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960: Surfacing Hidden Wisdom for Huge Breakthroughs: A Masterclass in Asking with Jeff Wetzler

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Jeff Wetzler shows you how to uncover startling wisdom from the people around you through better asking.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The mysteries of the unspoken–and how to tackle them
  2. The five-step ask approach
  3. The trick to posing quality questions

About Jeff

Jeff Wetzler is co-CEO of Transcend, a nationally recognized innovation organization, and an expert in learning and human potential with more than 25 years’ experience. Wetzler combines unique leadership experiences in business and education, as a management consultant to the world’s top corporations, a learning facilitator for leaders around the world, and as Chief Learning Officer at Teach For America. Jeff earned a doctorate in adult learning and leadership from Columbia University and a bachelor’s in psychology from Brown University. Based in New York, he is a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network and is an Edmund Hillary Fellow. 

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Jeff Wetzler Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jeff, welcome.

Jeff Wetzler
Great to be with you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love it if you could open us up with a riveting tale of someone who saw some cool breakthroughs when they upped their asking game.

Jeff Wetzler
Well, I can start with my own self, if that’s good enough, and I think this can be super simple. I’ll share a story with you early in my career when I was just learning some of these methods, where one of the questions that I was encouraged to ask was simply the question to somebody, “What’s your reaction to what I just said?”

And it’s a funny question because so often, I think we can assume that if the other person has a reaction, they’re going to tell us what that reaction is, but that’s often not the case. Often, if someone disagrees or doesn’t land well, they’re not going to tell us, unless they actually believe we want to know. So, I was a new manager. I had a direct report. I had just finished giving him a bunch of input and guidance and direction, and I thought to myself, “You know what? Maybe I should just try this question.”

So, I said, “What’s your reaction to what I just said?” And he said to me, “To be honest, it’s completely deflating. I’m so demotivated by what you just said.” I was floored. I had no idea. I thought I had just helped him out, given him direction, sent him on his way, and little did I know that it had totally landed the wrong way with him. And had I not asked that question, I never would have known.

We were then able to unpack it and realize the problem was I was operating with different information than he was about what our client needed, which was what was leading me to make some of the suggestions that I did. We were then able to talk it all out, get on the same page, and truly we were in a good place. But had I not done that, he would have been a lot less happy, a lot less successful, and we wouldn’t have done as well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. And it’s amazing how much stuff is going on and we just have no idea about.

Jeff Wetzler
And that is basically the premise of the book. That’s the whole premise, is that we are surrounded by people who have all kinds of ideas, thoughts, feelings, perspectives, feedback for us in their heads, and far too often, we don’t get access to it because they don’t tell us. But it is a solvable problem, and that’s what the book is trying to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jeff, let’s start right there in terms of they’ve got this good stuff, they’re not freely volunteering it. Why has it got to be my responsibility to dig it out of them? Shouldn’t they just speak up and say what’s up?

Jeff Wetzler
Well, what I would say is, it is what it is, and so if they’re telling you, if they are speaking up and volunteering it, cool. But if they’re not, then what are you going to do about it? And so, this is a book that’s trying to empower people to say, “If it’s not coming to you, or if you’re not sure it’s coming to you, you’re not the victim of that. You don’t have to be at the effect of someone else’s choices about what to share or not share. You can do something about it. You can invite it out of them. Not just for your own benefit, but for the benefit of both of you.”

Because when you give somebody the chance to tell you something that they’re thinking and feeling and not saying, that’s a gift to them too. You’re enabling them to be more self-expressed. You’re communicating to them that you value them, and you want to hear what they have to say, and usually it brings you closer.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jeff, I’d love it if you could share, if those are skeptical, like, “You know what, I think people around me, they pretty much speak up and tell me what’s on their mind”? Can you disabuse us of that notion? Any startling statistics or studies or stuff?

Jeff Wetzler
I’m happy to share that, yes. I mean, even in doing the research for this book, I came across fascinating research that, in organizations, just to take one study for example, over 85% of people, and this was across many different industries, admitted to remaining silent with their bosses about something that was seriously concerning to them. And three-quarters of those people said that their colleagues were also aware of it, and were not talking about it as well. And so, that’s in the direction of upwards to a boss.

But I’ll just give you another example. There was a fascinating study that was done at Harvard Business School by Nicole Abi-Esber and her colleagues, and they were pretending to go around and do a survey of people, but what they did instead is they put a very, like, blatant smudge on their face. In some cases, it was lipstick, some cases it was chocolate, some cases it was a marker smear, and they just counted up the percentage of the time that people said, “Hey, you got a smudge on your face. You could just wipe that off.” And can you guess what percentage of the time people did or didn’t tell the researchers?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve lived this experience, Jeff, so I’m guessing it’s pretty tiny. Lay it on us.

Jeff Wetzler
Well, 97% of people said nothing. Absolutely nothing. And yet later, 100% of the people said, “Yeah, I noticed that. It looked a little weird.” But 97% of the people said nothing. And I think to myself, if that’s just a smudge on the face that could be wiped off with one little pat, imagine what they’re not saying about the hole in your business plan, or your strategy, or the way that you’re impacting them, or how you’re demotivating them, things that are much higher stakes. So, it’s really all around us.

I’ll just give you one other study, which I thought was fascinating, which is that between 60% and 80% of people, depending on their background and demographics, have admitted that they actually don’t tell their own doctor something important about their health, because they either don’t want to waste the doctor’s time or be judged by the doctor.

And so, think about that. If this is information about our own health that could literally make us well, life or death, and we are not telling our own doctor because we don’t want to waste their time or be judged, imagine all the things that are so much less personally significant that people are not saying. So, those are a couple examples that help me appreciate how widespread this phenomenon that I call the unspoken is.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that. Thank you. And so, that notion right there, “I don’t want to waste their time, and I don’t want to be judged,” so two drivers. Because I was just going to ask, with the smudge or these scenarios, sort of why? What’s behind that? With the smudge, I’m thinking, “Well, I would like to think I’m in the 3%.” But if I wasn’t, if I didn’t speak up, I imagine it’d be because, it’s almost like, if you’re pretty sure, someone’s pregnant, I’m not going to risk it. Like, “Oh, boy, when is a little bundle of joy due?”

It’s like, “I’m not pregnant, I’m just overweight. Thank you for pointing that out.” Versus like a smudge on their face, it’s like, “Oh yeah, you got a little smudge.” Like, “Actually, that’s a birthmark. Thank you very much. It probably made me look weird.” I guess I fear being judged or some sort of negative reprisal.

Jeff Wetzler
That was the top reason, they did not want to embarrass the other person, because they were then asked, “Well, why didn’t you say something?” And they said, “Oh, I didn’t want to embarrass the other person.” And that is, in the research for this book, I identified what are the top barriers that keep people around us from telling us what they really think, feel, and know. The number one barrier is that they’re worried about the impact.

That can be the impact on us, they don’t want to embarrass us. The impact on them, they don’t want to look stupid, they don’t want to embarrass themselves, or the impact on our relationship. They don’t want to create tension in the relationship. So, that is one of the biggest barriers. But there are other barriers as well. Another barrier is they just don’t know how to say it. They don’t have the words to say it, or, mathematically, it doesn’t work.

And what I mean by that is, I discovered a neuroscience study that human brain thinks at about 900 words per minute, but the mouth can only get out about 125 words per minute. That means that less than 15% of what someone’s actually thinking, they’re telling you, if only because the math doesn’t work to get more out of it as well. So, there doesn’t even have to be any motivation to spare you embarrassment or whatever, they just can’t get it all out.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Jeff Wetzler
I was going to say, to me, one of the most significant reasons people don’t tell us things is they just don’t know we care. They’re not sure we’re interested. They don’t know that we actually value what they have to say, and so why bother?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, they don’t know we care. That’s well said. And so then, I’m curious, before we dig into the best practices for the asker, as we, holders of wisdom, that we are keeping silent to ourselves, any mindset shifts or reframes you might suggest for us so we pipe up more often to the benefit of others?

Jeff Wetzler
So, we don’t actually need to force the other person to do the work of asking us? Is that what you’re saying? From my perspective, I would offer, share it. The number of times that I have coached somebody on my team and they’ve said, “I’m really thinking this person needs to get better at X, Y, Z.” And I say to them, “Well, have you told that person?” And they say, “Do you think I should?” And I say, “Yeah, I really think you should.”

It is very common for me, when I coach people in my organization, they will say, “I’ve got this issue with so-and-so,” or, “I’ve got this idea for how so-and-so could do something differently.” And I’ll say to them, “Have you told that person?” And they’d say, “No, I haven’t. Do you think I should?” And I’d say, “Yeah, I think they would really value it.”

And so, a huge percentage of the time, the things that we’re withholding, we overestimate the degree to which that the other person might be fragile, or might not want to hear it, or might not be interested. So, my blanket advice is, consider if you were in the other person’s shoes, would you want them to tell you that if they were thinking that? And quite often you would want them to be thinking about that.

Now the advice has to be nuanced because there are power dynamics, there are dynamics based on other forms of difference, and sometimes the things that we’re thinking we’re right not to say because it’s going to make it worse. And so, the only other advice I would say is, if you think that actually saying the thing to the other person might actually be toxic or make it worse, talk to a friend first. Try it out. Get a little bit of context. Get a little bit of advice from a thought partner.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. All right. Well, before we delve into the depths of asking well, can you share what are the general maybe categories of wisdom or goodies that we’re bound to discover if we get in the practice of asking more often?

Jeff Wetzler
Yes, there are four. The first one is the challenges and struggles that someone else is facing. They are very unlikely to tell us that unless they think we really care and can help them. But imagine if you were a parent and your kid was really struggling with something and not telling you, or if you were a friend and your friend really that you cared about wasn’t doing this, or if you’re a manager.

When I was a leader, my first operating role where I was managing several hundred people in an organization, one of the teams that was under me was going through some major challenges, almost to the point where something like pretty visible and massive and high stakes up was about to blow up. And I had thought I was talking with them and coaching and asking questions all along, but they were just not telling me. And the issue was that they were dealing with challenges and they were coming up against things they didn’t know how to handle. They didn’t feel safe telling me, and so I didn’t find out. So, that’s one thing, we can understand what are the challenges and struggles that someone’s facing.

A second thing is, what do they really think about a topic or an issue or question? Maybe they really disagree with this plan that we’ve got. Maybe they think that there’s a better way forward. Maybe they’ve got some differing opinion. And often we will discover that they haven’t told us, but if we ask in the right ways, we can find out not only what they really think but I think, more importantly, where that comes from, what are the underlying reasons and values and perspectives and life experiences that got them to that view. So, that’s number two.

The third one is their observations and feedback for us. And so, literally, just two days ago, I was having lunch with a colleague, thought we had a great conversation, and I just said at the end of the lunch before we left, I said, “By the way, do you have any observations or feedback for me in my own work with this team, and my own leadership of the team?”

And she said to me, “Well, now that you asked, there is this one person on this team who’s really struggling with you for X, Y, Z reasons. I don’t think it’s your fault, but you need to know you’re having this impact on that person.” Had I not asked that question, I would have walked away from that lunch without any of that insight. Now I can go do something about it.”

And then the fourth thing is their best ideas, their most wild, crazy ideas that could be the thing that is actually the breakthrough for your team, for your relationship, for the innovation that you want to have, but that they often hold back because they might think it’s too crazy to say. So, those are four things that I think, personally, are like a treasure trove of insights and wisdom that’s all around us, waiting to be tapped into if we know how to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that so much. And as you’re sharing this, what comes to mind is when I ask someone, maybe it’s about a product or service feature, quality thing, and I say, “Oh, so is it good at doing this?” And they say, “Well, we haven’t heard any complaints.” That never really sat very well with me. It’s like, “I don’t think you’re telling me much.” And as we have this conversation, like, “Yeah, that means almost nothing.”

Jeff Wetzler
That’s right. Because if people have complaints, and they don’t think you’re interested, they’re not going to be telling you.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And I’m thinking about some podcasts I’ve listened to that are just like brutally packed with ads, and then I look at their reviews, it’s like, “Yeah, surely there’s going to be a lot of people saying these ads are insane,” and then no one has spoken up. And it’s funny, it’s, like, how odd, and yet I’m not speaking up. I’m not taking the time. It’s like, “Dear, podcaster, allow me to pen this email to you.”

Jeff Wetzler
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“Or raise this review,” and I’m just sort of moving on and doing something else.

Jeff Wetzler
It’s also why if you are leading a team, or in any kind of relationship really, and someone does take the risk to tell you those things, that’s a huge gift because it doesn’t often happen, and that’s something to appreciate and reward, too.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. All right. Well, tell us, if we want to surface more of this wisdom, insight, goodness, you’ve got a five-step ask approach, how do we do that?

Jeff Wetzler
The ask approach is a science research-backed, practice-tested set of methods that when we put them together give us the greatest possible chance of really tapping into the wisdom and insights all around us. So, I’ll just run you through each of the five steps real quickly, and stop me if you want me to go deeper.

But number one is what I call choose curiosity, and this is the root of all asking. If we’re not genuinely curious, whatever questions we put out there are going to come across as inauthentic. But if we are curious, it really sends a message to the other person that creates a desire and motivation for them to share.

And I look at curiosity, not so much as a trait that someone has or doesn’t have, or a state of mind that we’re in, but as a choice that we can make, a decision that is always available to us to be asking ourselves one question when we’re interacting with someone. And that question is simply, “What can I learn from this person?”

If we put that question at the center of our minds, we’re far more likely to enter in a curious space. And I’m talking not about the kind of curiosity that’s like, “I’m curious about the history of Russia,” or “I’m curious about how trees grow.” It’s what I call connective curiosity. It’s curiosity about the thoughts and feelings and experiences of somebody else, and it’s the kind of curiosity that connects us to them. So, that’s number one, choose curiosity.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I’m curious, if we’re not feeling that, but we’d like to, how can we get to conjure more of that up?

Jeff Wetzler
So, in this chapter of the book, I talk about a couple things. One is to become aware of how it is that we construct our view of any situation, which I call our story about the situation, in a way that’s so certain. And the way it typically works is that we will walk into any situation, and there’s, of course, thousands of things that we could pay attention to, what this person said or didn’t say, or what they’re wearing, or the temperature of the room, or any number of things, and we can only select just but a tiny slice of that, otherwise we would go crazy.

The problem is we do this in microseconds and we forget all the things that we’re not selecting, and we just think the thing that we’re selecting is the is the thing, is the totality of the reality, and then we zip up, what in the book, I talk about as our ladder of understanding, all the way to reaching a conclusion, which basically, quite often, reinforces the assumptions that we brought in the situation with in the first place that caused to select what we did, and so, we get stuck in this thing called a certainty loop.

And so, if we want to break out of that, what we need to do is inject some question marks into the story that we’re telling. The first question mark we can inject is, “What information was I paying attention to? And what information might I have been overlooking?” All of a sudden, it’s like, “Huh. Oh, you know what, maybe there was more to it that I wasn’t zeroing in on. Maybe something else was going on. Maybe the other person was up against something that I didn’t realize. Maybe I was contributing in some kind of way.”

And then the next question we can ask ourselves is, “What might be a different story that somebody else could tell, about this information, than I would tell?” Now, sometimes we need to, in fact, enlist other people, find a friend, and say, “Hey, this is how I looked at it. How would you look at this situation?” because curiosity is a team sport. It’s much easier when we can get other people to help provoke that kind of curiosity.

So, we can start to find how we construct that story, and then once we understand how our mind works, we can begin to put question marks in different parts of that story.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, I think that’s beautiful, because if we just know that we know, and of course, that’s how it is, and we’re certain, then there’s not much at stake within that curiosity, there’s not much motivation or need for it. And yet, I think it’s also fair to say that, boy, we humans are astoundingly overconfident in so many domains, it’s just I’m flabbergasted by it in terms of human nature, that’s one of the most intriguing. I’m sure I’m the same way. I’m not above it.

But when I hear people say things with such conviction and certainty about the future, I was like, “Wow, have you ever been wrong before? Tried to plan that didn’t work? Experienced the emotion of surprise? Well, then I’m surprised that you are so vastly certain that this future will play out precisely as you have said.”

Jeff Wetzler
Exactly. Exactly. And in the chapter, I also talk about things that zap all of our curiosity. I call them curiosity killers, one of which is being emotionally triggered. And so, I know for myself, when I get upset, when I get threatened, when I get stressed out, when I get pissed off at somebody, my curiosity just dies.

And so, I offer some strategies to say, “How might we flip that?” And instead of having our curiosity killed, could we use our emotions as cues to say, “This is the moment when I most need to be curious, when I’m actually feeling furious”? Just like the same way we would put a rubber band on the door to say, “Oh, yeah, this is going to remind me to do the dishes. I’m noticing that I’m feeling really righteous right now, really certain right now. All right, there’s something I’m not seeing. I got to get curious right now.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, what’s our next step?

Jeff Wetzler
So, the next step is called make it safe. And this is a recognition that even if I am dying to know what you really think and know, if I’m super curious, if you don’t feel safe to tell me your truth, especially if it’s a hard truth, it doesn’t matter how curious I am. This is building off of the research by Professor Amy Edmondson on psychological safety, and it is really about lowering the barriers that other people feel.

And this is particularly important, by the way, if we’re operating across lines of difference, especially power differences. CEOs are notorious for being insulated from the truth, but that’s really the case for any leader where there’s any hierarchical situation. But other kinds of identity differences as well: race, class, gender, ability, etc. those can all contribute to a less safe situation. And so, making it safe involves a few things. One is choosing how and when we connect, creating connection with the other person.

And so, for the book, I actually interviewed some iconic CEOs and asked them, “How did you get away from being insulated from the truth? How did you get people to actually be honest with you?” And one of the patterns that emerged is they were very intentional about where and when and how they engage with people.

So, Bill George from Medtronic said, “I would never invite someone to my office and make them sit across the big CEO desk from me, and assume they’re going to feel safe to tell me their truth. If I really want to know the truth, we’re going to take a walk. I’m going to sit on the couch. We’re going to sit across from each other on a couch, or I’m going to go to their turf. I’m going to go on a ride along with them on a sales call, etc.” And so, they were really intentional.

And I think the same is true in our own lives. If I want to learn from my teenage daughter what’s really going on for her in school, and I say to her, when she gets home from school, “How was your day? What happened? What did you learn?” I get absolutely nothing. But if I follow her lead about where we should be connecting, we’re going to do it at 11:00 p.m. when she’s done with her homework, done talking with her friends, decompressed from the day, and it all comes out, and she doesn’t want to stop talking. And so, part of that is like the where and how of connecting.

Another part of it is if we want someone to open up with us, we’ve got to open up first, and that opening up could be, “I’m opening up about what I don’ t know and why I’m asking the question so you don’t have to guess at my agenda,” or, “I’m opening up about something that might feel vulnerable to me as well, so that I can show you that we can both do that.”

And then another part is what I call radiating resilience. And this is so important because it’s demonstrating to the other person, “I can handle your truth. If you tell me something, I’m not going to crumble. I’m not so fragile. And also, I’m not going to punish you or hold you responsible for my own reactions.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how does one radiate resilience?

Jeff Wetzler
It could be as simple as saying to somebody something like, “Hey, listen, if I were in your shoes, I might feel really frustrated at this moment, given what happened. What’s going on for you? Is that what you’re feeling?” That’s one way to do it. So, you’re basically normalizing it. And so, if they can then say, “Yeah, I am feeling kind of frustrated,” I’m showing them that that’s not going to bother me if they say that.

I had an investor in my current organization, Transcend, say to me, “Look, I’ve made the investment. I just want you to know, my expectation is that things are not going to go the way that you pitched them to me when I made the investment, because no one can predict the future. If you could predict the future, you’d be rich right now, and you’d be betting on horses and winning the lottery. And so, I’m actually interested in how are things going that are different than what you pitched and expected. And if you tell me everything’s on track, I’m going to be suspicious.” And all of a sudden, she said to me, she can handle any bad news that I might throw her away.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s nice. That’s nice. Or, imagine if people are telling stories of, “I heard this surprising, unpleasant feedback, and it was so usefully transformational for me.”

Jeff Wetzler
Totally, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Oh, I appreciate this thing.”

Jeff Wetzler
And leaders can do that publicly, too, and they can invite that hard feedback publicly, and they can just acknowledge or reflect on it publicly, too.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And I guess, also, there’s some body language signals in terms of if there’s scowling or nodding or shaking your head. It’s like, “Oh, it looks like you really hate hearing this. Maybe I’ll stop talking now.”

Jeff Wetzler
Yes. One of the people I interviewed for the book was a clinical psychologist who said that one of the top things that stop adolescents from telling their parents the truth is if their parents flip out and have strong reactions. And so, you shouldn’t necessarily be stone-faced, but monitor your reactions, because whether on the positive or the negative side, if you get really overreactive, it makes the other person feel like then they have to take care of you as opposed to continue to express what they have to say. And the same is true in business settings as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And let’s hear the next step, pose quality questions.

Jeff Wetzler
So, the next step is really, what are the questions that we’re posing? And I distinguish between quality questions and crummy questions, because there’s a lot of questions out there that we ask that are not quality questions. They could be questions that I call sneaky questions, where you’re actually trying to get the other person to the answer that you want to get them to and manipulate them. They could be, like, attack questions like, “What the hell were you thinking?” So, there’s a whole bunch of questions that are not quality questions.

The definition of a quality question is simply a question that helps us learn something important from somebody else. And just the same way that a surgeon has all kinds of very precise scalpels and other tools to get at what they’re trying to get at, questions are the same exact way. We can use different kinds of questions depending on what we’re trying to learn from someone.

So, like what I shared at the very beginning of this conversation, when I said to that coworker of mine, “What are your reactions to what I had to say?” That’s a particular question strategy that I call requesting reactions that we can use to understand what we had to say land with someone and what we’d be missing. But there’s other categories of quality questions, for example, one that I call “invite ideas,” which is simply to say, “Hey, I got a dilemma. How might you think about this? What ideas do you have for how we could do something differently?” That’s another category of quality questions.

And then I would say another category is, this is one actually that I think is so underutilized but so powerful. I call it clear up confusion, which is just simply to say, “Hey, when you talk about expanding into new markets, what do you mean when you say expanding into new markets? When you talk about, ‘We got to get better at X,’ what does X mean to you?”

Because so often we’re using the same words but meaning different things and just pausing and saying, “Hey, what do we each mean by this?” can unlock so much insight.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you, those are great questions. Could you also demo some of the crummy questions that are asked all too often?

Jeff Wetzler
Well, so one category of crummy questions is clumsy questions. And clumsy questions could be, for example, when someone says, “I think we ought to go in this direction, right?” I’m just adding “right.” It’s kind of like, well, it makes it very hard for someone to say “wrong,” or, “Am I right?” or that kind of thing.

Or, sometimes it’s clumsy just to layer three or four questions on top of one another, and then the other person is like, “Well, which one am I supposed to be responding to?” Or if they say yes, you don’t know which one they’re actually responding to. So, sometimes questions can be well-intentioned but just super clumsy as well.

And then there’s questions that are more like leading-the-witness kinds of questions, questions that a lawyer might put on, say, to somebody on a stand, where they’re trying to get them to admit, like, “Don’t you think you could’ve done it a little differently better this way?” Or, even like, “Have you considered seeing a therapist about that?” Where it’s like, “We got an opinion behind that question.” Those are all categories of kind of crummy questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, saying “right” after a statement is, ooh, that’s a tricky one. I don’t even know if I’m supposed to say anything at all. That’s how it feels on the receiving end.

Jeff Wetzler
Totally. Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, “Is this just your vocal pause instead of ‘um,’ ‘like,’ ‘you know,’ you’re saying ‘right’”? One time I heard someone say, this is kind of insensitive, but I thought it kind of rang true to me. It’s like when someone says, makes a big statement, followed by “right,” what they’re really saying is, “Can I move on now, or do I have to slow down for you dummies?” “Okay, yeah, that’s how it feels.”

Jeff Wetzler
It can have all kinds of impacts like that. And I think the sad thing is that sometimes it’s also coming from a good place where they’re actually trying to check, “Does that resonate? Do you agree with me? Are we on the same page? Am I making any sense?” But it’s clumsy by just saying right, because it has all those unintended impacts.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, next up, step four, listen and learn.

Jeff Wetzler
So, once we ask the question, it all comes down to how well we listen to what people actually have to say to us, and most of us think that we are far better listeners than we actually are. And there’s a difference between trying to listen and actually hearing what someone’s saying or what they’re not saying.

For the book, I interviewed professional listeners, including world-class journalists. I remember one journalist, Jenny Anderson, saying to me that whenever she can, she will audio record her interviews with the people that she’s reporting on. And then when it’s over, she’ll go back and listen to it two, three, four times. And every time she listens to it, she’s astounded that she hadn’t heard that important thing in the previous time, or in the time that she was live.

And I think to myself, if a professional journalist doesn’t hear it the first time or the second time or even the third time, imagine how the rest of us mere mortals, who are not recording most of our conversations, how much we’re missing as well. And so, listening to learn, part of it is expanding the channels that we’re listening through. Many of us, myself included, tend to focus in on one channel of information, which is the content that someone’s saying, the facts, the data, the claims that they’re making.

But there’s two other really important channels to be listening through. The second one is the emotion. So, what are the feelings that someone is displaying or expressing in the conversation? And the third is action. What actions are they taking in the conversation? Are they repeating themselves? Are they constantly pushing back? Are they just going along with what we have to say? Those are all different examples of actions.

And so, just the same way that we can appreciate in so much greater richness a piece of music by being able to listen for the percussion and the vocals and the harmony and some other instrument, we can train our ears to also listen for content and for emotion and action, and then put them together and ask ourselves, “Are they consonant? Is there tension between those different things?” and really take in a much richer range of information.

One way to do that, and one thing I write about in the book to keep in mind for listening, is that often the first answer that someone gives to our question is not the most important thing they have to say about that question. Psychologists, clinical psychologists, have a term for this that they call the doorknob moment, where they’ve just been through a whole session with somebody of therapy, they’re at minute 49 out of 50, the person is about to get up, starts to put their hand on the doorknob to leave, and that’s when they actually say, “I’m thinking about leaving my wife,” or, “The government is investigating me,” or whatever.

And that would have been the most important thing to talk about during the whole session, but it only comes out at the last minute. And I think the same is true in many of our conversations. People can be thinking to themselves, working up the courage, “Do I have the courage to actually say this?” or, “How are they going to react?” or, even just trying to put the words together. And yet, if we ask a question, someone gives the answer, we think we know what they really think and we move on in the conversation, or we just react to it, quite often we are not actually getting it.

And so, an important way to overcome that when listening to someone, one thing is just to wait because more might come out. But a second is to just say, “Say more about that. Is there more? Anything else you have to say?” Sometimes in my own work conversations, if I’m brainstorming with someone, or asking them for thoughts or ideas, I’ll say, “Cool. Thank you. And what else?” And sometimes I’ll say, “I’m just going to keep saying to you ‘what else’ until you tell me that’s it, because each time I say what else you come up with an even better idea.”

And then, of course, you have to respect it when you’re done. But those are a couple of ways to really listen for what’s at the essence of what someone has to say.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Great. And step five, reflect and reconnect?

Jeff Wetzler
Step five is my favorite because I am a nerd and junkie about learning. And step five is all about “How do we take everything we just heard and squeeze the learning out of it, convert conversation into actual insight?” And I talk about a method that I call sift and turn. So, the first part is sifting it, asking ourselves, “Of all the things I just heard, or maybe wrote down in my notes, what’s valuable? And what can I let go of?” because it’s not all equally valuable.

And so, sifting it is, first, just kind of getting down to “What are the nuggets?” And sometimes it’s helpful to sift it with the help of other people because we may bring our own biases or assumptions about what we filter in and filter out. So, we can ask other people who are in the conversation, “What did you think was most important there?” Or, we can show our notes to some friends, etc.

But then once we’ve sifted it and we know what the goal is, then it’s about turning it. And turning it, I talk about three reflective turns. The first reflective turn is to say, “From what I heard, how did that affect or challenge or confirm the story I have about this person and about the situation?” So, I call it story-level reflection. And then we can say, “Now, based on that, what steps can I take in this situation? Maybe I need to course-correct. Maybe I need to apologize. Maybe I need to double down on my direction,” whatever it may be, but really thinking through what are the steps.

And the third turn I call stuff-level reflection, and this is to say, “Is there some insight I had here, or something they said that might help me get new perspective on my own deeper assumptions or values or ways of being, something that’s deeper in the stuff that I have?” And so, we can walk through these three turns, and I think a lot of people think about reflection as some esoteric thing. But this is a very kind of simple and concrete and practical way to take a conversation and really get the most out of it.

But we can’t stop with just the reflection. It’s important to reconnect to the other person. That’s why I call it reflect and reconnect. And the reconnecting is simply to go back to someone, and say, “Here’s what I learned from our conversation, and here’s what I’m going to do about it.” Because oftentimes, people are thinking, “I don’t want to waste my time. Did I waste my time? Are they going to actually do anything with that? Did I waste my breath?”

When we go back and we say, “Here’s what I got from what you said, and here’s what I’m going to do about it,” we not only let someone know we value them, they didn’t waste their time. We also give them the chance to modify what we took away because maybe we took away the wrong lesson. But I think we vastly increase the chances that, in the future, they’re going to want to share more because they know it’s a good use of their time.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Thank you. And I’m curious, if folks are jazzed, they’re going down this route of asking, asking away, and they find, “Huh, I’m not getting much when I ask,” in terms of it’s like, “Fine. Nothing much. Sounds good,” what do you recommend we do? I guess you’ve already pinpointed any number of the potential barriers or gaps that could be explaining things, but if we’re the asker and we find we’re not getting much on the other side, how would you recommend we approach diagnosing and addressing that?

Jeff Wetzler
I would go back to the make-it-safe step first, and I’d be asking myself, “To what extent does the person truly feel safe to share?” And I’d be asking, “Have I really created a connection of trust with that person? And are we doing this at a time and place where they really feel safe?” But then the second thing I talked about was opening up.

Part of opening up can be even being honest and saying, “I would have guessed that there might be more that you had to say on this. You might have more thoughts on this. And I’m wondering, is there anything more that you have to say about this? I’m also wondering, is there anything about how we’re having this conversation or what that I’m doing that might be making it harder for you to share if you do have it as well, and naming that and inquiring?”

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

Jeff Wetzler
I think I would just summarize by saying, this problem of the unspoken is pervasive, it’s painful, but it is not inevitable. We can truly do something about it.

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

Jeff Wetzler
Yes, one of my favorite quotes comes from…do you know Bill Nye the Science Guy?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jeff Wetzler
So, Bill Nye says, “Everybody you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” And to me, that really sums up a lot of what this book is about, which is that I want to understand what is that thing that somebody else knows that I don’t. And it’s a reminder to myself, there is something I can learn from everybody.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Jeff Wetzler
There is a mentor of mine named Diana Smith, who just actually, two days ago, released a book called Remaking the Space Between Us. And it talks about a lot of the application of many of the similar ideas to what’s in this book, but applying it to our democracy and our society. And it talks about how we have grown distant from one another, and how we’re complicit in that, and how we can reconnect with one another, Remaking the Space Between Us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite tool?

Jeff Wetzler
I, actually, about nine months ago, started using, this may sound a little dorky, but I started using a to-do list program called Things. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it or not. But when writing and launching a book, it is amazing how many moving pieces there are, and how many work streams there are, and this tool called Things, literally, helps me get my head around every bit of it, but then I can also only have things show up that I need to do on the day I need to think about it, and the rest of it can be in the background. I don’t even have to think about it. And that has, I think, been a lifesaver for me.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Jeff Wetzler
One of my favorite habits, you saw my dog make a cameo appearance earlier in this podcast, I spend probably three to five minutes every morning when I get up, my dog is usually up before I am, and she just jumps all over me, and I lie down on the couch and I just let her sort of like stand on top of me as if she is, like, one dominated our relationship, and I just get to pet her and play with her, and it’s a kind of a center of attention for our whole family. And so, I guess that counts as a habit and I enjoy it every morning.

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

Jeff Wetzler
Well, this is one that I learned from Kim Scott, who wrote Radical Candor, but I have found that it resonates and people often repeat it back, which is, “When you’re furious, get curious.” That’s the time when we most need to get curious, and I think the rhyming just helps it stick a little bit more.

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

Jeff Wetzler
www.AskApproach.com is the website. I’m also on LinkedIn, Jeff Wetzler. There’s an Ask Diagnostic on the website, or you can get to it at Assessment.AskApproach.com, and that really helps you understand how well do you learn from people around you, and which parts of the Ask Approach are you strong at, and which ones do you need to get better at. And then we’re on Instagram at Ask Approach.

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

Jeff Wetzler
My call to action would be to approach every single person with the question in your mind, “What can I learn from this person?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Jeff, this was fun. I wish you much access to hidden wisdom.

Jeff Wetzler
Thank you. I wish the same for you and for all your listeners.

959: Daniel Goleman on How to Master Your Attention, Stop Negativity, and Work Optimally

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Famed emotional intelligence researcher Daniel Goleman shares tools for more productive and fulfilling work days.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The five-minute technique for mastering your attention
  2. The technique Special Forces use to stay cool and calm 
  3. How to quiet the negative voice inside your head 

About Daniel

Psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman has transformed the way the world educates children, relates to family and friends, leads, and conducts business. A frequent speaker on campuses and to businesses of all kinds and sizes, he has worked with organizations around the globe, examining the way social and emotional competencies impact the bottom-line.  

Ranked one of the 10 most influential business thinkers by the Wall Street Journal, Goleman’s articles in the Harvard Business Review are among the most frequently requested reprints. He has won many awards, including the HBR McKinsey Award for best article of the year. Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences awarded him its Centennial Medallion. Apart from his writing on emotional intelligence, Goleman has written books on topics including self-deception, creativity, transparency, meditation, social and emotional learning, eco-literacy and the ecological crisis.  

His latest book, Optimal, shows why emotional intelligence can help each of us have rewarding and productive days. Daniel Goleman’s online Emotional Intelligence Program found at danielgolemanemotionalintelligence.com, offers anyone a deep understanding of the competencies of self-awareness, self-management, empathy and social skill.  

Resources Mentioned

Daniel Goleman Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Dan, welcome.

Daniel Goleman

Thank you, Pete. Pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about some insights from your book, “Optimal: How to Sustain Personal and Organizational Excellence Every Day” but first I think, when people hear and see your name, they think, “Oh! Emotional intelligence!” So, you’ve been pursuing this stuff for, well, how long has it been?

Daniel Goleman

The first book was in ’95.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, there you go.

Daniel Goleman

When you were probably in nursery school, I would guess. I don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis

I was 12 years old.

Daniel Goleman

Twelve years old, there you go. So, I’ve been doing it a long time and it’s really interesting. The research has gotten better, that’s why I did this book. And when I did the first book, it was really kind of hypothetical, anecdotal. Now I wrote “Optimal” with Cary Cherniss, who was my fellow co-director of a consortium for research on emotional intelligence, and we’re just basically harvesting lots of research.

But in terms of how to be awesome at work, I think the most interesting research comes out of Harvard Business School. It’s what we start the book with. It’s a profile of a good day, and it comes from a study where they had hundreds of men and women keep a journal about what it was like today at work and what happened and how they felt. And from that there’s a kind of composite of a perfect day at work and it goes like this.

You’re very engrossed and engaged in what you’re doing. You’re totally focused. You’re not distracted. You like what you’re doing. You feel good. You’re in upstate, and you feel very connected with the people you’re working with. That turns out to be a high productivity state. And leadership is the art of getting work done well through other people. So, when you’re in that state, you’re helping your boss, and your boss knows it, but you’re also being at your best.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, yeah, that sounds like a fantastic place to be. So, tell us, how often do we tend to get there as professionals? Like what proportion of our days fall into this good-day zone?

Daniel Goleman

That’s a question that we don’t have an empirical answer for, but I would say it also varies a huge amount from person to person. And the lovely thing about this particular zone of high productivity is it’s different from the famous flow state. The flow state is that one time you were absolutely at your best, you know, you can’t believe how well you did. The problem with flow is that it just happens to you. You can’t make it happen. You can’t produce it.

The optimal state, on the contrary, is on the same spectrum, a little lower than flow I would say, but your attention is very important. And, in fact, attention is a way to get into that optimal state. Paying full attention to what you’re doing now or what’s most important to you right now as a doorway into the optimal state.

And the nice thing about attention is it’s a muscle. It’s a muscle of the mind. It’s like, you know, when you go to the gym and you lift weights, every rep makes that muscle that much stronger. It’s the same thing with the brain circuitry for attention. If you do an attention training or attention development exercise, you get better and better at it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Cool. Well, so I’d love to hear, could you tell us perhaps a story of someone who wasn’t having such a good proportion of these optimal days, and they were able to do some cool brain training in order to turn that around, and what happened for them?

Daniel Goleman

Well, the brain training I’ll share with your listeners, it’s very simple. Sometimes it’s called mindfulness of the breath. It’s just if you take any meditation method and you strip away the belief system from a cognitive science point of view, they’re all developing attention. They’re all helping you ignore distraction, which today is worse than ever for people. We all have these little phones with us that carry the things that interests us the most, which are our biggest distractions.

So, by bringing your attention to your breath, the in-breath and the out-breath, and then the next breath, the in-breath and the out-breath, doing that systematically as a training, the same way you go to a gym, for example. It turns out that the research shows that this makes people better and better at bringing their focus to what they need to do right now, and that is how that state blossoms, the optimal state.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that’s lovely. Could you share with us any particular studies or quantification of just how much better we get at that and how much of a dose I need to do of this sort of a practice in order to reach those benefits?

Daniel Goleman

Well, I did another book called “Altered Traits” which reviewed all of the hard science about all this, and it shows there’s basically a dose-response relationship that is the more you do it, the better you get, the better the benefits. I would recommend people who’ve never done this starting with just five minutes a day and then building up from there. The longer you do it the better it is, and that means that the stronger the circuitry for paying attention gets.

There was a study done at Harvard that shows people are distracted about 50% of the time, generally, in life. More so at work, it turns out. And so, if you want to be in a better state, if you want to be at your best at work, this is the kind of thing that will help you do that because it helps you ignore distractions.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And with regard to this dose-response curve, I’m wondering, is there a point of diminishing returns, like after you’re doing six hours, it’s not doing much more for you than when you’re doing five hours? Where would we put that?

Daniel Goleman

Well, frankly, very few people are going to do it five or six hours. You’d rather be like a monk or a nun or something to do it that much. But if you do it over years, if you do it maybe a half hour a day every day for a long time, you start to see, we’ve seen in our research, many more benefits from this.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And can you tell us about the particulars for how that’s done excellently? So, if we’re, for example, I’ve heard it said that it is ideal to have a posture that is alert yet relaxed, like you’re not lying down, and if you’re sitting, you’re not hunched over and you’re not standing at an attention, can you talk to us a little bit about the nuances or the particulars that make a practice optimal?

Daniel Goleman

Definitely. Well, first of all, before you get to your posture, let’s get to where you’re going to do this and when. You’ve got to find a time in your day when you can be someplace where no one’s going to disturb you. You don’t have to answer the phone, kids aren’t going to come in, or the dog is not going to jump on your lap, whatever it is, and you need a space you can control or can be controlled for you.

And then the basic instruction, as you said, is just to sit up straight. Not tense, relaxed, with your spine straight. You can do it in a chair easily, and then bring your attention to your breath, the in-breath and the out-breath, and then the next breath, the in-breath and the out-breath. Then your mind is going to wander at some point, and when you notice it wandered, you bring it back to the next breath. That’s the critical moment. That’s the strengthener because that’s a moment of mindfulness. It’s when you bring your mind back from distraction to the point of focus, where you get the payoff from this.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And if I can maybe vocalize a concern or response, “But, Dan, that sounds so boring!”

Daniel Goleman

People actually often say the opposite.

Pete Mockaitis

Pray tell.

Daniel Goleman

They say, “My mind is…I can’t control my mind.” Rather than nothing happening, too much is happening. And the answer is good for you. That means you’re finally paying attention to how your mind actually is.

That’s a normal beginning response. You start to see how active your mind actually is. Usually, we don’t notice it. We get carried away. We pay attention to this and to that and to this and that. We go wherever our mind does, but then you realize you don’t have to do that. You can start to control your mind. So, that’s a normal response. People rarely say they’re bored.

Here’s what you need to understand, Pete. The body is designed to have a fight or flight response, technically sympathetic nervous system arousal, to an emergency, to stress. The problem for so many of us at work is that it’s unremitting. It’s relentless. You’re stressed all the time. You never have a chance to do what the body needs, which is a recovery period. It’s called parasympathetic arousal, and it’s the downtime when the body rests and recovers. And if you never get that, you’re going to become emotionally exhausted that leads to burnout.

The antidote is something I really urge people to do, which is to schedule something that’s recovery for you, that’s relaxing, you know, playing with a pet or a kid, or being with a loved one, or meditation, yoga, walk in nature, whatever does it for you, but schedule it every day because it seems like it’s irrelevant. Like you were saying, “Well, isn’t this going to sound boring to people?” No, this is important. This is your time to yourself to help yourself be ready for the next period of stress, which is so-called work.

Pete Mockaitis

And, Dan, tell me, if some say, “You know, the way I really like to unwind is by watching movies or playing video games or being on social media,” does that count, Dan? Or, what do you think about that?

Daniel Goleman

Well, I would say that those are other forms of distraction. Sorry, I don’t think they count as recovery. Recovery is a time when you don’t think about those things you otherwise ruminate about and worry about. So, it needs to be something where you break the flow, maybe it’s a video game for you, but if you get really, like, into the game and I’m very excited by the game, it’s not recovery. Sorry. It’s what we call eustress. It’s a form of stress. It might be enjoyable, but still, it’s not that total rest and relaxation and recovery. That’s what you need.

Pete Mockaitis

I think that’s well said, because I guess, whether it’s a movie or a game or whatever, some of them are intense, like, “I’m shooting down 99 other people,” and others are more chill, like, “Okay, we’re making some lines in Tetris. All right. Here we go, doo-doo-doo-doo, in the groove.”

Daniel Goleman

But if you were to be measuring the physiology, your physiology, while you do that, it’s just as bad when you’re stressed.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. So, here we go, we got one key principle, is that great days consist of doing stuff with uninterrupted focused attention on a thing, and one way we can get better at that is by doing a mindfulness practice and making sure that we have some restorative breaks built into our world. Tell us, what are some of the other master keys to being optimal?

Daniel Goleman

One of them goes back to Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer.” You know that prayer that’s used in AA?

Pete Mockaitis

That’s right, yeah.

Daniel Goleman

“Give me the wisdom to know the difference between the things I can change and the things I can’t.” And implicit in that is the ability to adjust to things we can’t. So, think about your boss at work, some people are lucky and they have a great boss and some people aren’t so lucky. I’ve gone around the world asking different business groups, “Tell me about a boss you hated and a boss you loved, and a quality that made that boss so awful or so good.”

And the bad boss is invariably kind of an emotional Neanderthal, and the good boss is, frankly, emotionally intelligent. It’s someone who’s available, who’s empathetic, who’s supportive, who gives you clear direction, things like that. So, if you have a bad boss, day in and day out, or bad working circumstance, the question is, “What can you do in that situation that you can’t change, you have to live with, to make it more manageable for you?” And what I would say is manage your internal state.

I once had a boss that I hated and I became kind of avid meditator in the morning, so that when I went to work, I’d be at my best. So I could stand him, basically, and do my best work. And I would say that managing your internal state is something you have control over. I don’t know if you, Pete, you’re familiar with the book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.

It’s a great book, and Frankl survived four years in Nazi concentration camps. And he said the way he did it was by managing his internal reaction to what was going on, and that’s what saved him. And I think it’s very profound because it implies any of us can have more control over our inner world. And it’s our inner world, bottom line, that makes the difference for how we feel at the end of the day.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, I love that. So, let’s talk about some of the practices by which we can manage our inner world and our emotional states. So, you have a scenario for there’s a bad boss, someone you dread interacting with, seeing, experiencing, and one approach is doing some mindfulness meditation practice in preparation for that. What are some of the other super effective tools you suggest we can use for managing our own internal emotional states?

Daniel Goleman

So, the mindfulness, the breath, the attention training that I mentioned, the payoff from that is gradual. It’s not like you’re going to do that at work. You’re going to do it every day or a few days a week, and the benefits come slowly. I would say if you know you’re going into a stressful encounter, you’re going to be with that person you can’t stand, for example, whoever that is, there’s something that’s used by Special Forces that I recommend. It’s a controlled breathing method. It’s called box breath, and it has a very powerful effect on your physiology.

The box breath is sometimes called four by four by four. You breathe in deeply so your belly expands. You hold your breath for as long as it’s comfortable, and then you exhale for as long as it’s comfortable. And if you do that, six to nine times, it actually changes your physiology, your body state, from being tensed, fight or flight, sympathetic nervous arousal, to that recovery mode, to parasympathetic.

It lowers heart rate. It lowers blood pressure, and it does it on the spot. And you can you can do it at work, it’s not that obvious what you’re doing. And it’s used by Special Forces, for example, before they’re going to go into a big whatever that they know they’ve got to prepare for. And I say why not use it at work?

Pete Mockaitis

Yes. Now, Dan, I’m loving this. So, I’ve heard of box breathing, and I’ve done it, and you’ve got some nuances there that I just delight in there. So, now I had heard it suggested that you do, it’s a box, like your inhale time, your hold while inhaled, your exhale time, and your hold while exhaled are the same. So, it’s like you could draw a box with four completely equal sides. And so, I had heard like, “Oh, do for, like, four seconds.” And so, you’re saying, “Ah, instead of doing four seconds, do it as long as you comfortably can on each of the four steps of the way.”

Daniel Goleman

Yeah, and it might be six seconds for someone. Who knows? I don’t think counting the seconds is the point. I think tuning into what’s comfortable for you is more to the point, and if you can hold it longer than the count of four, do it. If you can hold your breath for longer than that, if you can exhale for longer than that. In other words, find what works for you in this.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And also, you said six to nine times. I love the specificity. And so, that has been shown in the research to get the job done, that that amount of breathing will have a noticeable difference, just six to nine of those loops?

Daniel Goleman

That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. So, like three-ish minutes and you’ve got a transformation. That’s what I’m talking about, Dan. Thank you. All right. Well, hey, lay it on us. What else we got? We got the mindfulness meditation. We’ve got the box breathing. What are some of your other faves for the emotional state management?

Daniel Goleman

If you’d like a third approach, one thing that some people find very useful is monitoring that voice inside our head that gets us out of bed in the morning, it has us propelled through our day, and then puts us to sleep at night. That’s self-talk, it’s called, technically. And monitoring self-talk, you may find, for example, that you’re being too critical of yourself, many people are. You may fixate on the things you did wrong and not encourage the things or celebrate the things that you do well. That is a way that we make things even more stressful for ourselves.

And so, there’s a wonderful book called “Learned Optimism” by a guy named Martin Seligman, a psychologist at Penn. And what he says is that you can talk back. You don’t have to believe your thoughts. And you can, if you find that you’re being overly critical, that you ruminate about the things you got wrong, he’d say, “You know, remember the things that you do right, the things that you do well.” In other words, look at your strengths, not just at your weaknesses.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. So, monitoring the self-talk, I hear you there in terms of our self-talk may be like, “Oh, you always screw this up. You’re such a loser. This is rubbish. Oh, this is not going to work out. It never works out. This is too stressful. Why do I… How did I commit to this? How did I get myself into this?” Okay, so we got that groove. Not so encouraging. So, when it comes to the monitoring, I mean, I can maybe notice, “Oh, I got some negative self-talk going on here.” When it comes to monitoring, what is the practice or protocol or approach?

Daniel Goleman

In cognitive therapy, which uses this approach, they often will tell someone, “Notice what you keep telling yourself.” Very often, the critiques are repetitive. It’s like the same thing in various forms over and over and over again. And prepare yourself, rehearse something you could say back to those thoughts. Like, “I screwed that thing up at work, and that proves to me because of my negative self-talk that I’m an idiot.”

But what could you say to yourself when you notice you’re doing that negativity thing? You could say, “Actually, you know, usually I don’t mess up. Usually, I do pretty well. And I remember this time and that time and that time that I actually did just fine.” And so, you purposely bring that to mind to counteract the negative thoughts.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So, we’ve got some rehearsal in advance. Lay it on us in terms of, if I’ve got some self-talk that says, “Ugh, I’m so tired. I really just don’t feel like dealing with this. This is so overwhelming,” what are some good responses?

Daniel Goleman

So, it sounds to me, Pete, that you’re evoking a situation where it’s kind of relentless and you’re feeling burned out. Is that right?

Pete Mockaitis

It could be burnout. It could just be dread or reluctance or procrastination, in general. It’s like, “Oh, this is a task I don’t feel like dealing with, and here it is. Ugh.”

Daniel Goleman

Okay. So, maybe you remind yourself, “Why do I need to do this? Why is this important? This is part of my job,” maybe. “And what is my state right now?” you might ask yourself. “And what can I do to upgrade it so that I can be up to the task?” I think one thing you can do is pay more attention to what you’re doing right now. One of the things that you’re letting happen, I suppose, is that your attention is just wandering, “Oh, I don’t want to think about this. I don’t want to do this.” You’re just basically letting yourself be distracted. And so, you could intentionally up your focus right then, “You know, I don’t love this thing that I have to do, but I have to do it for this reason, and so I’m going to really do it. I’m going to pay full attention to what I need to do.”

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, Dan, tell us, when it comes to having optimal days, we’ve covered a few things here. Where should we go next?

Daniel Goleman

Well, it turns out that emotional intelligence allows this more often. Emotional intelligence is four parts: self-awareness, managing your emotions, empathy, and relationship management. That’s the whole package, and some of us are better at some parts and less good at others. So, I’ve been talking about the first two parts, self-awareness and self-management; tuning into what you’re feeling and then managing those feelings. But there are other aspects of self-management. It’s not just about reducing the negative emotions, like, “I can’t stand this. I hate my boss,” whatever it may be. That’s part of it.

But another part is marshaling positive emotions, being optimistic, being positive about what’s happening, keeping your eye on goals that matter to you. Maybe you don’t like this particular part of your job, but you know that you want to advance at work. Maybe that’s a long-term goal. So, you remember that at that time, and you tell yourself, “This is part of the job I really don’t like, but I have to do a good job because I’m going up the ladder,” perhaps. That’s one way of doing it.

Then there’s empathy. Empathy is really interesting, Pete. There are three kinds of empathy. One is cognitive empathy, “I understand how you think about things. I see your perspective.” AI is very good at cognitive empathy. But then there’s emotional empathy, “I know how the person in front of me feels because I get a sense of it in my body.” There are actually, when you have eye contact in a real interaction, face-to-face, you establish a kind of invisible, instantaneous, unconscious bridge, brain-to-brain, and emotions pass very effectively on that bridge, so you tune in to what’s going on, and you pick it up. That’s emotional empathy.

The third kind of empathy is actually the one that we want in our boss. It’s called empathic concern, “I not only know how you think and feel, I care about you.” And these are each based in different parts of the brain. So, if you have a boss who has this third kind of empathy, you feel you can trust that person, you feel rapport with them. If you are a boss, if you have direct reports, and you’re that kind of person, then the people who work for you are more likely to give their best effort because they like you as a person.

They feel that you support them. You might even inspire them. You might articulate some meaning or purpose to what we’re doing that is even greater than the job itself. And that turns out to get the best efforts out of people. But at the very least, you can guide them, you can coach them, you can help them get better at what they’re doing. All of that makes people feel really good about their boss. So, that’s the third part. And then there’s putting that all together to have effective relationships.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, I’m curious, Dan. Let’s say, folks, their hearts are in the right place. They would like to demonstrate this and provide this for the people they care about in their lives, their colleagues, their friends and family. Assuming that’s there, what are some ways folks fall short in terms of, like, maybe they’re unconscious, that there are things that they’re doing or not doing that are just sabotaging their ability to effectively be empathetic, empathic, in a way that that folks can receive and appreciate?

Daniel Goleman

Well, one of the common colds of this is having relationships that are purely transactional where you only talk about what needs to be done. You never talk about the person, “How are you doing? What’s your life like?” In fact, one thing that I advise, I’m often asked, “What can we do when we work only by Zoom? We never meet each other.”

You know in the old days, or maybe still in some workplaces, you have a nine-to-five situation where you’re with someone five days a week for all those hours and it’s just natural that you find out about them as a person. You get to know them. It’s the, “Let’s have lunch together,” or, “Let’s have a beer after work,” or just around the cooler, water cooler, whatever it is.

But casual conversation matters because it knits people together. And if you don’t have that, if you’re working by Zoom, I think it’s important, particularly if you’re a leader, say, of a team, to replace that with a one-on-one, with the individuals on that team, for example, where you talk about the person, not the job, “But what do you want from life, from your career?” for example, or, “How can I help you?” That starts a very different kind of connection.

Pete Mockaitis

Alrighty.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, now could you tell us about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Daniel Goleman

The first person to benefit from compassion or caring about other people is the person who feels it.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Daniel Goleman

Well, one thing I like talking about are the studies that established the social brain circuitry, which are relatively new in neuroscience, and one of them had to do with a neuron in a monkey’s brain that only fired when that monkey lifted its arm. This was a lab in Italy. One day, the neuron was firing, the brain cell was firing, and the monkey wasn’t moving, and they didn’t know why.

Then they realized it was a hot day in Italy. A lab assistant had gone out for a gelato. He’s standing in front of the monkey, and every time he raises his arm to take a lick of the gelato, the monkey’s brain cell for that same movement fired. That was the discovery of mirror neurons. And it turns out that the human brain is peppered with mirror neurons, and they tell us what the person in front of us is not just doing and intending, but what they’re feeling. Mirror neurons are a very important aspect of the social brain and of empathy.

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite book?

Daniel Goleman

I’ll say “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Daniel Goleman

Listening.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Daniel Goleman

I’d point them to my website, DanielGoleman.info.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Daniel Goleman

Pay attention.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, Dan, this is fun. I wish you many optimal days.

Daniel Goleman

Thank you. Likewise, Pete. Great.

958: The Five Essential Behaviors of Great Collaboration with Tricia Cerrone and Edward van Luinen

By | Podcasts | One Comment

 

Edward van Luinen and Tricia Cerrone slice through the clutter to identify the fundamental keys to effective collaboration.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What most people get wrong about collaboration
  2. How to overcome the barriers to authentic collaboration 
  3. How to zero in on an inspiring  “noble purpose” that drives motivation and engagement 

About Tricia and Edward

Tricia Cerrone 

Courage and collaboration are hallmarks of Tricia’s global leadership experience, whether it is leading a project, innovating new designs, or overseeing a portfolio of work. With a keen eye for talent and more than 20 years on the business and production side of designing and delivering technically challenging projects at Disney and other Fortune 500 companies, Tricia is adept at inspiring and motivating teams toward successful outcomes while advancing careers and developing new leaders. 

Edward J. van Luinen, Ed.D 

For over twenty years, Edward has been a talent champion of teams worldwide. His experience includes Disney, Sony, and Heineken. He led teams through transformational global-regional-local restructuring, successfully implemented mergers and acquisitions, and introduced new software, learning systems, and leadership strategies. Edward’s collaboration motto is “advance a team member when you advance yourself.” He has worked in Africa, Europe, and North America. Edward collaborates in both French and English. 

Resources Mentioned

Tricia Cerrone and Edward van Luinen Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Trish and Edward, welcome.

Tricia Cerrone

Hey, Pete, happy to be here.

Edward van Luinen

Thank you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, I’m happy to be chatting.

Edward van Luinen

Great to meet you.

Pete Mockaitis

So, your company’s called Authentic Collaboration. We’re going to talk about that a lot. Maybe, for starters, you could give us a definition. What do you mean by collaboration? And what makes a collaboration authentic versus inauthentic?

Edward van Luinen

Authentic collaboration is a group of people working toward a goal with all-hands on deck all the time. That’s a unique time because a lot of teams, the first thing they try to figure out is, “Okay, who’s the boss? Who’s the doer? Who gets the glory work? Who doesn’t get the glory work?” So, that makes it original and authentic right off the bat. It’s also a process with a lot of specific tasks that teams can begin to do on day one to set the tone of how they want to work, not just people staying in their swim lane and doing lists of tasks. How we work together is really the most important part of authentic collaboration.

Tricia Cerrone

And I think the part about why we picked authentic is we come out of the womb really good, and then but we get all these attachments and behaviors and things that aren’t useful to us anymore. And so, just imagine, like, we just want to kind of wipe off all the barnacles of life and be our true selves. And the behaviors really fight that and combat all of our weaknesses in a really easy way that’s natural.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, tell me, you’ve done a lot of research and teaching in the world of collaboration, any particularly striking, surprising discoveries that you’ve made about us humans and how we collaborate, best and worst?

Tricia Cerrone

That’s a good question. It’s interesting that people don’t actually know how to collaborate. I feel like the reason why it’s so important now, and we see in so many statistics people are trying to figure it out, and it’s the cause for so many work failures, but people are sort of just told to collaborate, and then they don’t really know what that means.

And sometimes they’re like, “Okay, we’ll make this beautiful cute room with fun things in it,” or, “We’ll kind of work together,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean collaborate. So, it’s like we learn how to walk but we forget it actually takes a few different movements to walk and sustain with collaboration. Only no one’s ever told you what those movements are.

And so, once we realized people just, they were doing things accidentally, but didn’t know why they worked, and so sometimes something would work. But, overall, no one really understood what it meant to collaborate. So, for us, we figured these five behaviors. If you do them all, you create this culture of collaboration that works consistently all the time. And so then, we went through, and we validated each of the behaviors of why they work for us as humans.

Edward van Luinen

Absolutely. The five behaviors of a new way to work and lead, which is authentic collaboration, is generosity, co-creation, action, resourcefulness, and gratitude. And as Tricia exactly said, many of those behaviors are on their own, not original. But we did some original research with hiring a researcher and found that these cluster of behaviors are unique and have not appeared in any sort of model before.

So, exactly as Tricia says, too, it’s like we first have to understand what all the behaviors are, and then start to practice them day in and day out, and that makes a difference and that makes an authentic collaboration team.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, could you give us a picture for what’s the state of collaboration today in terms of how well are, say, American, for the sake of conversation, workers doing at collaboration and what’s at stake?

Tricia Cerrone

Well, there’s a few statistics, right? I’ll let Edward go in a second, but I was just reading a Gallup poll about our lack of engagement at work, which really speaks to collaboration. And the 2023 kind of state of the world was basically that we’re losing like $8 trillion in productivity because people aren’t engaged, and they just don’t want to work with each other. And in America, that’s like $550 billion of what’s being wasted. So, basically, like 21% of people right now are looking for another job, and that’s about the amount also that are engaged at the office. And, Edward, do you have a few other statistics?

Edward van Luinen

Yeah, absolutely. And I agree with Trish. I mean, the Gallup poll is really important. Salesforce did a survey, and 85% of workers said that the primary reason that projects are failing is because of a lack of collaboration. And I think they think, “Oh, I’m a team member. I’ve just got to do tasks. It’s consensus. 50 people have to be in the room, but I’m not sure what people are doing.”

So, going back to the behaviors, it’s really about how we work, not what we’re doing. And authentic collaboration focuses on making sure that we are working effectively together first before we start accomplishing our goals and tasks. Software, another industry, 50% of software budgets are created for collaboration tools. The big question is, “Do the software engineers creating the collaboration tools know how to collaborate?” Maybe some do, maybe some don’t. So, a challenge and an opportunity for those to learn more about authentic collaboration, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, could you perhaps zoom in to a particular group or workplace or a team, and paint a real clear picture of what does typical, yet unfortunately bad collaboration look like, and then perhaps something they did to turn things around and the cool results that came on the other side of that?

Tricia Cerrone

There’s certainly like many things you can do wrong. One particular team that I was working with and I was not the leader at the time, the leader, you know, people can be so nice at work, at home, and then they get to work, and some of the times their insecurities come out. So, if you have a leader who is insecure, which, in a way, is like how one of the ways that pride can show up at work, then it’s hard because they don’t trust your decisions necessarily, but they also don’t trust their own decisions.

And so, what we had to do was actually gently educate our leader so that he could trust working with us. And so, I think leadership, it can show up as like ego. So, when you have someone on the team who like wants all the attention, then they don’t want to collaborate. And I think the other thing that happens in teams is, to Edward’s earlier point, people stay in their lanes because HR, to a degree, has made an industry out of, “These are your roles and responsibilities. You do these.” And then, “If I do those, no matter what someone else does, I won’t catch the blame, I won’t lose my bonus.”

And so, it’s this fear that’s come onto teams, and so that’s what we see a lot of is sort of like fear that I won’t be able to do my jobs because someone else didn’t do their job. And so, that’s why we try to use this sense of generosity to remove fear, and so that people are trusting each other and actually being honest with each other, and helping to problem-solve quicker. Did that answer your question, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, yes. Thank you. And when you talked about insecurity, what are some of the typical behaviors, I don’t know, words, phrases, actions, that you see insecure people taking?

Edward van Luinen

Great question, Pete. I feel that it shows up in hoarding information, hoarding team members, “This is my team. I’ve spent years hiring, coaching, growing them to be the high potentials or leaders. I want to keep them,” instead of the organization owning the talent. I think it shows up in not being all hands-on-deck all the time, “Because I’m a senior vice president, I don’t have to clean up the conference room after a meeting, when in fact I should, because I was participating in that meeting,” as an example. So, it can show up in a lot of ways.

I feel that another way that, on teams that I’ve been on, is that if we, as Tricia says, valiantly try to demonstrate the authentic collaboration behaviors in three, four, five meetings, and sometimes when you give, you kind of want to get, because you are role-modeling and demonstrating how you want to be treated. But in additional meetings or collaborations that I’ve tried, after three, four, five meetings, if I’m not getting any response from these authentic collaboration behaviors, it’s a good indicator that it may not work.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, okay. Well, that’s kind of quick results. We know pretty fast, apparently, if we need some traction here.

Edward van Luinen

Well, yeah, sometimes you have to. of course, depending if you’re in a company, you don’t often have the luxury of saying, “Okay, I don’t want to do this,” but as consultants or in a company even, you get an indication of how easy it’s going to be to demonstrate these behaviors and want to love your job. So, the question we want to ask is, “How can we get people to love their job even more?” And we feel we can do that with authentic collaboration.

Tricia Cerrone

I want to just add something to what Edward says. One thing we do tell people is if you do these behaviors, whether anyone else does or not, you are going to enjoy your work better because the way people respond to you is going to be different. And so, it does change the energy and the dynamic of everyone that you interact with. So, even if your whole team isn’t doing it, you’re still going to have greater success.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, I think we must hear these five behaviors. We got some hype here, let’s deliver. Tell us, what are they? How do we do them?

Tricia Cerrone

Well, the first one is easy, and I’ll just say, like, anyone can do these behaviors. It’s not about personality or style or how you were brought up, or anything like that. You can all do them. They’re all about the actions that you can do, behaviors, and getting better at them and being a little intentional about it. So, generosity is the first one, and generosity, you know, we all know that. It’s about serving and helping others.

So, it’s like, “How do you look at your team developing each other? How do you grow each other? Do you coach each other after a meeting? Do you,” as Edward said earlier, “help to clean up? Do you see what their needs are?” But the other great outcome of generosity is that it overcomes fear and scarcity, and that we talked about earlier, that insecurity and pride because it creates connection. So, that’s one of the great things about generosity. We could talk about generosity all day. I’ll hand it off.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, sure thing. And so, if I am trying to practice generosity regularly, are there any particular mottos, mantras, mindsets, attitudes that just I have in me and I’m working through as I see the world and make decisions, and choose what to do?

Tricia Cerrone

No, I probably wouldn’t say that we do have one. It’s more of like, “Look, be a little bit self-aware and look around you to see who needs help.” It’s how we walk through life, “Who needs help?”

Pete Mockaitis

And I love those simple examples in terms of cleaning up and coaching, etc. Can you give some additional easy little ways we can help out every day?

Edward van Luinen

Absolutely. Thanks, Pete. And one of the ways is we worked with a lot of leaders on our project, three-year project, Authentic Collaboration, which came out of this project, and one is that feedback is very important on how you’re doing. And we made a commitment to provide very specific, timely, written feedback to leaders that helped us within 24 hours.

Many of them commented, “Gosh, I usually got this verbally, or it was very late, or it wasn’t specific,” but we wrote detailed thank-you notes, which seems a little bit old-school, but I think people still like to get written thank-you notes about how they made a difference on the project. Another generosity trait that we demonstrated was we had a lot of high potential junior, more junior talent, you could say, on our team.

Well, one of the ways that we thought we were generous and collaborative with them was “You’re going to kick off this meeting with a bunch of executives present.” “I don’t know if I could do that.” “Well, we’re going to coach you to make sure you feel comfortable doing it,” and then they did it, right Trish, numerous times.

And then we said, “Well, how did you feel doing that?” “Oh, my gosh, it was great. Someone came up to me and really was happy to meet me, and didn’t know I worked in that division or department, and we’re going to have a coffee because now they know who I am.” So, I feel that’s another specific behavior of generosity, is letting other people shine. That’s real important.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And I guess the counter, the opposite of generosity is not necessarily being evil and maliciously destructive, but rather maybe more of a scarcity mindset in terms of the hoarding, “This is mine. I’m not going to share. If I give a little then it’s going to come back to bite me because I will have less because I have given.”

Tricia Cerrone

Right. And also, like, the ego of like, “Well, I did this on my own, I’m the star,” and not sharing that it took a team.

Edward van Luinen

Exactly. No, you’re right, Pete. Great question. And our motto, actually, and our book title is Collaborate to Compete. We feel that’s counterintuitive, it’s original, it’s pretty disruptively innovative, because most times, as you know, Pete, and Trish and I experienced as well in companies, people are unnecessarily competing against each other. Why don’t we work together and compete to get more market share?

Pete Mockaitis

Certainly.

Edward van Luinen

That’s who we should be competing against. So, collaborate is, and the whole performance management system, as Trish was saying, the rewards were built on competing, not collaborating, so it’s a real head-turner.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, so let’s hear about the next behavior.

Tricia Cerrone

One of the next is like resourcefulness. So, it’s better to be resourceful than to have resources, but it’s really about developing your ongoing growth and knowledge about everything in the world because you can often use everything, whether it’s tools or information. And so, it’s knowing how to use all of that in the moment, but having this also attitude of behavior of always learning.

So, even if we were going on a trip to Hong Kong to check out a different park, we would take a half day to like, “Okay, maybe I can get a tour of operations and learn how they do things differently here.” Or, if I’m in a restaurant and it’s, again, another country, like learning a few words, asking the history of the restaurant, because all those little things feed into your experiences and who you might be talking to.

And, as a designer, especially working with Disney so much, even looking at the world around you, like, “What’s the sense of humor of the country?” and you can see that in advertisements, or you might experience the culture in a store or anywhere you go. So, resourcefulness is really about asking questions and being curious, and curiosity really drives resourcefulness.

Edward van Luinen

I agree with Trish. Another behavior is co-creation, and a lot of people think, “Oh, I’m just going to go to a brainstorming meeting, and we’re going to come up with sort of a group decision.” I think that’s probably the 101 of co-creation. Co-creation can actually be democratized, for lack of a better word, throughout the organization in every interaction you’re in.

How can a conversation become co-created? You have ideas, I have ideas. We co-created our solutions all the time within the team. If they were co-created, that doesn’t mean, again, going back to the definition, all-hands-on deck all the time. It’s not my idea, it’s our idea in a conversation, in a meeting, in almost every interaction you’re having, you’re co-creating. And that’s, I think, another important behavior to authentic collaboration.

Tricia Cerrone

Yeah, and a lot of part, a lot of the co-creation piece is it’s important with problem-solving, and often people are jumping in with like this solution, that solution, but this kind of gives you the discipline to pause and listen and ask questions and build on that idea first, and explore it first, and then move on to the next idea, and then prioritize.

And all of that’s important, one, because you might miss something that is a great solution, but it also makes sure that everyone on your team feels seen and heard and valued for the idea and contribution. And a lot of the behaviors do that. It’s sort of a thing that we all need as humans and it also makes our work feel like more valuable. So, connection and being seen, heard, and valued is kind of core to why all these things work together.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And so, do you have any top do’s and don’ts to achieve those ends?

Tricia Cerrone

Yeah, keep your mouth shut to start, right? So, co-creation, like if you have a problem, state the problem. And if you’re a leader at the table and you’ve brought everyone together, don’t be the leader who’s like, “No, that won’t work.” Don’t be the leader who’s like, “Oh, I have a better idea.” Don’t be the person who says, “We’ve tried that before.” Pause, and even if you don’t think it’s a good idea, ask the question, “Well, tell me more about that,” or, “What made you think about that?” or, “Why do you think that might work in this situation?”

So, it’s that ability to explore an idea a little deeper despite your own filter that you have. So, again, a little bit of self-awareness and a little more listening. We were just interviewing another leader who was sharing that she brought together this entire team of leaders, and the solution came from the custodial person, not from all these other experts who are great designers and thinkers. And I think that’s what it is. Everyone needs to listen because you don’t know where that great idea is going to come from.

Pete Mockaitis

All right.

Edward van Luinen

Absolutely. I agree, Trish. And, gosh, I was a people manager for five or six years, always leading the team meeting. And I don’t know, finally I had the realization, Pete, that was like, “Edward, why don’t you ask your team members to take turns leading a meeting? Why are you doing it all the time?” And I think that speaks to what Trish is talking about.

Co-creation is other people have gifts and talents and creativity, and, gosh, they probably are maybe better at leading a meeting than you are, and you’re the one that has the manager title. So, I think that goes to also being generous and co-creating and being grateful for wonderful team members too.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Let’s hear about the fourth behavior.

Tricia Cerrone

Action or preference for action is what we call it, and so it’s obviously you have to move. The reason it’s important and we include it is because people have a lot of fear about making decisions, and you have to act even when you don’t have all the information, and that’s the point. And you actually don’t need that much information to move forward on something, and to try something, but if you do that then you will learn, “Okay, does that get me a little closer to the answer? Or is that something I’m going to cross off as it’s not going to work?”

And then, either way, whenever you do act, it builds that courage in you to continue to take more action. And when you do it as a team, it builds that confidence on a team so it’s a great feeling of that first time, especially when you do that together as a team, and you grow that kind of security and confidence and ability to take risks together.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And the fifth?

Edward van Luinen

Gratitude. Gratitude, we define as it’s really more than a feeling, it’s an action. So, it’s tied to action. I’ll give a specific example. I had to get ready for a very difficult meeting. I don’t know where I was working at the time, and I took the time to journal before that meeting, “What were all my thoughts about why I thought this was an excellent project? While I was even having a difficult time with the project at that moment, overall, what was great about what was I doing, what the team was doing, what the effort was, what were the early results?”

So, that when I went into that difficult project meeting, I was actually, that time spent on gratitude was almost sort of like an armor. Other people were negative, and they might have been critiquing but I was calm and I feel giving myself gratitude, and allowing to share gratitude with team members is also really important which is recognition and rewards, and it also gets to that collaborate to compete.

People are not expressing that much gratitude in the corporate world. We need more. It’s like water in the desert, and I feel that that’s really important for leaders who are authentic collaboration leaders and also team members to spend more time in gratitude. I may say, too, that sometimes people wonder and are suspicious at first, “Why are you buttering me up? Why are you complimenting me? We are in a competitive corporate environment. Are you trying to get something from me?”

And I feel that the authentic way of approaching compliments through gratitude and the consistent way shows that, “No, I care about the team. I care about the company. I care about the noble purpose of this project and this company, and that’s evident through my consistently doing it, not just haphazardly complimenting and being full of gratitude just to get something.” Or, as you said earlier, Pete, it’s really about, “How do I demonstrate that authentic gratitude?”

Tricia Cerrone

Yeah, there’s nothing worse when it’s insincere, right? But I think the value of it is to be specific of how that person contributed to this amazing outcome. I also think it’s important for the team to share celebrations together. And if you think of, like, when you tell a story, there’s the highs and lows, and even with our five behaviors, there’s points where I see it as telling a story, and gratitude is sort of that celebration moment that everyone needs like a breath from all of the action, and so it re-energizes everyone again.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, talking about stories, I’d love if you could share with us some of the most clear, illustrative, transformative examples of folks who have really made a 180 on some of these behaviors and the cool things that happened when they did so.

Tricia Cerrone

I had a colleague who honestly thought I was… he was a good friend and I had pitched this program for bringing innovation to Disney, and it was in a room with like all VPs and me, the only woman in there too. But, anyway, he totally put my idea down in front of everyone, and he was passionately against it. And so, I was like, “Okay, that was not co-creation right there.”

Pete Mockaitis

Could you share, what did he say when he put it down?

Tricia Cerrone

He said, “It’ll never work. No one can pitch an idea within five minutes,” and those were his main things. One, it’ll never work, and, two, it’s not actually possible. And so, after the meeting, I went with him and I said, “Can you talk more about why you’re so against this?” And he just said, “I just think it takes a lot more to pitch an idea, and you have to really understand the lay of the land, and blah, blah, blah.” He had all these legitimate reasons because when we pitch something at Disney, it could be 20 minutes to an hour where you have an executive. So, the idea that you could pitch something in three minutes and get potential feedback in two minutes was a little bit of an alien idea.

So, I took his notes and then I addressed them with everybody who wanted to pitch, and so I basically used generosity and taught everyone how to pitch, and I also brought him in to hear their pitches and critique them. And then when it came to the time for this event to happen, and all these different Imagineers were pitching various ideas in front of the leaders, he sat there in the audience, and he came to me afterwards, and he’s like, “That worked and that was really great.” He’s like, “I didn’t think it through.” I was surprised he admitted it but he said it was really great.

And so, through his not belief, and then him willing to sort of be generous and listening and giving me his opinion, actually, and then co-creating with me and the team to understand how to pitch, then he was able to, like, kind of overcome how he thought about something. And so, I think that’s kind of a co-creation experience of how that kind of came together.

Pete Mockaitis

Lovely. Thank you.

Edward van Luinen

And just to add to that story, there’s going to be barriers to authentic collaboration, Pete. It’s not all just Pollyanna that everyone understands these five behaviors, and we’ve got a great product and process and team, and I love my job because now I practice these five behaviors and work with great leaders. And we have sort of a part of our book, which is “Negotiating Naysayers.” Like Trish said, what do you do in that instant when you’ve got someone who’s against you, publicly?

And Trish pushed through that barrier of whatever that was, insecurity or ego, by finding out sometimes, as Trish met later with that person, “What’s going on? Why? Tell us more.” Sometimes people saying no have a legitimate reason for saying no, and we can find out what that is and uncover more information to be more action-oriented and co-creation. So, sometimes barriers are a gift, not in the moment because they don’t feel so great, right, Tricia? But it’s like, “Wow, okay, this is the test of leadership, you know.” Yeah, this is the test of leadership. It’s not all Pollyanna all the time.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Tricia Cerrone

I think one of the other kind of important things that companies need to be aware of, and even like leaders on a team should be aware of is, and we call it noble purpose, but individuals and humans want to be working on something that’s important in their life. And how we express that to them on a team can make all the difference in their engagement and their desire to like push a little harder.

And so, if you think about a company vision and mission, a vision is sort of that emotional piece of it, and then the mission is the “This is what we actually do to make that happen.” And the noble purpose we always try to bring to a team, and it’s that combination of those two things, like, “What it is it for the company?” but then, “What does that mean for the team? How does the team’s vision and mission support the company? And then me, as a leader, how does that support the company? And then you, Pete, your unique contribution on the team that no one else can do, that is your more than more defined vision and mission, your noble purpose.”

So, we make sure everyone on the team understands how this doesn’t happen without them. Even the assistant who’s ordering food is incredibly important to make it all happen. So, we make sure that noble purpose is this concept that’s both emotional and practical and clear for each individual to, again, go back to like, “You are important and valued in this project and in this company, and we can’t do it without you.”

Pete Mockaitis

All right.

Edward van Luinen

And if we can get our team members to say, “I love my job more,” then we’ve won with authentic collaboration. They can actually say they love their jobs more.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Edward van Luinen

I think that the Maya Angelou quote is so appropriate for authentic collaboration, “People forget what you say, people forget what you do, but people will never forget how you make them feel.” And I think that is really at the heart of authentic collaboration, is that people feel seen, heard, grown, developed, honored, and are rewarded being on an authentic collaboration team.

Tricia Cerrone

I think for me, one of my favorite sayings is the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite book?

Tricia Cerrone

I really like, as a business book, Essentialism by Greg McKeown, and also, anything by Michael Lewis, who wrote Moneyball and The Blind Side. I love all his stuff too.

Edward van Luinen

I like The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson. I think that it speaks to how we can create in almost all circumstances.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Tricia Cerrone

They can find us at Authentic-Collaboration.com, which is our website, and we’re also on LinkedIn and post a couple times a week.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Edward van Luinen

Every day is day one. Sometimes when you’re in your routine as an HR director, or SVP of HR, or a general manager, or CEO, or hypo, sometimes we get into our routine. What we don’t want to do is repeat our same leadership style and wake up 20 years later, and say, “I’ve just been doing the same leadership style for 20 years over and over again.” So, every day is day one. Try something new. People don’t know you’re doing something new. They think you’re just being a great leader. But for you, it’s like, “Oh, this is the first time I’m doing it,” but no one knows that, so keep trying.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, Tricia, Edward, thank you for this. And I wish you many lovely, authentic collaborations.

Tricia Cerrone

Thank you, Pete. It’s fun to be here.

Edward van Luinen

Thank you, Pete. It’s been really fun. Thank you very much.

957: How to Push Past Discomfort and Expand Your Comfort Zone with Dr. Marc Schoen

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Dr. Marc Schoen discusses the critical role discomfort plays in our lives—and offers powerful techniques for getting better at managing it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we need more—not less—discomfort
  2. Everyday techniques to build your discomfort tolerance 
  3. The 45-second trick that helps you handle stress better 

About Marc

Dr. Marc Schoen is an Assistant Clinical Professor at UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine where he specializes in Boosting Performance and Decision Making Under Pressure and Mind-Body Medicine. He works extensively with elite athletes, professional and college, as well as, executives and UCLA medical students in strengthening their ability to thrive under pressure, and in competitive and uncomfortable conditions. His method of Discomfort Training and Pilates for the Brain builds hardiness and resilience, by rewiring the fear region of the brain which is responsible for Performance Under Pressure.

Resources Mentioned

Dr. Marc Schoen Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Marc, welcome!

Marc Schoen

Yes, very fun to be here.

Pete Mockaitis

I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. I have listened to your book, Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You: Retrain Your Brain to Conquer Fear and Build Resilience twice, partially because I think your voice is so soothing. I guess that’s the hypnotist in you. But I would love to kick us off by hearing what’s a particularly striking, surprising, counterintuitive discovery you’ve made about us humans and how we perform best in your many years of working in mind-body medicine?

Marc Schoen

The biggest discovery, I would say, is that I was trained to believe that performance really had to do with controlling pressure or discomfort. And what I found is that, in reality, that’s not really what it is. It’s that we all should be feeling some amount of discomfort. And it’s not the discomfort alone that impairs performance. It’s that it’s our reaction to discomfort. And I have a great two studies on that, if that’s okay to elaborate on.

One was a great study done right around the start of the Afghanistan War, where they took two groups of people, the general infantry and the Special Forces, and they subjected them to a very intense, grueling workout. And the hypothesis was, is that the general infantry would show much higher signs of stress in the body, while the Special Forces would show very little stress.

Well, what they found out is that the Special Forces actually had a higher stress response than the general infantry, but the difference was they were able to parlay that stress response into productive action and, therefore, bring down the stress response, while the general infantry continued to hover in that higher level.

And that really is something that I have seen in several studies that I’ve done, whereas we can train people to manage discomfort and pressure better. But it doesn’t mean they will report that they’re not stressed, but their physiological response shows that they are managing the stress far superior than those who do not receive that kind of training.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s beautiful. Well, I think we could all use a little bit more of that. Did you say there were two studies?

Marc Schoen

Yeah, that was my main study on it, and then the second study was the Afghanistan study. That was not mine. That was someone else’s study.

So, two studies. The Afghanistan study, and the second study was mine, my own. And that was one where I had people who, in their everyday life, come in, report just the stress levels they’re having at work, and every day took blood measures of them, then trained a group into managing the discomfort and the pressure better, and their blood measures, which were cytokine measures, called Interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor, those people that received that kind of training had a far reduced inflammatory response, but they still reported being stressed.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, we’re going to dig deep into what training consists of but, first, maybe let’s hear the big picture in terms of the big message behind your book Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You: Retrain Your Brain to Conquer Fear and Build Resilience. What’s the core thesis here?

Marc Schoen

The core point of it has to do with discomfort. And I think of it this way, is that here we are in this advanced technological society, and it’s done a great job of really limiting our discomfort in our lives. But the paradox of it all is that, even though we have less discomfort, theoretically, we’ve become far more sensitive to being uncomfortable. So, the premise of the book is, “Okay, how do we learn to manage discomfort without precipitating the fear response, like the fight or flight response?”

Pete Mockaitis

And that is a powerful message and question, and so rich and apt, I think, for our time. I’ve also enjoyed Michael Easter’s book, The Comfort Crisis, which explores some of these bits as well. You’ve got a fun word you use frequently in the book. Can you tell us the definition of agitants? What is that? And tell us a little bit of the story for how it is we’ve come to find ourselves here in this place with greater comforts and yet less resilience to discomforts?

Marc Schoen

Yes, I call it the comfort zone dilemma, is that we all strive to be in our comfort zone. And no doubt, it feels good to be in the comfort zone, to be a non-stressed organism, but the downside is, if we take refuge in this comfort zone, what we end up doing is that actually shrinking our comfort zone because we become more and more uncomfortable with the idea of getting out of it. It’s the effect is a lot today.

I see so much of this today, is that, as this shrunken comfort zone happens, we get many more mental symptoms, particularly phobias: fear of getting on the freeway, fear of flying, fear of closed places, or fear of heights. And so, we want to be challenging our comfort zone. If we just fall back into it, we are setting ourselves up for poor performance and many mental symptoms.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And so, what is the concept of agitants?

Marc Schoen

So, agitants comes from the word agitation. And I’m very interested in, as our body gets more and more agitated, or has agitants in it, is that we cause a certain sort of high bar, I think of it, and the more agitants we have that exceeds the high bar, the more we are likely to impair performance and have psychological, physical symptoms. But if we can keep our agitants below that high bar, we tend to perform well and have no symptoms. But the key point of this is not the absence of agitants, but rather the well-management of agitants.

Pete Mockaitis

And so, is agitants the same as stress and agitation? Or what is the distinction or the core of this concept?

Marc Schoen

Well, I think of it more as a warming up of the body, heating it up. So, like, we all are theoretically around 98.6 is our basal temperature, and we do okay if we get into the low 99s, we may feel a tiny bit off. But once we start overheating and getting above 100, then our performance is very much affected. So, I like agitants more as a continuum, rather than thinking of we’re stressed or not stressed.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, certainly. And so then, and for a given stressor, we may very well experience a different internal agitants response, like whether something gets us really steamed and furious, or a little bit like, “Ah, it’s kind of annoying, but I’ll shrug it off.”

Marc Schoen

Yeah, I just find it better to refer to that because of that continuum, rather than that you either have it or don’t have it.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, can you walk us through the history, the chronology, the narrative of how we found ourselves in this place with lots of comfort, and yet a shrinking comfort zone? And you suggest it’s not just the smartphone but this journey starts much earlier.

Marc Schoen

I really think it starts as prehistoric humans, where humans learned to have an instinct to avoid being uncomfortable because the brain is pretty black and white about this. So, if we start feeling discomfort, then the brain starts experiencing a threat. So, in the early days, obviously, that threat was not enough food, or cold, or a mountain lion, or someone throwing a spear at us.

So, we learn real quickly to become sensitive to any impending discomfort and threat. And those humans that were capable of being able to respond effectively to that, live a whole bunch longer than those who are more tight-beat folks that were, “Oh, I’ll be fine,” and they just didn’t live long enough to propagate. And so, we’re a product of worriers and people that are constantly concerned that something bad will happen.

So, it’s natural that we would evolve more and more as a society to want to limit our discomfort because it just feels so much better. But that’s the ultimate trap, is that by continuing to pursue this path of greater comfort, which has really come significantly with technological advance, we’re losing that discomfort muscle so it atrophies, so we’re less capable of responding to the world.

And here’s, like, I think a wonderful example of this. We are in a world with tremendous amounts of psychological resources. And to help people do well and manage resilience and become hardy, but yet with all of that, and all of these technological advances, we have more mental illness than ever, and our troops are more likely to die from their own hands than they are from enemy fire. So, what’s happened is that we, as a society, have become less hardy, more fearful, and so that’s what’s happened to us.

Pete Mockaitis

Ooh, that’s tricky. And you say that in many ways that the march of technological progress has contributed to that, whether it’s microwaves and fast foods and convenient packaged foods, it’s like we don’t have to sit in even hunger or discomfort for long at all.

Marc Schoen

So true. And look how quickly we can create perfection by just tweaking things on the computer, making ourselves look better, sound better, or edit our responses. And not to mention, this was sort of what you alluded to is the issue of delayed gratification. We don’t have to wait long, do we, for gratification anymore? So, we don’t get uncomfortable in the same way we did in earlier times.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, bringing this to careers, in particular, could you tell us a story of how this scenario we find ourselves in, with a relatively tiny comfort zone, has been harmful to someone’s career, and what they did to turn it around and the cool results they saw on the other side of that training?

Marc Schoen

One great example was, some years ago I was sent a fellow that wanted to be drafted into the NBA. He was a senior year at the university, so he knew this is a make it or break it year.

And so, while he was playing during the year, he was never, by the way, historically a very good free throw maker. He’s always like around 60%, but now here he is in this last season, and many of the games being nationally televised, is that he’d get to the free throw line and freeze. He would push the ball rather than just be relaxed, and then his percentage went from 66% or 68% into the high 30s. So, he was having lots of pressure, and then of course freezing under the pressure.

So, I would go to Pauley Pavilion where he would play, and every time he got to the free throw line, the crowd would go, “Oh, no.” You just hear this large moan of 15,000 to 17,000 people. So, I had him come in, and I asked him questions, “What is your memory?” And this is so important for the bigger question that you’re asking, “What’s your memory of being under pressure?” And his memory was oral reports in school, and getting up to do an oral report and being nervous and shaking, and then the kids teasing him about his inability to talk.

So, now, years later, he goes to the free throw line, it’s like going up there for an oral report, and then when the whole crowd starts moaning, it pushes that old button and he freezes up. So, that’s a good example. So, what the solution was is that we couldn’t stop the pressure that he was feeling. Didn’t want to. What we wanted to do to make it so that the pressure, which is uncomfortable, no longer pushed the fear response.

Pete Mockaitis

And how does one make it such that that occurs?

Marc Schoen

It is possible to create a physical, emotional state in the brain that neutralizes the fear region of the brain, as many of you their listeners know is the amygdala part of the brain. So, what we do is put someone under pressure, when they’re uncomfortable, create this physical state in the brain. Hypnosis is the big way I do it, and it will block the fear response. So, now we’re having someone be uncomfortable, and learned that no fear is associated with it, and that’s how it stops.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool.

Marc Schoen

Neuro-conditioning.

Pete Mockaitis

Neuro-conditioning. Hypnosis. Okay. And you said you had another story.

Marc Schoen

Another story is more directly related to business. I see a lot of folks that are young entrepreneurs, and have come up with a fabulous concept, made a lot of money, and venture capitalists come in to give them more funding for their company. And it was their idea, their intuitions, their hard work that created the success, but now you have the venture capital people, working with someone that’s a lot younger, and the entrepreneurs can get very intimidated by these people with their mathematical models, being older, putting pressure on them, second guessing their decisions.

And so, what happens is they start getting frozen up inside, starts second-guessing themselves, start losing confidence, start basically bowing to the pressure, which isn’t necessarily good because the venture capitalists aren’t the ones that created it, nor the ones that made the money. And so, we get this, again, this dilemma where we have pressure, uncomfortableness, pushing the fear response. And what is the fear response mostly is the area of rejection.

You think about it, when it comes to performance, if you look at “What is the issue?” It’s usually rejection, judgment, worry what other people might think, what they might say. When I asked my medical students, “What’s your biggest fear?” And these are super bright medical students at UCLA, “What’s your biggest fear?” Of saying something and embarrassing themselves.

And so, we get this with these young entrepreneurs and they buckle under that pressure. So, what I do is, again, create the pressure but make it so it does not push the fear response, so they can respond accordingly, express their opinion, stand up for what they believe.

Pete Mockaitis

And in your book, you mentioned that it’s very possible to feel two emotions at the same time. You’d say, “I feel stressed, worried, concerned, anxious, and also I’m safe.” Could you talk about that principle?

Marc Schoen

Yes. And that goes to that early concept of being able to create an emotional, physical state in the brain that blocks the fear, but yet, you can have them feel pressure. So, we have a neutral state or a safe state induced by this type of hypnosis, I like to call it hypno-meditation, and the real-world stress, and I also alluded to that study I gave you, is that, yeah, the people did report plenty of stress in their lives, but physically there was no trace of it. It’s an interesting dynamic. I call it duality, is my term for it.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. So, hypnosis is one way that we can get there. You also lay out 15 strategies to stay cool, calm, and collected. Could you share with us maybe your top three favorites for professionals that do a whole lot for folks, and yet are pretty easy, a big bang for the buck or ROI?

Marc Schoen

Yes, so the overarching goal is not to banish discomfort. The goal is to make it so discomfort does not experience as a threat and, therefore, push the fear response. Okay, so then that’s the goal of any exercise that we want to do. I have a lot of different ones that push the button, that make us uncomfortable, because it again pushes that button of rejection, or being judged, or being embarrassed and so on.

One thing that I’ve done to help train myself in this area was to ask people for favors, and that’s an uncomfortable thing. And the exercise I did was, and remember the goal wasn’t to get the favor granted, the goal was dealing with the uncomfortableness of asking for the favor. So, I would go around and ask people for $100. And, of course, virtually everyone would say no.

Pete Mockaitis

Virtually.

Marc Schoen

I actually had one person say yes.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright.

Marc Schoen

Of course I gave it back, but that’s really uncomfortable for me to ask that, and then justify it, or for people just to say, essentially, “Screw you,” or just ignore me, or walk away. That’s uncomfortable. But I wanted to give myself practice in that, and that’s a great tool.

Now, there’s different degrees of pushing this button. One is you could put yourself out there. Let’s say you’re uncomfortable about dancing in front of other people. You could go take dance lessons. Let’s say you’ve always wanted to sing, but you have a terrible voice. Well, you could take some voice lessons. Or, very simple, it’s so easy for us to just take the same way to drive to work or use our Google Maps. What if we were to try to navigate our way without the help of that? Again, the overarching goal is to feel uncomfortable and learn we can manage it and not get a fear reaction.

Another great way is to approach someone that you think is important or very attractive, and introduce yourself. All of these things really push that button. And so, the goal is to be uncomfortable, but still be able to do it.

Pete Mockaitis

And so, if we are in the midst of it, feeling super uncomfortable, and we’re not sure if we can do it, and we are maybe feeling the fear response getting pushed, what do we do? Do we do some breathing? Or what’s your pro tip to pulling it off?

Marc Schoen

Yeah, I have a breath technique. That’s what I call it. It’s on my website. It’s a free download, and it’s a way that you can really expediently knock down your heartbeat and blood pressure. It really just takes 45 seconds to create a result. So, you can use this as a preface to doing any of these exercises, and all we want to do, we just bring it down below that high bar that I talked about so we’re not so overheated, and then move forward with the task.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, Marc, that sounds like 45 seconds well spent. Could you give us a demo on this breath technique?

Marc Schoen

Yeah, it really is something I developed back in, like, 1983 in a biofeedback room at Cedars-Sinai when I wasn’t allowed to do hypnosis on the medical units so I had to find a way that would rapidly relax people. So, I hooked myself up with all these electrodes and then later ran other people through it, borrowed from here, borrowed from there, took from here to make something really quick.

And what I found is that an inhale through the nose, just a medium inhale, not having to be a big diaphragmatic breath, just medium. I’ll make a sound, but you wouldn’t make the sound. Kind of like this, about that amount. We pause for a second, and then have a pattern of four exhales. But the key part of it is to have no inhale between the exhales.

So, it looks and sounds like this, and the sound of the exhales is important. Here’s the inhale. Hold it for a second or so. Start of the exhales. And the last one, we just release the remaining air, and then we repeat that four times. And it’s remarkable, if you’re measuring someone’s blood pressure or heartbeat, how pronounced of an effect that can have.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. So then, these exhales, it’s like a shh sound, like we’re calming, like telling a child to “Hush up now. Shh.”

Marc Schoen

Exactly. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

And then there’s a pause between the shushes. And so, it’s about a medium level of inhale, not like a huge maximum.

Marc Schoen

Through the nose.

Pete Mockaitis

Through the nose. And then is the exhale there then, are we aiming to get mostly out, all of our breath out, or like completely evacuated, or just mostly evacuated, or does it really not matter?

Marc Schoen

Yeah, most of it, but we don’t want to deplete ourselves that we’re gasping for air. So, just a medium amount like that.

Pete Mockaitis

And then do we pause after the fourth exhale before the next inhale?

Marc Schoen

Yeah, a comfortable space between. And as you do this, cycles, you slow it down, so you’re pausing more between the exhales. Oh, and what I learned back in the ‘80s about this is that it’s not the inhale that relaxes us, it’s the power of the exhale.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool. That’s cool. All right. So, we’ve got that breathing. And tell me, when it comes to perhaps physical interventions, whether it’s cardiovascular exercises, or resistance strength exercises, or getting in cold water, or walking with a weighted backpack, are there any kind of physical fitness-y things that go a long way in improving our discomfort tolerance?

Marc Schoen

Well, it’s best for us to think about these kinds of techniques that I’m talking about, is that we have both discomfort, physical discomfort and emotional discomfort. And so, it is very important to work on our ability to tolerate both of them, and they both affect each other. So, obviously, if we’re physically less capable, then we’re going to be more emotionally uncomfortable, and vice versa.

So, the more emotionally uncomfortable we are, the less we tolerate physical discomfort. So, it makes sense to work on both. Now, here’s what I like to do, is to challenge myself physically. For example, when I used to run quite a bit, I would run, but meditate on the ability to stay calm and keep my heartbeat at a certain level. Or, when I take a sauna and have the temperature like 175, is to see how long I can keep my body cool from sweating. So, there’s that kind of interplay that we can do.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. Well, let’s talk about hypnosis for a moment before we wrap up. And so then, for those unfamiliar with hypnosis, could you maybe first share with us some of the best data or studies suggesting that hypnosis is a real thing that’s useful beyond our stage amusements?

Marc Schoen

Yes, it used to be that we thought hypnosis only changed people’s perceptions, and so it’s just sort of like a surface charge with a battery, that you can charge it a little, but it doesn’t seep into the true fabric of what it is. But as we’ve had more advances, we can truly measure the impact of what it does, and we see that it has a cellular impact and a biochemical impact. I even did one of those studies to show that we can use hypnosis to block the inflammatory response in the body, and that’s by measuring cells.

So, now hypnosis can be seen as having both a psychological and a physical effect. I like it because it’s like the difference between a Scud missile and a Patriot missile. It is precise, direct, and much quicker than going in more globally.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, for folks who are jazzed about that as a tool for being more awesome at their jobs, I mean, I guess we could schedule a session with a professional like yourself. Or, how can we get a taste of this benefits hypnosis might have to offer us?

Marc Schoen

I would like to offer your listeners a free download where it’s a hypnotic set of suggestions, all geared for job performance based on this whole concept of discomfort, threat, fear, and being able to manage discomfort without threat.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you. That sounds beautiful. We appreciate that. We’ll make sure to link that in the show notes, etc. Okay, so we got that going for us. And then you mentioned the notion of the precision, like targeting anything. I’ve seen a whole boatload of different hypnosis pieces on YouTube for any number of things. What are your thoughts on those? My guess is that the quality and effectiveness vary. Is there any danger in just trying those out? Or, what are you thinking about these?

Marc Schoen

I certainly wouldn’t try someone’s work that isn’t credentialed and has significant training in it. And so, it should be a mental health professional that’s done it for a while because it’s very powerful and mishandled can create some bad results. So, be careful, selective, as to who you allow to do it. And again, most hypnosis can be seen as just trying to deal with changing people’s thoughts only, and just like cognitive behavioral therapy, it certainly can work.

But, if a lot of our behavior is influenced by fear, then it makes far more sense to deal with that part of the brain where it is centered in this limbic part of the brain. So, I like to use hypnosis to go directly at those limbic areas, such as the fear center, such as the pleasure center, the sleep center, and so on. And so, you can use hypnosis in a superficial way, or you can use it in a much more profound way, because to me, if we don’t deal directly with the fear response, no matter what we tell ourselves consciously, it’s just not going to hold.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And maybe, I’d love to get your…we’ll do your hot takes. I saw a YouTube video where they quickly said underrated, overrated for all sorts of, like, health and fitness interventions. So, let me get your hot takes here, the good doctor, Marc Schoen in the house. Hypnosis for, if I would like, I’m just going to put out some scenarios and say, could hypnosis be useful for this? Maybe say yes, no, or a little would be the three options if I may. We’ll say, “I crave cigarettes, and I’d like to crave them less.” Is hypnosis useful for that?

Marc Schoen

A little.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. “I get scared when I’m asking for referrals or feedback, and I’d like to feel less scared”?

Marc Schoen

Very positive. Good.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. “I’d like to sleep longer and better with less interruption.”

Marc Schoen

Good.

Pete Mockaitis

“I would like to stop eating as many cookies, candies, sweets, and diet more disciplined-ly.”

Marc Schoen

A little.

Pete Mockaitis

“I would like to be more assertive in telling my team my expectations for them and how they can improve.”

Marc Schoen

Good.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Anything else I should have mentioned, Marc?

Marc Schoen

Well, no, you did a great job. And you noticed where I said just a little tend to be those things which are more addictive in nature, that hypnosis is just a medium, it’s a single, it’s not a triple or a home run for addictions.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Marc Schoen

The thing I say is just a summary statement, is that in reality, what a lot of people say, “What doesn’t kill me, strengthens me.” It’s really more this, “It’s not the adversity that makes us stronger. It really is our effective management of adversity that makes us stronger and more resilient.” That is the key part of this.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that’s good. Thank you. “I often find myself procrastinating and putting off the hard, uncomfortable things, and doing easier tasks like email.”

Marc Schoen

That’s a mixed one. That’s why I have to say a little, but possibly good. It depends what’s the source of the procrastination. A lot of people just come into the world wired as a procrastinator, and those folks, you can slightly modify it. There are groups of people that are procrastinators that’s totally out of fear.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Marc Schoen

That can be modified that way.

Pete Mockaitis

And how about, “I find myself I just get so distracted. I sit down to do a thing and then I find myself around the news or social media or shopping minutes later.”

Marc Schoen

Not necessarily a good one either. Just a little bit of an effect.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Marc Schoen

One I always like was something that Lance Armstrong had said when he was the Olympic athlete. It’s something along the lines like, “Pain is temporary, but quitting is forever.” That was a good one.

And there’s an old time one, God knows if I’m saying it correctly, it was something along the lines, you know, that we really want to judge someone based on the stage or position in life, but rather judge someone on the obstacles they have overcome. I like that one. I don’t know who said that but…

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite book?

Marc Schoen

I love this book called The Untethered Soul.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite habit?

Marc Schoen

I do self-hypnosis meditation once to two times a day. That is such an incredible way to keep our body in the zone. Because as we get older, it would seem like it shouldn’t be this, but as we get older, it takes more work to stay in that zone.

Pete Mockaitis

And I’m curious, within that self-hypnosis, are there a couple key messages or suggestions that you think really hit home and bring a lot of the result?

Marc Schoen

If I had to say a core feeling is a belief, but it’s a feeling, is that when I’ve looked over my life, I have not had an absence of bad or tough things happen, but I’ve been very fortunate, that ultimately, it all resolves favorably with a few exceptions here and there. So, what I get to is a place of trust and faith and confidence, that no matter how tough something is, I will ultimately have the resources to manage it effectively. So, I’m just going to trust and let this feeling of total openness, non-tightness, safety, lightness be the prevailing dominant feeling I’m going to feel in my body. That’s what it is.

Pete Mockaitis

And is there a key nugget you share with folks that really seems to connect and resonate with them, and they quote back to you often?

Marc Schoen

It really is this notion that we have talked about that I can be uncomfortable, I can feel pressure, and nothing bad will happen to me. There’s no danger. And that I can persevere and succeed and that, ultimately, most people will say, my ability to hang in that place of fire is where the greatest results happen.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Marc Schoen

I would have folks feel free to look at my website. It’s my name, Marc Schoen, M-A-R-C S-C-H-O-E-N.com. You can find out more about me. I will have the downloads that I’ve referenced already there under the product section. But it’ll give you an overview of my work.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Marc Schoen

I would really, really encourage people to challenge their discomfort zones, to push against that key thing I’ve said about rejection and judgment. And even though our tendency is to want to limit our losses, some people call that the negativity bias, often the probabilities of success are actually higher than the probabilities of failure. And so, so I would recommend really pushing that, and being uncomfortable, going in there and just challenging, “I can hang in here, persevere and succeed.”

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, Marc, this is a great time. Thank you. And I wish you the very best.

Marc Schoen

Many thanks. Enjoyed being here.

956: How to Delegate Anything with Dave Kerpen

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Dave Kerpen shows how to get over delegation hangups to tackle your top life priorities and prevent burnout.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to get over yourself and finally begin delegating
  2. How to become a master delegator in 5 steps
  3. A simple rule to prevent embarrassment when delegating and automating

About Dave

Dave Kerpen is a serial entrepreneur, New York Times bestselling author, and global keynote speaker. He is the co-founder and co-CEO of Apprentice, a platform connecting entrepreneurs with top college students, and is the author of several bestselling books, including The Art of People, Likeable Social Media, and Likeable Business.

He is a popular contributor to Inc.com and a LinkedIn Influencer, and has been featured in many media outlets, including the New York Times, the TODAY show, CBS Early Show, BBC, Financial Times, and more. Additionally, Kerpen is the executive chairman of The Nursing Beat and the cofounder and CEO of Remembering Live. He was previously the founder and chairman of Likeable Local, and was the cofounder and CEO of Likeable Media, which was sold to 10Pearls in April 2021.

Resources Mentioned

Dave Kerpen Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Dave, welcome.

Dave Kerpen
Thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to get into your wisdom about delegation. And I’d love it if you could kick us off with maybe one of your most surprising and fascinating discoveries about us humans and delegation.

Dave Kerpen
Well, the most surprising thing is that the secret to delegating is much less about how to do it and much more about getting over yourself up here, getting through your brain, and dealing with the fear and the distrust issues and the perfectionism issues that are likely holding you back.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, succinctly stated right off the get-go, Dave. Thank you. Appreciate it. All right. So, that’s the scoop. So, that’s funny, if people think I’m having trouble delegating, they may very well say, “I need a model. I need some steps. I need an acronym. I need a mnemonic.” And, Dave, you’re saying, “No, what you probably need first is to get over yourself because you’ve got some emotional stuff that’s hindering this whole process.”

Dave Kerpen
Yeah. And, look, my book has the steps and the acronyms and the models, and I love acronyms. I’m all for models, I’m all for systems and tools, but too many people do it to try a system or tool for anything, but certainly, in this case, for delegation, it doesn’t work, and then they say, “Forget it, this doesn’t work.” And the real answer is, “Let’s do the work on ourselves and deal with the issues, the limiting beliefs, the challenge, the fears that are holding us back.”

And then my model might work well but there’s a lot of other models right, or this software might work well but there’s 15 other software that might work well as well. And it’s less about choosing the software and more about getting the mindset right to be able to delegate.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear that. And so, so maybe if folks are so not over themselves, and they don’t even think it’s possible, Dave, can you paint a picture of hope, maybe share some data or a story?

Dave Kerpen
So, first, I’ll paint a picture of a sadder story and then I’ll tell my story, which, hopefully, is a little less sad. Scott came to me, names have all been changed to protect the guilty, but Scott was a long-time real estate entrepreneur, worked for himself, essentially, but built a nice little practice with having a couple people work for him over the years, made a lot, a lot of money, came to me years and years into his career, sort of mentoring me.

He said, “You know, I made a lot of money over the years. My son just turned 21, and I missed his growing up. I missed basketball games. I missed parent-teacher conferences. I missed an awful lot because I was so focused on building my business. And if I could go back, maybe I wouldn’t care so much about building my business because, yeah, it made me lots of money, but I will never get that time back with my son.” And that story struck me.

So, as I was doing the research for my book, I looked at deathbed research, and researched on what deathbed regrets people had. And perhaps this won’t surprise you at all, but, as you might guess, Pete, a very, very small percentage, under 1% of people regret not working enough hours. People almost always, over 50% of people, on the other hand, regret, when they’re asked for deathbed regrets, regret not having more time with friends and family, not having more time to pursue their passions, not having more time to pursue travel and other key hobbies.

We all get the same amount of time and we only get one shot at it in this lifetime. And the reason I wrote this book is that, sure delegation will make you a more productive employee, delegation will make you a more productive leader, delegation will make you a more successful entrepreneur depending on what it is that you do, but I think the stakes are much higher than that. I think delegation is the single biggest key to unlocking success and happiness in life.

And I will share that there’s many, many things that I’m not good at, but one thing that I’ve been fortunate, you know, the sort of happier story is that I pick up my son from the school bus every day, and shut off my phone, and for those three hours after school, I’m helping him with his homework, and we’re playing baseball, we’re having to catch, playing basketball. I’m getting that all-important family time, that all-important parenting time, that’s my priority.

If you’re listening, that might not be your priority, but then you might want to climb Mount Everest, or you might want to work out three hours a day, or you might want to find the love of your life. Delegation is the biggest tool that allows us to have the freedom to pursue our number one, two, and three priorities in life. And so, for me, that’s something I’m proud of, and I wrote this book to help share that with others.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful. So, delegation unlocks all kinds of good possibilities for us. The hangup is that we are stuck believing that, “I don’t trust them. They won’t do it as good as I can. Only I am capable of doing this,” any number of these beliefs, mindsets, etc.

So, Dave, help us out, if we are in that place, like, “Okay, Dave, that sounds really awesome. Maybe you’ve managed to find some great people, but I mean, I’ve got a team of knuckleheads or I’ve been burnt before in terms of trying to delegate, and it didn’t go so well. So, what do I do?”

Dave Kerpen
Well, I mentioned before, maybe you try a tool and it doesn’t work, and then you sort of give up. I think a lot of people delegate poorly and choose poorly the person to delegate to. And when we get into my system, an acronym, and I do believe in such things, like I said, the number one and the most important aspect in the beginning is who you choose. And they choose the wrong person, they choose the person that’s there, the most convenient, cheapest, lots of reasons, but they choose the wrong person. And then, of course, it’s going to fail if you choose the wrong person.

But you got to keep trying until you get it right because the solution can’t be that you do everything. You’ll burn out. You’ll be miserable. You won’t have all that time. So, let’s attack one of those myths that you shared, Pete, “You’re the best person for the job.” Let’s really think about this. If we think about this rationally for a minute, there’s 7 billion people. I said I’m good at delegating. I’m pretty good at marketing, there are so many things I’m not good at.

And for me to think that I am the best person for any given task, virtually anything, let’s say anything actually, because honestly, there’s lots and lots of people that are way better at any possible thing that I could do. It’s frankly narcissistic and somewhat ridiculous of me to really try to convince myself that I am the best person for the job. I am very, very rarely the best person for the job. I might be the only person that knows precisely what’s in my head for how to do something, but I might also be wrong about the best way to do something. In fact, I’m probably wrong about the best way to do something.

Chances are there’s people out there that could get to the finish line much, much better than I can. So, if that’s, in fact, true, then the next challenge that I have is, “Okay, how can I choose the right person and then explain what that finish line looks like in a really clear, concise way that allows that person to be mutually aligned with me on precisely what the outcome looks like?” And then the trust issue comes up, “How can I…?”

This is hard, I get how hard this is, you know, I’ve been there, I’ve managed a lot, I’ve coached a lot of people here that have a tough time trusting others, but there has to be some level of trust that somebody else is going to get, it’s going to make their way to the finish line, and they’re probably not going to do it the same way I would. In fact, it’s very rare that they would do it the same way I would, but they might do it differently, and they might do it better than I would. And if they can get to the finish line, if they can get even to 80% of the finish line the way I would have done it, but allow me the time to do other things and not worry about it, well, then I have won.

Pete Mockaitis
Inspiring, yes. I like the winning and that’s cool. Let’s stay with the myths for a little bit longer. I’m with you. Okay, fair enough, Dave, 7 billion people alive on this Earth. Maybe I am. Maybe I am one in a million. Well, there’s 7,000 people that are as good or better than I am at that thing. So, okay, fair enough.

But in terms of realistically speaking, can I find that person? Will they be available? Can I afford them? In terms of the practical realities, are we thinking that, in fact, it is still the case that I could find someone who will do a thing better than me, even if I’m awesome at that thing, given these real-world constraints?

Dave Kerpen
Well, let me answer that in two ways. First is maybe they won’t do it better than you, but this is where most of us, to one extent or another, are perfectionists, so we have an idea about what we want something to be, and perhaps better than us is not necessary, and perhaps the same as us is not necessary. That’s where I got to that 80-85%. If they can get to 80-85% of what we would want, but relieve us of all the stress and the work and the agita of getting there, then I see that as a good outcome.

The other thing I want to address is this issue of, “How do I find this person, this mythological person? I can’t afford it. I don’t have the resources. I don’t have the money, etc.” That may be the case, but more often than not, when people come to me with this, and I challenge them on it, we get to the heart of it, and it seems like they’re making excuses because they’re afraid or distrustful or maybe truly ignorant.

In this day and age, when I can personally go on Fiverr and hire somebody for $5 to design a flyer for me, or if I’m really looking for high level…so, that’s on the one end, on the basic task, right? And then on the higher end, folks come to me, and say, “Well, I can’t find a CMO. I can’t afford a CMO.”

And to them I say, “Maybe you can’t afford it, maybe you don’t have the cash, but then maybe if you’re an entrepreneur, you can share equity and find a partner here. Find a partner. Much better to have a smaller piece of a bigger pie and find a partner, or a partner or two or three.” I think there are always creative solutions to find folks to delegate. You could be listening to the show, Pete, and you could be an entry-level employee.

If you have a set of tasks, and you’re responsible for getting those tasks done, and you think of a more creative way to get them done than you doing it, like, for instance, hiring somebody on Upwork and Fiverr for X dollars, and you vet the process and manage the process, and you pitch your boss on the business case for getting the job done that way versus you doing data entry, or whatever that tedious work is all day long, I can’t predict what the boss will say.

But I know that if somebody came to me and gave me a good business case for managing something differently and better than I had thought of in the first place, I’d say, “Great, go for it.” So, a lot of the time, it’s a matter of creatively thinking through better ways to divvy up the work than maybe we’re thinking. Maybe we’re too stuck in the box of having to get the work done ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we’ve busted one myth. Could you bust another or help us with a general thinking, doing approach for getting over ourselves?

Dave Kerpen
So, Pete, I think the number one thing that holds us back, and the reason Get Over Yourself is really as high as the dual meaning of get over yourself to delegate work, but also get over the mindset issues that get in your way is fear. I think that a lot of us, at all ages and all levels of seniority at companies, have fear of failure, have fear of not getting things right, have fear that other folks won’t get the job done as well as we would, have fear that, maybe if we’re off with our kids or golfing or doing something else, that we’re not doing our job right, even if the work gets done.

There are all these fears that we have, and, ultimately fear, of course, is false evidence appearing real. Fear holds us back. All fear holds us back. And so, in my model, in my vision, in my dream, and in my scenario, and what I try to do, is feel the fear because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of screwing up on your podcast right now. I’m afraid about being valuable for your listeners. I’m afraid of not delivering. But I understand that fear, and then I proceed and act anyway. That’s literally the definition of courage.

And so, instead of, like, trying to push the fear away, when we embrace it and tackle it head on, and say, “It’s okay to be afraid that this person is going to screw up. It’s okay to be afraid that we’re going to lose our jobs. It’s okay to be afraid that we’re going to lose our clients.” And, in the face of that fear, I’m going to take an action and figure out how to best delegate this work so that I don’t lose my mind, so that I don’t burn out, so that I get this job done in a better way than maybe I would have otherwise. And that’s the courage that it takes to get over ourselves in that manner.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I dig it. Thank you. So, yeah, let’s talk about the model in terms of how, in fact, do we determine what we ought to delegate, and then do so effectively?

Dave Kerpen
So, we’ve got two acronyms. You mentioned the acronyms earlier, and while I said that acronyms are great, I said, “We got to deal with the mindset issues first.” So, we’ve dealt with the mindset issues. We’re through it. We’re having the courage to act. And now what do we actually do and what do we actually delegate?

And so, the model is there’s three things that we should be doing as leaders, managers, individuals with jobs. Those three things have to do with the overall vision and strategy of the goals here. If we’re in a position to hire people, making sure that we have the right people in the right seats, the hiring process, and the resources issue.

Now, resource is a tricky one. If you’re the CEO, yeah, it’s your job to make sure there’s money in the bank. If you manage an apartment, it’s your job to manage up and make sure to your boss that you have the headcount and the resources to get the job done. And if you are managing projects but not people, it is absolutely your job to make sure that you, personally, have the bandwidth and resources, and that, again, you manage up your boss, to say, “This is what I will need to get the job done.” And if that includes an extra $100 to manage a Fiverr project, well, then you’ve got to advocate for that.

So, those three things, strategy and vision, hiring the right people in the right seats, and access to resources and capital to get the job done. After those three things, my belief is that you can delegate nearly all, if not all of the rest. And so, the SHARE model is strategy, hiring, access to capital, and then remind ourselves that, if there’s anything else, we can, E, empower somebody else to do the job.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Dave Kerpen
Then we move into the 5Cs model of delegation. The first, and probably most important C, is choosing the right person or resource to delegate to. Again, we may think, listening right now, because I’ve done a bunch of podcasts that I already know, and I’ve done a lot of coaching of people, and I’ve heard all of the complaints, all the excuses already, “I don’t have the resources. I don’t have the money. I don’t have the budget.”

So, let me share that when we’re thinking about choosing the right person, it is not just a full-time employee that you could delegate this work to. It could be an intern, it could be an apprentice, it could be a contractor on Upwork or Fiverr, it could be a virtual assistant, it could be a vendor, a consultant, there are a partner, there are numerous types of folks that you could delegate the work to.

And the biggest mistake folks do is jumping immediately to hiring the wrong person, maybe just the person that’s the closest in proximity, the person that works down the hall from them, the person that is their peer, the person that, “Oh, my goodness, my first company was in the social media space.” Do you know how many people hired their 21-year-old niece or nephew to run social media for their company because they happened to be the 21-year-old?

Pete Mockaitis
“You use Instagram.”

Dave Kerpen
“You’ve been on it. You’ve been on TikTok. You have a TikTok account, don’t you? Make some videos for me.” So, this first big mistake is choosing the wrong person. And if there’s anything that should be the bottleneck – nothing really should be a bottleneck – but if there’s anything that it’s worth taking the most time on, it’s that first piece of choosing the person to delegate to.

The next C is communicating clearly what the intended outcome is. And, note, what I’m talking about is not every step. There are some folks out there that, whether I say it or not, they’re going to micromanage, they’re going to do the standard operating procedures, they’re going to do detailed instructions on precisely how to get to the finish line.

And if that’s really important to you, I’m not here to say you can’t do that, but in my experience when hiring people, folks like autonomy. They like to be able to get to the finish line in their own way, zigzag a little bit, learn a little bit, have some freedom. People aren’t robots. They don’t want to just, like, input in, output out. They don’t want to be robots.

Exception might be GPT and actually delegating to robots. We can get to that in a little while. But when we’re managing people, what I would say is, the key thing here with this C is to communicate clearly the intended outcome, what does success really look like, paint that picture, and then, ideally, empower them to get there the way that they see fit.

The next C is coaching them to success. Way too many people see themselves as managers. Nobody likes managers. Managers are bosses. Managers are in your face. Managers are not there to support you. They’re there to boss you around. Coaches, on the other hand, which is I strongly urge you all to use the word coach instead of manager. Coaches, anyone that’s played sports as a kid has had the experience of having a coach, hopefully, a good coach, somebody that cheers them on, teaches them along the way, supports them when they have challenges. So, by all means, coach your person on to success.

The fourth C is check in on the regular. I personally like weekly 15-minute check-ins, just where I’m there to say, “Any challenges? How can I help you reach your goals, etc.?” And then the final C, which is often also forgotten, is congratulate them. When you get to the finish line, please, by all means, like, celebrate success. Celebrate success together and then, of course, move on to the next project. So, that’s, in a nutshell, the SHARE model for what to delegate, and the 5Cs model for how to delegate when possible.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like that a lot. And, Dave, I’d love it if you could make this come alive for me with an example that I’ve heard is quite tricky. I was chatting with someone who is just excellent at sales, in terms of when he’s having those conversations with a prospect, they are just listening wonderfully, asking great questions, building rapport, being super honest and creative, like, “Hey, these are the solutions we got. This might work for you. This probably won’t. This is what I would try instead, such that it generates referrals and business and great close rates, all sorts of lovely things.”

And yet, the challenge is there’s a whole lot of other responsibilities in the universe of making sales happen beyond talking to a prospect in terms of managing the lists, and the outbounds, and the marketing, and the vetting of the potential prospect, etc. And so, we’ve had some conversations, like, “Boy, it should be great if there’s a way that we could delegate all of that, such that you just had appointment after appointment after appointment, and doing what you’re amazing at, and doing less of what sort of sucks your energy, and is not perhaps the highest and best use of your time. That’d be really cool.”

And he said, “Yes, that would be really cool, but in practice I’ve never actually seen a master salesperson do that effectively because people come in, prospects come in, you want to be quick and responsive to them, like, all the time, before the demo or the meeting, and then have the follow-ups, but the follow-ups are best coming from you and not someone else, because they’re like, ‘Wait, who’s this other person? Am I going to talk to this person? I want to talk to the main salesperson, and not the secondary assistant to the salesperson.’”

And so, these are the sorts of hang-ups that have made this tricky. So, Dave, I’m just going to lay that on you, and say, here’s the trickiest delegation question I’ve bumped into, how do we crack it?

Dave Kerpen
Well, Pete, it’s as if we planned this, and God is my witness, we did not. But the story that I will share is actually precisely the same role, and I didn’t write about this in the book, but perhaps I should have. A very impressive young man, Sam, who was a salesperson for me, who, very similar to what you said, was an excellent salesperson, not so excellent, as frankly probably many salespeople are, not so excellent at the pre-work, the post-work, the putting it into the CRM, all of that administrative stuff.

And he said to me, “Dave, can I have a budget for an assistant?” And I said, “No. So, here’s what I’m going to do. You take the chats. You prove the business model. You hire the assistant out of your commissions. And if it works, I’ll make the budget for you.” I wanted him invested in making it work. And, lo and behold, he took money out of his own commission check to fund an assistant to do all of that, to delegate all of that stuff to. And this is a rare case because in corporate America, you’re not funding a headcount out of your own pocket, right? That’s pretty insane.

But in this small business entrepreneurial environment, he pitched me. I said, “Here’s the deal. You want to do this? Go ahead.” And guess what? It worked, and I created the budget for sales support, for admin support because he was able to prove that there was a business value in delegating all that other stuff, that frankly was not the best use of his time, to somebody else. So, it’s absolutely doable. It is doable.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so it is doable, and that’s encouraging. Could you share with us a little bit of the particulars, some of the nitty-gritty for how this vexing delegation problem can actually be cracked in the nuts and bolts?

Dave Kerpen
I mean, he chose, he interviewed a bunch of people. We’ll walk you through with the five C’s model. So, he interviewed a bunch of people. He knew what he was looking for. And for him, while the tasks were important, the fit, the cultural fit, the somebody that he could reach out to and really bounce things off of was probably even more important. So, I’m not him, but as I understand, he interviewed maybe seven or eight people, hired somebody.

Hired AJ. Gave AJ very clear directions over the types of prospects that he wanted him to reach out to. AJ did the prospecting. AJ did the outreach. There were some missteps along the way. People are going to make mistakes, that’s okay, as long as you coach them. So, Sam coached him, “You know, actually, I’d like more prospects like this,” and he did just that.

He adjusted along the way, getting him better prospects. They showed up for the call. Sam did his work. He closed them up, passed them back to AJ, who followed up to do the contracts and do the follow-ups and do all of that administrative work, getting them in the CRMs and doing the contracts and all that stuff. And, ultimately, both people did their jobs. And Sam made a lot more money for himself, and for me, for the company, by delegating that work and see him coaching his assistant through the steps that he needed done.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And not to get too much into the weeds here.

Dave Kerpen
Yeah, no, weeds.

Pete Mockaitis
When AJ was reaching out, AJ is reaching out, as AJ in his name and his email to the people, and he’s saying to the prospects, “Oh, let me have you speak with Sam.” And there’s a handoff? Or is AJ stealth being Sam?

Dave Kerpen
No, no, there’s a handoff. I think that authenticity is important. And so, I’m all for delegating, clearly, many, many things, but if you get a LinkedIn message from me, it’s from me. And I might have an assistant, my apprentices are going to write all the messages, they might draft all the messages, they might select all, using whatever criteria, they’ll do all the work in figuring out who to send messages to. But I like to click send. I do think it’s important, at the end of the day, for authenticity of we are who we say we are.

Pete Mockaitis
And I agree. And what’s really funny is, in this particular delegation scenario, and I guess this is a tricky nuance I’m glad we’re discussing, it’s funny because, well, so, Dave, I get a lot of inbound pitches. People want to be on the podcast, and that’s cool. What a great place to be. What a blessing. But what’s really funny is it’s clear that either there are, I don’t know, PR firms or software or automations or something happening, where someone says, “Oh, hey, Peter, I think we could really make a great podcast, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,”

And I say, “Yes, I agree. In fact, we did make a great podcast four months ago. It was memorable to me. I’m sorry if you’ve already forgotten it.” And I’m just teasing them because I know what’s happening, and they’re like, “Oh, Pete, I’m so sorry. Oh!” you know. Or, I’d be like, “Hey, Justin, I’m getting this message from you, but it feels as though we don’t have a relationship and we haven’t seen each other in person numerous times, and we certainly have.” And he’s like, “Oh, yeah, sorry!”

And so that happens, and I don’t hold it against them, like, “You’re dead to me for this faux pas.” But it does diminish a little bit. It’s not a good feeling, and it could actually, in fact, be more devastating if, in fact, they’re like, “Hey, what the heck, man? We’ve had a long-standing business relationship, and maybe actually things are tense right now in our business relationship, and I’m getting an automated message from ‘you’ that isn’t really from you.” That might be enough to push it over the edge.

I think there’s a lot to it, whether it’s a human or a robot or an automation, that the way you’ve said it is, it’s like, you’re the person who clicks send, because then you can be like, “No, wait a minute, not that person. I’m already friends with that person. They don’t get a message like this.”

Dave Kerpen
That’s right. That’s right. And as much as I think that there are lots and lots of opportunity for delegation to tools and use of software tools when we don’t have, you know, I talk about resources to delegate, sometimes we don’t have individuals, or we don’t think we have individuals to delegate to. There are a lot of great tools to manage a lot of tasks. But when it comes to communication with people, I do think authenticity is an issue.

It’s funny. I told the story in my very first book, now 12 years ago, about I was friends with a State Senator on Facebook and I got a chat, a live chat from him asking me for a donation. And I was like, “Huh? I donated. I feel like I donated recently.” And he replied, “I know but I really need a little bit more.” And something was amiss, so I said, “Wait, this is my State…” I’ll protect the guilty here. I said, “This is my State Senator, X and X name, right?” Pause. And I said, “Please respond.” “Actually, this is an intern. I’m managing the account.”

Like you said, sometimes the stakes are higher than other times. I mean, if I really wanted to blow that person up for using interns to pretend to be them, to ask for money, I mean, it’s a really bad look, I think. So, I think we have to be very cautious about how much we, I’ll say how much we automate, and how much we automate about that final step in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I’ve heard that said as a general rule of thumb for AI, like, “Have a human in the process so it doesn’t do dumb things, like automatically deny everybody’s health insurance claims.” Like, whoopsie daisy, you know, or a number of the embarrassments that people have managed to get themselves into when they use AI without the human oversight touch.

Dave Kerpen
Yeah, I love, love, love large language models like ChatGPT for drafts, first drafts of articles, of emails, of marketing plans. I mean, there is massive, massive value in the work that a large language model can provide and produce, given the right input. So, the work becomes less about what to produce and more about the inputs, the prompts that you give the models.

But all of that is really wonderful, again, for a first draft, and then I urge you, as a human, to take that first draft and check it over, first of all, like literally, for some obvious ones. We’ve heard some of the horror stories there. But then work with it, use it as a starting point, because what a great starting point. Sometimes folks have come to me super overwhelmed.

Actually, I just had a woman that I invested in say, “I need a marketing plan. I don’t know even where to start.” And I said, “Here’s where to start. Go to ChatGPT, put in your goals, put in your budget, put in your target audience, and ask for a draft of a marketing plan.” She did it, and it produced a six-page marketing plan for her to consider. Now that’s a great first draft, but it took 10 minutes. And years ago, or without me, without that idea, she might have taken 10 hours to come up with that initial starting point.

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

Dave Kerpen
I want to give the listeners credit. Sometimes I take for granted that some of this stuff is easy because I’ve been doing it for a while, but I want to recognize that it’s hard. It’s hard to shift the mindset. It’s hard to change. It’s hard to let go of stuff that you’re used to owning and controlling and doing the work on. I want to really take a moment to recognize that and appreciate that. If you’re listening and you’re thinking, “Well, he’s full of S-H, and in the real world, this is hard.”

I hear you and I get it. It is hard stuff and it is worth doing the work on, is my pitch. It’s worth muddling through and challenging oneself, and becoming more self-aware about the limiting beliefs and challenge and fears that are holding us back from delegating more, and the constraints that we think we have that maybe we don’t have as badly as we might think, and then doing the work. And there’s a brighter side on the other side of the rainbow, it really is. It gets easier.

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

Dave Kerpen
Sure. My favorite quote is from Seth Godin, who writes, “How dare you settle for less when the world’s made it so easy to be remarkable?” I think so many of us go through life like not being as intentional as we could be, and not doing the work to really stand out, and be amazing. And I think, like Seth says, it’s not that hard to be amazing. Go for it.

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

Dave Kerpen
Probably Adam Grant’s research. He’s probably my favorite author and I love his research. I’ll go back to his initial research from his first book, Give and Take, that talked about givers, takers, and matchers, and the value of becoming a giver and giving freely. It’s a little tricky to talk about this on a podcast because I get that I’m giving information, but it’s more of a matching situation. I’m expecting to get book promotion. I’m getting that and I’m grateful for it.

But that first book of his that I read really moved me, if I wasn’t a giver already, to become a giver to the extent possible, and the research shows that it pays. It’s ironic because we need to give without the expectation of getting something back, but when we do that, it just comes back to us tenfold in the long run.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And can you share a favorite tool something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Dave Kerpen
There’s so many that I could talk about, but I want to say that the free, simplest set of tools is Google Suite. Yeah, Google Sheets, Google Docs, and Google Slides. Those three I use nearly every day, and for next to nothing I’m able to do a lot of cool stuff. So, thank you, Google.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Dave Kerpen
Walking. Walking gets the blood flowing and is a healthy habit. I chuckled because I have a whole bunch of habits that maybe aren’t enjoyable, maybe not as healthy as walking.

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?

Dave Kerpen
With the context of delegation in mind, it’s probably “Hire slow, fire fast.”

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

Dave Kerpen
I would say, first and foremost, I have pro bono office hours. I’ve met with 838 people over the last 10 years on Thursday afternoons. So, anyone that wants to chat with me, get some free coaching, absolutely no strings attached, I never charge for coaching ever, go to ScheduleDave.com, and you can book some free time with me on a Thursday afternoon. Of course, the book Get Over Yourself, and all my books are available on Amazon and bookstores everywhere. And if you’re looking for really awesome college-level talent, ChooseApprentice.com is our website.

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

Dave Kerpen
Feel the fear. Life is scary. Be courageous. Think of what you can get off of your plate and challenge yourself to say no, say no to more, and then figure out how you can take those no’s and get that work done in one way or the other, either delegating to humans, delegating to ChatGPT, getting that work off your plate so that you can say yes to more, not necessarily at your job, but more of your priorities in your life and with your family.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Dave, this is powerful stuff. Thank you. I wish you many more successful delegations.

Dave Kerpen
Thank you so much for having me, Pete. It’s great to connect.