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Communication

382: The Immense Power of Clarity with Karen Martin

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Lean management authority Karen Martin shares how many workplace problems can be solved through better clarity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why people fear asking for clarity
  2. Key clarifying questions that stimulate great thinking
  3. Why tolerance for ambiguity is actually bad

About Karen

Karen Martin, president of the global consulting firm TKMG, Inc., is a leading authority on business performance and Lean management. Known for her keen diagnostic skills and rapid-results approach, Karen and her team have worked with clients such as AT&T, Chevron, Epson, GlaxoSmithKline, International Monetary Fund, Lenovo, Mayo Clinic, Prudential Insurance, Qualcomm, and the United States Department of Homeland Security to develop more efficient work systems, grow market share, solve business problems, and accelerate performance.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Karen Martin Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Karen, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome at your Job podcast.

Karen Martin
Hi Pete, great to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yes, well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. To start, I understand you have an aspiration to write not just business-y type books, but also thrillers. What’s the story here?

Karen Martin
Oh, I don’t even know where it came from. I always liked to write and I always liked to read. I tended as I became an adult to read mysteries and thrillers with the early John Grisham books and everything and just always loved it. Then I moved to Los Angeles and I was surrounded by screenwriters and film people, so I was just always thinking about plots and subplots and characters.

I started writing back I think it was in ’93 and wrote one completely, got an agent. But he – it was pretty funny. He wanted me to raise the body count, meaning kill more people. Seriously, I’m not kidding about this, you have to actually think about how to kill people.

Pete Mockaitis
And you do.

Karen Martin
You really do. I just got to where I didn’t like having to think – I had a whole shelf of books about how to kill people, poisons and gas and guns and-

Pete Mockaitis
And the FBI knocks on your door, “Hey Karen, checking in.”

Karen Martin
Yeah, yeah. I just decided I didn’t really have it in me, even though I wanted to do it. I don’t really think I have it in every cell of my body to kill people, so I’m not writing thrillers anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, so I’m intrigued, what was your favorite way to kill people? I don’t know how I want to define the word ‘favorite’ but I’ll leave it to you.

Karen Martin
Well, so I always liked the non-gun way because I just can’t stand guns. I did come up with a couple clever ways. I can’t remember the name of the drug, but there’s a drug – it’s kind of like the modern day version of what’s that tree – oh, I’m blanking. What’s that tree – serum that comes from trees and it kills people pretty quickly. It’s like the modern day version of that. I can’t think of it.

But I just heard of something. I heard that someone killed someone just recently using Visine and putting Visine in a drink.

Pete Mockaitis
How much Visine do you need to-?

Karen Martin
Apparently not much because this – I think it was a spouse thing. I don’t remember if it was the wife killed the husband or vice-versa, but Visine, really? But these are the kind of things I would think about on a regular basis. I now think about how to help leaders and businesses perform at higher levels, so much ….

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yes, I’m more into that as well. Boy, I’ve used Visine many times. Now I’m wondering.

Karen Martin
I have too. It does kind of sting when it goes in. I didn’t look up the ingredients yet. I should do that when we’re done.

Pete Mockaitis
Fascinating. Now can you tell us – what’s your company and the Karen Martin Group all about?

Karen Martin
I actually started out in health care a long time ago and was building operations. It could be hospital operations, clinical laboratories, physician practices. I did a lot of building networks of hospitals and physicians and things like that.

Then I just had this weird coincidence in my life where I needed to go to San Diego and there was a position at San Diego State University in their extension program overseeing their whole quality and improvement operations excellence programs. I had been consulting for seven years, but I had reason to want to get off the road because I had children suddenly. I decided to take that.

I got introduced to this whole new way of thinking about operational design and business performance known as, back then, lean manufacturing. I had zero manufacturing experience, but as I started learning about it, it was just so intuitive and sensible and practical. I started kind of knocking on doors in health care to get them to listen to this Japanese model of business management that was so powerful.

Then many years later now, it’s in every industry is trying it at some level. Most are being successful in pockets. Yeah, so it just was a weird transition that I couldn’t have predicted.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. We actually had Mr. Taguchi come and speak to our class when I was in college. It was so funny because none of us recognized the significance of this man. But our professor says, “He is in our country. He is in our city. We must go see him,” so we all took off class and went to the auditorium. Yeah, so powerful stuff.

Karen Martin
It is powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
You share some of the tidbits in your book, Clarity First, sort of what would you say is the main point here?

Karen Martin
Well, Clarity First was a follow-on book to The Outstanding Organization and kind of what’s behind The Outstanding Organization is my studying organizations for decades and learning that most of the problems with performance came down to four missing attributes or conditions in organizations. Those are clarity, focus, discipline and engagement. It’s not rocket science and yet it’s woefully lacking in most organizations.

Clarity, that chapter got so much attention and a lot of emotion came to me through the people saying, “Wow, I had no idea that we were operating in this sea of ambiguity and what it was doing to me and my team and our performance and everything.” I just knew I had to write a book.

I thought that a single subject book would be really easy to write—hah! Not so much. Clarity is tough. Clarity is very interesting and it was tough to write about to be honest.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And it’s tough to get a lot of times. Maybe before we hit the how, I’d like to hear a little bit of the why. Now, I know from my experience in working in organizations that when things are unclear a lot of my time gets sort of sucked in terms of speculation. Do they want this or do they want that? I don’t quite know.

But can you share how you quantified the impact of unclarity in work places nationwide or any other sort of stunning statistics that point to whoa, this is a big deal?

Karen Martin
Yeah, so there’s a metric that we use called percent complete and accurate. We use it to measure the quality of information always. It can be verbal, written, any way that information is being passed from one person to the next or one team to the next.

When you map out a process using that metric – we also use time also to look at processes – when you map out the percent complete and accurate, it’s not unusual at all to have at some point in a process a team or person say “None of the time do I get work that’s clear that I can just do what I need to do without having to go back and ask follow-up questions and clarify and get through this ambiguity.” Customer requirements are often very unclear. What leaders want people to do with the project is often very unclear.

In our view, it’s a fundamental act of disrespect to pass information on to someone and expect them to do something with it, when in fact it’s unclear. It’s about raising our own bar in how we communicate with others and business processes are one of the areas we receive the biggest problem related to too much ambiguity.

Pete Mockaitis
This is funny. This reminds me back to my Bain Consulting days. It was kind of a joke, but kind of not a joke that rather than saying, “I don’t know,” we would say, “It’s unclear.” They really are pretty synonymous except ‘it’s unclear,’ makes you seem like you’re smarter because it’s not me that’s ignorant. It’s unclear, fundamentally, intrinsically.

Karen Martin
That’s interesting. That’s a funny little play on words.

Pete Mockaitis
I dug that. Then, you also measure time. How does that work?

Karen Martin
Well, there’s two different times we measure. One is the time it takes to actually do the work if you could do it uninterrupted, but yet most people have interruptions and other things that get in the way of being able to do work uninterrupted. That one – the process time is the time it takes to do work.

Then lead time is the time from beginning – or the work being available to be worked on till that piece of the work is done and passed on to the next person or team in a chain. That’s often a much, much larger number than the time it takes to actually do the work.

Then when you start looking at it is well, why is that? If it only takes five minutes to do something, why is it taking three days to get it done? That opens up lots and lots of doors to discovering the different barriers that are in the way of getting work to actually flow, which is something that makes leaders happy, makes people doing the work feel good. Flow is a good thing. Lack of flow is very frustrating.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. This percent complete and percent accurate, what’s the distinction there again? Like, I have all the stuff versus I know what you’re saying is it kind of?

Karen Martin
Yeah, so it’s I have everything I need and it’s as clear as it needs to be for me to move forward and do my work, whatever that task or that person’s task is. It means am I having to do any form of rework or am I not.

Rework is both just correcting wrong information, it’s also adding information that’s missing that should have or could have been supplied. But the big one is clarifying information that isn’t clear to begin with. That’s a much higher percentage of the reasons for rework than what people think when they are not sensitized to it. Once they’re sensitized to it, they’re like, “Oh my God.”

We’re not suggesting you don’t clarify when you need to. We’re suggesting you get rid of the need for clarification by giving better information upfront.

Pete Mockaitis
This is intriguing because I think that – well, I’ll just play devil’s advocate a little bit. If someone says, “Karen, the work we’re doing is complex and not everything is known and spelled out and I, as a highly paid executive, passing it on to a slightly lesser paid manager am counting on that person proactively using their initiative and gumption and judgment and problem solving to advance clarity and get it done. Should it really be my job to lay that out for them as a high-level professional?”

Karen Martin
Yeah, that’s a really good distinction. It’s really – in that case it’s about having enough clarity when the work is assigned that the person knows what they need to do to get going on seeking that clarity that’s part of the project.

Often times when the assignment is given, the goal or the mission or the outcome that you’re looking for, the result, that’s unclear. Then the person starts going down a path that may not be the path that the leader intended in the first place.

And people are afraid. I talk to people all the time, they are afraid to go back and clarify when the big boss has given them something to do. It’s very risky to not clarify, very risky.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s risky to not clarify, but the fear is associated with doing the clarifying and can you speak to what – how’s that fear? What’s it look, sound, feel like and to what extent is it warranted and justified versus a phantom?

Karen Martin
It’s almost always warranted and justified if you get even one case of proof, where you ask for clarification, you get smacked down.

Pete Mockaitis
“Karen, figure it out.”

Karen Martin
Yeah. If that happens, that’s proof. You know it is. However, what often happens is we’re shaped, we behave, and we think based on all of our experiences in life.

What happens very often is we either have parents or early teachers or early bosses who have a whole different set of reasons why they don’t want you to seek clarity. They don’t want you to be curious. They don’t want you to be humble and approach things in the really positive way. You get tamped down. Little by little that fear starts rising because you get in trouble for asking questions.

What has to happen as adults we have to be able to differentiate between that situation and this situation and be more intentional about is it safe to ask or is it not safe to ask. I would pause, if it’s not safe to ask for clarification, got to really start thinking about getting in a different environment where that clarification is honored.

Pete Mockaitis
What would the punishment or the reprisal or the feared for response kind of sound like in practice? It’s like I ask you for clarification and you give me the response I fear. What’s that kind of response sound like?

Karen Martin
Well, it can be everything from, “Stop asking so many questions. You don’t need to know all this.” Those kinds of things to people not knowing the answer and not being able to say, “I don’t know,” or “That’s unclear.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so they just lie or make something up or-?

Karen Martin
Oh yeah, people lie all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Karen Martin
Because they’re insecure about saying ‘I don’t know.’

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Karen Martin
Yeah, it’s a weird – it’s a really weird – it’s a slippery slope and it’s a weird dynamic between people and teams. This isn’t just individuals. This is between entire work teams within an organization where you see this “Well, da, da, da,” because they don’t want to appear that they don’t know and don’t feel comfortable saying, “I don’t know,” which is the three most powerful words besides ‘I love you’ that there is. ‘I don’t know.’

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell me, why is it so powerful?

Karen Martin
Because it’s honest. It’s authentic. We don’t know. If we know everything, then we are operating from a place of arrogance. We don’t know. It’s being very humble and it’s not being not powerful. Actually, the more powerful people that really have power, you’ll hear them say ‘I don’t know’ a lot because they really don’t know.

No leader especially can know a lot of the kinds of questions that people at middle levels or even lower levels in the organization ask. They don’t know. They’re not the experts in that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so intriguing when you talk about the lying then. I guess that puts you in trouble if you listened – you asked for clarification, you get a lie back, and then you kind of make good on doing just what you thought you’re supposed to do based on the lie and then they probably could sort of retract that lie, like “Well, you asked for this.” “I asked for no such thing, Karen.” What a mess.

Karen Martin
Yeah, what a mess. Exactly. Hopefully you don’t have to resort to the CYA thing where you document everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, “Please confirm. Please confirm.”

Karen Martin
There’s plenty of cultures where that becomes the norm.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Then, boy, I want to get your take then – well, first just I think we locked in the complete and accurate situation.

We may have a wildly undefined piece of work, but so long as you’ve got enough to begin charging down on it, then that counts as 100% complete, 100% accurate from your assessment such that if I said, “Hey, figure out a marketing strategy. We know very little, but we do know that we’ve got $20,000 to spend and that we want it to be very trackable and that it should have strong reason to suspect a tremendous ROI. Go,” so that would be kind of enough to count as accurate and complete?

Karen Martin
Yeah, those are clear requirements, so the person can do what they need to do. A lot of times we get clarity and certainty confused. They’re related.

Pete Mockaitis
Nice, that’s good to distinguish.

Karen Martin
Yeah, and transparency also is a bit of a cousin there, but they’re not the same. You can be very certain that you’re unclear and that’s good. You can be very clear that you’re uncertain. Did I say that-?

Pete Mockaitis
I think you got it both ways, yeah.

Karen Martin
Yeah, yeah. Certainty is very normal and there’s a lot in life, especially with new product development or market types of decisions. There’s a lot you’re not certain about. But you can be clear about what your goals are, you can be clear about any kind of constraints that are in the way. You can be clear about a whole lot that makes getting work done a whole lot more effective, higher quality and faster, a lot faster.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. You mentioned, we were talking about getting the data on how big a problem is you said sometimes you’ll see straight zeroes, like it’s totally unclear or incomplete or inaccurate. Do you have a benchmark average or median where it’s like generally we see roughly between X and Y percent of completeness and accuracy?

Karen Martin
Well, when we map either a process, which is very technical level process or value streams, which are a series of processes that deliver value to a customer, the percent complete inaccurate in businesses processes, so I’m not going to talk about patient care and health care or manufacturing yet, but in businesses processes, it’s not at all unusual to see the cumulation of all the individual percent CNAs be around 15%, meaning 85% of the time, the work is not being passed forward as clear as it can and should be or as complete.

There’s also that complete. We’re not talking so much about that today, but there’s that complete and clear part of that metric.

In manufacturing it can get up more the 50%, 60, 70, 80. Health care also can get up into those. But when you have business processes, most organizations haven’t spent any time really working on their business processes. It’s the area that is the predecessor to the actual delivery of value to a customer. It’s really important to get high levels of clarity in those processes. They’re often ignored.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us an example of a business process and where some things might fall short along the chain?

Karen Martin
Sure, so business process could be in the HR area, IT, finance, or in the case of insurance, it could be their whole product line is a business process, so processing a claim, processing an application. What happens is as people are learning how to do the job, they’re taking in information, making assumptions – that’s the other thing is we operate with assumptions and biases and history that may not be relevant or valid for that situation.

Then they pass it on and sometimes the people that they get the work from, don’t know that it’s wrong because they’re not the ones thinking in the way that the predecessor was thinking. It just is a bit of a snowball when this keeps getting passed down the chain and everybody – no one’s really sure that the information is unclear. I’m sorry, they’re not sure it’s wrong at the point that it gets passed down.

When you’re working with a computer, you’re pretty much doing a business process. When you’re data heavy, transactional, all those kinds of processes that are not making a widget, for example, or treating a patient, those are business processes or administrative processes you can also call them.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s interesting, so in the realm of say filing or processing an insurance claim, as an insurance company, they do this many, many times per day/month. Where might there be some key breakdowns that we shouldn’t stand for and tolerate? We should say, “What’s up with this? Let’s fix it.”

Karen Martin
Well, it’s everything from having clarity around what the requirements for the work to be accepted versus not accepted to be in the first place. Now a lot of organizations, you’re not allowed to reject work that you got from an upstream internal supplier. In other words, the department that passes work to you, a lot of times it’s not acceptable culturally to say, “Hey, this isn’t right. Fix this and then give me the work.”

What happens is people take the work and they think they’re doing the right thing by just trying to fix it themselves, but then the people that are passing that work on never learn that the work wasn’t okay to begin with. This happens all the time.

We get cross-functional teams together in a room and someone who supplies work to someone else will be at the table and the person who receives it will say, “Well, I’d say 30% of the time it’s either unclear or there are errors.” The people delivering the work will go, “What? What is it? What do you need that you’re not getting? What’s unclear?” Then the person will say, “Well, this and that and the other thing,” and they just never had the conversation.

What usually happens is there’s been tension between these people and these departments, but once they understand each other – it’s all about understanding each other – it melts away. Then you have a brilliantly designed process that performs as it should because these people had a conversation that they should have had ten years ago, but we force it in these kind of tiger team-like activities to get clarity around the work and what should be done.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s interesting. I guess sometimes when it comes to fixing it, I guess at times it might be good to just make it clear that yes, that is part of your job is to fix it based upon the leveraging or application of resources as opposed to other times, you’d be like, “No, no, no, it needs to come in pristine consistently.” I guess I’m thinking based upon sort of where your bottlenecks are and the relative expensiveness of each employee’s hour to the organization.

Karen Martin
Yeah, well, I’m not a big fan of a department that didn’t generate the work fixing the work. I’m a big fan of putting the problem where it belongs. It belongs back at the people generating the work. It’s not about the people. It’s almost always about the process or the work systems.

The people are doing what they think’s the right thing and it could be any number of reasons why they’re not able to do the right thing and they’re passing that work downstream. But I don’t think the downstream people should be the ones fixing upstream work that doesn’t come in clean.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess I’m thinking, let’s imagine – I’m imagining a world in which I sort of upload some files. We’re just getting real tactical and specific. I upload some files and they’re recordings of a Skype conversation. Maybe your Skype name is something KMartin43. Then I just sort of put it up there.

Now it would be good and proper of me to rename that file to having your full name to make it clearer for my collaborators to unmistakably note, “Okay, yeah, this is where it lines up on the media schedule and so forth.” But I sure love saving the 20 seconds of not renaming it and having other people that do it for me.

I guess maybe the way to have my cake and eat it too here is to just make it sort of make it like a standard understood operating procedure. It’s like, “Oh, you might notice at times that the file names come in this way. Please take a look at the media schedule sheet and adjust it accordingly.” I guess that’s how I’m thinking about it is sometimes I’m the beneficiary of my unclear practices.

Karen Martin
Yeah, so I think what you’re defining there is a situation where you just have to be clear which person needs to do which task. You can have a high, high, high paid person doing work and choose not to have them do some aspect of the work, but rather have a lower priced person doing that kind of work so that the higher priced person can keep producing higher quality – or higher priced output. That’s one choice. It’s sometimes very, very much the way you should go.

There are other times when it’s the opposite. It’s very situational. It depends on who has the knowledge and what the additional time it takes to do the work is because sometimes the higher paid person, it’s only seconds do to that one last thing that if you hand it over, might take minutes for someone else. Even if they’re lower paid, it can cause delays in the work moving. It’s very situational. You have to look at the whole picture.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s well-said because it could be many times that because someone’s like, “KMartin47, what the heck is this? I don’t know. I’m going to have to download it. I’m going to have to listen to it. I’m going to have to hear some key words. I’m going to have to do a search of the file system and realize oh, that was a podcast interview Pete did with someone named Karen Martin on this date. Okay.” Maybe that took ten minutes, whereas I could have just clicked Rename, Karen Martin, and had that handled.

Karen Martin
Well, yeah. The other thing is, we want people to feel good about their work. This is not – we aren’t putting rats in a mill to do work the way rats in a mill do.  I don’t know what I even ….

Pete Mockaitis
Hard working rats.

Karen Martin
I don’t know where that came from. But rats in a mill, that’s my new thing. But we want people to feel good about the work and be able to put a high-quality work. What needs to happen is – let’s just say that you decide that the process design that works the best is to have this downstream person do – correct your file names. If that downstream person doesn’t recognize that as part of his or her job, then he’s going to be pissed off at you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. “This sloppy jerk.”

Karen Martin
Yeah, arrogant, whatever. It needs to be explicitly designed as part of the process and good reasons given why that person should do this work and they need to be also very involved in designing the work at that level, at a tactical level. They’re often not. As long as people understand why, that’s very liberating. A lot of people will take a lot of stuff if they understand why.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And maybe even take pride in it, like, “Hey, you know what? Things move real fast around here and there’s going to be a little bit of mess and boy, when you bring order and organization into that mess, it just makes everything hum along so much better, so thank you. You’ll be tackling the renaming of files as well as the organizing of them in these ways and it’s really helpful.”

Karen Martin
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s talk about how we get to the clarity. You mentioned one thing is simply having that conversation associated with sitting down and here’s what’s incomplete or difficult or inaccurate. What are some of your other best practices for getting there?

Karen Martin
Well, mindfulness is key in all of this. Working mindfully means a lot of different things. It means that we are aware of – very, very acutely aware of what’s going on and we’re making strategic decisions based on that deeper awareness of what to say and what to do.

When you – awareness takes practice to get  – mindfulness takes practice to become really good at it. There are lots of different practices that help you get there like meditation and clearing the mind in all kinds of different ways that are out there.

Just being not methodical meaning you get really slow, but being methodical about considering the information you received and what are you really supposed to do with that information and just taking a breath and slowing down  for a moment helps bring clarity. Clarity is a gift. It helps both deliver with greater clarity and it also helps you see whether what you’re receiving is clear enough to take action on it or not.

It’s just slowing down, thinking, clearing the mind, breathing, and you actually – I always say go slow to go fast, you actually work faster when you’re more methodical.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So the mindfulness helps because you are getting a clearer sense of what is actually taking place as well as maybe more compassion for imagining the next person who’s tacking it. It’s interesting that that makes such a difference.

Karen Martin
Yeah, it does. We get into this kind of rat on a treadmill thing. We’re not mice in factories anymore. Now we’re rats on treadmills. We just go, go, go, go, go, go and we don’t stop to think enough. If you just take a moment to think about what’s really happening and being very present and not being judgmental, frankly.

It’s being able to take what’s happening kind of nonjudgmentally, without emotion, and then taking better actions as a result of that level of awareness, it just, it helps monumentally.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fascinating. We’ve talked a lot about how mindfulness makes a real impact for you, the individual worker not succumbing to distractions and being able to have more creative ideas and focus in on the right things. Now you’re highlighting that there are some powerful interpersonal effects of it as well.

I love the part about nonjudgmental because I imagine if your brain is consumed by fuming over how some idiot always gives you the stuff wrong, then you are in less of a mental position to have some helpful, proactive, creative strategic ideas as to fixing the root of the problem.

Karen Martin
Yeah. We blame people all the time for work-related problems. It’s almost never a human desire to screw things up. “I’m going to go to work today and I’m going to just mess up everything as much as I can.” No one says that, maybe the rare sociopath that gets hired somehow, but that’s rare. Most people want to do well. They want to perform at high levels. They want to serve.

In organizations we kind of create these situations where we do everything but allow them to be able to do that. Then we blame them. That’s like, no, no. That’s not right.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then I’d love to get your take, so that’s one thing is you have the conversation. You work mindfully. What else?

Karen Martin
To get clear?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Karen Martin
I think asking a lot of questions about questions is an underutilized skill. When someone asks you a question, very often that question is masking what they’re really asking. Let me think of an example. Okay, let’s just say you give me a report and I say to you, “Oh, are you done already with this report?” What am I really asking? I’m not asking – you can say, “Yes, I am really done,” but there’s something behind my question.

Asking questions about questions and very often I’ll just say something simple like, “Huh, that’s an interesting question. I’m curious, why are you asking that?” If you do it with the right tone and in the right way, people will often answer it. You’ll get amazing insights into what they’re actually after and what they’re thinking. Then you can respond in a more relevant way because you’re actually – you’re answering the question they didn’t ask.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. They could mean any number of things from “I’m accustomed to this taking four times as long,” or “I had imagined there to be a very detailed research piece necessary. How could you possibly have already completed that?”

Karen Martin
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Or something totally different.

Karen Martin
Like “I don’t trust this because it’s too fast.” Yeah, whatever it might be. By the way, this stuff all works so well at home. This is great tips for relationships, parent/child situations. It’s so interesting how we choose to communicate and how often it is very unclear.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d also like to get your sense for that’s a great question is, “Oh, I’m curious, why are you asking that?” What are some of your other sort of top favorite power questions that tend to just yield clarity phenomenally?

Karen Martin
Yeah, in our world there’s a couple of really key ones. ‘Why,’ of course is a really big one. ‘Why’ is another one that people get pounded out of them sometimes by otherwise well-meaning parents/teachers and bosses. We have to allow people in the organization to be able to ask that why because why is – the mind of a scientist asks why. Curiosity is what’s going to lead to greater innovation and higher quality and all those good things that we want, but yet sometimes people don’t feel safe asking why.

‘What if,’ is another one and ‘why not’ is another one. Another one is how – ‘what would have to be true if.’ Another one is ‘how could we.’ All of those questions stimulate positive thinking and the glass becomes half full and not half empty.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us a few completions of the ‘why’ stem there? The first thing that came to mind for me is ‘Why am I doing this?’ but how about you say it.

Karen Martin
One quick thing about ‘why.’ ‘Why’ is one that’s very tricky tonally. You have to be very careful that the why isn’t laced with any kind of blame. It’s both body language and the way the question why is asked. You have to ask it from a very heartfelt place if you want to get a good answer.

‘Why’ could be everything from why a situation exists to why a person’s taking this specific action they’re taking to why something – well, I guess it’s those two things. It’s either an action or a thought pattern that you’re exploring and trying to figure out what’s behind that. ‘Why’ is big in problem solving, very big in problem solving.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that point you made about the defensiveness. I remember from my coaching training, they’d suggest you could substitute why with ‘what led you to’ or something like that, which still gets you there. It’s like, “Why are we doing this piece of work?” It’s like, “Oh, what are we hoping to achieve with this piece of work?” You’re getting after what you’re still getting after. That’s good.

Any other pro tips on how we arrive at clarity before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Karen Martin
I think being kind of relentless in seeking clarity helps. In other words developing – I see job descriptions a lot that say, “Must have a tolerance for ambiguity.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Karen Martin
I say no. You don’t want to hire someone that has a high tolerance for ambiguity. You want just the opposite. You want someone who has zero tolerance for ambiguity. Just becoming aware of it, then just deciding you’re going to be brave and courageous and ask for clarification and then identify why you’re having to ask it and then find a way so that you don’t have to keep asking it. That solves the problem more deeply.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m glad you went there. That’s intriguing to hear. I also think about sometimes the business language and jargon people use, at times I think that’s because they haven’t actually done the hard thinking or the hard questioning necessary to know what they’re really, really after, so they use some corporate-y jargon-y buzz words, which have multiple interpretations and that way what they’re saying is not inaccurate; it’s just not saying much.

Karen Martin
Right, yeah. It’s again being responsible on both the provision of information and also the receiving of information. Being responsible on the provision of information is doing your best to be clear about what it is you want to ask or say before you ask or say it. Then when you receive information then that person may or may not be aware and may or may not be thinking about clarity. Then if you’re getting unclear information, that’s asking for clarification so that you understand.

It’s very powerful to have clear information. It’s scary at times because sometimes the truth isn’t so lovely, but it’s definitely more powerful and liberating than not knowing or trying to operate in muck or fog, which is what happens if you don’t ask for clarification.

Pete Mockaitis
A lot of times – speaking about the muck or fog when – what do you do when just the powers that be don’t really seem to have their own act together with regard to what’s the true priority, what really matters more than then the other thing?

Karen Martin
Oh yeah. If I could answer that one definitively, I’d be a rich woman. It’s a really good question. It’s very difficult when you have people above you in the company that are not operating from a place of clarity.

There’s everything from the small little things where you do ask for clarification and explain why you’re asking for clarification, so the person doesn’t feel threatened. You really have a need to know because of this that or the other thing. You can help sensitize them to the fact that they are operating communication-wise from a place of not a lot of clarity.

Sometimes you can get away with a candid conversation with someone, even someone who’s above you in the organization hierarchically. You can sometimes sit down and go, “I just feel like we can be so much – we can get so much more done and be more effective and have higher quality if I’m a little more clear to begin with on what the needs really are or what you need from me,” or whatever it might be. Sometimes if you frame it in the right way, a person will be very responsive to that and hear it.

Then there’s the occasional leader that is never going to hear it. They’re never going to be anything but defensive. That’s when you have to make a tough decision, whether you try to find a place that is a little more inviting for you to be able to thrive as a person.

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

Karen Martin
Well, the one I mentioned earlier is one of the ones I say the most often, which is “Go slow to go fast.” It’s counterintuitive, but it is very, very powerful that people often think that they’re going to get analysis paralysis if they just slow down a little bit, but in problem solving, for example, if people rush to a conclusion, they’re often operating from fear because of time constraints or from a place of assumptions or biases or from a place of arrogance because they don’t know.

If you don’t learn why the problem exists and do the deep dive and have a scientist’s mind for that, you’re very likely going to put either a superficial and short-lived countermeasure in place or it’s going to be the wrong thing altogether. The overall problem-solving cycle gets much, much faster if you take the time to understand why the problem exists and do a deep dive into that before you figure out what you’re going to do about it.

Most people do the opposite. “Here’s the problem. Here’s what we’re going to do about it. Bam.” That’s not good thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Do you have a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Karen Martin
Actually it’s related to clarity but it’s also not entirely related to clarity. There was a study I learned about when I was writing The Outstanding Organization about task switching. It was this professor out of University of Michigan. Meyer is his last name, David Meyer.

He studied engineers and showed that they switched tasks every – like five to eight times a day on average and that every time they did it, they were losing 20 minutes of productivity because they had this mental ramp up time to get back to the thing that they were working on before they got interrupted or went to a different project.

The more we work with organizations, the more we see that that is a huge organizational burden that is a bit of a drag on the organization at an individual level and also project teams.

This research was pretty darn compelling. Then others replicated it and then they also started adding in different kinds of tasks and things like that to see that this whole notion of multitasking is a misnomer. You can’t multitask to cognitive tasks. You’re actually switching back and forth. Becoming clear that you’re doing that and becoming sensitized to how that erodes productivity is a very helpful exercise for individuals, leaders, anybody.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Karen Martin
Oh my, I have so many favorite books. I’m going to say a fiction book first since we started out talking about thrillers. It’s not a thriller at all. My favorite book is Hemingway’s, The Sun Also Rises. It’s been a book I’ve read over and over and over. I just love that book.

From a business perspective – oh, this is tough. There’s so many I love. I actually like the work of W. Edwards Deming a lot and all of his books are – they’re really good. He was wise well beyond his years. Now a lot of his wisdom is coming back to roost and people are starting to finally see, “Oh, this guy was right after all.” It’s nice to Deming’s work come back.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

Karen Martin
By tool do you mean – what do you mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Something you use to be awesome at your job.

Karen Martin
Oh, to be awesome. I think a favorite tool is listening.

Pete Mockaitis
And any favorite ways you like to listen?

Karen Martin
I like to ask clarifying questions. If someone is asking me, like when you said, “What’s your favorite tool?” I didn’t know exactly what you meant, so I said to some effect, like, “What do you mean by tool?” That way you deliver more accurately what the person is looking for.

I think deep listening is a – I don’t know if you call that a tool or not, but it’s a skill and it’s something you use to generate higher performance. I think listening is an art in and of itself and something that we can all get better and better at.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. How about a favorite habit?

Karen Martin
My favorite habit is zero inbox.

Pete Mockaitis
Every day or how often?

Karen Martin
Every day.

Pete Mockaitis
How long does that take you?

Karen Martin
All day. Not all day, not all day to clear it out, but it’s you’re doing it all day long to make sure that at the end of the day you don’t have anything in your inbox. It’s a challenge to keep up with it, but it is so liberating when you get it down. Yeah, zero inbox is David Allen that started that whole movement. It’s one of the most liberating things. Also, turn off email notifications.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh right. Yes.

Karen Martin
Turn them off. Turn them off everyone. Both of those habits help me be much more productive. I think the proof is in the pudding. People should try them and see what happens.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Now, I’m so intrigued by this because I find it so difficult. I even am part of a private beta for some software called Superhuman that runs faster than Gmail. It’s actually pretty awesome. I love it. You might ask them. They’ll probably let you in. It’s a free ad. Hey, Superhuman, enjoy.

But yeah, so just – so you say that’s part of just your working day is that you multiple times a day fire up Gmail or the email program and go to town.

Karen Martin
Yeah, well my email is always open, but I minimize it when I’m working on other things. There’s no sound. There’s no visual. There’s nothing to distract because that contributes to task switching and that is a productivity drain beyond—beyond. You can get four times as much done during the day if you just focus on one thing at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. If you bring it to zero every day, then does that mean you have a smaller limit to the number of hours you’ll commit of yourself a day to not email?

Karen Martin
No. I don’t think so. It’s situational. When I have a book come out, of course my email volume goes way up. When it’s been six months, seven months into it, then it starts dying down a little bit again. It’s situational, but no.

I don’t think that I lose any time by getting to zero inbox. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m gaining a ton of time because you look at things once, you disposition it and then usually you’re done. It’s just a matter of not letting things linger and get to it and get it done and move on.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a sense for how much time you spend on email each day?

Karen Martin
That’s a great question. I’ve never timed it. I work long hours, so first of all, let’s get this into proportion. I’m often working 12- and 14-hour days. I would say 2 hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. All right. Thank you.

Karen Martin
Of that day, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s the price of excellence. Thank you for sharing. How about is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with people and they quote it back to you?

Karen Martin
I can’t think of anything they actually quote back, but this is the one fascinating thing that happens with clarity is every time I either give a talk or I give a workshop or something, people kind of stalk me and they go, “Oh my God, Karen Martin, you’ve ruined me.” I’m like, “Well, how have I ruined you?” “I can’t stop thinking about clarity. Now in the presence of ambiguity, I can’t tolerate it.” I’m like, good, my mission is accomplished.

I hear it a lot that people just are feeling so liberated by starting to live with clarity. They feel so much worse when they’re not in the presence of clarity because they now see the power of clarity. You know what to do, now you can do it. You don’t have to guess. It’s pretty liberating.

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

Karen Martin
There’s a couple different URLs I’ll say. TKMG, is the company name, .com. That’s the main website. Already ClarityFirstQuiz.com is a free assessment you can take to learn how you’re currently dealing with clarity or not and your organization as well. Then ClarityFirstBook.com is the book page. I have all kinds of free webinars also and podcasts on the website as well. TKMG.com is kind of the brains and you can go from there.

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

Karen Martin
Being awesome requires that you embrace the need for clarity, you believe that it can be helpful and you start practicing it every day. I would just encourage everyone to make the decision that it’s better to have clarity than not and start delivering with greater clarity and start demanding clarity in return. Just see how high you can soar. It’s pretty powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Karen, this has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you all the best of luck with the book, Clarity First, and all the things you’re making clear.

Karen Martin
Thank you so much. I wish you a very nice holiday season and spread the word of clarity more and more to everybody. It’s a gift.

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Oren

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Oren Jay Sofer Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oren Jay Sofer
Mm-hm.

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

Oren Jay Sofer
That’s right. Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oren Jay Sofer
And nothing more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like that. Thank you.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
A favorite tool?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

367: How to Project Vocal Confidence with Allison Shapira

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Speech coach and ex-opera singer Allison Shapira teaches tips and tricks for better projecting your voice.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How you’re likely breathing wrong and what to do about it
  2. Three ways the power of your voice is reduced
  3. The key things most people neglect when preparing for a speech

About Allison

Allison is the CEO/Founder of Global Public Speaking LLC. A former opera singer and TEDx speaker, she teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School and offers keynote speeches, workshops, and executive coaching for Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and nonprofits around the world.

Allison works with global brands as a highly-rated speaker, trainer, and executive coach. She also travels around the world teaching leadership communication to help women leaders grow their business, run for office, or launch a nonprofit. She holds a master’s in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School, is a member of the National Speakers Association, and is an internationally-renowned singer/songwriter who uses music as a way to help others find their voice and their courage to speak. She speaks Italian and Hebrew and has studied 8 other languages.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Allison Shapira Interview Transcript

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

Allison Shapira

It’s great to be here. Thanks, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I was so excited to dig into your wisdom, but I want to start a little bit with your background in singing opera. How did this come about and how did you transition from this to what you’re doing now?

Allison Shapira

I have been singing opera since I was 12. I always loved singing, and at 12 years old my parents arranged for me to have voice lessons. And it just so happens that the teacher was a classically-trained teacher, and that one teacher influenced my musical trajectory. And so, I always wanted to sing opera growing up, but then when I got to college I lost my passion for it. And I talk about this in the book. I was told that I wasn’t quite good enough for an operatic career. And so, it wasn’t until I started working in diplomacy that I realized everything I learned as a singer made me a very good speaker and coach. And that’s how I made that transition.

Pete Mockaitis

Excellent. Could you give us an example of one key learning from singing that carries over into the speaking / coaching?

Allison Shapira

One key element that carries over is the importance of breathing. So, as opera singers, we know it’s critical to learn how to breathe, and then project our voice in a way that commands the room. As speakers, we know it’s important, but no one ever teaches us how to do it. So as a singer, I actually had this great training in vocal production that helped me project my voice when speaking, as well as singing. So that was an incredible advantage that I had as a public speaker when I already knew how to play with and project my voice.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, excellent. And so, could you orient us a little bit to your company, Global Public Speaking and your latest book, Speak with Impact?

Allison Shapira

I would love to. Global Public Speaking is a communication training firm that I found and we’ve since grown to a team of six people. And we teach public speaking and presentation skills through one-on-one coaching, group workshops, and then I give keynote speeches on the importance of finding your voice and your courage to speak. And that’s very much in line with what my new book is about – Speak with Impact: How to Command the Room and Influence Others. It’s a guide to the busy professional moving up in their career who wants to use their voice as a way to exercise leadership. How do they need to communicate with confidence and authenticity, so that they can have a powerful impact on others? That’s the premise of the book.

Pete Mockaitis

I dig it. So, we talk about a powerful impact on others. Could you maybe orient us a bit to what is the “Why” behind this, or the difference that it makes in one’s life when you’re speaking is impactful versus not so impactful?

Allison Shapira

It has a number of benefits, and to give you an example, I do a lot of programs in-house for companies, where I’ll work with teams and top talent or emerging leaders. And we’re focused primarily on professional speaking. So as you walk into a room to lead a meeting as opposed to simply be part of the meeting, how does your communication need to change? Because the more senior you become, the more people are looking to you for guidance.
So we focus on the professional components of speaking, but I’ll often get emails from clients I’ve worked with who say, “You know, just a couple of weeks ago I spoke up on behalf of my kids’ school because they were going to change the school, and there was a lot of media coverage. And so, using the communication training that we worked on for my job, I was actually able to make a persuasive case to save our kids’ school.” It’s an amazing experience to see. We use these skills for a professional purpose, but they have an incredible social impact as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So, could you maybe orient us then, what are some of the main differentiators between a voice that is highly impactful versus one that isn’t?

Allison Shapira

When we talk about voice, there are a lot of things that we do that reduce the power of our voice. It could be filler words like, “um”, “uh”, “you know”, “right”, “so”, and “just”, which is my personal pet peeve when we buffer everything with “just”. So that’s something that reduces the power of our words. And then, we also might use vocal fry, and I’m demonstrating by making my voice croaky. Or uptalk – when our voice goes up at the end of a sentence.
Now, interestingly enough, vocal fry, and uptalk and fillers – these are things that both men and women use. But what I’ve noticed is that when women use them, it disproportionately hurts us more. It holds us back more. So that’s an interesting distinction that I’ve observed. The antidote to all of those is using breathing, so that your voice can command the room, so that you speak with confidence as opposed to speaking in a questioning form. And that’s so important when you’re trying to convince someone to do something, whether you want them to adopt a course of action in your company, or save your school. The conviction in your voice has a huge impact on how you come across.

Pete Mockaitis

So, I’m intrigued by several of the things you said there. First, let’s get to the “How”. So, if you breathe right, you’re going to address a lot of these in one fell swoop. So, what does breathing right consist of and how do we do it?

Allison Shapira

I have a particular three-step technique that your listeners can see on my website, GlobalPublicSpeaking.com. So, there’s a place where they can learn that and practice that while actually watching me. But it comes from recognizing that as we breathe, there’s a way that we can breathe that lets us take in a nice full breath of air, and then exhale while speaking on the breath. And that’s a difficult concept for a lot of people to think of initially. But once they get the hang of it, it’s essentially exhaling while you’re speaking, so that your breath projects your words forward, as opposed to having them fall back into your throat. And that’s a particular technique that I have videos that walk people through.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, interesting. Exhaling while you’re speaking. I’m thinking about it right now as I’m doing it.

Allison Shapira

You’re doing it as well. I can hear it. But a lot of people think they have to hold their breath while they’re speaking, but they should actually be exhaling while speaking.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And so, I think that I’m always exhaling when I’m speaking, because I’m running out of air and feel the need to take a breath. But is it a matter of degree, like exhale a little more than you think you should or you’re accustomed to?

Allison Shapira

It’s exhaling continuously, as opposed to holding it back and then trying to speak anyways. And it’s also about taking more frequent breaths. So, if you’re running out of breath at the end of the sentence, then perhaps you need to use shorter sentences, or take a breath at every punctuation mark.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, that’s interesting. And I remember we had Roger Love on the show earlier, who’s a speech coach.

Allison Shapira

Oh, he’s great.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh yeah, absolutely. And so, he used the metaphor of, I think he called it “the squeaky hinge”, like you start off a sentence pretty strong, but then toward the end you’re running out of your air. And so it kind of sounds like this at the end. And I’m exaggerating, but I’ve even noticed it when I’m editing my openers and closers in the podcast. Sure enough, there is a shorter wave form in my digital audio program toward the end of that sentence. I’m doing it. Oops! Note to self – breathe more.

Allison Shapira

Exactly. And again, not just breathing more, but letting the breath continue even through the end of the sentence, as opposed to letting it trail off. What happens is you’re shutting off the air, but you’re still speaking. So, as long as you keep riding that breath and using that breath to complete a sentence, then you can avoid vocal fry.

Pete Mockaitis

I like that. This reminds me of, I guess, sports things. If you’re swinging a bat or a racket or doing a boxing punch – you want to follow through the motion all the way until it’s well past the point of impact, in terms of having a full, complete connection there.

Allison Shapira

Exactly. So, the follow through is critical.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, very cool. So, the breathing solves a lot. And so, on the website, is there a particular link or a place to click to, or can we link that so we go right to the right spot with those videos?

Allison Shapira

I’ll make sure that I send you a specific link to that, so people can click on it and immediately see the breathing video that walks them through the three-step process.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, that’s cool. So, I guess we’ve got the videos, but if we can maybe just take a moment. Could we just hear in brief, what is step one, step two, step three?

Allison Shapira

Sure. Well, step one is finding the right posture. And I teach people how to stand tall with their feet flat on the floor so that they’re in the best position to take in breath. And then the second step is breathing in, in a way that avoids using their chest to breathe, but rather breathes into their stomach and abdomen as if they had a balloon in their stomach that’s filling with air as they breathe in. And then the third step is exhaling and speaking on the breath, as we discussed, and practicing that exhalation while speaking. So, that’s the three-step process in a nutshell.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. And then I also want to turn to some of the points you made about the vocal pauses. There’s one. That was for demonstration purposes, Allison.

Allison Shapira

Of course it was.

Pete Mockaitis

I’m intrigued – you said the word “just” in particular is a pet peeve of yours. Let’s hear your rant, so any “just” users can shape up.

Allison Shapira

If you think about the word “just”, what does it mean? “I just think”, “I just want to say.” It’s almost as if you’re asking permission to speak up; as if you’re saying, “Don’t worry, I won’t take a long time. I just want to say this one thing.” And I believe each of us has something incredibly powerful to say on behalf of ourselves or on behalf of others. And when we say “just”, we apologize for whatever it is that we say next, as opposed to owning what we believe in, owning our right to say it, which is why I don’t like using the word “just”.
I have a friend who teaches American sign language, and I asked her once, “What do you sign when someone says ‘just’?” And her sign is shrugging her shoulders. So think about that. Next time you want to use the word “just”, would you shrug your shoulders with whatever you say next, or would you stand tall and declare it proudly? And if the answer is the latter, than lose the “just”.

Pete Mockaitis

This reminds me I’ve got a joke with my buddy Connor. I noticed that someone had a vocal pattern of putting “so” at the end of their sentences; it had a similar effect. And for example, he might say, “Hey, so do you guys want to get some appetizers? So, or…” It’s an “or” a “so”. It’s like, “So, I was just thinking maybe we could get some appetizers.” And I thought it was just so funny when you put an “or” or a “so” or a “just” in there; the impact it has. So, we like to joke if you were to say something really powerful followed by an “or” like, “Are you guys inspired by my vision, or…” It’s just sort of…

Allison Shapira

Can you imagine speaking up at work and saying, “This is a critical issue that we all have to be paying attention to? So, um, yeah.”?

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, I like that. And you know what? The one that gets me, and this shows up a lot in my coaching, is when people say the word “obviously”. I think that’s more of a crutch for themselves, like, “Okay, maybe the thing I just said isn’t super insightful and is readily apparent, so I want to give myself a little bit of cover, so you don’t think that I think that I’m saying something brilliantly insightful when I know they’re not, so I’m covering it.” I think that’s kind of what’s going on subconsciously, but when I hear “obviously” I think it’s just an unnecessary risk you’re taking. So, if it was not obvious to the person that you said it to, then they’re going to be a little ticked, like, “Oh, I’m sorry I’m not as smart as you, apparently.”

Allison Shapira

Exactly, exactly. “Obviously”, “actually”, “basically”, used once or twice, there’s nothing wrong with it, but if you start to use them consistently throughout your speech or even during a meeting, then I believe they have a negative effect on your listeners.

Pete Mockaitis

Right. And I think that “basically” can sometimes be helpful when we’re having a good summary sentence, like, “Basically we’re trying to reduce the customer …” “Exactly, yes. Thank you for summarizing or paraphrasing what I just said.” It’s helpful there, but it definitely finds its way in a lot of places where it doesn’t quite belong. Well, cool. So, thank you for talking about some of the voice differentiators there. Now, when it comes to actually preparing for a speech or presentation, you’ve laid out a few key questions that you recommend it’s important to think through in advance.

Allison Shapira

Definitely. There are three questions that I recommend people ask before any speech or presentation, or even if they’re preparing to walk into a meeting and think they might speak up. And these three questions are critical for helping you determine what you want to say, why you want to say it, and how to say it. The first question is, “Who is your audience?” Who are you talking to? Which helps you understand how they’re going to feel about what it is you have to say, and that helps you choose your argumentation. It helps you choose your structure, your stories, your data. So putting yourself in the audience’s shoes helps you craft something in a language that they’re going to want to hear.
The second question is, “What’s your goal?” And every speech is an opportunity to influence people’s behavior to change the way they think or act, which is an incredible opportunity. So, be purposeful in advance of your speech or presentation in thinking, “What do I want people to do?” And if appropriate, put in a call to action, a very clear call to action at the beginning or at the end of your remarks. So, those first two questions – “Who is your audience?” and “What’s your goal?” are fairly straightforward. These are questions many of us would ask ourselves before a speaking situation.
The third question is the most important and the least obvious. And the third question is, “Why you?” And by that I mean, why do you care about what you’re talking about? Because a lot of times people will be reading something off of their company’s website, or they’ll be using language that doesn’t feel authentic to them, and as a result the speech falls flat. But when you ask, “Why you? Why do you care? Why is this important to you?”, then you tap into a much deeper, more authentic sense of purpose about why this issue is critical.
And if you’re nervous about speaking up, then asking “Why you?” gives you the confidence that what you have to say is important, and you’re reframing it as not being about you, but about your message and about your audience. “Why you?” also makes sure that the language you use is authentic, because it will tap into personal stories or experiences that help you relate to the content and therefore help you relate to your audience. So, in my experience the “Why you?” is that creativity booster that also boosts our confidence as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Excellent, okay. And so, I think that sometimes, there’s a really strong, powerful “Why? Why you?”. I’ve seen my child, you know… There, I said “you know”. [laugh] This must happen to you all the time.

Allison Shapira

I’m not counting, it’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis

You see, I could say for instance… I’ll give you the speech because I know what it’s like to have a child choking on a bottle repeatedly, and you’re terrified in that moment that it could result in a trip to the hospital, or him turning blue, for example. That’s a dramatic thing. We’ve learned some things about how to bottle-feed a baby who’s choking a lot, and I could share those and that’s powerful from an emotional perspective. But other times, I think in a business context it’s lower stakes or maybe less interesting, in terms of… I guess I’m thinking about the revenue growth at a company. And I guess if you’re the owner or the sales director, getting commissions and bonuses based on that, that can be highly exciting. But if you’re kind of in the middle of things, it may be less. How do you dig into a richer “Why?” when on the surface it might feel a little bit shallow?

Allison Shapira

Well, there’s always a deeper “Why?” there. It always goes more than just – and I’m using “just” intentionally in this situation – it goes beyond, “So that I can make money or to increase shareholder value.” That’s not what necessarily get us out of bed in the morning. It’s to have an impact. It’s to provide an environment that people actually want to come to work in. And in the book I quote one of my clients who I worked with, where I said, “Why is helping clients important to you?” She said, “It just is.” I said, “Why?” And she said, “Well, because service is important to me.” I said, “Why?” And she said, “Well, my parents taught that to me growing up”. And I said, “Tell me more.” And she said, “Well, my parents were small business owners and every single day I saw them get up and put others’ needs before themselves, and it had an incredibly powerful impact on me. And now every day I get up thinking about how I can help my clients.”

Pete Mockaitis

I like that, yes.

Allison Shapira

That’s a powerful story. It’s professional, but it’s also personal. And if I were a small business owner and that person were pitching me, I would think, “Wow, this person understands me. I can trust this person.” So, that’s an example of how you can use “Why you?” in a professional setting with a very powerful impact.

Pete Mockaitis

I like that. So then the “Why?”, I guess you could articulate that a few ways. It’s like you’re honoring your parents’ memory or example or values. This is who I am, and who I am as a part of a bigger thing with my family and ancestors. And so, I hear you, yes. That’s excellent. Very much appreciated. So, that’s the beginning part.

Allison Shapira

And it’s something everyone can use as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Sure.

Allison Shapira

Please go ahead.

Pete Mockaitis

So that’s kind of how to think about things at the beginning of putting together a speech or presentation. How about when you’re getting toward the end, when you’re doing some of the polishing and perfecting? You’ve identified there are a few steps that many people overlook, they just neglect, but they shouldn’t. What are those things?

Allison Shapira

The biggest step that most people overlook, and shouldn’t, is reading your speech or presentation out loud. A lot of people will jot it down, they’ll look at it on the paper, they’ll read it in their head, especially if they’re using slides. They simply look through the slides and think, “Okay, I’m ready.” But writing for the ear and writing for the eye are two different things. And it’s only when you read something out loud that you can listen to it critically and think, “Does this sound good? Does this sound like how I normally speak? Is it easy to pronounce?” Because if you stumble over a word in practice, you’re going to stumble over the word in the actual presentation. So reading it out loud is critical, and that’s also a way that you can start to remember it more easily.
And I don’t recommend that people memorize their speech or presentation, but it should be comfortable enough that if your piece of paper with your notes on it falls to the floor, you still know where you’re going next. And then another thing that I recommend people do in the practice phase is to reduce their speech to simply the key bullet points, a phrase or two, an outline – and that’s what they should bring with them to the speech or presentation. A lot of times I’ll see people get up to speak, and they have full sentences written out, double-sided, in tiny print with no white space. It’s impossible to find your place in the middle of a speech. So I recommend printing out simply the outline with key phrases or words, not full sentences, and practicing giving the speech or presentation from those bullet points so that they feel comfortable and know where to look when they forget what they’re going to say.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, I like that. Very nice. And so then when it comes to actually delivering the speech, you’ve got some thoughts when it comes to some movements and gestures that bring it to life. What are those?

Allison Shapira

I talk about three different movements – eye contact, body language, and voice. And with eye contact, I always recommend that people speak to one person at a time. So instead of scanning the room, trying to read everyone at the same time, pick someone in the room and deliver a full sentence to them or a full thought, and then look at somebody else and speak to them for a full thought. And then you’re not speaking with 100 people. You’re simply looking at one person at a time and you get a number of people in your gaze as you do that, but you focus on one person at a time. And that really calms people down. So that’s what I recommend with eye contact.
With body language, I talk about every movement being purposeful. We’re all aware of the nervous body language that people tend to use – nervous movements like wringing your hands, playing with your hair or your rings. And men and women do this, and it’s something that demonstrates to the audience that you’re nervous. So I like to practice my body language in advance, and practice different hand gestures that reinforce my messages, or practice walking around during transitions and then pausing to make a point. And then I pause and make eye contact with someone to make a point. So those are some ways in which you can incorporate more purposeful body language into your presentations.
And then the third – movement – is not technically a movement at all, but it’s the movement with your voice. So your vocal variety, whether your voice goes up or it goes down, or your energy level gets high or gets lower. So being able to play with that conversational tone is so important. A lot of times we stand up and all of the energy and life drains out of our voice because we get nervous, so our breathing constricts, which is what we were talking about earlier.
So when you’re able to pause and breathe, and take those nice deep breaths and project your voice, then you can make your voice much more conversational. And I don’t want people to use a different speaking voice in front of the room than they do when they’re offstage. I simply want them to bring their best voice on stage, as opposed to their most nervous voice. So those are the three different movements that I talk about in the book – eye contact, body language, and voice.

Pete Mockaitis

And I’d love to get your take when it comes to these matters. To what extent do you think about this from a perspective of, “Okay, in this sentence, I will use this hand gesture”, as opposed to thinking about the underlying emotion? And I guess I’m thinking about, you might call it “method acting”, in terms of, “Okay, I’m really going there emotionally, and thus naturally my voice and my hands are going to do those things because they correspond to the associated emotion”, versus, “Ah, make sure to widely spread your arms in this moment.” I guess I see pros and cons to both approaches and I worry; I think maybe that if I overdo it in terms of listing out this gesture at this phrase, then it could come across as a little bit like, “You’re just sort of doing a show, Pete. You don’t actually feel these things.” So I don’t know. What’s your take on that one?

Allison Shapira

I’m so glad that you’ve brought that up, because it is a real consideration. And I certainly don’t want people to feel like they’re acting out their speech or presentation. The idea is, natural body language doesn’t always come naturally, which is funny to say, but absolutely accurate, because in the moment we’re nervous, we’re thinking about so many things. So it can be helpful to practice in front of a mirror or videotape ourselves on a device or a phone, and try out different hand gestures. Try things out to see what matches the words we’re using and what feels natural. And by virtue of practicing it, it starts to become natural, and then when you get in front of the audience, you pause and breathe, you focus on your message. And whatever gestures you make will flow naturally as a result of that practice. But you’re right, it’s a fine balance between having it be too scripted versus more authentic. But the more you practice, the more authentic it becomes.

Pete Mockaitis

Excellent. Well now, tell me – anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and talk about some of your favorite things?

Allison Shapira

One thing that I’d like to make clear is that public speaking doesn’t just happen when you stand up onstage in front of a group of people with a microphone and a spotlight on you. Public speaking is something that happens every single day. Speaking up on a conference call, speaking up in a meeting, asking a question at a conference, even if you’re not on the panel; interviewing, pitching, speaking to clients, speaking to leadership. All of these are examples of public speaking.
So once people recognize a) that public speaking happens every single day, and b) to some of your earliest questions, that it’s critical to how we come across to others, to how we can effectively build relationships – then all of a sudden it becomes so important that we learn and become comfortable with this skill, because it affects every aspect of our life – professional and personal, and makes us more impactful in whatever it is that we believe in. So, it’s important that people see public speaking as something that they do every single day.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Allison Shapira

One of my favorite quotes is by a Persian poet, Hafiz, and I hope I pronounced his name correctly: “The words you speak become the house you live in.”

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you.

Allison Shapira

And I find that quote so powerful because it’s about the language that we use and the impact it has, not
just on others, but on ourselves. So it’s very important to choose the words that we use.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Allison Shapira

My favorite piece of research that I’ve read recently is about chewing gum and its impact on immediate word recall. So, there’s a couple of different studies, and I quote these in the book, talking about how chewing gum right before a speech or a test increases immediate word recall. It’s the chewing aspect that helps stimulate our brain and overcome that fight or flight response, so we can be more present and more analytically focused. The key element, of course, is to remember to spit the gum out before you get in front of an audience.

Pete Mockaitis

So now, what is “immediate word recall”? How do we define that?

Allison Shapira

Immediate word recall would be remembering what you’re supposed to say in your speech – remembering your first sentence, or remembering your main points, or in a test being able to remember what you just studied so that you can answer the questions correctly.

Pete Mockaitis

Wow, that is intriguing. And I guess the theory is that there’s a neuro pathway associated with the motion of a mouth and words, because we speak words, or how do they think that works?

Allison Shapira

It’s very interesting. And I’m not a neuroscientist, but from what I’ve read, when we get nervous, it’s the amygdala of our brain that’s overriding with that fight or flight response. And when that happens, our mind goes blank. We forget what we’re going to say because we’re preparing to run away from danger. But the act of chewing is something that stimulates – and I want to make sure I’m getting this right – it activates the prefrontal cortex, which is the more analytical part of the brain that helps us focus on what we want to say next.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, cool. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Allison Shapira

Besides my own book? Favorite book. There are so many fantastic books. I just finished reading Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. It is a negotiation book.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, we’ve had him on the show.

Allison Shapira

Oh, you had him on the show. Fantastic!

Pete Mockaitis

That was a page turner. I’m sorry to interrupt. Tell the world why you loved it. I was a big fan of it myself.

Allison Shapira

I have studied negotiation and I have taught negotiation in the past, and there are some fantastic classic books out there on the subject. What I love about Chris’s book is the practical component of it, and it’s something that I try to emulate in my own book. I want to make sure whatever people read, it has stories to back it up and they can immediately apply it to their work. And I was reading Chris’s book while I had a negotiation going on in my business. And so, I’m reading the book and I’m making notes in the pages and I’m changing my tactics and my strategy in the moment to positively influence the negotiation. So, what I love about the book – very readable, which I appreciate, very interesting in terms of stories, and then the immediately practical, applicable tips that I could use right away. So, many, many reasons why I love that book.

Pete Mockaitis

Absolutely. Its’s a winner. And I found myself doing it all the time, in terms of trying to elicit a “No”, and it works great, especially when people are hard to get on emails. I go, “Where did they go? Are you no longer interested in being a guest on the podcast?” “Oh no, no, no, no. I’m sorry, Pete. It’s just that things got busy. I’ll grab a time right now.” [laugh] It’s awesome. Cool. And how about a favorite tool?

Allison Shapira

Favorite tool? What kind of tool?

Pete Mockaitis

It could be a hardware – it could be a hammer or a drill. It could be a piece of software or app. It could be a thought framework or checklist. Something that you use that really comes in handy.

Allison Shapira

I am a big fan of Evernote. Have you ever used Evernote?

Pete Mockaitis

Oh yes, me too. Tell me more.

Allison Shapira

There’s a point in my life where there is before Evernote and there’s after Evernote. And Evernote has given me a single place to organize my music. I’ll write songs and store them in Evernote. My business – I will … checklists and save them there. I use Evernote to draft speeches and presentations. And the instant search ability is incredible; the tagging; and then it instantly syncs across all of my devices as well. And it’s password protected. So, as an organizing tool, Evernote literally runs my life.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, it’s a real treat. Just lately I got a piece of plywood to stick across my treadmill, and then a Bluetooth keyboard. And with an iPad or iPhone you can just rock and roll with Evernote in one place. And then it’s right to your computer next so you can modify it, or you can put it into Word or somewhere else if you’ve got to get some fancy formatting that works just right for other people. I too am quite the fan. I like how quickly it syncs as well. It’s like, “I just typed that minutes ago and you’re right there. Thank you.”

Allison Shapira

Exactly. And then you’re in a meeting and you simply pull up your phone and all your notes for that meeting are right there. It’s incredibly helpful.

Pete Mockaitis

Mm-hmm. And how about a favorite habit?

Allison Shapira

Favorite habit. I’m practicing gratitude every morning and every afternoon.

Pete Mockaitis

And is it identifying things you’re grateful for, or how do you practice it?

Allison Shapira

Identifying things that I’m grateful for that have happened recently. And then at the end of the day, what am I grateful for in this day? And I find that has a meaningful impact on how I feel when I go to work and how I feel when I go to bed.

Pete Mockaitis

And tell me, is there a particular nugget that you share with clients or in your book that really seems to connect – it gets highlighted, retweeted, shared often? Or an original for Allison that’s connecting for folk?

Allison Shapira

“Public speaking is a skill, not a talent.” I say that over and over again, and people really appreciate that because it means you don’t have to be born a good public speaker. It’s something everyone can learn. And I also like to say that public speaking is about finding your voice and your courage to speak.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Allison Shapira

I’d ask them to come find me on my website at GlobalPublicSpeaking.com. They can read more about the book, they can actually download a chapter of the book for free, and then they can watch a number of different videos with quick tips that I’ve recorded on public speaking. So, people will ask me a question and then I’ll answer the question in a one-minute video. And all of those videos you can find on my website at GlobalPublicSpeaking.com.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Allison Shapira

I would challenge people to come to every single meeting prepared with one point they’re going to make that will further the conversation. Recognizing that public speaking happens every single day, prepare for it in advance and have that one thought that you’re going to share. And it’s a way to have an impact without having to formally be on the agenda.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, Allison, this has been tons of fun. I wish you all the best of luck with your company Global Public Speaking, and the book Speak with Impact, and just all you’re up to!

Allison Shapira

Thank you, Pete. I appreciate it, and thanks for talking to me today.

366: Mastering Conversations through Compassionate Curiosity with Kwame Christian

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Negotiate Anything podcast host Kwame Christian lays out the compassionate curiosity framework and how to apply it to negotiations with others and with yourself for any aspect of your life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How and why to deal with our “inner toddler” in high-stakes conversations
  2. How being persuadable makes you persuasive
  3. Two key phrases for when you don’t know what to say

About Kwame

Kwame is a corporate attorney with a passion for using negotiation and the psychology of persuasion to help clients get the best deals possible. HisTEDx Talk, Finding Confidence in Conflict, was viewed over 24,000 times in 24 hours and Kwame also hosts the top negotiation podcast in the country, Negotiate Anything. The show has been downloaded over 250,000 times and is a resource for business professionals in over 140 different countries.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Kwame Christian Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Kwame, welcome back to the How to Be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Kwame Christian
Pete, thank you for having me. It’s good to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thrilled to be talking about your new book, but first I want to get a little bit oriented. You are a master expert at negotiation. I understand many of your lessons have come from negotiating with your three-year-old son. Can you give us a tale behind this?

Kwame Christian
Absolutely. Pete, you will be following in my footsteps shortly because you have a ten-month-old, so I know that you’re taking notes.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Kwame Christian
This question is for you more than the audience. But, yeah, it’s been really fascinating. So, about me, I’m an attorney, but my background is in psych. I always wanted to be a psychologist, clinical psychologist. When we had Kai, my son, he’s three now, for me I was thinking to myself, this is a perfect opportunity to have a human to experiment on, so let’s play.

One of the things that I like about Kai when it comes to conflict management and my hostile negotiations with him every morning trying to get him to school is that, three-year-olds and toddlers, they are essentially unrefined humans. You are speaking to the most primitive parts of the human brain when you’re trying to break through a toddler’s tantrum.

For me as a mediator and an attorney, when I’m negotiating and mediating, I found that a lot of times, I’m dealing with a person’s inner toddler. They dress it up in professional language and professional dress and everything, but when it comes down to it, they’re not making decisions with the most evolved part of their brain. They are still responding with their base human responses that come from the limbic system.

And once I’m able to recognize that in other people, it makes it a lot easier and a lot less frustrating. I take my mornings with Kai as practice sessions. I use techniques with him, try it out with him, then I say, “Well, I wonder if I could do something similar with the people in these difficult conversations in my profession,” and shockingly, it works really effectively.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. So you say limbic system and raw human, so we’re talking just sort of about emotion, impulse, reflex stuff.

Kwame Christian
Exactly, exactly because the thing is when it comes to these difficult conversations, the brain structures I like to focus on are the amygdala, within the limbic system, and the prefrontal cortex within the frontal lobe. The limbic and the amygdala, that houses the base emotional responses, positive and negative emotions, but predominantly negative emotions.

That’s where your fight and flight response is and where the stress response is as well, the thing that leads to the pumping of adrenaline, the elevation of the heart rate, deeper breathing and trembling of the voice, all of that is controlled by the limbic system and the stress response.

Now the interesting thing about the prefrontal cortex, that’s where we have logical reasoning, executive function and those higher level thinking mechanisms in the brain, the interesting thing about that is that, that part of the brain doesn’t fully develop until you’re about 25, early to mid-20s. It develops fully in females faster than in males. I think the difference is 22 to 25.

But it takes a while for that part of the brain to be fully developed, so when you are talking to a toddler, you are dealing with somebody who does not have the cognitive capacity to truly reign in the limbic system, to really think at that higher level consistently because their prefrontal cortex and frontal lobe isn’t fully developed yet.

It’s an interesting cognitive challenge when you look at it that way versus “This is really frustrating. Why won’t this kid stop crying?” but if you think about it and put on a scientist hat and think about it from a psychological perspective, it becomes a fascinating challenge because you recognize which brain structure is active at what time. Then it allows you to walk that baby from irrational to rational.

You’re essentially doing the same thing in your difficult conversations because people respond emotionally and so your goal is to recognize, “Okay, they’re not thinking rationally right now, let me speak to that emotional side and then I’m going to start introducing more higher level arguments and speak to the logical part of their brain once I recognize that they’ve settled down.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. You unpack a number of these things in your book. You’ve been a little bit mysterious with the title, but I understand you’re going to speak it aloud on the show here.

Kwame Christian
Yes, so the title of the book and what’s funny is I think your listeners might find out before my listeners podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s how we roll here. It’s a scoop.

Kwame Christian
That’s right. This is a scoop. This is a big deal, people, big deal. The name of the book is Nobody Will Play With Me: How to Use the Compassionate Curiosity Framework to Find Confidence in Conflict.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, you say “nobody will play with me,” tell us, where does this come from?

Kwame Christian
Yeah, it’s an odd title for a negotiation and conflict management book. But with this book, my goal is to not just inundate you with a laundry list of psychological techniques and persuasive techniques. I think that’s been done and it’s already been done well.

What I’ve recognized through meeting my listeners and doing the TED talk and doing these workshops around the country is that the first barrier that people face is emotional, within themselves. What I recognize is that for years I’ve been giving recipes to people who are afraid to get in the kitchen. They don’t care so much about what to do if they’re too afraid to do it.

I looked back on my life and I recognized the same thing was true for me. I was a people pleaser. I found it very difficult to stand up for myself in difficult conversations. When I went through a bit of an introspective process to figure out where that came from. I recognized that the genesis was an incident on the playground in first grade.

Some background on me. I’m a first-generation Caribbean-American. I grew up in a small rural town in Ohio called Tiffin. Not surprisingly, there was not very much diversity in Tiffin. We looked different and because of our strong accent, we sounded very different. It was hard to fit in.

I remember one day in particular on the playground, it was during recess. I would go to a group of friends and say, “Hey, can I play with you?” and they said no. Then I went to another group of friends, same thing and another group, same thing. Then the recess bell rang and I just burst into tears. I felt so lonely.

I made a vow that day that this would never, ever, ever happen again. People are going to like me. I’m going to have friends. I’m going to be popular. By the end of school I accomplished my goal, I was one of the most popular kids in school, but what I recognized is that oftentimes, our greatest strengths are hiding our greatest weaknesses.

That incident made me a people pleaser. When I was confronted with opportunities to engage in conflict, I would turn away because I said I worked too hard to get all these friends, I’m not going to risk it. I’m not going to jeopardize these relationships.

The book chronicles really how I was able to get over this fear of difficult conversations through the fundamentals of cognitive behavioral therapy that I did on myself. I guess I never made it to be that clinical psychologist that I always wanted to be, but I was my only patient. I was my one and only patient.

I walk the readers through how they can find confidence in conflict even if they are conflict-averse. Then at the end of the book, I share a single powerful technique that you can use in any negotiation from the kitchen table to the boardroom.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, of course, I can’t let that one just go. What is it? What is this powerful technique?

Kwame Christian
Yes. This technique is called compassionate curiosity. It’s a generally applicable approach. Like I said, the reason I wanted to do this is because when you inundate somebody with a bunch of different techniques, it might make sense logically to them, but when they’re in the heat of the moment, they’re not going to go through this laundry list of options to figure out which would be most persuasive in this moment.

I wanted to create something that could be used on the fly no matter what the conversation is, if you’re at work, or you’re having a difficult conversation with your wife, you can use it in that situation. The technique is, first, you acknowledge emotions. Second, you get curious with compassion. Third, you engage in joint problem solving.

What makes this unique is the fact that this same framework can be utilized in the external negotiation that we’re all familiar with, the conflict that’s on the outside with the other person, but also, before you engage in the conflict internally, where you acknowledge your own emotions, where you get curious about what you believe, why you believe it, why you want what you want, and then joint problem solving.

This begs the question, joint problem solving, who are the parties here because I’m in my own head.

Pete Mockaitis
I thought you were talking about marijuana. This begs the question, joint problem solving, like “Where’s he going with this? Where’s he going? Okay.”

Kwame Christian
I’m in Ohio, so that’s not happening here. Maybe in Cali, but not here.

But um, with that third step, internally, what that looks like is you’re negotiating with yourself and you’re bringing your heart and mind together to figure out a solution that works for you. Because a lot of times there might be a solution that makes sense economically, but then you look in the mirror and you hate yourself for making that deal, you don’t feel like you should have conceded.

A good deal will have something that it works for you substantively. It serves your needs, but also it’s something that you can live with emotionally. If you make a deal that makes sense logically, but really breaks you inside, it’s not a good deal. I want people to think through that thoroughly before they engage in the external negotiation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Could you give us an example of how that might unfold in practice?

Kwame Christian
Absolutely. And so I think about this as a mediator. I see this all the time. As a mediator, it gives me an opportunity to put myself in the unique position where I’m right in the middle of a conflict. I have a really good idea of what’s going on one side and a really good idea of what’s going on on the other side. They’re honest with me. They tell me what’s going on and what they need.

Sometimes they might get an offer and their attorney might say, “This is a really good deal. Given the likelihood of success in litigation, I think we should accept this offer.” Now, essentially that is the logical part of their brain talking. The attorney in this situation represents the logical part of their brain. He or she is saying this works, financially this works, legally this works.

Speaking as an attorney, attorneys are very risk averse. If there’s a way to get a quick win and avoid a loss, then they’ll do that. Settlement is typically the best option.

But then, if you take a moment and look at the party, you can see that it’s breaking them up inside. It doesn’t work for them. Even though it makes sense and they cognitively, logically understand that this is the best deal, they know that if they go home and they take that deal, one month later, six months later, two months later, they’ll look in the mirror and lose a little bit of respect for themselves because they feel like they capitulated.

And so, that’s a situation where the person should take a step, think about it, and then push a little bit harder because if it’s a situation where it won’t bankrupt you, you’ll survive if you roll that dice and lose in litigation, I think when it comes down to the way you look at yourself and your level of respect, you don’t want to capitulate when it’s a situation where you care about it or it means more to you than just the money and the legal exposure.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Okay, so then, you’re sort of highlighting the different areas there. The curiosity then is when you’re kind of asking those questions in terms of what’s underneath it, what’s behind it, sort of what’s going on deep down there. So that’s intriguing.

Then I guess if you’re the mediator there, you’re going to need to come about that understanding of where the other person is coming from as well so that you can find a new deal that is workable for everyone.

Kwame Christian
Exactly. Exactly. For me as a mediator, it’s tough to skirt that line. If there’s an attorney representing the party, then I would kind of step back and let those two have the discussion. But oftentimes when the party is unrepresented and they’re trying to handle it themselves, I’d have them think through it, so even if they say yes, I’ll test it.

I say to them, “Okay, now I understand that this is a deal that makes sense for you and you’re thinking about accepting this deal, but let me ask you a question, let me have you think about it from this angle. Now, if you take this home to your spouse and you let your spouse know about the outcome, what would they think about it? How would they feel? Okay. Why would they feel that way?”

Now after you get that reaction from their spouse. Now imagine they say “Oh the spouse would be really upset. They would be frustrated. They’d feel like I gave away the farm.” Then I said, “Okay, after you get that response from your spouse, how would you feel about that deal six months from now? Would you feel good about yourself?” Then they’d say, “No, I wouldn’t feel good about myself at all.”

Then I say, “Well, do you think this is a good deal still?” They would say, “No.” Then I say, “All right, let’s consider your financial situation, what you’re looking for, your interests and the legal exposure we’re dealing with. What is the counter proposal that will work for you?” They’ll come back with something a little bit more aggressive and that jives with what’s happening inside of them.

Because one of the things we need to recognize is that emotions are valid. So we can’t just try to turn ourselves into automatons and just make cold callous calculations. That’s simply not the way we operate. Those emotions are going to be there festering under the surface whether we want them to or not.

I say when it comes to the decision making process before and during the conversation, we need to constantly have that internal negotiation to make sure that the outcomes or the solutions that we consider and propose are really in line with our substantive and emotional interests.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s good stuff. So that’s in the lawyer world. Are there other instances in the course of just sort of natural thinking, decision making, sort of life planning and executing where you see some real common mismatches between the logical and the emotional?

Kwame Christian
Absolutely. You see it at home at the time, all the time. It might be a situation where you’re trying to decide where to live. You and your spouse might be deciding where to live. You have an option of living in a densely populated urban area. You’re in Chicago, so let’s say Chicago. Or you could move out to the suburbs and give yourself a little bit more space, reduce stress, reduce workload, etcetera, etcetera.

There are going to be a number of competing interests. If you were somebody who grew up in Chicago and maybe you grew up in a rougher side of Chicago, maybe you say “That upbringing made me tough, made me strong. I learned a lot. I didn’t just have book smarts, but I had street smarts. I would prefer – because of that I want to raise my child in more of a densely populated area.”

And so then, you have to a serious conversation to see within yourself before you have the conversation with your spouse to make the decision and really dig deeply into it because sometimes the emotions are legitimate and they would be long-lasting, but sometimes you recognize within yourself, “Oh, now I see why I feel this way. It’s not legitimate. It’s purely emotional in a way where I’m willing to let it go.”

For instance, I was talking to one of my friends. I did an episode where we had a sparring session, like a mock negotiation. It was me and my guest. I was playing the role of a parent and she was trying to – she was my spouse and she was trying to convince me not to spank the children. I said, “Well, I’m a Caribbean-American. I was spanked and I’m tough. My family was spanked and they did really well, so I want to continue the tradition.”

My friend told me that after he listened to that episode, it hit him that the only reason he wanted to spank his kids was because his family was from Africa and his whole family was spanked growing up. That was just the tradition. But then as an academic, when he looked back and made that determination for himself looking at the literature, he realized it wasn’t something that he wanted to do.

I’m not saying that as an indictment of spanking at all, I’m just saying that as an example of how the introspective process can lead to some unexpected results. Once you recognize the genesis of some of your emotional stances, then it leads you to question it and it could lead to the opposite, you could say, “Oh, this is legitimate. This isn’t going to go away. I need to actually take this into consideration in the decision-making process.”

But what I’m finding, and the reason that I want to include this in the book, is because I found that most people don’t think through things thoroughly before they engage in the difficult conversations. They have this conflict or this negotiation and they are discussing it feverishly when in reality, they don’t have a good understanding of what they really want or why. That leads to really poor outcomes a lot of times in these difficult conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
What I loved about the spanking example is that it really does have some emotion as well as data. I haven’t looked at all the data on spanking in great detail, but I’ve browsed a couple studies.

I would have a hard time I think myself just doing it. If the research showed that spanking was the best means of making your child a success, I’d be like, “Okay, this is kind of hard for me to do, but I guess I’ll suck it up.” I think it packs an emotional charge. We talk about your steps there in terms of you know, one, acknowledging the emotions. I think if you go there then it totally makes sense how that gets you onto sort of a level ground for having the conversation.

Because if someone is thinking, “My family spanked me and they were spanked and we are all great,” and then someone comes hard charging, “Well, take a look at these seven peer-reviewed studies and the outcomes associated with children who are spanked,” it’s just like, “Yeah, well that’s just a bunch of academic mumbo jumbo. How applicable is that to the real world?”

Right, so I think you sort of instantly probably catch some resistance as opposed to when you sort of acknowledge the emotions and have that curiosity associated with where it comes from, then it’s like, “That is kind of interesting. I guess that is where it comes from and how we operate. But a lot of families didn’t do that and they worked out fine, so I guess we’ve got a choice to make here.”

That’s really cool how if you take the time to go there, you’ll save time talking until you’re blue in the face about all your awesome data.

Kwame Christian
Exactly. Here’s the thing too. What studies have found is that people come to decisions, come to conclusions and opinions with their emotions first and then subsequently justify that with logic. It’s a reverse process because typically we think that we are well reasoned people and we come to these conclusions because of our reasoning, but it’s the opposite way.

For example, let’s stick on the spanking example because for me, if I were having that conversation with my wife and I didn’t prepare at all, I’d say, “No, I want to spank.” Then she says, “Here are these peer-reviewed studies,” I would be ill-equipped to have that conversation because I didn’t realize before the conversation that the singular reason why I wanted to spank was because of my upbringing, that’s it.

But the thing is as the conversation went, if I would have not taken the time to confront that beforehand, I would have said, “Well, all of my family is successful.” That’s an excuse really. That’s a rationalization that came after I already came to that conclusion. It makes it better for you to operate in these conversation because one of the keys to being persuasive is being persuadable.

In those conversations if you are willing to come to terms with the fact that, “Oh, I might be wrong and maybe the best thing for me, the other person and the situation as a whole is for me to adjust my position,” then that puts you in a better position to persuade this person in another situation too.

One of the things I mention in the book is I want you to consider this like relationship chess. It’s not just a short-term situation where I’m trying to be persuasive in this particular conversation and get this win. It’s over the lifetime of this relationship, how can I put myself in the best position to be as persuasive as possible and maximize value for me and the other person.

When you think about it that way, it broadens your perspective and you can see how coming to terms before the negotiation that, “Oh, I might actually be wrong,” that’s beneficial in the grand scheme of things.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so much good stuff. Thank you. It resonates. It’s funny, when you talk about the emotion and then the rationalization. It’s interesting over the last few days – this just happened to me, so – I’ve taken a fancy lately to the website WireCutter.com, if you’ve ever been there.

Kwame Christian
Ha, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But I just love is how – I tend to research products super thoroughly myself on Amazon and then I like it that they do that and then take it all the further in terms of “Well, we got the top ten rated things and we played with them all for hours and hours and here are our conclusions.”

I just sort of bumped into them talking about a multi-bit ratcheting screwdriver. They just sort of sang its praises in such great detail and how it’s vastly superior to all these other multi-bit ratcheting screwdrivers.

Even though I already have a screwdriver set, I just wanted it, partially just because I love excellence and the way they spoke of it was so glowing as it being vastly superior to the others and how ratcheting has its advantages. I spent like three or four days – not all day, but in idle moments – just sort of thinking about under what circumstances would I really need ratcheting in a screwdriver.

Then just today I came to the thought, well, I’ve got these blinds that I’ve been kind of dragging my feet on putting up and part of it’s because it’s unpleasant kind of shove your hand in those weird, awkward corners where there’s furniture and stuff in the way. Then you keep slipping out of it. Then you’ve got to get back into the screw.

Versus if I had a ratcheting capability, then that would make it so much easier and remove my resistance and we could get these things up and it could very well save me time if there’s just one screw that I don’t strip and have to take a trip to the store, that time savings is going to pay for itself.

I just bought it today. I did not need to spend $26 when I have screwdriving capability in my life, but I had a desire and then I found a reason. I don’t regret it, but I do see what’s happened to me here. I can be honest and humble about it.

Kwame Christian
This is brilliant. This is a great example. I like your honesty first of all with how you came to the decision because you admitted it was an emotional decision and then you worked hard to find a way to legitimize that decision. Let’s do a little role play. I’m your wife. Now we’re married. I’m gorgeous.

Pete Mockaitis
You sure are.

Kwame Christian
Pete, congratulations.

Pete Mockaitis
And you want to spank my kids.

Kwame Christian
Let’s say my goal here to stop you from buying this thing. Now, thinking about it on the external side we can see how the compassionate curiosity framework is beneficial because if I, as your wife, just focus on the fact, the truth, the reality, the logical conclusion that we do not need this, she’s speaking to the wrong part of the brain because it’s not the logical part of the brain that made that decision.

That’s why when it comes to sequencing the compassionate curiosity framework, it goes from acknowledge emotions to compassionate curiosity to joint problem solving because we recognize that you need to start with the emotions first.

Once the emotional side is addressed, then we can move to curiosity with regard to the substance of it and digging deeply into your motivations and why really you need it. Then we can work together to come up with a solution.

But we don’t start talking about solutions first because that talks about logic and practicality and things like that. And you’re not ready for that. We need to address that emotion, which in this case is actually positive, that desire.

I’ve seen the trend here because you said you admire excellence. The name of your podcast is How to be Awesome at Your Job. For me, as your wife, I would say, “All right, I understand that you have a need for higher level things and the best things in life.” Maybe what I would try to do is give you that same emotional satisfaction in another way that still protects us from that expense, but still at the same time gives you that validation that you need to find a win-win in that case.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that you’re kind of working with the same emotional pathway, you might kind of work with painting a picture of how there is excellence in using simple tools that you’ve already got and paint a picture of how, play some country music and, take your sweet time using the tools you have and enjoy doing an excellent job with what you’ve got.

That in its own way is a form of excellence with fiscal responsibility and resourcefulness. You’re using what you’ve got because you’re so smart at doing that and being creative. You’re like MacGyver.

I dig that. I think that’s intriguing too if you think about all the little decisions we make all the time with regard to our logic versus our animalistic or limbic desires. I’m thinking about it like, “I want pizza.” It’s like, “I want that delicious pizza,” so you’ve got that desire. But you realize, “Well, that pizza probably has twice as many calories as I really need to be satisfied and nourished and I would like to drop some pounds.”

There you have it. Classic. Logically, eating that pizza does not help me attain my goals, but emotionally I want it. Right then and there it seems like we can apply this framework to sort of talk yourself off the pizza ledge. How would that play out?

Kwame Christian
Exactly. It’s fascinating because you’re spot on. The compassionate curiosity framework, especially internally can be used in every single situation because we’re constantly making decisions. What they found is the vast majority of our decisions happen automatically.

In this situation, you might just find yourself with the pizza and you’re done with the pizza and now you’ve reached a level of sanity that came with your satisfaction. It’s like, “Oh, how did I get this pizza?” Well, you made that decision automatically, emotionally.

Walking you through that framework, what it could be is this. I’ll kind of put myself on the spot too. It might be a Friday night and then I say, “All right, I’m getting pizza.” That’s the conclusion I’ve come up with.

Then I stop and I say, “Okay, step one, acknowledge emotions. What is it?” “Well, I’m happy. I’m with my family. I feel good. That’s what I’m feeling right now. That is my emotion.” “Okay, well, why do you feel that way?” “Well, I remember growing up watching TGIF with my family and it feels so good. That’s why at this moment on Friday evening, I feel that good.”

“Okay, so now where does pizza come in?” “Well, every Friday I remember sitting down and my family would order AJ’s Pizza and we would eat this pizza.” “Okay, so what does your heart really want? Your heart wants connection with your family and to enjoy that warmth and accepting caring feeling that comes with spending time with the family.

But substantively, what does your body need right now because you and your wife set a goal to hit a certain body fat percentage by the end of the month and this is antithetical to those goals, so is there another way we can get that same feeling, that same emotional feeling by doing something else?”

Then you say, “You know what, maybe what we can do together as a family instead of eating pizza is sitting down – is coming up with a recipe and as a family creating a healthy dish and then sharing that together.”

Pete Mockaitis
There we go. Certainly. That’s sort of based on a warm family connection kind of emotional vibe. I’m wondering if the desire is even a little bit more simple. It’s like, because pizza is delicious and it’s greasy and crunchy and chewy and flavorful all at the same time. That is what I long to have at this moment.

Kwame Christian
Yeah, and I think a lot of times when we feel emotions as a Western society, we’ve gotten into that almost societal habit of addressing that emotion with food. If I’m sad, I’m going to eat comfort food. If I’m happy, I’m going to eat comfort food. If I’m bored, I guess I could eat something too.

When it comes to the habit structure when you think about Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, the anatomy of a habit is trigger, behavior and reward. What’s funny is when food especially, there are multiple triggers that could be opposing triggers, happiness and sadness both could lead to pizza in the same way. Like you said, it might not even be something as elevated as oh, warmth and family time. That’s great. It might just be a trigger or a deeply ingrained habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, fascinating stuff. Well, boy there’s many things I wanted to get into, but we’ve already having so much fun with so much time.

Let’s talk about the fear and confidence dimension associated with going into some conversations with folks. Like you sense that there’s going to be conflict, a difference of opinion on a matter and so you’re feeling fearful. What do you suggest for tapping that fear and boosting the confidence? We got sort of one useful tool to engage in the conversation, but sort of getting your mindset right before you step in. How do you recommend we do that?

Kwame Christian
I’ll answer it two ways. Right before you step in, what I would do is I would focus on your why. What is the purpose of the conversation? When you think about the system of roots beneath a tree, sometimes, depending on the tree, the root system can go down 20 feet into the ground and spread out 40 feet away from the trunk of the tree. That’s why it is so well rooted. It’s not moving.

We have to think about our reasoning, our purpose in the same way. If fear is something that you struggle with, you need to find a reason for the conversation.

An example is I was coaching an executive at a non-profit one time and she was struggling to make the difficult asks when it came to funding for the non-profit. She said “I just don’t feel comfortable in these conversations. I don’t feel like asking. I feel like I’m annoying people.” I said, “All right, can you tell me about why you do this?” She talked about the mission and how important it was to her.

I said, “Can you think of one person, one child that you’ve helped that stands out to you?” She said, “Yeah, I can think of one. His name’s Mark. He had this story,” and she told me the story. I said, “Great. Here’s what I want you to do. Before you make any of these fundraising calls, I want you to take a picture of Mark and I want you to look at it and remember the impact that your mission had on his life, his life and his family’s life. Then I want you to make that call.”

After she did that she was able to push harder without that fear. Let me say it this way, push harder without letting the fear get in her way. The reality is in a lot of these situations, that fear and anxiety, that feeling is still going to be there. But it’s not about, again, muting these emotions and putting them away because that’s often unrealistic.

What it’s really about is finding unique ways to still accomplish what we need to accomplish in spite of those fears. If you have a conversation coming up right now, that’s going to be one of the keys.

Now, going forward what I would suggest doing is finding unique ways to put yourself in positions of difficult conversations because you need to engage in what I call rejection therapy. There was popular TED talk I think by the same title or 100 Days of Rejection was the TED talk.

Essentially it’s exposure therapy, how people get over phobias. You slightly expose yourself to a difficult conversation, like a small one. Then the next day you do another one. You find these opportunities and then as you start to do that, you’re going to find yourself becoming a little bit more comfortable in the difficult conversations.

The last one is reconceptualizing your opinion of the fear that you’re feeling. Essentially this is the cognitive reappraisal thing. What you’re doing is you’re feeling this physical sensation of fear, so maybe for you it’s heart rate and perspiration. That’s what it is for you. That’s how you know you’re afraid. Well, over time what you want to start doing is attaching that physical response to another positive emotion.

For me, even though now with these workshops I travel the country doing the negotiation and conflict management trainings, the reality is I’ve been terrified of public speaking, just absolutely terrified. To this day when I speak in public, I still have that fear response, but through the process of cognitive reappraisal I feel the exact same thing but I label it as excitement. I see this as an opportunity, so now I’m going to move toward it.

Psychologically we’re always thinking about things in terms of approach or avoid. Most likely with the fear and anxiety that people feel with difficult conversations, they are avoiding the difficult conversations. So by figuring out your why in that specific conversation and then recognizing conflict as an opportunity, those two things in conjunction will make it more likely for you to approach the conversation with more confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Now I want to get your take on when it comes to the actual word choice that you’re using, do you have any favorite scripts or phrases or things you find yourself saying again and again that are just super handy tools in your back pocket.

Kwame Christian
Absolutely. It’s funny you say that because one of the things that my listeners said was an issue was that sometimes in the conversations they don’t know what to say. “I just don’t know what to say. Can you help me there?”

What I recognized is that a lot of times when you don’t know what to say, it’s a signal that you probably shouldn’t be saying something. You shouldn’t be saying anything. You should be asking a question because you don’t know what to say because you don’t know enough. Your goal at that moment is to learn something. In those moments what I do is I ask questions.

My favorite kinds of questions start with what or how. These are open ended questions that are designed to solicit information and get them talking. I also like to use ‘tell me more about blank’ or ‘help me to understand blank.’ Those two open-ended statements are thing that I go to a lot of times when I just simply don’t know what to say.

They’re really simple and they get the other person talking, which gives you more information and as we know, knowledge is power. It gives you more power and confidence in the negotiation. It also gives you time to regroup because while they’re talking, you’re listening, but you’re also gathering yourself and figuring out what’s next. I would say the two go-to phrases that I use would be ‘tell me more about this, blah, blah, blah,’ or ‘help me to understand this.’

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

Kwame Christian
Absolutely. Well, yes, the book this week is going to be on sale for 99 cents just for this week. If you’re interested in getting the book and figuring out conflict-wise what you can do better and how you can get more confident, this would be the week to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. All right. Got it. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Kwame Christian
Yes. There’s a difference between what people often think about negotiation and what negotiation really is. My quote is “Negotiation is not the art of deal making. It’s the art of deal discovery.” You’re going together to come and have a conversation to see if a deal exists, not try to force one if it doesn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. And how about a favorite study, or experiment or bit of research?

Kwame Christian
Yes, I will go to Stanley Milgram’s experiment on authority. This was a classic psychological experiment, back in the good old day before ethics.

Pete Mockaitis
Ethics. When you could spank your kids and no one would judge you for it.

Kwame Christian
Exactly It was the Wild, Wild West. It was terrible. But we learned a lot from it. We learned a lot from this study. For those of you who don’t know, with the Milgram experiment it was on obedience to authority.

He had somebody come into a laboratory and what the person saw was this contraption that had different levels of voltage assigned to these switches. Then you had a man in a lab coat looking very authoritative and then a person on the other side of a curtain. You were to ask the person questions. If they got it wrong, then you shocked them. The level of shock was just increasing to dangerous levels.

I think it was a full 63% of the people who went through that study took it all the way to the end, where they thought the person was actually dead.

And so this is terrifying. You just come into a lab and some man in a lab coat says, “Shock this person,” and you’re hearing the voice of what you think is a person suffering. It was really a tape recorder. But 63% went all the way and shocked this person to the point where he stopped responding and they kept shocking.

That, no pun intended, is shocking. But it tells you just how powerful deference to authority is when it comes to persuasion. That’s why confidence for me is the thing that I focus on most in this book, how you can get confidence, because the simple act of carrying yourself with confidence is by itself persuasive.

If you can carry yourself in a way that lets people know that you are an authority, somebody to be respected, they are going to respond in kind. Even if you don’t know any substantive negotiation technique, if you were to just increase your ability to demonstrate confidence and be confident in yourself, it’s going to increase your negotiation outcomes.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Kwame Christian
Shameless plug. I guess it would have to be my book right now, since I’m promoting it. But I think the best negotiation book on the market right now is Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss.

Pete Mockaitis
That keeps coming up. We had him on the show. Voss was awesome. The book was awesome. Why do you love it?

Kwame Christian
I love it because it’s so practical. He took it from the ivory tower and brought it to the real world. I love the fact that when I read books written by folks from the CIA, FBI all, everything is just military grade practicality. If it doesn’t work in the field, then they don’t use it. Everything that we learn from him is readily applicable.

I remember in some of my negotiations with opposing counsel representing my clients, I decided there’s no way. It can’t be that easy. It can’t work. And just being shocked, just being shocked.

I think if I’m going to get really nerdy with the reason why I like it, it would be this. He was able to blend an approach that is assertive. Because when I had him on the show, I said aggressive. He said, “I prefer the term assertive,” so I’ll respect that. Assertive, but friendly.

One of the critiques of the collaborative negotiation model is that it’s a little bit too fluffy. In the real world if you go against a buzz saw, you’ll just get destroyed. With Chris’s approach to negotiation, he could take everything you have and make you like him through the process. It’s brilliant.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You said you work with clients, you’re like, “It can’t be this simple,” what in particular were you doing that you found to be effective but surprisingly simple?

Kwame Christian
Yeah, so I remember with a lot of these negotiations, the simple response of “How am I supposed to do that?” adjusting your position at all, and so them to negotiate themselves is shockingly powerful.

If you can do it with the proper affect, where you’re friendly and not aggressive and not threatening, it’s powerful because there is an assumption that every time somebody counters your proposal or any time there is resistance, you need to then adjust your position, but what he showed is that no, you don’t. You can keep on implementing the same technique over and over and over again. Then eventually they’ll relent.

You’re really testing their resilience throughout the conversation. What amount of what they’re doing is bluster. Are you just saying you can’t do that or are you hoping that I will just believe that.

Then if you just challenge it and just keep challenging it and challenging it, it’s incredible to see even in these incredibly positional high stakes negotiations, like with me and opposing counsel or me sitting as the mediator, it’s incredible to see how effective that is when it comes to these difficult conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, let’s hear how you’d say “How am I supposed to do that?”

Kwame Christian
So just like that. That’s the crazy part about it, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
I always thought it would be a little bit more warm and fun like “Kwame, how am I supposed to do that?”

Kwame Christian
I would say it like this, if I’m talking to opposing counsel, I would say, “Well, first of all, Pete, I definitely understand where you’re coming from, but I represent a client here, so how am I supposed to do that? His interests are this, that and the other. How am I supposed to accept that?” Then silence. Then they start thinking, “Hm, that’s a good point, how is he supposed to do that?” It’s crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Let me figure that out for you.

Kwame Christian
Right. I’m like, “All right, well you get back to me. I’ll be right here.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right, how about a favorite tool?

Kwame Christian
Tool. When we’re talking about tools, I would say honestly, the compassionate curiosity framework because I spent a lot of time trying to figure out and give voice to the technique that I use naturally. This is what it is. I like the flexibility of it. I like the fact when I am feeling that fight, flight or freeze, I have a go-to that I can utilize if I’m not cognitively at my best because the thing is it happens to everybody.

We all get flustered. We all find ourselves in a difficult conversation and we get heated and we feel our amygdala starting to take over and we feel the rush of adrenaline going through. We say, “Oh no, now I’m triggered. I can’t think straight. What am I supposed to do?” I know I can implement that technique in every single situation I find myself in. I use it as my North Star. I can always use it to gather myself.

Whenever I teach, whether it’s a procurement people or people in a leadership class or other attorneys, the compassionate curiosity framework is the basis. And then upon that base, we put on those other persuasive techniques, but in every situation, that’s going to be my foundation.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks as you’re teaching this stuff?

Kwame Christian
I think it’s the recognition of the importance of psychology. First of all to understand ourselves and what we’re feeling in order to normalize the situation so we know we’re not weird or broken or damaged. Then also when we extrapolate those psychological principles to the other side, it helps you to recognize, “Wow, this is why I’m having so much trouble in these conversations because I’m speaking to their logical side when it’s really their emotional side engaged.”

I think the point that really resonates with people is I say that it doesn’t matter how good of a point you make if they’re not in a cognitive state where they can accept it, where they can actually understand it. Just slow down and hold those points until they’re ready.

I think the biggest takeaway for people is patience. It’s okay to have these conversations about issues that are emotional in the business world because I think a lot of times people think it’s taboo, so they just go straight to substance, but they’re missing out on a lot of value when it comes to their ability to persuade by overlooking the emotional aspect.

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

Kwame Christian
Check out the Negotiate Anything podcast. That will be an easy one. I’m assuming your podcast listeners like listening to podcasts so that will be a good start. Then connect with me on LinkedIn as well.

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

Kwame Christian
Call to action this week, this time is going to be – it will be two things. First, check out the book on Amazon.

Second, take the opportunity to engage in these difficult conversations because the way I look at it, the best things in our life lie on the other side of a difficult conversation, whether it’s personal or professional, there is going to be a difficult conversation or a difficult person standing in our way.

We need to move toward these conflicts, not move away from them because when you think about it opportunistically, there is a benefit to these conversations, you just need to be creative and find it. Then once you do, utilize the compassionate curiosity framework to get the most out of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Kwame, this has been fun. I wish you tons of luck with the book and the podcast and all the stuff you’re doing.

Kwame Christian
Thank you. Likewise. And thanks for having me back on, Pete. I appreciate it.

362: Taking Control of Your Interactions with Maryann Karinch

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Maryann Karinch shares how to give information-rich responses and make connections that will steer conversations and interactions in your favor.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The difference between answering vs. responding
  2. Three ways to use keywords for memorability
  3. Body language tips for forming a connection

About Maryann

Maryann Karinch has written numerous books on human behavior and health, including eight with Gregory Hartley that feature insights into reading and using body language. She uses this expertise in coaching business executives, law enforcement personnel, and other professionals in detecting deceit, defusing tense situations, and negotiating with both friendly and hostile sources.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Maryann Karinch Interview Transcript

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

Maryann Karinch
My pleasure, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d like to get started by hearing a little bit about your history in the theater.

Maryann Karinch
Oh my, well, I was a shy child. I thought that I can’t go through life like this, so I took a summer theater class when I was 13 and I loved it.

Interestingly enough, I didn’t know until years later when I started studying human behavior and body language that that was my introduction to learning body language. I learned how to pretend to be an extrovert. I learned how to pretend to keep control of myself when I was really just sweating and falling apart. That was an interesting introduction. I ended up studying that in college and in graduate school and then managing a theater and then leaving it, so there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Tell me, do any particular lessons you learned in the theater really kind of play out in your current work?

Maryann Karinch
Oh absolutely. What I realized much, much later was that studying theater it broadened my abilities to learn about people. I was much more observant about how people behaved, what they said, the meaning of things, the drama of a moment. This applies all the time in business of course.

I think I just got tuned into people a whole lot more. No matter what I ended up doing after that, I was drawing on lessons that I learned from the theater. I also really like theater people. They tend to be really fun to hang out with.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s been my experience as well, just a bit more expressive. You might say “out there,” if you will, but I think I might be a little out there in terms of just expressing what’s on my mind in a colorful way.

Maryann Karinch
Right, exactly. There’s everything right about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Tell us a little bit more about your book, Controlling the Conversation, here.

Maryann Karinch
Well, that’s all about solutions because people tend to just answer questions and just kind of segueing into one thing I know you wanted to talk about was what’s wrong with just answering a question. What’s wrong is that you surrender control in the conversation, at least temporarily, to the person who’s asking the question. Then if you all do is address the topic that the questioner has proposed, then all you’re doing is ceding control.

Instead if you respond to the question, if you take that question and say maybe it’s a ‘what’ question and you say, “I really need to give more information than just what. I need to give a why. I need to give who. I need to give a timeline.” By responding to the question, by weaving in those other things, you take control. That was the impetus behind this book.

My co-author, Jim Pyle, has a daughter. His daughter, Meghan, wanted to do a commercial. She’s a young horse woman. She had an opportunity to do a commercial that involved riding her horse, except that the people who were doing the interview weren’t asking her to ride a horse, they were asking her questions.

She came home and she didn’t get it. She did not get the job. Her dad said, “Well, tell me what you said.” What he realized was she had missed opportunities to express her expertise, to talk about how long and hard she had worked for that expertise, things that would have made a difference.

He called me and he said, “Oh my gosh, now that we’ve done a book about asking questions, we need to do a book about giving answers,” so that was it.

Pete Mockaitis
We talk about ceding control, that’s an interesting concept. In what times and places is it okay to cede control versus when do you very much want to be remaining in control?

Maryann Karinch
I like to remain in control. How about you Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m sure it’s helpful, but I mean I guess there are times where if you’re always in control, then you can sort of rankle the feathers of your collaborators.

Maryann Karinch
I know. It’s not as if you’re in control of every situation or every conversation, but it’s a matter of not letting go of control when you really need to have it. That’s the point.

There are a lot of times when we just want to sit back and listen and let somebody else do all the talking. That’s fine. That’s great. But there are other times when it’s really important for us to know that we are steering the conversation towards certain information, towards certain revelations, and making sure that whatever is most relevant in terms of us accomplishing a goal, that we get there.

Pete Mockaitis
You draw a bit of a distinction here when it comes to the questions when you respond with you can give either an answer or a response. Can you unpack a little bit, what’s the difference here?

Maryann Karinch
Sure, sure. A response is multi-dimensional. Answering a question is just providing data: who, what, when, where, why, how. But responding is kind of data plus. The response is energized with information. It’s energized with direction and management, so you pack more power with a response.

You’re generally a whole lot more colorful in responding rather than merely answering a question. Now there are exceptions, but we can get to those later.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s do some maybe examples or role play here to get that all the clearer here. Let’s say I were to ask you, “Hey, do you want to be on my podcast?” There’s a question. What would an answer sound like versus a response?

Maryann Karinch
Yes, Pete your podcast is fascinating because you have an audience that I love connecting with. It’s been a long process for me to get to the point where I felt I knew enough to share with them, but now I’m there and I’m with you and this is fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so that sounds like a response. We got some extra – some layers there.

Maryann Karinch
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Versus the answer would just be yes.

Maryann Karinch
Yeah, the straight answer is yes. It’s a yes or no question, so yes, okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Then let’s unpack, what are some of the advantages of providing that extra detail?

Maryann Karinch
The extra detail gives some more about the other subject areas. We call them areas of discovery. They are people, places, things, and time. The more that you can weave in all four elements when you respond to a question, the more richness there is in the answer. You add more layers to the conversation.

Instead of having a mono-dimensional just focus on data, you have a sense of person, you have a sense of place, you just have more of a richness of the information that you’re exchanging.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Then I’m curious about so if you’re dealing with a person who’s asking questions and wants to move fast, fast, fast, how do you sort of navigate those waters in terms of thinking about the tradeoffs of extra detail versus time?

Maryann Karinch
Right, well that’s the model with a lot of the drive time radio that I do. You just have to be aware of the model that they have to do that. Responding in those situations means adhering to the rules of that game, that exchange, not game, but the exchange of two people who are crimped in terms of time. You just give as much as you can in a few – much, much fewer words. You do have to honor the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Then any other tips in terms of giving answers that are all the more compelling and helpful?

Maryann Karinch
Right. Well, pay attention to who’s asking. It was fun spending a few minutes before the podcast getting to know you. I had a sense of your rhythm. I think that helps a great deal. I try not to do any interviews or have any exchanges with somebody that I don’t know anything about. You lack the ability to have a real meaningful conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Okay, cool. That’s one tip is to get some of that extra background and context for who’s the person and what’s going on there. What else?

Maryann Karinch
Well, the other thing is make sure that you don’t make up anything. That’s a really, really big deal. You never know in conversations like this if somebody’s going to throw something from left field. If I don’t know something, I need to tell you that because your audience trusts you and therefore they trust me, so that’s important. Don’t make stuff up. Be square.

If you have limited information, say, “I only know a little bit about this. I only know a tiny, tiny bit about heart surgery, so please don’t ask any more questions about it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. You also recommend incorporating some key words into your responses.

Maryann Karinch
Absolutely. In your head, you know when you go into a situation, we’ll just use job interview as an example, you know what people want – you want people to think of you, that you want that interviewer to come away with maybe five concepts that that person would describe you as capturing. Throw key words in there.

There’s certain words that are really sticky words. One of my favorites is rogue. If you call somebody or something rogue, that’s kind of a sticky word. You find the other person using it again and again, just because they heard you say it. Do you know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
I do know what you mean and it’s interesting in terms of it’s kind of a unique word, but we all know what it means. It’s short. But it kind of paints a bit of a picture and has some energy or momentum behind it.

Maryann Karinch
Right, right. If you go into a job interview with your personal story already in your head and that personal story is full of sticky words and you start answering questions and using those words, then somebody is likely at the end of that job interview to say, “Pete, you’re provocative. You have a fast rhythm. You get me going.” things like that. You walk away saying, “Yeah, okay, I did it. Me and my sticky words. I did it.”

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love it please, just lay them on us in terms of many, many sticky words that come to mind.

Maryann Karinch
Right, exactly. There are all kinds. It depends on your situation and how you want to be perceived. But that’s one thing that you can do to just get people to feed back to you what you really want them to know about you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well could you rattle off some extra sticky words here?

Maryann Karinch
That’s the whole thing that there are certain words that have a sound, that have a picture associated with them that’s so specific.

If I said “magenta,” now you might think of the character from Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is fine because she’s sort of like the living embodiment of a color. That’s the kind of thing that you want to think of and you want to introduce into conversation if you want somebody to remember you, you want somebody to remember characteristics about you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s funny. I was thinking of a toner cartridge first. I’ve got cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

Maryann Karinch
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
So that’s there. Okay, cool. What are some more?

Maryann Karinch
Oh, well, let’s just go for anything that has to do with shapes and colors. They’re generally sticky words, things that are more conceptual—like “confidence,” that’s not really a sticky word. “Empowerment,” nah, not so much. Grit, that’s a sticky word, words that have huge power.

This is why reading somebody like Shakespeare is so valuable. He was my major playwright in graduate school. The word choices are amazing. I say dagger, that’s a sticky word. There are all kinds of things like that when you think, “Okay, I can say something multi-syllabically and you will totally forget it or I can say single shot,” “Oh I get it.” Sniper, sticky word.

There are just certain things that when you say them, people remember that word and you find – now check this out. Throw a few things like that into a conversation with someone and darn if they won’t come back a little while later and they will say rogue, sniper. They will just – they will find a way to use that weird word in conversation, just because it’s stuck in their head.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s also interesting about that is it almost – well, I think it does – gives you a little bit extra oomph in terms of credibility or authority. Like if it’s in a meeting situation, you said this word first and then there’s eight people in the meeting – you said the word first, then two other people have utilized the word and you as the originator of the word are kind of almost like the guy who had the idea.

You’re the guy who brought up that word, so it confers a bit of status or authority associated with being the first to provide that there.

Maryann Karinch
Sure, you have at that point a little bit of edge in terms of leadership of that conversation in the meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that notion, you said confidence – I think you might be able to come up with some synonyms that are better than confidence, like you might say swagger brings up a picture of someone swaggering.

It’s like “I’d like us to be able to have some swagger when we come to our customers with exactly all the features that they are most interested in.” That kind of implies confidence that “Yeah, you’re going to go with us versus the alternatives because this is exactly what you want.” That kind of sticks with you more so than confidence. That’s fun.

Maryann Karinch
Yeah, right. Exactly. You’re in a job interview and somebody says to you, “Well, now how would describe yourself in terms of your presence?” If you said, “Well, I have confidence,” oh yawn. What if you said, “I have spine. I have a backbone.” Those are the kind of concepts that gives you an image. You have spine, Pete. Confidence, eh, okay, lots of people have confidence, but you’ve got spine, man.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. That’s cool. So sticky words is sort of one category of key word. Are there more in terms of one approach is to use sticky words? Are there kind of other categories of words that are useful?

Maryann Karinch
The other keywords would be things that you pick up perhaps from the question itself. This is how you can craft a response that really addresses what that person wants to know in addition to the things that you want to bring out.

If the person is asking about qualities, your qualities, well, clearly quality is a key word. Now, how do you take that and turn it into something like a memorable response? You can repeat it. “The quality of, and the quality of, and the quality of.” That’s one way to do it.

Other keywords would be – sometimes people will just because it’s not scripted, will throw things in, maybe something about a reference to time that isn’t really the critical element of the question. You go ahead and run with that and say – well, let’s see. I’m trying to think of an example.

Maybe, the person says, “In your last job,” something or other, you get really specific about that. There’s a timeline going. Make it specific. “Last year in my job, I did such and such.” Or just use that vague reference to time to make it really specific. Bring it home. Give them an answer that’s your answer – that’s your response that’s very time specific because clearly they were kind of toying with a timeline.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. You also got some body language tips in terms of not just the words you use, but how you’re holding yourself and what are some of your tips on that one?

Maryann Karinch
Right. Well this is mostly what I teach when I go out. I’ve worked with corporate people, Department of Homeland Security, people in law enforcement, you name it. There are different types – there are different requirements depending on what your job is and depending on the circumstances.

Generally speaking, if you want to bond with someone, you want invitational body language. That means that you don’t have barriers. Part of body language is not just where you place your arms or how you angle your body, but it’s also the stuff you have in front of you or aside of you.

If you’re behind a desk, you have a barrier between you and another person. If you have a wine glass in front of your face while you’re talking to somebody, that’s a barrier. If you hold your computer or your cellphone between you and another person, that’s a barrier. In order to get invitational body language, which means there’s an openness, there’s a sense of I trust you, you can trust me—remove those barriers.

I actually got a consulting job one time partly, I’m sure, because the person asked me to sit down at a small round desk behind a stack of books. I thought, what is this about. They were like four high. He said, “Let’s just sit over here.” I don’t think he was thinking about the fact that there were books between us.

What I did was, I just moved them. I simply stacked them up so that there was basically a tunnel between us, an open tunnel between us. You could see the demeanor change, like, oh, there’s an openness between us now that wasn’t there before. Those little things can make all the difference in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Okay, so removing barriers and being sort of welcoming, inviting. Anything else?

Maryann Karinch
Right. When you want to bond with somebody, it’s natural to mirror that person. We do that in our tone of voice, we do that in the pacing of our voice. Our conversation is a pretty fast conversation. We’re mirroring each other because we’re both kind of fast talkers for the most part.

If we were sitting in the same room, we would be perhaps tilting our heads to kind of match, we might be tilting our bodies to match. It’s natural for two people to do that. You can see it all the time when people are really connecting on a date, they’ll start mirroring each other.

Well, you can do that in a very, very subtle way you can think through it. It should happen naturally. If it doesn’t happen naturally, you can do little things that make you connect physically with the other person because you are doing a mirroring, not a mimicking, but a mirroring, a little angling of the body is sometimes all it takes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. All right, I want to kind of get your quick take on sort of the other side of things in terms of we talked about responding to questions. How about when you are asking those questions, how should I do it optimally?

Maryann Karinch
Right. Ask good questions. Good questions generally start with an interrogative. When – it’s a who, what, when, where, why, how, how come, that kind of thing. Those questions are not answered with a yes or no. Now, there are times for yes or no questions. That’s true.

But generally speaking if you want somebody to start talking and divulging information to you, ask a narrative. Use an interrogative so that you can ask what we call a narrative question, something that requires a narration in response.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. What else?

Maryann Karinch
Well, if you ask a yes or no question, be prepared for a yes or no answer. Again, that means that if you don’t get it if you ask a yes or no question and you really want a yes or no answer and all of the sudden there’s an evasion, you can ask that question again. Make sure that if you require a yes or no answer, that you get it.

There’s an incident. I was part of a press conference recently and the very first question at the press conference was to the person who was on stage, “Is so-and-so a liar?” I had told the person on the stage – I had coached him and I said, “If you are asked that question, say yes, turn your back, walk away and go to the podium and just leave it. Don’t say anything else,” because it was a really, really important statement.

Now the questioner knew precisely that all he wanted was a yes or no answer. The answerer knew that precisely giving only a yes or no answer was the best – it was the most powerful thing he could do at that moment. That was an interesting exchange that made the evening news related to that press conference.

Know what your intent is when you’re asking questions as well as answering them.

Pete Mockaitis
So the yes alone in that situation is more powerful than elaboration just because it’s kind of like, “That’s all there is to say about that. The answer is yes and I will proceed over here now.”

Maryann Karinch
That’s exactly right. I wish more politicians would do that because I think that’s a vote getter. Go ahead and tell the politicians that they should do that more often. You can do that for me. Sometimes a good strong yes or no is amazing. It’s an amazing weapon for truth. It’s a sense of “Oh my gosh, that person actually – that politician actually gave a yes or no answer to a yes or no question. Holy moly, wow, that’s power.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and it’s sort of refreshing. It’s like, all right. It seems like everyone has to make a statement. This is my statement on this. As opposed to okay, yes or no. Cool.

Maryann Karinch
Yeah, exactly.

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

Maryann Karinch
Sure, there is something I want to mention. Again, this is something that is in the book, but I kind of wish we would have explored it more because I’m paying attention to this more and more. That is reading between the lines. There is a phenomenon of language – we do language on two different levels. We do it literally and then we also read between the lines.

If I said something politically tinged and you’re on the other side of the aisle from me politically, you probably will read between the lines of what I say. Even if it sounds like I’m agreeing with you, you’re going to kind of separate the threads and say, “Wait a minute, I don’t think she really means that because I know she doesn’t agree with me.”

That is the kind of thing that is happening all the time today. We are observing this to the point of distraction when it comes to people who don’t agree supposedly having conversations about key issues. They’re each reading between the lines and getting absolutely nowhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Thank you. That’s an important issue to highlight there. Cool. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Maryann Karinch
“A desire to succeed can strengthen you, but a fear of failure can immobilize you.”

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

Maryann Karinch
That’s mine. That’s mine. That’s my quote. I wrote that.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s good.

Maryann Karinch
It’s my favorite quote. Is that like, so egotistical you can’t put that out there?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fine. Well, how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Maryann Karinch
Oh gosh, okay. I am fascinated by the work of Brene Brown. Do you know her work at all?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Maryann Karinch
Yes. Her work on vulnerability, that may be some of my favorite research and the most valuable in terms of human interaction and possibility for realizing our full humanity, for getting along in the world. I think in a sense Brene Brown found the answer to world peace. I’m going with Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. How about a favorite book?

Maryann Karinch
My favorite book is actually a play. That would be Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

Maryann Karinch
It’s a bunch of tools. It’s my Swiss army knife. My dad gave it to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool. How about a favorite habit?

Maryann Karinch
My favorite habit is drinking water. I’m a fanatic water drinker.

Pete Mockaitis
How much water do you drink?

Maryann Karinch
It’s good for you. Hm?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, how much water do you drink?

Maryann Karinch
Oh, I don’t know. I put fun things in it to flavor it. I put this stuff called DripDrop in it and Emergen-C and all these things to balance my electrolytes, so I don’t know. I drink water all day long, bottles and bottles.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share in your books, in your writing that really seems to connect and resonate with folks. It gets them retweeting and quoting you back to you?

Maryann Karinch
Yeah, yeah. Assume truth. Don’t automatically assume that someone is lying to you. I think that’s the worst thing that we can do. We should assume truth. Come with an open mind to everyone. Now I realize that you can’t sustain that once you realize that someone is not telling you the truth. But truth is a very, very important thing to me.

I have found that assuming that – if my first response is I assume you’re telling me the truth, then I’m much better off then in ascertaining who you are, what you’re all about, how we can get along, how we won’t get along. But if I close my mind to you, if because you’re a certain party or a certain color or a certain age or whatever, if I close my mind to you in the very beginning, then we get nowhere, absolutely nowhere.

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

Maryann Karinch
Well, they could go to my website. Both of them are being updated at this point. It’s Karinch.com and RudyAgency.com. Rudy Agency is all about the literary agency stuff. Karinch.com is all about me personally and professionally.

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

Maryann Karinch
Be absolutely true to your intent. If your intent is to live a life of fulfillment in your career, be really true to that. Be specific and honest with somebody who’s interviewing you for a job.

I know there were jobs that I interviewed for that I had no business interviewing for. It’s not about the money. It’s about whether or not you belong there as part of that team and whether you even like that team. Be true to your intent. Go where you should go. Look for opportunities where you really want to be and don’t just take some junky thing just because you can do the job. That’s work. That’s not a life.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Maryann, thanks so much for taking this time and sharing your wisdom. I wish you tons of luck with the book, Control the Conversation, and all that you’re up to.

Maryann Karinch
Well, thank you so much Pete. It is such a fun thing talking with you. I’d do it anytime.