this was a real Zappos story, “And we drew a picture of their dog and them wearing their shoes, and we said, ‘Hey, hope you have fond memories of Fido,’” or whatever. And it was like, “Oh! That’s what you mean by exceptional customer service, and not just listening, and saying, ‘Oh, I understand you’re frustrated, sir. Gotcha.’ Now, it’s more clear and memorable.” I’m remembering this from years ago, see?

Mark Carpenter

There you go. See how sticky stories are? And I love what you said, because it does. It takes the mission, vision, and values from words on the wall to behaviors in the hall, “This is what it sounds like, but this is what it looks like.”

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good. Well, so tell us, fundamentally, what makes a story good versus disappointing?

Mark Carpenter

And so, I’ll start with the research that Dr. Zak and what he’s talked about. Because if you think of those three chemical reactions that we have in our brains, we need to tap into those. So, how do you tap into the oxytocin? You create an experience that people can relate to, with people they can relate to, and a situation or a problem they can relate to.

So, what’s their worthwhile goal? What are they trying to accomplish? And you set this up in the beginning of sharing your experience, “Here’s where we were. Here’s where we were trying to get,” and people can make the connection to, “Oh yeah, I’ve been in that similar situation.” Then you need to introduce some conflict, something has to get in the way of that goal or the story is pretty boring. It doesn’t have much energy to it.

So, what is it that gets in the way of accomplishing that goal? We call this the conflict. And so, that conflict comes in, and that’s what makes people pay attention because they’re going, “What’s going to happen? How are we going to get to the end of this?” And then the third part is what we call the change, “What happens to bring resolution to that?”

Or, “What happened that it didn’t resolve right, but we learned something from that that we can change going forward? Where was the mistake that we made that we can learn from in the future?” because that’s going to bring in the dopamine as well and help people walk away with, “Yeah, I want to make sure that I do the right thing so that I don’t have that same problem that Mark ended up with in the experience that he shared.”

Pete Mockaitis

Mark, I love this so much. I love just making it simple, simple, simple. So, when it comes to good stories I’ve heard about, “Oh, Joseph Campbell, ‘The Hero’s Journey,’” like that’s a lot of steps. And then we got, “Well, Dan Harmon’s got an eight-part story circle model.” And I’ve done that with my five- and six-year-olds. It’s kind of fun. But eight is still a lot of steps. But, Mark, you said we got three. All right, set the scene.

Mark Carpenter

That’s what we’ve narrowed it for that very reason. You’re telling a story the last two to three minutes. It’s hard to fit eight steps into two to three minutes.

Pete Mockaitis

Totally.

Mark Carpenter

Nothing wrong with that eight-step process, but for the purposes of the types of stories that I’m talking about, we needed something really simple.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. So, step one, we set the scene with relatable people, relatable situation, relatable problem. Step two, we’ve got a conflict, something that gets in the way of what we’re after. And step three, we have a change, either because of like an insight and victory, or, “Oh, Oopsie Daisy,” a disappointing failure, and then learning that comes from that.

So, Mark, I’d love it if you could just give us maybe several examples of, we’ve got a business situation, and I might tell the tale with slides and charts and data, but you instead give us our three-step stories that get the job done better. No pressure. Go!

Mark Carpenter

No pressure. Just come up with it right out of the blue here.

Mark Carpenter

Which story do I want to go with? Yeah, I’ll go with one that I’ve been telling recently, and it’s actually not one of my stories. It’s actually a friend of mine. So, here’s another tip that I can throw to your listeners. The stories don’t always have to be yours. You can borrow from other people, and just think of how you’re crafting that story. And then acknowledge it, that it comes from another person.

So, I’ve been talking a lot about the importance of leading with greater humanity. I call it leading like a person, not like a position. And a friend of mine was telling me about a leader that he had. He actually left the company because the leadership was very much in the command-and-control mode, and would fire people on the spot very publicly. He left that company, went over to another company that was actually a competitor. And he had an opportunity three months into this position to introduce the CEO at a big partners conference.

So, they had hundreds of their best partners in the room. He was giving the introduction to the CEO. He’d prepped it, he’d memorized it, he’d worked with the CEO and the details for it. He was feeling really good about it, feeling like this is an opportunity to be seen and to show his value to this new company. He gets through the introduction, and just as he’s introducing the CEO, he says, “Please welcome the CEO of…” and he says the name of his last company.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, yay.

Mark Carpenter

All right. You’re feeling the pain right there?

Pete Mockaitis

It’s so relatable, Mark.

Mark Carpenter

You just came into the story, right? And hundreds of partners go, “Boo!” And he realized what he’d done, and he’s humiliated. Now, he recovered from it quickly by saying, “Of course, we know he wouldn’t work for that company. He’s the CEO of…” and he said the name of the right company, introduced the CEO, the CEO walks on stage, he shakes his hand, and then he walks off.

But as he was walking off, everyone is kind of avoiding him, and he’s thinking, because of the experience that he had at his previous company, “This is it. This is the end for me. I’m going to get fired as soon as the CEO is done speaking.” He found a quiet place away from other people, and started thinking about his next career moves as the CEO is giving this hour-long speech.

The CEO comes off the stage and, very intentionally, starts looking around until he finds my friend Nick. And he walks right to him, and he’s thinking, “Here it comes. Here it comes.” And the CEO puts his arms around him, whispers in his ear, “Don’t worry about it. We’ve all done it. We’ve all made these kinds of mistakes. You’re fine. It’s okay.”

That’s what I call leading like a person. And we all love to have leaders like that, because we will go to bat for leaders like that. So, if you want people to really give their best, that’s the kind of leader you want to be.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautifully done, Mark. So, here we have the situation, I can relate, “Hey, I want to make a great impression. I have an opportunity, that’s really cool. And then, oopsies, made a mistake, feel really bad about it. Uh-oh, what’s going to happen?” And then humanity on full display, and we feel good, and it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I like that.” And it’s like, “I, too, would like to be that kind of a leader, Mark.” Go on. There we are.

Mark Carpenter

Yep. And good job picking up those three phases that are right in there. Once you know them, they’re actually fairly obvious within the story structure. But it just makes it, as we’re talking about, an easy way to organize your thoughts so that you can make it concise. I’ll add to that that the important thing to keep in mind is “What is the lesson I’m trying to teach here? Well, what is my end goal?” because that will help you edit out extraneous information that happened within the experience.

You sometimes hear people make that mistake where they’re telling a story. They want to give every single detail in it, and you’re thinking, “Why is that relevant?” or, “Where’s that going?” And I refer to it as “They don’t land the plane there. They’re just flying around their story and they’re not getting to the point.” So, you have to know what runway you’re landing on, and that will help you get to the point more efficiently.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Thank you. Well, maybe let’s do just that, and say we’re trying to make a point to an executive, a leader, or an organization that something’s got to change. And I’ll try to get more specific, Mark, so that you can really work with this, “Something needs to change and we need to invest significantly in an innovation, a new product, service, offering, or we’re going to be in trouble. And we can’t just keep being all comfy cozy and expect that recurring revenue we’ve thought was great to continue forever if we just continue living in isolation and not creating new cool stuff.”

So, that’s the impact I’m trying to get, is folks can be, like, “Wake up. Take action. We got to do something and stop just living the status quo. There seems to be some foot-dragging and some comfort and risk aversion.” So, that’s a transformation I want. How could I make a story to help me do this, Mark?

Mark Carpenter

Well, there’s a couple of different ways that you can approach that. Number one, look at another organization that didn’t take those steps and has now failed. I could easily tell the story of Blockbuster Video. That’s a very well-known story that shows that they were a, “Nope, we are kingpins. We are cruising. We are just fine. You Netflix people are never going to make it.”

And I would get into some of the details of that. And where’s Blockbuster now? Because they weren’t willing to innovate and they looked at streaming as a “Eh, that’s a fad. That’s never going to going to fly. People want to come to a store and get their DVDs to go home and watch them.” Yeah, I think it’s a classic example of people not innovating.

If you can find one within your organization, if you can find a situation where “We lost this customer because we didn’t have this level of innovation, we didn’t have this direction of going forward.” As you were talking about that, I was even thinking of a very specific example years ago that I faced where there was a company that had just laid off a third of their workplace. And we talked to them about why, and they said, “Because no one’s willing to tell the CEO that he doesn’t have good innovative ideas.”

I was like, “What do you mean? What happens?” He’s “Well, the CEO comes in and says, ‘Hey, I’ve got this great idea. Here’s what I think we should do.’” He presents the idea, and everybody’s thinking, “That’s never going to work, but we really like this guy, so we can’t tell him no, and so we’re going to just try to make it work.”

And it keeps them from innovating on new products, and so their revenue keeps going down, and they ended up just laying off a third of their workplace because they weren’t able to have the tough conversations, basically tell the emperor that he has no clothes, and that the idea is not going to work. They need to expand into new areas. And it ended up putting that company at risk, and they eventually did go out of business. I wasn’t as invested with them when they went out of business so I’m not sure exactly what happened there, but I know that created struggles for them to just keep up with the market.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, so this is really good. And it’s true, you know, as opposed to a fable. So, Mark, help us out in terms of when we think, “Okay, there’s a transformation that we’re going for. We think a story would be cool. We understand the three steps. But, huh, I need some source material.” How do you recommend we do the research, the scouting, the finding of the potential story, subject matter, to start working on?

Mark Carpenter

That’s a great question that I get all the time. And the question that I usually get is, “Well, nothing ever happens in my life. I don’t have any stories that I can tell.” And I usually say, “Well, you’re just not looking for them.” Pay attention. The stories are there. Do some research. Look at other companies. The internet is such a great resource for some of those things. Ask other people.

As we were writing the book, in fact, I included this in the book, a friend of mine shared an experience where he was looking for an illustration of a specific point. And the point that he was trying to make was, “Where has a well-intentioned action backfired on somebody?” And he was looking for examples, looking for examples, couldn’t find anything. Over dinner he mentioned it to his wife and she said, “Oh, I’ve got an example,” and she just had a perfect example for him to share. Ask other people. Open yourself up to those things.

I had an interesting situation where I was in a trainer certification. I was leading this trainer certification, and one of the activities that each participant had to do was to deliver a portion of the content, and include a story to illustrate the point that they were trying to make. This one participant said, “Well, can I just make them up?” And I said, “No, I want this to be a real experience,” and it scared her to death. She was like, “I don’t know where I’m going to come up with a real experience. Usually when I tell stories, I just make them up.” And somebody else in the room said, “I’m not sure how credible that would be.”

So, we talked about looking for your examples. Look for those moments where you have an emotional reaction to something. There’s a lesson embedded in there, and capture those, hold on to them. You may not need it now, but you will in the future. The funny thing is about this one participant in this trainer certification, she came back the next day, told a great story of something that had happened to her the night before on the elevator in the hotel where we were holding this conference.

And because she was looking for it, after that experience happened, she realized, “That’s my story. That illustrates the point that I’m trying to make,” but if she hadn’t been looking for it, she wouldn’t have noticed it. If you’re looking for it, it’s almost like the universe sends you the examples that you need, because these lessons just exist in our day-to-day lives.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s really cool. Think about the strong emotional reactions. And I’m thinking the same way you get ideas for anything is you just sort of like strike it with a stimulus and see what you got. So, I’ve been doing a little bit of journaling and thinking about the timelines and different phases of life, and, “What was I really into when I was 10 versus 16?”

And I think that could maybe spark some things in terms of shaking off the myopia associated with the here and now and the day-to-day of what’s up. And then when you go external, stories about businesses or whatever outside, I was impressed. You know, boy, there’s a lot of talk of AI and ChatGPT and whatever, and I’ve had really mixed results with this stuff in terms of, like, what it’s good at, what it’s not.

But one thing that it’s been very good, I think, is, first I asked for quantity, because I was like, “Give me 10 examples of people who had a transformation in their speaking ability, what they did, and the impact it made.” And it was really cool, it told me stuff like, “Oh, Warren Buffett took a Dale Carnegie course, and he thought it was so transformational that he says it’s the only degree, diploma, certificate, he has hanging in his office was from his Dale Carnegie course.” It’s like, “Okay, this is a little on the nose, ChatGPT. Is this even real?”

And so, I looked it up, and, sure enough, it was. And I was like, “Huh, I had no idea,” and that’s a great one. And even if when AI fails me, which it does more often than not, it just trying, helps spark fresh ideas for me. It’s like, “No, that’s no good, but you reminded me of something. Thank you,” and then it served its purpose.

Mark Carpenter

Exactly. And I’m glad you said that you validated that story before you used it.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, yeah.

Mark Carpenter

Yeah, you use AI as a way to generate ideas, to generate possibilities. The problem is sometimes that’s what AI is doing. They’re generating possibilities. So, they may come back with a story that is a, “Well, this could be true.” So, make sure you, before you use anything that AI generates for you, that you validate that it actually is true, that it actually did happen. I have heard that story about Warren Buffett, so I was thinking that it was true. But sometimes it’ll generate things, examples for you, that could be true.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, exactly.

Mark Carpenter

Not necessarily true.

Pete Mockaitis

It reminds me when people tell me a story about myself in the past that I don’t actually remember, and I say, “I don’t remember that happening, but it does kind of sound like me, and I don’t think you’re lying, so I’ll just assume that that, in fact, is what happened.” But with AI, it could sometimes just totally fabricate things. So, certainly, do your research and confirm it.

Next, I want to get your take on, in the process of preparing our stories, to what extent do we want to write out, record, transcribe, rehearse? Like, what does prep look like? And can you do too much such that it’s unnatural and less effective? How do you think about story prep?

Mark Carpenter

It’s different for different people. Some people love to just write out their story word for word, and then practice it until it’s natural, and it comes in a flow to them. Other people, bullet points are fine. However, for everyone, practice is essential. It is essential to practice it, to get those words out of your mouth, to formulate them in a way that sounds natural, that sounds normal, and that makes the connections that you want to make.

We have great tools to help us with that. You have friends. Practice it in front of friends. Tell the story to somebody else and see how it lands with them. Take out your phone. Turn on that selfie mode and record yourself and listen back to it. You will pick up a lot that way in terms of, “Ooh, that phrase didn’t work like I thought it was going to. That sounded a lot better in my head than it did coming out of my mouth.” So, practice it so that it does become natural.

To your point, yes, you can over-rehearse it to where it sounds like I’m just dictating to you from a piece of paper instead of actually having the emotion that comes with the story. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine was asking me to coach him a little bit on a presentation that he was going to give, and the advice that he was given was, “You need to memorize this word-for-word.”

And it was really interesting listening to him because I know this person well, that I found it unnatural, and there were times where he’d get to a sentence and he’d go “Uh, uh, uh” and you could tell he was searching for the exact word. But if it’s your experience and it’s your story, and you’re comfortable sharing it with that structure, that three-part structure that I talked about, it will come out much more natural than if you’re memorizing the words, and it’s much more relatable that way as well.

Pete Mockaitis

And when it comes to word choice, any pro tips? I don’t know if there’s any favorite words or phrases or things to avoid. I guess I find, I guess, reading words or copy, in general, I find buzzwords really challenging and unpleasant and a turn-off, like, “You’re looking for a way to leverage omni channel support to increase the ROI of dah, dah, dah.” It’s like, “This is not working for me. Maybe it’s written for somebody else who’s like, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I’m looking for!’” But how do you think about words to use and words to lose?

Mark Carpenter

Use the words that are natural for you. That’s the biggest advice that I can give you there. If you’re putting in buzzwords, you’re likely using words that you would not normally use, and that will come across. You’ll lose your authenticity when you do that, so use the words that are natural for you. Now, also be careful about inclusive language. Don’t use words that are going to turn people off.

A friend of mine was giving a presentation to a group of Microsoft employees, and made some comment in the middle of a story about, “So, I Googled it.” That’s not what you want to say to people who work at Microsoft. If instead she had said, “I did an internet search,” and not used the G-word to the Microsoft employees, it wouldn’t have been as bad, but she just got a really negative reaction. People went, “Oh,” just right out loud, and she didn’t realize what she’d done initially until she replayed it and went, “Oh, yeah, that’s not the word I should have used here.”

So that’s the caution that I give around word choice is know who your audience is and what’s going to relate to them, but as much as possible, use your own natural language. That will increase the authenticity. It will increase the connection you get from the people you’re talking to.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, Mark, tell me any final do’s and don’ts you want to share about storytelling?

Mark Carpenter

I think the biggest do, be intentional. Just be intentional about why you’re telling the story. Don’t tell stories just to tell stories. We know they’re fun, and there is a time and a place to just tell stories to tell stories. But when you’re using a story to teach, lead, sell, and inspire, be intentional about what you’re trying to get to. What is the point that you’re trying to make? And the more intentional you can be, the better your stories are going to land, and the more it’s going to create a positive impact for you and the goals that you’re trying to achieve.

Pete Mockaitis

Lovely. All right. Well, Mark, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Mark Carpenter

There is one that I’ve leaned on a lot when times get tough. We always get into rush times. One of my college professors, a great person named Ray Beckham, he gave us this advice as we were graduating. He said, “When you get into rush situations, when you get in emergency situations, remember these words, ‘Hurry, but don’t panic.'” That’s one of my favorite quotes, “Hurry, but don’t panic.”

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Mark Carpenter

This is one that changes over time, too, because I read a lot. And so, it’s usually my favorite most recent book. I love the book that I’ve just read. It’s called How to Listen by Oscar Trimboli.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, Oscar, yeah, on the show.

Mark Carpenter

You had Oscar on your podcast?

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah.

Mark Carpenter

Love Oscar Trimboli, too. I think he’s a great thought leader, and he wrote a marvelous book about how to be more intentional about listening to other people.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Mark Carpenter

This is going to sound almost too light, but I love the Notes app on my phone. I use that to capture those moments when I have an emotional reaction to an experience. I say, “There’s a story there.” I just have a little folder in there that says Stories for Someday, and I just love to just capture that in there with a quick note that someday I’ll come back to when I’m looking for a story, and I’ll find an experience there that I can use.

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite habit?

Mark Carpenter

I think it’s just intentionally being grateful for something every day, and just acknowledging what I’m grateful for, it really helps me to have a better day.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Mark Carpenter

It’s one that I shared a little bit earlier, that storytelling helps move your mission, vision, and values from words on the wall to behaviors in the hall, so that people can see what you mean by those mission, vision, and value statements.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Mark Carpenter

Start with our website Master-Storytelling.com. So, you have to have a little dash between master and storytelling. That’s a great place. We’ve got some free resources there. We’ve got a little document called the Story Catcher that helps you to be more intentional about capturing those events in your life and turning them into stories that will teach, lead, sell, and inspire. So, I’d love to have people come out and get that free resource and connect with me. You can also find me on LinkedIn. Look for Mark Carpenter in Sandy, Utah, and you’ll find me. You’ll see a copy of the Master Storytelling book cover behind me.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Mark Carpenter

Tell your stories. We’ve all got them. And so, be intentional about looking for those experiences that you can turn into stories that teach, lead, sell, and inspire. And look for opportunities to use those to accomplish your goals.

Pete Mockaitis

All right, Mark, this has been tons of fun. I wish you many lovely stories.

Mark Carpenter

Thanks so much. Appreciate the time, Pete.