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597: How to Turn No Into Yes: Powerful Negotiation Questions with Alex Carter

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Alex Carter says: "Silence is not an imposition. It's actually a gift to the other person. It gives them time to think and it prevents you from selling yourself short."

Columbia law professor Alex Carter shares why it pays to ask for more, both at work and in life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 4 questions that will help you negotiate better 
  2. How to boost your confidence going into a negotiation 
  3. How to increase your chances of getting a yes from your boss 

About Alex

Alex Carter is Director of the Mediation Clinic at Columbia Law School, where she is also an award-winning professor, and a world-renowned negotiation trainer for the United Nations. She also serves as Executive Director of Stand Up Girls, helping tween girls develop relationships for greater self-esteem and resilience. She has appeared on CBS This Morning, MSNBC’s LIVE Weekend and Hardball, Marketplace, and in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. She lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, with her husband and daughter.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Alex Carter Interview Transcript

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

Alex Carter
Pete, thanks so much. I’m thrilled to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk negotiation. And I’d love it if you could kick us off by sharing one of your coolest negotiating stories.

Alex Carter
Sure. Coolest negotiating stories. How about the first time I ever negotiated my own salary?

Pete Mockaitis
That sounds like a good one. Let’s go.

Alex Carter
So, yes. I’m one of these people who, and some of your listeners may relate, early on in my career, I worked at places that were all lock-step so I never had much to negotiate. Well, fast forward to the first moment in my 30s that I ever negotiated my salary. Went in, power suit on, ready for battle, and to my surprise, they came in slightly above what I was expecting. So, had just enough on the ball to keep my face neutral, said, “Thank you so much. I’ll get back to you.”

Went out and called a senior woman in my field, and I said, “I’m not sure what to do. They came in above.” And she said, “I’m going to tell you what to do, Alex. You’re going to go in there and you’re going to ask for more.” And I said, “I’m going to ask for more?” And she said, “Yes, because when you teach someone how to value you, you teach him how to value all of us, meaning women. And so, if you’re not going to do it for yourself, I want you to go in and do it for the woman who’s coming after you. Do it for the sisterhood.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Alex Carter
And so, that was the moment when I realized that asking for more and negotiating and claiming my value actually was not a selfish act, that in doing that, I could create more seats, not fewer, around the table for people to join me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a beautiful reframe right there in terms of it’s not a zero-sum game. It is benefitting more persons than just you. It’s funny, I think sometimes when we hear about negotiation, we think about the tactics and the power phrases. I’m thinking about Michael Scott in “The Office.”

Alex Carter
Oh, God.

Pete Mockaitis
Trick number 31 or whatever, and it would sound like, “Okay, you did your research, you said you’re going to think about it, and then you just suggested a higher number,” and it sounds like, unless you skipped any juicy details, that there weren’t a lot of secret weapons you’re employing there.

Alex Carter
Well, it’s interesting, Pete, and I’m so glad you brought that up about people thinking it’s all about the secret weapon, the decision tree, or some complicated algorithm that’s going to get you the best result. The truth is, that Ask for More, is in part, it’s my book, it’s in part the story of a woman who learned how to ask for more, but it’s also about the power of questions.

Questions are actually the number one under-utilized weapon in negotiation. When you go into a negotiation and front load your questions, you’re not only going to get more information, you’re going to end up with better deals.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s very tempting to dive right in. But, first, I want to touch base on in terms of maybe the why or what’s at stake with negotiating skills. So, I think naturally, if you think, “Hey, yeah, you can have some more money if you negotiate.” But what are maybe some of the other opportunities that we don’t even think about negotiating?

Alex Carter
Yeah, negotiation is about a lot more than money. You know, Pete, in fact, let’s zoom out a bit because a lot of times when people hear the word negotiation, they think of kind of what we started talking about at the beginning of this podcast where it’s a back and forth between two or more people over money. That’s actually not what I teach. I teach that negotiation is steering. It’s any conversation, not just the money conversations, not just the conversations where you’re battling over resources, but any conversation where you’re steering a relationship.

And so, it’s not just about money. It’s often about teaching people how to value you. It’s often about achieving the intangibles in life, those things that make our lives worth living – freedom, advancement, a sense of accomplishment, recognition. Negotiation is all of those. It’s how we create our own story.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That sounds great. So, let’s see about these questions.

Alex Carter
You’re right. All right, let’s get back. So, in fact, the first question that people should be asking in negotiation is actually not when they sit down with somebody else. So, Pete, by the time you and I sit down to negotiate, half of the process is already done, and that’s the part of the process that starts at home with me. So, before I even sit down with somebody, I need to be asking myself questions. And the first question I tell people to ask in every scenario is this, “What’s the problem I want to solve?”

You know, Pete, I found that, whether you’re talking about it in corporate context or in a more entrepreneurial scenario, people want to jump immediately to solutions, “There’s budget allocation, and I’m the leader of my department, and I want to go in immediately and say, ‘This is where my department’s number should be.’ But wait a second, what’s the problem I want to solve?”

“Am I merely looking for X number of dollars here because I’m allocating it to certain projects? Or, in the process of this, am I also trying to raise awareness about what my team did last quarter? Am I also trying to communicate the importance of my department to the company’s overall mission?” Thinking about the problem you want to solve, not only shapes what you ask for but how you ask for it. It is the first stop in any negotiation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we’re thinking clearly about the problem that you want to solve and, in so doing, I think that probably reframes any number of things and opens up a lot of possibilities that maybe just weren’t even on top of mind before you went there, so that’s awesome. What’s next?

Alex Carter
Sure. Well, how many questions would you like to do?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I understand you’ve got ten, so maybe let’s get the rundown preview listing and then dive deeper into a couple.

Alex Carter
Okay. All right. So, let’s talk next. So, you’ve thought about the problem you want to solve, I think the next stop is really thinking about what you need from this negotiation. And when I’m asking people to consider their needs, I ask them to put them into two buckets. So, the first bucket is kind of the low-hanging fruit in most negotiations. It’s what I call the tangibles, right? The things that you can touch, see or count, “So, I need this amount of money. I need this many people for headcount to grow my division.”

The intangibles, though, often complete the picture. Those are the values that we stand for and that really drive our negotiation. So, for example, if I’m the head of the department going in for resources, in addition to saying, “I need X, Y, and Z tangibles,” I might be thinking, “I need acknowledgement from my CEO for what we did for the bottom line last year.” And then that intangible can very often shape how I negotiate. The trick is, Pete, that when you have these intangibles, like, “I need some recognition,” you’ve got to look inward and ask yourself, “What would recognition look like for me here?” In other words, you’ve got to take that and make it concrete so that, then, it’s a basis for you to negotiate from.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, excellent. And so, in terms of we start with a problem, and then, “What it is that I need?” and have that be clear in terms of, you’re right, acknowledgement can take many flavors and formats in terms of, “Is it public? Is it private? Is it just like, ‘Hey, great job,’ one-sentence email that’s good enough? But what do you need?”

Alex Carter
Pete, you joke but I swear to you. So, part of what I do at Columbia Law School is I help people negotiate their way out of large conflicts. So, recognition for one person looks like a seven-figure number. Recognition for somebody else looked like a certificate that he put on his wall, a certificate of appreciation. It truly looks different for every person, and you have to honor what that looks like for you. “Ask for More” is all about tuning out the noise of what other people think you should need, and tuning in to what things like recognition and freedom and respect look like for you.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re right. And I like that when you talk about freedom, I mean, if we think about sort of a salary compensation picture, it may very well be, it’s like, “Okay, we don’t have that in the budget. Fair enough. I would like some additional vacation days.” And so then, on a dollars per hour or day basis, you might still feel whole with regard to achieving what you wanted to achieve.

Alex Carter
A hundred percent. And you pointed out something really important, which is there’s almost never just one driver in a negotiation. Money is something you can negotiate for. It’s not the only thing you should negotiate for. And if you’ve gone in with a complete list of what you need, “I need freedom, I need appropriate compensation for what I’m doing,” then that gives you the basis to be able to say, “Okay. So, what can we do on the salary? What can we do on the work schedule? What can we do on vacation? And how about mentorship or training possibilities?” In this way, you’re not just myopically zoning in on the money. I want for you to get that and everything else that’s going to satisfy your needs.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s talk a little bit about those emotions here. As I’m imagining, as I’m putting myself in the shoes of a listener that says, “Boy, there’s a context in which I’m starting to ask, I’m asking for more, I’m asking for a lot, for the money, for the work schedule I want, for the vacation I want.” I think this can give rise to some fear in terms of like, “Oh, am I being whiny, or needy, or hard to work with, or asking for too much too soon? Is this even appropriate?” How do we deal with that issue?

Alex Carter
Huge, huge issue. And can I say, Pete, I think this is even more of an issue right now than usual? All the time, people are having this conversation in our heads. It’s not just, “Am I whiny or am I needy?” For a lot of people, it’s “Am I worth it? Do I really believe that I am worth what I am asking for?” That is where negotiation starts. And I have to tell you that fear you were describing is so much more present now. Every day, I get a note from somebody I don’t know asking me, “Can I really negotiate even right now, even when I’m desperate for a job, even when I really need some money coming in the door?”  And the answer is that not only can you, you should.

I want to reframe that conversation in people’s heads. Yes, times are tough right now. On the other hand, isn’t now the time when every dollar of your company’s money should be spent on somebody who’s going to be able to achieve results, and shouldn’t that person be you? Why not you? Managing that internal emotional conversation is key to negotiation success.

And so, for that reason, I ask people to write down their feelings, what I call the F word, before they go in and they negotiate, because it’s in the process of airing those things out, recognizing that you’re feeling them, and persevering through anyway, that you’re going to get to the other side of that mountain.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like it. And I guess the what you’re worth piece, I think there’s a lot of bad places you can look for that, or suboptimal, shall I say, like, “Hey, what you were paid at the last place, or last year, may or may not be a reflective sensible answer to what you’re worth.” I imagine your market research in terms of, “Hey, supply and demand for this position and what they tend to get paid is worth it.” And then I think, for listeners of this show, it’s helpful to just think about, “How committed, motivated, ambitious, dedicated, skillful you are at your job relative to the other people in your office?”

And maybe you’re surrounded by higher performers but it’s often the case, people say, “Wow, a lot of people just aren’t really doing their job that many hours out of the day here. So, hotdog, I’m pretty diligent, so I might be worth two or three times what my peers are getting paid.”

Alex Carter
You know, I’ve counseled thousands of people, most people are underestimating themselves and not overestimating. Research tells people that when you ask for more, your ask should be optimistic, specific, and justifiable. A lot of times we remember that we need to justify our ask but we don’t remember the optimistic part. Take the best-case justifiable scenario and start from there, because, remember, it’s very rare that you’re going to get more than what you ask for.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Alex Carter
So, your ask sets the ceiling.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. So, it’s sort of like the most that’s not absurd, like, “Come on,” so just a bit below that, it’s like, “Well, hey, this is the 98th percentile for this role but, hey, I think I’m a top 10% performer so it just seems sensible that that’s what I want.”

Alex Carter
A 100%, that’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like that a lot. And also, when they say, “Hey, can I ask now even amidst economic uncertainties and COVID and such?” I recall we had the folks from the Paychecks & Balances podcast, great guys, Rich and Marcus, who, on the show, and one of them said, “You know what? I have blanket approval to give a 10% raise to anybody who asks, and almost nobody asks.” It’s like, “Wow!” that was eye-opening. A lot of people making these decisions do have that leeway just built in, no higher authority approval even necessary. Has that been your observation?

Alex Carter
It has. In fact, just in the last two weeks, I’ve negotiated with two separate organizations that initially said, “We have no room to negotiate,” and I asked, and almost immediately got the 10%. Almost immediately. And so, it’s as though the form letter goes out saying, “This is the rate.” But it’s true, people, in fact, here’s the secret, people expect you to negotiate. That’s the truth. People expect you to negotiate even in a pandemic. And you know what’s great when you negotiate during a pandemic? In the process of advocating for yourself, you are showing the company how you will advocate for them. Always, always negotiate.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that a lot. Okay, so we talked about the fear piece. That’s great. So, being convinced that you’re worth it. And we talked about the first two questions. What’s after that?

Alex Carter
Actually, Pete, we talked about the first three because the third one is about emotions and we kind of got there. After we talk about feelings, the next thing I like for people to do, this is a really, really powerful question, I like people to ask themselves this, “How have I achieved this successfully in the past?”

And here’s the reason, because oftentimes we’re facing a scenario and we’re feeling a bit anxious about negotiating, we forget that we have handled things successfully before. If you’re about to negotiate for yourself, or raise your prices, or ask for a higher salary, remember the last time you advocated for yourself. Write down the strategies you used and see what might be utilized here to make you more successful.

The thing about this question, Pete, is “How have I handled this successfully in the past?” it has two powerful functions in negotiation. Number one, the mere fact of asking yourself this question, there is research to show that if you go in to negotiate, having thought about a prior success, you’re more likely to do better simply by having thought about it. But the second reason to think about a prior success is it’s a data generator. Very often the strategies we’ve used in the past to make ourselves successful will work again in the future.

Now, I want to answer, Pete, a question that I think your listeners may be thinking. Some of them are thinking, “This is great, Alex, if I have a prior success that’s right on point. But what if I’m trying to do something I’ve never done before?” Fine. I’ve never, for example, published a book and promoted a book during a pandemic. First time, okay? But I looked back and I thought, “Okay, what are the elements of this? What do I need to do? How can I boil this down?”

And I thought, “Okay, I need to get a lot of people on board. I need to communicate clearly and powerfully around the message, and create a massive team to support me. When have I done that before? Oh, I ran my husband’s campaign for local office five years ago.” Went back, looked at the strategies I used as his campaign manager, and applied them to my book-promotion campaign. It was incredibly successful.

Sometimes, even a seemingly unrelated prior success is going to be just the thing to give you some strategies to use in your negotiation.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent in terms of there are all sorts of carryover in terms of it’s not the bullseye, okay, a book in a pandemic. Sure, that’s one of a kind. But, certainly, skills, experiences that have some relevance and some carryover, zero in on those. And that is great in terms of double barrel. You can bring that up if it comes up, and you feel all the more resolute and convicted about you being worth it for having gone there. So, that’s excellent.

Alex Carter
Yes. And if I can speak to that point, Pete, remember we talked about sort of psyching yourself out, almost giving yourself the no before anybody else can. If you are somebody who has difficulty advocating for yourself, my guess is, if you’re listening to this podcast, that you are great at negotiating on behalf of other people, your department, your friends, your kids. I want you to write down what makes you so successful when you negotiate for other people, and then use it for yourself. Over and over again, I have worked on this exercise with corporate leaders, and they tell me they find it unbelievably helpful in channeling those strengths to go in and ask for more.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it because that just sort of cuts through all of the self-doubt stuff in terms of, “If I am negotiating for Pete Inc. as opposed to me,” then you’re operating a bit differently, so that’s great. I want to get your take on, this might be advanced, but I think it comes up. It’s come up for me and I don’t do a ton of negotiating. When is the right time to think about bringing in an agent or a lawyer? When should you do that versus not do that?

I remember when I was closing on my house, it seems like the lawyers kind of made things more intense and a little kind of harder to get into a win-win. I remember at one point they’re like, “Did they say it was a shakedown? For them to impugn our integrity that way…” it’s like, “Oh, no, that was just me summarizing.” We got some misunderstandings and some intensity, but, at the same time, lawyers and agents are professionals with the skill set that have their use. How do you think about that game?

Alex Carter
So interesting. You know, Pete, I’m a lawyer and yet I think we often get in the way, right? We have a way. And it goes down to how a lot of lawyers are trained. So, again, I have a J.D., I’m a practicing lawyer, but for my first two years of law school before I took the class that I’m now teaching, I basically was a hammer and all I saw were nails, and I was looking for how I could escalate a conflict at any turn.

The truth is, Pete, I do make, now, I do make use sometimes of lawyers and agents. I have literary agents, I have speaking agents, all sorts of people who work with me. The truth is that nobody is going to be a better messenger than you even if you have an agent. I work really hard to steer that relationship and to help use them for the things that they are great at. Some of the industry-specific knowledge, that might be an occasion when I would hire. This is very industry-specific, they’re going to be able to help me fill in all the things that we could negotiate for.

But how we prioritize, and that strategy, that has to come from you. That has to come from the client. And there is no substitute for that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And it makes a lot of great sense in terms of if they’ve done many book deals or speaking gigs, it’s like, “Well, they kind of know what people are paying because it can vary wildly. A keynote might sell for 3,000 or might sell for 30,000. And what are the nuances that determine where you go within that massive range?”

Alex Carter
Absolutely. And I have the best in the business both on the literary and the speaking front, and still when I choose an agent, I choose somebody who wants me to partner with them, somebody who can come to the table with their expertise, and I can come to the table and say, “Might we prioritize it this way? Could we say it this way?” And this way, we are working together as partners on the ultimate result.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’d love to zoom in now in terms of, let’s say, there’s not a big high-stakes negotiation per se coming up for a professional, but this is sparking some things for people, like, “You know what? I would like to have more in my job maybe in terms of flexibility, or learning and development, or any number of things that’s kind of outside the big, I don’t know, promotion, raise, cycle, or new job opportunity.” You’re sort of, hey, you’ve been in a job for a while and there are some things you like, any pro tips on broaching that topic with your boss and leadership to maximize the odds they’ll say yes?

Alex Carter
Absolutely. So, this is advice I give normally but I think is especially apt during a pandemic. I would choose your timing carefully. And I mean that from two angles. First, I would consider what’s going on for the other person. What do they have coming down this week? Right now is a time, I think about myself, here it is we’re recording this mid-August, and I’m staring down the barrel at a fall semester. I’m not sure what’s happening with my teaching at Columbia. I think I’m virtual. Not sure what’s happening with my fourth grader.

If somebody came to me the moment that my school released its plan, and ask me for something, I’m not going to have the bandwidth to consider it properly. So, think about what’s going on for them, earnings, whatever it might be, time it from that perspective. I would also think about timing from your perspective. What’s going to be the best timing to increase your leverage? Did you just deliver on something early? Did you just achieve a great result? Your boss says, “Pete, this was an unbelievable job.” That could be a great moment to say, “Thanks so much. I enjoyed working on this. And while I have you, I’d love to get some time on your calendar to talk about my future at the company and where I would love to be in a few years.” So, taking that opportunity at the most propitious timing to setup the conversation.

I would also try to do something where you can see each other’s faces. We’re virtual, and so the temptation is “Do I do it email? Do I do it by phone?” If you’re having an important conversation, body language is data, and I want you to have as much data as possible about what the other person is thinking, so I would do that.

My last tip for asking, especially right now, is to frame it in a particular way. So, when I’m helping people to make their ask for the greatest success, I tell them to execute what I call an I-we. In other words, “Here’s what I’m requesting, and here’s how we all benefit.” In other words, when you have started your negotiation and steered your relationship with your manager, by asking questions, by getting to know them, you have now figured out how to frame what you need in a way that it’s also going to meet their needs, right? “So, if you put me on this project that I’ve been asking for, here’s how I’m going to be able to contribute toward your success,” that type of thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s excellent. You know, I’m reminded of Robert Cialdini’s book Pre-suasion there in terms of like the moment, like what happens just before the conversation starts can make a world of difference.

Alex Carter
Huge.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. So, I know they’re not secret weapons. It’s not where the action is. Nonetheless, I would love it if you could share with us, what are a few maybe bits of verbiage or scripts, some do’s or don’ts in terms of, “Hey, I hear people say this. Don’t say that,” or, “I don’t hear people say this, and you should say that.”

Alex Carter
Okay. And that’s okay, Pete, I use my weapons for good. I do have a secret weapon, and it’s actually not about saying this or saying that. It’s about the opposite. It’s about shutting up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alex Carter
The importance of silence in negotiation. In my book, I teach people three words that I want them to commit to memory and use in every negotiation as a guiding principle. And the three words are “land the plane.” When you make your point, when you ask a question, when you deliver a proposal, deliver it and then land the plane, close your mouth.

Too often, I see people get nervous about the silence, and so they rush in to fill it with a bunch of words that leaves them bidding against themselves or assuming what the other person might say. So, in other words, Pete, what do you need to get this done here today? Would $10,000 do it? No, you don’t know what Pete needed, right? Maybe he needed five, and you overpaid. Maybe he needed mentorship or a path to advancement. In other words, say what you’re going to say and land the plane.

Silence is not an imposition. It’s actually a gift to the other person. It gives them time to think and it prevents you from selling yourself short. Sometimes the less you say the better.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. I imagine in terms of I’ve seen it both ways in terms of me saying more than I should, and others that I’m talking to like they share numbers, like, “You know, if that’s manageable…” they’re just sort of like weakens it after the fact. I mean, I know things are hard right now with the COVID, but as opposed to saying, “$200,000 sounds…” and then they can weigh in on that in terms of like, “Boy, that is just really way more than we have in mind. That’s going to be challenging for us to pull off,” versus, “Okay, I understand what’s at stakes and I’ll see what we can do.”

Alex Carter
And may I say, if they answered you and say, “That’s going to be challenging for us to pull off,” great job. That is great information for you to have. First of all, it means you didn’t sell yourself short. And, second, let’s say you get that, because I think, Pete, sometimes people talk and talk and talk because they’re afraid of getting the no, and so they’re trying to eat the silence up with their words at the negotiation table.

Don’t ever fear the no again because I’m going to give you four words that you can use when you get a no. Are you ready? Here are the words: “What are your concerns?” That’s it. When somebody says, “You know, I think this is going to be hard for us to pull off,” say, “Okay, thanks for letting me know. What are your concerns?” Because, frequently, if you hear somebody’s concerns, you’re going to find a way to address those.

So, have the courage to allow the silence, and know that on the other end of that, if somebody expresses a hesitation, you have a tool you can use in the moment, simply ask their concerns, play their concerns back, summarize them, and then, more often than not, you’re going to know where the target is that you need to hit, and turn that no into a yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you’re right, because concerns can be any number of things. Like, “That can be challenging,” might mean, “Well, hey, we’re paying someone else for doing almost the same thing 170K, so it seems a little disruptive or more about fairness to pay a new person significantly more to do the same thing.” And I don’t know if this is good or bad, but maybe a solution that could be, “Oh. Well, if it’d make you more comfortable, I’m happy to sign something indicating that I will not disclose my compensation to anybody.” Of course, that’s a whole another controversial issue in terms of information flows and how that impacts different populations. But that’s an example of a solution that might be way easier than you thought. Like, “Oh, it’s not so much that they’re broke, but it’s something completely different.”

Alex Carter
I got to tell you, Pete, marketing my book during a pandemic, I’ve become a specialist in turning no into a yes. When you think about it, one of the things that I lined up was dozens and dozens of in-person speaking engagements, and that was going to be a way for me to get the word out there and for people to buy the book. All of those canceled obviously. And over and over again, I heard people say, “Yeah, we’re canceling this event, and we’re not doing something virtual.”

Every single time I’ve called up and said, “What are your concerns?” And over and over again, people said things like, “Well, we’ve never done it before. We’re not sure how to do something that’s going to be productive over Zoom.” “Great. Would it be helpful if we jumped on and I showed you what I have in mind?” Or, “We’re not sure our employees are going to want it.” “Okay, how might you find that out?” They’re like, “All right, we can do a survey.” It turns out, they really want it.

Over and over again there are concerns that, when we met them, it wasn’t like me getting over on them, Pete. In every case, we produced something that was of mutual value and people actually thanked me afterward. The truth is that even with a no, you can ask people about their concerns, you can preserve the relationship, you can strengthen the relationship, and you can still get what you need out of the deal.

Pete Mockaitis
And the thing I love about that particular phraseology of the question “What are your concerns?” is it’s just very helpful. Like, you’re being of service as opposed to “What’s your problem? What’s the issue, man?” Like, those get after the same information but it doesn’t land nearly as productive as “What are your concerns? I’m trying to help.”

Alex Carter
Yeah, “What’s your problem?” has not gotten me the best results. Yeah, I mostly use that one at home, to be honest.

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

Alex Carter
Yes, I would like people to know, if there’s anybody out there listening who thinks “Negotiation is not for me because I’m not the most aggressive person in the room,” or, “Maybe I’m an introvert,” or, “I’m somebody who prioritizes my relationships,” I want you to know that all of those things can make you a great negotiator. That, really, if you’re somebody who is a good listener, you’re somebody who gains people’s trust, and you’re somebody who prioritizes relationships, all you need are the right questions, and you’re going to be absolutely fantastic, I promise you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now let’s some favorite things. Can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Alex Carter
Yes. So, a few years ago I had a student who changed my life. He was a mid-career lawyer, my age, in his early 40s, who came over from India for a year of study at Columbia, and he told me that his life’s motto is “Only do what only you can do.” And I took that onboard. And at that time, Pete, I was supposed to write a textbook. I had gotten an offer from a really prestigious legal corporation to write a textbook, and I thought, “This is what I should do. I’m a law professor.”

But then I thought about that, “Is this what only I can do?” And I thought, “No, it’s not. There are lots of people who can write textbooks. What I think only I can do, what I think I’m called to do, and what I love doing, is taking negotiation concepts from law school and making them accessible to everyday people in their lives.” That is what only I can do. And when I leaned into that, that’s when I started writing what would become “Ask for More.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that quote also just sparks so many things, like “I should be outsourcing.”

Alex Carter
It is. It’s a way to think about managing your time. When I think about the range of tasks I could embark on in a day, is this what only I can do? And if it’s not, somebody else is better served to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m thinking about how my email inbox has gotten out of control, and I think 90% of those messages can be handled by others. I’ve just been a little slow to let go. What about privacy? What about honesty and respect and integrity? But these are navigable issues. And if that’s your mantra, I would have solved this long ago.

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

Alex Carter
Gosh. Well, I think my favorite bit of research is the study done by Professor Leigh Thompson out of the Kellogg School at Northwestern that found 93% of people are not asking the questions they need to get the most out of negotiations. I remember the day I read that study, it hit me and it accorded perfectly with what I see as a mediator and a negotiation trainer. And that was part of what gave me the impetus to go on and teach about the incredible power of open questions.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Alex Carter
I wouldn’t be an author if I weren’t totally in love with my own book, Ask for More: 10 Questions to Negotiate Anything. I would say, other than that, a book that I’ve been reading recently is The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Claim Their Seat at the Table by Minda Harts. Minda is an incredibly powerful woman who speaks directly to women of color in the workplace. And I remember the day I heard her speak, I picked up the book, and it’s had incredible learnings for me even as a white person in the workplace, how I can work together with my sisters of color to create the kind of workplace that we all want to exist.

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

Alex Carter
My favorite tool. My husband would probably say my iPhone. But my number one tool that I use, to be honest, is my eyes. I think you would think that negotiation is all about listening to the words. I find that most of the negotiation is me looking at people and taking in what their faces and their bodies are saying. Most of negotiation is what’s between the words in the things that people are holding back or are not giving themselves permission to say. And so, the more that I can see people, and really see them for who they are, the more effectively I can do my job and help get them to where they want to be.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, there’s a whole another podcast episode in here, and we’ve done it once with agent Joe Navarro from the FBI on body language. But are there one or two indicators that you found are reliable and show up a lot, “Like, when they do this with their eyes, or their mouth, or their hands, that tends to mean this, and thus, it’s very informative”?

Alex Carter
So, Pete, the biggest tip I can give people is to get to know the person you’re negotiating with and observe what’s called their baseline. So, in other words, Pete, if your default is to kind of sit back in your chair, and then I say something, and, all of a sudden, you lean forward, I know that I’ve just had an impact on you. So, any kind of changes from the baseline are things that I notice.

The other big thing I see is people censor their emotions but it comes out in their body language. Most frequently, I see people telling me yes while they are shaking their head no.

Pete Mockaitis
We can do that for you, Alex.

Alex Carter
Right. People are like, “Yeah, that sounds great,” and you can’t see me, everyone, but I’m shaking my head vigorously back and forth. I see it a shocking number of times. And when I do, I simply say, “You know, Pete, your words are telling me yes, but your face is telling me no. So, let’s talk. What are your concerns?” And, usually, that…I treat everything, Pete, a shake of the head, people repeatedly touching a necklace or a piece of clothing, a tremor, I treat…What’s that?

Pete Mockaitis
The suprasternal notch below the neck.

Alex Carter
The suprasternal notch. The necklace is very often important. I’ve broken through negotiations just based on the necklace. All of that stuff tells you a story and I treat it like communication, and I raise it with people.

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

Alex Carter
I practice yoga for the sanity of myself and the sanity of those people around me. When I practice yoga, it’s a chance for me to be completely present in the moment, and I find that that presence, being there every moment and nowhere else is key to being successful at helping people in negotiation.

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

Alex Carter
Yeah. So, a lot of times people will tell me they’re nervous to hold themselves out as an expert or to ask for more because they’re concerned about if they stand up as an expert, does that leave less for other people? And I want you to know that when you ask for more, you benefit other people. When you ask for more in your job, you make sure that your manager gets your best, most fired-up version every day at work. When you ask for more at home, and ask for what you need, your partner, your kids, your loved ones get the most present and fulfilled person possible. Ignoring who you are and ignoring your needs helps no one. And everybody benefits when you ask for more.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I love that so much, and I just watched this movie, it’s been around for a while, but we got Paul Rudd and Reese Witherspoon in “How Do You Know?”

Alex Carter
I love Paul Rudd.

Pete Mockaitis
Everything he does is good. And she drops into, Tony Shalhoub plays a psychiatrist, and she’s like, “So, is there like generally anything that you generally tell people that generally works for everyone?” And he said, this is so wise from a movie, from a comedy, he said, “Figure out what you really want and learn how to ask for it.” It’s like, “Huh, that’s some real wisdom from this comedy. Right on.”

Alex Carter
It’s true. And that, in a nutshell, is what I teach. The first part of that is really figuring out what you want, not what somebody else wants for you, what you want, what’s going to make your life worthwhile, and then figuring out how to ask for that thing.

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

Alex Carter
Sure. So, I’d love for people to get in touch on my website which is AlexCarterAsks.com. You can also find me on Instagram @alexandrabcarter, on LinkedIn, and, very reluctantly, on Twitter.

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

Alex Carter
Yes. I want you to try to go out and get a no. I want you to strive for the no before the end of the year because, in doing so, I know you’re going to come back to me and tell me that you got more yeses than you could ever think possible.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Alex, this has been a treat. I wish you all the best in all the ways you’re asking for more.

Alex Carter
Pete, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much.

592: How to Speak with Effortless Confidence with Caroline Goyder

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Caroline Goyder shares exercises to help you feel more comfortable and confident with your voice.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The mindset shift that turns insecurity into confidence
  2. An easy way to make your voice more dynamic
  3. Quick ways to boost your confidence before a meeting

About Caroline

Caroline Goyder’s global reputation as a speaker and voice coach is built on her warm, engaging, relaxed and highly practical style, and her expertise honed by her work with actors, teachers, broadcasters and the corporate sector. She worked at the Central School of Speech and Drama as a voice coach for over 10 years before launching her own company. She is regularly sought after by the media as an expert in her field and her work has featured on television and in numerous national and international newspaper articles. Her extremely successful Ted Talk has over 7.5 million views. Caroline has written three books, her most recent Find Your Voice was released in January 2020.

Caroline was named by Red magazine as one of Britain’s top coaches.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Caroline Goyder Interview Transcript

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

Caroline Goyder
My pleasure, Pete. Looking forward to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m looking forward to getting into it as well. And I understand you’ve been in my shoes many times interviewing over 40 A-list actors. Any noteworthy stories that come to mind from that?

Caroline Goyder
Ooh, gosh. That book I wrote a few years back, and it was fascinating. And the thing that was so interesting was just how nervous all of them got about auditions and new gigs and new jobs. It was just a revelation that people like Helen Mirren get shaky hands when they have to make a speech, because it made me feel, “Well, if that’s okay for them, then it’s okay for me, too.” It released me to be nervous in lots of ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, it’s funny. That’s exactly how I feel as you share that, it’s like, “Huh, okay then. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. That’s how all of us, even the greats, are feeling.” So, that is handy. Thank you. Well, could you share then, so you’ve done a lot of work and research and hands-on experience in this space. Could you maybe tell us what’s maybe the most surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made about confidence and having it and finding it, and not having it?

Caroline Goyder
So, when I started out, I definitely thought that confidence was something kind of out there that some people had. And when I was training as an actor, I would look at people and you’d see that he had it and she had it, and I knew that I didn’t. But 20 years on, I know when I see those people that they’re just really present, they’re just really in their bodies, they’re just able to center themselves when they have to. And I know that everybody can learn that skill, and that’s been the big revelation for me, that confidence is not a birthright. It’s a set of habits. And I wish I’d known that at 23, 21, when I started work. Even at 30 I wish I’d known that.

Pete Mockaitis
Confidence, ooh, that is good, not a birthright, it’s a set of habits. Okay. And then maybe for people who think that they’re doing it, they’re fine when it comes to speaking or being confident and having gravitas or voice. Could you just really lay it out for us in terms of what’s at stake there in terms of when you’ve got those habits sort of well-developed and are rocking and rolling and cruising and firing on those cylinders versus when you’re kind of stumbling and you haven’t found your voice? Why does it matter for the average professional?

Caroline Goyder
Gosh. Well, I’ve known those two zones. I’ve known the zone of not feeling confident really well as a person, and I know that when I didn’t feel confident in myself, I wasted a lot of energy worrying what people thought about me. I would worry that I was speaking too fast. I was worried that my voice was too thin. I would worry that I didn’t have enough presence. And that takes your attention away from other people. You stop listening. And, of course, what makes people effective in their jobs is that they are present and listening and able to tune in and be empathetic to others. Pretty much in any job that you do, that’s the success factor. And when you’re worried about yourself, you don’t have bandwidth to pay attention to other people.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Ooh, there’s a lot there. you’re saying that your focus, instead of being on, “Oh, my gosh, what’s everybody thinking. How am I doing?” you should be redirecting it toward serving and being present. How does that work inside your head?

So, let’s say you have the stage. Can you get really clear in terms of, “Let’s turn away from these sorts of thoughts running in our brain, that voice, and shift toward these other kinds of better thoughts and focus areas”?

Caroline Goyder
So, that’s really interesting, and I think what I would say to that is it’s an actor’s training, and I learned a lot from actors even though this is the theater of life we’re talking about. An actor’s training would say, “Actually, the thoughts are for rehearsal, the moment when you step out on stage…” and your stage could be a meeting or it could be a presentation, “…almost let go of your thoughts and get into a flow state where you’re really tuned into your body, your breath, what you can see in the room, someone’s tone of voice, so it becomes a very sensory experience.” And I think that’s what performers are taught. There’s a moment where you prepare, and then when you get into the stage, you just get present and you pay attention. And so, it becomes…it goes beyond thinking, and it becomes about flowing into the space. It’s almost like diving into something.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, it’s not about thoughts at all but rather sort of experience. it sounds like you’re saying, ideally, there wouldn’t be much of an internal monologue, like, “Okay, now I’m about to say this. Now I should walk over here. Now I need to be really angry or powerful or pause.” But rather your attention is pointed towards, “Oh, that person seems interesting.”

Caroline Goyder
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Or, “That person is looking away. And, ooh, I’m feeling there’s excitement here,” as opposed to internal conversation.

Caroline Goyder
Yes. And, of course, there are moments where you might need to tweak it and someone might not get what you’ve just said about Q3 or your budget for next year or whatever it is. And you might have to talk to yourself to tweak it. But when things are going well, just be in it. There’s a lovely Greek word which is Kairos, and it means it’s the place in the armor where you can pierce it, and it’s a bit of a kind of battle-heavy metaphor, in a way, but it’s the idea that it’s being able to spot the moment. And whether you’re pitching a big idea at work, or trying to influence a new client, or whether you’ve got to get the boss on your side, your ability to see that moment is everything.

Pete Mockaitis
So, now I’m imagining, in the context of pitching, I was just talking to someone about how I might kind of automate the process of getting headsets to my guests. I’m glad our audio is working out. Thank you. And then he said something like, “Oh, yeah, we have a program where we send headsets. We call that our ‘Agent In A Box’ program where we do this, this, this.” And then I think I was very explicit, it’s like, “Oh, I love that. So, you’ve done this thing before in which you send individuals all the gear they need with some explanatory stuff, so that’s just handled forever, and I don’t have to think about it anymore, or keep making purchases on Amazon one at a time.”

And so, in a way, I guess you don’t need to be too observant there, because I said, “Oh, I love that.” But I guess I’m imagining, if I’m reading it like that, you’re saying we can observe and witness those sorts of moments of openness or interest or intrigue from the people we’re communicating with, and we should seize that.

Caroline Goyder
Exactly. And we’re basically nervous systems meeting each other. And the people who have the most success at work are ninjas at reading other people’s nervous systems. When they get excited about a new product that’s going to help them with their podcast, or when they hold their breath because they think they haven’t got enough budget, or when they lean in because they’re curious. Your ability to notice moment by moment what’s happening in someone else’s nervous system is what makes you good.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there we have it. How do we do that?

Caroline Goyder
The first rule is get present to yourself because until you are present to the shifts in your own nervous system, “What’s my diaphragm doing? How am I breathing? Oh, my heart rate is going up,” you’re not going to be able to notice it in someone else. So, get to know your own instrument, get to know, become self-aware, tune into your own emotions, and then you’re going to be able to tune in to someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, in a daily life kind of way, I’m just sort of doing my thing, is there a particular process you recommend that we do that to check in? Because I think it’s quite possible to go hours or days at a time and not actually really do that at all, to say, “How do I really feel about this? Or what’s really going on here?” So, how do you recommend we stop and make that happen?

Caroline Goyder
Well, I’ve been the person who couldn’t do this right. So, when I left Oxford where I studied English, and I went to drama school. And when I got to drama school, here I was, this girl who had spent a lot of time reading Shakespeare, I mean a lot, and I turn up in drama school and they go, “You’re in your head,” and I think, “What on earth are they talking about?” And what they meant is that I was trying to process everything through my brain, through the internal dialogue.

And the learning for me, which was quite a hard one, I have to say, is that in order for me to be good on stage, in order for me to have presence, I have to learn more about my body and not my brain. And I agree with you that most people at work, we’re all in Zoom jail at the moment, we’ll get back to the real office jail eventually, we sit a lot, we tense our shoulders, we lean forward into our laptops, we lose our breathing, our hips get tight, we have too much coffee, we don’t drink enough water, and then we kind of get into meetings, and we wonder why it’s not working.

And the simple thing that you can do to become more self-aware is to just notice your body. Notice that it’s not just carrying you around. Notice how you’re breathing. Notice how you’re standing. Adjust yourself. Go for a walk. Maybe do some yoga. Maybe go for a run. But just embody your whole self not just your brain. And I wish I’d learnt that in my first week at drama school rather than struggling through the five years.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, notice your body, and it sounds like we’re getting real precise, I guess, like in terms of, I could say, “My right elbow itches right now.”

Caroline Goyder
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
“And my neck is tensed.” So, I’m just sort of internally noticing and articulating these things. And is that it? It’s like, “Well, noted. Moving on.” Or what’s the next step?

Caroline Goyder
There’s a yoga teacher called John Stokes who talks about…it all gets quite easy, but he talks about sensation rises from the ground up. So, you can notice all the sensation from your feet upwards, and it meets consciousness which comes down. And then somewhere in the middle is thinking. And so, we spent a lot of time thinking, probably not very much time in consciousness and very little time in sensation. And, for me, it was the fact becoming more present to sensation. And then I’ve also learnt to meditate and do yoga stuff, and consciousness is something I’m only in the foothills of, but that’s an interesting one too.

Pete Mockaitis
And that is intriguing in terms of splitting that into three segments because those are quite distinct from each other, as I’m thinking. It’s like, okay, sensation? “Boom! There’s warmth in this cup.” Thinking is like, “Okay, what’s my expression here?” And so then, what is consciousness?

Caroline Goyder
I would probably pass you to John Stokes on that one. What is consciousness?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, man, just making small talk over there.

Caroline Goyder
I mean, we could start a Ph.D. on this question. I’ll tell you in about 10 years when I’ve done some more meditation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I mean, I suppose I have a pretty succinct definition for consciousness. But I guess, maybe, one’s experience of consciousness in this narrow context of that thing which is distinct from thinking and sensation, what is it kind of like when you’re in the consciousness mode? Because I know what it’s like when I’m in the thinking mode and when I’m in the sensation mode, but what’s it like when I’m in the consciousness mode?

Caroline Goyder
Well, I was thinking, this is one of your earlier podcasts, and it gets into the Csikszentmihalyi flow state for me. I know when I’m present to consciousness because it becomes more, the field opens up. I’m tuned into the room in a bigger way. I’m not locked into my own, “Oh, you’re in it. This is…” that I’m open to something bigger, something more connected. So, that’s my experience of consciousness, but there are people who are way further down the path than me on this one.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I think that mission accomplished in terms of clarifying that question for me there because in terms of, yeah, I know what that experience is like, and it is distinct from, “Okay, I’m thinking about some things now,” and it is distinct from, “Ooh, there’s a tickle in my throat.” It’s sort of like you are conscious of what is going on and you’re flowing in it but it’s kind of like…boy, gosh, I’m almost thinking about sort of like levels of abstraction there. Like they say, oh, man, I’m thinking about my professor.

So, they say, hey, there’s data, there’s information, and there’s knowledge, or something like that in terms of we could say that, “Data would suggest like sales are $5 million and costs are $4 million.” Information would be, “Oh, we have a gross profit margin percentage of 20% with one million profit over five million sales.” And then knowledge would be like, “Oh, and that’s good based on my experience and my industry and comparables, yadda, yadda, yadda.”

And so, these are sort of three different layers of, I guess, wisdom maybe, you might say, just as these are three different layers of experience. And consciousness is higher in a way in that it’s abstracting and encapsulating broad stuff underneath them. Caroline, I’m just thinking through this real time. Comments or thoughts.

Caroline Goyder
I refer you to John Stokes and his new book. It’s fascinating because it made me think how much I had to learn sensation in order to dissolve my thinking and in order to access a bigger field to be in the room, not just locked away in my head. And, for me, coming through the body through sensation was the way to dissolve the thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, you know, it’s funny because, in a way, what we’re talking about is a smidge abstract and, yet, I think, experientially, I maybe feel, as opposed to just thinking, exactly what you’re saying there in that…

Caroline Goyder
And there’s a really simple way, there’s a really specific, to make it not abstract, actors will say when they get on stage, “Feel your feet on the floor. Feel the air on your face. Feel the clothes on your skin. See something across the space that you haven’t noticed before.” So, although it is quite abstract in some ways, in other ways it’s just incredibly practical.

Pete Mockaitis
And in doing those things, you are exiting your thinking mode. And, as a result of having exited it, you may well be on your way to the consciousness flow mode.

Caroline Goyder
Exactly. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Well, I mean, that’s huge right there, is that we’re going to take some moments throughout the day and just before big performance times to check in and sort of get the sensation going. What else do you recommend we do in terms of getting those confidence habits working for us?

Caroline Goyder
The thing I’m noticing a lot at the moment with people in busy work lives is that they’re saying to me, “My voice is tired at the end of the day. I feel really flat. I feel really compressed.” And so much of our lives right now, whether we’re working at home or back in the office, that takes us into a bit of a hunch, and it closes our breathing down, and it compresses us. And then when we try and show up in a meeting, we’re all small and closed.

And so, one of the things that people can really do to help them at work is to open up their breath and open up their voices. And I’m saying to people a lot at the moment, “Just sing. Put some music on in the morning and sing for five minutes and just enjoy it, and it doesn’t have to be tuneful, and you will show up in your meetings with a different kind of resonant frequency because your voice isn’t stuck in your throat. It’s moving, it’s fluid, it has tone, it has resonance. And people will be attracted to that because it makes them feel good.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, in a world in which we’re kind of hunched over and we don’t have ergonomically an optimal setup and we’re just sort of moving from thing to thing to thing, and maybe even trying to watch our volumes, you’re saying we can sort of shift a gear by doing some singing when we’re alone, and that’s just going to kind of follow us into having resonance when we’re with people.

Caroline Goyder
The thing about voices, voice is the expression of your aliveness because voice is breath. It’s exhaled air. And when we get really tensed and compressed, we express a real fight or flight adrenal reaction to people in our voices and our breathing. And singing, humming, chanting, long outbreaths, all of those things take us into good vagal tone. And in good vagal tone, where the vagus nerve is firing on all cylinders, we show up, we smile when others smile, we laugh when others laugh. Our voices reflect and mirror each other.

And the experience of speaking, when we’ve warmed up just by singing, it’s completely different for people. They feel at ease with you. And I think there’s nothing more important in a tensed stressed-out world than making people feel at ease with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s dig into some of these terms which I’m somewhat familiar in terms of resonance and vagal nerve. Are these sorts of anatomical experiences that we can sort of check in for ourselves? Like, “Oh, I can feel my vagal nerve rocking and rolling,” or, “Ooh, I can feel resonance,” or, “Ooh, I’m feeling an absence of resonance.” How do we kind of…? You mentioned those are some exercises to activate it. How can we sort of check in and say, “Yup, that’s going,” or, “Ooh, that’s not going”?

Caroline Goyder
Well, the way that people often test this is when they hear themselves on audio, and people will often say, “Oh, I really hate my voice.” And what that tells me is that someone hears their own voice through their ears. They really don’t have an accurate sense of it. But when you’re tuned into your resonance, you’re tuned into the buzz of your voice.

People who are tuned into how their voices feel, back to the sensation thing, are much more in control. Now, how do you do that? You just put a hand on your chest and just hum. Just do me a little, “Hmmm…” then you can feel the bones kind of buzzing in your body. And you can do a low note, you could go, “Hmmm…” maybe put a hand on your tummy, “Hmmm…” And you might do a higher note, “Hmmm…” that’s going to be higher up in your head, in your nose.

And so, you can just play. You can even do a pitch play. And the sound, the high notes resonate in your head, the low notes resonate in your gut, the middle notes resonate in your chest. We know this from altos and tenors and basses. We know that some people have chest voice. And if you start to tune into the sensations of where your voice buzzes in your body, A, you’re much more in your body, less in your head, and, B, you’re going to have more control. And when you hear your voice on a recording, it’s not going to be such a shock because you can feel it. So, that’s resonance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, resonance, we want it, and so a humming can activate it, and so we might even just check in as we’re talking. And maybe could you give us a demo? I mean, in terms of audio style, what’s a voice sounding like with resonance and without resonance?

Caroline Goyder
So, I can tell you how I used to sound.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Caroline Goyder
If I stick my head forward, and if I breathe into my upper chest, and if I tense my jaw, and if I talk to you and it all becomes a bit flat, and I can really feel it. I can feel it in my teeth, and I can feel it in my pharynx and in my throat. And it’s an experience of being a talking head. Okay? So, I spent a long time doing a version of that.

And I’m no Brian Blessed. I don’t know if you know the actor. He’s got the most incredible bass voice. I’m no Barry White, but when I speak now, what’s different is that I can feel my voice kind of buzzing in my chest and my shoulders. It feels more open in my throat. I can feel it a bit in the back of my head. And I know if I have to do a play, which I wouldn’t anymore, I would spend half an hour warming it up so that my fingers buzzed with sound when I spoke. So, it’s just the physics of it. It’s the bone conduction. It’s feeling the effect of sound buzzing through your bones, really, that’s what resonance is.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s so interesting is, and we’ll see what the listeners feel in terms of their own speaker setup after we do the audio processing, etc. I guess my experience though of listening to both of those voices is that when you were non-resonant, I felt a little bit, I guess, I don’t know, was it nervous, uncomfortable. It wasn’t a big deal but there was a slight unpleasantness that I’m picking up from the emotional atmosphere when you were doing that. Is that normal? Tell me about this.

Caroline Goyder
I think it is because, as humans, we’re wired for trust, aren’t we? We are constantly filtering, “Can I trust this person? Will they eat me? Will they rob me? Will they attack me? Am I safe with them?” So, if we talk about the vagus nerve now, because this is when we get onto the polyvagal theory, there’s a scientist called Stephen Porges who talks about something called polyvagal theory. And it sounds really complicated but it’s actually really simple.

What he says is when we’re tensed and nervous, it’s like we’re closed behind a wrapper. And that voice that I used to live in is the voice of someone who’s tensed and hiding behind a wrapper, and we feel uncertain about that because we don’t know if we can trust them. And he said when we have what’s called good vagal tone, where we’re in the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest happy part of the system, then we take the wrapper off, and that’s when our voices have music, that’s when we smile, that’s when things are easy, and that’s when someone gets a sense of “Can I trust you?” And I think, as humans, we’re wired to notice those things, and we don’t know maybe why we get worried by the first voice, but we do. I think it’s universal.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool in so many ways. One, that’s just sort of the experience we had right here points to a body of research. Well, now, I’m curious about all of the studies and experiments and numbers that may exist in terms of describing this phenomenon.

So, with the research associated with good vagal tone and the impact that makes, have there been any noteworthy sort of studies or experiments that put these results on full display?

Caroline Goyder
I would point listeners to Stephen Porges’ website and his book The Polyvagal Theory because there’s an enormous and emerging body of research that backs up his theory, and it’s all on his site. So, just have a look at it, just put Stephen Porges into Google and have a look. They’re constantly reporting these studies. And it’s being picked up in psychology and psychiatry and trauma therapy. It’s becoming quite a big body of work with lots of attached research.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s so fascinating, I’m sure there can be many variables, but it sounds like we’ve uncovered one potential hidden variable for all kinds of things, like, “Why does everybody like that person and they don’t like the other person? Why does everyone seem to respond and nod their heads when one person says something at a meeting, and when someone else says the same thing, it doesn’t seem to be connecting and resonating?” This could be one of those hidden mystery variables that can shed some light on it.

Now, you mentioned the phrase good vagal tone. Is that the same thing as having resonance or is there a distinction? And how do we get it?

Caroline Goyder
So, I only ever really knew about resonance and the importance of the diaphragm and the importance of breathing, and it was when I discovered polyvagal theory and how much Stephen Porges talks about voice that I joined the dots on it. And, in a sense, it really all comes back to what our bodies do when they’re safe. And when our bodies are safe, our breathing opens up, our diaphragm moves freely, our shoulders relax, our jaw untenses, our tongues relax, our sole and muscle in the hips relax, and we show up as easy and fluid and present. That’s what good voice is, that’s what actors are taught to do on stage, and it just so happens that Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory backs up why it works for voices because when we’re safe, our voices have music.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, so many implications there. I’m reminded of we had a previous guest, Alex Banayan, who interviewed a lot of people including Larry King. And so, one thing that Larry King told him about interviewing, which is really connecting here, is that he said, “The reason that I get good results with my interviewees is that I am very comfortable in my seat, and the person I’m interviewing then kind of picks up on that, and then they are comfortable in their seat.” So, in a way, it matters less about what style and specific approach, and tactics, and questions you choose so much as you get in that groove of, “Hey, I’m really comfortable and safe and having fun and rolling with this,” and then the person that you’re interacting with feels that too, and then you naturally just have a pretty cool, fun, insightful conversation flowing from that.

Caroline Goyder
Exactly. It’s massive, isn’t it? And what it takes is the awareness to take yourself into safety. When he’s got people shouting in his ear and people telling him they’re running out of time and some of the lights have gone, he’s got all sorts of reasons to feel stressed and unsafe, and the professional is able to switch that on. That’s the success factor.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. Okay. Well, boy, Caroline, this is so much good stuff. So, we’ve got some key things to do in terms of finding that safety, returning into sensation, doing some humming or some singing, connecting to that resonance. Are there some things that you recommend we stop doing, things that we should cut out of our speaking, of our lives before we get into the speaking that make a world of difference in terms of this confidence?

Caroline Goyder
I’m thinking of what I’ve cut out. What have I cut out? I’ve really cut out the things that make me too speedy because it’s hard to project a sense of safety when you’ve had three cups of coffee, when you’re slightly late for a meeting, when you’re rushing, when you’re not making time. And so, the thing that I now know is that if I want to show up centered and able to make people feel safe and able to connect, I need to just carve out, ideally, half an hour, 15 minutes is good, five will do it, where I turn off my phone, where I switch off the Googling and switch off the thinking about other things, and I just come back to my feet are on the floor, my bum is on the chair, the air is on my face. What does this person want from me today? How can I help?

And if I take myself through that, that is a protocol, get present, quieten down, “How can I help?” I have good meetings. If I don’t make time for that, I don’t have good meetings.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that. It’s funny as I’m reminded of a time. I had a meeting with somebody who, you know, I’d done a lot of work for him but almost never interacted with him personally, so it was kind of a big deal, if you will, that I was having this meeting. It was a phone call, because we were going to pursue maybe some new projects, initiatives, which would have revenue potential for both of us. So, it was exciting because the stakes were up there.

And I remember when, at the beginning of the meeting, we were talking, and he said something like, “Okay, so, let’s see, what are we talking about here? Ah, yes, we’re discussing dah, dah, dah.” And what was intriguing was, in a way, I somehow felt comforted by that as opposed to pissed off, like, “Dude, you’re totally unprepared? Are you ready to like rock and roll and jump in and do this? Time is ticking. We got a short…” In a way, I could have had that kind of a reaction but, instead, what was clear to me is that he was totally comfortable just being himself and talking his mind and not sort of withholding anything from me, and I actually felt more comfortable and safe and positive about him in the meeting than if he would’ve gone hard charging like, “Okay, there are six key points we need to cover, and this, this, this.”

Caroline Goyder
Yes. It’s the meta state that matters more, isn’t it? It was his ease that was more important than his perfect deck of slides.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Caroline Goyder
And we forget that. When we get nervous, and we’ve all done it, we think, “I have to prepare. I have to get all of my collateral looking perfect,” and to some people, that does matter, but for most people, it’s back to the meta state of “Do you make them feel comfortable? Can they trust you? Do they get a sense that you trust yourself?” Because confidence means to trust yourself, faith in yourself. And so, this is always the thing that we forget about but it’s the thing that matters most.

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

Caroline Goyder
The thing I’m saying to people all the time is stand up. If you are doing a presentation currently in video conference land, which is going to be here for a few years, if you’re nervous, stand up. Stand up.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Perfect. All right. Stand up. I’m at a desk that I’m currently sitting so that’s why I’m a little bit ashamed. You can see me sitting.

Caroline Goyder
But it’ll be more for the big pitch or the big presentation or talking to the executive committee. The thing is that this is your sweet spot, you’re at ease doing this. If you suddenly have to go and pitch to a big film company or something, then I would say, “Stand up,” because you will feel more confident.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think I tend to stand when it’s just sort of like my body is in a standing mood, like having that option, or it’s like, “Oh, I’m getting a little sleepy. I should not get comfy. I should stand up and have a little bounce.” So, yeah, today, right now, I’m in sitting mode. Maybe next interview standing. But, certainly, when sort of high-stakes situations and you want to project those good things, great tip to do the standing.

So, now, can you share with a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Caroline Goyder
I love the Fritz Perls quote “Fear is excitement without the breath.” I think that sums up pretty much what I’ve learnt over the last 20 years, that you can flip fear into excitement if you become self-aware of breath and body.

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

Caroline Goyder
I mean, a voice coach in the UK has to mention Cisely Berry because she is, was, she died last year, the goddess of voice work, so any of Cisely Berry’s books I recommend. She’s brilliant.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Caroline Goyder
I’m talking about her in the present tense because she hasn’t really gone in my mind.

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

Caroline Goyder
For a long time, neuro-linguistic programming was really, really fundamentally useful, and in the last few years, Alexander Technique has replaced it. I love Alexander Technique.

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

Caroline Goyder
The “How can I help?” principle as a way to walk into a meeting and switch off your nerves and turn them into excitement is powerful. Not worrying, “How do I look? Is this any good? What do they think about me?” but “How can I help these people get what they need?” That’s a game changer. And I was taught it by the actor Bill Nighy.

Pete Mockaitis
The Science Guy?

Caroline Goyder
He’s the guy in Love Actually with the glasses.

Pete Mockaitis
Bill Nye, The Science Guy?

Caroline Goyder
No, no, there’s two Bill Nighys. Yes, I wish it was that Bill Nye, but it’s not. Bill Nighy is a British actor who’s in Love Actually and all sorts of…he’s in Pirates of the Caribbean. Google him, but it’s N-I-G-H-Y.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Okay.

Caroline Goyder
And he said, “When I get nervous, and I go into an audition or I go into a film set on the first day, I can either be paranoid or I can think ‘How can I help? How can I help these people do the job?’” It’s a game changer. Just try it when you get nervous. It flips everything.

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

Caroline Goyder
My website CarolineGoyder.com.

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

Caroline Goyder
You may never have thought about your voice at work apart from maybe sometimes when it shakes or it squeaks or it doesn’t sound like you want it to, but my invitation to you would be to start to notice your voice, and to start to notice when you are at your best, and to start to be curious about how you can bring that ease and that power to moments where you feel nervous. Because I promise you, that if you find that ease and power in moments where you feel nervous, you will skyrocket your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Caroline, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you much luck and inspiration in all of your adventures.

Caroline Goyder
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been a great chat. It’s made me think as well, which is always good.

590: Forming Strong Connections through Authority, Warmth, and Energy with Steve Herz

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Steve Hertz discusses why we need to change our relationship with feedback and how to develop the three skills that advance our careers.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you shouldn’t take yes for an answer
  2. The small things that make us more authoritative
  3. How to keep conversations energizing and engaging

 

About Steve

Steve Herz is President of The Montag Group, a sports and entertainment talent and marketing consultancy. He is also a career advisor to CEOs, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and young professionals. Prior to joining TMG, Steve was the President and Founding Partner of IF Management, an industry leader whose broadcasting division became one of the largest in the space, representing over 200 television and radio personalities.

Herz received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Michigan and his J.D. from Vanderbilt University Law School. Steve is involved with several charities, including serving on the local leadership council at Birthright Israel. Steve is married with two children and lives on the Upper West Side of New York City.

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

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Steve Herz Interview Transcript

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

Steve Herz
Thank you for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And, for starters, when I hear about folks being agents for sports and media stars, I can’t help but think of Jerry Maguire and dramatic experiences of negotiation and high-stakes deal-making. Can you tell us an exciting story from behind the scenes?

Steve Herz
Well, yeah, there’s quite a few. I would say that, for me, personally, I don’t know, I’ve actually enjoyed seeing a client get a job from a small market and move into a big market. That’s been exciting for me. So, just thinking back early in my career, there’s a guy named Greg Amsinger who’s now the main talent on the MLB Network, and he moved to New York from Terra Haute, Indiana. And when he got here, he didn’t have a place to live, and he was out on the street, and there was a whole controversy of whether or not we had gotten him temporary housing. And the network, CSTV said, “No, you didn’t.”

And I was on a business trip in Seattle so I said to someone in my office, “Send him to my apartment with his wife and newborn.” And that’s where he stayed for an entire week. And so, the first time I ever met Greg Amsinger was when I knocked on my own door, coming off from red-eye from Seattle, and he opened the door with his wife Erica, this was about 18 years ago, and there he was in my apartment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. And that’s what someone wants from an agent, they’re really in your corner and do whatever it takes. So, very cool. Well, you’ve got a fresh book here called Don’t Take Yes for an Answer. Intriguing title. What’s the story here?

Steve Herz
So, the story is this, that I have been an agent, as you know, for almost 30 years now, and I think I’ve had almost a test tube that I was able to look at over all this time to notice and pay careful attention to what types of people moved ahead in the world and what types of people didn’t. And, over time, I found that there were two common links that determine the very successful from the people that often just plateaued.

And those two qualities were, one, they really wanted to get better at their craft, whatever that might be. They were always looking to improve. And they were looking for feedback all the time, and it wasn’t just lip service. And the second part of it is that they actually did improve, and they really improved the way they came across on television whether it was their authority in terms of their voice, whether it was their energy of how they called the game or did a particular story, and how compelling they became, and how the audience was able to relate to them.

And so, the book really is about this thought that I had is that if a broadcaster could take these skills and hone for, what I would call, public speaking, why can’t anybody, a dentist, a doctor, a lawyer, hone their own communication skills and move ahead in the same way? And that’s how the book came to be.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, what is it precisely that we’re not taking yes for an answer about?

Steve Herz
So, basically, kind of everything. You think about maybe your job is different, but most of us will go through a week, a month, a year, and we will hear nothing from our colleagues or from our bosses or clients, even clients that might be dissatisfied with you, in my particular business, and you think everything is going great. And, often, somebody will terminate their relationship with you, or quit, or fire you, and many of us don’t know what hit us.

And so, I believe that a lot of us have gotten caught up in this, what I call the echo chamber of yes. And part of that is because we’ve had great inflation, we’ve had this participation trophy, and now a lot of HR departments in American businesses, they don’t want to fire people. They’d rather use euphemisms like downsizing, or reorgs, or riffs. And that person on the other end of it, gets caught up in what I call the vortex of mediocrity and they don’t know. And so, that’s a long answer to your question, but everybody and everything can hear yes if you don’t look out for it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, you know, that reminds me as I’ve got a friend who’s an executive of a shall we say mature business line.
And so a part of that is that, boy, every few months there’s another round of people that they lay off. And so, and he tries to really be kind and diplomatic and proactive and even breaks the rules a little bit, tells them before he’s supposed to tell them. He’s like, “Hey, just so you know, your position is not going to exist in a few months, so you probably want to start looking around and see if you can land somewhere else within the organization.”
And so, he says that when he has these conversations with people, what he’s always scared of them asking him is, “Well, why are you firing me and not the other guy?” but they never do. And I think that really speaks to kind of what you’ve called the echo chamber of yes, is that we can get kind of comfortable and maybe don’t want to ask that hard question when we probably should.

Steve Herz
Right. And I would also say that by the time that person has asked that question, even though, like you said, they don’t normally ask it, it’s too late. You’ve already been downsized or laid off or reorg-ed, and it’s too late. So, that’s why I’m hoping that if people pick up my book and read it and reorient themselves towards a different mindset, that they don’t take yes for an answer on a daily basis, or at least a weekly basis, or a monthly basis, and then they’ll really start seeking out that constructive feedback that is the difference between, often, not every time, but often, the person who got laid off and the one that didn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so maybe let’s think about this chronologically. First, how do we psychologically, mentally brace ourselves so that we can handle it, we can handle hearing the tough stuff? Any reframes or perspectives you would share?

Steve Herz
Yeah, I would. And the easiest one, I think, to understand is the idea of going to the doctor. Particularly, my family, I have a history of colon cancer in my family, so I’m only 54 but I’ve had four or five colonoscopies already, and I started getting them in my late 30s, and I’ve had a few tiny little scares—luckily nothing, but those little tiny things could grow into big things if you don’t take care of them.

And the thing is that you would never, in a million years, if you’re a reasonably sane person who knows you have a history of whatever, in this case, this colon cancer, you would never not get a colonoscopy. You wouldn’t say, “Oh, well, maybe I won’t get it,” and at the last minute, someone tells you, you have stage four colon cancer, God forbid. Nobody would take that chance. And that’s, I think, literally, what happens to some people in their career. They never stop and ask, “How am I doing? How does my ‘colon’ look or my career look? How does my performance look?” And ask that question and get that X-ray from their boss or from their friends or colleagues.

And if you reframe it in a way to understand that so much of what bad could happen to you and your career is very preventative. It’s completely preventative in so many cases, that if you reframe it that way, you’ll see not only will that be a benefit but, also, you’re not going to get better unless you’re this one in a million person who just gets better on your way. You’re not going to get better at your job or in anything if you’re not targeting and really trying to understand what your weaknesses are and how you can minimize them or improve upon them.

And you think about an athlete or a musician, how is anybody going to get better if they don’t practice the things they need to practice? But if we’re not being told what to practice, and we’re not being able to identify them, there’s no way. So, hopefully, that’s a really positive reframing for people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that really is good in terms of those proactive checks-in for feedback are a means of preventative maintenance. Like, for the doctor, we go to the dentist, we get our car’s oil changed, and when we find out, “Oh, there’s a cavity,” or there’s a problem with the vehicle, well, in a way, it’s a bummer, like, “Ahh, I got to spend some time with the dentist,” or some money with the mechanic. But it’s like, “Oh, I’m glad I caught it early as opposed to late.”

I guess one distinction I’d put there is that there’s less of an emotional charge there in terms of if, Steve, you told me, “Pete, you’re completely unprofessional. Yeah, I don’t know if you and your show were legit,” or kind of whatever. Whatever the tough feedback might be, I think it’s natural that we would sort of take that much more personally or emotionally than we would if we got the news that our spark plugs need to be replaced or there’s a cavity. How do you think about the emotional dimensions here?

Steve Herz
Well, first of all, I agree with you. I wouldn’t really want to hear from anybody that, “You’re unprofessional.” I’d want to know why I was unprofessional. And one of the things I talk about is the book is called Don’t Take Yes for an Answer. It’s not Don’t Give Yes for an Answer. So, I’m trying to also change the mindset of, “It’s not my place to tell Pete, after the show, what he needs to do better. He’s not asked me. He’s doing really well. He’s got a great show. Why is he interested in my opinion for?”

If you came to decide on your own that I had a particular value to you, and you thought you wanted to improve, and you first reached out to me, and said, “Steve, thank you for coming on my show. What do you think I could do better?” then you’ve opened up the door to a conversation. But it’s not my place to be your coach so I think it’s, first and foremost, the individual’s job to seek out the feedback. And, also, just like it’s your job to go to the doctor or get your car inspected, but, also, find the right people to do it.

You want to find people who you trust and, also, who actually care about you, and you feel have an interest in your growth, because a lot of people will just say, “Oh, Pete, your show stinks,” or, “Pete, you’re unprofessional.” That’s not valuable. That’s not helpful. And a lot of people might just honestly be on the ego trip because they get to tell a big podcast host how he’s not that great and why they can take him down a peg. But that’s not at all valuable and it’s not actionable.

So, in my book, the second half of my book, it’s all about what are the action steps you can take. And what I really think is that a lot of us, in terms of the blind spots of what we could be improving upon, it’s the impression that we’re making on people on an everyday basis, and it falls into one of these three categories. Do you have the right authority? Do you have the right warmth? Are you connecting with people and are you energizing somebody? And that’s where it really comes down to.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, this reminds me, when you talked about getting the right people, we had a guest on the show, Steve Ritter, who mentioned that there’s some research that suggest a startlingly large proportion of the variance of when an intervention is successful, whether when it’s like with a coach or a trainer or a consultant or a therapist or a counselor, it just boils down to sort of the chemistry between those two people, and in terms of like, “Do I think Steve is a good guy who cares about me and knows some stuff? Or do I think he’s just a jerk and I’m just not really able to receive what you have to offer even if it’s great stuff?”

So, I found that intriguing. I think that really resonates in terms of you’ve got to find those right people. Could you share, is there any intriguing research or studies that you’ve come across when it comes to this zone of feedback and not getting enough of it? What have you discovered there as you’re putting this together?

Steve Herz
Well, the most interesting study that I came across was probably…well, there’s really two but they’re very related so I’ll share them both with you. One is that there was a study done in 1918 by the Carnegie Foundation as a seminal study that shows that the correlation and the causal relationship between how successful you are professionally and how good you are at the technical part of your job, even amongst like an engineer, is only 15%. So, I interpret that data to be you have to be good at your job but there’s going to be a lot of other people that are also good at the technical part, and that’s not going to be the differentiator between how you go from just getting a seat at the table, to getting to higher reaches of your company, or having influence and having clients, or a popular show like you do.

So, what is that 85%? That’s one very important study. And the way I see it is that that 85% is the difference between the hard skills and the soft skills. But it kind of goes back to your original question earlier, your kind of funny remark about, “Well, I think you’re unprofessional,” whatever. This whole idea of soft skills is so misunderstood by people, and there are not a lot of languages around it, there’s not a lot of metrics around it. And you talk about that guy Steve Ritter who says, “Well, if I don’t like you or connect with you, I’m not going to really take feedback from you.” The reason why is because there’s something granular about how you’re coming across other people. And that can be broken down into smaller parts.

And so, the second study, kind of very consistent with the first one, is that Google has a thing called Project Oxygen by which they hire software engineers, and they hire them based on eight criteria. One of them being how good you are as a software engineer. But of those eight criteria, they only count that eighth among eight. Everything else is a soft skill, even at Google.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m now intrigued. When you said Google project, I thought you were saying Aristotle. But here you went and surprised me. What are those eight components?

Steve Herz
Well, it’s a question of, “Can you lead a team? Can you be a follower? Can you be a fellow? Can you collaborate? Can you take ideas from other people? Are you timely in getting your projects done? Do you take feedback?” All the things that I think go into, ironically, you’re awesome at your job, my book is about awe. So, it’s all about what that goes into, “Do you have that A-W-E?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s dig right into it. So, authority, warmth, energy. How do we develop those things? Or maybe what are some common ways that we’re just squandering or failing to develop authority, warmth, and energy? Because I think most of us would say, “Oh, yeah, I’m fairly authoritative. I know my stuff. Yeah, I’m a pretty warm nice guy. Yeah, I’m energetic enough.” What are some of the ways that people are really differentiated in terms of like fine with their authority, warmth, and energy, and outstanding? How do we become outstanding?

Steve Herz
Okay. So, I think there’s two really small but very significant things that people do to differentiate themselves. One is the person who finishes his or her sentences strongly and believes in what they’re saying, as opposed to speaking in singsong way or that kind of glottal fry and trailing off in your words, and belying to yourself and to your audience that you’re really not convinced in what you’re saying in the first place, right? So, that’s one thing.

And the second thing is people who believe in their message have a certain natural inflection to their voice. And the reason why they have that inflection is because their cadence becomes almost lyrical in nature because they’re believing and there’s like a real natural variance to their voice in terms of their pitch, their pace, their volume, they’re moving around, their energy, you know it when you see it. And they’re also pausing very well for effect, and that’s where the inflection comes in. And what they’re not doing. The most important thing they’re not doing, versus the other group is, they’re not using any filler words. People who use filler words – uhm, like, you know, so, – they really compromise their authority.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s pretty clear there. And could you give us an example of the intonation picture of good authority versus not-so-great authority?

Steve Herz
Like I said, it’s someone who says, “Pete, I’m going to come on your show and I am going to tell you the most important thing your audiences ever heard. It’s going to change their life. It’s going to be actionable. It’s going to be memorable. It’s an acronym. And after they listen to it, there’s going to be infinite change by your audience.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Steve Herz
And the next person is going to say, “Pete, you know, I would really like, you know, to have you on…I’d like to really come on your show. I’ve worked, you know, really hard on this idea. And, you know, I think it has a lot of value. Uhm, I’m hoping, like, you’d feel the same way. And if they listen, you know, I think… I do think they’ll get something out of it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, the pauses are the most noticeable in terms of that illustration. But then, yes, also the…I guess it’s…what’s the perfect adjective here? It’s a little timid, like you’re just…it’s almost like you’re a little bit scared. Like, if I were to say, “Steve, I think you’re completely wrong,” you’d be like, “Okay, I’m sorry.” And I guess that’s the impression that it delivers there.

Well, that’s the authority part because I think, in a way, you could be super authoritative but not warm, and that would be unappealing. So, that’s the authority piece. Let’s hear the warmth piece in terms of what do professionals need to do and not do to have that warmth come across.

Steve Herz
Well, first of all, any communication, as you well know, it’s irrelevant except for how the listener is hearing you, right? And if the listener hears it in a certain way, and that’s different from the way that you mean it, then the only thing that matters is how they hear it. So, from the perspective of warmth, you want to tailor your message in a way that you make the other person feel known that this is valuable and important to them either by speaking from their perspective or, like I tried to do earlier, “Pete, I want to come on your show, I want to tell you this because it’s going to be actionable and it’s going to change your audience’s life.” Everything is about them, the listener, what you’re getting out of it, not about me, right? So, hopefully, that connotes a level of warmth.

And then we can also connote warmth in many different subtle ways. One thing that connotes warmth is when you’re talking to me, part of life is listening and also making you feel attentive, I’m going to make eye contact with you, I’m going to answer your question in a way that demonstrates that I listen to what you had to say, that I cared enough to hear what you wanted to tell me, and I’m going to follow up with something that’s consistent, not a non sequitur, for example.

And, also, I’m going to smile at you when appropriate. I’m going to have open-body language. And, as much as possible, I’m going to try to turn the conversation in a way so that it’s going to be about you. And all that contributes to warmth among many other things. And then, also, as you pointed out earlier, part of it is in your vocal tone. If you’re coming out strong like a bulldog with every aspect of your communication, you’re going to blow people away and not connect with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Let’s hear about energy now.

Steve Herz
So, that’s a tricky one. That’s probably the trickiest one of all. I’d say energy is really, again, just from the perspective of combining it with warmth, is the only thing that matters about your energy is, “How am I making you feel?” And so, for example, I can be a very high-energy guy, and it just might be, Pete, if I got to know you really well, I might learn that you don’t really respond well to high energy. And every time I get too high energy, it actually deflates you. So, it would be incumbent upon me to know that when I’m talking to Pete, I got to really modulate that energy.

And then I might have another colleague who really responds very well to high energy, and I can modulate my energy a little bit differently. Also, by listening to you, and by really keying myself into what you have you to say, and by being very attentive to you, that’s going to energize you as well because you know I care about you.

Pete Mockaitis
And it seems in terms of like that matching and connecting in terms of high energy or low energy, I almost sort of imagine there could be even more nuances and flavors in terms of the high energy or the low energy. Like, you could be high energy in the sense that you’re talking really fast and you’re fired up and whoa. Or, you could be high energy at a lower pace just like I’ve seen some people who, it’s clear they’re really enthusiastic about what they’re saying just because of like the way they’re moving eyebrows and smiling. Even if they’re not talking a mile a minute, it’s like, “Oh, okay. This guy is pretty fired up about this. Okay.”

And so, that’s intriguing that within the high and low is one way to think about sort of like the matching and how you’re being received. Are there any other kind of nuances or hues or flavors that you’d put on the energy for us to consider?

Steve Herz
I think it’s really just about trying to develop a little bit more self-awareness about yourself, and really keying into how is the person you’re talking to or the people you’re talking to, how are they responding to you. And trying to make those adjustments in the moment, and eventually getting to a point where you have such good habits about the way you communicate, and you’re reading someone’s face or their eye contact or their lack of eye contact, or what have you, or their lack of nodding, lack of responsiveness, that you can make those adjustments in the moment. One of the things I say is it’s not just important to read the room, it’s also important to read how the room is reading you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And are there any sort of telltale indicators you recommend that we be on the lookout for in terms of, “Ooh, this is a thumbs up or a thumbs down indicator based on what I’m seeing with some body language or facial expressions or tone”?

Steve Herz
One of the best indicators is a lack of responsiveness. So, if you’re talking to someone, and I could see you right now, this is a great example of it, is that you’re just blinking barely, and you’re not nodding at all, so if this was a real conversation in person, I’ll just stop.

Pete Mockaitis
Sorry.

Steve Herz
No, no, no. It’s a great example actually. It’s a great example because if I’m not getting a response from you, then I know that it can quickly go from a dialogue to a monologue, and that is something that would often deflate people. Nobody wants to be in a monologue especially in a long conversation. Not for long.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. And I guess, in that moment as I was blinking, I was just waiting for the goods in terms of it’s like, “One of the things…” I think that’s what you said, “One of the things that you should be on the lookout for…” I was like, “Okay, I’m listening. What is the thing?”

Steve Herz
You’re one of the things I was on the lookout for though.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so just non-responsiveness. And so then, if you’re just blinking, that’s kind of nothing. Part of it is, and I guess this is also a context associated, if people crossed their arms, maybe they’re uncomfortable and maybe they’re cold. In some ways, like I’m constrained to not move more than an inch away from this microphone which limits me a bit. But, okay, so non-responsiveness is one thing to be on the lookout for, like they’re just sort of doing nothing but blinking. What are some other thumbs down or thumbs up indicators?

Steve Herz
I think you just put your head on a really good one. Body language is really important, not just the arms folded, but if you’re talking to someone and you noticed that your hips or your shoulders are parallel to theirs, and they start moving their shoulders or their hips away from you, that’s an indication that you’re not someone that is particularly interesting to them and/or energizing them. And I think those are kind of the telltale signs. And, in addition to when I talk about non-responsiveness, I mean non-responsiveness from facial-nodding perspective, but also from a conversational point of view. If they’re not responding, and saying, “Hey, you know what, I agree with that,” or, “I don’t agree with that,” and there’s not really a dialogue, that’s all the signs you would need, hopefully, to prevent yourself from overstaying your welcome or not soliciting or listening someone to have a dialogue with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, those are the three things we’re going for with that authority, that warmth, that energy, and we talked at the beginning about how it’s very important to ensure that you’re getting that feedback and you’re asking for it. And so, now that we know sort of what we’re shooting for, how would you recommend we specifically ask for what we need in the feedback department?

Steve Herz
Well, I think, as I said earlier, I think, first and foremost, try to find people that will give you what I call tough love. And when I say tough love, I mean love not just the tough. You want to find people that are really invested in you and your future and your growth. And even if they’re going to be tough on you, you know it’s coming from a place of goodness and really operating in your best interest. And then I think it’s just a question of trying to find someone that can analyze you in a way that is really accurate so it shouldn’t be hard to find objective qualities about yourself.

For example, in the book, we talk about, I talked about earlier, these filler words. That’s not something that’s very subjective. Either you’re using a lot of filler words or you’re not. So, now, in this time of the pandemic and we’re all home with Zoom and everything is being recorded a lot more than it used to be, you can record yourself and try to be on the lookout for some of these things. And you can look out for, “Are you someone that is responding well to another person? Are you showing that kind of warmth? Are you smiling? Are you energetic in your communication?” And once you can pinpoint those things, then I think you have the basis of the beginnings of some helpful growth.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And those ideas associated with recording yourself or maybe using an app like Speako…!! which will automatically transcribe and record those is huge. And I think it’s so fun to be able to – I’d work out on this – being able to quantify the results in terms of, “Oh, hey, I had these many filler words per minute last week, and now it’s lower this week.” So, that’s exciting.

Steve Herz
Exactly. No, no, I was going to say you’re exactly right. And the other thing I offer people, and I think this is a really good trick or hack, if you will, in the book is that instead of trying to develop all this self-awareness once you’ve figured out, okay, let’s say you use too many filler words, hypothetically, of course. Let’s say that’s the case. I don’t want you to go trying to automatically stop using filler words. What I want you to do is try to create an environment in your life where you become very sensitive and aware of filler words. Because, often, we’re not really aware of how we’re using filler words but we can become very aware of other people using them.

So, I talk about this thing called hyper external awareness. So, whether it’s bad body language, or filler words, or not finishing your sentences, or any of the myriad things we all do that kind of compromise our own communication, start noticing it first in others after someone has pointed it out to you.

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

Steve Herz
I’ll say one last thing about authority because we didn’t talk about it. It really fits in well right here. I think some of the most authoritative people and persuasive people I met along the way in this process are people that are huge at what they call, and I would also agree with them, is kind of a detached authority. They believe what they believe, they own it internally, their whole communication belies it, but they don’t try to sell you on them. And so, I guess, hopefully, I’m going to be a little detached about my own authority about this concept, and people have heard enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Wait. That’s really a great point because, I guess, if I perceive that you need me to believe you or to buy the product or whatever, then that just… I don’t know what the word is. It’s not reverse psychology or alpha stuff but…

Steve Herz
It’s needy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Steve Herz
It’s needy. If your product is so good, why do you need me to have it? Like, why are you desperate for me to buy it? There must be something weak about it that you have to have me get this.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s kind of like playing hard to get, seriously. If you’re such a person…what’s that?

Steve Herz
No, but if you don’t mind me saying, well, I did meet a few people along the way who do play hard to get but they have every reason to play hard to get. They have something so special that you really should want it, and they don’t try to sell it at all, and it’s very powerful.

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

Steve Herz
I love the Oscar Wilde quote, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” So, it’s just a reminder to try to be authentic to you every day.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Steve Herz
I’d say my favorite book, believe it or not, is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It probably had a lot to do with everything I’m doing here from seeing life from another person’s perspective.

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

Steve Herz
I would just say, it’s a weak answer, but the iPhone. It allows me to not be behind a desk 24/7 even way before this pandemic. And I think I’ve been one of these people who’ve worked remotely for probably the last 20 years to a large extent.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Steve Herz
Just every day, I’d say, for the past 10 years, I have flossed my teeth after having horrible, horrible gum issues. And that habit that I took in 10 years ago has helped me build a lot of other habits. But that’s a keystone habit for my whole life.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s an intriguing story right there. So, you started flossing. And how did that end up turning into additional habits?

Steve Herz
So, like I said, 10 plus years ago, I was told by my dentist that I needed gum surgery, and I had been a terrible flosser, and just horrible at it, and I begged him to give me one last chance. And, at the same time, I had read this book called Willpower by a guy named John Tierney, and he had this tip about how to build habits. So, I took all the tips in the book and just tried to build this habit for three weeks, 21 days, that was the trick in the book. And I set an alarm on my phone for 9:55 every night that I would have to floss at 9:55.

So, what ended up happening is I flossed that first night, and the second, and the third, and now, like I said, for probably thousands of nights so much. But after doing it at 9:55, first of all, I’d stop eating at that point. If ever I would eat late, I’d stop doing that. Secondly, I started going to bed earlier because the alarm went off at 9:55 and I would get to bed. And then I started getting up earlier, I started working out more regularly, so it had this cascading effect of all these really good things happening in my life. And, by the way, to this day, I still never needed the gum surgery.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. And are you still flossing at 9:55 or is it just whenever the time comes?

Steve Herz
No, 9:55. The alarm still goes off.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s great.

Steve Herz
I can’t even figure out how to take the alarm off the phone, which probably is a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m not going to tell you because it’s working for you. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, they quote it back to you often?

Steve Herz
Well, now, it’s “Don’t take yes for an answer,” which is kind of funny. People use this on me as a tool. It’s become a retort from all my friends. If I’m doing something that they don’t want to agree with me, “Don’t take yes for an answer.” Even my kids are using it on me now.

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

Steve Herz
Just at my website www.StevenHerz.com and they can download a free eight-page guide about the book, and all social media and everything I’ve done, writing, podcast, etc.

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

Steve Herz
I would say just don’t take yes for an answer in your own life, however that manifests for you. Have what I would call aggressive humility about yourself. Realize that all of us, and by the way, I wrote the book and there’s a million things I need to improve upon. So, have that level of aggressive humility and know that if you really want to reach your potential, every day you should be striving to get better. And the best way to do it is to seek feedback.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Steve, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all the ways you’re not taking yes for an answer.

Steve Herz
Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

553: How to Change Minds and Organizations with Jonah Berger

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Wharton professor Jonah Berger discusses the biggest obstacles to successful persuasion—and how to overcome them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why persuasive arguments don’t work—and what does
  2. A simple technique to win over stubborn naysayers
  3. How to introduce big changes with minimal resistance

About Jonah:

Jonah Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and internationally bestselling author of Contagious, Invisible Influence, and The Catalyst.

Dr. Berger is a world-renowned expert on change, word of mouth, influence, consumer behavior, and how products, ideas, and behaviors catch on. He has published over 50 articles in top‐tier academic journals, teaches Wharton’s highest rated online course, and popular outlets like The New York Times and Harvard Business Review often cover his work. He’s keynoted hundred of events, and often consults for organizations like Google, Apple, Nike, and the Gates Foundation.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Jonah Berger Interview Transcript

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

Jonah Berger
Thanks so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really excited to dig into your wisdom. You’ve been on the list for a long time so it’s so good to have you here.

Jonah Berger
Oh, thanks. I appreciate that.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to just kick us off by so you’ve been doing a lot of research in influence and change. Can you maybe tell us what’s some of like the most common things that people want change that comes up again and again, it’s almost like trite for you by now?

Jonah Berger
I think everyone has something they want to change. Employees always seem to want to change their boss’ mind, leaders want to transform organizations, marketing and sales want to change the customer or the clients’ mind, startups want to change industries, nonprofits want to change the world. I think we all have something that we want to change. People talk about changing their spouse’s mind or their kids’ behavior, so I think these things come up again and again.

What I found most interesting is that we tend to take a particular approach that often doesn’t work. So, when we did some of our own research, for example, we asked people to write down, “What’s something you want to change? And what have you tried to do to change it?” Almost 100% of the time, 99% of the time, they write down some version of what I call pushing, and that is kind of adding more pressure, more reasons, more information.

If it’s the boss, “Oh, let me just send one more email.” If it’s the client, “Let me make one more phone call.” If it’s my spouse, “Let me just tell them one more time why I think what I’m suggesting is the right way to go.” And it’s clear why we think this is a good approach, right? In the physical world, if we want to move something, we push it, right? If you’re sitting in a room and there’s a chair, and you want the chair to go somewhere, you push the chair in the direction you want it to go.

But the problem with people is they aren’t physical objects. Unlike objects that move when we push them, when we push people, they push back. And so, the question, really, of this new book that I’ve been working on is, “Well, is there a different way? Is there a better way to change minds and organizations?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, do tell, what is the better way?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, so I think there’s a need analogy to be made with chemistry. And so, in chemistry there’s sort of this special set of substances that make change happen faster and easier, they’re called catalysts, but they work in a very particular way. They don’t add temperature, they don’t add pressure, which is usually what things in chemistry do to change things, they remove the barriers to change. They basically make the same amount of change happen with less work.

And so, that’s really what I find quite interesting about the social world as well. Too often, we say, “What could I do to get someone to change?” rather than taking a very subtle but important shift, and saying, “Why hasn’t that person changed already? What’s preventing them? What are the barriers that are mitigating or hindering change,” that friction as you said, “and how can I remove those barriers?” And so, that’s what the book is really all about. It’s about finding those barriers, those things that are getting in the way and how to get rid of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. And so then, let’s hear in terms of frequent examples of resistance, friction, barriers, obstacles. What’s the kind of stuff that gets in the way for professionals looking to make a change at work, either in themselves, or with their boss, or colleague? What are some of those repeated obstacles?

Jonah Berger
Yeah. And I love to think about these obstacles as parking brakes. The reason why, when we get in our car, we often have this problem. We get in our car, we’re sitting on an incline, or whatever, we want to get it to go, we turn the key ignition, put our foot on the gas. If it doesn’t go, we think we need more gas. We, rarely though, until we think about it, end up checking that parking brake. So, sometimes it’s the parking brake that’s along the way. So, what are those parking brakes or obstacles?

And so, in the book I talk about five. I talk about reactance, endowment, distance, uncertainty, and corroborating evidence. Those, I found across my research, are some of the five most common benefits and they have the nice side benefit of when you put them in order, they actually spell a word, which is REDUCE.

Pete Mockaitis
It was no accident, Jonah, I’m sure.

Jonah Berger
Yeah, it was no accident. And, honestly, actually, if I could I’d change the order around. I’d end up with like the EURDC framework which doesn’t spell anything. So, it would just be confusing if we did it that way but I think it’s a nice way to organize that information, and that’s what catalysts do, right? They don’t push harder; they reduce those barriers. They figure out what those obstacles are and how to mitigate them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s dig into each of them. Can you maybe define the five of them and then we’ll sort of dig into each one?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, let’s pick one to start. So, let’s say reactance, and I think this is something that everyone listening has experienced in one way, shape or form, whether it’s in their professional or personal life. And the idea here, very simply, is when we try to get people to do something, when we try to persuade, they push back.

A bunch of very nice research shows that people essentially have an ingrained anti-persuasion system, almost like an anti-missile defense system, or radar, that is going around, that says, “Hey, when I sense that someone is trying to convince me of something, someone’s trying to change my mind, my defense system goes up.”

Pete Mockaitis
Even if it’s for our good or it would be fun.

Jonah Berger
You’re exactly right, yeah. And I find this most funny with exactly what you said. Even if it’s something I already want to do, this happens a lot in our personal lives, right? Our spouse, for example, might say, “Well, I think we should do this,” and even if it’s something we already wanted to do, we have to stop ourselves from saying no because we want to feel like we made the choice.

And that’s exactly what reactance is about. We want to feel like we’re in control, we’re in the driver seat, and so if we don’t feel like we’re in control, or we don’t feel like we’re in the driver seat, we push back against that message. That radar goes up and we either avoid, or ignore something, or, even worse, we counterargue. And I think counterarguing is the worst because you don’t know when someone is counterarguing. Often, they’re sitting there, they’re listening to you but they’re not actually listening. They’re sitting there thinking about all the reasons why they don’t want to do what you suggested.

And so, in terms of how to solve this challenge, there are a few different ways but one I often like to talk about is to do something called providing a menu. And the notion, the intuition here is very simple. When we give people one thing that we’re recommending, they, as we just talked about, often sit there thinking about all the reasons why it’s a bad idea. So, if our spouse, for example, says, “Hey, why do you want to do this weekend?” And you say, “Oh, let’s go watch a movie.” They go, “Oh, but it’s such a nice day outside,” or, “Oh, we went to the movies last week,” or, “Oh,” whatever it is. They think about all the reasons why it’s a bad idea.

And so, what good consultants often do is they provide what’s called a menu, essentially multiple options rather than just one. And what that really cleverly does is that shifts the job of the listener. Let’s say a consultant is presenting a solution and they’re presenting it to a client. If they just present one option, the client sits there going, thinking about all the reasons why it won’t work, “It’ll be too expensive.” “It’ll be hard to implement.” “My staff won’t like it, blah, blah, blah, blah.” All the reasons why it won’t work.

If, instead, you present two options, at least two or three, maybe even a couple more, it shifts the role of the listener, because rather than thinking about all the reasons they don’t like what you’re suggesting, they’re instead sitting there thinking which of them they like the best. Which of these two options do they like the best? Which is going to lead them, not surprisingly, to be much more likely to pick one at the end of the day.

And so, I like calling it providing a menu because you’re not giving infinite choices, you’re giving a limited set, and you’re guiding that decision.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s so funny because it takes so much work to go off the menu. I’m thinking, this is triggering all sorts of things. So, I’ve got a two-year old at home, and so sometimes he doesn’t want to put a shirt on after he wakes up, and so I was like, “Hey, do you want the blue one or the purple one.” And he says, “Purple.” Or I was at a hotel with a continental breakfast this weekend, and I just wasn’t thrilled with the options. So, I was hoping for those little egg things but they weren’t there. There’s about all carbs, no protein, but I had like six options. And so, I just sort of stood there displeased for like three minutes. The people are probably wondering what I was doing, I was like, “No, no, no,” and then I finally just said, “Okay, I guess I want to do this because I don’t want to truck it out in this snowy weather. I’ll eat what’s here.”

Jonah Berger
Yeah, but talking about kids, I mean, it’s the same idea. I have a young one at home myself and it’s the same thing. When you ask kids to do something, they go, “No.” “Put this away.” “No.” “Do you want to wear this?” “No.” They’re like so used to saying no, but if you give them two options, suddenly they got a chance to choose. And notice you’re not giving them 15 options. If you gave them 15 options, they wouldn’t make a choice. They’d feel overwhelmed, they’d go something else.

When you walk into a restaurant, so you go to a Chinese restaurant, they don’t say, “Okay, which of the 60 options of world cuisines would you like?” They say, no, “Here’s the small set of options that are available but you get to pick.” And I think that same thing is used for whether you’re trying to convince a client or whether you’re trying to convince a boss. If you want that boss to do something, don’t say, “Hey, boss, I think we should do this.” Say, “Hey, boss, I think these are two really great options for us. Which do you like better?” Now, the boss may not pick either, but because they felt like they’re in control, they’re more likely to pick one than they would’ve been otherwise.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s particularly excellent when it’s sort of like the “Help me prioritize” conversation. Like, “You’ve made 40 requests of me and it’s, in fact, impossible for all of those things to happen within the timeline you’d like them to happen. So, what do you think of, on this list, is the most important?” And so, that goes across, I think, a lot better while on the receiving end of this than, “No, not going to do that,” or, “I can’t do that.” It’s like, “Well, what?” It’s like, “No, no, you pick which of these things?”

Jonah Berger
You pick, yeah. But, as you’re pointing out, and that’s actually another thing I talk about a little bit in this chapter, is what that does is it gets the boss to commit to the conclusion. When you make statements, if someone gets a sit, they’re going, “Okay, do I agree with that statement or not?” When you ask questions, suddenly, again, it shifts their role. They’re saying what they think is the most important. They’re saying which of the things you should prioritize. They’ve put a stake in the ground. And so, if you come back later and you do that thing, it’s hard for them to disagree.

Somebody was talking about this in the context of a startup they were working at where the boss wanted everyone to work the weekend. No one wants to work the weekend, right? So, instead, in the meeting, the boss said, “Okay, what kind of company do you want to be? Do you want to be a good company or a great company?” Now, we all know how everyone answers that question, they don’t say, “Oh, we want to be a good company.” They say, “We want to be a great company.” And after everyone says that, they put that stake in the ground, they’ve committed to the conclusion. Then the boss says, “Okay. Well, to be a great company, we got to put in some long hours.” But because people have committed to it, because you asked them a question rather than telling them what to do, they’re much more likely to do the work to reach that conclusion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. So, then that covers the reactance, I guess, we automatically react to, “I don’t care to be persuaded but I do care to make some choices.” So, then how about the endowment?

Jonah Berger
Sure, yeah. I think endowment, the best way to talk about endowment is to share the common intuition we often have, which is we tend to become attached to things we’re already doing. So, unlike if you’re trying to get someone who’s never done something to do something, when you’re trying to get people to switch to go from one thing to something else, they’re not only about how much they value that new thing and how much they want to do it, but how reticent they are to give up the old one.

So, some research on home buying, for example, shows that the longer someone’s lived in a home, the more they value that place above market price. They’ve spent a long time in it, they have their memories attached to it, they’re unwilling to get rid of it. Same thing if you’re asking people to buy something. So, they do great research, for example, on what’s called the endowment effect, where the name of the chapter comes from, where they asked people, “Hey, imagine I give you this mug.” They’re checking out this mug, it can hold coffee or tea, “You like it, great. How much would you be willing to sell it for?”

And they asked another set of people, they say, “Hey, here’s this wonderful mug, it holds coffee and tea, etc. How much would you be willing to buy it from someone else for?” And those prices, those amounts should be exactly the same whether you’re buying that coffee mug or selling that coffee mug, the value of it should be the same. But people’s valuation of it changes based on whether they own it or not. If it’s your mug, if it’s yours, you’re less willing to let it go. You have two times, often, will have higher valuation than people that don’t have it already because it’s yours. Obviously, this is a problem because you’re not only asking people when you ask them to change to do something new, you’re asking them to give up something old that they probably value very highly.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. This also reminds me of the cognitive bias, the IKEA effect in terms of, “I poured my time into assembling this piece of furniture therefore, if I were to sell it, it needs to fetch a hefty rate because I’m invested into that.” And to others, “No, it’s just kind of a cheap piece of furniture. You’re not going to get a hefty rate. It’s not world-class craftsmanship or anything.” Okay, so there we go. That’s endowment, it’s there. What do we do with it?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, and so I think the thing there, I found, is that we have to make people realize that doing nothing isn’t costless. So, I think we have this notion that, “What I’m doing already is free.” The cost of doing a new thing, the switching cost, which hopefully we’ll get to in a couple minutes, but we think the existing thing is, in some sense, free, “It’s not going to cost me anything to keep doing the same thing I’m doing.” But that often isn’t the case. There often are costs to doing something that we don’t realize.

So, there’s a nice study, for example, that talks about which hurts people more, which causes more pain, a minor injury or a major one. And everybody, when they think about it, will go, “Oh, of course, a major injury causes more pain.” So, if I break my elbow, it’s going to hurt me a lot more than a sprain. A headache is not going to hurt as much as a heart attack, for example. But what people don’t realize is when something really bad happens, we often take measures to fix that bad thing.

Something that’s terrible, when we break our arm, for example, we’re not just going to sit around. We’re going to go to the hospital, we’re going to get it set, we’re going to get it fixed. Whereas, for a minor sprain, we often don’t fix it. And so, we often don’t address those things and they end up causing more pain over the lifespan overall because they don’t go above our threshold.

And so, the challenge, that is for change agents, is make people realize it’s not costless, that doing what you’ve done before isn’t costless. There’s a great person from IT that I talk about, I talked to in the book, they did a version of what I call burning the ships. So, there’s this old famous story where an explorer wants to get his men to travel inland to do this dangerous thing in Mexico, they don’t want to go. So, what he does, he takes the old option off the table. He basically says, “Look, if the ships are still around, they can still go home so I’m going to burn the ships. Once the ships are gone, once the status quo has disappeared, they’ve got to go with me. They’ve got to change and do the new thing.”

And so, that may seem really drastic, burning the ships, but this IT guy did a version of it. He was trying to get everyone to upgrade, so upgrade to a new software version.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you’ve got to. Those hackers are after you.

Jonah Berger
Oh, they do, right?

Pete Mockaitis
They’re after you.

Jonah Berger
Yeah, you’re still using Windows 7, or whatever it is, it’s dangerous for the network.

Pete Mockaitis
Can’t have that.

Jonah Berger
Or someone’s on that old version of their PC they don’t want to get rid of because they’ve got that status quo bias, it’s theirs. And so, what he did was interesting. So, rather than saying, “Hey, let me tell you how great the new thing is,” he surfaced the costs of inaction. He made people realize more that doing nothing isn’t free. He sent out this note to people who weren’t upgrading to a new system, so he sent out this note, he said, “Look, you don’t have to upgrade. But just so you know, we can’t support the old system anymore. It’s dangerous to the network. It takes too much time. You can keep using it but, after a certain point, if you have a problem, we’re not going to fix it.”

He didn’t say, “Hey, look, you have to switch,” but he didn’t allow that costs of inaction to remain dormant. He really surfaced it. He allowed people to see it. And so, in some sense, he didn’t take the old option off the table, he didn’t throw their PC out the window, he didn’t truly burn the ships. He just made people realize that sticking with those old way of doing things might be more costly than they might think, which encouraged them to be more willing to do something new.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I really dig that, and I’ve recently applied that in terms of there’s all these little tasks that, you know, I’m big on outsourcing and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. But there are some like three-minute tasks that’s just like, “Ahh, it’s probably a lot of effort to train folks on how to do that so I’ll just keep doing that.” But then when I really hunker down, it’s like, “Okay, so what is this going to amount to over the next five years of doing these three minutes?” And I think about all those hours, and it’s like, “Okay, well, that’s a few vacation days, so maybe it’s worth taking an hour to share, ‘Hey, this is how you make invoices,’” or whatever the thing may be so that I can get that going, as you show that the cost of doing nothing is significant.

Jonah Berger
Yeah. And I love that example that you shared because the cost is significant over time but it’s not initially. Like, you’re sitting there, going, “But it’s only three minutes.” But, as you said, three minutes over time adds up to vacation days. But there’s always an initial cost of action. To train that person requires a couple hours, and if the cost seems bigger than the immediate benefit, we don’t do it. And so, really encouraging people to say, “Look, over time, that sprain, that elbow sprain is going to hurt a lot. You might want to go see a doctor and get it fixed.” Really adding it up over time forces people to realize that it’s not actually costless.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Well, let’s keep it going. Tell us about distance. Tell us about distance, Jonah.

Jonah Berger
Sure. So, distance is the notion that if we ask for too much, if we ask for something or even give people information, it’s too far from where they are at the moment, they tend to ignore us or they tend to sort of push back against what we’re suggesting. And so, this might sound a little bit like reactance, but in reactance we’re really trying to persuade someone, even if we just give people information, sometimes they don’t listen.

And so, a great domain to think about this is politics.

Jonah Berger
It’s the new reality show, it’s called America – What’s Happening in Politics. But people don’t get along with the other side, and many people have talked about filter bubbles, and you get access to biased information, and all these different things. But one solution is, “Hey, if we just learned about the other side, if we just connected with people on the other side, then we’d be more moderate, we’d come around.”

And so, sociologists from Duke actually tested this, they said, “Look, I’m going to take people on Twitter, I’m going to pay them a little bit of money to follow a bot for a month, and that bot is going to be on the opposite side of the political spectrum as them.” It’s exactly what all the commentators and pundits have said, “Look, if we just reach across the aisle, just talk to a couple Republicans, if you’re a Democrat, vice versa if you’re a Republican, that’ll make everybody more moderate.” They said, “Look, if we just give people information, we’re not trying to convince anyone, just give them information about what the other side thinks, hopefully, that’ll make them more moderate.”

And you can think about this in a variety of other contexts as well, right? If I just give that boss more information about what I want, if I give the client more information, they should listen. And the hope was simply that information about the other side would move people to the middle but that’s not, unfortunately, what he found. It wasn’t that it moved people to the middle, and it wasn’t even that it had no effect. Giving people information about what the other side thought actually pushed them in the opposite direction. It backfired.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Those jerks,” villainized them more for how wrong they are.

Jonah Berger
In some sense, right, they made Republicans become more conservative, and the Liberals move in the opposite direction as well. And, essentially, why? It was too far from where people are at the moment. Research shows that we have a sort of a latitude acceptance or zone of acceptance around our beliefs or our attitudes. Sure, we believe a certain thing, but we’re willing to move a few yards in another direction.

Think about a football field, right, we move five or ten yards in one direction, maybe five or ten in another, but we won’t go completely on the other side of the field because on the other side of the field is that region of rejection. It’s that set of opinions, or information, or beliefs that we are unwilling even to consider. We’re unwilling to pay attention to them, and this is sort of ideas of the confirmation bias. And even when we do pay attention to them, we discount it or we don’t believe it because it’s too far from where we are.

And so, the question really is, “How can we shrink that distance, make it not seem so far away from where people are at the moment?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, okay, so let’s get an example here. Boy, what’s something that people can really…hey, how about abortion, right? There is some distance. So, one side could say, “Hey, this is a human life and you’re murdering it or him or her, that’s not cool.” And the other side would say, “No, you’re enslaving women. You’re trying to bring them back to the dark ages in which they’re subservient to men. This is unjust.” Okay, so we got a whole lot of distance. I’m throwing you in the deep end, Jonah.

Jonah Berger
You are.

Pete Mockaitis
If one side or the other is trying to gain some ground, how might we present things to have less distance?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, so I’m going to cheat here. I’m going to take an easy out at the beginning and then we’ll work our way back around abortion.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Jonah Berger
So, I would say a first place to start is to do what I call asking for less. And so, I think an easy way to think about this is a doctor that I was talking to. So, often, when we want people to change, we ask for too much. The information is too far away. In the abortion case, for example, we want someone to go from pro-choice to pro-life right away. We want people to switch sides, one to the other right away. We want big change to happen right away.

And the doctor was actually dealing with something similar. She had this truck driver she was working with that was morbidly obese, so he was like 100 pounds or more overweight, part of the reason why, he was drinking three liters of Mountain Dew a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man.

Jonah Berger
He was drinking in that truck hub all day long. He’d buy Mountain Dew.

Pete Mockaitis
Got to stay awake.

Jonah Berger
Yeah, got to stay awake, got to have something to drink, so he was drinking three liters of Mountain Dew. And so, what’s our knee-jerk reaction in that situation?

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s disgusting. You have to stop that now.”

Jonah Berger
Yeah, “Don’t drink anymore Mountain Dew,” right? If we want someone to exercise, “You exercise every day.” We want someone to switch from one side of the field to the other, which is great for us but it’s probably not going to work for them. If you’re talking to a guy that’s drinking three liters of Mountain Dew a day, telling him to quit cold turkey is probably going to fail.

And so, she tried something else instead. Rather than asking him to quit cold turkey, she said, “Hey, you’re drinking three liters of Mountain Dew a day. You can keep drinking some Mountain Dew, but drink two instead of three, and take one of those empty bottles and fill it up with water.” He grumbled, he didn’t want to do it obviously, he wasn’t interested in moving at all, but he was willing to try. He lost a little weight. He came back next time. She said, “Okay, great. Now you’re at two, move to one.” Came back a few months later, had made it to one, then she said, “Great.” Eventually moved to zero.

And by using this sort of step-wise function, not asking for all at once, but asking for less and then asking for more, she was able to get him to change. And so, asking for less isn’t about saying, “Hey, I’m only going to ask for less,” it’s about starting with less and then asking for more. Moving people five yards down the field, and then moving them another five yards.

If you talk to product designers, they often call this something like stepping stones. If you’re introducing a new version of a product or a new version of a service, I, a few years ago, was working with Facebook to introduce a new hardware project, and they were dealing with exactly this. They’re saying, “Okay, we’re going to introduce something. It’s very different from what people are used to. How can we introduce this new thing? If it’s too different, they’re going to say no, they don’t want to do it.”

And so, what we ended up doing instead is rather than going for the full thing right away, asking people to move to a completely new thing, let’s pick something that’s just a little bit from where they are currently, introduce that version. Then, once people have gotten used to it, move to the next version, and move to the next one. And so, in some sense, it’s almost like called stepping stones because it’s like a river. When you ask someone to change, it’s like a big river, they don’t want to cross from one side to the other, “It’s to far. I’m going to get wet. I don’t want to do it.”

So, instead, you say, “Okay, well, just jump to this little stone, and then jump to this next stone, then jump to this next stone. And you jump a few times and you’re across to the other side.” And so, rather than asking for too much right away, start by asking for less, chunk that change and then ask for more.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s handy. And so then, in the challenging example I threw your way with abortion, it might be just a matter of a stepping stone might be not so much changing your view but just accepting that the other side is not evil and trying to commit these atrocities against women or tiny babies, but rather that they are mistaken or they have a different perspective, and that’s some distance that you’ve reduced. You’re still quite a distance away but it’s something.

Jonah Berger
Yeah. There’s a great Heineken ad that does something exactly like what you’re suggesting where they take the people that completely disagree and they have them have a conversation. So, they take, for example, a feminist and someone who hates feminism. They take someone who hates transgender people and someone who is a transgender, and so on, people that really disagree. And what they do is they have them essentially build a bar. They get together, they go through a variety of activities, they build a bar, and at the end, they showed them a video of the other person, and the other person saying all the things that they believe.

So, the feminist says, “Oh, women are important,” and the feminist hater says, “Oh, women’s job is at the home,” and they see what the other person is, and then they say, “Okay, now that you know who this person is, do you still want to be friends with them?” And I think what that does, it’s slightly different than asking for less. What it does is it switches the field. Rather than starting with something like abortion where two sides are dug in on opposite sides of the field and they’re unlikely to agree and move, it switches the field to a dimension where they’re more similar in the first place.

Pete Mockaitis
We both like drinking beer.

Jonah Berger
We both like drinking beer, right? We both hang out. We both care about our families. We both care about America being a great country. Or in an organizational context, right? Sure, you might not want to do what I want but we both want the company to succeed. I think a good way to think about it, imagine you’re sitting in front of graph paper. You can draw that field on the X-axis, there’s one end zone, there’s another end zone, you can make the tick marks along the way. But at the 50-yard line, you draw a vertical line, there’s a Y-axis which is another dimension where you might actually have a lot in common, that even if you’re on different ends of the X-axis, you’re actually at the same point on the Y-axis, you’re exactly in the middle.

And so, by switching that field by starting with common ground, starting with something we have in common, a place where we don’t disagree, and using that to then eventually build around to that place where there’s more disagreement, we’re going to be more successful because now you humanized the person. You’re not just, “Oh, this faceless person who believes something I don’t believe. We have a little bit in common. We both care about our families. We realize we have emotional connections to the things we love. I’m going to see you more as a human. You’re going to see me more as a human. And then we’re more likely to be persuaded at the end of the day.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’m digging it. So, Jonah, let’s just keep it going. Uncertainty, lay it on.

Jonah Berger
So, we talked a little bit about switching costs before, but just to make that really concrete, if I’m asking an organization to change company culture, there’s some costs to doing that. There’s an incentive structure that was, and now there’s a new one. When I ask a customer to buy a new project, they have to spend money or time or energy to install that new thing or get that new thing. And those are costs that often prevent change from happening. The old thing seems cheap, the new thing seems costly.

But the other problem with new things is that they have more uncertainty associated with them. Think about a new phone, for example. Not only do you have to pay more money to get that new phone. But when do you have to pay the cost and when do you get the benefit? The costs are up front, pay the money for that phone. Now, I have to go to AT&T and Verizon and switch my thing, and do this, and do that, and get all my information switched over. So, the costs are now and the benefits are later. Yes, it might be faster and lighter and have a better camera but I’m not going to get those until later, and those benefits are also uncertain.

Sure, this new way of doing company culture might be better, sure, this new project you’re suggesting might make us more money, but I don’t know if it’s going to. And if I don’t know, why am I going to be willing to switch? And that’s what I call the cost-benefit timing gap. Costs are certain and they’re upfront. Benefits are uncertain and they’re later, and people don’t like uncertainty. Think about the last time you were wondering if you’re going to be late for a meeting, for example. So, your flight is late or you’re stuck in a car in traffic, and you’re worried about missing this meeting. You’re so anxious you don’t know what you’re going to do. You feel terrible. You hate this concern about missing the meeting.

What’s interesting is the worst thing that can happen is missing the meeting. And so, if you know that you’re going to miss that meeting, you should feel what? You should feel worse because that’s the worst thing that can happen. But often, notice what happens, we figure out we’re going to miss that meeting, and then what ends up happening?

Pete Mockaitis
You’re relieved.

Jonah Berger
You actually feel good. Relief. You feel better.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Okay, what am I going to do now? I’ll communicate something to somebody and make it up somehow.”

Jonah Berger
Yeah, now that I know, I’m going to solve it. And so, in some sense, it’s not just missing the meeting that’s bad, it’s that uncertainly. And so, in a product context, in a sales context, in organizational context, uncertainty often leads us to hit the pause button. We don’t know whether the new thing is going to be better or worse. And given we don’t know, it’s safest to do nothing, which is great for the status quo, which is great for what we’re doing already, but it’s terrible for new things. And so, to really then get people to overcome that uncertainty, that anxiety, we have to make it easier for them to experience the value of that new thing.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m with you. And I think this connects so much in terms of I’m thinking about how people try to sell me something, and it’s just like, “All I really need to know is that it’s really going to do the thing that you say it’s going to do. And so, maybe you can alleviate that with a demo or…” usually I want hard data that they can never give me in terms of, “Oh, you have a marketing service. Well, can you tell me the cost per acquired customer for a population of people who are selling something very similar to what I’m selling?” Like, “No, we can’t.”

So, anyways, maybe I’m jumping the gun. I think, “Hey, demos, data,” but you tell me, what are the best ways to address and reduce uncertainty?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, demos and data are close. And so, I think I love to start with an idea that many of us may have heard of before, and that is the notion of freemium. So, take a company like Dropbox, which many of your listeners are probably familiar with, a storage place for files and so on. When Dropbox came out, they had a great technology, but the challenge is people were scared of it. They didn’t know whether it would be better than what they’d done already. They were used to doing things a particular way. “Where is that cloud? Where are my files going to be? If I’ve worked hours on this Word document, I don’t want to lose it.” And so, they were unwilling to make the change.

And so, Dropbox could’ve done advertising, they could’ve bought Google search words, but what they did instead is they gave it away for free. And you might be sitting there going, “What do you mean? Give it away for free?” Any kid who’s ever run a lemonade stand, to the most seasoned business executive, knows that giving away something for free is not a way to build a business, yet Dropbox has built a billion-dollar business giving away things for free. How did they do that?

And so, what they did is they didn’t give away everything for free. They gave away a version for free and then created a premium version and encouraged people to upgrade to it. So, in Dropbox’s case, for example, they gave away 2GB, or something like that, of storage for free. They said, “Look, sure there’s switching costs, you have your files on your computer, it’s going to take time and effort to upload them, but let’s at least try to mitigate that monetary costs by making the upfront costs free.” So, you can put files on Dropbox until you get to 2GB. Once you get to 2GB though, you’re faced with a choice, “Do I upgrade to premium version or not? Do I want more space, more features or not?”

And what’s really nice about something like freemium is rather than Dropbox telling you how great it is, just like that marketing service that you were talking to, of course they’re going to say it’s great. No marketing service is going to say, “Oh, yeah, you know, well, we’re not so great.” So, you can’t really believe them. But in Dropbox’s case, you have to believe because you’re the one who’s been using it. You’re the one that’s uploaded all your files to it. And so, when they come around and they say, “Hey, can you throw us a couple bucks to get more space,” you say, “Well, I know it’s good. I’ve resolved that uncertainty myself. I’ve convinced myself.”

And so, there are dozens, if not hundreds of other businesses that have leveraged this notion of freemium, creating a free version of a product or service, and then encouraging people to upgrade to the premium. If you think about Pandora, there’s an ad-free version. If you think about Skype, there’s a premium version. Think about LinkedIn, there’s a premium version. And so, what all these things have done is they’ve lowered that upfront costs to allow people to experience whether something is good or not, and then if they like it, they encourage you to upgrade to the premium. So, you have to figure out the right way to leverage freemium, I think that’s at least one idea to lower that barrier of trial and reduce uncertainty.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that does make a lot of sense to me. And anyway, I guess, you can give people a taste of things, like whether you make a good sketch, or a model, or a prototype, or a 3D world so they can put on the headset and see, “Oh, that’s what you mean,” so that uncertainty diminishes as it becomes more real and a part of something that they’ve experienced.

Jonah Berger
Yeah. I mean, think about test drives, for example. So, I often talk about freemium with clients of mine, and I’ll talk to somebody who’s an online software as a service company, they say, “Great. Freemium. I got it. Let’s do it.” But then I’ll talk to somebody that sells offline goods. So, maybe they’re a fleet management company, or maybe they’re a doctor, or maybe they’re a hospital and they say, “Freemium is great, but if I’m selling a physical thing, I can’t do freemium.” The idea of freemium though is a lot larger than freemium. The idea is, just as you said, “How can I make it easier for people to experience the offering?”

So, think about something like test drives for cars. There’s a not a free in a freemium. You get to test drive a car. It doesn’t make the price of the car any cheaper. The amount of money that’s going to cost to buy that Acura is still the same. All the test drive does, it allows you to figure out whether the value of it is actually worth paying the money. It allows you to experience some sense of what it’s like even though it’s not freemium.

And so, what that chapter talks all about is, “How can we lower the upfront costs by using things like test drives, or freemium, or other ways? How can we lower the backend costs, making things reversible?” Free returns, in the case of online buying. Lawyers often say, “Hey, we only get paid if you win,” so, again, reducing that uncertainty that it’s going to work, or even things like drive and discovery where you bring the trial to people so they experience it themselves even if they don’t think they’re interested, bringing it to them and allowing them to see how good it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool.

So, Jonah, if you could maybe give us an example that brings this all together, or maybe just even a few of the elements together in terms of there’s a professional, they’re looking to make a change, and they astutely utilized multiple levers in their appeal and made magic happen. Can you lay one on us?

Jonah Berger
There are many examples in the book that touch on individual aspects of this. I think, since we’re talking about uncertainty, I’ll just give one more about uncertainty specifically that I think is a fun one, and this is what I put under the sort of drive discovery bucket.

And that is sometimes people don’t know that they like what you’re offering. So, sometimes you’re trying to get them to do something but they don’t know you exist or they don’t think they like you, they’re going to be unwilling to change. So, if your boss, for example, has never heard of a certain thing, or you’re a challenger brand in the space, a client doesn’t know you exist, they’re going to be unlikely to change their mind, and so, I think this can be a great way to solve the problem.

There was this guy, his name was Jacek, he’s Polish, he works for Santander Bank, and, essentially, he wants to get his boss to buy into customer service or the customer experience. So, in the United States, we know all about surprise and delight. We have our best customers, we surprise them, we greet them by name. You check into our hotel; we give you your own pillow. You call customer service; we know it’s you. But it hasn’t been applied in banking as much and hadn’t made its way to Europe.

And so, Jacek would sit there going, “Look, this could be great in banking. Customers like us but they don’t love us. I’m sure we’re smiling at them when they walk in the door but we need to build that deeper connection. And so, he tells his boss, “Look, we got to do this,” and his boss says, “Ahh, no, thanks.” He says, “Look, boss, all these people are doing it.” And the boss says, “No, look, we’re banking. We’re not hotels, we’re not online retailers. People in banking care only about the rates.” So, Jacek brings a consultant, they make presentations after presentations, his boss still isn’t convinced.

So, he’s sitting there, going, “Okay, I can’t push my boss. If I tell my boss what to do, he’s not going to listen.” And so, he’s like, “Well, how can I help my boss experience the value of what I’m offering? How can I put him in the situation and the management team in the situation of what I’m trying to get them to do?” And so, he ends up doing slightly different. Rather than having another meeting where he talks about the value of customer experience, he instead collects a bunch of information from his boss and the management team. So, he finds out their birthday, their anniversary, how many days they’ve been with the company, when they’re going on trips, and so on.

And then what he does over the next couple months is he celebrates these things. So, if someone’s anniversary, he sends them a nice note. If it’s their two years of working with the company, they get a wonderful card signed by everyone saying how great it is that they’ve been with the organization. Someone goes hiking, somebody knits them a hat. Someone’s child gets in a car accident, they raise them money. And so, all these things are basically putting the management team in the shoes of what it’s like to be part of a customer experience initiative.

Then the next time they have a meeting, Jacek is sort of tentative to bring it up, but he says, “Hey, what do you guys think?” And nobody says, “Hey, I don’t think it’ll work,” because they’ve all experienced it. They all know what it’s like to be cared about as a customer because they’ve been sitting through it. And that’s an example of what I put under uncertainty of drive and discovery. Rather than forcing people to come to you and take that test drive, how can you bring the test drive to them? How can you put them in a situation of what you want them to do so they experience the value themselves and they can’t help but say yes because they’ve seen it for themselves and they’re the best ones to judge whether they’re going to like something or not?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like that a lot. Thank you. So, I assume that they accepted his proposal after all of that.

Jonah Berger
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Jonah Berger
You know, it’s funny they not only accepted his proposal, they’ve promoted him to be director of customer experience for a large number of banks, and it has lived on not only in that location but a number of others. He’s really helped bring that approach to a whole industry that hadn’t seen it before.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s awesome. Well, Jonah, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jonah Berger
I think that’s it. We covered many of the barriers in the book. I think, to me, the main takeaway in the book is really start to notice those roadblocks, those obstacles, figure out how to mitigate them, and then those five are at least a place to start for some of them.

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

Jonah Berger
“Do what you love and love what you do.” And I found it quite motivating to remember both that you want to love what you’re doing, but also sometimes it takes a little bit of work, and you’ve got to be willing to put that work in to love whatever it is that you’re doing.

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

Jonah Berger
I’ll tell you an example of a recent favorite. They looked at the visual similarity between paintings to figure out how novel and how influential certain paintings are, and to figure out how correlated those are with the value of painting.

So, they do things like looking at what someone paints, what style they paint, and how similar or different it is from prior folks, to look at what drives value. And so, a lot of the research I’m doing at the moment is really natural language, or image processing, pulling behavioral insight from textual image-based data. And I thought this study was just amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Huh. And so, they found something, I imagine, or otherwise it wouldn’t be…

Jonah Berger
They did, yeah. They’re looking at sort of how novelty or similarity is related to value. We actually did something similar in songs. We looked at how similar songs are to their genres, to how similar a given song is to other songs. In that genre, we found that songs that are more atypical that sing about things that are more differentiated from their genre are more successful. So, country songs, not surprisingly, sing a lot about girls and cars, but country songs that sing about different themes than usual end up being higher on the Billboard Charts.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jonah Berger
Oh, it would be a copout to say The Catalyst which is my new one, so I’ll say a different favorite book, which is a book called A Matter of Taste. It’s all about baby names and how we can use baby names to understand culture. It’s an amazing, not only a fun read, but just an interesting lens on the world itself.

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

Jonah Berger
I would just say research. It’s a broad Swiss Army knife of a tool. But I would say no particular technology, just research in general, being curious about the world and trying to quantify it.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit, something you do that helps you to be awesome at your job?

Jonah Berger
God, I think, scheduling is so important. You talked to this a little bit earlier about sort of outsourcing things. To me, it’s really about finding time for the big stuff, making sure that you know when something is a pebble and a boulder, not only doing the pebbles first because they’re easy, but making sure you make time for the big things, otherwise they’ll never get done.

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

Jonah Berger
I can’t say that that’s true. I would hope that something from one of the books, whether it’s word of mouth, only 7% of it is online, or hopefully some day soon, one thing from the book The Catalyst.

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

Jonah Berger
So, a great place to find me online is my website, just JonahBerger.com. I’m also on LinkedIn and on Twitter @j1berger.

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

Jonah Berger
Yeah, I think if I’ve learned anything from this new book, it’s that we are almost oblivious to these barriers. We’re blind to these obstacles. And so, I think my challenge would be to figure out why something hasn’t changed. Whatever it is you want to change, whether it’s a person, whether it’s an organization, whatever it might be, start looking for those obstacles. Don’t be blind to the barriers. Start to see them. And if not, ask about them, and use that to drive change. If you don’t understand why change is happening or not, if you can’t find the root, it’s going to be really hard to change minds in action.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jonah, this has been lots of fun. I wish you a bunch of luck with The Catalyst and all your adventures.

Jonah Berger
Thanks so much.

548: How to Get Your Points Across Clearly with Davina Stanley

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Davina Stanley says: "Think first."

Davina Stanley shares expert strategies for communicating with greater clarity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why so many business presentations miss the mark
  2. The three-step “So what?” strategy
  3. The seven storyline patterns and when to use them

About Davina:

Davina Stanley has helped professionals communicate complex ideas clearly for more than 20 years. She offers a structured, ‘go to’ process that helps people think through their messaging so their good ideas get the traction they deserve.

She started coaching others when she joined McKinsey’s Hong Kong office as a communication specialist and has continued to help professionals of all stripes across many countries since then.

More recently she, along with her business partner, have published their first book The So What Strategy, which offers the seven most commonly used storyline patterns they see professionals use at work.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Divina Stanley Interview Transcript

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

Davina Stanley
My pleasure, Pete. Lovely to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. But, first, I wanted to hear a bit, your career has had some interesting turns, and it started with potato farming in Australia. What’s the story here?

Davina Stanley
It did. I grew up on a potato farm, actually, in the country. And the beauty of that is that you have to constantly solve problems without having the resources that you need. And so, it was just a really great place to grow up, but a really big contrast to where I ended up. So, I ended up marrying someone who wanted to live overseas, and he wanted to be a banker, so we lived in Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and then back to Australia again. So, we have been not quite everywhere but a lot of places, which is quite different to the sort of life that I started out with. It’s so fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, if you lived on a potato farm, does that mean you eat potatoes all the time, because I love potatoes?

Davina Stanley
Well, at the moment, I do too but I’m a bit conflicted because, at the moment, I don’t eat a lot of carb at all, so, I don’t know. I haven’t told my dad that though. I think he’d be thoroughly mortified. I think he’d be devastated.

Pete Mockaitis
Make sure he doesn’t listen.

Davina Stanley
We grew up on a diet of Sunday nights testing the load before it went to the potato chip factory, so dinner on a Sunday night, particularly during winter, was potato chips and donuts because you had the oil out, right? So, totally different than what I do now.

Pete Mockaitis
Potato chips and donuts.

Davina Stanley
Jam donuts.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man, as a child it’s a dream come true.

Davina Stanley
We thought that. We thought that. We just had to look at the potatoes and there are the chips, or fries, as you probably call them, and make sure that there were no green or black bits. It’s just there was too much sugar in them. That was our job. Test them. You see, that was the whole point, it was not just cheap food or bribery for the children. It was actually, there was a method, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Davina Stanley
Are they still good to send to the factory? Hmm.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool and that’s fun. And I remain a huge potato enthusiast as well as a communications enthusiast, which is your cup of tea nowadays, and really for more than 20 years here. So, you worked in McKinsey as a communications specialist. Can you tell us what does that mean and what are you doing now?

Davina Stanley
So, as a communications specialist, my job was to be all across a technique called structured thinking that we used, particularly, in our role in a communication setting. So, we use a very structured approach to either help consultants come up with the stories that they needed to tell their clients, perhaps it was an update, perhaps it was the strategy at the end of a piece of communication, or also when working directly with clients, we would sometimes go in and be embedded in a team and work with a client to develop a communications strategy. So, we would be using those techniques to help consultants engage and really communicate complex information to any kind of audience that they needed to communicate to. So, we were internal consultants to the consultants really.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Consulting consultants on how to consult.

Davina Stanley
Yeah, a little bit. Exactly. And, look, it was really fun, it was really challenging. And so, I worked there for a few years in the Hong Kong office, and then my husband and I moved to New York, and I was offered a full-time position there but it was full time or no time, and I arrived six months pregnant with the one-year old on my hip, so I decided maybe that was a good time to take a break.

So, I took a bit of a break and we renovated the house and so on. And  then when we moved further on in our adventure, I just freelanced for the firm for a long time and I was helping run training sessions, I worked for the marketing practice, I did a whole lot of things, anything where I could help the teams or the firm in terms of communication.

So, I kept doing that and it just sort of gradually built it as my family has grown older and I’ve had more freedom. I’ve built it into something larger.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is fascinating. And I want to hear, when it comes to, you know, McKinsey consultants are amongst the smartest professionals in their way, or our way. I’m former Bainy, so we share some of the brand parts.

Davina Stanley
We do. We share a bit of a passion here, around the structure, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
But I’d love to hear from you. So, given that, so even super smart folks, what communications mistakes did you see that they made repeatedly, like you could just bank on, “Okay, we’re going to have fix A, B, and C”?

Davina Stanley
All right, so there’s a few things. I think, firstly, it’s spending a lot of time on the analysis, and you should spend a lot of time on the analysis, but leaving that a bit too long and allowing too little time to prepare the communication so that there’s the risk that all these great ideas you’ve got don’t translate to the audience. So, finding a way to perhaps marry the analysis together with the communication planning, or just allow a bit more time to really think through the messaging and synthesize. So, I think anyone who’s really close to some things, smart people or not, struggle to get just a bit of separation from it so that they can perhaps get up in the helicopter and see what really matters here. So, I think that’s one thing.

And I think, again, in this, I see it at McKinsey and other places too, where people are bidding clients to overemphasize the analyses and underemphasize the communication. So, similar thing but it’s just about, “Oh, what do I think really matters?” Actually, forgetting that communication matters quite a bit. So, that’s one thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, you’ve sort of captured many of your ideas in your book The So What Strategy. What does that mean, the so what strategy?

Davina Stanley
So, I think we heard so many of our clients, people that we work with, saying things like, “You know, I presented to the leadership team, and I had prepared so hard, and I’d rehearsed, and I was so organized. I’d really invested in it and I went and I presented. Then, at the very end, the CEO or the leader, turned around and said, ‘Well, so are we in good shape or what’s the main thing here?’ and they just got lost in all of the detail.” And I think there’s something there that we saw happening time and time again, and people just didn’t really know how to go about distilling the messages.

And yet, when Gerard, my business partner and I would work on something together, we’d be listening to someone telling us their story. And we were talking with each other, and we realized, “Well, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it, it’s that one or it’s that one? It’s this pattern. It looks like that or it looks like that.” It’s pretty quick for us to come up with a skeleton.

And so, we thought, “Well, perhaps a way we can really help people is simplify the structured communication discipline, the rules, like put it into a process that we naturally use,” because we’ve just done it for so long.

And when we sat down and worked through them all, we thought, well, it looks to us like there’s about seven patterns that we see being used most commonly in the business communication that we work in. And when I say business, I mean professional. It could be consulting, it could be business, it could be government.

Pete Mockaitis
I see. So, well, then we got seven different common storyline patterns, and then you said there’s also a process. So, maybe can we hear the process first and then learn a bit about what are those patterns?

Davina Stanley
Sure. So, we talk about a three-phase process. First of all, design your strategy, secondly, develop your storyline, and then, thirdly, deliver your communication. So, most people jump straight to the deliver piece, “How can I write that PowerPoint? How can I build those charts? How can I write the paper?” So, we’re saying, “Hang on. Let’s become more conscious and structured in those steps that come before that.”

And so, design your strategy is all about being really clear about your purpose for this particular piece of communication, getting really dialed in as to what specifically you want from a particular piece of communication, and then understand your audience. Well, that’s, “Let’s go appropriately deep.” If it’s an email, you’re not going to go as deep as you are if it is, let’s say, a mergers pitch or something, so it’s scalable. But you’re going to go quite deep in understanding who your audience is, and what their hot buttons are, and really getting to understanding them very well.

So, you bring those together and then think also about your process. Who do you need to involve in the process of engaging other stakeholders in your journey? So, you’ve got that sort of set before you start. And then, once you’re fairly clear on that, you may iterate back, but fairly clear on that. Then it’s time to start mapping out your storyline. And we’ve built on other parts that I think you’d be familiar with, The Pyramid Principle, which was developed at McKinsey by a woman called Barbara Minto. And we’ve taken what she’s got there, and said, “Okay, how do we make this really practical and easy for people to use?” And we’ve altered the language a bit to really help people work out what the elements are for an introduction.

And, interestingly, the strategy and then the introduction, which might only be a couple of lines in your whole communication, can take quite a big proportion of the amount of time it takes to prepare the whole thing. But you’re sort of leading to that single question you want your audience to ask, and then working out what that answer is, and you’re stating that in a sentence.

So, when I was talking about people getting stuck in the detail, they very rarely have that single message that they need to convey, and they even, less regularly, have that next layer below it, which we described as being a grouping of ideas either as a least or structured to that logic. So, there’s some rules and some principles, and we’ve built a 10-point test to help people evaluate whether their ideas fit in the right place. We’re just very strong believers that if the thinking is clear, if the synthesis is strong, then you’ll engage even if you’re not very confident, or your chance aren’t beautiful, or your prose isn’t perfect. If your thinking is really clear, and you can synthesize your message, it’s really powerful.

So, we encourage people to map that out on a single page, and in a particularly structured way, use that to test with stakeholders what their thinking is at the high level before you build anything, which changes the dynamic in the workflow and the stakeholder engagement quite substantially, and reduces the rework, because, by the time you go to prepare your communication in that last stage of delivering your communication, so much of the work is done. It’s actually really fast to prepare whatever it is that you need to prepare.

So, it’s about being really intentional about those three steps. We draw them in a triangle because we think they’re iterative, and it’s a storyline that’s a shape like a triangle, to help people have a process to use themselves, but also when they’re collaborating. It’s much easier to collaborate.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. So, while you’re on your one page, at the top we have the question we want them to be asking and the answer to that question.

Davina Stanley
We have even a tiny bit before that, we have the introduction which we call the context and the trigger, and that leads to that single question, and then the main message, and then the supporting argument underneath, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, do you have a particular recommendation in terms of just how many supporting arguments do you want? Is too few too many? What do you say?

Davina Stanley
Absolutely. Two to five, so never just one, otherwise you’ve got just one point, so one dot point. Never do that. Don’t do that. But no more than five if you can possibly help it. And if you are using a deductive structure, then it shouldn’t be more than three.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, deductive, can you define that for listeners?

Davina Stanley
So, it’s a way of building a case. So, it allows you to put forward your reasoning in classic logic language with a major premise followed by a minor premise, something that comments on the original point. But together, those two points, the first two, lead you to the third one, which will be, “Therefore, we should do something. And here’s the set of things we should do.” So, you’re always building a case towards a set of actions. And so, that’s enormously powerful when you’ve got to persuade people that a set of actions is the right set of actions to take. Like a business case or we need to change their mind about something and get them to act in the same engagement.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so could you maybe give us an example where we sort of affix these terms, these concepts, these labels, to some actionable verbiage or argument, bullet points, so we could sort of see how it all goes together?

Davina Stanley
Yeah, absolutely. So, perhaps if we talk about option stories because people, professionals, are often needing to put forward a set of options in terms of the way something might be handled. So, let’s say there’s a new computer system needs to be installed, and there might be a few different ways in which that could be done, and somebody has a view in mind that a particular path, maybe using a particular external vendor is the way to go, but, at the same time, they know that the leadership wants to see evidence that they’ve really considered a range of different ways of doing this, and they want to see their reasoning before they actually go and agree that this external vendor is the right way to go.

So, we’d be using what we call a “to be or not to be” pattern most likely, which is a deductive one. We’ve tried to give the patterns names so they’re memorable rather than just being deductive options, deductive or something. So, to be or not to be, so your main thought there would be that the big idea that overarches all of it would be, “Let’s hire a vendor X to install this system over the next six months,” or something like that.

And then the first point, the first of those three points that sits underneath, might be something like, “Look, we’ve looked at a whole lot of different ways that we might implement this software system,” and then you’d be going in and saying, “Well, we decided to investigate vendor X because they know our business really well, and they’re trusted by us. We decided to explore doing it ourselves because we thought it made sense to see whether we could do it internally, and we decided to explore another vendor because they’ve also got a good relationship with the bank,” let’s say their organization. So, you might explain why each one of those three is something worth considering.

And then in the next limb of the story, in that minor premise piece, you say, “However, we think vendor X is the best way to go.” And then underneath that, you’d be running through your criteria as to why you think that is the best way to go, and saying why they’re good and why the others ones are not going to be so fit for purpose. And so, by the end of that one, you’d want your audience to be in a place going, “Okay, that makes terrific sense. I’ve been able to discuss with you the pros and cons of this. I understand your thinking. I agree with you. So, okay, we should get vendor X. How do we do that?” And then they’d be ready to hear from you the set of steps that are there.

In fact, this is something that business leaders often talk to us about, about the lack of reasoning that people put forward. They very often go straight to, and you asked earlier about some of the challenges that I see consultants and others experiencing. And one of those would be the lack of why and not building the case, just saying, “Hey, we should have vendor X, and here’s how we should do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
“Well, is that just your opinion and you just like the guy over there, vendor X, and you think he’s funny. What are you working with there?”

Davina Stanley
Yeah, “Is he your brother-in law?” I mean, why? Why do it? And I think part of that comes from all of us when we’re working on something, we’ve got to a certain point in our thinking and our work. So, somebody’s gone through the process, they’ve analyzed their options, they’ve thought about it carefully, they’ve made a decision that they believe is the right thing, and so in their mind they’re ready to say, “Look, let’s just go. We’re ready. I’m impatient. I want get this thing done,” and they just forget that the audience is in a different place, and that’s why in our process, we really encourage people to drill into their purpose and their audience because it could be that when communicating something like that, actually you’ve got to come to the leadership group a couple of times.

If it’s a really big spend, you’ve got to take them on a journey, and so you’ve got to be really aware of where the audience is on that. Do they just need to agree with you that these are the right things to explore? Because, actually, in your situation, analyzing all the options is a big piece of work. And if you do that, that means you’re not doing something else. So, maybe because of the amount of time that’s required, they want you to actually come to them and say, “Look, we think this project is worth investigating or these options are worth considering. Do you agree they’re the right options? Great. You agree they’re the right options. We’ll go away, we’ll do our analyses, and spend a month doing the analyses, or whatever is involved.”

So, design your strategy piece is really important in that regard.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And it’s interesting, as you convey that sort of what we want them to take away, it’s like, “Wow, you really thought this through. You’ve done your homework, you’ve done the research, the investigation, the analyses.” And it’s funny, as I’m imagining you telling the story with slides, it’s like I would love to see, I don’t know, like a funnel or something which is like, “Hey, you know what, we looked at 34 potential vendors.” It’s like, “Oh, dang, that’s a lot of vendors.” “And we subjected them to these five key criteria. And, really, only two are worth looking at any further.” It’s like, “All right. I’m convinced. You’ve done some legwork and now I’m intrigued. Tell me about these two vendors that are pushing all the right buttons.”

Davina Stanley
Exactly. Exactly. So, you would use a very different structure for your story when you’re going to that initial conversation about, “Hey, let’s explore these options,” versus, “Let’s implement the recommendation.” So, that’s where the patterns come into play too. And we’ve put them on a handy little card, actually, where we’ve got the seven, and it’s on the centerfold in the book so that you can see them all on the one page.

And what we find people doing is just knowing they’ve got to do a piece of communication that matters enough to really think hard about it, and then open it up and just look at the different options. Just looking at the patterns, I think, helps them say, “Well, it could be that or it could be that,” and it gives them a place to start, and it also helps frame their thinking. So, it’s like that situation I relayed where we came out with the name “So What.” So, what does this mean? You don’t want to be in a position where you are being picked apart by your audience. So, when you’re presenting something that matters to someone more senior, the last thing I think you want is to have your proposition pulled apart and to be asked to go away because your thinking isn’t strong enough.

So, the patterns provide you with a little bit of a framework too to help you think, “Well, actually, have I thought this through enough? Have I articulated this well enough?” If you work through the ten points in there, it’s a really good set of thinking tests to say, “Are my ideas meeting that?” Maybe you’re familiar with. X consultants are really familiar with this idea of are there any overlaps or any gaps, and is a complete set of ideas? Have I organized them well?” And if you apply that test really thoroughly, then all sorts of things pop out, it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, how did I miss that? I’ve got actions and reasons in the one list. Bad thing. They’re different. How do I fix that? What do I move? Do I change my message? Do I move things around?”

And you can imagine like sticky notes on a wall or something. And I see my clients do this where you put all your messages down, and you sort them all around, and move them about until they’re in the right spot. So, the patterns give you a bit of a framework for testing your thinking so you don’t get caught up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you mentioned 10 tests for thinking to say, “Have I done thoroughly enough?” So, could you share a couple more with us that tend to frequently yield insight?

Davina Stanley
We talked earlier about having a single question that overarches the whole story, it leads, it draws your audience in. So, if we’re to drill into that one particular thing, you’d want that question, which often doesn’t appear in the communication, it appears in your preparation, to be the audience’s question, not yours, which makes a very big difference to the story that comes underneath. You want it to be one single question. So, what does that mean? Well, if you’ve got the word “and” in it, that’s a red flag. Is it really a single idea?

So, being very precise about, “Is it the audience’s question? Is it the single question we want them to ask us? Is it a single question? Is it really just one or is it a long set of words, with a question mark at the end, that’s really an amalgamation of a whole lot of different things? Is it really just one? And have we distilled the highest-level question that we can then answer in a single sentence that will frame the whole story, not just part of it, but all of it?

So, getting quite disciplined about that, it pushes the thinking. And, I don’t know about you, but when I started working in this environment, I came from a creative environment, I was a kindergarten art teacher, of all things. I suspect I’m the only kindergarten teacher ever to be hired by McKinsey, but I stand to be corrected. I’d like to meet if there was someone else who’s also had that path. So, I learned about communicating in a fairly creative way. So, I learned from an Australian children’s author, a woman called Mem Fox, who has written the most stunning children’s books. I don’t know if you have children or not, but if you do, hunt down Possum Magic” and Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. They’re two really beautiful children’s books, and she’s a beautiful writer. And she taught a really creative way of finding the hook and building a story, which is part of what inspired me to transition from teaching into communication.

And that sort of message of finding the hook is absolutely relevant, but using structure and discipline is quite a different thing. And, certainly, when I started using it, I found it quite confining, like there are all these rules, and, oh, gosh, to have to obey all of them, that seems a little bit hard, and just feels like I’ve been put in some sort of box. But what I’ve learned is, by way of that example around the question, is that there’s such enormous value in constraints and how they push you to think and push you to be creative.

So, the creative part of me really rebelled against the structure for quite some time. But once I’ve came to see how liberating it was to actually have a framework to use and how much it pushed me to think and come up with clever solutions, I thought it started to be fun actually.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, so let’s have some fun talking about some of these other storyline patterns. So, we talked about “To be or not to be.” Could you give us maybe the one-minute or less version of how would you define each of these storyline patterns?

Davina Stanley
How would I define them?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, like “Action Jackson,” what’s that?

Davina Stanley
Yeah, “Action Jackson,” that’s an action plan. So, it’s where you have an overall idea and then a set of steps that you’re going to take. So, when you’re going to have your standup in the morning with your team, and you’re saying, “Hey, team, this is what we’re going to do today.” When it’s not controversial, “Action Jackson” is the one to use. So, a list of two to five actions that need to be done that are tied together with one overall message.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And “Close the gap.”

Davina Stanley
Close the gap? That’s a fantastic one when you need to help people think differently about something. So, it’s a deductive structure, so it’s got a similar overall archetype to the “to be or not to be” that we talked about before, and that’s for going to a situation where you need to educate your audience about how something works perhaps in the new world, perhaps some regulations have changed, or the environment has changed, there’s something they don’t know that you need them to understand before they can accept your recommendation. So, maybe, “Success requires us to meet these criteria. However, we only meet some of them, so we’ve got to close the gap, we’ve got to meet the rest.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Davina Stanley
How’s that sound?

Pete Mockaitis
I like it. And the “Houston, we have a problem”? How’s that one go?

Davina Stanley
Oh, this one is Gerard’s favorite, and he particularly loved working with a whole lot of bankers in Houston last year. They really loved that it was named after them, this is, “Houston, we have a problem.” And let me first begin with we’re not to use Houston. When you’re communicating with someone who created the problem, find another way to tell the story, just saying.

So, this one is fantastic when you need to educate your audience about the nature of the problem that exists. And so, “Hey, people, here, this is a real problem,” and convince them that it’s a problem, “However, we’ve found the cause,” and then you can talk through what caused the problem, “Therefore, let’s fix the cause.” So, it’s a really proactive story.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And “the pitch.”

Davina Stanley
The pitch. This one is fantastic for proposal and business cases too, where you’re putting forward a pitch to say, “Hey, here’s a great idea that you should implement. You should hire us if you’re a consultant,” or, “You should implement this new system,” or, “Do this this way.” And then what you’re doing underneath that is coming up with a list of reasons why that’s a really great thing to do.

And so, in the book we talk about four reasons, which I’ll quickly run through because I think they’re useful for people. Firstly, we understand the problem. Secondly, we’ve got a solution. Thirdly, we can deliver a solution, a resolve, talking about if you’re the right people. And then you can manage the risks because it’s always important to cover up on that. So, that’s a brilliant one for a classic consulting pitch but also for recommending something that ought to be done.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about the “traffic light”?

Davina Stanley
Traffic light is brilliant for updates. So, I think that’s a really common one and it’s really tempting for people to say, “Hey, we’ve been really busy. Here’s a long list of stuff we’ve done.” And leaders that I talked to really dislike that. So, using traffic light gives you a way of pretty simply grouping and sorting the ideas so that you can come up with an overall message. And, for example, if it’s good news, “Overall, we’re on track.” “Great. Why is that?” “Well, we’ve done all these things, we’ve started this, and we’ve got a plan for these.”

When someone goes into putting forward an update, let’s say, and they’re talking to their boss, their bosses will say to me, “Look, I love hearing what’s going on in my teams. I know they want lots of air time because they really want me to know exactly what’s going on in their world, but there are times when I just haven’t got time for that. If they can come in with that single message, everything is really good. They’ll just say ‘Thank you so much. Love your work. See you later.’”

By organizing ideas into a structure like that, you have the freedom so that when your audience doesn’t have time to hear the whole story, you can still get that big idea across. Whereas if you haven’t distilled the messages, you know the classic thing where you’re given half an hour or an hour to present, and you’re part of one of those revolving door days, maybe a steering committee sort of day, or a board day, or something like that, and person one comes in and person two and person three, and all these different people come in and present to a group.

And so, during the day, the time gets lost. And so, you perhaps thought you had 45 minutes, suddenly you’ve got 5 minutes. So, by having everything mapped out in a structure with a hierarchy like that, you can still get away with presenting because you’ve got the ideas. You don’t need to take them through all of the details before you get to the big point. And update for the classic for that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, and how about “watch out story”?

Davina Stanley
Watch out story, this one is fantastic when there is trouble ahead. So, you can imagine a ship sailing wrong, but at the same time is your opportunity to give the good news first, which is always nice. If you can genuinely give good news first, you want to do that, so, “We’ve been going well, however, there’s some risks ahead, therefore we should meet those risks. We should change course or whatever we need to do to address those.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s helpful as I’m sort of thinking about each of these. And I’d love to get your view on, could you maybe share an exciting case study or a story of someone who put all these together and saw cool results that they weren’t seeing when they weren’t doing this?

Davina Stanley
Sure. Sure. So, I was working with an infrastructure company toward the end of last year, and I’d worked with them for about a year, so I’d been over and ran a program and then come back a year later. And that’s a really nice thing to do in my world because we don’t always get to see the outcomes. Sometimes people will tell us or they’ll just say, “That was great,” but they won’t necessarily give us the concrete results.

So, in this case, I was working with a group of people for the second time just to give them a refresher. And a woman called Rebecca came in and we said, “How’s it all been going?” And she said, “Well, by changing, preparing the board papers that we need to prepare, and we do them every month for our area,” and they’re about leasing and finding opportunities, retail opportunities in an airport.

And so, she’d been preparing papers, which might say, “We should do a deal with this sort of retailer so that they should have shops in our airport or that sort of thing.” And the team had been spending a lot of time preparing their reports, but making that single change, which was to prepare a story using the one-pager, get the one-pager right, check it, test it first, and then prepare the paper later. By doing that, she said to me, they cut the amount of time taken to prepare those papers by 60%.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Davina Stanley
That’s 6-0. So, that was pretty exciting. Now, during that 12 months, she’d used a number of different stories, but “the pitch” I think was her favorite because she was often putting up a story that would say something that was pretty straightforward, that was something like, “We should get this book retailer into our buildings.” “Well, why is that?” “Well, they understand our business, they’ve got a great fit for the people who travel through our spaces. We can do what they deliver and we can manage the risks involved with bringing them in.” So, that was a really helpful one for her.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that is really cool and I love the savings on the time on doing anything, so that is cool.

Davina Stanley
Which stops you doing the boring stuff, the frustrating stuff. I think that thing that I like because it makes you feel so much better about your job.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think maybe one of my last questions here is when we talk about sort of the supporting reasons and evidence, I think often I see a big difference between how smart I judge someone to be, fair or unfair, I don’t know. If they give me excellent evidence versus not excellent evidence.

So, for example, I was looking at like an insurance policy, and I said, “Wait a second. In this language, it kind of makes it sound like you can weasel out of anything because anything could be an alleged breach of an implied contract. Like, isn’t that anything in the world?” And then they say, “Well,” and their response was, “Oh, no one has ever raised that before.” It’s like, “Well, that’s not convincing evidence that you pay out claims, you’re not going to leave me high and dry.”

Or, they’ll say, “Well, hey, we have a great financial rating.” It’s like, “Well, that’s just about your assets versus your liabilities. It doesn’t have anything to do with customer satisfaction or your actual record.” And so, I was like trying to help them out, “I’m trying to give you money. I want this insurance. Like, can you show me this or this or this?” And I had to find for myself like how they’re rated by the National or North American Insurance something organizations. It’s like, “Okay, so you actually have fewer complaints than others so that’s not bad.”

Anyway, I don’t know, so that’s my rant. It’s like I ask a question, and instead of getting excellent evidence, I get sort of a wimpy evidence. So, what is the difference? How can we give awesome supporting reasons?

Davina Stanley
Yeah, I think the key is to keep asking a question. So, if you have a list of reasons, so let’s take your example about insurance.
How do you do that? So, firstly, look at an idea that you’re putting up, “We provide storm insurance.” “Okay. Well, how do you provide storm insurance?” Ask yourself a question that that naturally poses, and then answer it. And then if you build it out like a tree, it’s easy to see what sits where underneath, “So, we provide storm insurance,” very relevant in Australia at the moment. “Well, how do you do that?” “We offer this kind and that kind and that kind.” “Well, okay, so within the first one that you’ve mentioned, how do you do that?”

So, you keep drilling in one question at a time, one cluster at a time, and just make sure there’s stuff that really belongs there that genuinely answers that sub-question, so you’ve got a hierarchy and you keep going down. Don’t stick with the platitudes. Make sure you do dig and make sure that the idea at the top doesn’t just say, “We provide storm insurance,” but, “We provide this kind of storm insurance to this kind of people.” Make sure those messages are really specific.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I think that’s probably the name of the game is to like stop and spend some time and think about it, because as I was going back and forth with this insurance broker, “Hey, nice job.” He’s fast in responding to those emails and gave me like a sentence or two, but it’s like, “Yeah, but that’s not really what I want.” So, ultimately, I went with a different insurer. Wah-wah, that’s what’s at stake.

Davina Stanley
Well, you know what, I had the very same conversation with my insurance provider yesterday, and I went and got another quote. So, I’m completely on the same page with you there. I think being specific but also your point there about avoiding. And I see this being a real challenge in corporates now with Slack and these messaging services are being used a lot. It’s this constant flick, flick, flick, flick, flick rather than, “Hang on, stop a sec. What are they really asking here? What’s at the heart of that question? Why are they really asking that?”

And if you can put yourself in their shoes just for a moment, say, “Actually, I know they’re asking that but that’s a symptom of what they really need,” and address what they really need while including the symptom just in case you’re wrong, I think that’s part of the game, isn’t it, to stop these endless chains of conversation in Slack and email and so on that go off on tangents.

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

Davina Stanley
Oh, anything else I would like to mention. I’d just say that I think people are not natural-born communicators very often. I think when they’ve got complex things to say, actually it is something that requires practice but it can be done by anyone.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Davina Stanley
So, the idea of being a natural-born communicator perhaps speaks a bit more to charisma and to presence than it does to delivering something of real value.

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

Davina Stanley
A favorite quote. Well, I like the one from Picasso, which is all about. The idea that you must know the rules before you can break them. And you think of his artwork and how on the surface it looks so not well-driven, it looks so random in many ways, but he absolutely understood the rules before he was breaking them so that he could make a comment with it rather than just being random.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Davina Stanley
Favorite book. At the moment, I’ve just finished reading one called The Diamond Hunter, and it’s by a woman called Fiona McIntosh, and it was a really beautiful story.

Davina Stanley
But, having said that, a business book, my latest favorite business book is Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt. And that has really changed the way I work and made me a lot more productive but also a lot more focused on the things that I really enjoy. His concept of a freedom compass and living in the desire zone has made my executive assistant far busier, far more interested in her work, she’s got a lot more to do, and it certainly liberated me to do the stuff that I think is fun.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Davina Stanley
A favorite tool? PowerPoint.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Davina Stanley
Well, I’m going to come back to what I did this morning before our call actually, and that is to get up early and just allow the day to begin rather than being thrown into it.

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

Davina Stanley
Oh, you know what, it’s that concept of designing the strategy. Most of the people that I worked with and I see them later, they’ll say that they now spend an awful lot more time thinking about their communication before they deliver it, and that although that feels a bit uncomfortable, it saves them a lot of time. So, do that. Think first. Do that.

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

Davina Stanley
My website is ClarityFirstProgram.com.

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

Davina Stanley
Oh, I do. I’d encourage them to go through their emails and just pick five random ones that they’ve sent in the last week, and read them with fresh eyes, and ask themselves how quickly their audience can glean the key message. If they write a lot of papers, perhaps pick a paper instead and skim it. And can they get their message in less than a minute, ideally, less than 30 seconds? See whether that can be done because in an ideal world, they’ll be able to.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Davina, this has been tons of fun. I wish you lots of luck in your communication adventures.

Davina Stanley
Thank you so much. Lovely to talk with you.