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Communication

445: How to Make Your Charts Awesome with Stephanie Evergreen

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Stephanie Evergreen discusses the importance of effective data visualization and shares tips and tricks for creating charts that best communicate data findings.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How charts can transform culture
  2. How to make use of tools you already have to make great visuals
  3. How to determine the most appropriate chart for your data

About Stephanie

Dr. Stephanie Evergreen is an internationally-recognized data visualization and design expert. She has trained future data nerds worldwide through keynote presentations and workshops, for clients including Mastercard, Adobe, Verizon, Head Start, American Institutes for Research, Rockefeller Foundation, Brookings Institute, and the United Nations. She writes a popular blog on data presentation at StephanieEvergreen.com. Her two books on designing high-impact graphs, slideshows, and reports both hit #1 on Amazon bestseller lists weeks before they were even released. This Spring Dr. Evergreen is publishing the second edition of one of those bestsellers and a brand new sketchbook with templates for making infographics and dashboards.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Stephanie Evergreen Interview Transcript

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

Stephanie Evergreen
It’s a pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your good stuff. I think we’re going to get real dorky with this one, with the charts, and the graphs, and data. But I want to go back in time first to your first job, which I understand is at McDonald’s, and you were actually a vegetarian at the same time. How did that go?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. Well, you know, as teenagers do, I think you just get whatever job you can because you’re desperate for money. So, McDonald’s was close by my house and it seemed like a good idea. But, yeah, I was vegetarian and I thought I would be running the cash register or something, but they put me in the kitchen, I think, because they could sense I could handle a lot of pressure. That’s my guess.

But it was just the worst place to be. You know, cooking burgers all day. So, I will say I ate a lot of french fries because that was vegetarian, so that counted. But, yeah, I think a lot of us are there. We’re in jobs, and we just kind of do what we’re told even if it doesn’t totally line up with our ideal situation. So, I guess that’s why people come listen to you and your podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Thank you. Well, I think that is one of the reasons, and I think that’s kind of the name of the game in terms of early career isn’t quite ideal, and then you learn and acquire skills, and tools, and you’re able to get better and better fits which are more rewarding as time goes by. Hopefully, that’s the trajectory.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yes, indeed. You know, it’s so funny, because when I think back to that time, I couldn’t even conceptualize that the thing I’m doing now was even a job.

Pete Mockaitis
Is something wrong with that?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, I mean, this was like, we’re talking 1995, and PowerPoint back then was, I think, when I went to college, even after that time when I was doing presentations, was transparencies. You know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Stephanie Evergreen
So, I didn’t even think about data, or graphs, or that I could make a whole career teaching people how to do this better. It’s just the technology wasn’t even there for us to dream of it yet.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s so funny when you talked about the transparencies. I remember at Bain we would hear the war stories from the partners, it’s like, “Back in my day, when I was a consultant, we had to spend our time measuring transparencies with a ruler, or cutting them out with an X-ACTO knife, and then putting them all together.” We’re like, “Wow, that is wild.” I just figured you’d use fewer slides but, no, you just spend forever making them.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, it was little rough and tumbles. Technology has helped us but, in some ways, I think we’re still probably putting in just as much labor to get our stuff looking great, you know.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, totally. Well, so let’s hear about your book here, Effective Data Visualization: The Right Chart for the Right Data. What’s the scoop here?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, yeah, so the big idea is that we can tell better, more useful data stories if we just learn a little bit about the chart choices that are out there today, and when to use them, and that’s it’s totally doable to make those awesome charts right inside Excel. And it’s really focused on that because I think that people need to know how to be the masters of the tools they already own, and that great visuals don’t necessarily require a graphic designer or someone who knows how to code.

Most of my readers, most of my clients, especially in that Fortune 500 arena, are working at their tight deadlines where they’ve got to turn on slide decks really fast for these decision-making meetings, and they need to know how to just use the tools that they’ve already got in front of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you’re making them in Excel, not PowerPoint.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, all of Excel is baked right into PowerPoint so it’s kind of the same thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I hear you there. So, then, maybe we won’t dork out on PowerPoint versus Keynote versus Prezi versus think-cell versus Mekko Graphics versus Illustrator. But if you have a one-minute commentary we can obtain.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, I do work a lot in slide show arenas as well, and I’m not even familiar with all those. I think you know more about those topics than I do. But the biggest strength of whatever software you choose is that you have to be able to collaborate with other people on it. So, that means they also need to own it, first of all, and that poses some limitations because not all these softwares are distributed as widely as like maybe PowerPoint is. And people need to be able to edit things in it like charts.

That’s always been one of my frustrations with Illustrator. It’s that it’s a picture file. So, you put in a slide, and if anybody needs to like adjust one number or a decimal point to do something, you have to go back and ask somebody to remake it. So, not all software can be editable and widely-distributed, so that’s why I tend to favor the Microsoft stuff because people have it, and we just need to know what to do with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Fair enough. So, now, this book is your second edition. Can you tell us, did you learn any kind of hard lessons as you were interacting with the marketplace about what’s tricky, confusing, missing, that kind of showed up in the second edition?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I’ll say three things. So, first of all, the first one was printed in two colors. So, like a spot color of blue, and then black and white. And even though you’d be looking at the same screenshot in PowerPoint that you’d be seeing in front of you on your screen, it’s just harder to see it if it isn’t in color. So, this time around, everything is in full color. That’s a huge difference.

People were asking more questions about interactivity, so there’s a whole chapter in there on how to build interactive dashboards in Excel. Dashboards are, I think, one of the bigger trends that’s been coming out in the business world lately. Everybody wants their sexy dashboards, so we put together some tools on that. And I’m including a couple of new graph types that I think, since the first edition, people have been more exposed to them and so they understand them better, and they’re getting more popular.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, which are these?

Stephanie Evergreen
One of them would be the waterfall chart. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this one.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes.

Stephanie Evergreen
Okay, yes. So, it was pioneered, at least legend goes, that it was invented at McKinsey, and they were using it with all of their consulting groups to show where the change over time actually broke down. Like, where increases and decreases occurred. And I think for people who were not looking at it in a business context, they don’t easily wrap their brains around what they’re seeing.

But we’ve been seeing them more and more commonly, like in the newspaper. I saw one that was trying to explain Brexit. So, the more that we see them and the more that we’re exposed to them, I think people outside of very specific corporate financial settings are able to understand them. So, I included that sort of thing this time around.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, it’s really funny. I’m thinking back to my Bain days. We’re talking about charts here. I remember I thought the Rolls Royce of charts, at least as far as we were concerned, and like the grand daddy of them, was the Marimekko. And most don’t even know what that is. It’s like a rectangular sort of like a pie chart, except you’re describing proportions on two dimensions. So, we might see the proportion of the engine market for aircraft versus motorcycles versus cars versus trucks, and then, within each of those, the proportion that each competitor has.

I remember at one point there was a client who just refused to many parts of those. And there was a big debate in our team, like one of them said, “It’s the best way to show it. But they hate it. We can’t do it.” So, yeah, emotions can run high.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, and people they really feel strongly about the things that they’ve been used to seeing for a long time. So, there is a fine line between where do we push what’s actually best practice versus respect where people are at. And it is, it can be hard to know. You kind of got to feel it out a little bit. And that’s why I think we have to have lots of choices so that we don’t just always think that there is one option.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. So, you’ve also got a “Data Visualization Sketchbook” that’s accompanying this. And what do we see in a sketchbook?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, it’s kind of the opposite of making graphs in Excel. It’s encouraging us to turn off our computers. So, the sketchbook is full of templates so that you can use pencil in the sketchbook and actually draw stuff out. And the purpose here is actually to let us think. Because I think what happens a lot of the times is that we just go straight to PowerPoint, or we go straight to whatever software we’re using, it doesn’t even really matter, and we just start clicking buttons. Like, “Okay, maybe I’ll try this chart. Okay, maybe I’ll try this chart.”

And we’re just heading straight to the button, clicking before we’ve even really thought about what we need to do, or show, or the big picture of the whole presentation. So, what we see when we look at the research around sketching is that when we take out all the distracting like menus and buttons and fun things that we can click, and we just let ourselves have some empty space, that’s when our working memory actually does processing, and it lets us think.

So, the sketchbook is like your excuse to get out of the office and go draw for a while. You’re going to come back with so many better ideas than you would have if you would’ve just stared at your computer screen.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. And I remember we used to sort of sketch them out roughly on Post-it Notes and then re-arrange the Post-it Notes, they’re nice like big rectangular ones, and say, “Oh, no, I don’t want this type or with that type.” And it was fun. It made you feel a little bit like an artist, you know, who’s designing something, as opposed to a computer cog.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, exactly. Well, and I always say you don’t have to be a good artist. You just have to know what that little blob represents later when you’re back at your computer. So, the sketchbook has templates, it’s got graph paper in it and dot grid paper, which is just fun. There are dashboard templates in like several varieties. There are varieties of handout templates, we’ve got a slide guide in there, and a report structure in case you’re doing like those big long report pages.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. Well, so we’re to get into the ins and outs of all kinds of stuff here but maybe you could frame up the why for us. So, yeah, beyond you and I just being dorks for cool charts. What’s really the value or the impact on an organization when it comes to having the right chart for the right data versus maybe a suboptimal chart for the given data? What does that result in?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I know it seems so minor. Like, let’s learn how to push this button inside PowerPoint. But the thing we get out of those minor little details is culture change, and the way that organizations operate, and how people inside those organizations talk to each other, and all of that affects bottom line.

Like, I’m sure that you’ve experienced this many times, probably your listeners as well. I was just on the phone with a client this week who told me that the CEO of his company was getting frustrated by the bad presentations that they saw because he knew that they were missing opportunities to move good ideas forward. Like, it was getting lost in all the noise that was happening in these bad slides and the cluttery graphs. They’re making the point kind of hard to see.

The CEO said that they were in meetings that were taking like five times too long. They never evhad time to get to the gist because they didn’t even make it that far down the agenda. It’s such a waste of the precious time we get with people to confuse them and to head them off in the wrong direction when we could just be making the decisions that we need to make in getting to market faster.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you. That’s good. Well, so then I was just going to ask, you know, when can visualization be harmful or counterproductive? And it sounds like that’s it right there. It’s like, “You’ve made a big, freaking complex and intricate and confusing chart that we’re all just sort of squinting, and leaning forward, and scratching our heads in a meeting, and our time is getting consumed by it.” But are there other times you’d recommend, “Hey, don’t even start making a chart. Just be chartless and you’ll be better off”?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yes. Oh, my gosh, there are so many times I think we’ll just be better off. First of all, if there’s not an obvious point to be made, don’t make a chart because people are going to look at the chart, that’s how our brains are built, we’re built to look at pictures. So, if we show people a bunch of pictures that don’t have any kind of obvious point, that’s how we get to the confusion, right? So, unless there’s actually a story, like a headline, a takeaway idea that you’re presenting, that that chart supports, just don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, I’m with you. Very good. All right. So, that’s your first point, is to have a point.

Stephanie Evergreen
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve got something that we’re trying to say here as opposed to, “Hey, what the heck? I can just push this button and it has more colors than the other way.” So, very good. Well, then tell us what makes the difference between a good and a bad chart? What are sorts of like the top mistakes you see over and over again that need to be stopped?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I think that the biggest mistake people have is they jump straight to what’s the best chart type. And this happens to me all the time. I see it every single day because people will try to pick my brain all the time. It’s kind of like asking for some free consulting, right? So, people will approach me, and be like, “So, Stephanie, can I pick your brain?” And I’m like, “Oh, this is like I could bill for this, but go ahead.” And they’ll say something totally random, like, “My boss wants me to show our four different income revenues over the last eight quarters across our six departments. What’s the best chart type?” And I’m like, “Pfft, I don’t know.”

And everybody wants to, they want to run to what’s the best chart type. And when we ask people to fix graphs, they focus on chart type, when what we have to do first is understand our point. And that’s hard because it means you’ve got to know what you’re talking about. And people don’t always know it that well, or they are afraid to say their point.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, because they’re going to offend somebody. If I say, “This division has been shrinking while all the others have been growing.” And the guy who runs that division is in the room, and I single that out, it’s like, “You’re a jerk. He’s got it in for him. And now he’s my sworn nemesis.”

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, it’s true. So, back to when can data visualization be harmful, well, this is definitely one of those times when you’re telling people truths that they really don’t want to hear. It’s hard. So, I think we’ve got to wordsmith our points really carefully because I know that it can be political. I’ve got plenty of people who tell me, “We just cannot say things that straightforward around here. We kind of dance around it a little bit.” So, yeah. But I’ve also seen people who have intentionally, perhaps, shown stuff that looked cluttery or confusing so that they were hiding the points that they should’ve been showing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, you know, I have a flashback all of a sudden, you triggered something. I remember we were working for a client who built exhibits for like tradeshows, so big, hunk, and cool-looking things that you pass by like at the consumer electronic show or something. And so, they were not doing super well. And one of their people made a slide that graphed the growth rate of the industry over time, and then graph-pointed downward, so it’s like, “As you can see, this is a bad industry right now.”

But that was very misleading because the numbers were all positive. It’s still growing. It’s just growing more slowly now than it was, so you should also be growing. And then we sort of had to counter that point. And, sure enough, it resulted in some poor decisions because of like, “Hey, what can we do? It’s bad economy, bad market. Our hands are tied,” as opposed to, “No, step it up and get after it because there’s opportunity that we’re not snagging here.”

Stephanie Evergreen
You said so many interesting things in here. So, first of all, in that last piece that you just said, it’s really in how we frame the takeaway. The takeaway could be, “Things are really dropping.” Or the takeaway could be, “We have an opportunity here.” So, it’s really in how you frame it. And I think we if don’t take that opportunity to frame the story and to frame the takeaway, people will run off in all kinds of different directions. And that’s the last thing we want them to do.

The other thing that was interesting about what you brought up is that what we see in the research is that people, especially if they’re not like the total nerds on the data topic, well, they just see big picture. So, they would just see this line going down, and they’re like, “Oh, dear,” and they wouldn’t be thinking as carefully about it as you were, where you’re like, “Well, you know, like it’s just the rate of change here, really, this is what we should be talking about.” And they don’t look at things like the scale that was used and stuff like that. So, I do think that it’s easy for people to manipulate data and have it cast a certain story just by small formatting tweaks that most people are likely to miss.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Boy, I’ve got a flashback here. I remember once we were in a meeting and someone had, talk about the formatting and the axes, it’s like someone had done the little thing where we jumped from zero to like 300 on the Y-axis. And then in mid-meeting the partner stopped the guy who was presenting on our team, and he said, “What is this? What is this Business Week-style garbage doing here?” He’s like, “I don’t ever want to see that again.”

Stephanie Evergreen
Wow.

Pete Mockaitis
He’s like, “That is misleading and I’ll have no part of it.” It was so intense.

Stephanie Evergreen
And I love that he threw Business Week under the bus in that one. That’s hilarious.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t actually know if Business Week does that a lot.

Stephanie Evergreen
I don’t know either. That’s funny. And we just saw like this is making the rounds very recently on Twitter, a climate scientist who posted a picture, you know there’s a pretty famous climate change graph called the hockey stick graph, Al Gore showed it in his famous Inconvenient Truth and it’s basically how global temperatures have stayed pretty flat, but in the past few years it’s like it just skyrocketed. And there was a climate scientist, really recently, who just redid the graph so that the Y-axis starts at zero. And when you do that, it’s a flat line, you don’t see any change whatsoever. And he’s like, “See, climate change is a hoax.”

So, it’s incredibly common and incredibly easy to manipulate the data to have it say whatever you want. So, I think that with all of this discussion, there is also this moral and ethical obligation that we have to the truth. And it’s difficult because everybody interprets the truth however it’s truthful to them. But that’s always going to be really tricky.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. I don’t remember who said it, but I think they said, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” Now, that’s well-said, and that’s true.

Stephanie Evergreen
I like that.

Pete Mockaitis
The numbers are accurately saying what they’re saying but you’ve chosen those ones, you chose to present them in that way for a particular agenda which could be helpful or hurtful. So, okay, so enough reminiscing and ranting.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, we see that in the research that people are convinced by charts. So, there is a study that was published, I’ll have to remember exactly what it was, where it was published, but it presented the exact same data to study subjects, it’s just that one had a chart. And the chart didn’t add any new information. It was just a visual of the stuff that was already in the narrative anyway. So, it was just the exact same narrative, just one had an additional repetitive picture. And people voted the one that had the picture as more trustworthy and believable, because we just were wired to like believe data.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s striking. Well, okay, so then let’s get back into making good charts. So, the first point is to have a point. Don’t jump to the, “Hey, what chart type do I need?” but rather, “What’s the story? What’s the point? What is the main thing I’m trying to convey here?” And then once you’re clear on that, what’s the next step?

Stephanie Evergreen
I think it’s to know your audience. And sometimes your point changes depending on the audience you’re talking to, to be honest with you, but I think you got to know what their prior level of knowledge is. Like, are they’d big old nerds with me, and I can just talk about my P values? Or is it going to be somebody who is like data smart but not necessarily a nerd? Or am I talking to the public who tends to be folks who are data-scared?

The way that we show our data to them and even the words we use in our point is going to change depending on which group we’re talking to. And I think also, partly, one of the questions there is, “How willing are they to even engage with me?” Like, am I fighting a hard battle here to get people to even look at me, or are they begging for me to show up and give them this data?

All those things are going to factor into the chart that you eventually choose. So, I think once you know your audience pretty well and the point that you need to make to them, then you can start thinking about the right chart.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, let’s say we’ve done that, we’ve got the point, we’ve got the audience, now how do we go about choosing the chart?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, so I think that part of our determination there, and this is the way that the book is setup, is you have to know a little bit about the nature of your data, right? So, are you talking about survey responses here? Are we talking about parts of a whole? Are we trying to talk about how the trends over time? Once we know that sort of thing, then we can look at the chart choices that are available.

Even within some of those, once you think about maybe trends over time. There are lots of choices in there, and some are going to highlight certain angles of your story better than others do. So, we make our determinations there based on the point and the audience, and how much they’re able to read those graphs in the first place. Sometimes it’s a matter of how many datapoints we have to show that helps us determine what our graph type is going to be.

And then from there, the last step of the process, at least the way that I go about making graphs, is to sharpen up your point of it. And that usually requires having to strip out some of the clutter and some of noise that’s baked into our chart defaults. I’m talking about stuff like taking out check marks. And then really, really making your point obvious by using some color on the parts of the data that are matching your headline.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, so that’s great. And when it comes to these defaults, can you save new defaults?

Stephanie Evergreen
You can, yeah, at least in Excel. I’m not so sure about other graphing software that’s out there. But, yeah, you can. You can go through the process of making one amazing chart, and then make that your new default chart so that you don’t have to go through all of that elbow grease every single time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. And at Bain we used to use Mekko Graphics which I like because the default was just clean and sharp as opposed to a lot of times in Excel, PowerPoint, it’s like I’ve got all of these background lines engraved with things that just don’t need to go there. And because I was using it more than other software programs more often, it took me a while to figure out how make those go away. And I think I walked away thinking, “Excel sucks for making charts.” But you’re here to set me straight.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. And we walk in the book through how to go about making those new templates so that you don’t have to go do all that cleanup work every single time. Because everybody is in this place where like, “My graphs have to be done tonight because my presentation is tomorrow.” And you just don’t have time to mess around with all that stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly.

Stephanie Evergreen
And that’s why, that is exactly why people would go to things like a specialty software like Mekko graphics. Is that what you said it was called?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, because they might have some cleaner defaults. But the thing I like about Excel, I never really have understood if this is because Microsoft is so smart or so stupid, but you can hack Excel. It’s got some bad things built into the defaults but you can hack it and make it do things that it does not naturally do. Like, there are graph types that we introduced in the book that most people have probably never seen before that are so high-impact and powerful, but it’s just that we had to hack it from some existing graph types in Excel. And some of these other softwares that are out there for graphing won’t let you hack. It’s so user-friendly that you can’t get more out of it that you might want to get.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s very intriguing. Can you give us an example of a super high-impact chart type? It’s almost like the secret in and out menu or something about the graph there. So, things like high-impact chart and how do I secretly access it?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. So, I’m going to say that in 2019 the Rolls Royce of graph types is going to be a dumbbell dot plot, and I’ll tell you what this means. It looks like a tiny little Popeye dumbbell where it’s like two circles connected by a line. And the reason it’s so powerful is because we interpret dots so well. We’ve seen plenty of research on how human brains interpret different graph types, and position is the easiest graph type for human brains to read.

Meaning, like we’re really good at seeing a dot’s position on an axis, even better than we are reading a bar chart which would be length. We’re really good at noticing position. We just don’t have a lot of position built into our default graphs. So, dumbbell dot plots are even better because it’s two dots showing position, and then a stick between the two. And the stick emphasizes the distance between these two datapoints.

And so, if you’ve got stories that are about like the gap that occurred between these two things, or the disparity we’re seeing between these two things, or how much growth occurred between these two datapoints, the dumbbell dot plot is the Rolls Royce of graph types to show that. And I think everybody has those stories about gap, or growth, or disparity.

So, this graph type is so amazing, and I ended up having to recommend it to everybody I ever consult with. And you are like, “How would I make this in Excel?” But it’s really just a hack of a line graph with markers.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. A line graph with markers, and you just sort of erase some things so that all that remains is your dumbbell.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, you have to erase some things, you have to add some things. It’s remarkably easy that we’re talking like under two minutes of formatting to make your first one, and then that could be a template too.

Pete Mockaitis
And, Stephanie, are you aware that, at least on my computer when I do a Google image search for dumbbell dot plot, the top three results are StephanieEvergreen.com?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, I mean, I am a fan.

Pete Mockaitis
You are the dumbbell dot plot’s ambassador.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, that’s great. I think I just came up with my next tattoo.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have tattoos?

Stephanie Evergreen
I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Are they charts?

Stephanie Evergreen
You know, one was a bit data-driven actually. I counted some things in my life for a while, and then I had that tattooed. So, yeah, you know, I am a nerd.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating. So, let’s see here. There’s so much good stuff. So, we talked through a little bit of what makes the difference, what’s the process. Would you say that there’s maybe like a quality control checklist you might recommend in terms of, “All right, after you’re done making your chart, here are the things you want to make sure you have done or not done”?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I wrote a checklist. I think it has like 52 points on it. So, it’s not like just count them on our hand, but we broke out. I mean, I did my dissertation on this stuff so I was really down in the weeds of like what the research says about how charts can work best. And so, I broke that research out into 52 checkpoints, and it really is exactly what you’re saying.

Once your graph is finished, run it through these checkpoints, and make sure you’re hitting all the marks. And part of the checklist is about things like making sure you got the right chart type. Parts of it are about making sure you have a headline. But it also goes into stuff about like color, and the font sizes we should be using, and the order that we show the data and the graph, and how many decimal places we have to report to, and that sort of thing. So, we actually had a grad student who did her dissertation on this checklist.

Pete Mockaitis
On your checklist?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Stephanie Evergreen
And it worked out so well in her data that we have it turned it into an interactive website. I’ll send out the link. So, you just go the website, you upload an image of your graph, and it’ll walk you through all the checkpoints. Any place where you didn’t quite meet it, it will you a resource that shows you how to fix it.

Pete Mockaitis
That is really cool. And so, if you’ve got 52, I’ve got apply a little bit of 80/20 Rule magic here. Could you share, are there a couple of them that you see all the time that are very destructive? So, perhaps the most critical boxes to be checked in this checklist.

Stephanie Evergreen
I think the one I see, in addition to not having a good point, I think the one that I see that’s the most harmful is probably not tuning into color blindness.

Pete Mockaitis
Not turning into color blindness.

Stephanie Evergreen
Tuning into, like paying attention to.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, because color blindness is part of meeting the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and it sounds like so like technical but it is. We are required to make sure our stuff is accessible to people. And color blindness is one of those disabilities that is sort of invisible so that you don’t really know if anybody in your audience is color blind.

But the red-green color blindness is the most common form, and one in 10 white men in the U.S. are red-green color blind, one in six Japanese men are red-green color blind. So, when we show people red and green who are color blind, they see those as two shades of brown. And I think the red-yellow-green stuff like color system is so prevalent in so many organizations, and it is absolutely not compliant. It is absolutely not color blind-friendly, and it doesn’t work on black and white, and it doesn’t work for so many reasons but it’s so baked into our culture. That’s got to be the number one thing I see.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is striking. It seems like there’s a compelling headline for blog posters or something here, “How your charts are violating the law and you don’t even know it.”

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, you know what, it’s so true. Like, I have clients who come to me because they’ve been sued because the stuff that was on their website was not compliant.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Stephanie Evergreen
And we are seeing that like more and more. There is a grocery store chain, was it Piggly Wiggly, or one of those down South, was sued. I think even Beyoncé was sued recently because her website wasn’t compliant. So, if it can happen to Beyoncé, it can happen to any of us.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good truism for life.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, this is the kind of only area where if it can happen to Beyoncé it can happen to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. Well, so a few more things I want to make sure we tick through.

Stephanie Evergreen
Cool.

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to slide headlines, it sounds like we’re on the same page with this, but I’ll let you say it. What should we do with slide headlines?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, it just helps you with your point.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. So, instead of saying, “Sales over time,” it should say what about the sales over time?

Stephanie Evergreen
Sales are going up over time.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Stephanie Evergreen
“Sales are going down over time.” “Sales has stayed the same over time.” “Sales have stayed the same and we need to do something that.” So, it can get a bit heavy-handed if you want it to. It doesn’t have to. It can simply be descriptive. It just needs to be an insight so that people know why the heck we’re looking at this thing, and what you want them to know.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And pie charts, why are they bad?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, they don’t have to be bad. I’ve seen some pretty good ones, but I think the issue is when we try to cram a hundred datapoints, a hundred little slices into the pie. People can’t really read angle very well. Like I how I said earlier, position is great, length is okay, angle is bad. We’re not good at reading angles. If you only got a couple of slices in the pie, it’s going to be fine. But if you try to put a bunch more in there then we’re in some trouble.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’d recommend a stack bar chart instead?

Stephanie Evergreen
Sure, or simply a bar. I think pie charts, people like them because it shows that we’re talking about a 100% of the data, that the data totaled to 100. I’m not sure the fact that data totaled to a hundred is actually the lead story we really need to be trotting out. So, I’m okay with just turning it into a bar chart.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. And when it comes to, hey, you’ve got a boatload of texts, how do we visualize that? I guess you got a word cloud, but any tips for that or can we do any better?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, so that’s one of the biggest changes in the second edition of the book. We had the beginnings of a quality in the chapter in the first edition and we scrapped it almost entirely, and rewrote it. There were like 15, 16 chart types in there for showing qualitative data. Word clouds are like at the bottom of the list. there are so many better ways to do it. Word cloud are a step up from just, “Let me give you a bunch of quotes,” because nobody can really read a bunch of quotes like that.

But there are so many cool options that are out there now, especially like some that keep things more purely qualitative and some that lately quantify and turn it into some numbers. There’s just a huge spectrum of choices. In fact, this book is the biggest compendium of qualitative visualization options that we’ve ever seen. So, we’re really excited to get this out into people’s hands.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, by “we” you mean mankind as a whole.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yes, humankind. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Even more in this. Well, very cool. All right. So, Stephanie, tell me, any final thoughts before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Stephanie Evergreen
I feel like I should say something here because you give me the opportunity to. So, I will say this, okay, one final thought on understanding your audience. This is my secret. Figure out what their burning questions are. Figure out what keeps this group up at night. Like, what are they worried about? Because then you come into your presentation with the answers to the things that keep them up at night. That’s how you get a promotion. Yeah, so this is how you have to structure everything that you do is to just answer your audience’s burning questions.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
I don’t know that I have a quote as much as I have is some inspiration. So, is that okay?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Stephanie Evergreen
Okay. When I was doing the research for my sketchbook, I was looking at the old artists, Da Vinci, Picasso, Van Gogh, and they all drew. They sketched. Because when you sketch, you work out issues you don’t want to have to work out on expensive canvas with expensive paint. So, you get your space to breathe, and think, and to study your subject really, really well, and play around with ideas so that when you do have time in front of the canvass or in front of your dashboard software, your presentation software, it’s so efficient and fast and easy because you already have a plan in mind. So, yeah, that’s my inspiration. Let’s just do what Van Gogh did, except the not the cutting off the ear part.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
One of my favorite researchers is Richard Meyer. He’s got a book out, I believe, but also several published studies. He does a lot of like multimedia presentation study stuff, and all of his stuff has this little glimmer of humor to it that just makes me laugh. So, I’ll tell you about one. He had this study where he showed the audience like the typical death by bullet point. You know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. And at the end of the presentation, they gave the study subjects a survey on just like feelings, attitudes, stuff like that. And the audience was reporting mild to high levels of general annoyance with the speaker.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, and they couldn’t put their finger on why because they’re like, “We’re design students,” so they weren’t like, “Oh, it’s ‘cause slides are so terrible.” They just left feeling like mild to high annoyance. And I feel like that’s the last thing we need to do. It’s already hard enough to get people to pay attention to us without annoying them, so let’s not add to it with bad slides.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one. It explains maybe a real force behind annoyance, it would. And how about a favorite book?

Stephanie Evergreen
My current favorite book. I just finished one, it’s totally, well, probably unrelated to all the rest of this. But it was written by Cal Newport called Digital Minimalism and it’s about so related to this sketching stuff because it’s about how technology is interrupting our ability to think big. And he blames social media in particular because the whole thing was just a very fascinating read about how our minds are so filled with constant check-ins and updates from our aunts and second cousins that we lost our ability to think.

And it struck me because I think he’s got a lot of things he’s saying correct that are right in the book, but it struck me because I realized that everybody says their best ideas happen when they’re in the shower.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Stephanie Evergreen
Because that’s the one place you can’t take your phone. I was like, “Yeah, that’s when we think,” right, when we aren’t staring at something. So, anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Stephanie Evergreen
I’m going to say a tape measure. Believe it or not, I have to bust out my tape measure and measure things on my screen all the time. I want to make sure like everything is proportionate and accurate, and I will sometimes actually just get out my tape measure and make it happen.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. You know, there is a super genius at Nintendo who’s behind a lot of their hits like Zelda and Super Mario Brothers. I don’t remember his name. But that was one of his things because he would carry a tape measure with him everywhere he went, and ask people, “Hey, how long do you think this is?” which is like as he came, that’s what he did, and like, that’s pretty weird! But I think that’s connected to his genius so I’m going to give you that same credit there.

Stephanie Evergreen
Cool. I’ll take it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And how about a favorite habit?

Stephanie Evergreen
A favorite habit. I think my favorite habit will be going to the gym in the morning when I want to start my day, because I think all that fresh air and oxygen and endorphins just sets your brain up for smart thinking. Now, it doesn’t always help your hairstyle because then you’d have to shower and then go straight from there to like your work life. So, there are tradeoffs here, but I do think that the oxygen is helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences and clients?

Stephanie Evergreen
You know, I think the thing that resonates with people the most is when someone complains that it seems like this slide is going to take a lot of work, and I’m like, “You know what? It’s your job.” Yeah, it’s going to take you a minute to put a good slide together, but also that’s what you’re paid to do. So, yeah, I’ll share lots of efficiency tips, but at the core, getting people to use our data for decisions is what we were hired to do.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
My website is going to be a great place, StephanieEvergreen.com.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
I would say find one baby step you can take at your office. It might be like, “All I can do is make a great title.” It might be, “I’m going to take that pie chart and recast it as something else.” It might be, “I’m going to go learn how to make a dumbbell dot plot.” And I do have instructions for that on my website. But I think that’s going to be my challenge. Go change one thing, and then like in another month change another. And then in like two years, you’ll have a whole revolution.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Stephanie, this has been lots of fun, and I wish lots of luck with the books “Effective Data Visualization” and the sketchbook, and all your adventures.

Stephanie Evergreen
Thank you so much for having me.

413: How to Exude Credibility with Rob Jolles

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Rob Jolles provides practical wisdom on how to come across as more believable.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The number one reason why people don’t believe you
  2. How method acting can lead you into peak presenting performance
  3. Why you should embrace your own dysfunctions

About Rob

Rob Jolles is a sought-after speaker who teaches, entertains, and inspires audiences worldwide. His live programs around the world have enabled him to amass a client list of Fortune 500 companies including Toyota, Disney, GE, a dozen universities, and over 50 financial institutions. He is the best-selling author of six books, including his latest release, Why People Don’t Believe You…Building Credibility from the Inside Out.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Rob Jolles Lederman Interview Transcript

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

Rob Jolles
Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to dig in. I think you’ve got so much good stuff to share. Maybe you’ll be able to share it, if necessary, in a rapid format because you are a licensed auctioneer! How does one get licensed to be an auctioneer and tell us a tale or two of your auctioneering adventures?

Rob Jolles
Okay. Well, when you have a big mouth and you run it around for 30 years giving seminars, everybody assumes, “Hey, this guy can do anything on a stage.” But I want to tell you, in the State of Virginia, where I initially got licensed, it’s harder than it looks. It was 80 hours of certified instruction.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow.

Rob Jolles
To be allowed to take the three-and-a-half-hour exam. I had to study cattle and cars and horses and antiques. But really all I wanted, unfortunately there isn’t a license like this, all I wanted to do was be able to work charities. I felt like it was a good way of giving back, maybe using my skills for something really valuable.

That’s about nine and a half years ago. I took my courses. I got certified. I’ve been probably averaging an auction a month, maybe an auction every other month, but 95% for charities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s awesome. Then I guess if you’re doing it for charities, then you’re doing it for free. I’m wondering with all that education, what would an auctioneer be paid if he or she were doing a gig for a bankruptcy? Hey, we’ve got an auction. I’m the auctioneer. I’m well-trained and licensed and educated. What would that return in a gig?

Rob Jolles
Actually, it’s usually a percentage of profit there. For charity auctioneers, we’re not quite as fortunate. It’s a fraction of what I normally get paid. Actually, what I typically do with a charity is, I sort of get paid a little and then I never walk out the door with it. I just simply hand it back so that I can deduct from my taxes.
I want to stay true to the intent, which is there are certain things that we do in life that really have to pay the bills and keep the electric running and there are other times in life where we do things that are really just to help others.

When I speak at universities and things like that and they have a little honorarium, what’s the sense of me really taking that? I’m going to do something nice, let’s go all the way. That’s for charity. Now sometimes I’ll do a shopping center or I’ve done some universities. I’ll take a little something, but it’s a fraction of what I normally get.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Have you ever auctioned off anything crazy or strange or just noteworthy?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I’ll tell you the best thing I ever auctioned off. Believe it or not – and this is for anybody that’s ever thinking of putting an auction together, this is what you’re looking for. It’s not a yard sale.

When Letterman was still doing his show, we got two tickets to Letterman. Well, they’re free, but we got backstage passes and you can’t always do that. Then Marriot threw in a couple nights and we got two train tickets. When we packaged that altogether and particularly with that unique ability to get back stage, something you can’t really get on your own, sort of like Saturday Night Live tickets, that item went for a little over 30,000 dollars. It was fairly simple.

That and we also got one time I auctioned off tickets to the Academy Awards. Again, something you can’t normally get on your own. You’re not going to find it on Craigslist. Other than the limo, I think that was in the 30 – 35,000 dollar range. Those are the kind of things that really actually will excite an audience.

Pete Mockaitis
That is very clever. If there are any fundraisers in the house, there’s the trick. You get something you can’t get under normal circumstances. Then you package it together into a cool experience and there it is, the secret to a successful fundraising auction. Didn’t even know we were going to learn that today. Thank you.

But what I was planning on learning a bit about was some of the wisdom in your book, Why People Don’t Believe You. Great title. Tell us, what’s the big idea? Why don’t people believe you?

Rob Jolles
When you say big idea and I’m ready for you now because I actually thought, “What is the big idea? I better know that. It is my book.” I think the big idea is, there’s two of them. First of all, I’m pleased you like the title. It wasn’t my title, but most of us who write books, we’ll get everything but our title in there. The publisher typically knows more about titles than we do.

But the big idea in my original title was it’s not the words; it’s the tune. A lot of times, and I’m guilty of this spending 30 years of my career, of my life, running around the country teaching people what to say, what to say, what to say. We don’t really stop and say wait a minute. Let’s forget the words. How are we saying it? I’d say in a sense that’s part of the bigger picture of the book.
But to really drill down on your question, I think the biggest reason why people don’t believe us, as strange as this may sound, is we don’t believe us. Things in the book, I know they sound simple, but so are asking questions and listening, but who does that? It’s such a fundamental communication piece. The easiest way to be believed is to actually tell the truth.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Rob Jolles
When you stop and think about that, do you have the best podcast out there? Well, from what I hear, it sure is, but you have to believe that. If it isn’t, you have to do everything you can to make it a great podcast, to put your heart and soul into it. If you go to bed at night and you truly believe that, you don’t have to worry about sounding authentic. Now you believe it and the tune will follow.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. Now, you’re getting me thinking here because we were talking just beforehand when I was stalking you and deciding whether or not to invite you. You passed. Nice job. You made reference to the greatest life insurance salesperson ever; Ben Feldman is his name, if anybody wants to take a look. I’m always intrigued by the greatest in the world.

I sort of listened to an interview with Ben Feldman. He doesn’t sound super engaging in the interview, but boy, does he believe in life insurance being just a powerful force for goodness for humanity. It’s clear that he believes that with a deep abiding passion, which is striking because I hadn’t thought of life insurance in that way before, but there you have that. The best in the world had that at a really high level.

Rob Jolles
Let’s put a cherry on that sundae because yup, he completely dominated the insurance industry for decades and I mean dominated from the sprawling metropolis of East Liverpool, Ohio. But how about this that we add to that story, the fact is he was the greatest that ever lived by the numbers. He spoke with a lisp. He was actually a fairly quiet guy.

He didn’t have any of the attributes that we naturally associate with the greatest salesperson, that Glengarry Glen Ross kind of Alex Baldwin character. He was the complete opposite. I guess when you hear that, whoever’s listening just remember that he was true to his own unique style. You can’t imitate this guy. The best imitation you do is of yourself. Not only did he believe in his product, he was true to his style. He didn’t emulate anyone but himself. That’s what made him really successful.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, you’re telling the truth, you’re believing it deep down. If you’re not yet believing it, you’re doing all you can to get there with believing it in terms of improving the actual kind of facts of the situation. Then when it comes to the tune, how do we sing a tune that’s more appealing?

Rob Jolles
That’s interesting you say sing because as I was working through the manuscript I was actually at one point trying to create a musical score in a sense of the tune, but my musical score had places where we would pause, had places where we would change our pitch, had places where we would change our pace. Actually all found in music if you think about it.

Unfortunately, although I’ll work on pitch and pace and pause with people, the problem is every question you just asked me right now, I can’t go, “Okay, hang on one second. Let me figure out where my pitch goes up and let me figure out where I’m going to slow this down and where I’m going to speed it up.”

We do focus on pitch, pace, and pause, which to me are critical pieces. But the key is to get that authentic voice to do it without having to sort of stop and micromanage where those pieces are. I don’t know if when you’re talking to me, for instance, you’re gesturing with your hands, but imagine if we stopped and I said, “Point here. Put your hand up over there.” We want that to kind of become as natural as we can.

I think one of the secret sauces, if you will, of the book is actually thinking more like a method actor. What if we took ourselves and actually placed ourselves in the moment. I don’t mean just in the moment. I mean even the point we were just talking about, truly believing.

Well, maybe we’re getting beat up a little bit out there right now. Maybe our product is – it’s just been tough for us but weren’t there times in our life where everything we touched sort of worked out well, where we knew the next time we picked up the phone or knocked on a door, it was going to go well. The other six did.

Why can’t we as a method actor take ourselves to that moment? Are you telling me that when we knock on the door this time, we’re going to be less effective with that in our mind? That’s where that pitch, pace, and pause sometimes can come more naturally.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. You’re saying let’s not put our focus on “Okay, at this point in my second sentence, I’m going to drop my pitch low,” and sort of plan that out in great detail, but rather to get in the zone associated with when you were rocking, rolling, and believing and nailing it and high performing, so just sort of method acting into that spot and these things will sort of naturally follow well.

Could you maybe bring this all together in an example or a case study of someone whose credibility wasn’t so hot and then they did some things and they saw it really get hot again?

Rob Jolles
Sure. Actually, this whole book really began with me in a bad mood in a bad evening being asked to speak to a group called the Career Network Ministry, a group that just helps people in career transition. I don’t necessarily like to speak free a whole lot, but I bumbled my way in and figured I’ll talk to a dozen people and get this over with. There 250 to 300 people in the room. I’ve been volunteering for six years ever since. It was such a moving experience.

But one of the things I noticed in that room – and that was my petri dish, that’s where this started – was I noticed words. We were working on resumes – words. We were working on elevator pitches – words. We were working on LinkedIn sites – words. We were working on the words and nobody was focusing on the tune.

To answer your question, I actually stated about five and a half years ago I put together my first group of a dozen people. To get in this program, two days, you had to be unemployed a minimum of two years. Half my room was unemployed for over five years. That’s chronic unemployment.

We put on a two-day program. I bumbled and fumbled my way through it, but we were hitting on something because 10 of the 12 people were hired within three months. That’s when I realized, okay, we’ve got something.

But I’m telling you, going back on some of the questions you asked, I wasn’t working on the words in there. I took that elevator pitch – there’s some value in those – but I put it in the corner and we worked on their character. We worked on who they were, what they were, taking them through those moments of success and man, the hands and the words, and the pitch, and the pace, it followed.

But there’s an answer to your question. It was 10 for 12 coming out of the gate. That’s when I knew, I think we maybe even have a book here, but I’ve got to keep digging into this.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating. Do tell, what are some of the most impactful transformational exercises or practices that make that come alive?

Rob Jolles
Wow, that’s a good question. One of them we were talking about is whenever I ask them anything, I really try and trim people down to what I call a communication shot clock. Look, there’s a shot clock in basketball. It keeps the game moving. There’s a shot clock in football, actually. It keeps the game moving. There may very well be a shot clock in baseball, they’re going to try it in preseason, to keep the game moving.

We are in a society now where books are getting smaller and people just don’t have that bandwidth to stay with us. Even our videos are four to six minutes in length. One of the things as an example was, stop talking to them, getting them up to speak, getting them into character, and working on their shot clock, meaning, trimming those questions down and saying, “Rather than giving me your three best points. Give me your best point. If I want more, I’ll ask for it.”

It was an example of really trying to get them a little bit quicker, a little bit lighter on their feet. As an example, that was one technique that we used.

Pete Mockaitis
Then you said with the shot clock, is there an optimal do you recommend time that you would put on the shot clock in terms of number of seconds that you would speak before being quiet?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I actually have a number and I’m going to give it to you, but please understand I’m answering your question, so it’s sort of like when I teach people to sell and I’m saying you’ve got to ask second and third level questions. The hand will go up and say, “Exactly how many?” It’s like, “Well, that’s going to really depend on the personality of the client, etcetera.”

But I really actually like 45 seconds. I think it’s a great number. If I go a minute and ten, that’s okay. If we go shorter, that’s okay too. A lot of the times if I’m dealing with a more social environment, more social client, I’ve kind of got the green light to go a little bit longer. If I’m dealing with a more dominant client, I’m probably going to trim back. There’s other variables.

But I love the conversation we’re having because I get frustrated when people are bobbing and weaving, saying, “But …” I think 45 seconds is a good target, but read your audience.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yes. That is a helpful benchmark because I think it’s possible that you can under speak as well. I’m just thinking about this. I said, “Hey, tell us about you becoming a licensed auctioneer.” It’s like, “I had 80 hours of instruction and then passed a three-hour exam.” It’s like, “Okay, well, Rob, this is really interesting.”

Rob Jolles
… on the show. You’re really talented.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that makes good sense in terms of it’s a very rough ballpark zone, but if you’re five seconds, it’s like, “Okay, do you hate me? What’s going on here?” It’s hard to form a connection. If you’re too long, it’s like, “Okay, I already sort of got the message I was after way earlier and ready to move on to something else.” I appreciate that. That’s one principle is the communication shot clock. What are some of the other practices or exercises that are really transformational here?

Rob Jolles
Well, I’m going to give you a couple more, but I want to give you a big picture here because if you study my career, I’m actually going at a different angle right now. I got my hardcore training with Xerox. You didn’t tie your shoe without a process of some sort at Xerox. But when you have a process, you have a way of measuring what you’re doing. When you can measure it, you can fix it. Boy, am I a repeatable, predictable process person.

Yet, the topic that we’re in, I’ve sort of had to look at the mirror and go it’s not all process-oriented. I sort of reframed it in my mind and I said it’s more about percentages, meaning. It’s sort of like when we eat, okay? “I’m a healthy person.” “Good. Well, what do you do?” “Well, I no longer put sugar in my coffee, just Stevia.” “That’s it?” “Yeah, that’s it.”

Well, okay. If you really do that all the time and you’re a big coffee drinker, I guess that’s about a one percent – two percent play. I don’t know if you’re healthier yet, but I guess it beats the alternative. But you look at healthy people’s example and they’re doing 15 – 20 things, exercise, this, that. Together, they create a formidable percentage.

What we’re talking about right now is really percentage plays. A communication shot clock gives us a couple of percentage plays. Truly believing in yourselves gives us percentage points. Taking ourselves mentally to a place where we’re successful gives up percentage points. I’m going to give you percentage points as opposed to process. Like I said, I’m almost arguing with me right now because I’m so bred into process, but we’re into a topic that is more percentage than process.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say percentage, you’re sort of using this as a label of a different means of thinking about approaches such that a process seems to apply if you do A, B, C, D, E, F, you’ll arrive at this end result, whereas percentage says, “Of the result you’re after, one thing can account for 5% of getting to the result and another thing can account for 10% of the thing.” Thusly, you’re kind of suggesting that an A, B, C, D, E process ain’t going to get you 100% of the way to where you want to be.

Rob Jolles
Exactly. Let me give you a percentage move as an example. Thank you because that’s exactly what I’m saying, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool.

Rob Jolles
A percentage move for me, a lot of people, for instance, when they’re struggling to be believed and they’re, “Okay, I’m going to believe in myself, this and that, but this company, they’re looking at four other people. One of them, I don’t know, they may have a better relationship.” Well, they might. They might not.

I love really actually focusing the brain on playing the course and not the opponent. I’m going to get percentage pieces out of this because by that I mean if you watch actually a good golfer it’s shocking. They never look at the scoreboard. For three days, they don’t look at the scoreboard. They don’t care.

They’ll look in the final two holes, three holes because they may have to change their strategy, but how in the world do you play a competitive event without looking around at your opponent? The answer is well, what value does looking at the opponent really have? If you sink a 40-foot putt, good for you. Me focusing on that not only doesn’t change a thing, it removes the focus from my putt. It removes the focus from what I’m doing.

I think, as an example, we spend too much time worrying about things we can’t control. Honestly, if I thought worrying about it would move the dial one percentage point, I would be the most competitive worrier you ever met, but it actually takes away. It doesn’t add. Things like playing, the course, not the opponent, things like accepting your limp.

You started the conversation about Ben Feldman. Again, look him up folks. Like I said, appearance-wise, he wasn’t necessarily that natural salesperson look or sound, but in a sense he had his own limp. We all walk with a limp. Do you know how many people are held back from their own ability to convince others because of their limp?

I lost my hair, I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I had to accept it. It’s one of my limps. But what I found is, the moment it stopped being important to me, it was never really important to anybody else. It was me that was focused and obsessed. If we take that example and look at people that just have certain issues, maybe they don’t have that natural punch in their voice, it’s okay. Don’t be somebody you’re not. Just move it from a two to a four, that’s all I’m asking.

But if we accept our limp, if we play that course.
We don’t have to misuse our imagination. That lovely quote I actually have by my coffee bar, “Worry is the misuse of your imagination.” It’s a wonderful quote. If we start removing those pieces, each thing I’m talking about is getting us a percent here and three percent here and two percent there. I can give you five more, but I think you’re getting the drift of it.

Pete Mockaitis
I am, I think, getting the drift of it. I imagine you’ve given me the biggest percentages already upfront. Is that fair to say?

Rob Jolles
It depends on the mood that I’m in. It actually depends on the person because when you’re communicating, for instance, if you just pay attention to your transitions – so many people will micromanage the body of whatever they’re communicating about, particularly presenters. If they actually micromanage the transitions and stuck their landing in the end and spent 90% of their time on the opening, they would increase their credibility.

Again, because it’s percentage plays, each percentage move will fit a different customer a different way, but yeah, I’m not wasting your time. I’m giving you ones that I think really resonate and I see get a big bang for the buck for most of the people that I’m working with.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh great. Now, I just want to make sure I got the transitions point clear. You’re just saying if you’re doing a presentation or a speech, you want to give some extra attention to how you’re transitioning from one section to another instead of fumbling or being awkward during those moments?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I did chuck that one in from left field, didn’t I? Absolutely. I train a lot of speakers. The irony is usually that the core of most presentations have oftentimes, particularly for corporate America, but oftentimes they’ve gone through a legal read. We can’t really change them all that much.

What makes a great communicator and an average communicator? It’s not the body of the message. It’s them coming out of the gate with an interesting story and idea, really addressing what’s in it for the client. Thinking out the beginning.

But to get right at what you just asked, the transitions, yeah, we probably have three or four major points. If I really think those out – I’m not a guy who believes in scripts – but if I actually write them out, maybe back them down to a Word outline, if I spend my time working on how I’m going from Point A to Point B and sewing that body together, as I said, coming out of the gate strong and sticking my landing, closing strongly, yeah, I’ll probably give one of the best presentations I’ve ever given. But it has very little to do with memorizing the body. That’s not where success lies.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting because the big chunks one, they may be unmovable because of legal review, two, you probably remember them just because one thing leads to another. “This is the story about how I formed an accountability group in college.” Hey, that’s one chunk and I know it. We’ll go and make it happen. But what I don’t know so much is how I’m going to move from maybe that piece to how friendship is important.

Rob Jolles
By the way, that’s the way most people do it. They’ll go … “Friendship is important,” but when they transition with, “We all have these different pieces I just mentioned, but there’s one piece that we don’t pay attention to and that’s friendship. You see, friendship is important,” something along that line so that it’s effortless. When people walk away they go, “Boy, that was really good.”

Now look, we could spend our time talking about presentations. I’m going to involve that audience. The more they talk, the more they typically like and trust that presenter. I’m going to do other things, but it’s the transitions even when we communicate and are not giving presentations.

What if we’re just in front of somebody giving a proposal, what if we’re having a conversation and we want to get the three major points, it’s that smooth transition as opposed to that bumpity, bump, bump, bump. It sounds like Pete wanted to talk about this one. That’s the one I want to avoid. That doesn’t sound authentic. We circle back to our topic, which is why people don’t believe you because it’s not sounding authentic.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly. I get a real kick out of when the transition is too, “So, can I have your money?” and it’s done poorly. It’s like, “Oh, you poor guy. Well, I’m already on board with your vision, so it’s fine, but-“ Okay, awesome. Let’s dig into a little bit of this now. Believing in yourself, that sounds classic and helpful and essential, but in practice, if your belief in self is moderate, like “Yeah, I can do a decent job most of the time I guess,” how does one elevate that?

Rob Jolles
Yeah. Did you ever see there was a commercial done years ago by FedEx? It’s actually on YouTube. You can find it online. It was called The Stolen Idea.

It deals with a boss who’s asking for ideas. One guys says, “Well, we could probably save money by putting all our shipping in one area and using FedEx.” You could hear a pin drop. Five seconds later the boss says, “I’ve got it. We can put everything in one area. We can use FedEx to do it all. That’ll save us on shipping.” Everybody goes, “That’s brilliant.”

The guy says, “You just said the same thing I said only you did this,” and he’s moving his hands horizontally. The boss says, “Nope, I did this,” and he moves his hand vertically because that was his gesture. I actually look at that commercial and I think that’s our jumping off point. Yes, I know what FedEx was after and shame on that boss for stealing that idea. But we need to teach people how to do this. This matters. That moving of the hands, that really matters.

To me, it’s a matter of kind of oftentimes finding your real voice. Not finding some voice you saw on television or who you heard on a podcast, but finding your real voice.

I don’t know last time you’ve been on a plane, but when you’re on a plane and the flight attendant starts speaking, you think “It’s funny, he or she was just here. We had a nice conversation. But now I’m hearing this really weird singsong ….” That’s not a real voice.

Why is it that a lot of times when we’re presenting or when we’re under pressure, we start going after this I guess the voice we thought we were supposed to have? Nobody wants that. People just want to believe. They want that to be authentic.

I always look at people and I think, if we were two people having a beer or having a cup of coffee, would you still talk and walk and behave this way or would you just drop all that and have a conversation? It’s really about finding that real voice. Honestly, you don’t have to look that far.

I’ll whisper this to presenters right before they go on stage when they’re a little bit tight. The last words I’ll typically tell somebody is, “If you were walking into your living room, what would you feel and how would you take that stage? That’s your living room. Now go enjoy yourself.” Forget all that other nonsense. In the living room, it’s pretty easy. Well, that’s all the audience wants. Whether it’s 50 people, 500 people or 1 person, they’re in your living room. Go have a conversation. We don’t need anything but authenticity.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny when you say the living room, my first thought is, “Well, I’m taking off these dress shoes and putting on my slippers.”

Rob Jolles
Well, I knew a presenter who was actually very successful. Now this was in the ‘90s. But he was a finance person and a finance specialist, which already you think, “Well, okay. Here’s comes that big old suit.” But he would take his shoes off when he went on that stage.

It was kind of his shtick. It was like George Burns smoking a cigar or something. This was his shtick. He was the guy who would take his shoes off. But it worked for him. It wasn’t shtick. I got a chance to speak to him a couple times and he just wanted to get to a place where he was as comfortable as he could be because then he could take that communication and make them as comfortable as they can be.

Last thing about that, but it’s really important to understand that an audience really they want to enjoy themselves. They want you to be successful. The best way to make an audience uncomfortable is for you to be uncomfortable.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s very true.

Rob Jolles
Then they feel badly for you and then they have a problem. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. It hurts to watch somebody who’s bombing. They know they’re bombing. They’re nervous about bombing. It’s like, “Oh man.” It’s just fun to watch someone having fun. It’s like, “I’m not super into the content of what you’re saying, but it’s kind of enjoyable to watch you be into it. Yeah, take it away.”

Rob Jolles
Yeah, that’s the funny thing. If you think about some of the great – Johnny Carson or Jay Leno or Jimmy Fallon, what are some of the most enjoyable parts of the monologue or the conversation? When something bombs. They don’t put their head in their hand and they go, “Oh no. What happened here?” What they do is they just work with it.

The audience loves it because you didn’t make the audience feel sorry for you. You said to them in a sense, “I’m glad this happened. Let’s just work with it.” When you can take that with you and realize that what’s the worst happen, really just making them feel badly, so don’t. Away we go. It’s a lot easier up there than you think.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. I think I made some references to maybe college audiences and they’re just like, “We have no idea what this.” I was like, “Oh, I guess I’m getting old.” They all just sort of – you can just sort of laugh about that. It’s like, “Yup, okay.” Then away we go. As opposed to “Oh, that’s so stupid. I shouldn’t have made that allusion. Look up the dates next time, Pete. Oh! Bad, bad, bad.”

Rob Jolles
You know something, Pete? You hit on something else that I think is actually really important.  When we’re not in front of people, and remember we’re talking about building credibility, believing in yourself, and then taking that to others.

Do you know – and my wife helped me with this one – do you know how innocently that inner voice starts chirping at you of “If you had half a brain, you would have remembered to bring this with you on the road.” “Hey stupid, don’t forget that.” Do you know that that’s a lot more dangerous than we give it credit? It doesn’t have to be in front of anyone. It can just be with ourselves. But you keep beating yourself up like that, you’re going to start believing it.

I really some years ago decided it’s not okay to make fun of me and to start moaning and whining and complaining about certain things. People forget things. I’m two and a half million miles in the air, believe me I’ve forgot things in my bag. But I’ve decided – and it really works and I think it works for others – to be a lot kinder yourself.

Stop chirping and beating yourself up about things. Just like we would talk about in front of an audience, be nice to yourself when there isn’t an audience in front of you too.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to hit that point real quick. If you are in that mental habit, how does one kick it?

Rob Jolles
Yeah. Well, the first thing we have to do is we have to go from unconsciously incompetent, which is “Hey, that’s okay,” or “I don’t even notice it,” to really starting to become aware of it. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the four levels of conscious behavior, but we start with unconscious incompetency, which is sometimes we don’t know that we don’t know. That’s a dangerous place to be.

Well, that’s why you and I are having this conversation because now maybe we’ll be on the lookout for it. As a matter of fact, just talking about it, I can assure you, there are many people who are listening right now will go, “I do that, but I don’t mean anything by it.” I’m telling you it’s a cancer. It grows. You don’t realize it. Let’s move you to conscious incompetency, which means I want you to be aware when you do it.

Then let’s move to conscious competency. I want you to be a little robotic and every time it accidently happens, I want you to stop and correct it. I know that’s a little bit stiff and weird. Until we become unconsciously competent, when we do it and we don’t have to think about it anymore. But it’s natural to be on that scale. The first thing is we have to remind ourselves it’s not okay. It is not okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. Well, so now-

Rob Jolles
I said it’s not okay. Sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
That is not okay. I am now acknowledging what you said and moving to something new.

Rob Jolles
Okay. I’ve got to climb in through the window there. I was out there yelling at people. Okay, I’m back in. Let’s keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s talk about that process by which you take yourself back to a place in which you were successful and thusly you method act your way into having a high performance moment. In practice, what are the steps to make that happen?

Rob Jolles
Well, the first thing – I’m going to leave the corporation out. There’s a Fortune 500 company I’ve been working with on this. One of the things we did was, again, think method acting. What we did was we began to on a piece of paper create a character.

One of my favorite actors is Daniel Day-Lewis. I’m not sure he’s ever going to be in another movie again, but when he was – I don’t know if you saw Lincoln, but if you did, it was probably a little slower than you imagined. I knew it was going to be slow because I actually read a bunch of books on Lincoln and Lincoln wasn’t the most exciting person in the world. But on set, you had to call Daniel Day-Lewis either Mr. President or Mr. Lincoln. He doesn’t mess around.

When we’re talking, to answer your question, we’re talking about getting into character, sometimes we have to sit and actually think about that character. I did some acting earlier in my life. I remember the first play I was in I was Bennie Van Buren in Damn Yankees. I was supposed to play a 70-year-old. But I had a great director, who, by the way, I spoke to when I wrote this book and we talked about this.

I remember him saying, “What kind of car does Bennie drive? What kind of cereal does he eat? Tell me about his house. What’s his office look like?” What he was doing – at first I thought he was a lunatic. I don’t know. It’s just a character I’m playing. But he didn’t want me to learn the script. At some point I knew that character so well, I walked around, I was 70 years old in my mind.

What I do sometimes is actually get people on a piece of paper to begin to actually write out their character a little bit, not necessarily what kind of cereal do they eat, but tell me about your character. Perform some tasks in front of me like your character. Forget everything else. We clear the mind. We work on establishing a character.

Actually, for some people it will be three characters. It’s a more dominant character, it’s a more social character, and it’s a more analytical character. If you’re wondering why in the world I do that, it’s because I work with a lot of salespeople. We have to kind of mirror the character we see in front of us.

Maybe I’m very social, what if I’m talking to somebody who’s really dominant? Well, I’ll just play the role of a dominant person. Not so fast. You better understand – before you put that white glove on, you better understand that character, so we actually write it out and think about it. I actually give them simple questions, like a questionnaire. They begin to role play and really get in touch with that character. Then they can tap into it when they need it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, interesting. You’re mapping out upfront. You’re doing some role play there. We also had Todd Herman talk about his book, The Alter-Ego Effect. He recommended sometime putting on a blazer or glasses or something that sort of en-clothed cognition, sort of stepping into that all the more. That’s handy.

Then I’m also wondering is there some visualization or some key memories that you’re bringing up and how do you go about doing that part?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, that’s where we go into that piece about, for me at least, and remember, I frequently work with people who are selling. Look, what I’m trying to have them visualize are moments of dominance, moments of success.

It’s weird. I’m 26 years in business as a professional speaker and yet, just like everyone else, sometimes you’re as good as your last presentation, you’re as good as your last quarter and all of the sudden a speaker’s bureau threw three clients at me. I spoke to them on the phone. None of them wanted to hire me. What do you think I sound like on the fourth call?

What I’m trying to do is get to moments where when we do get three in a row, when we do knock it out of the park and somebody says, “Okay, now I have another client I want you to talk to.” That’s what I mean in terms of that visualization of “Okay, maybe I’m not there right now, but I can think back on when I was. What was I feeling like?” I sort of take myself to that moment.

Pete, it kind of comes back to that percentage play. I’m not guaranteeing you that we’re going to be successful right now, but I guarantee you this, having that mindset and being able to pull that memory down is going to pick up some percentage plays and that’s what I’m looking for. Again, it’s mental, but it’s there.

No one’s had a life of complete loss. It’s everybody. We win some; we lose some. We win some; we lose some. It’s when we lose some, a bunch in a row that all of the sudden the shoulders start to droop and we kind of start picking up the phone going in my mind, “I know this guy isn’t going to buy from me, but here we go.” That’s not going to work for anybody.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thinking right back to the hot streak, the winning moments. That’s good. That’s good.

Rob Jolles
Well, it’s the winning moments. I keep pushing everything into sales, but in presentations a lot of times, particularly when somebody is new or somebody – I’ll also whisper in their ear, track record because maybe people who are listening right now have got 10 or 20 years under their belt, but maybe this quarter hasn’t been so good. Or maybe they haven’t given a presentation in a while or they’re being put in an awkward position.

What’s your track record like? Most people go, “Usually I’m pretty good at that.” Okay, again I’m looking for a couple percentage moves. To get the experience, how about we focus on what usually happens. Pete, when you have a podcast, what usually happens? When I’m a guest on a podcast, it usually goes real well. Not all the time, but usually goes real well.

I’m better off kind of focusing on my track record. That’s to me another kind of really great visualization. It’s simple and it’s easy.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Well, tell me, is there anything that you recommend that we really don’t do? We’ve talked about the negative self-talk, not doing that. We talked about not stepping into who you think that you are supposed to be, but rather just using your own natural authentic voice. Any other top don’ts you want to make sure we highlight?

Rob Jolles
That’s a great question. I’m actually thinking of how I would address that. Yeah, I would say that I think we should stop being so fearful of dysfunction. We brought it up a little bit when maybe things don’t go well in front of an audience, but I think, again, whether it’s while we’re alone or whether we’re in groups, I like to tell people that I’m coaching or working with, let’s embrace that dysfunction a little bit.

Kind of going back to that limp a little bit, let’s remember that there’s only two types of people that don’t walk with a limp, that don’t have some level of dysfunction. They’re either not telling you the truth or they would have no ability to have compassion for another individual. Most of them really aren’t necessarily people I’d want to have as a client. I can tell you that much.

It’s funny, I wrote a piece one time where I said “knowledge is overrated.” Believe me, all the analytical practically followed me to the parking lot going, “Now what did you mean by that?” They were not happy.

I didn’t say it’s not important. I just said it’s overrated meaning as simple as it sounds, but I’m a guy that takes and has people record themselves, if we just work harder at asking questions and listening, if we just go a little easier on ourselves, if we embrace that dysfunction rather than run from it and understand, “That’s okay. That’s my limp. I’m not going to have trouble with it.” All those little pieces get us plays.

Just last real quick point, but I’m in a neighborhood where we’ve got a lot of dog walkers, including our Lilly, who we take for a walk. There’s not one but two dogs that are missing legs, a leg each. I got to tell you, it touches my heart because I look at them and I think I wish we were more like that because I promise, Pete, that dog doesn’t give a hootenanny that he’s missing a leg.

And neither does any other dog that’s walking by it. They’re sniffing. They’re curious where they might have been on that tree over there, but they don’t care. It’s not an issue. I wish we could learn lessons like that and remember that whatever it is and everybody’s got one, if it’s not a worry for you, it’s not a worry for the other dogs in the park. I promise you.

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

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I would say as strange as this conversation may have sound because we’re talking about some kind of wacky – once I said role and character, what is all that. I want to remind people they probably do this more often than they think.

An example I’ll give you is if you have children that you parent, don’t tell me that you don’t actually drop into role, meaning particularly for the younger ones, when they brought back a homework assignment that wasn’t quite right or something, we kind of look at our spouse and go, “Okay, I’ll go in there.” We play the role of disappointed. I’m actually not as disappointed. I love you so much. But for tonight Rob Jolles will be playing the role of disappointed.

I think we do that more naturally than we think. Where we explore this finding a character and getting into role, please remember there are times where we all play roles; you’re just not thinking about it as much. I want you to think about it. Then I want you to stop thinking about it again. But that would be the last thought I give you on that one.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Rob Jolles
I gave you one, which is “Worry is the misuse of your imagination.” Okay, now I’ll give you another one “We weren’t put on this earth to make a living. We were put on this earth to make a difference.”

It’s always meant something to me, particularly for a guy who – when I tell you I’ve got two and a half million miles in the air, Pete, part of you should smile and part of you should look concerned, meaning “Well, does this guy have a family? Does this guy have children? Does he get to a birthday party?”

I’m really blessed. I have a wonderful wife, Ronnie, who helped me realize that I was a little out of balance earlier in my career, and I’d never heard of that quote, nor did I take it to heart. But I really believe in balance. I’m no longer a 1K and that’s just fine by me. I think that we focus on that, things will go a lot better for us.

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

Rob Jolles
I’ll tell you a bit or research or a study. It kind of falls into an author I happen to like. He’s with my publisher, Berrett-Koehler. Name is Noah Blumenthal. But he studied – he wrote a book called Be the Hero, but he studied how easy it is for us to have negative opinions of others, particularly of others that have done us wrong, maybe a previous boss or a neighbor or somebody just that – the person at CVS, I don’t know, where it really rubbed us the wrong way.

He really got me thinking, and it’s really helped, that we really don’t know many of the people that we form opinions about. We really don’t know them that well. We create a scenario that’s usually very negative. Now that scenario might be right, but we actually don’t know whether it’s right or not.

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

Rob Jolles
I keep a journal. I’ve kept it for 22 years.
But what I found was by methodically being observant, which is a journal will do, because I will only write twice in my journal, on the way out and on the way back of a trip. I am almost OCDish. When we get to 10,000 feet, I’m putting a date and a location on that journal entry.

But it’s a tool that actually, particularly for the way back, that allows me to kind of figure out to stop, pause and in process say, “Okay, what do you think was working there and what do you think wasn’t working there?”

Like I said, I’ve been doing this 31 years, putting a mic around my neck and talking to audiences and yet, I want you to know Pete that I still want to get better and that means I still want to figure out “Okay, what did we do well? What can we improve?”

Very importantly, I always balance that feedback because I’ve said it too many times already, but this isn’t a beat-up session. A lot of times we undervalue taking time to figure out what we’re doing well, so we don’t do it by accident. But that’s been a tool. I probably have well over 3,000 pages of journal entries.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Thank you. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and they quote it back to you at times?

Rob Jolles
If you want to get at the most fundamental way to communicate, we have to ask questions and listen. That doesn’t just mean what you and I are doing right now or if we’re going one-on-one with a client or a prospect, even in front of an audience.

If you want to know what the amateurs and even the pros do wrong, if I put down the 20 biggest mistakes they make, 19 of them don’t equal number one, which is too much information and that means constricting the ability for that audience to communicate with you, even if it’s rhetorical questions.

But those little touches, those little “Turn to your left, look at that partner, and say three things here. Try two things there,” that ability to build a conversation as opposed to a lecture are very valuable. I would like to think that I’ve said it enough, that who knows, maybe people would associate that with me. I’d be proud if they did.

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

Rob Jolles
That’s an easy one. I would just take them to J-O-L-L-E-S.com that’s where you’ll find – I write something called a BLArticle. I am in my tenth year of BLArticles. That’s a blog-article. I just try – and by legal definition it’s 500 to 700 words. I just try and practice what we’re preaching, you and I, which is let’s not over communicate, but let’s provide value and drip out information. But anyway that’s where all sorts of information on me is.

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

Rob Jolles
Okay. Pete, you’re really coming at me. I like this. My final challenge would be I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what you think is out there holding you back; get out of your own way. Pete, you and I have hit it over and over and over again. Just be kinder to yourself, accept whatever limp you have, and I can assure you, you’ve got one. That’s okay. Don’t let it be a big issue. It won’t be with anybody else.

Go in there, again, the easiest way to find that authentic you is just get up there, wherever it is, tell the truth. If the truth is a struggle right now, double back and figure out – I’ve got to rebrand, I’ve got to do something, but I’ve got to find a way of telling the truth. If you solve that, then you’ve got it made. The rest is easy.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Rob, this has been a blast. Thanks so much for bringing it. I wish you lots of luck with your speaking and all you’re up to.

Rob Jolles
Oh, I appreciate it. Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation.

406: How to Sharpen the Most Critical Communication Skill: Listening with Brenda Bailey-Hughes

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Brenda Bailey-Hughes shares why and how to become a better listener.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The sad current state of listening
  2. How to fall in love with silence in a conversation
  3. The five focus areas of listening

About Brenda

Brenda Bailey-Hughes teaches communication and leadership skills at the Kelley School of Business undergrad program. She also teaches global leadership and emerging markets for Kelley Direct, the working professionals’ MBA program.

She’s authored 9 LinkedIn Learning courses and specializes in communication training and coaching for Fortune 500 executives such as P&G, Samsung, Cummins, and John Deere.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Brenda Bailey Hughes Interview Transcript

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

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Thank you, Pete. Thanks for having me back.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, I’m excited to get into it. It’s funny, the subject of listening came up as something important and wouldn’t you know it? One of our favorite guests, you, happens to have done a whole course on it so that’s easy. Let’s make this happen.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
That’s right. My colleague Tatiana Kolovou and I did a course in the LinkedIn Library. We loved that course. We had a good time with that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, I want to hear a little bit about how you listen to yourself. I love the forced segues. I learned that you have been doing journaling since you were in third grade. Can you tell us a little bit about what’s the story here?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Sure, sure. I started looking back the other day to see how long have I been journaling. I found, they weren’t even journals back then, they were diaries. They’re little – they have rainbows and unicorns and little locks on them with little plastic keys. Clear back to third grade as a little girl. I’m not going to reveal to your listeners how old I am, but this is decades and decades and decades and decades and decades of journaling.

It started as probably someone gave me a gift of a diary and I started writing and kind of felt good about that and liked what I was doing and felt that my ideas were clearer and my thoughts were more sorted out when I wrote, so just continued this habit throughout my adult life.

If someone asks me now “Why do you journal?” and I say it’s sanity because it really is for me the place to put all the thoughts that swirl around endlessly into one place and get them sorted out and get the mind a bit stiller.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. I’d be curious when you crack open these journals with the rainbows and unicorns from third – fourth grade, what do you discover? Do you see any interesting themes in your life that have been present from your youngest years?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Oh, that’s a great question. The early ones are who did I have a crush on, what teacher am I mad at, what did mom or dad say that was a horrible thing to say to me. They’re really just childhood memories.

I was about to throw them away and then I kept reading. I’m reading child scrawl too, so it’s not even easy to read because my handwriting was such a mess as a second and third grader. But then I stumbled on a page where I’m talking about there’s a coal mining strike and so we’ve turned the heat down at home and at school. We’re using candlelight to conserve energy. I thought, hey, these are historical documents at this point. I’m not getting rid of this. But, there’s less of that than there is just the ramblings of a third grader.

Then I think the themes that emerge as an adult are interesting in the fact that there are themes. You can see me write on something for a year sort of working through something. I think that the journaling, you can’t keep writing about something day in and day out and day in and day out without sort of finally feeling inspired to go take action in your life.

I think the theme for me is to see that I have this sort of three-month rhythm. I will talk and think and write about something for three months and then I take an action and I’m on to a new thing for another three months of pondering.

For me, it was just discovering my own rhythms in life to some extent and getting comfortable with that that if I’m mulling something over for what seems like an endless amount of time, it’s probably not endless, but I probably am coming up on my three-month window of okay, your action is going to follow pretty soon.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. Yeah, that’s a cool pattern to have identified. It will be interesting to see over the course of the remaining years of life if that continues and how you can anticipate all the better.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, right. You said you loved the forced transitions, but I do see it as – the journaling really is connected to listening because by getting the thoughts out of my head and onto the page where I can get clearer, I can get clarity about them, it does still my mind. Having a singular focus when we’re listening, does make us better listeners. That journaling work does help me improve my listening.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about listening, shall we?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like to start with I think a lot of folks may assume that they already listen just fine or that there’s no need to learn or study or be trained in listening. Could you make the case for us for why ought we learn more about listening?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think that you’ve hit on one of the common misconceptions about listening and that is that listening is the same thing as hearing. It’s sort of like we all hear, unless there’s a hearing disability in our lives, we’re born hearing, so why do I need training on this? But that is a physiological process. That’s your eardrums hitting on certain bones. That’s all physiological.

Listening is not the same thing as hearing. It is what we do with what the ears can hear. It’s the processing, the interpretation, the decisions about how to judge, evaluate, how to store what we’re hearing into our long-term or short-term memory. All of that is listening.

That is a skillset. Just like any other skillset like when you learn to ride a bike or you learn to use Excel. It is a skillset to be learned, to be improved. I think that misconception that we all know how to do it is you’re absolutely right, one of the places we have to argue with ourselves to get inspired to learn more about listening.

Then maybe because we confuse it and think we know how to do it, it is the least taught of all the communication-related skills. When you think communication, you’ve got reading, writing, speaking and listening. If I were to ask you right now how many years of reading did you study, well all the way through elementary and junior high and high school, we’re immersed in reading and writing classes. Most of us have even had a speaking class, at least a workshop or two in speaking.

But then when I say to people “How many listening courses have you had?” Screech. No hands go up. It’s sort of mums the word. It’s the least taught of all of the communication-related skills and yet it is the most used.

The U.S. Department of Labor tracks what percentage of our time we spend in different aspects of our work and 55% of the typical professional’s job is spent in listening, 55% of their communication time. Of your reading, writing, speaking and listening time, 55% of that is listening. It goes up as you go up the ladder. A managerial-level employee is spending upwards of 63% of her communication time listening.

Most used, least taught, that’s our use case. That’s why we need to really practice and dig in to improving our listening skills.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. Brenda, I love it when you bring the numbers, so thank you for that. Maybe I’d love it if I could put you on the spot for maybe some more in terms of sort of what is the state of the quality of listening these days. I don’t even know how you’d measure that exactly, but are there any noteworthy anecdotes or audience surveys or research bits that have been done on this, like these days does the typical professional listen excellently, terribly, acceptably. Where would you peg it?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Well, if you’re thinking about recall as a test of listening and we do have some stats on that. We know that if you watch the nightly news and then we ask you to recall what you hear, you’re going to have about 17%, 1-7, 17% recall.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Let’s imagine, now we don’t know because we haven’t done this elsewhere, but let’s imagine that that number extrapolates. That means that when you go into your next meeting and everything that everyone says they feel is important, you’re only remembering 17% of it.

Or you’re having a conversation with your spouse tonight and something really important is getting shared and you walk away and remember 17% of it. That to me says, oh, I think we can get better at this.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Yeah, that’s intriguing. I wonder, talk about the extrapolation on the one hand, folks might say “Hey, nightly news, I don’t really care that much,” but on the other hand, there’s so many ways to consume news, if you decide to turn on the nightly news, you must be semi-invested in watching the nightly news.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, right. Well, and I would argue that at some of my faculty meetings, I’m also not all that invested, but, nonetheless, maybe I should be is the issue here because while I might not be invested in the subject matter, I am invested in those people. If I’m not invested in their communication and what they want to share, how truly supportive and invested am I being in the relationship itself?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s great. Thank you. Thought provoking. Now I kind of want to get your sense of so if we think we’re listening well, but in fact the recall is maybe around 17%, where’s the gap coming from? What is the holdup exactly?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yeah. Some of it is that we have trained ourselves to listen only in order to prepare a response. If as I’m listening to someone, I catch myself already deciding how I will reply, I’m not really listening. I might be pretending like I’m listening. I may have listened to enough to decide, “Okay, I get it. I know what you’re saying. I’m going to cut you off now so that I can plan my response.”

But I think that’s one of the ways that we sort of deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re listening or that we’re a great listener and then oops, lo and behold, maybe we’re in that 17% recall list.

I think another space where we fool ourselves into listening is confirmation bias. I’m really only listening to enough of what is being said in the room to confirm what I already thought was true and that if you start saying something that contradicts or makes me feel a little “Eh,” like, “Wait, that doesn’t feel right. That’s not what I’ve always thought,” then I have all sorts of subtle ways that I just start tuning you out or twisting your words to make them mean what I want them to mean.

A classic example would be when my kids were still at home and they’re teenagers. I come home, they’re sprawled in front of the TV or a video game or whatever, and I say, “Hey, you should start your homework soon.” Now, what does the teenager think ‘soon’ means?

Pete Mockaitis
Not now and maybe whenever I feel like it.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Exactly. And what does ‘soon’ mean to mama?

Pete Mockaitis
Within ten minutes it should be initiated.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
I’m thinking now is what ‘soon’ meant to me, but okay, we’ll give it ten minutes versus their ‘when I’m done with this game,’ ‘when I’m done with this show.’ That’s because that’s what the teenager wants to hear is how the teenagers want to define ‘soon’ and so that’s how they interpret the word ‘soon’ what it should mean.

I think that confirmation bias, listening for what we expect to hear and sort of interpreting to confirm what we already expect are certainly some of the listening gaps that exist.

Social media has made that even easier for us. We read about the echo chamber kind of concept that we’re really not even exposed all that much to anyone who contradicts us because our social media bubbles pull us in inward more and more and more to our own biases to begin with.

But then if you take that echo chamber and even within it if a little bit of contradictory information or not even contradictory, just new and it doesn’t have a place to slide into our neatly organized mental habits, we go, “Eh, never mind. I just don’t see that. I don’t hear that. I don’t want to deal with that.” It just sort of gets scooched away.

I guess that leads us to one of our really important learning concepts is to push ourselves to seek out disconfirming information, to stay in the room long enough to say, “Okay, we’ve talked about all the reasons this is a good idea. I think it’s a good idea. Give me three reasons that it could blow up. What are the three risks we’re not looking at and how do we mitigate those?” I think that’s an important part of a professional’s responsibility and keeping a really open mind and being a good listener.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. I’d love it then if we can talk about some more of these practices. Maybe even before we go into the details, can you lay out sort of what then become all the benefits of listening masterfully as opposed to just sort of at a typical base level of listening to respond or listening to confirm what we already know?

I guess one natural consequence would be that you’re making better decisions because you’re getting all of the information that you might not have gotten. What are some other key benefits that come about if you are a masterful listener?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
I love that phrase, ‘masterful listener.’ I’m totally going to steal that for my LinkedIn classes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please do.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Masterful listeners, they are business winners and they are relational winners. Dr. Nichols was one of the founding researchers in the discipline of listening. He was originally a college, maybe it was even high school, debate teacher, a debate coach. He had debate teams.

What he started noticing is that the teams who were winning debate after debate after debate and had access to the same research and the same coaching in terms of how they presented, the real distinguishing difference was that these debate teams that listened really, really well could then parse through the opposing teams arguments so much more clearly and make a much better argument or a rebuttal that they were debate winners.

We’ve got debate winning. All of us have our share of debates. Whether we call them that or not, we have these moments in our lives all the time where we’re trying to influence others, get people to see things our way. Even just getting friends to go to the movie that you want to go to, if you’re really listening to what that friend is saying, you’ll start to understand more of why they’re arguing for another movie and how you might be able to shift their position a little bit. We have some influence around that.

I’ve seen lots of examples of where people land clients and projects and business wins because of good listening skills. Just recently a client of mine, we had done the business that we had established and I was trying to win a little bit more business and it was kind of still just out there in the open space. We hadn’t locked anything down yet. I’m sure that the company was looking at some other consultants to do some work with them as well.

But I had listened so carefully to him that then when I stumbled on a TED talk of another person talking, I thought oh, this sounds so much like Kyle – I’ll call him Kyle. I sent it to Kyle and said, “Hey, this sounds like you. This sounds like the strategy we’re talking about in your industry.” I get an email ping right back just, “Oh my gosh, you totally get me. Thank you.”

Well, to be honest, Pete, this industry is energy and it’s very confusing to me. I still don’t really understand the strategy that he had been promoting, but I had listened enough to know what he sounds like and could then make these connections. Sure enough that lands the business.

Pete Mockaitis
He says, “You really get me.” Actually, I don’t, but I’ll take it.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Apparently enough that I got my foot in the door here and I’ll figure it out from there.

But we also have on a personal level, you talk to marriage therapists or relationship counselors and frequently they say that bad listening is at the root of many of the dysfunctional relationships that they interact with and that the flipside, that sort of really good listening skills is what bolsters our relationships, both personally and professionally.

If we’re looking for wins, they’re like you said, the good decision making; it’s around our influence wins; it’s around landing business, those wins come with good listening; and our relationships are better when we are good listeners. Those are the benefits.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, that sounds well worth it. Let’s discuss. You mentioned one of the problems is that we listen to respond. I guess I’m thinking if we have some diehard listeners to responders in the crowd, it’s sort of like, “Well, if I’m not formulating a response while they’re talking are we going to have a weird silence?”

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
We are. We are. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell us about that.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yes. We’re going to get comfortable with that. We are going to get comfortable with “Hm.” And you’re fidgeting because you’re like, “Oh my gosh, no dead air space.” In fact Pete’s in his mind right now thinking “Well, I’ve got to edit out that little three-second pause.”

Pete Mockaitis
No, we’re keeping it. Charlie & Co., we’re keeping every half second of that. Please.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
But I think we can use what are called verbal encouragers. We want to use those when someone is speaking to us. Different people – if you’ve studied introversion and extroversion – one of the attributes of an introvert is they tend to listen in silence.

I encourage the introverts that are listening to us today, Pete, to say “Mm-hm, oh, yeah, a little bit more,” as they’re listening, just those little verbal reinforcers or encouragers to let people know that you are listening. Make sure you’re nodding, those kinds of things.

But then where we all feel though that we have to talk is when the other person has signaled that they’re done. It’s my turn now. You demonstrate that with a little pause or an upward inflection that kind of hands the baton over to me.

We just need to learn to go, “Hm, let me think. Yeah,” and then respond and give myself that pause because what I’m likely to say is going to be so much more respectful because it will paraphrase back perhaps what the person has said and it shows that I really listened all the way through to the end.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, in a way, you’re right. If there’s no transition, it’s a little bit fuzzy. It’s sort of like, “Are you still there,” especially if you’re on the phone or a digital medium. It’s like, “Hey, everything still okay over there?” But I think I love that phrase, “Hm, let me think,” or maybe it’s just something along those lines like, “I’m considering what you’ve just said,” and then you’re a silent for a few seconds.

In way you might have a hard time getting away with that in a six-person meeting or something, but one-on-one I think that that can just be amazing because they’re like, “Nobody ever thinks about what I say for several seconds. That’s awesome. I appreciate that.”

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Thank you so much for listening. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s nice. Then you’re getting okay and you’re getting comfortable with the silence. With those encourager words, what did you call them?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Verbal encouragers.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, verbal encouragers. I feel like that sometimes, maybe it’s more of an extrovert problem, when people give me the verbal encouragers like too much or too fast or when I haven’t completely finished the word, like they say, “Mm-hm,” before I finish saying the word, I don’t like it.

I don’t how to interpret what I’m feeling or what value or meaning I’m putting on to it, but I almost maybe feel like I’m being rushed maybe or like it’s a show. It’s like, “Are you actually listening or are you just following a script,” where I’m talking to a robot who say every seven seconds I’m supposed to say “Mm-hm” as opposed to timing your mm-hms after I have a pause and a breath and a sentence and a phrase.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Oh yeah, oh yeah. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So you can count that as well, the over-encourager.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yes, absolutely. I think you’re right. We see it with people who know they’re supposed to do that or they just kind of want you to get through what you’re saying. You’re talking, I’m like, “Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.” I’m rushing you. … get through this so that it can be my turn to talk or so that I can leave or whatever.

Yeah, you’re right. The intent behind it probably does matter because it does manifest differently. The verbal encouragers that ‘I’m encouraging you to hurry up,’ that sounds different and that feels different to the person speaking than a true, “Mm-hm, huh, yeah,” kind of that varied encouragers that are in sync with the words that are being spoken. That’s the kind of verbal encourager that works.

Pete Mockaitis
Hey, did I do it too early? I hope not.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
No, it wasn’t too early.

Pete Mockaitis
Because I really was ready to ask a new question, but I also felt like I got what you were saying.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
You did. You did.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, good. It’s like so meta. I’m so self-conscious now.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Well, okay, let me put us at ease. A spontaneous conversation when the conversationalists leave and we ask them to rate their experience and they say, “Oh, it was awesome. It was spontaneous. It was good. I felt good about that conversation.” When we go back and do a tracking of the conversation, there is overlap. There are those moments when the second speaker starts speaking before the first speaker has completely ended. I’m relieving you of that self-consciousness if we overlap because that is a part of it.

I’m thinking more of when we’re in those meetings or we’re doing a deep listening dive to someone who’s sharing very deeply about an issue in their lives or with their work and that’s when I think we need to get comfortable with the pause. It’s when we catch our brains formulating a response so that we don’t have a pause, that’s when we’ve got to get comfortable with it so we’re not doing that, so that we stay tuned into our speaker.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so if you’re listening and the goal is not to formulate a response, what should the new goal be and the internal questions you’re asking yourself and the focus that you choose when you are not talking and someone else is talking?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, right. I would these get into what I call the five focus areas of listening. The questions I’m asking myself, that internal dialogue, if it’s not to formulate my response, what should it be? It depends on what kind of listening I’ve set out to do.

For example, depending on what kind of a situation I’m facing, what kind of conversation this is, I need to listen differently. Sometimes I need to listen to recall the details. Sometimes I just need to listen for the big picture. Sometimes I need to evaluate the content. Sometimes I need to pay attention to the nonverbals. Sometimes I need to listen to empathize.

If we use this podcast for example, I think listening for the details, well, I know you love your stats and you love it when I bring the numbers. That’s probably not the most important listening here. It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day whether the U.S. Department of Labor tells us we spend 55 or 56% of our communication time listening.

But you wanted that big picture. You wanted to be able to end the podcast and go, “Okay, I get it. We spend more time listening than any other communication piece and yet we have the least training on it.” That’s the big picture. I would think that’s what you’re listening for as you listen today.

Or maybe even some of that evaluating of the content. There’s a part of your brain that needs to be going, “Okay, is my guest today just talking crazy stuff or is there some legitimacy and some credibility behind this,” because you have to decide am I going to publish this. Am I going to roll this out? Do I need to push back and ask some more questions to find out where this research or this claim came from? What’s the research, the data supporting it?

Maybe there’s a little bit of an evaluative mindset to how you’re listening, definitely some big picture thinking. But if we go on through the rest of your day, what are some of the rest of the things on your calendar today, Pete? We’ll look at what kinds of listening you should be doing the rest of your day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure. Well, another podcast interview, talking to an accountant about some treatment of things.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Now that recalling details suddenly might become pretty important.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Because when the accountant says, “Oh, you’ve got to do this here and you can’t do that here.” That’s a detail-oriented listening. You’re going to kick in to a totally different mindset when you go to your accountant meeting than you have with me and your next guest up. What else is on your calendar today?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then I guess there’s just sort of quiet work in terms of at the computer and wrapping things up.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
What’s the evening look like? Going home, going to have some dinner?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, hanging out with wife and baby and chatting.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Wife and baby, we don’t want you in evaluative content or even necessarily recalling the details depending on if you and your spouse are talking about dates that need to be on the calendar.

Pete Mockaitis
What the accountant said.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, what did the accountant – right. But if she’s just telling you what happened during her day and what cute things happened with the baby, then you’re all about listening to pay attention to be attuned to her nonverbals and to empathize with how your speaker is feeling. That’s the shift you want to make.

A huge part of listening effectively is thinking through what kind of listening is called for in this moment, in this conversation at this meeting and then pulling out the stops all about that type of listening.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent in terms of just getting yourself in the right sort of brain space in terms of what am I stepping into this conversation, what are my goals and how am I going to choose to listen.

I guess if I’m thinking about me personally, coming from a strategy consulting background and intense podcast listening associated with okay, what are the things people need to do in order to become awesome at their job. Give me the goods and give me the high-leverage, high-impact stuff that’s relatively easy to do. A nice bit of leverage is kind of what gets me fired up.

I guess I have maybe less intense practice at the listening for the sort of emotional empathy stuff. We had a great conversation previously with Aaron Levy about just how powerful that is for employees who feel like you really understand them. You really get them because you are conveying that so well.

Can we go deeper into this one in terms of what’s going on in your brain and how are you being as you are listening to understand really where someone’s coming from, what they’re feeling and any emotions and such?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Sure. I think this is an important piece, so for you, Pete, and maybe for your listeners that you’ve heard from, you’re saying it’s this emotional listening, empathy listening. I would have other people that I’ve coached that say “It’s that big picture. I get so caught up in the weeds. I’m taking down copious notes. I’ve got three pages of notes, but I can’t tell you what any of it meant.”

I think it’s a fairly personal self-reflection that needs to happen to identify “Where is my weakest area? What’s my strongest so that I know to leverage that? But which of these areas can I really build out and develop a little bit better? I think that’s going to be a pretty personal choice. People need to do some soul searching to figure that out.

Maybe even ask some friends who will be really honest and candid with you about it, “Of these, where do you feel like I’m strong and where do you feel like I kind of fall down a bit?”

But to the empathizing piece, I think the two, empathy and listening in an attuned way kind of go hand-in-hand. When I’m thinking about attuning, I’m asking myself “What can I see that I can’t hear?” The speaker is saying these words and I’m listening to those. I’m tracking on those and I’m trying not to prejudge those or allow those to come through my mental filter or confirmation bias. I’m really just trying to hear what the speaker is saying.

But what can I see that I can’t hear? Is the speaker squirming in his chair when he said it? Is he wringing his hands? Are his eyes lighting up and his voice starting to spark when he talks about that subject? ‘What can I see that I can’t hear?’ I think is a driving question when I’m really trying to listen for that emotional piece.

In fact, one of the ways I teach people and I’ve done this to practice listening for the nonverbal is to watch a television program that you’re not really familiar with and turn the volume off.

Then just see after you watch the characters and you watch the interaction, you’ll watch a 30-minute sitcom or a one-hour drama or something, and then figure out what was your best guess as to what the plot line was and what the relationships were between the characters and who was feeling what kind of an emotion at the different parts of the movie or the show. Then go back, replay on Netflix, watch it again, and see how close you were.

That’s a great training mechanism for forcing yourself to start tuning in to the nonverbals. Then after you do that for a while, you’ll find yourself walking into a meeting and lo and behold, you’re paying attention to who’s glaring at whom, who’s starting to feel bored with which subjects, who’s excited by which subjects and that is rich Intel to know those kinds of things. That’s a tuning piece.

Then the empathizing piece, the driving question there is not ‘what is my speaker saying,’ but ‘how is my speaker feeling.’ How does the speaker feel? I think one of the best ways to train ourselves to do this and simultaneously show people that we’re doing this is paraphrasing back both the content and the emotions that we think we’re hearing.

This is when we kind of say, “Well, okay, this is what I’m getting. This is what I think I heard you say,” or “Correct me if I’m wrong, this is what I heard.” When I say back what I heard, it’s like, “I think you’re really frustrated about blah, blah, blah, blah.” I’ve captured frustrated, the emotional tone, as well as the content. That makes the person that you’re talking to just feel so heard, so listened to.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious with regards to when you identify an emotion, what’s the downside risk of if you’re wrong. If you said, “It seems like you’re frustrated.” He’s like, “No, I’m not frustrated. I’m just resigned because I don’t care anymore. Nothing I do makes any impact whatsoever.” I guess those are kind of close, frustrated and resigned.

But … “No, I’m enraged, Brenda. I’m not frustrated.” I guess that’s just very frustrated is enraged. I mean, “No Brenda, I’m very sad actually.”

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, yeah. But that’s great that they would say that because then you have had – because you would have left thinking frustrated.

Then you find out by clarifying, “Oh no, it’s resigned. Oh. Well, I have different things to say to you now that I know you’re just feeling defeated and resigned and depleted by this. I thought you were still frustrated and agitated, but no, you’re in a different space,” and that’s important to me because how I’m going to reach you when you’re resigned is pretty different than how I would reach you if you’re irritated, agitated, frustrated or enraged or sad.

I think that moment of clarification is perfectly fine. It’s not as if you failed in the guessing game. It’s you won because you threw it out there, you got some feedback that you’d missed it just slightly and so now you are on board. Once again, engaging in that process of “Here’s what I think,” “Oh no. Oh, it’s this. Oh, thank you. Okay, I get it. Yes. Resigned, I could see myself feeling that too.”

That, again, allows you to wrap your speaker in this wonderful blanket of comfort and of knowing because I heard you.

Pete Mockaitis
As I imagine this fictitious conversation, I think the guessing game, if you will, if you get it wrong, I think you’re still winning points in that it shows that you cared enough to take a stab at it and the other person says, “You know? This person seems to give a darn about my feelings. Even though they’re wrong, I appreciate that because a lot of people don’t bother to take the time.”

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, so often the listening response is autobiographical. “Well, yeah, when that happened to me, I felt blah, blah, blah, blah.” Now I’ve coopted the whole conversation and made it about me. That is a response we’re so accustomed to hearing that if you’ve stayed with me, you’ve kept the focus on me, even if you got it wrong just a little bit, it’s still about me, so I’m still feeling pretty treasured at the end of the day.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. I like that. Well, Brenda, could you share as we’re kind of approaching the end, are there any sort of top do’s, don’ts favorite phrases or scripts that are super handy when it comes to listening?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Oh yeah. Let’s see. I think that one of the top do’s is getting rid of distractions. Put your phone down. Show those nonverbal attentive listening skills. We all know what they are. We know them when someone does it for us. They nod, they lean in, they make eye contact, the verbal encouragers that we talked about.

When we do that, the person talking feels heard and our own minds kind of follow the body, like, okay, my body is tuned in to this person, so I guess my mind says, “Okay, I’ll tune in too.” I think being non-verbally attentive, showing really good nonverbal listening behaviors can certainly enhance our listening and how well the other person feels. That I think is a great piece.

I love Marshall Goldsmith’s article, Listening is the One Skill That Separates. He talks about make the other person feel as though she’s the only person in the room. When we can do that at a meeting and a coaching a session and whatever, wow, that is great listening right there.

Pete Mockaitis
Any other key phrases that you think are super handy?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Key phrases. Well, for appropriate responses, trying to stay out of the autobiographical and instead practice the paraphrasing. If we can say back what we’ve heard, I think that’s a key phrase in our listening, being careful with it of course.

When I first learned about paraphrasing, I decided I’m going to paraphrase everything everybody says for a while. I came home that night after my listening workshop and my husband said, “Hey, it’s about dinner time. It’s a little after six.” I said, “So I hear you expressing a curiosity about the time.” He’s like, “What is happening?” So paraphrasing appropriately, not just parroting someone, but really trying to put our best understanding into it. I think those are great phrases to use as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, lovely. Well, now I’d love to hear about your favorite things once again, maybe there’s some new things.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yes, but I’m going to do a listening one. Let’s do – what’s my favorite listening quote? You have two ears, one mouth. There’s a reason; act like it.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right, thank you.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Two ears, one mouth. There you go.

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

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Dale Goleman and Richard Davidson, it was October 2017 Behavioral Scientist article on mindfulness practices. It’s the one where they talk about eight minutes of mindfulness practice will cause less mind wandering. If you do that eight minutes for two weeks, the mind wandering stops so much that you have better focus, you have more working memory, people’s GRE scores were even going up.

I think that’s a great piece of research to link back to our listening that if we can just practice eight minutes of sort of meditative mindfulness – I try to practice my eight minutes in the afternoon. I remember Elizabeth Gilbert, the author, one time saying that she practiced eight minutes of mindfulness in the afternoons that a purist might call it a nap, but for her, she was calling it mindfulness. I love that.

My eight minutes of napping or mindfulness, whatever you want. But I do think that that practice stops the mind from wandering and when we teach our minds to focus, then we become better listeners. That’s a great piece of research for so many different reasons. Goleman and Davidson.

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

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Again, let’s do a listening book. No judging here, but my favorite listening book right now is called I Have a Little Problem Said the Bear. It’s Amelia Hardman, so you can get this for your son. It’s about the little bear who goes around trying to tell people about his problem, but everybody is so set on fixing it and advising him and coaching him that he never really gets to talk about his problem.

I actually purchased this little children’s book and give it to a lot of the managers that I coach on how to be good coaches because as soon as we move into telling other people to do it, we’ve stepped out of coaching mode.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. It’s funny when you said ‘no judgment here’ I was like that’s a good name for a listening book.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
No, I was just warning you. Don’t judge that my favorite book right now is a kid’s book.

Pete Mockaitis
No, that’s totally fine, totally fine. And a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Thirty-day listening action plan. I schedule out 30 days. I look at a meeting or an event or something on my calendar for 30 straight days and make a notation in my digital calendar so that when I see the event I also see my note about my listening habit.

Last month I was working on paraphrasing. Right next to it for 30 different appointments on 30 different days it said ‘paraphrasing,’ just as my reminder. The month before that I was working on not interrupting, so for 30 straight days I found an appointment or an engagement or a conversation on my calendar where I really wanted to practice that skill. Thirty-day listening habits, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s clever. Very good. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with listeners, readers, clients, learners?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yeah, it’s that Goldsmith quote, “Make the other person feel that they’re the only one in the room.” That really resonates with people. People will come back to me and mention that years after we’ve had a coaching conversation around listening.

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

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Hit me up on LinkedIn. Follow me on LinkedIn. I would love to have conversations on LinkedIn about listening and whatever else is on your mind.

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

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yes, 30-day challenge. Do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Do it. All right.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Thirty days of listening. Put it on your calendars. Come up with one skill, a listening skill that you think you want to improve and go after it for 30 straight days. You’ll be awesome at your job when you’re done.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Brenda, this has been a good time once again. Thanks for sharing the goods and I hope you have many excellent conversations you enjoy listening to and that you just keep on doing what you’re doing. It’s a real treat.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
You too, Pete. Thank you so much for having me back.

403: Hollywood Secrets for Effective Business Storytelling with Matthew Luhn

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Movie story consultant Matthew Luhn shares the key principles and approaches for making compelling, emotionally-resonant stories–even if you’ve got a “boring” work topic.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two story elements that keep an audience hooked
  2. The three key flavors of emotion
  3. The universal six story themes

About Matthew

Matthew Luhn is a writer, story branding consultant, and keynote speaker with over 25 years’ experience at Pixar Animation Studios, with story credits including the Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. franchises, Finding Nemo, UP, Cars, and Ratatouille. Alongside his work in Hollywood, Luhn trains CEOs, marketing teams, directors, and professionals on how to craft stories for Fortune 500 companies, Academy Award-winning movies, and corporate brands grossing billions of dollars worldwide, advice he’s packed into his new book, The Best Story Wins: How to Leverage Hollywood Storytelling in Business and Beyond. To learn more, visit matthewluhnstory.com.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Matthew Luhn Interview Transcript

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

Matthew Luhn
My pleasure. I’m always happy to help people be awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we were having an awesome preamble conversation about you were an animator on Toy Story and I mentioned I had saw it all the way through for the first time just recently. That was fun. But toys are a part of your life, not just that you played with them as a youngster, but that you were in toy catalogues and your family had a toy business. Can you orient us to the early part of the Matthew story?

Matthew Luhn
Yes. Everybody I guess when you start off when you’re a kid you think my life is pretty normal. My parents are teachers or dentists or whatever. But my family, yeah, everybody in my family from my grandparents to my great-grandparents to uncles and aunts and mom and dad, they all owned toy stores. We had the largest family-owned chain of toy stores, Jeffrey’s Toys in San Francisco.

Actually, the only guy who didn’t get sucked into the toy stores was the guy that the toy stores were named after, Jeffrey, my uncle. He ended up becoming a photographer, but even though he was a photographer, he didn’t get far away from toys because he ended up being one of those guys responsible during the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s of taking the photos for all those toy catalogues.

Whenever he needed some cheap child labor, he’d say, “Matthew, come on in with your friend. We’ll give you the toy and we just want you to play with these A-Team toys or this Inspector Gadget toy.” Lo and behold, by the time I’m in high school, I go, “Wait a minute, what were those photos ever used for?” And yeah. You can always find them online. But my life has really had a lot to do with toys.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well this is a rich backdrop because I think we are going to have a lot of fun in a toy play kind of a way. That’s a forced segue. That’s a signature part of the show.

Matthew Luhn
Sounds good.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to hear, you worked as a story supervisor and you have described that job as your responsibility is to make people cry, which I think is pretty succinct way to point to it in terms of having people feel things. I’d love to get your take on when you are supervising stories, what kinds of adjustments do you find yourself making again and again that most of our stories could use improvements in these kind of key ways that show up repeatedly?

Matthew Luhn
Sure. First off, yes, my job is to make people cry, but I also want to put it out there that also to keep them sitting on the edge of their seats during action scenes and then make them laugh and at the end make them really think and be inspired.

It’s funny that no matter how many movies I’ve worked on, and you think to yourself, “Oh, we’ve got it figured out this time. No problem. This one’s going to be easy. It’s Toy Story 3. We’ve done the first and the second.” It’s never easy. There’s always a new set of problems. It’s funny how it always goes back to two things over and over again. It makes no difference if it’s a film, a TV show, a play, a book, whatever.

It always goes back to who is the hero and what do they want. I know it sounds so simple. It sounds like duh, but so many times people put together a story and you really can’t tell who is the main character or what their vision is, their goal in the story. It constantly goes back to that.

Sometimes people when they’re crafting a story, they’ll have a hero, main character, but the main character will have multiple goals. Then we as the audience just get distracted. We don’t know what to root for them for. Or they have no goals and we lose interest. Or the story just lacks a central character. It’s so silly, but it happens to the best of us. That’s the thing that keeps showing up again and again.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fascinating. I’m trying to think, I guess maybe we don’t want to name names in terms of here’s a story that sucked.

Matthew Luhn
Oh yeah, yeah. I know.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t want to put you on the spot there.

Matthew Luhn
Sure, sure.

Pete Mockaitis
But I think sometimes I guess I find that maybe we’ve got a clear leading hero and maybe it’s clear what they want, but I just don’t care about them and what they want. I guess I think that that goal’s kind of dumb or not worthwhile.

Matthew Luhn
Yeah. I think one of the things – it’s a tricky thing because when you are creating a story, there’s really three things that motivate you as a creative person, as a writer, a storyteller. One is deadlines. The other one is usually desperation. Then the other one that really inspires you to come up with some ideas is daydreaming.

When we daydream we think about moments from our own lives that would make good stories or something we heard or saw or experienced. The tricky thing is sometimes those ideas may be too abstract. They may only connect with a few people.

But really, if you want to be able to create a story that connects with as many people as possible, you need to come up with universal themes that have been showing up in everybody’s life, no matter what age or gender or culture, like the desire to be in love. It’s universal. The desire for safety and security for yourself and people you love. Or not to be abandoned, to feel belonged. These are all universal themes.

Whenever you’re watching a story and you’re like, “Eh, I can’t really get behind this character,” that’s probably the first reason is that their goal is not universal. The next thing is that even if you have a character that is so dastardly, like Walter White from Breaking Bad

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, my favorite.

Matthew Luhn
Or Anakin. Even if the character is really not a nice person, you still need to make sure that the audience either has empathy for them or there’s something likeable about them. You’ll see time and again that even with the most dastardly characters, they’ll always have somebody they care about, like Walter White, he still cares about his kids and his wife. Then there’s empathy because you know the situation he’s in.

There are steps to be able to make your character likeable and to make sure that the goal that they have is universal. That’s what you need to do to make sure that the audience isn’t like, “Eh, I could care less. I’m going to switch the channel.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. We’re talking about some of the components that make a story great and your book is called The Best Story Wins: How to Leverage Hollywood Storytelling in Business and Beyond. Let’s talk about leveraging it in a business or professional context.

Most of us will not be in the position of writing a TV or movie or a novel. Some have, which is awesome. Thanks listeners for sending me your novels. But if we want to do some storytelling in business, how do we do that? It might seem like tales of product innovation or profit and loss are not maybe as compelling as, Walter White could die.

Matthew Luhn
Yeah, you’re putting me to sleep right now talking about that stuff. Well, really when we go back to really one of the first people, first person who talked about the story, it was Aristotle in his Poetics books. One of the things he pointed out was that the person who is able to really master the metaphor is a very powerful person.

A metaphor is basically when you can take something that’s dry and analytical like profit and loss, but you can share a story that maybe is not business related. Maybe it’s something that happened to you when you were ten years old, but the takeaway message at the end communicates the feeling of the message of teamwork or the power of innovation.

There’s a couple of different ways you can use storytelling in business. Really, yes, telling the story around your company, the founder, that’s kind of like a no-brainer. Telling the story around your products through the eyes of the consumer, the customer, the guest through endorsements and testimonials, that’s a good one.

But the next one is how you use those metaphors to be able to enlighten people, to be able to help kind of complicated or dry information be more memorable and impactful internally or externally at your company or beyond.

Then also the most important way you can use storytelling is to be able to paint a picture for the listener, for that potential client of what their story could be like, what their company could be like, what their life could be like if they engaged with you or used your product or service. Really, we’ve seen from Steve Jobs to Walt Disney that the people who have mastered story telling in business are the ones who lead their industries. It happens over and over again.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So telling the story of what your life would be like if you used the product. I think you had a really nice example in your TEDx talk. There was a Mercedes commercial about a teenage boy, maybe 13, 14, 15, on his first. I guess the story was just that, hey, this Mercedes is reliable in snow, but we had a whole lot of drama behind it because he’s going to the movies. We’ll link to that in the show notes.

Matthew Luhn
Yeah, he’s going on his first date and is she going to show up because it’s completely snowed out. Instead of watching another boring car commercial where the narrator is talking about the performance in bad weather, we actually see the car weather the storm, get him to the movie theatre and I won’t blow it because you should watch it because there’s elements of tension in there, but it goes back to that universal theme of wanting to be in love.

Everybody can connect with that. Everybody has been at some point – when you’re born, you want to be loved. They were able to use that universal theme to be able to show – and showing is always better than telling – how effective their product, their service is. We have a main character with a goal. There’s a tool that helps them reach their goal. That’s what it’s all about in business.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Then I’d love to hear then, it sounds like you’ve already gotten a lot of components here, but maybe just to make sure we’re being thorough, are there any other key components that make the best story, which wins, in fact the best?

Matthew Luhn
Sure. I think the next thing that I try to encourage people about is that when you watch a movie, the movies that truly impact you and you love, the top movies that are out there, books, plays, everything, they’re not ones where everything is happy from beginning to end or everything is sad from beginning to end. We love stories that go back and forth between happy and sad.

When we end up using storytelling for business, there’s this tendency where we want everybody to think our company is perfect, we are perfect, our products are perfect. We have never made any mistakes at our company. We are the number one dot, dot, dot in our industry. First off, it’s not real. Second off, it’s really boring. What people love in a story is obstacles.

We love a hero that has a goal. You could be your company that has a goal. Your consumer or customer that has a goal. But the obstacles is what – I guess you would say in the business world is like the research and development. What went into making that product? Share with us when it blew up, share with us when the company almost went bankrupt because it keeps you sitting on the edge of your seat because you want to know what happened.

We love a hero with a goal, with a set of obstacles. Then the most important thing is a transformation, how this product/service has transformed people’s lives, how a pair of shoes or a computer or a car can make people healthier or happier or wealthier, have more time with their family and friends. This transformation is really it’s the climax. It’s the grand finale of what you want to succeed at.

You can tell a great story in business, but if it doesn’t drive anyone to action, it was pointless. That’s the transformation part.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, this is awesome because as you’re speaking it’s just really catching all sorts of things. My favorite movie is Life Is Beautiful with Roberto Benigni.

Matthew Luhn
Oh right, right.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, we’ve got some happiness and some sadness in there.

Matthew Luhn
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m tearing it up just thinking about it. Then that connects for me – it’s about me for a moment, Matthew. If you’ll-

Matthew Luhn
Sure, sure. It’s always about us.

Pete Mockaitis
If you’ll indulge me.

Matthew Luhn
The funny thing is, I’ll tell you right now, the reason why we love heroes in stories and that we always have a hero in a story is because we all see our human psyche as that we are heroes on a journey.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Matthew Luhn
That’s why we do that. Also, I just want to point out that the reason why you do cry in a movie or you have tears of joy is because when you juxtapose a happy moment and a sad moment successfully in a film or in anything, the release from dopamine to oxytocin – dopamine is kind of the happy chemical, oxytocin is more of the somber chemical – when you put those right next to each other, the chemicals change so quickly, so you could be laughing one moment and then you discover something sad and it will tear you apart.

There’s kind of a science to storytelling that these chemicals get released from dopamine, oxytocin and then endorphins to make you laugh.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s kind of what you’re going for in a great story is that you’re going to share some things that trigger the happy, trigger the sad, and trigger the laugh.

Matthew Luhn
Absolutely. The way I always see it is, it’s kind of like these three choices that you can get of different ice cream. It’s like the funny moments, the emotional moments, or kind of this anticipation/action moments. Really when you think about it, that breaks down all the movies. It’s either funny, emotional – kind of like heartfelt – or action. When you can make a film that kind of blends all of those, like Toy Story did, you really put together a compelling piece of storytelling.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, yeah. I’m also thinking about even just a gum commercial. They played a song that we played at our wedding, which was the Haley Reinhart version of I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You with this gum. It showed this guy drew doodles on the gum wrappers. We’ll link to it in the show notes.

Matthew Luhn
Okay, cool. I was hoping you weren’t going to say you played the Double Mint song …, but this is better.

Pete Mockaitis
It was so touching at our wedding.

Matthew Luhn
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
There we have it. It’s like the product that he’s doodling on these gum wrappers is sort of having a transformation in their life because we kind of see the relationship unfolding.

Similarly to, I’m thinking about the Google – I’m linking to all of these – the Google commercials that’s really emotionally powerful where it starts with how to impress a French or Italian girl, how to speak Italian or French. Then it goes all the way – geez, I’m a crybaby today – it goes all the way to – I don’t want to spoil it, but their relationship also develops in a touching way.

Linking to the show notes all of these things. You’re really connecting the dots for me in terms of why is this effective. It’s like, I don’t know. I guess I’m a softy.

Matthew Luhn
This is the thing. This is what people listening to this should think about. Just like you’re recalling all of these commercials or movies, you’re recalling them because you remembered them. Storytelling does make things more memorable.

The truth is that when you just share information, people only retain a very small amount. They say ten minutes later, you only retain five percent of the information. But if you can wrap a story around it, even a piece of gum or a car, people are going to retain so much more. They’re going to remember it and it’s going to make them feel something. It’s going to impact them. Then the last thing, it’s going to be personal. All of the sudden, you’re playing a gum commercial at your wedding.

This is what great marketers, great salespeople, great branding teams do. They’re the ones who see that storytelling is not just for entertainment.

I always knew I wanted to write a book on storytelling, but there’s so many books on storytelling out there that I almost felt like I just don’t want to waste my time or the audience’s time writing a book that they can already get.

One of the things that I saw that the world needed was a book that shared actually the Pixar storytelling techniques that could be used for business. A lot of those business books out there on storytelling are not written by people who are necessarily film writers. The actual techniques and tools that I have in the book are ones that we would use at work. But instead of you inserting a car or a bug or a rat, you can insert your product or your founder or you can better yet, that customer.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, you had a couple teaser fascination bullets in your book that I can’t resist. Let’s touch on a couple of them.

Matthew Luhn
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s see. You shared with us a few universal story themes, but you mentioned six. Did we tick off all six?

Matthew Luhn
Oh gosh, I’m not sure if I did. Let’s see. There’s love. There’s safety and security. There is wanting to be free and be spontaneous. Just think about in the movie Brave, she’s been set up to get married and become the queen. She just wants to be like an adventurer.

Then the next three are ones that are kind of based on fear. Those first are like desires. The next ones are fears, like the fear of not belonging, the fear of abandonment. You guys are going to have to read the book. I’m getting stumped on the sixth one right now. It’ll come to me in a second. But these are – they really, they just keep showing up again and again.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, I’d love to get your take in terms of at the very beginning, how do we hook attention well?

Matthew Luhn
Well, this is not anything new. It just seems like it’s even harder today, which is how to be able to hook someone’s attention. I think we know that when you – say you want to do a pitch for a product or a movie or you’re just trying to start up a conversation with somebody, people have very limited attention spans. They’re about eight seconds I think is the human attention span.

How do you engage people to want to continue listening about your company or what your product or service does? When I am putting together a hook on a movie poster or a trailer or I’m going to do the pitch for a film, I’ve got to make sure that first off, it’s not too long. It needs to be clear and concise. I really try to make sure that my pitch is not longer than eight seconds.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Matthew Luhn
Really.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re going to have to give me a few examples. Wow, eight seconds. Is that even a sentence?

Matthew Luhn
Here. You’ll count it out in your head. What about, “What if superheroes were banned from saving people?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Matthew Luhn
You’re kind of intrigued because you’re like, “I know superheroes save people, so why would they be banned from saving people?” That’s The Incredibles. Or could you have one that is “What if a rat wanted to be a French chef?”

Now those are films, so you could say to yourself, “Well, Matthew, those are films, so you’re cheating.” “What if you could put a thousand songs in your pocket?” That was the pitch Steve made for the iPod. “What if you could put a thousand songs in your pocket?”

What’s going on here is that when you have a hook, you have really four options. You can either come up with something unusual that takes the ordinary world and shares how it could be different, that superheroes that are not allowed to save people. You’re not going to have to use a Walkman with 14 songs on a cassette tape. You can actually put a thousand songs in your pocket.

Or the second one is something unexpected, the shock value. “What if a rat was a French chef?” Then the other two is landing people in an action or conflict, like when you’re clicking through channels on TV and you see the good guys chasing the bad guys. You want to know if they’re going to get the bad guys, so you keep watching. Or landing people into a conflict, like seeing two people in a kind of very intense conversation. You can’t stop watching.

These types of things are great ways to create hooks. I always suggest keep it within eight seconds. It’s always helpful to start with a ‘what if’. Don’t make it too abstract that people don’t know what it’s about, but the same time don’t get too wordy and start repeating yourself too much because people are going to get bored. That’s what I do for a hook.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, with those ‘what if’s,’ do all of your pitches start with ‘what if’s’ or are there any other formats that they occur?

Matthew Luhn
When I’m creating and I start with a ‘what if,’ but then, I start to use whatever words feel most natural. But there’s something about starting with a question that pulls people in. It entices people to want to know what’s the answer. That’s probably why.

Maybe you don’t have to start with a ‘what.’ You can start with a ‘why.’ Why is that if you want to get from Point A to Point B, you have to get in a stinky taxi that charges too much and they’re rude to you? What if there was another option? That could be Uber or Lyft.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, got you.

Matthew Luhn
That’s what I think about when I’m creating a hook.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Could you maybe give us an example of bringing some of this to life with regard to a client? It’s like, all right, they’ve got a proposal for a product or a business or a service or a process or a story to share with the investors, the customers, their employees about something that might seem boring in the realm of business, but suddenly just came to life with a thrilling story?

Matthew Luhn
You think about – I would say data and analytics. That’s sounds pretty wordy, a little dry. I think a lot of companies, they know that collecting data and having good information on people, it’s beneficial because you’re going to be able to help people be able to get what they need more effectively.

When I come into companies to be able to help them tell stories that are connected to data and analytics, I have them go back to what is the takeaway for your service or product. The whole takeaway is the more you know about people, the better you’re going to be able to help them.

Then you can think about moments in your life where somebody got you a birthday gift or it’s your birthday at work and they get you the cake. You’re allergic to dairy. You can’t eat gluten. They got you a big chocolate cake. Obviously, if they would have really taken the time to know you as a person, they wouldn’t have been giving you something that you didn’t want or couldn’t even eat.

That’s really I think the way it’s like in our world of advertising. We get bombarded with so many ads that have nothing to do with us. It’s like recently, I have no idea why, I’m getting all these dental implant ads that are being sent my way. I have perfect teeth. It’s kind of making me mad.

If somebody actually did their data and really knew what was important to me, they wouldn’t be wasting my time and getting me angry at them. They would be sending me products and services that actually would make my life better. I always think about what is the end takeaway for that product or service. Then I try to think about stories that will fit and have a similar takeaway. It’s like a metaphor.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Thank you.

Matthew Luhn
Sure.

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

Matthew Luhn
I’m okay. I’m ready to shift gears.

Pete Mockaitis
All right then. Could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Matthew Luhn
Oh my gosh. Okay. Do I have to quote it correctly?

Pete Mockaitis
Roughly correctly. There’s some leeway.

Matthew Luhn
All right. I always loved this quote that Alfred Hitchcock has. I think he was asked “What makes a great story?” He said, “Great stories are based on life, but with the boring parts removed.” That always sticks in my head because so many times we think that I’m going to create this story about this thing that happened to me in my life. You know what? People probably don’t want to hear all the details, just get to the good stuff. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Thank you.

Matthew Luhn
My pleasure.

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

Matthew Luhn
Oh my. Well, you know what I would say is that one of the bonuses of working on a movie, especially a Pixar movie, is that they will actually pay for you to research on the movie. You’re working on Finding Nemo, so you go to Great Barrier Reef in Australia or you go on Route 66 on Cars.

Actually, that was probably the most memorable one for me because I didn’t want to go on Route 66. It was for two weeks. It was going to be the middle of the summer. This is before having a smartphone. It turned out to be the best experience. The people we actually met on Route 66 were the characters that we put in the movie, like Mater and Sally and Doc. Those were based off of people we actually met through just getting to know the people on Route 66.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Thank you.

Matthew Luhn
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Matthew Luhn
Oh gosh, that’s a hard question, man. I think I would have to go and ask myself which book have I read over the most again and again. I don’t know man. I’ve read Watership Down a lot. I do love that book. Then also I would have to say I am a John Steinbeck fan, so I have read Great Expectations a couple times.

I’m just also a really big Roald Dahl fan. I think if I could come back as a writer, it would be Roald Dahl. I would say that I have probably read his books to my kids so many times from The Twits to James and the Giant Peach to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, all those. I know that’s a lot of answers there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh no, I appreciate it.

Matthew Luhn
The audience can pick and choose which ones they like.

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

Matthew Luhn
Oh, a favorite tool. I would say that the tool is not necessarily a pencil or a computer. I think the tool is actually improv, if that counts.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Matthew Luhn
Because when I get stuck coming up with a story, the thing that helps me get out of that rut is kind of chilling out, try not to think too much and kind of letting your subconscious take over for a little bit. Improv is the best way of doing it because you’re kind of given a location, a subject, who you are, go with it and you just start making it up as you go along.

It’s a great way for me to just kind of get out of that analyzing things too much. I think that’s probably one of the enemies of art is thinking too much. I know it sounds so silly, but whenever you’re able to just kind of go into the basement of your mind or our soul and really start finding the truth and the things that scare you to use in your stories. They’re honest. A lot of times we don’t want to go down in the basement to find those things, but improv helps me to be able to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Matthew Luhn
A favorite habit? I would say that one of my favorite habits is probably riding my bike. I was also going to say dancing, but once you start to have a certain number of kids, it’s hard to go out dancing with your wife anymore. But those were nice habits. We used to do those, go out at least once a month. We’ve got to start doing that again sometime, but yeah. Those habits always have something to do with kind of getting the heart beating, moving around, having fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Matthew Luhn
Get the endorphins up.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite nugget, something you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and clients?

Matthew Luhn
I think one thing I share with people especially when I’m working with a group of people or business who are thinking to themselves, “Okay, great. This guy has shared a lot of great stuff about storytelling. He’s worked in the movies, sure. But I’m not a storyteller. I’m not a screenwriter.” They just kind of already shut down.

The thing I always share with them is that when you have a chicken who’s only lived in a cage their entire life, they know nothing but living in that cage. Actually, if you open up that cage door and you let them run out for the first time, they’ll run around, they’ll peck at things, and eventually they’re just going to go back into the cage. Even though the door is open, they’re just going to stay in there.

The only way that you can actually inspire that chicken to stay out permanently is you put out little morsels of food, a couple inches apart, leading them out of the cage to be able to get them used to not being in that cage anymore. It’s baby steps. Really it takes practicing telling those short stories around your life that could be personal or professional and reminding yourself that we were all storytellers once. It just takes a little bit of practice to get you back into that place again.

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

Matthew Luhn
Well, I’d love to share some fun story tidbits on Twitter. You can always find me there.

I would say that one of the guys that I love to go back to time and time again is Joseph Campbell. He wrote a book called The Hero with A Thousand Faces. He also did this interview called The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth interviews are actually on Netflix. You could always pick up one of his books.

He was one of the original guys who really started thinking about how storytelling connects all of us on this planet no matter what culture, gender, age. It’s a very inspiring guy. I would say that would be some good things to go check out.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Matthew, this has been a ton of fun. I wish you lots of luck and inspiration as you do your thing.

Matthew Luhn
Hey, my pleasure. I want to also to encourage you now that you’ve watched Toy Story, there’s two more, just in case.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Matthew Luhn
There’s Toy Story 2 and 3 because you’ve got to get them watched before Toy Story 4 is coming out, man.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t think I was aware that was happening.

Matthew Luhn
It is. You have until June. Okay?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Straight from the horse’s mouth.

Matthew Luhn
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
Did you work on Toy Story 4?

Matthew Luhn
I did work on that in the very beginning.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Matthew Luhn
I would say also for Toy Story 2 and 3, definitely bring some tissues. Okay?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Matthew Luhn
You’re going to need it.

Pete Mockaitis
Appreciate it.

Matthew Luhn
Okay.

394: De-Stressing Work with Better Language and Requests with Andrea Goeglein

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Workplace psychologist Andrea Goeglein shares how language impacts workplace stress and how to successfully ask for help from others.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key causes of workplace stress
  2. Two verbal habits that exacerbate workplace stress
  3. How to ask for help optimally

About Andrea

Often called a “Success Sherpa,” Andrea prides herself on carrying the information that nourishes her clients careers and personal success. She’s the Creator of the trademarked “Don’t Die” book series, which is licensed to the renowned publisher Hay House and served as Chairperson of Speaker Selection for TEDxUNLV.

Not only does Andrea Goeglein have the scientific knowledge that helps business leaders thrive, she has owned and operated several successful companies herself, including Evening Star Holdings, a hospitality operating business with $4 million in revenue and 60+ employees. Andrea also Founded the CEO Forum in Las Vegas, a senior executive think tank and boutique consulting practice.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Andrea Goeglein Interview Transcript

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

Andrea Goeglein
Thank you. I’m pleased to be here today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to hear the story first of all about you were working in a Wall Street brokerage when you were 14 years old. How did that happen and what was it like for you?

Andrea Goeglein
Well, how it happened was a friend of one of my brothers called to offer him a few-day job during an Easter break. My brother wasn’t available. I said, “I can come in.” He said, “Well, just don’t tell them that you’re 14. Tell them that you’re 18,” so I did.

At the end of the few days everybody else was let go, but they asked me if I was interested in staying and working the rest of the break. Then offered me a summer job to which I said yes, except I had to tell them the truth. They said to me if I could get working papers, they would allow me to do the job because it was filing for a brokerage firm. I went and got working papers, which hang in my office today. I am as proud of that piece of paper as I am any master’s degrees or PhD that I have.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I wasn’t aware the process associated with the 14-year-old acquiring working papers. How does that happen?

Andrea Goeglein
I was born and raised in Queens, New York. At the time, now remember this is 1970, as you went to – in order to get a social security card, they would give you a social security card, but for you to actually be employable, you could only work in certain categories. You couldn’t work with dangerous machinery and things of that nature. Filing punch cards at a brokerage firm wasn’t in the category of dangerous jobs, so I got to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, that’s cool.

Andrea Goeglein
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve been working hard ever since.

Andrea Goeglein
And liking it. Everyone has their thing that becomes the thing that allows them to propel forward and to overcome various life adversities. For me it has always been being involved in business or working for a company, working with people. It has always been my joy.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. I also want to talk about some things that may not be as joyful that is the stress that shows up at work. You’ve done quite a bit of research and writing on this subject. I’d love to get your take when it comes to stress, first of all, what are sort of like the top causes, the top culprits to pinpoint that make stress appear?

Andrea Goeglein
Well, if you ask those in workplaces, they will always give you a name of someone. What’s causing stress? There’s always a name associated with it.

But generally what it is, is a combination of the expectations we put on ourselves, what we think about those expectations, and then how we respond to the people that we are working for and with in our organizations. You put that whole little pile together and add commutes and family responsibilities and community responsibilities.

If you’re the owner of the business, the financial burden whether or not you will have a successful business but the fact that all of these people who are feeling stressed are actually your responsibility to make sure that their lives and their financial lives are in order. There’s a combination, but it really has to do with how we think and how we speak about the situation that really starts the ball of stress rolling.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us some examples of ways we think of and speak of stress that make it proliferate versus keep it under control?

Andrea Goeglein
Sure. I call certain things talking in overwhelm. There’s a terminology that I stay away from known as crazy busy. You’ll meet someone and they are so proud of how crazy busy they are. Eh, not the best way to identify how you’re spending your days.

Why can’t you be happy busy? Why can’t you associate the fact that you are actually progressing and have lots of involvement to do with a word that is positive versus something that may be not so – that you may be seeing as a negative, that I’m crazy. If you speak overwhelm, you will be overwhelmed.

One of the very quick things to catch about the people around you is how they like to dramatize how many hours they’re working.

There was a time in my career where I worked for telecom companies and they were actually proud of the fact that they had maxed out their 100 message voice mail systems. I would go into meetings and people would be announcing the fact that – someone would say to someone, “Oh, I went to leave you a voice message and your voice box was full.” Then they would proceed to be really proud of how full that voice message was.

Pete Mockaitis
You just never clear it and you’ll fill it up no problem.

Andrea Goeglein
Thank you. And but it is also, it speaks to the culture of the organization and all of these little things that seem totally unrelated build a culture of mental stress because stress actually doesn’t exist until we put a name to it. It’s a response. It doesn’t exist until we create it. We create it with how we speak.

When you think about all the different ways that an organization and people within the organization do it, it starts with trying to stand out.

In a construction firm I was once associated with, people were proud of – there was like – I used to call it a game, but who made the coffee. They would start saying “Well, I was here at 4:30,” or “I was here at 5 o’clock.” Then I would have to put the damn towel and say “Did you achieve the goals? Did you meet the customer’s needs? Was the project brought in on time? That’s what you’re actually supposed to be measuring, not who makes the coffee first.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. That’s intriguing view then. You’re saying that stress is not sort of an intrinsic reality. It’s like I’ve got a lot of expectations and responsibilities and I don’t know if I have the resources to accomplish them. You’re saying that’s not what produces stress, but it’s how we respond to that state of affairs.

Andrea Goeglein
I would clarify that a bit. Those things exist. The things that we mentally speak about as causing us stress do exist. We are asked to do a lot more with a lot less. When you go into an organization, when you are creating a company – it happens across the board.

I just heard Elon Musk talk about how when the company within the last year was at a point when no one believed they could make the production of their lower-end Tesla, their engineers thought of creating a tent-like system and set up a production line under this huge tent.

During that period of time when the environment has turned against you and you still have a problem to solve, it is real. You are losing sleep. How you respond to that either allows you to be highly creative or crash and burn.

Pete Mockaitis
So one piece is language, that you’re not crazy busy or happy busy or thrilled busy, excited busy. How else do you think and speak about it in a way that will put you in a better place?

Andrea Goeglein
Okay. One of the things – when things aren’t going well, taking the drama out of whatever trauma has occurred within the company.

A company that I admire their product was Chipotle, a fast-food restaurant that I have observed. I’ve only been an observer of this company in the media for the last few years because I feel that as a corporation external things have happened to them.

I don’t know what the impact of romaine lettuce was on their production, but I know they used romaine lettuce and that was after a whole series. Well, when they come together in that organization, if the conversation is about how everything and everyone is against them – now I don’t know that to be true, but let’s just play it out – they’re actually not going to get to solve the problem.

They have to take the drama of what has occurred out of the conversation so that when they go in meetings, the frontal lobe kicks in and they can make the clearest conversations. That becomes very critical. Language keeps touching and correcting, pivoting how you make decisions.

Pete Mockaitis
How does one take the drama out?

Andrea Goeglein
It’s a pausing. It’s that taking the breath and catching – hearing what you’re saying. It really is amazing how many times we will dramatize a situation in order to get attention without even knowing it.

How many times have you sat in a meeting and someone arrives late and instead of quietly sitting down and joining the meeting and contributing at the appropriate moment, the next amount of X minutes is why they’re late. It’s a discipline to manage that for yourself.

All the things I speak about are disciplines that as an individual, if you contribute them to your workplace, you will not only be reducing stress for yourself, but also for those around you because if you are not the person who overdramatizes, if you are not the person who comes into the meeting and then has to have all the attention put on you, which when you think about it, do I really want to reinforce with everyone and cement in everyone’s mind that I was late or do I want to quietly sit down and contribute when it is productive?

Pete Mockaitis
Very good.

Andrea Goeglein
Okay. These are the things that we – I work very much at the individual level. That is the greatest point of control. When everything is out of control in your workplace, the one thing you can still control is how you speak and how you think.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed, indeed. All right. Then we’re controlling how you think and how you speak. You also have some perspective on asking for help and conquering the fear and resistance associated with doing that. When is the best time to ask and how should you do it?

Andrea Goeglein
I’m going to put that actually ahead of the other two things. I want to put that in intentional relationship building because I work in the area of positive psychology where everything is about PERMA and how do you flourish, how do you actually go from place to place wherever you go and actually be able to flourish no matter what is going on in the external.

One of the components is relationship building. Well, relationship building should actually start long before you need the help on that project that crashed and burned on you. That happens by you paying attention to the people around you.

See who actually has a more emotionally mature way of explaining situations. Befriend people who you admire what they contribute to the organization. Enter into the conversations before you need the help and it is amazing what will happen when you do need the help.

Pete Mockaitis
How do you recommend going about doing that befriending in a great way?

Andrea Goeglein
Okay. One of the things in the workplace is always to offer help before it’s needed. When you hear someone explaining a situation of something they’re working on and if you truly believe you can be a contributor, offer that. Do something that allows the person to know that there is a resource if they want it because that allows you to stay at their front of their mind. I’m talking whether this is a peer, whether this is a superior.

You want to be the person who in fact observes what others is happening and then be able to offer if it’s appropriate. I stress that a lot. Make sure you are not – this is the difference between – I know what the slang term is, but you don’t want to kiss someone’s butt. This is not what I’m teaching. I knew what the slang term for that was, but I needed the podcast version of that.

You don’t want to be seen as the person that’s kind of kissing up. What you do want to be seen is a person who is a resource and a level-headed resource so that as in these rapidly changing environments that we all live in across all organizational structures that we participate in, that in fact you can be a contributor and someone to come to, sometimes is just that calm sea. Someone may just want to come because they know you will not overreact if they tell you what they’re facing.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Andrea Goeglein
That’s a resource. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Then you’ve built up some good relationships, you’ve proactively offered help, got some reciprocity working for you. Then when it comes to making the actual request, how do you recommend we go about doing that?

Andrea Goeglein
Okay, again, watch your words. People don’t like to help victims, especially in the work place. If you need help, if you realize that doing it alone or you’ve really done it alone and realized you’re not getting the best result, be really clear when you approach someone. Actually use the words, “I need some assistance,” or “I need your knowledge. Are you willing to work with me on this?”

Actually acknowledge that the person has something that in fact could be helpful and you’re making a request. Human beings like to help other human beings contrary to a lot of – as long as you stay off Twitter, you’ll believe that’s true. There’s only certain things I can control. That’s one of them.

Use language that shows that you are not a victim, but attempting to really be a victor and you’d like to take others with you. Also make sure that others know that if it’s appropriate they will be acknowledged. Acknowledging others is a way of showing your appreciation, but you have to do it very specifically. When I got stuck on this project, I went to them and just having this conversation helped me to think clearer.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so acknowledge their particular expertise or knowledge or value or perspective that’s valuable. Then you say the words, “I need the help.” What else?

Andrea Goeglein
Well, it depends on the situation. I want to take the opposite side. When not – how not to ask because that’s actually something that as humans we fall into, especially if we’re upset. The same way we’re crazy busy.

If you were in a meeting and someone inappropriately – and I will say inappropriately – decided to call you out on how bad the report you did was. You leave that meeting and the first thing you do is find people to complain about how bad a manager that human being is. You have to remember that if you’re talking to that person about the other one, they’re going to know that someday you may talk about them that way too.

You want to take responsibility as quickly as possible. People look for that very quickly. It is the thing that people unknowingly – are you talking about someone else or are you taking responsibility?

If you leave a meeting and say – and be very honest, “Gosh, I did not think that that was that bad. I wish he had not responded that way, but I hear clearly that I didn’t give her what she wanted. Can you help me think through this better?”

That allows the person to really step up and not get into a conversation – If you come at them and say, “Can you believe what that woman did? No manager should be allowed to speak to anyone that way.” The whole conversation will be about her behavior, the executive’s behavior. What you really need in that moment is a better report and a better outcome.

I would put, again, that ahead, checking how you – what happens when something goes wrong and how you speak about it because that adds to your stress in the moment. You have to actually build your own courage back up.

That’s the whole thing about this asking for help and the stress. It has a lot to do with feeling incredibly vulnerable. Our jobs also dictate whether or not we eat most of the time. It dictates whether or not we have homes and our children get educated. It’s just not a job. It’s just not a report. There is a lot behind how all that goes down and why it feels stressful.

Cleaning up your language and being very careful if you have bad habits today, how to clean that up, will help you move forward in an easier way. I can’t stop how fast everything’s changing. I can’t stop organizations doing really well or really poorly and causing stress. I just can’t do it. I can help you guide your language.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really interesting when you mention that the job is more than just the job. It’s sort of like the livelihood. There’s kind of high stakes there, which can naturally give rise to some stress. That makes me wonder in terms of the stress alleviating impact of just having a real clear set of what are your options. If the worst case scenario goes down, they can, you are fired, that you know you’re going to be just fine.

Andrea Goeglein
Yes, you know Pete, any time I work with someone literally within the first meeting we have a conversation of what I call the low water mark. I ask them – and it’s very interesting as a business coach that this is one of the first things I do.

I need to know what your financial situation is. One, to know whether or not you’re aware of it and two, to make sure that as we talk about options – if you want to tell me how bad the organization is and that you’re putting up with all of this horrible conduct, there has – there’s reasons why you’re doing it. Some of them may be behavioral. Some of them may be financial and we need to know that fast.

That is one of the things that I ask. No one has to give me absolute numbers. I can deal in percentages. Do you know what your monthly nut is? How close to that do you get in income? How much are you over? How much are you over? We speak in percentages. Once we have built trust, we speak in absolute numbers.

But I need you to focus on that so you can’t use it as an excuse as to why you’re staying in a place that is actually not one that you’re able to rebound from because that’s – a stressful situation is only stressful through my eyes. It may not be stressful through your eyes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting with regard to the numbers. I guess with that still I think some people feel a sense of stress even if they say, “Hey, I’ve got ten years of assets. Ten years of living expenses stashed away in assets no problem.” They’re still worried about the impact of losing a job.

Andrea Goeglein
There’s a lot of different pieces of PERMA. One of them is achievement. We have different things that drive us at different times. There’s combinations of them.

Achievement, sometimes you’re so devoted to why you joined the organization and the project you were involved in, that you don’t want to walk away from it until you see it to a completion because you have certain attributes, whether they be behavioral or through character strengths, that in fact go against you walking away. There’s actually more stress if you walk away because of the lack of completeness.

That’s all the kinds of things you find out at an individual level. When we talk globally, the things that cause stress within organizations, I would say language, language, language. How you speak about the place you are and the people you are with, start your day and end your day, you better make a good decision.

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

Andrea Goeglein
Okay. I would say that’s the most important thing. Wake up and know that in fact from the first thought you have, words are coming out of your mouth, put a check on them. If they are not positive, begin the recrafting process as you’re brushing your teeth. It will matter and it will change your day.

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

Andrea Goeglein
One of my most favorite quotes has – I just in fact it was so funny that I looked at it because I like to – being trained academically, one of the things that I was always required to do was attribute. You must attribute very clearly where a work comes from. I’m going to tell you the quote and tell you where it was attributed, but know that there’s many.

The quote is this, “Watch your thoughts for they become your words. Watch your words for they become your actions. Watch your actions for they become your habits. Watch your habits for they become your character. Watch your character for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become.”

That version I just read was attributed to Margaret Thatcher. In fact, it has been attributed to so many different people.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite study?

Andrea Goeglein
Oh, the marshmallow study. It’s the one about self-control. Because one, I believe I would have failed it if I was one of the children and two, delaying gratification is so important to success.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. How about a favorite book?

Andrea Goeglein
So many, but the one that I use the most is Return to Love.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool?

Andrea Goeglein
It’s three in one: reading, writing, and reflection. Every day and every way, if you start that way, everything in your life will be different.

Pete Mockaitis
Are there particular questions you ask with the reflection?

Andrea Goeglein
It changes, but one of the things – one of the fun ones is “If today was to be extraordinary, what would happen?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is fun. Thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Andrea Goeglein
Again, I’m a little anal. Of the reading, writing, and reflection, daily writing is my favorite.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you write at a particular time of day?

Andrea Goeglein
Yes, I write every morning. Well, I write for my work. There’s that portion of it. But I write every morning. I use one of the main things of positive psychology, which is gratitude. I start each day listing five things from the day before that I was grateful for. Some of them can be negative, such as “I am grateful that I lost that client. It helped me to look at what I need to improve in my work.”

But I find that using that helps put those things on paper and you put it away. It’s one of the reasons why we tell people to write down goals and aspirations because it stops the mind from wandering, looping back to them. I use that within the gratitude process because gratitude is the one human strength that we teach that if you do not have it, you should learn it because it builds on your resilience to keep moving forward, so things like stress are easier to handle.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Andrea Goeglein
If you believed and truly lived that you had a choice of every thought that you had, your life would be the best it could ever be.

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

Andrea Goeglein
I would point them to my website at ServingSuccess.com. That’s S-E-R-V-I-N-G-S-U-C-C-E-S-S.com. There is a whole list of videos. There is actually the reading, writing, reflection videos are there under the free courses. I would love to have that be a gift to all of your listeners.

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

Andrea Goeglein
First thing tomorrow when you walk into work, make eye contact with someone, smile and say, “Today is going to be a great day.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Andrea, thanks so much for sharing the goods and good luck in all your adventures.

Andrea Goeglein
Thank you so much Pete. I appreciated the opportunity.