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701: How to Get People to Say Yes through the Power of Persuasion with Vanessa Bohns

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Vanessa Bohns says: "People's default is actually to say yes, not no."

Vanessa Bohns talks about how all of us have hidden influence and how we can use it effectively.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we end up underestimating the willingness to say yes 
  2. How to get more comfortable with asking
  3. How to say no without feeling guilty or awkward 

About Vanessa

Vanessa Bohns is a social psychologist, an award-winning researcher and teacher, and a professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University. She holds a PhD in psychology from Columbia University and an AB in psychology from Brown University. 

Professor Bohns has been a Visiting Scholar at the NYU Stern School of Business and has taught at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times and Harvard Business Review, and her research has been published in top academic journals in psychology, management, and law, and featured by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Economist, and NPR’s Hidden Brain. 

Her first book, You Have More Influence Than You Think, will be published in September 2021. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and two daughters. 

Resources Mentioned

Vanessa Bohns Interview Transcript

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

Vanessa Bohns
Thanks so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And I’m curious, so you’re a social psychologist, and that’s one of my favorite types of guests. And I’m curious, how did growing up on a farm influence that world? Because I think of farms, I think of not so many people and more so animals. Did that provide any insights or background for you to enter into social psychology?

Vanessa Bohns
Unbelievably, it actually did. So, I grew up on a bird farm, and we had all sorts of birds – pheasants and quail and peacocks and geese and chickens – and I would spend my time kind of sitting with my notebook, very Jane Goodall style, and just watching the birds and recording them, and kind of watching their birdy behavior.

And so, yes, they weren’t humans that I was observing but I was taking the sort of the meticulous approach of studying behavior that is kind of funny, now that I look back at these documents that I had of just all these bird behaviors that I would categorize.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a bird behavior most of us don’t know about but maybe would find interesting?

Vanessa Bohns
Well, I will say, if you didn’t grow up on a farm, and I feel like anyone who did or grew up with chickens and roosters will understand this, roosters can be very protective. And so, I spent a lot of my high school years with my friends and I running from the door to the car before the rooster saw us and started coming up, started pecking at our ankles. So, yeah, running away from roosters, and their territorial behavior is definitely a bird behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Good to know. Thank you. Well, that comes in handy maybe in the future. And so, let’s talk about your book here You Have More Influence Than You Think: How We Underestimate Our Power of Persuasion, and Why It Matters. I’m curious, could you kick us off by sharing maybe one of the most surprising discoveries you’ve made about influence across your career studying it?

Vanessa Bohns
I think this whole book is really a catalogue of all the things that I found surprising in my own research and in other people’s research, and there are actually pieces of research that are the things that people have been surprised at when they try to influence other people. So, for example, my research is on asking people for things, and what I find is that when people go out and they ask people for things, they think they’re more likely to be rejected than they actually are.

And so, what we do is we have participants in our studies make guesses about how many people they’re going to have to ask to get someone to do a particular task. And then they go out and they ask people, and we compare what they predicted to what actually happens. And what we find again and again is that people think it’s going to be a lot harder to get people to do things than it actually is.

And the thing that’s been most surprising in that work is how far you can kind of push the effect. So, for example, we started small, so when people went out and asked people to do things, they would ask people to fill out a survey. Then we had them ask to borrow people’s cellphones. Then we had them ask for charitable donations.

And then we started designing studies that we were sure could never work, like we had them go out and ask people to vandalize library books, by walking into a library, and saying, “Hey, I’m playing a prank on my friend. With your own handwriting, will you just write the word pickle and pen on this library book?” And even in those extreme cases, where you’re asking people to do things they actually find pretty uncomfortable, they are more willing to agree to do those things than we expect.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy, there’s so much here. Well, can you give us some numbers here in terms of writing pickle on a library book, for example? Just how many people, what percent of people would do that just for my own edification? I might need to draw on this knowledge someday. What proportion of people will write pickle on a library book if I ask them to?

Vanessa Bohns
Okay. So, our participants, before they went out and made this request, they thought they’d have to ask about 11 people before three people would agree to vandalize a library book. In fact, they only had to ask fewer than five people to get three people to agree. So, basically, more than half of the people they approached agreed to do this thing even though they actually didn’t really want to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, this is fascinating. And so then, I’d like to frame up some additional numbers if you could. I remember I experienced some of this firsthand once when someone randomly reached out to me on LinkedIn and wanted to talk about a career in consulting, and I thought, “Well, I got some time. Let’s go. Why not?” and so I chatted with him.

And then, to my surprise, he had this very detailed notebook about all the people he contacted and how many people responded and all these things, he said, “Can you tell me?” because we had like no connection. It might’ve been in a LinkedIn Group which isn’t the strongest of bonds in most groups. And he went ahead and pulled the data or tabulated data for me from his notebook, and like the number was 28% of the time, total strangers were willing to give him career advice when he asked, and I was blown away by how high that was, and you may not be because you’ve seen it again and again that we do have more influence than you think.

I’d like to get your take on those figures and how they compare with other kinds of compliance rates you’ve bumped into for different kinds of requests?

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah, I’m impressed. That’s not a bad number for a form like LinkedIn where it’s all text-based because one of the things we looked at is the difference between asking people face-to-face and asking people through like email or through some sort of messaging app, and we usually find that people are much less likely to agree over text requests. So, that’s really not a bad number, the 28%. It might’ve been because there was already this connection through LinkedIn, it’s not just sort of a random email.

But when we looked face-to-face, so we have people ask other people to do favors, like the donation to charity, or a survey, or, for example, walk them to a place they can’t find at a location that’s a few blocks away. And in those cases, we see compliance rates of about 50% on average. So, really, every other person that our participants asked is agreeing, and it’s twice as many as they expect to be agreeing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, can you unpack that then? So, that is quite an interesting finding, we do have more influence than we think. When we ask, we’ll get yeses more than we think we will. So, then what are the implications of that? Like, in terms of career, should we just ask a whole lot more or how shall we think about this?

Vanessa Bohns
Yes, so it’s interesting. There’s a lot of implications but you kind of, first, have to step back and think, “Okay, what’s going on here?” to be able to decide, “Should I just use this sort of superpower to ask people and get what I want all the time?” And so, what we find is, I’ll start sort of the context that when we bring participants into the lab to do this, they hate it, they don’t want to go out and ask people for things because we all hate asking. And so, they have this sort of just intense fear about it.

They go out and they do it, and they find it much easier than they expect. And then they come back into the lab and they’re like bound back in and they’re so happy. And their takeaway is, “People are just so nice, they’re so much nicer than I thought.” And I’ll say there is research that shows that, that we underestimate other people’s sort of pro-social inclinations and how helpful they’ll be.

But what we don’t really tell our participants at that point in time is that what we find is that the reason people agree more than we expect is that it’s really hard for someone to say no. It’s not necessarily that people are super excited to agree, although they quickly sort of reframe the situation to feel good about themselves. It’s that when someone is standing in front of you, asking for something, it’s really awkward and uncomfortable and you have to come up with the words and excuse to say no, and it’s often just easier to go ahead and agree.

And so, once you sort of know that that’s what’s going on, you can think about sort of how do you use this, again, sort of latent superpower that when you ask for things, people are more likely to do them for you than you think. Do you really want to use it all the time if people are complying, in part because they feel uncomfortable saying no? Or, do you want to sort of think about when it would be most useful and then use it best in that way?

And so, I’m happy to talk about some ways in which it makes asking easier and then some other ways in which it might make us want to double-check and kind of reconsider what we’re really asking for.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, yes, I’d love to hear all your perspectives in terms of how to think about the ask in terms of, “When should we ask? And how should we ask optimally?” Lay it on us.

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah, sure. So, when we sort of think about the ask, many of us, again, it’s a pretty anxiety-provoking thing to have to ask someone for something, and we often think that we’re sort of in an uphill battle, that the other person is sort of inclined to say no, and we’re fighting that tendency. But, in fact, as I said, it’s actually hard for people to say no. People’s defaults, research show, like when we mindlessly just comply with a request, people’s default is actually to say yes not no. The easier thing to do is just to go along with what we’re being asked.

And because of that, when we ask for things, we often don’t have to put the kind of sort of extraordinary effort we put into making those requests. So, for example, people will write out this long-winded email, laying out all these rationales for why they’re asking someone for a favor, and apologize a thousand times, and have their friends re-read it a thousand times, and then get back a quick response, it’s like, “Sure.” Or, come up with the exact way to ask in person, and someone is like, “Okay.” And we don’t really have to put all that sort of exorbitant effort into these things because people are actually inclined to say yes.

Another sort of piece of this is that, because we think that people are less likely to agree than they actually are, we kind of negotiate ourselves down before we ask for something. We think that, “Okay. Well, if I ask for something just a little bit smaller, maybe they’ll be more likely to agree and I won’t be rejected.” But we actually find in our studies that the size of the request doesn’t make as big of a difference as we think.

And so, asking for something bigger or smaller, it’s still hard to say no, it still makes someone feel guilty saying no, it’s still hard to find the words. And so, instead of sort of negotiating ourselves down before we ask for something, we should really assume, “There’s a good chance I’m going to get what I actually need or want, so I should ask for that before I start asking for less before I even do the first ask.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I’m curious, with all these things, is there a different kind of like mode our brains go into in terms of like, well, tell me if this is accurate, are we talking about favor mode as distinct from sales mode? I think in some ways we feel readily comfortable if someone is asking us for money for a product or service, I think we feel great about saying no. I don’t know, it seems like there’s less remorse or guilt or discomfort associated with saying, “No, I don’t want that,” then that’s that. What’s your take here?

Vanessa Bohns
I think, in some cases, when people ask us for a favor, sure, there’s this extra element that, “I feel like a jerk if I say no because it’s going to reflect on sort of whether I’m a good person or not.” So, there is this like added layer of this inclination to say yes. So, it’s not just because it’s hard to say no, it’s also, “Because I want to look and feel like a good person, and I want to help this other person out who’s in a bind.”

But, at the same time, even with like a sales pitch, for example, imagine – this happens to us all the time – you get a knock on the door when you’re home, and someone’s like asking you to sign a petition or sign up for something, and you open that door and they’re making that request, and it’s not that easy to say no. Like, you’re trying to find the words, it’s such an awkward interaction, you feel really awkward and guilty, and you might get to that no eventually but it’s a lot harder than we tend to think in the abstract.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, it’s funny, and this happened a couple of times with, I think, there’s electricity deregulation. I don’t know, these guys really came out again and again. And, I don’t know, that might be legitimate, it may not be, but like, “Hey, can you show me your electricity bill because, well, actually there’s the transmission fee but there’s also this fee, and we can get this fee down to…” And I was like, “I never have even read my electricity bill. I just give them the money they say they need from me. I don’t know who you are and this kind of sounds like a scam,” so I’m thinking these things.

But, you’re right, I won’t say that. I won’t say, “I think you’re lying to me, and I want you to go immediately,” even though that’s what I’m feeling and thinking inside. And maybe they’re not. I don’t know the details of their company. But, so, you’re right, I am not delivering the full candid blunt truth of my thoughts and feelings on the matter to this person who I don’t even know.

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah. And if you have the chance to avoid that awkward interaction or not have to say no, research also shows that people really jump on that.

Pete Mockaitis
We try to hide, yeah.

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah, exactly. Right. So, there’s research actually showing that if you give someone a head’s up before they show up at your door that people are less likely to open the door because they don’t want to even have the interaction where they have to say no.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. So, this is just kind of mind-bending. All right. So, keep talking here. So, we don’t need to plan a whole lot with regard to perfectly structuring the request in order to get compliance because sort of the wind is at our backs, and we can sort of feel a dose of confidence, just given these psychological facts on the ground. So, then is there anything you do recommend that we do in order to make our requests optimally?

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah. As you said, I think that’s a great way to say it. The wind really is on our backs. The stars are kind of aligned for the yes, so I think you want to reframe things that way, but there are still things that you kind of do wrong to disrupt that sort of state of affairs. So, one of them is not asking directly. So, it’s interesting, when we ask people what they think is going to be the most effective way to ask, we often find that people think that hinting or sort of beating around the bush, like, “I can really use help with this thing,” is the better way to ask. I think they think it’s the more polite way.

But what we find is that, of course, not surprisingly, people are much less likely to agree if you’re not actually asking them a question, if you’re just kind of hinting and hoping that they’ll volunteer. And so, actually making that request direct, and saying, “Will you do this thing?” makes it harder for them to say no, and also clear in what you want. And so, that’s one thing, is to be direct when you’re making a request even if you don’t have this huge speech that you’re delivering, but just make it clear, like, “Will you do this thing?”

And the other one goes back to asking in person. So, again, I think we think that crafting the perfect email so we can put all our arguments out there and say it exactly right so someone can’t say no, it’s actually pretty easy to say no to an email no matter how perfectly crafted it is.

Pete Mockaitis
You can ignore it. Just don’t look at it anymore.

Vanessa Bohns
Exactly. It’s a lot harder to ignore or say no to someone who’s standing in front of you, and I think that we often forget that. We forget that our presence matters more than the specific words we’re saying half the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, so that’s super. And then tell us then about the implications of people saying yes even though their heart isn’t into it. How does that mean we should play the asking game optimally in a professional environment?

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah, this is a really important sort of aspect of understanding that mechanism, that reason that people say yes, and that it’s not always enthusiastic, sometimes it’s because it’s so hard to say no. And that really means that instead of focusing so much on exactly how to get people to say yes, we should kind of assume that there’s a good chance they’re going to say yes, and make sure we’re asking for things that are okay and appropriate and things that we don’t want someone to feel obligated to agree to.

So, for example, we started with these favor requests and we had people make requests, and then we moved onto things like the vandalism study, and that was to kind of show it’s not just about asking for favors. It’s also asking for anything, including things that people don’t really want to do or make them uncomfortable. We sort of extended that research to making romantic advances at work.

And so, we’ve also shown that when people ask someone out on a date, for example, at work, who isn’t interested in them, we tend to underestimate how hard it is for that person to say no to us, and we underestimate how uncomfortable of a situation that creates for that person that they then have to sort of cope with.

So, we think, for example, when we ask people who had been rejected by someone at work, they thought it was pretty easy for them to reject them, and that they didn’t really do anything different afterwards. But when we asked people who rejected someone they weren’t interested in at work, they said that it was really uncomfortable to say no, and then they started avoiding that person, they did things differently, they avoided that person’s contacts, and they kind of did adjust their behavior in all these potentially meaningful ways.

And so, sort of knowing that asking for things directly does put people sort of on the spot, and sometimes it’s okay if we’re asking for something good that makes them really feel good, but you also want to kind of think twice about the things you’re asking for because if you’re asking, for example, a subordinate to do something that could be a little bit sketchy or inappropriate, or even a colleague for those things, it’s actually a lot harder for them to come out and say, “I don’t want to do that. I don’t feel comfortable with that,” than we tend to think.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Okay. Excellent. Well, I’m also intrigued as you talked about these studies where you say, “Okay, guys, you’re going to go ask people to vandalize library books,” and they go, “Oh, no, I don’t want to.” So, I guess you’ve seen this cycle many, many, many times, of folks feeling the nerves, the apprehension, associated with just doing the asking. So, tell us, what are some of the patterns or best practices associated with if we’ve got the case of the nerves and some reluctance to do some asking, how do we get over it?

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah, and you’re right, I’ve seen this so many times. The last time I calculated, our participants had asked 15,000 people different requests, so we see it all the time. And I’d say, first of all, that just asking more makes you more comfortable with asking, and it does sort of help you to see that people don’t get as upset as we think they will, people don’t judge us as harshly as we think they will, and they’re even more likely to say yes than we think they will be.

And so, getting that practice, particularly when we’re asking for things, again, that are beneficial to everybody, like favor requests and things that bring people closer together, can really help you get more comfortable with asking. So, in the book, I talk about this thing called rejection therapy that was started by Jason Comely and then Jia Jiang got into it and sort of made it a bigger thing. But it’s basically, the idea is that you’re supposed to try to get rejected every day. And Jason Comely came up with all these kinds of random things that you go out and you ask people.

So, for example, ask somebody to race you down the street, just a random stranger; go up to random strangers and ask them to give you a compliment; ask a police officer if you can sit in their car, just all sorts of random requests. And the thinking is that these requests are supposed to be chances to get rejected so that you aren’t so worried about rejection.

But Jia Jiang, who kind of documented his experience with rejection therapy on his blog, showed that actually when he asked a lot of these things, a lot of people were agreeing. And so, he partly was getting over rejection, he partly was learning that rejection is less likely than you think. And he really kind of saw this as a major intervention and really an exposure therapy of getting over this kind of fear of asking.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Okay, that sounds like that’ll do it. And then, I’m guessing it might be prudent to start small and get more challenging as you go down the path. Any starter asks that are great for people if they’re really feeling skittish?

Vanessa Bohns
Sure, I mean, simple things. Right now, I don’t know how people feel about asking someone for like a piece of gum or something little like that, directions, just anything where you kind of have to interrupt someone and actually make that ask. And so, for example, just to give you another sort of sense of how hard people find that, and another set of studies I talk about in the book, which gets away from the asking piece, we also have people go up to strangers and give them compliments.

And so, in some ways, it’s a similar setup. They come into the lab, they go out onto campus, and they go up to people and say, “Excuse me, I really like your shirt,” and we tell them what to compliment the person on. But there’s this same sort of hesitation to go up to a stranger, interrupt whatever they’re doing, make them interact with you, and our participants actually think that complimenting someone, literally making them feel good with a compliment, is going to annoy them.

And so, there is a lot of sorts of tension that we feel and anxiety we feel about just going up to strangers and initiating a conversation or a request or even a compliment. And so, I’d say you could even start, if you’re not just asking for things, you could ask for, as I said, directions, something small, a piece of gum. You could even start by going up and giving random strangers compliments and sort of exercise that muscle of just interacting with people more.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent.

Vanessa Bohns
Especially, as we come out of the pandemic and we forget what it’s like to interact with other people.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess I’m also curious, if you’ve gained a deep understanding of our tendency to not want to say no, saying no is a completely different skill but it sounds like you know a lot about it so I’ve got to ask. How can we say no better given that you have an understanding of these psychological forces within us?

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah, absolutely. So, I get asked this a lot because so much of my research is about how hard it is to say no and how hard it is for other people to say no to us, but, of course, we also experience that. And so, I basically give the opposite instructions for people who want to say no as I give to people who want to ask and get a yes.

So, for one, it’s really hard to say no in person. And so, if someone is asking you for something in person, you can ask them to follow up over email or some sort of way that makes it easier for you to say no. So, for example, if someone is like, “Oh, I’d really like you to be part of this committee that no one wants to be part of,” you can say, “Okay, I’ll think about it. Can you just follow up with me over email and I’ll get back to you?”

And what that does is it buys you the space so that you have time to think of what to say. A lot of it is in the moment, “What am I even going to say? Do I have a good excuse? It might not be a particularly strong excuse, and I’d like to come up with a better one?” But, also, it’s just really hard in that moment to say no to someone’s face. And so, you buy yourself that space if you kind of create that distance through the email so you can think of what to say, you have time to formulate your words and whatever excuse you want to use, and you don’t have to say no to somebody’s face.

Another sort of recommendation I often give is to blame somebody else. So, often, we hate rejecting people and saying no because we feel like it looks bad on us and that we’re somehow conveying something about our relationship to that other person. And the more that you can sort of put the pressure off of you and the relationship with that person asking, the better. So, if you say, “I can’t do that because I have this other obligation, the sort of external attribution, because somebody else wouldn’t be happy if I was doing that. Someone else asked me to do something else,” anything that sort of points your reason for saying no away from that immediate relationship.

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

Vanessa Bohns
I would say the one thing, I kind of focus on experience as a way to learn about asking. But one thing I do talk about in the book is that we also need to sort of reflect on those experiences. So, just asking a bunch of people is not the end-all-be-all. We also have to sort of think about what those people are really truly feeling and get their perspective, and sort of get out of our own heads and be able to recognize the impact we’re having on them and on the situation.

And so, as much as I love these sorts of experiential sort of challenges that we give people, it also takes a little bit more than that to sort of integrate the knowledge and really sort of learn to recognize your influence.

Pete Mockaitis
And when it comes to that world of empathy and recognizing what someone else is feeling and how that maps to our own influence, do you have any particular pro tips on, I don’t know if it’s like categorizing or gathering intel on what are the hot buttons for somebody? How do you think about knowing your persuasive target all the more such that you are asking well while not going overboard with the thousands of revisions like we talked about before?

Vanessa Bohns
Yeah. So, Nick Epley and his colleagues have looked at the difference between taking perspective and getting perspective. So, one thing that people try to do when they’re trying to figure out, like, “What can I really do that will resonate with this other person? How can I influence someone? What impact am I having on them?” we try to take their perspective. And what that really means is we try to figure out what’s going on in their head, but we do it by searching our own heads, we’re like, “What would that person think?” and we base it on stereotypes of that person or what we’ve seen that person do in the past.

And what I talk about is that, actually, instructing people to try to take someone else’s perspective isn’t actually a way to make people more accurate at understanding what someone else is thinking and feeling, and, instead, you need to what they called get perspective. And it’s actually pretty simple to get someone’s perspective, and that is actually asking them, so actually talking to them and saying, “What do you care about? What do you want?” And often we forget how easy it is to just actually come out and ask someone, and how open someone is likely to be, and how the things they’re likely to tell us, that then we can sort of play off.

So, for example, one thing we talk about in my negotiation class is you can ask people, “What do you really care about here? What are your values?” And then when you actually make an ask during the negotiation, you mirror those values, “You told me that this is what you cared about, so this is a way to meet those values,” for example.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Perfect. Well, now, can you tell me a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Vanessa Bohns
Sure. Actually, this fits really well with what we were just talking about. So, my colleague recently reminded of a famous quote by Kurt Lewin who was a big psychologist back in his day, “Experience alone does not create knowledge.” And so, it really gets at what we were just talking about, that we kind of hold up experiences as this pinnacle, that once you experience something, you’ve learned something profound, and now you understand it in this way that people who only imagine it couldn’t possibly understand.

But, in fact, lots of times when we have an experience, we have our own very specific experience that might not match other people’s. We still need to understand what other people are experiencing. We still need to try to reflect on that experience and how it might be different from somebody else, and gather information about other people’s experiences.

For example, there’s research showing that people who got divorced assume that other people who are getting divorced are having the same experience that they did, but that’s not always true. Other people have a totally different experience with the same sort of life event. And so, it’s basically this idea that experience is great but you have to integrate your experiences with knowledge and with an understanding of the rest of the world.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And could you share a favorite study?

Vanessa Bohns
Sure. actually, this is not a study but it’s a re-interpretation of a bunch of famous studies. So, I have this favorite paper, it’s been my favorite paper for almost 20 years, by Sabini, Siepmann, and Stein, called “The really fundamental attribution error.” And what it does is it revisits these classic social psychology studies, like the Milgram study, where an experimenter is asking someone to shock another person; the bystander intervention studies, where people don’t want to get up and tell the experimenter that smoke is rising in the room because everyone else in the room is sitting calmly.

And so, these have been classically taught in any intro psych class or social psychology class that someone has taken. They’re usually taught as displaying the power of the situation, that we basically underestimate how powerful situations are and how whatever we want to do as individuals, it’s kind of washed away by the power of the situation. We underestimate that.

But this paper reinterprets all that as the power of embarrassment, that, in fact, people sat there, shocking this other person because they felt too uncomfortable and embarrassed to challenge the experimenter who was standing right there; and people sat there, letting a room fill up with a smoke and didn’t say anything because everyone else was sitting there looking calm, and they didn’t want to look like fools by standing up and making a big deal out of it. And so, I just have always been fascinated by this idea that embarrassment can play this huge role in so many of our behaviors.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Vanessa Bohns
I only read it this past year but it’s quickly become my favorite book, it’s Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s ostensibly a book about writing but it’s really more of a book about life, but also writing. And it’s just so funny and just emotionally resonant, and, actually, a really great book about writing as well.

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

Vanessa Bohns
I’d say just a pen and a notebook. I am constantly on a walk and coming up with an idea, or in the middle of the night when I’m trying to sleep, I come up with an idea, and just having a notebook nearby to jot things down is the best thing, the best tool, I think, for me.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Vanessa Bohns
Going on long thinking walks. I try to go for a walk every night. After the kids go to bed, I try to walk around for like an hour and just think, and it’s very calming, and I come up with a lot of ideas that way as well.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that seems to resonate and get quoted back to you often?

Vanessa Bohns
It’s this piece about asking in person that I think usually resonates with people the most, because I think that a lot of people struggle with how to ask, the best way to ask, “Should I write an email?” And a lot of us gravitate towards that because it’s kind of easier to be rejected over email, if you’re going to be rejected. But people find it really helpful when I talk about the fact that asking in person makes such a big difference.

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

Vanessa Bohns
So, I have my website which is VanessaBohns.com, and I’m also at @profbohns at Twitter.

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

Vanessa Bohns
I think you hear this phrase “Start from a place of yes all the time,” and I kind of like the idea of a play on that, which assumes that other people are starting from a place of yes. So, instead of assuming that other people are immediately going to say no or reject the things that you ask for or arguments you make, assume they actually are going to be pretty receptive, and then sort of reframe whatever you’re going to pitch or ask for accordingly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Vanessa, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all your influencing ways.

Vanessa Bohns
Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.

691: How to Listen Like You Mean It with Ximena Vengoechea

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Ximena says: "Listening really can be learned. It's a skill just like any other."

Ximena Vengoechea breaks down the formula for effective listening.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The psychological trick to help you stay in the conversation 
  2. The questions that create better conversation
  3. The cues to look out for in a conversation 

 

About Ximena

Ximena Vengoechea is a user researcher, writer, and illustrator whose work on personal and professional development has been published in Inc., The Washington Post, Newsweek, and Huffington Post. She is the author of Listen Like You Mean it: Reclaiming the Lost Art of True Connection (Portfolio/Penguin Random House). 

She is a contributor at Fast Company and The Muse, and writes Letters from Ximena, a newsletter on tech, culture, career, and creativity. She is best known for her project The Life Audit. An experienced manager, mentor, and researcher in the tech industry, she previously worked at Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Twitter. 

Resources Mentioned

Ximena Vengoechea Interview Transcript

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

Ximena Vengoechea
Thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom about listening but, first, I want to hear how your experience in user experience research helped you understand and think about this whole world.

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah. So, user research is a field and technology that I think not everyone is familiar with. I think of it as one of the more people-centric roles in tech, and my job as a user researcher is really to understand people and to get to know their needs and their motivations and perceptions, ultimately in order to help companies build better products.

And, for me, my specialty is in qualitative research, and so what that means is that the tools of the trade that I’m often using are conversations, workshops, interviews, and, crucially, listening. And so, a lot of the lessons that come from my experience in the UX lab, in the book, I’ve sort of translated them into everyday world, like circumstances and conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing and I imagine listening well can make or break the difference between getting that huge insight that makes the product fantastically better and just being blindly unaware that that is an issue for people. Go ahead.

Ximena Vengoechea
No, I was going to just agree with you. Yes, in the sense that when you are conducting a session and you’re trying to uncover a set of insights, if you are distracted by your own thoughts or if you believe too deeply in the product that you’re testing, and let that bias get in the way, then that’s definitely going to affect the outcome and what you’re able to learn in terms of that key set of insights that you’re trying to uncover.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you share with us a story, either from your own experience or someone you know who’s been working with your tools, where you saw such a transformation in terms of the listening got upgraded and, wow, what a cool result emerged from that?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yes. So, several years ago, I was conducting a study on meal planning, so I wanted to know, “How do people cook? How do they meal-plan? How do they budget for their meals?” And I remember that there was a really strong hypothesis on the team that certain features were sort of must-have features and others were less important. And, specifically at the time, there was a really strong interest in using things like voice activation in the kitchen, and it sort of made sense that you’re cooking and so you want to be able to tell Siri or Alexa or whomever, “Pull up that recipe. Tell me what to do next,” handsfree so that you can chop and do other things.

And, at the same time, it also kind of felt like a very “tech” kind of feature, like a very Silicon Valley desire. And so, one of the things that I did was I scheduled these sessions and we went out to Chicago, which felt a little more representative than the Bay Area of maybe the broader population, and we did cook-a-longs. So, I interviewed people but I also observed them in their kitchen. And we often think of listening as just using your ears but this was a great example of using your ears and your eyes, where you’re observing what someone is doing.

You have all of these questions in the moment that you want to ask them, but you have to really kind of catch yourself and learn to harness some patience because, if I were to interrupt a participant every time they moved from working on their phone to a cookbook or the back of the pasta box, if I had a question around, like, “Oh, do you normally do that?” that would totally change, it would completely alter the course of their actions. And, at worse, someone might begin to perform for me and think, “Oh, she wants me to cook in a certain way,” or, “She wants me to use my iPad but not my recipe cards,” which was certainly not the case.

So, in that study, that was an example of being able to go and immerse myself in an environment, crucially picked people who weren’t necessarily like me or my group of colleagues, and bring in both the aspect of listening, which is about asking questions and creating space for others, but also that observation piece and being patient and not letting that instinct, that I think many of us have in conversation, to say the first thing that pops into our head or ask that question right away, but instead just to take a beat instead and see what we can learn that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then so, in doing that, I’m curious, did you learn what you were seeking to learn? What was the takeaway, the insight, the aha? Are people into the voice-activated business or not as much?

Ximena Vengoechea
At the time, it turned out to not be a crucial feature and it was something that we didn’t pursue. I think the sort of less sexy but really basic features became much more important, like being able to filter and say, “I’m a vegetarian so don’t show me recipes that have meat in them,” for instance, or, “I’m lactose intolerant. I want to only see recipes that don’t have dairy.” Those kinds of basic but really important functionality end up trumping the sort of bells and whistles of anything like voice activation.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, having spent so much of your career doing listening and you’ve put some of your wisdom in the book of yours, Listen Like You Mean It, what are some of the most surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve made along the way about how we listen and form connections here?

Ximena Vengoechea
Well, I think one of the biggest takeaways and maybe the most counterintuitive thing that I’ve learned about listening is that we have this idea, when we think about listening, that we’re there for the other person and that it’s all about the other person. And that’s true, we are there to learn about someone else. But we also, critically, are bringing in so much of ourselves into conversations. And in order to really be an effective listener, you have to build some self-awareness about exactly what you’re bringing in.

So, those thoughts that you’re bringing into conversations, the emotions you’re bringing into a conversation, your personal experience, your personal history either with that person or a topic, all of those things are part of what make us unique but they’re also part of what can prevent us from fully engaging and listening to another person. So, it’s an interesting dynamic when you want to be there for someone else, but you really also need to be kind of tracking what’s going on for yourself in any given moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then let’s hear it, the big idea with the book Listen Like You Mean It. To what extent do you think folks are listening like they mean it? What’s the state of listening today?

Ximena Vengoechea
I would say we could probably all be doing a lot better. I think most of us are typically engaging in what I would call surface listening mode. So, we are catching enough of what the other person is saying in a given moment to nod and smile, be polite, to keep our relationships more or less intact, but we’re only catching the literal, the surface level of what’s being said, and we’re often missing the subtext, the meaning beneath what’s being said, and also the emotions behind what’s being said.

And I think that that, when you’re able to go all the way down to the level of emotions, that’s where the real human-to-human connection occurs, and that’s where I think we could all be playing…we could be going much deeper in our conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, so then could you maybe give us a demonstration here between what surface listening looks, sounds, feels like versus the deeper listening that creates the connections?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah, surface listening, that is something where you’re catching a little bit but you’re also engaging in those thoughts that are running through your head. You might be thinking about your to-do list, or maybe you’re in a meeting and thinking, “Okay, I’ve already heard enough. I know what I need to do. I can tune out now or start on my list of action items,” or maybe we are kind of missing that the other person is upset or is having some strong emotional response where we’re just not tracking that.

Whereas, empathetic listening is when that thought comes up that we’re distracted or we’re creating that to-do list, it’s noticing that and it’s going, “Oh, okay. I’m getting distracted, let me come back to center.” Or, it’s noticing that we’re having an emotional response to something, and saying, “Oh, you know what? I’m feeling my throat start to tighten up a little bit, I’m feeling my chest start to pound a little bit. I’m having an emotional response. Let me see if I can center myself before returning to this conversation.” So, it’s about tracking those things and then returning to the present and being there for someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, in practice, if we’ve got other thoughts going on or emotional reactions and such, how do we just stop and return? Do you write them down, your extraneous thoughts? Or, is there a mantra or a trick either with your mind or your body? How do we return?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah, it’s a good question. I think it’s less about trying to forever stop those thoughts because I think even meditation experts would say, “It’s not like you have a completely blank mind. It’s just becoming aware of those thoughts and acknowledging them.” So, I recommend a trick that psychologists are using in cognitive behavioral therapy, which is labeling.

And so, that is actually saying in your head, “I am being distracted by this thought,” or, “I’m having this response,” so you’re labeling it. That helps you release it. Other things that can be helpful, one mantra that can be helpful is reminding yourself that if it’s really important, the thought is going to come back to you. Typically, that’s the case. We sometimes get nervous and want to cling to every thought that comes into our mind, but the really, really important ones tend to come back to us.

And then I also recommend focusing on the emotions of what’s being said. Sometimes we’re so caught up in trying to capture all the details, like there’s a tendency to want to write everything down in a conversation, or take copious notes, but you will remember if someone is upset or confused or stressed, and that’s the thing to hone in on. And so, if you can give yourself the benefit of the doubt of, “Okay, if I can get the emotion, the rest will follow,” that can also relieve some of the anxiety around, “I have to jot everything down right now.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, how do we go about getting to the emotion? Like, are there…? Because, in some ways, it just seems some people just intuitively just do this and others don’t. So, if you don’t, then how do you start?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah. So, part of it is coming into conversation with what I call listening mindset, and that’s bringing in humility, curiosity, and empathy, and that’s different than how we normally show up in conversation, which is often we’re bringing in our own assumptions or opinions or ideas, and this is really about creating space for someone else. So, humility is taking the position of a student rather than an expert, and reminding yourself that there’s something that you can learn from the other person.

Curiosity is taking that a bit deeper by asking questions, asking in particular open-ended questions that allow the other person to lead the way. And then empathy is tapping into their emotional experience, not in the sense that you have to have shared a given experience. Maybe someone has just been laid off and you have not been laid off so you don’t know exactly what that feels like but you probably have some idea of what it feels like to grieve over something that you thought you had and no longer have, or to experience something like shame over that. And so, it’s tapping into those emotions as well. And all of these are really about shifting the focus away from yourself and towards another person.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s nifty. And I think sometimes it’s tempting and it may even really be the case that you know way more about something than the person that you’re listening to does. But I imagine you’ve got some suggestions when that’s the case. What do we do there?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah, it’s a great point. Because I think when we do have a given level of expertise, those are the moments that are often the hardest to set that aside and really listen to the other person. So, in that case, I recommend asking yourself, “What else?” Like, “What else can I learn here? Even if I have expertise, what else might I learn? And, specifically, what can I learn about this other person?”

So, maybe there’s a topic that you’re a wiz at, maybe it’s like personal finance or something like that. Okay, so maybe you’re not going to learn much more from this person about that topic, but what does they’re talking about this topic tell you about them and how they relate to you, to this conversation, to that topic at large?

So, it’s looking for other threads, it’s looking for understanding someone else’s expertise, and that expertise may just be their lived experience. That’s what they’re an expert in, and you can learn something from that.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And then with curiosity, it’s funny, sometimes I’ve got tons of curiosity and sometimes I just don’t care if I’m just going to be really blunt and honest about it. So, I’d like to be curious. I feel like that’s the person I aspire to be. So, if curiosity isn’t naturally bubbling up, what do you recommend?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah. So, I think this is somewhat common. I think we all have topics that we’re not naturally interested in, and that’s okay. And I think, in this case, you’re looking for what’s the overlap maybe between the other person’s interest and your interest. So, to give a tangible example, in the book I talk about sports as not being my personal thing. It’s something that I struggle to and pay attention to and really focus. And if my husband is talking about sports, I have a couple of options. I could totally tune out, and say, “Hey, I’m not the sports type so we’re not going to talk about that.” That’s probably not going to go over super well. Or, I can try and find something that I’m interested in that overlaps with what he’s interested in.

And, in my case, something that I know about myself is I’m interested in people and I’m interested in their stories. So, if I can get the conversation away from the scoreboard to, “Tell me about the coaches. Tell me about the team dynamics. Tell me about their rituals,” that’s interesting to me and it’s interesting to him. So, you’re looking for that sort of overlap between two interests, and that’s where you can start to tug and have a pretty interesting conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that’s clever and what’s funny is that is I’m thinking about the Olympics. That’s exactly what they always do. So, we got this sport, and then we go to zoom in on the Olympian’s life and their childhood and their history and their dedication and their story and their difficulty. And I think they do it because it works, in terms of, “Okay, we’re trying to maximize the viewership. We’re going to need to do more than just fancy triple axel spins on the ice-skating rink or running really fast on the track. We’re going to have to go there to rope in all the more folks.”

Ximena Vengoechea
People like me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s a really lovely example. Let’s go with, I’m just going to put you on the spot here with another one. Boy, I get a little bit glazed over when we talk about like compliance-accounting things. It’s funny. Except, as I recall some conversations with my accountant, except when we’re discovering opportunities to save on taxes, I was like, “What, I can do that? Oh, wow, that’s amazing.” Like, I get really jazzed. So, I guess there’s one example there but I’ll ask you to do the same. And maybe you’re into that, I don’t know. But how might you curiously maneuver into a fun place there?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah. Well, I think one thing I’ll caveat is that you’re not always going to maneuver into a fun place but you will maneuver somewhere. So, in the case of something like accounting and compliance, those topics that kind of leave you with eyes glazed over, if there’s not an obvious thread, if there’s not an obvious overlap that you can kind of pull at, and this is a conversation that you kind of need to have and you need to be present for, like it’s important, another thing that you can do is to look for the underlying need. So, what does the other person need from this conversation, need particularly from you in this conversation? And, in some cases, it’s going to be really obvious, in some cases it’s not going to be obvious, but you’re looking for, “What is the need and how can I meet it?”

So, maybe the conversation about compliance is super boring but there’s a need there for you to approve something or for you to sign off on something. The sooner you can uncover that need, the sooner you can meet it, the sooner you can have a different kind of conversation, or talk to someone else. And so, sometimes when you are looking for that common ground, it is about extending the conversation, sometimes it is about being more efficient with the conversation and just tuning in more quickly to, “What is the other person trying to get out of this conversation with me?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then, as we’re listening for emotions, are there particular signs, indicators, that you’re on the lookout for in terms of vocal intonation or facial expressions? Like, I’m thinking about we had former FBI agent Joe Navarro who wrote “What Every Body Is Saying.” That was fun. So, I guess I’m curious, are there particular signals that grab your attention or you proactively look out for?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah, definitely. I think the biggest thing that I look for is a change over the course of the conversation. So, if someone starts out speaking in measured tones or a deliberate even pace and then suddenly speeds up, or their pitch changes in some way, that’s something that I would want to pay attention to and try and figure out, if the topic is changed, or if they no longer feel safe in the conversation, or suddenly do.

So, we’re looking for or listening for a shift. Certainly, body language is part of that. So, I’m familiar with Joe Navarro’s work, and he talks about where your feet are pointing. So, someone can be looking at you eye to eye but their feet are pointing towards the door, and that’s a tell that maybe they’re ready to leave the conversation and just haven’t been able to articulate it.

He also talks about collar bone, like neck touching as a self-soothing mechanism. If you’ve ever seen somebody play with their collar, that kind of thing. So, you’re tracking voice and tone and body language, and also, obviously, what they’re saying as well. And I think it can be hard to do if someone is not explicit, if someone doesn’t explicitly say, “I’m really upset about X.” Sometimes it’s obvious that they are upset and we just need to ask about it.

Other times, we have to kind of feel around and they’re also feeling around in conversation, and so you’re listening for things like, literally, “I feel like…” when we place the word “I feel…” or if someone says, “I’m swamped with…” Okay. Well, that’s interesting. They’re underwater. They feel overwhelmed and under water. Do they feel under pressure and under water?

So, you’re listening for certain cues, signals in terms of what they’re saying as well that you can, again, get curious about, so that it’s less, “Oh, I’m swamped,” and you’re like, “Yeah, me too.” But, “Oh, you’re swamped. Oh, what’s that like? So, what’s happening? What’s on your plate? And how do you feel about that? How do you feel about having such a busy schedule?” That’s going to have a different outcome in terms of a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, let’s say, so you pick on some emotions, and I guess maybe talking about the connecting side of things, what’s the best way to work with that? I guess I’m just imagining, like you could say, “It sounds like you’re really upset.” Sometimes that’s the right thing to say and sometimes it’s not. But how do you think about that?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yes, that’s a good question in the sense that we’re not mind readers so we don’t always know what the other person wants, but this is where I think there’s two things that can be really helpful here. One is knowing what your default listening mode is, so how you usually how you tend to hear things in conversation. Maybe you’re someone who tends to hear things at an emotional level; or someone who is more of a problem-solver, they tend to hear things through the lens of a problem to be solved; or a mediator, someone who tends to hear things through the lens of, “Well, what does this person think? What did that person think? How can we make sure that everybody’s point of view is present here?”

And all of these modes are good and useful but need to be matched to the current moment and situation, and that’s the need. That’s going back to, “What is this person’s need?” So, if you don’t know what the need is and you don’t know your default mode, then it’s going to be very hard. You are going to be taking a guess when you say, “Hey, it sounds like you’re upset.” You’re kind of going out on a limb there to see if that’s what they need.

But if you’re able to identify your default listening mode, then you have a little bit of a gut check. So, you can check with yourself, “Okay, my instinct is to offer advice here. Is that what’s really needed? What does this person need?” Sometimes it will be obvious to you because you have a personal history with them, and you know, “Oh, this, for instance, colleague always talks around their requests. They don’t say point-blank, ‘I need another resource for this.’ They kind of give you the long and winding road.”

Sometimes you won’t have that context, so here’s where asking clarifying questions is a great path forward and so you can ask things like, you can say, “My instinct is to offer advice. Would that be useful here?” Or, “I actually have a similar experience. Would you like to hear how I’ve navigated this in the past?” Or, and I think this is the most general clarifying question but really useful one, is, “Would you like me to listen or respond?” Because sometimes there is nothing for us to do, and I think that’s very hard for us to internalize. But the only thing to “do” is to bear witness to someone else especially when it’s emotional.

And so, if they’re sharing something and we’re not sure, we can be there with them and give them that space, and maybe reflect back what they’re saying because it’s affirming, or maybe just check in with them on what would be useful in that moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is a beautiful question because it’s like because you can respond any number of ways and that maybe you hadn’t even anticipated. Because I imagine, in my imaginary conversation I’m having, which you’ve said this to me, I can imagine saying all kinds of things, like, “What I need from you right now is to tell me I’m doing a great job.” It’s like, “Well, okay, that would not have occurred to me but, yeah, I’ve got tons of things to say about that, and so glad you asked. And here we go.” Or, it might be, “You know what would be awesome is if you could somehow just make hours appear in my life because things are insane.” It’s like, “Oh. Well, sure. Well, hey, how about you don’t bother with these three meetings that we got scheduled.” It’s like, “Oh, cool.”

And so, it feels actually kind of rare that someone would just ask that question and, an effect, is really giving a gift. That’s like, “Oh, all right. I am at your service.” And somehow it feels a little bit more specific and real and meaningful than, “Let me know I could be helpful to you,” which feels like that happens a lot in conversations of like a network-y format. And it’s funny because I never quite really know what I should ask for because it’s like, “Well, if you want to like, you know, promote the crap out of the podcast, that’d be great.” Whereas, when it’s seated in a conversation, you say it like that, it goes, “Okay. Well, yeah, here is really what I need from you.”

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah, and I think those other questions that you’re mentioning are hard to respond to. They’re so broad. They’re so vague. I like the question of, “Would you like me to listen or respond?” also because it gives you two options. It gives someone something tangible to respond to. And, usually, the response, the actual need, is what they’ve been trying to say maybe implicitly.

Maybe they haven’t been able to explicitly say, “Hey, what I really need from you right now is to feel supported, and here’s how you can do that.” Or, maybe they thought they were saying that. Like, most of us aren’t very practiced at being explicit in expressing our needs. And so, offering this question is a really gentle way of saying, “I am here for you and you can guide me in a way that would be most helpful to you in this moment.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. Well, so that was a lovely question there. Can you share with us any other favorite phrases, questions, that you just love and are very versatile and useful in many conversations or maybe some phrases, words, questions that you don’t love and we’d probably be better off losing them or using them much less frequently?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah, so I would say this is where the type of questions you ask really can make a big difference in conversations. So, we’re often not really paying attention to the questions we ask and they can be leading or biased in some way, and those questions, they don’t take the conversation anywhere. They end in one response or, yes or no responses, they tend to be close-ended in nature.

And so, that’s questions that start with do, is, or are. For example, “Are you nervous about tomorrow’s presentation?” “Are you nervous about this meeting?” That suggests that the person might have reason to be nervous, which maybe they should be, or maybe that’s your own, your nervousness being projected onto someone else. You’re going to get a very different response than if you start out with something more open-ended, like a how or a what question, “How do you feel about tomorrow’s presentation?” Okay, now the person can say, “I’m super excited about it. Like, I’m stoked and I’m ready to go,” which is a totally different response than we were leading them earlier. So, I think shifting from close-ended to open-ended questions is key.

And then the other thing I would say is to avoid having too open of a conversation, where the conversation is just like so broad and sprawling. You also do want to have handy follow-ups in your pocket. And so, those follow-ups if there’s a thread that’s particularly interesting or promising, you can say something like, “Oh, say more about that,” or, “What else?” or, “Tell me more,” or one that I really like is just to say, “Oh, and that’s because…” So, whatever it is they said earlier, I ask, “Oh, because?” and then the person will naturally fill it in. So, you have both the open-ended questions and then these gentle nudges that keep the conversation going.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what’s lovely about that, “Oh, and that’s because…” is that it, well, it’s much less defensiveness-provoking than “Why? But why?” It’s like, “Explain yourself,” like an interrogation. Whereas, “Oh, and that’s because…” is effectively a why without the threat. So, that’s cool.

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah, and that’s why I don’t recommend asking why very often. Of course, we all want to know why but it does sound defensive to our ears. And so, you can ask the question of why in a different way using, “That’s because…” or even, “How do you feel about that?” or, “What do you make of that?” Again, those how and what to start to get the why without kind of grating on the other person’s ears.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. And then, I’m curious, when it comes to the third part of your book is about resting and recharging. Well, hey, I’m all about resting and recharging, but didn’t expect to see that in a book about listening. So, what’s the importance of this and how do we do it well?

Ximena Vengoechea
Well, I felt this was really important to include in the book because when you are practicing this type of listening where you are getting down to this emotional level and just really past the surface, it does take work and it is a natural side effect of this kind of listening to feel a little bit drained. It’s almost a sign of good listening at play. It’s like when you go out and you have a good workout, you’re excited but you’re also a little bit tired afterwards.

And so, we want to be able to take care of ourselves so that we don’t push ourselves too far because I think a real risk, if we’re not careful with this kind of listening, is that we start to create space for someone else in a conversation and we never take up space ourselves. So, become a sort of vessel for receiving everybody else’s feelings without having that same care and support returned to us, which really just means that the conversation has moved from a dialogue probably to a monologue where we’re on the receiving end of it, so we don’t want to go that far.

So, ways that you can take care of yourself in the process are thinking about things like what’s your magic number in terms of the amount of these kinds of conversations you can have a day, and how do they need to be distributed throughout your day. So, really concretely, when I was managing a team, I remember in the very beginning, I would try and stack my one-on-ones, like, “Okay, I’ll do all my one-on-ones on Tuesdays. We’ll just do them back-to-back and we’ll bang them out,” and I was exhausted by the end of it, and I also, frankly, wasn’t doing a great job of listening because I would be context-switching from one person’s challenges to the next without having taking a beat to pause and breathe.

And so, in my case, I learned, “Yeah, you probably shouldn’t have five back-to-back one-on-ones in a day. You should maybe try and spread those out over the course of a week or to a couple on one day and a couple on another day.” So, it’s about figuring out what is your magic number, how many of these kinds of conversations can you have effectively where you’re still listening and not exhausted, what kind of breaks can you have in between.

And I talk to a lot of people who say, “Well, I’m not in control of my calendar. Like, I am at the mercy of my calendar. So, what do I do then?” And to that, I say you can always take a 90-second breather in between meetings. Just you’re taking a little bit of a palette cleanser to reset, to say, “Okay, this person just gave me this. I’m going to put it aside, and now I’m going to be present for the next conversation.” So, even if it’s a microbreak, that becomes really, really important for helping you keep things running along.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I’m curious, in a 90-second, a microbreak, what are some great things to do that make a world of rejuvenation difference in just a few seconds?

I’ll do some sharing right now. I’m taking a look at my silent mini-refrigerator in my office, which is pretty wild. It emits no noise, which I like for recording. And I have a bin of water, a little Tupperware bit of water, that’s cold, and I will shove my face in it. That’s weird but there’s cool science behind it – the mammalian dive reflex. And when you stick your face in cold water, you’d wake up in a hurry. So, that’s one of my quick rejuvenation rituals. I’d love to hear what you and others do that makes for some great recharging for more listening in a short amount of time.

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah. So, I think it could be something like that. It could be maybe a more toned-down version, like just splashing water on your face, like room temperature water on your face can also maybe give you a version of that. But, yeah, another thing that you can do is to take those 90 seconds and write down every thought that comes into your mind, just like brain dump it out because sometimes that’s what we’re holding onto in between sessions. So, you can just write it and release it that way.

Sometimes just our closing your eyes, like literally just closing your eyes. Set a timer if you want, think about whatever you want, that can do it too. Don’t use that 90-second microbreak for doom-scrolling, for news-reading, or social media. It’s not going to have the same effect. It’s probably just going to cloud things even further. And then I also think there are certain mantras that you can repeat, especially if you are in a profession or in a role where you’re going to be carrying something, kind of on someone else’s behalf, where you can say, “Okay, this isn’t mine to keep. This doesn’t belong to me. I can safely let this go.” That’s especially useful, let’s say, if you’re in a caregiving role or industry, something where you’re really taking on someone else’s emotions.

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

Ximena Vengoechea
I think the last thing that I’ll mention, and I hope this is is clear from this conversation, but I think we often think about speaking, presentation skills, effectively negotiating, influencing, those are things that can be learned and we think of listening as something that people are innately good at or not, and so we might write it off a little bit if we’re not one of those people who is just magically good at it, but it really can be learned. It’s a skill just like any other. And that’s, ultimately, what the book is trying to do, is to really explicitly lay out what are some of those techniques so that you can begin to take them up and practice them in your everyday.

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

Ximena Vengoechea
Yes, so a quote that I love is “Never judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his shoes.” And that’s from a book called Walk Two Moons. And it’s really about empathy. It’s about not judging someone, and understanding that people have rich lives beyond what we know, and making space for that to be the case, which I find helpful in general, but especially when you’re…the day someone cuts you off while you’re driving, or if someone is slightly rude to you in a meeting, it’s like, “Okay, something else is going on. It’s probably not about me.”

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

Ximena Vengoechea
I find myself often returning to Sherry Turkle’s work. So, she is the author of Reclaiming Conversation and several other books. She looks at the intersection of society and technology, and she’s done a lot of research on how devices are changing our conversations in person, things like how even having a cellphone on the table, even if it’s face down, decreases our ability to empathize with the other person in conversation. So, I find her work to be very interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Ximena Vengoechea
A favorite book, I mean, I do return to Reclaiming Conversation quite a bit so it’s certainly top of mind. And another book that I just finished, which is a totally different topic, is called Big Friendship, and it looks at maybe underrated relationship in our lives that doesn’t get much attention, but it talks about relationships, specifically in the context of friendship and how we treat those versus other relationships in our lives.

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

Ximena Vengoechea
I really love analog tools, so my favorite being Post-Its and Sharpies. I find that I’m far less precious with my thoughts and that I don’t get overly attached to ideas. If I start something where I’m just in a deck and I’m immediately trying to work on a presentation that way, things look better than they are if you just write them on a sticky note. You kind of know that that’s the rough draft and I find it easier to rework ideas that way.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when you say precious, it means you’re more attached to it the more it’s all digitally dressed up and beautified. It feels like, “This is something that I cannot throw away or dramatically rework because of attractiveness.”

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah. And I think you also tend to rework in minor ways, so you’d be like, “Oh, something is off with the sentence. Let me move the comma or fiddle with this thing.” And it’s like, “Well, something might be off with the idea.” So, Post-Its allow you to work at the level of the idea and then, once you’ve gotten beyond that, then, sure, go and refine and prettify your deck and do all that stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. And I also find that when I’m in the constraint of a slide, it’s sort of like, “Well, this is the point I’m making, and this is the cool chart that I have, so I only have this box to do the thing.” It’s like, “Well, maybe it doesn’t need to be confined in that box in the first place.” And so, the format kind of pre-ordained or influenced the content prematurely. Well, I’m going to chew on that. Thank you.

Ximena Vengoechea
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Ximena Vengoechea
A favorite habit, taking breaks in terms of taking walks. Like, if I’m stuck on a challenging topic or can’t break through, I have learned to step away from the screen and just take a walk. I think our brains will often noodle things, on things, on our behalf when we’re not paying attention.

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

Ximena Vengoechea
I think the default listening modes really resonates with people because they can easily identify a mode, and whenever you have a type, you feel like, “Okay, I get this now.” And then the other one, I would say, is the role of silence in conversations is something that’s come up a lot where I talk about waiting 10 seconds, waiting a little bit longer than is comfortable in order to give the other person space. And that seems to be resonating with people because it’s hard and it goes counter to what we usually think about silence in conversations.

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

Ximena Vengoechea
Best place to get in touch is on my website, so that’s XimenaVengoechea.com, and that’s kind of the hub for all of the offshoots, social media, and newsletter, book, all that good stuff.

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

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah, I would say do your best to uncover what that hidden need is in conversation, especially in professional settings. The person’s job, function, whether they’re in marketing or sales or design, is a really good starting clue to uncovering that need.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Ximena, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you many great conversations.

Ximena Vengoechea
Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.

676: How to Craft and Deliver Compelling Presentations with Dr. Ethan Becker

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Dr. Ethan Becker offers a practical guide to communicating more effectively in the workplace.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two ways we process information 
  2. The four-step structure of compelling communication
  3. The simplest way to sound more engaging 

About Ethan

Ethan F. Becker, PhD is president and senior coach/trainer for the Speech Improvement Company, the oldest communication coaching and training firm in America. He has worked with Apple, IBM, Bain Capital, Sony Music, and the New York Giants, the F.B.I., Harvard University, YouTube, and other clients across the globe.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Ethan Becker Interview Transcript

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

Ethan Becker
All right. I’m psyched to be here. I’ve been waiting. This is great.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I’m psyched too. And so, I want to hear, so you’ve spent a long time working with folks, helping them communicate all the better. Is there a particularly surprising or fascinating discovery you’ve made along the way?

Ethan Becker
I think what surprised me is the similarities that people have around the world. We travel all over the world. Well, this year, nobody’s traveling, but like normally we’re on airplanes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, working buddy.

Ethan Becker
And the various cultures around the planet, mostly what we see on television, on the media, and on the internet highlights differences, and it’s designed for division because that’s like divide people because it sells ads. But in the work that we do as speech coaches, we see the similarities almost identical in some cases, culture after culture after culture. That surprises me, which I think is profound actually.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And so, what are a few universals that cut across everything?

Ethan Becker
Well, for instance, people get nervous when they have to speak in front of a group, not everybody does. Not everybody does. But the psychology around it and the reasons behind it are often similar. People get uncomfortable in the business world, when they need to give feedback, for instance. And, again, not everybody. I’m generalizing. But the kinds of things that we hear and see are almost identical.

Like, I’ll hear somebody tell me that, “My manager just doesn’t understand me. He’s putting too much stuff on my plate.” Like, I might hear something like that here in Massachusetts or when I’m in Malaysia, it’s like the same things. Once you get through the culture, the obvious cultural uniqueness of a different environment, there are very, very common similarities in all cultures.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, good to know for the world travelers or future returning travelers amongst us. Well, let’s chat a bit about your book Mastering Communication at Work. So, it’s been a while since the previous edition was published. Tell us, you say that everything and nothing has changed in the interim. What do you mean by that?

Ethan Becker
Yeah, there’s not a whole lot that’s changed. Much of what we know in human communication and psychology comes from Aristotle over centuries ago but there have been some things we’ve seen get updated. We updated the book. We did a second edition. We added a section for gender equity and a section for virtual communication, not because of COVID but just, in general, the technology curve has increased so there were some changes there. But a lot of how we think and process and connect and how we get good and develop skill in communication hasn’t changed too much. So, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so let’s talk a little bit about how that’s done but, first, maybe a little bit of the why. Just what kind of an impact does having excellent communication skills make for a professional?

Ethan Becker
The answer varies, really. In most cases, the impact is going to be pretty significant because when you can get your ideas and thoughts out in a way where another human can hear it, decode it, and understand it, usually things tend to go well. And when that doesn’t happen, it can be highly frustrating. So, in most cases, it’s a pretty positive experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And can you share maybe a story of someone who saw a transformation and what impact that made for them?

Ethan Becker
Sure. One client of ours who enjoys sharing his story with us, Jon Platt. He’s the chairman at Sony Music. So, when Jon first came to us, he was executive vice president, and this is the fellow who was a producer for like Jay Z and Beyonce and so forth, but he was looking to move up in his career. And one of the things he was saying, “So, look, I need to strengthen my ability to articulate my ideas in these senior executive levels,” which is a different kind of communication than he was able to do with artists.

Jon has a real talent, a real ear for talent, and he was able to negotiate very effective deals with artists, and he needed to update the language he was using and the approach he was using to communicate internally with those who would be in a position to put him in a position of leadership, and he did. He did. He did the work. It was very difficult at times because he had to learn to behave in ways that were new for him.

But, as he did that, he moved up the ladder pretty quickly throughout. He was at EMI at the time, and then he moved over to Sony, and he’s doing very well these days. But a great example of someone who put the time and effort into strengthening the quality of his communication skills and now he’s benefitting from that.

We see these examples all the time. Not everything is high profile. We’ll see this, sometimes, it could just be a typical manager or somebody maybe they have no interest in being a manager. Not everyone wants to move up in organization, that’s just one example. Sometimes it’s just a matter of somebody feeling comfortable on their own team, or learning how to communicate with peers comfortably, or it might be a presentation, anything like that. We see these kinds of things happen all the time with folks.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m curious to hear about that notion about certain behaviors needed to change when you’re communicating in a more senior level. What are some of the key difference-makers when we are communicating like a leader? How does that differ from just kind of typical, normal everyday patterns in behaviors you may have around communication?

Ethan Becker
One way of looking at this, I’ve heard some other discussion around some Aristotle, and this would be a good idea to maybe sort of clarify some ideas around it. Aristotle, one of the reasons that speech coaches look at Aristotle is because he was one of the early philosophers to look at how we think, how we process information. And so, some of the terms we hear tossed around a little bit are a little bit sometimes not always clear. But he was saying people tend to think and process in one of two different ways, either inductive or deductive. These are the terms that are used.

And here’s what it means. If I’m an inductive thinker, it’s just who I am. What that means is that I need to have specific pieces of information that lead to me a general conclusion, it’s called going from the specific details to the general conclusion, what you want happens at the end. That’s inductive.

For instance, if I were to say to you, “Hey, listen, last weekend, I was at a family barbecue, and my mother-in-law was there. And she said, ‘Ethan, I think you should lose a little weight.’ Well, I think that was kind of rude of her but she’s the mother-in-law so she can say anything she wants to say. So, I thought I would take up jogging and I went to the mall to get a new pair of sneakers. And it was really frustrating that day because it was Sunday and it was really crowded.”

“There was a lot of sales on Sundays, by the way. So, I got into the parking lot and I couldn’t find a place to park, and this other guy came and cut me off. And I was going to get out and confront him but I was really just here for the sneakers so I had to park in the remote parking lot which was really frustrating because I had to walk to the front of the mall and I had this old pair of shoes. And if it gets too sore, the shoes get a little sore in the back of my foot, and thenI have to see my doctor, which is a nightmare because the lady at the desk hates me. She hates everybody.”

“You’re with me still? Good. You see, because I went into the shoe store and they didn’t have sneakers. I thought that was interesting so I asked if I could talk to the manager, and they sent me down to the sports shop. And at the sports shop, they didn’t have white sneakers. And I like the white ones because if they get dirty, you can bleach them. They’re just like new. So, that leads me to what I’m going to ask you today because, see, now I’m going to go jogging this afternoon, and I don’t want to get my new pair of sneakers dirty. So, could you tell me is it going to rain?”

“Is it going to rain? That was my point. That is what I needed to know.” But, you see, if I think and process in an inductive way, I can’t just ask that, “I think you need to know about the mother-in-law, and the parking lot, and the doctor, and all that.” And if you’re hearing my example right now, and you’re thinking, “Oh, the guy is just rambling about random stuff,” “Hold on a second. It’s not random inside of my mind. Somehow these things are all connected to each other.”

Now, this is an inductive pattern. Now, you don’t have to be that inductive. That’s an extreme example. I could be slightly inductive and it’s less frustrating. I could say, “Hey, listen, Pete, I just got a new pair of sneakers and I don’t want to get them dirty as I go jogging. Do you know if it’s going to rain?” So, I’m giving you the background information first and then the point, then what I want. That is known as an inductive pattern.

The deductive pattern is different. It is the exact opposite. You start with the point and then you give your details. So, for instance, somebody who is extremely deductive, they might sound like this, “Rain?” That’s it. Now, I don’t have to be that deductive. I could say, “Do you know if it’s going to rain? I just got a new pair of sneakers and I don’t want to get them dirty as I go jogging.” “Hey, I just got a new pair of sneakers and I don’t want to get them dirty as I go jogging. Do you know if it’s going to…?”

Can you hear the difference between the two patterns?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And when you said, it’s interesting that you say some people just are inductive. So, when in your first rambling example, I guess I found that very frustrating and thought, “Oh, I hate this.” Like, as I imagine that person talking to me, like, this is like, “Oh, I hate this. When are they going to shut up?” And I say, “Pete, be compassionate. And I’ll be patient with them. That’s kind of what was going on in my mind. But if someone is inductive, and they’re hearing that, might they be like, “Oh, this is really interesting and engaging”? That seems hard for me to believe.

Ethan Becker
Yeah, spoken like a true deductive listener. See, one of the reasons these matters is because one of these two people meet each other, look out, there’s a level of frustration that just breaks the communication down. If I’m a deductive thinker, it’s just who I am. I process in a deductive way. And this inductive person comes to talk to me? What I look like is frustrated, you know, “Uh-huh. Uh-huh,” I’m like nodding my head, “Uh-huh,” waving my hand, “Mm-hmm, yup. What do you want? Get to the point.” I get so frustrated to the point that I’m not even listening anymore. I might be looking at you and I might not be talking but the comprehension is very low. I would need you to do it in a deductive way for me.

And the reverse is true, by the way, also. If I’m an inductive thinker, and this deductive person comes to talk to me, what I would look like is very frustrated, “What? Whoa, wait a minute. Hold on. Slow down. How did you get to the…? Back up just a minute here.” So, this isn’t about right or wrong. The language we like to use here, this is about what’s effective versus ineffective. Therefore, the skill is to, number one, know which way you tend to lean. And, number two, probably more importantly, is, what does your listener, or listeners, need you to be? What do they need you to be in order to make it as easy as possible for them to receive the information, comprehend the information, and see what you’re trying to communicate? That’s the skill around here.

And where sometimes there’s a confusion is there are folks who will say, “You should always be deductive. Tell them the point up front.” It’s, like, well, that’s not bad advice for deductive thinkers. “Well, senior executives are always deductive.” Oh, that is not true. That is not true. I coach CEOs all over the world, and I know many who are inductive in the way they think. However, we know it is a trend that the more senior we become, there is a trend to become more deductive, so it’s not a bad way to plan but you always want to be ready to pivot.

Just like in the game of soccer, if I were to say to you, “Only kick the ball with your right foot. Never kick with your left,” that’s really poor advice. It doesn’t help you. The skill is to learn both. And that’s easy to understand, hard to do, because one of these is our comfort zone, and the other one is, Pete, you did a great job of explaining a second ago, kind of annoying. It’s like, “Will you just shut up and get to the point?”

In Jon’s case, what he did really, really well is he was very deductive in the way he thought because he knows a lot about the music business. And as he grew, and people would come to him with deals, he was listening deductively but they were talking inductively. He trained himself how to listen in an inductive way. And when he did, he says two things happened.

Number one is the quality of the relationships with those around him strengthened. And, number two, he actually learned stuff. It was like, “I could learn things.” So, it’s a good skill to look at. I know it’s old but the reason we’ve never decided to give cute names to it, or get into the psychometric, a lot of the psychometric tests have come from some of the Aristotle stuff, is that we just found that in the business world, when you teach it in its raw form, it’s much easier for people to hear it, comprehend it, and, most importantly, apply it in their daily life without us there coaching and so.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s an interesting point with the deductive-listening approach. Like, on the one hand, we stay focused on the point, what really matters. But, on the other hand, when it comes to deal-making, you could very well be missing opportunities in terms of like, “Oh, that thing that you were just kind of rambling on about actually contained some kernels of stuff that’s useful clues about what really matters to you, or what really frustrates you, or if I could get incorporated in this deal for you, you’d be willing to make a concession elsewhere that is of more benefit to me. And if I were just like laser-focused about what just sort what just washed passed me, I’d miss out on it.”

Ethan Becker
Yeah. In the world of selling, we do a lot of this kind of work with sales professionals. And if you look at traditional selling, it’s been around for a while, the inductive approach is pretty much what’s trained, like, “Don’t tell them the price until you have presented the value proposition,” and it is drilled into people.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess I haven’t thought about it in these terms but I guess I am super deductive because when I’m talking to a sales person, I guess, I want them to prove that they’ve got the goods. And so, they’re like, “Let me tell you a little bit about the history of our company. So, we were founded in 1974 by a couple who had some frustration with their…” and I was like, “I don’t care at all.” Like, “Show me some compelling data, tests, experiments, case studies, that reveal that you’re the real deal and you can do what you claim to be able to do supremely well such that I can trust that you can do it for me.”

And then I do get frustrated when they don’t do that. And sometimes I even tell them, it’s like, “Hey, heads up, here’s what I find very persuasive.” It’s like I’m giving you a roadmap to selling me, and sometimes it just doesn’t matter at all, they do their scripts.

Ethan Becker
Well, funny you bring that up, if you look at different sales methodologies that are out there, whether it’s Sandler or SPIN, or many of them are challengers, some of these things have been around for a very long time, these sort of older models that were, for the most part, what are they trying to do? They’re trying to teach the salesperson to learn something about the listener, understand their situation, and the problems, and the implications, and then go back and present what they need.

And those who are really skilled at it have very high-quality listening ability, and they’re listening for a lot of different things. Those who are brand-new are reading a script of questions, and people hate them, they want to smack them. But what are they listening for? Does this person need a more inductive or deductive approach? And when that’s not taught, when it is said, “Don’t tell them the price, tell the value,” that’s nice if, in some cases, that may be the case. But, in other cases, oh, my goodness.

It’s not just selling a product, like, let’s say, you’re trying to sell your idea to senior management, and you’re asking for, I don’t know, half a million dollars for your project, and you inductively lead up to that. And if that particular team are deductive, if it’s a deductive group of listeners, here’s what they hear. As you go through your value and the data and all of the details, what they hear is this, “[muffled sounds] half a million dollars.” Like, they missed it. Why? Because in their mind, all they’re thinking is, “What do you want? Where are you going with this?”

Now, that doesn’t mean start out by showing up and saying, “Hey, I need half a million dollars.” Some teams you might, but it means know your listener. The real thing is you can’t get too far on one way or the other.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I’m thinking right now in terms of like best practices and how to kind of, as best as you can, be all things to all people in terms of, hey, we have an executive summary on the handout, and then we go into some of the details, or whatever, or just a little bit of a preview, “I’ve got an exciting investment opportunity I think it can give us 8X ROI that will cost about half a million dollars, and here are some of the details.”

Ethan Becker
Yeah, “What do you want?” and, “What do you want?” And so, from you, I’m going to ask you for approval. I’m going to ask, “What do you want from them?” Sometimes it’s nothing, “I’m just giving you an update.” The main point that you need might be at the beginning, and when we do that, for instance, like what you’re talking about in an executive summary, or when we look at, for instance, structure, there’s a structure that we introduced to the world back in 1964. It was actually ’63. The firm started in 1964, but in 1963, my mom and dad, both were on ABC television and they were interviewed about communication. It was sort of the year they were just starting the company.

And they were asked about this, and they talked about this, what we today we’ve referred to, and in my book, I talk about this, is we refer to it as the four-step outline.

Step number one has three words, “Tell what tell,” is the way we put it. And this is when you tell your listeners what you’re going to be talking about, how long you’ll be talking for, and how many particular topics. This might be your deductive point if it’s a deductive presentation. You might say what you want from them here. If it’s an inductive presentation, you might not. You might save that till later. But “Tell what tell” is when you set the expectation of what’s going to happen.

Step number two, this one kind of get dropped in some places but we still teach it, three words, “Tell why listen.” And this is a brief statement as to why they should listen to this presentation. It’s not necessarily why they should agree with you, or buy what you’re selling, or the why of the idea, or any of that jazz. It’s, “So, you’re going to talk about your department’s update. So, what? Why? Is this a good time for me to check my email? Like, why should I pay attention right now?” And we can talk about that in a bit, but that’s basically what it is; it’s brief commentary, and sometimes you have more than one if you have a group of people. If you got multiple people in the room, you might have to have more than one reason why they’re listening to this.

Step three, “Tell,” that’s the body of your presentation where most of your time is spent. Step four, “Tell what told,” and it’s a summarization, summaries of two parts to them. The first part is you repeat your most important points, not everything, but you go back and what it is those points are. And in some meetings, some business meetings, those points may have evolved over the course of the meeting, but you repeat, you come back, meaning if they’ve turned into discussion. But what are your most important points?

And then the second part is an action statement. What do you want your listeners to do? Now that they know this, do they go somewhere, call somebody? Maybe it’s just a soft action, like to consider or think about, things like that. But that’s it, tell them what you can tell them, tell them what they should listen, tell them what you told them.

And in some talks, we’ll reverse steps one and two, or repeat it, or if it’s a conference talk, or like a TED Talk, we might start out with a story, which is one big fat step number two that leads up to what we’re going to do. But when we look with inductive and deductive, well, that outline could apply either way. It depends who your listeners are.

Pete Mockaitis
And for the telling them why they should listen, you said that’s distinct from why they should buy or do the thing. So, could you give us some examples of statements or articulations of why to listen?

Ethan Becker
Sure. And sometimes they overlap so that’s fine. And when I’m coaching clients, sometimes the reason to buy is also a reason to listen. I just don’t think it’s that as strong.

So, let’s take the example of I’m a product manager and I’m presenting at a national sales meeting to the salesforce. And my job was to go up and do a 20-minute presentation on the new product, and my boss needs me to get the sales team all jazzed up about this because they’re going to be selling it for the next year.

All right, I’ll make this a little harder on me. It’s not even a new product. It’s the same product. We hear this all the time, it’s like, “There’s not even anything new but I still have to get them all excited about it.” So, step one and step two, “All right. Well, thanks, everybody. Over the next 20 minutes, I’m going to be talking to you about the product and all of the changes,” there’s step one.

“This is important because, for those of you who are not familiar with what’s different, this is going to help you feel very confident out in the field, that you know what is and what isn’t different about this so that you don’t accidentally say the wrong thing.” In that example, it’s not profound. This is where we get tripped up. Sometimes people feel like step number two needs to be this profound sale, “This will save your life.” It’s like, well, sure, that is a reason to listen but, in most business meetings, it’s usually something, “Who are your listeners? And why do they care about the particular topic?”

Let say, in that exact same example I just gave, there’s another targeted group, maybe they’re in that same group at the sales meeting, I also have people from finance at the meeting and I want to target them as well. So, it might sound something like this, “So, over the next 20 minutes, I’ll be taking you through the new product and so you can see all of the changes. And for those in sales, this is going to help you understand exactly what is and what isn’t different so that when you’re out in front of your customers, you have all the knowledge you need and you’re not going to look bad in front of them.” You’re not going to look bad in front of them, that’s the reason.

“For those of you in finance, I’m glad you’re here today. While this isn’t specific for you, this is going to give you some very good insight as to why we have been asking for what we have been, and where the money that you’ve been allocating to the team has gone. Okay,” and then they get into it, blah, blah, blah.

Now, I’m making up examples here. When we have real topics, it’s actually you can think about, “Who are these people? Who are my listeners? And why do they care?” And sometimes it’s hard because we’re so close to this, we just assume they know why. If you’re presenting to senior management just an update on your department, “Why?” “Well, because they told me to come,” but you can’t say that. I mean, you could say that but that’s not going to be very helpful. So, you might say, “So, this is going to give you the most up-to-date information on my team,” or something like that.

Sometimes folks will say, “But, Ethan, that sounds obvious.” Yeah. Well, we found in our research on this is that even when the listener knows why the speaker is talking, that when the speaker says it out loud, it just confirms in the back of their mind, “Why I’m here, why I am listening,” even if it’s not about them. They now understand who the speaker is talking to. It’s all part of setting the expectations.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. And it may seem obvious but that’s one of my top pet peeves when talking about communication because when people use the vocal pause “Obviously,” when it’s not obvious, and me as the recipient, it’s like, “Oh, actually, I didn’t know that but, apparently, it was obvious so I must be an idiot.” So, I just think that’s a great word to purge from one’s vocabulary.

Ethan Becker
I love it. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
So, one, it may not be so obvious. You may have a different set of assumptions coming in, and you clarify that right up front, which is great, and then folks might reorient and say, “Oh, wait a second. I thought this was about this.” And if they’ve got the right kind of culture, “Hey, actually, I guess I don’t need to be here. Thank you for letting me know up front. I’m going to spend my time on this other thing because I had a different impression.”

Or, they can know that, “Hey, given that we’re moving in a slightly different direction than I had imagined, I’m going to formulate some different questions.” It’s just helpful. And I like the way you said it in terms of, “This is important for you because…” and then the way you arrived there is just by really putting yourself in their shoes in terms of, “I’m a salesperson, why do I care about this? Oh, because if I don’t have the info, I’m going to sound dumb. I may commit to something we can’t deliver, then we’re really going to be in a bigger pickle because we’ve disappointed somebody or we’ve blown a sale that could’ve been saved had we just sort of gotten it right the first time.”

Ethan Becker
Yeah, in that example, in the “Hey, we got to present to the sales team…“ example, this is an important one because sometimes marketing, product marketing, there’s sort of this fear of saying something that could possibly be perceived as negative. And when you look at inductive and deductive, we were sort of joking a little bit that all salespeople are trained to be inductive, right? Yes, as talkers. However, when it is time to listen, what we found in the work that we do is they tend to be deductive when they’re listening.

So, if you’re at a conference, and you’re trying to do a “Tell why listen,” step two, “Tell why listen,” first is you got to say at the beginning of your talk, can’t save it till the end. In general, we have found folks who are in the profession of selling, they tend to care about two things, and if you can tap into one of those, you have their undivided attention. Any guesses on what they are, two things salespeople care about? Listeners right now could think about it, say it out loud in your car.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ll say commissions and delighting their customers.

Ethan Becker
Very, very close. Commissions, yes, it falls into the category of money. Money, how much? And I don’t mean that in a mean-spirited way. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. Look, folks who are in the profession of selling are typically hired with a particular…that’s a desirable thing. There’s nothing wrong with that, “How much will I make?”

So, if I’m at the conference, I’m at the company conference, and you’re talking to me about the same product, or a new product, or a plan, or a program, in my mind, I’m thinking, “How much will I make?” is one, or, “How will this help me get to my number or my goal?” something related to that. Fine. The second one is, “Is what you’re talking about going to make it easier or harder for me to make that number? Are you going to make my world easier or harder?”

There’s a big focus on that because they know the amount of work that they already need to do. And now they’re at the conference, “And if your product is going to make my life easy, you have my eye. I’m excited. If it’s going to be hard, I might not be excited but don’t BS me. Don’t try to tell me that this is wonderful when I can see it’s the exact same product with a different brochure color. Just be up front. I’ll respect you more.”

Because if I’m that rep, I’m out there in the field by myself representing, I need to know what I have to work with, so deductively say that near the beginning. You don’t have to say it in a gloom-and-doom way but just be straight up, “I’ll know how to take it out there. I might be upset about it but that’s a different story.” So, if you can be deductive about it, and you can connect to one of those two things in your step two, you’re going to do really, really well in that kind of a meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Thank you.

Ethan Becker
Quite frankly, others, too. If you’re presenting to senior management, you got bad news, you don’t have to pretend it’s not there. They’ll respect you. You don’t have to say, “I have bad news.” No, not like that. But you don’t have to be nervous about it. These are business meetings, and if there’s something that’s not great, you can say it.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. Okay, I like it.

Ethan Becker
I’m going on and on on this stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ve also got a concept called The Four Horsemen of Delivery. So, I’m curious, what are those horsemen and how do we master that?

Ethan Becker
All right. Deductively, they are speed, volume, stress, and inflection. Now these are delivery-specific things. And delivery, is not an effective presentation all by itself. Some folks could argue that it could be.

Pete Mockaitis
I think I’ve seen some keynoters who’ve managed to make a living out of good delivery without a lot of substance.

Ethan Becker
We see it a lot. This is not theater. That’s something I want to be very, very clear about. In fact, you’ll never hear somebody like me use words like rehearse, for instance. It’s a theater term. And in the business world, we ain’t acting.

And when we try to teach it in that way, folks tend to do well in training, but then they get there live and the anxiety can be very high. I think a more helpful way to look at it isn’t so much rehearse and so forth, but practice is a much more accurate term because speech is a behavior just like kicking a ball is a behavior, so we practice. You don’t go to basketball rehearsal. You go to basketball practice so that you can learn how to do things.

And in our delivery, we look at things like speed, and volume, and stressing of words, and inflection changing the word, things like that. These are tools that can help us enhance the intent of any sentence. Together, all of these things, we call it adding color to a word. And this is a technique, many of us do this normally, in our normal natural communication when we’re talking with friends. And the variety in our speech patterns are just there, for many of us.

But when we get into a formal presentation, all of a sudden, the speech pattern is almost identical, things change. So, the Four Horsemen of speed, and volume, and stress, and inflection are four things that you can look at specifically.

Speed is broken into two parts. We have what’s called the rate of speech and the pace of speech. I’ll say it again because you can think about it, for you listeners, your own speaking. Rate is the speed at which we put words together. We speak, on average, at approximately 183 words per minute, is the average rate of speech. If you were to go to a meeting today and start counting words, you’ll get to it, in general American, which is what we speak in the United States. We don’t speak English, we speak American. But, in general American, we speak at approximately 183, a little more, a little less depending on who you are.

If I start talking at a faster rate right now, right now my rate of speech has just increased. I’m probably, I don’t know, maybe more like 213 words per minute right now. That’s rate. Pace is the speed at which we put thoughts together. So, I can actually be a faster talking like this, and as long as I pause every so often, you’ll actually be able to follow and process the things that I’m talking about. But if I start talking at a faster rate like this and I don’t pause for pacing, and I start talking about technical things, and I’m expecting you to understand and follow and process the things that I’m saying, you’re going to be begging for me to just take a breath. That’s just what they are, rate and pace.

And, often, what happens is, in a presentation, as speech coaches, these are coachable things. We listen and hear that. Many people are pretty good with rate, not always. Sometimes you got to learn to slow the rate. but pacing is often off. It’s thought, thought, thought, thought, topic, topic, topic. It just keeps going and it is very difficult for listeners to comprehend.

When we don’t change the speech pattern, the speaker can lull listeners into a trance, literally, which is why, for folks who have been in a presentation, and you just sort of zone a little bit, sometimes that is because the speech pattern just does not vary. Speed is one thing we can look at to do that. The other ones, such as volume, that doesn’t work for everybody. We look at volume or stress or inflection. Volume, volume. Stress, we stretch a word out somehow. Or the inflection, the tone, somehow, we make a change, and that draws attention.

Let me give you an example. If I were to say to you, “Good speech is good business,” every word has about the same stress and same volume and same meaning, so it’s up to you, the listener, to hear the words, process that, and understand my meaning, and for the most part you can do that. That’s actually pretty profound.

As a species, we have figured out how to take thought and then control these articulators here, the vocal folds, or our breathing where sound comes from, and then the articulators, the teeth, the tongue, the lips, things like that, and shape the sound and the noises we make so another human can hear those sounds, decode it, and now they have the same thought that we had. I mean, it’s pretty profound when you think about that. No wonder there’s so much room for miscommunication, misunderstanding.

When I say, “Good speech is good business,” I’m making you work a little harder. A moment ago, I told you we speak at about 183 words per minute. We can think at like 600 words per minute so, therefore, there’s like 400 or so words a minute doing other stuff all the time. Even right now while I’m talking, people can hear me but in the back of their minds, they may be thinking, “Oh, I got to get that email out. He’s a second-generation coach, what is that? Oh, my goodness.” There are all sorts of dialogue happening in our minds while people are talking.

So, when I say, “Good speech is good business,” I am making you use that 400 words a minute to hear the words, decode the words, and understand the meaning. Okay, fine. Fine. Listen to how the meaning changes when I add color, one of the four horsemen, when I add color to one of the words, “Good speech is good business.” I’m going to change a few times. Let me do these three or four times. Listen to how the meaning changes, “Good speech is good business.” “Good speech is good business.” “Good speech is good business.” “Good speech is good business.”

Can you hear how the meanings slightly changes depending on where I’m adding the inflection or stress or changing?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s fun how that works because sometimes I play around with that just for fun in terms of like a given sentence or a joke, and see how it feels different. And I think, as you discussed these principles, the speaker that comes to mind for me is the late Jim Rohn. His voice has such music in it. And I think he’s a master in that it’s like it’s almost too much, but not. And so, I just think it’s a great example of this is what it sounds like when you bring a lot of that color into it in terms of it does feel musical. It’s like I wish I could give a great quote but I actually think about how Jim Rohn might say it, it’s like, “Good speech is good business,” in terms of it’s like, “Ooh, we’ve got a lot of kind of flair on that.”

Ethan Becker
So, interestingly, here’s where sort of like in the world of theater, a director might work with an actor or actress on this, but that’s their profession doing this. So, this is one reason why we’re not big fans of bringing theater ideas into the business world because, in many cases, the folks we’re working with, they don’t have that level of time, understanding, background, history. There are many, many people that we work with who, maybe they are a scientist, for instance, and they were trained, in fact, graded poorly if they added emphasis as they did a report.

A classic example, so we work with a lot of life science companies, as an example. These are companies that maybe they already have their first hundred million dollars, but now they’re looking to raise the next round of funding. They’re looking for 200 million or 300 million, and the senior leadership team are a collection of incredibly smart scientists who have come from the academic space, and they will present, “We have a drug that will cure cancer.” Aristotle would refer to that as a logos approach, a very sort of not a lot of variation in the voice. And in their world, that gives them credibility in the scientific world if they were at a conference, if they were speaking to academics. And if they took a TED Talk-style, forget it. they would be laughed out of the room.

This is why we say, “Don’t just talk like TED in the world of business place. There’s a time and a place for that style as incredibly effective, which is really just the conference style.” But you take that style to like a boardroom, no way. Or, for these scientists, the challenge for them is, “How do I, as a scientist, who was trained to not show any emotion when I am talking about even something that is significant?” They need to learn how to add emphasis in a way that is effective. And we all look different, we sound different, they don’t have to talk like Tony Robbins or something. They don’t have to do that. You don’t have to, to be incredible.

They can take and keep their current style and just learn how to adapt and amend certain words that emphasize the point, and, bam, it will pop. Their listeners will tune right in. And what makes this authentic is they are spending the time, saying, “Whoa, what do I actually mean in any given sentence? What is the point?” But then they got to actually do the practicing of it. Learning it is easy. Practicing it, it’s not hard, you just got to do the work. You just got to do it, that’s all. Anyway, it’s a lot of fun. All this stuff is a lot of fun.

There are other environments where you got to take a different approach but we’re not all the same. We look different, sound different. This is why it ain’t one size fits all. You just can’t do it that way.

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

Ethan Becker
My mom always used to say, “Be sure that your brain is engaged before putting your mouth into gear.”

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Ethan Becker
I like Getting to Yes by Fisher and Ury. I like Good to Great, excellent book, Jim Collins. The third one would be, oh, The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense by Suzette Haden. Elgin, she changed her name, but that’s a great one.

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

Ethan Becker
A favorite tool would be taking a time out to practice.

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

Ethan Becker
Yeah, getting good at step number two. That’s probably one of the things we get a lot of feedback on. Most folks have not thought about step two, “Tell why listen,” and they will…As you get good at that, the quality of their presentations really change. Not just the quality of the presentation, the attention span of the listener changes significantly when you get good at it and it feels authentic. None of this stuff is like gimmick stuff. This is all real. This is all how you do it.

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

Ethan Becker
Well, you can go to SpeechImprovement.com is the website. You can find me on LinkedIn, Dr. Ethan Becker. We do have an app that’s pretty cool. This is a free app. It’s called Speech Companion that has a great summary of the four-step outline, inductive, deductive, ethos, pathos, logos, with examples of phrases and language. It’s a tool we developed a while back. We actually wrote the code from scratch in-house here, which was a lot of fun to do.

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

Ethan Becker
Yeah, as you’re listening to people, begin to notice how other people are communicating. Do they like their general information up front or at the end? And as you start to do that, you’re going to start to find that’s just one area you’ll be able to connect with them much more effectively.

Pete Mockaitis
Ethan, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all of your communications.

Ethan Becker
Thanks, Pete. I appreciate it.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

 

About Heather

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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

Heather Hansen Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, contrast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
“What the heck is osteomyelitis?”

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

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Keep it going.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay. And how about evidence?

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And then reception.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
I could be.

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

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got a sword down here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
On my own forehead or your forehead?

Heather Hansen
On your forehead.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m drawing.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Am I a sweetheart?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

666: How to Build Trust and Connection through Digital Body Language with Erica Dhawan

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Leadership expert Erica Dhawan helps decode the new cues and signals that make up digital body language.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The new cues and signals to look out for
  2. Rules for emojis in emails
  3. The Zoom rule to keep everyone engaged

 

About Erica

Erica Dhawan is a globally recognized leadership expert and keynote speaker helping organizations and leaders innovate faster and further, together. Erica has spoken, worldwide, to organizations and enterprises that range from the World Economic Forum to U.S. and global Fortune 500 companies, associations, sports teams, and government institutions. Named as one of the top management professionals around the world by Global Gurus, she is the founder and CEO of Cotential – a company that has helped leaders and teams leverage twenty-first-century collaboration skills globally. Her writing has appeared in dozens of publications, including Fast Company and Harvard Business Review. She has an MPA from Harvard Kennedy School, MBA from MIT Sloan, and BS from The Wharton School. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Erica Dhawan Interview Transcript

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

Erica Dhawan
Thank you so much for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about Digital Body Language, but, first, I want to hear a little bit about your body of work in the realm of Bollywood dancing. What is the story here for you?

Erica Dhawan
I grew up as a shy and introverted girl in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and for most of my life, I struggled to find my voice. You couldn’t even realize I was there. Every teacher from kindergarten to 12th grade often said, “Erica is very studious and gave me straight As,” but every teacher had the same feedback, “I wish Erica spoke more in class.”

One of the things though that I loved and that really allowed me to connect with others was dancing. And coming from an Indian background, one of my biggest passions is Bollywood dancing. But with my passion and my work around connection and my research around how we really connect in today’s world, I found that so much of it comes not just through our heads but through our hearts.

And so, some of the things I love to do is not only Bollywood dance myself, but bring the spirit of dance and movement to my audiences as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, fun. So, then let’s talk now about body language, or specifically digital body language. You’ve got this book here about digital body language. Can you share with us what’s perhaps the most surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive discovery you made along the way as you were putting this together?

Erica Dhawan
One of the things, or knacks, that allowed me to find my voice, beyond just dance, was understanding body language and the importance of it to build connections. But as I used the power of body language to get great competitive jobs and accelerate in my career, I started noticing something over the last few years that was pervading workplaces and people’s family lives – there was no rulebook for how we showed body language in a digital world.

And it led me for the last four years to study what I called digital body language, which are the new cues and signals that we send in our digital communication that really make the subtext of our messages, whether it’s punctuation, response times, how we sign up an email, to how we showed up on a video call.

One of the most surprising things that I learned while writing my book Digital Body Language is I originally wrote it thinking that it was really an additive benefit or skill in addition to traditional body language. It was something you need once you learned the basics of traditional body language. But what I really realized, as we’ve unlocked our digital shift over the past year, is that digital body language is now changing the way we use traditional body language.

My research is showing that even when we work face to face, moving forward, we are more likely to look down on our phones multiple times, to miss the lean-in in a sales conversation, to think in bullet points and expect others to speak in bullet points, and we are missing a lot of the traditional cues of the head nod, the lean in, the direct eye contact that we used to have. So, digital body language is not just how you show up on a video screen or how you send emails, it is truly changing how we make others feel not only online but even in live meetings in our new normal.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so there’s a lot in there, and that’s exciting. So, you talked about the word rulebook so I want to dig into lots of the precise do’s and don’ts and the implications of them. But before we go there, could you maybe share with us a story about someone who’s able to transform their digital body language and see some cool results from that?

Erica Dhawan
One of the best examples from my own research on digital body language that I feature in my book is about a leader named Kelsey. She works at a large company, and Kelsey is someone who really cares about her people and leading her team. But one of the things that she got was some negative feedback through a performance review that her empathy was weak.

And I started coaching Kelsey, and when I started working with her, I started to look at all the typical markers of subpar empathy: poor listening skills, lack of engagement. And I found that Kelsey was actually fantastic at all these things. She showed her team that she was engaged in the room with them. She would ask for their input repetitively. She would try to bring in her introverts and her extroverts. But I realized what was missing was a whole new set of things that weren’t the traditional cues of empathy.

She would look down at her phone multiple times during meetings, multitasking, or signaling to her team that she wasn’t necessarily always paying attention, thinking that it was important to be responsive, not realizing that was impacting how her team felt valued. She would send one-liner emails that were brief and no context, thinking that she was responsive but actually had a major impact on her team not having a clear understanding of what they needed to do next.

Another thing she was doing was repetitively canceling meetings at the last minute, and her team would feel devalued. So, while Kelsey’s traditional body language was actually quite good around empathy, her digital body language was abysmal. So, we did a few things to really help solve some of these challenges. The first thing we did, and I’ll describe them as sort of three tenets of digital body language, is follow one of the first tenets, which is what I call reading messages carefully is the new listening.

Instead of rushing to respond to things, she took a second, thought before she typed, and would send all her messages to her team with clear response expectations, made sure that she could read it a second time for not only what she was thinking in her head but how others may interpret her messages, especially some of her junior employees.

The second thing that she did, which was critical, is she practiced the tenet that I call hold your horses, which means less haste equals more speed. So, she focused on not rewarding the fastest person to respond in her team meetings but the most thoughtful ideas. And the way that she did this was she started to send agendas before those meetings. She was more thoughtful instead of chronically canceling.

And she had said, “Before the meeting, I want you all to think about these questions.” And then, in the team meeting, she had everyone go around and share their responses. And now, in video calls, she had everyone share in the chat tool so that they weren’t turn-taking and then she would call on the people that had the most different ideas. This allowed her to avoid that culture of group think and create that thoughtfulness.

And then the last thing she did is she was more thoughtful about how her team could find their voice especially in different medium. She found that sometimes, while she was really good with introverts and extroverts face to face, sometimes in digital mediums, they needed more engagement. So, she had a rule where she said, “If you have an idea that isn’t in this meeting on Monday, I want you to send it to me on Friday.”

And what it would do was it would force her to think, it would force her to not just reward the quickest person to respond, and it would allow her introverts to actually bring their best ideas to the table. So, those are just some quick examples of how what we all knew what was implicit in traditional body language, now has to be explicit in our digital body language.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. So, there’s a lot of specifics right there in terms of do’s and don’ts to bear in mind. So, let’s zoom right in to some more of those in terms of what are some key do’s and don’ts that you see all the time and make a world of impact when we make an adjustment there?

Erica Dhawan
Let’s start with the do’s. The first do is value others visibly by valuing their time. Don’t chronically cancel, send agendas, be thoughtful of people’s time. The new art of respect is honoring people’s time, inboxes, and schedules. So, so much of this is really around watching the clock of starting meetings, ending meetings on time, acknowledging those differences, and showing that you recognize others and value their time and engagement with you. There’s so much hidden costs in the emails we send back and forth.

The second do is to communicate carefully. Take a moment to think before you type. Another story I’ll share is I once had a client who sent a message to his boss Tom that said, “Do you want to speak Wednesday or Thursday,” and Tom’s response was, “Yes.” Now, Tom was probably rushing, he thought it wouldn’t offend his colleague, but reading carefully is listening, and writing clearly is empathy, so communicate carefully.

The third do is collaborate with confidence and understand that confidence today is being consistent in your messages. You don’t want to create cultures where people have to chase you down, and being consistent. Even if you don’t have any answer but having a cadence for following up matters more than ever.

And the fourth do is trust others and assume positive intent. Especially in a digital body language world, there are cases where we get all caps emails, we’re feeling someone is shouting at us. Or those emojis that feel a bit passive-aggressive, stay in the place of reason, don’t get emotionally hijacked, and choose thoughtfulness, and giving others a benefit of the doubt.

Now let me give you three don’ts.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if I could just, because you said emojis, and that was on my list, so let’s just go there. So, emojis can come across as passive-aggressive. How do we think about emojis at work in terms of like, “Never use them,” or, “Use them freely,” or, “Use them only under these circumstances”? What’s your take?

Erica Dhawan
So, emojis are like our true body language facial expressions. And they do bring emotion, nuance, and tone to digital messages that are absent of the body language which makes up roughly 75% of nonverbal communication. I recommend using emojis carefully and knowing your audience when you’re using emojis.

Emojis can actually provide great benefit. They can showcase happiness. They can showcase gratitude with your team. The best way to decide when you should use emojis, how many you should use, how carefully you should use them, is by answering two questions. The first question is, “How much do you trust this person?” If there’s high trust, don’t be shy. Use your authenticity and maybe throw in that emoji. If there’s low trust, maybe be careful. First, mirror the other person’s formality, and then decide when might be that right moment to sprinkle in an emoji.

The second question to answer is, “How much of a power gap is between the two of you?” Is this a CEO who’s in their 60s and you’ve never met in person that you’re sending an email to, or is this a cousin or a friend? These simple things will help you decide power and trust levels whether to infuse that emotion or not. I would say that over the last year, we’ve seen a much higher degree of using the power of emojis and I really encourage it to show your authenticity, again, in places where there is high trust and little differentiation in power dynamics.

I’d also say that we’re seeing a lot more senior leaders throwing in those emojis or two, and I think that it can be really great to infuse a sense of emotion or connection. There are times where you’ll want to make sure you avoid them, sensitive periods where there’s difficulties, situations where…

Pete Mockaitis
“You’re firing 20,000 people…” yeah, I hear you. There’s sort of heavy gravitas elements that the emoji brings a lightness to, a lightness that ought not to be brought to that sort of thing. I wanted to ask, you talked about the power gap in the senior leaders. If you are the more senior person, does that kind of nudge you towards feeling more free to use emojis in communication with the junior folks as a means of making things seem lighter, freer, more open? Or, is it…? What’s your take there?

Erica Dhawan
I think that senior leaders have a great opportunity to sprinkle in that emoji or two to actually create connections. In my research, what I found is that we are all in different wavelengths of digital body language. On one end, there are digital natives, people that are very savvy in these tools, they grew up using emojis in high school, in college. And then digital adopters are the other category. These are people that are learning the new road of digital body language as we go. They never used an emoji for 20 years in workplace culture, and then they might start to try this, which feels like a big leap for them.

To give you a similar parallel example. My father is a digital adopter and I’m a digital native, and when my father sends me a text message, it starts with “Dear Erica,” and ends with “Love, Dad,” and I just scroll through it because it’s as long as a letter, and I haven’t quite taught him that a text is not a letter. But we have to understand that maybe some of our senior leaders are similar to my father. They’re new to these things.

And so, check your own bias. If you’re a leader, sprinkle in an emoji or two. It may actually bring more connection with your teams but know that there are some things that actually may go too far. One head of HR that I interviewed said that she remembers a moment when she changed her communications from an exclamation point to an emoji, and it was like a rite of passage, and it was a big deal. Whereas, for maybe a millennial or a Gen Z, it’s like a simple thing to use every day.

The other thing she learned though is she wrote adorbs, like adorable, but adorbs in an email with one of her millennial coworkers, she is a Gen Xer. And that millennial said, like, “I was uncomfortable with adorbs because you put it an email, and I feel like email is formal. And to you, email was actually more informal.” And so, not only do digital adopters and digital natives have different styles around when to use these punctuation or symbols, but even they have different norms around where to use them by channel.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and it sounds like you’re sharing some really great principles here which are, in many ways, universal, but in some other ways individuals are going to have their own particular preferences, proclivities, nuances, and that’s just how they are. Like, that would not have even occurred to me. Like, “Email is a more formal channel. I prefer not to hear adorbs.” I guess I’m…how old am I again? I’m 37.

Erica Dhawan
You may be more of a digital native. And I find that it’s not just age-based. I know 50-year-olds that are digital natives at heart and 35-year-olds that want perfect punctuation in text messages. One fun fact is a research study showed that if you put a period at the end of a text, certain Americans will think you’re angry or passive-aggressive, other Americans will think you’re just using good grammar. And that’s just a very good example of how, similar to emojis, we are not all the same. We are all learning the brave new world of digital body language, so it’s important to check our bias to not read into things, and to really give others the benefit of the doubt.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, let’s talk about not reading into things. We’re going to talk about the don’ts here, so let’s start with that one and maybe hear a few more don’ts. Let’s just say our brain just start to go, like, “Wow, what’s up with that text, or Slack, or email that just said, ‘Okay.’ Are they mad at me? Did I screw up? Do they think that I’m trying to undermine them?” So, anyway, our brains just make up these stories and they go running. How should we deal with the internal game when that pops up for us?

Erica Dhawan
So, with the lack of that tone and body language, if you get that message and you see that someone is on the verge of tears, you know that they have good intent but if you can’t see any of those cues, it’s easy to get lost in our minds, caught up in rumination or paranoia. So, here’s a couple things that you shouldn’t do when you get that message.

The first thing you should not do is you should not respond immediately with another passive-aggressive, not react with a more passive-aggressiveness. Instead, stay in the place of reason, sleep on it. I like to call it the pregnant email pause. Sleep on it overnight and come back to it when you’re not as emotionally hijacked. You’ll come back to it refreshed. If you want to write something back, maybe draft it, and then come back to it later.

Another thing that you can do is just pick up the phone. Don’t use email back and forth if it’s not really working for you anymore. Know when it’s important to pick up the phone. I like to say a phone call is worth a thousand emails and there are certain cases where it matters more than ever to do that. That’s the first big don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
And to that point about the phone call, I think that that’s so…it is so powerful and it can be worth a thousand emails in the sense of kind of upstream and downstream in terms of positive or negative. And like when you call, and you say, “Hey, we said okay. I was wondering if maybe we’re thinking X, Y, Z.” And then maybe that can open up a really important emotional conversation, like, “You know, I’m sorry. I’m really stressed about these things. You’re doing a really great job. I’ve been really short with people.” And then you just really strengthen that relationship because you were able to go there. Or you can just have a quick laugh, like, “Oh, no. No, I didn’t mean that at all. No, that’s funny. We’re all good.”

Erica Dhawan
Yeah, someone is trying to be funny and it didn’t go well online.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s like that, even if there’s nothing there, taking the time to make the phone call can just go miles in terms of enriching that relationship, so I love it.

Erica Dhawan
That’s absolutely right.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Erica Dhawan
And digital body language is just as much about knowing when to have the video call, the phone call, the live meeting, the email, or the IM, or the text as it is, what we say in each of those mediums. I like to say the choice of communication medium is like the new measure of priority, complexity, and urgency. If it’s really urgent, know when to send a text or make that quick call versus an email. If it’s high complex, it’s very important to know when to have that video call with nuance, with SlideShare, or send a detailed email. And if you’re familiar with this person, knowing when you can just pick up the phone versus sending the long email, or where you have to work with their assistant to schedule something on a calendar.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Great. Thank you. Let’s hear some more don’ts now.

Erica Dhawan
Don’t multitask. Multitasking is rampant right now. We are all feeling not only Zoom gloom but constant fatigue, endless emails. What I really recommend to avoid this just endless feeling, like we’re constantly in meetings, and we have to multitask to just get through the day, is initiate what I call the Zoom BCC just as much as we do the email BCC.

If you’re in a lot of meetings, if they could be shorter meetings, first have less meetings. Instead of making them 30 minutes, make them 25 minutes, then you’ll see you can make them 20 minutes. And then if you have a lot of people on there that don’t need to be on there anymore, initiate a BCC rule on Zoom where you can loop people out just like we do on email. This will really avoid multitasking and really get individuals engaged.

If you’re in a meeting where you feel like you want to multitask because you’re not being engaged, start the meeting with, “What’s the agenda here and how can I help?” Be proactive to make sure that you’re valued, otherwise you don’t need to be there, versus feeling a fear or guilt. And if you’re the host of that meeting, always start with, “Here’s what’s success looks like. Here’s why I need all of your input. And if we’re able to get through this in 15 minutes, then we’ll end 10 minutes early.” Simple things like that will quickly avoid multitasking which is, as we all know, is pretty rampant.

The last thing I think is important is just don’t constantly be in a rush. We are living in a world where rush responses are often prioritized, as I said earlier, over thoughtfulness. Take the moment to really reflect on, “What is a working session that really needs group thinking versus group think?” instead of just saying, “We need to talk next Tuesday because that’s the next opening on our calendar.”

We are not robots and we can’t live or adhere to what our Outlook or our Gmail calendar is saying. We need to think about what will best serve the task at hand, and how we as humans need to process ideas and think through things before we actually jump from meeting to meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
And, in practice, if I want to implement this Zoom BCC action, how would I go about pulling that off?

Erica Dhawan
One of the best ways you can initiate the Zoom BCC is have a rule in the chat box on a video call when individuals do not need to engage anymore or they filled their part of the meeting, just write, “BCC: Sam, John, and Mary,” and then they have the liberty to BCC out of the meeting. That’s just a simple way to do it. I love the power of the video call chat tools because you’re avoiding turn-taking and allowing individuals to engage all at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, just for any listeners who aren’t quite picking up what we’re putting down and intricate for my understanding. Erica, when you say BCC, it’s much like when in an email we perhaps move the person who introduced us, like Dorie Clark introduced us, thanks, Dorie, we move them to BCC such that they are not privy to all of the back-and-forth subsequent emails about scheduling or whatever that we’re doing. And so, we’re using that as a shorthand then within the Zoom chat to say, “Hey, thanks for that which you have contributed. If you would like to exit now, you’re free to do so.”

Erica Dhawan
Exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. And so, it’s kind of nice as a cultural shorthand, they’d say, “Oh, okay. Got it.” Just like, “That happens in email, that’s what’s happening now, and I appreciate you respecting my time, Erica, and giving that back to me and I’m going to go do my thing.” Or they might say, “No, actually, this is riveting stuff and I really want to see what happens and I’m excited to contribute a few more ideas,” then, by all means, you stick around and it’s all good.

Erica Dhawan
Absolutely. And I think that’s the opportunity here. What we’re often finding is what happens when people don’t feel like they’re contributing anymore, they start multitasking on the call, and then people see that, and then other people multitask, and it just creates a disengaged scenario. And so, really being thoughtful about this can go a long way.

And, again, we are living in the wild, wild west of how we innovate around digital body language, so use your own creativity. With some of my clients who have read the book Digital Body Language and we’ve run workshops we’ve initiated email acronyms. For example, on subject lines, leaders are using 2H which means “I need this in two hours,” or, 4D which means, “I need this in four days” so that person doesn’t feel that like they have to rush; they have four days to actually think about it and then come up with the best product.

Another example of an email is one of my favorite acronyms NNTR which means “No need to respond.” That simple email acronym can avoid 15 thank you emails or okay emails. And this is not trivial, it’s actually valuing other’s time right now. Another one of my favorites is ROM which means “Respond on Monday,” especially if you’re a senior leader who’s sending an email on a Sunday, you don’t want to blast your team member’s weekend. Let them know ROM that they can respond on Monday. That can go a long way not only for you to get better ideas from them but foster wellbeing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly, yeah. And it’s just very clear because it’s ambiguous, they say, “This doesn’t seem super urgent but then, again, why are you sending it to me on a Saturday or a Sunday? And maybe you just had a good creative spark or maybe it is urgent and I can’t quite tell even if I’ve spent that couple minutes trying to figure out if it is or not urgent by reading between the lines.” It’d be great just to have that clarity at first, like, “Oh, I don’t even need to open this subject line that’s tantalizing me because see that acronym. That’s great.” Thank you.

When it comes to multitasking, I just want to get your take about how you say we see other people multitasking on like a Zoom call, and then that just sort of brings down the energy and the commitment focus level from others.

And I think what’s funny, I think most of us notice but some of us don’t apparently, which is that we can tell when you’re multitasking because we can hear the clicking, or if you’re in a Mac or something, like the “thunk, thunk, thunk” trackpad clicks, or see your eyeballs they’re like reading texts elsewhere kind of on the screen as opposed to listening to the person. And so, even with the mutes or whatever, there are many ways it becomes clear that you’re multitasking. So, public announcement there, we know you’re multitasking. So, that’s there if you didn’t already know that.

Can you tell me what are some of the other telltale signs of that? And how does that bring down the energy of the group?

Erica Dhawan
I think that your example was brilliant. It is obvious when individuals are multitasking versus when they’re actually engaging in a conversation. And if you just write even just like, “Oh, I agree” in a chat, it’s kind of like, “Okay, are you really listening?” versus sending something thoughtful around what was just said that will proactively contribute to the conversation and adds to it.

I want to answer this in a few ways. First, I’ll answer “What are some of the common cues of multitasking?” but then I want to answer, “If you are the meeting host, how do you avoid this from happening from those attending your meeting?”

So, common cues of multitasking, people are just not on video even though that you asked for people to be on video, or most of the people are on video. I think that there are reasons people aren’t on video, but if it is a meeting where everyone else is on video, take a second to think about the fact that other people may think you’re multitasking even if you’re not.

Another cue is just never looking into the camera at all and always looking down or somewhere else. A research study showed that making eye contact happens about 30% to 60% when we’re face to face. In body language, we want to actually, when we’re speaking, look into the camera about 60% to 70% of the time. Even though we can’t see everyone, they can feel a connection with us, so it does really help. The third is being someone who, when you’re called on, is sort of like, “Oh, what do we need again?” or, “Can you say this again?” Those are great examples of just the multitasking phenomenon that is existing.

So, how do you overcome some of these challenges if you’re a meeting host? Number one, before the meeting, I like to say the meeting calendar invite is like the new first impression. It sets the agenda for how people will behave in your meeting. So, in that meeting invite, have a clear meeting title, have an agenda, write in there some norms, “We’d like to have everyone on video. If you can’t join on video, let me know beforehand that you can’t.” Like, instead of creating the opt-in, create the opt-out of, “Here are the norms,” and people are automatically engaged more.

In your agenda, identify ways where you can actually solicit other individuals to lead parts of the meeting or to be prepared to speak around specific questions that you want them to discuss. Then, at the beginning of your meeting, when everyone is on, actually start with, “Here’s the agenda. I’m going to call on people randomly.” Encourage that. Just like we did in an office. Like, we don’t have to be polite. This is how we meet. And simple things like that will change behavior as well as using the chat tools, say, “I’d like everyone, as we’re discussing this, to share their responses in the chat. We’re going to wait till everyone shares in the chat. And then I’ll call on people that have different perspectives.”

And this is a great way as well for people to just pay attention and make sure that you’re truly soliciting that input from everyone. So, those are just some examples. Again, it’s not going to be perfect, but knowing how to engage the group thoughtfully and then knowing when to Zoom BCC them out, because otherwise it will create multitasking, can go a long way and just having great, good body language.

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

Erica Dhawan
My new book Digital Body Language is out May 11th. If you want access to some tools around it, if you go to EricaDhawan.com/digitalbodylanguage, I have a digital body language quiz that will help you assess yourself on some of the categories I talked about: valuing others visibly, communicating carefully. It’s free for anyone. And I hope you’ll check it out, take it with your teams, and understand whether you’re a digital native or a digital adapter. 

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

Erica Dhawan
My favorite quote is from Maya Angelou, and I’ll share it with you, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And what I find so inspiring about that is that this is a moment that we can help others feel heard, respected, and understood with digital body language.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Now could you share a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Erica Dhawan
I recently ran a study of 2,000 office workers, and one of the greatest insights I found from the study was that the average office worker cited that they were wasting four hours a week on poor, unclear, and confusing digital communication. If we equate that up to the US GDP alone, that is $889 billion in wasted salary alone.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Erica Dhawan
My favorite book, most recently, I have many, is Choose Yourself by James Altucher.

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

Erica Dhawan
My favorite tool is the Calm app. I really believe in the power of meditation and connecting not only with our minds but our bodies. And I use it every single morning for a quick meditation, and every afternoon for a five-minute meditation.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Erica Dhawan
Yeah, my favorite habit is to wake up every morning and have a big glass of water with a Nuun tablet. Hydration is everything. It has changed my life. And if you are not drinking eight glasses of water, go for it and you will see immense results.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, hydration is actually one of my hobby horses, I guess, so you said it was transformational. Explain.

Erica Dhawan
I was constantly tired for most of my life throughout the day. I’ve been addicted to coffees, teas, chocolates in the afternoon, and after I became a mom of two kids, I have two kids under three years old, I realized that this could not be fixed with caffeine. Caffeine is just another addiction and I needed to change my habits. And so, I started to experiment with lots of different things, but the one that has really worked is just drinking more water. And I found that I don’t love to just drink glasses of water, but I started to use electrolyte tablets, like Nuun and others, and just that simple dose of not feel like water, warm water, but a little more fun goes a long way in helping me hydrate, keep my energy up throughout the day.

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

Erica Dhawan
In terms of all of my work, I think one of the most important nuggets that has connected most was the quote I shared earlier, “Reading messages carefully is the new listening, and writing clearly is the new empathy.” We are living in a new world of how we connect and build trust. And, as I shared earlier, I think what was implicit from body language now has to be explicit in digital body language. And I think that taking the extra steps to truly show empathy and care with simple actions like these go a long way in connecting.

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

Erica Dhawan
Folks can learn more on my website at EricaDhawan.com, or my book website EricaDhawan.com/digitalbodylanguage, or you can just check out my Amazon page and find my books there.

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

Erica Dhawan
To be awesome at your job, it’s critical to get comfortable being uncomfortable, to be willing to ask for help, say what you know, what you don’t know, and be vulnerable, because when you are vulnerable, you’ll create the safe space to allow others to speak up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Erica, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck with the book and your digital body language and your many other adventures.

Erica Dhawan
Thank you so much.