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Confidence

381: Building Your Career upon Dignity and Talent with Soulaima Gourani

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Bestselling author and Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum Soulaima Gourani discusses the importance of knowing and owning your own dignity and making the most of what you’re good at.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The mother of all values
  2. Three steps for zeroing in on your true talent
  3. To clearly distinguish what you enjoy vs. what you’re good at

About Soulaima

Soulaima is a TED Talks Mentor and works with corporate clients and world leaders as a World Economic Forum expert in behavioral science and education. She is a two-time author and speaks on the topics of change management, career development, leadership, entrepreneurship, global trade, emotional intelligence and much more. Everything she does always serves a common purpose: to create more innovators, critical thinkers, and problem solvers–more peace in the world.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Soulaima Gourani Interview Transcript

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

Soulaima Gourani
What an honor. I’m really, really thankful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. I’m thankful too. Well, I wanted to start by hearing something interesting about yourself. Now, I understand that you don’t ever drive cars and only use your bike even if you’re going to a very formal place, is all dressed up. What’s the story here?

Soulaima Gourani
I got my driver’s license of course when I was 18. That’s usually the age of driver license in Scandinavia, where I am from. I believe my first trip in my new car was not so successful, sorry. I destroyed the car completely.

Pete Mockaitis
First trip. Wow.

Soulaima Gourani
Then a few months later I drove a car again and I had another accident. I’ve had a few accidents, three or four accidents in my life; I kind of just decided maybe this driving is just not a thing.

You know what I did? I simply hired a driver. My first paycheck when I became independent in 2007, the first thing I did was I actually did hire a driver, a personal driver. In my country, it’s the Prime Minister and the Queen, they have drivers. Normal people don’t. But that was one of my first hiring, that was a driver, so I could make more money and I was more efficient and I didn’t have to think about accidents and stuff.

When I had to pick my next country to live in, I actually looked where I could be sure that there would be Uber drivers, so I picked Austin, Texas, but very shortly after I moved there, they forbid Uber.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow.

Soulaima Gourani
I was really devastated because I need my ride, right? So I moved to California. I can get an Uber within a few minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow. I thought you were going to hire a driver in Austin as well.

Soulaima Gourani
No, I did not. I ended up not doing that, but I moved to California, Palo Alto in Silicon Valley earlier this year. I can get a ride within a few minutes. I kid you not; it’s on my top three reasons to pick a city. Well, good weather and international environment, so the three things that I look for.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that. I can relate in terms of the connectedness of a city to certain resources really matters. We’ve gotten rather accustomed to having our groceries delivered with Instacart.

Soulaima Gourani
Oh yeah, yeah. I use Instacart as well. I’m on Amazon every day. Everything are being delivered to my home. I don’t go shopping anymore. I get everything delivered. I have to say, I’m so much more productive. I tip really well, so I believe I’m supporting the gig economy in a positive way for people who need the job more than I do, so I think it’s a win-win.

Remember, I am from a country, where we don’t have Amazon, we don’t have Instacart, we don’t have all those things, so for me living here is – it is really like paradise because I can spend time on the things I really care about, doing my sport, work, and be with my kids. I don’t waste my time on doing shopping or grocery shopping. I’d rather sit in a library reading and studying for my next book than going shopping.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I want to hear about the fruits of this tremendous productivity. You’ve won numerous awards for being inspirational and a great thinker and sort of just being a great force for good in the world. I’d like to hear a little bit about how do you keep motivated and inspired, such that you just continue to do these things?

Soulaima Gourani
First of all, you become the average of the people you spend time with. I grew up as a very lonely child. I was the only immigrant. I was the only brown child. Everyone was white. I grew up surrounded by middle class families and we were very – we were broke most of my life. My parents were simply broke. We grew up kind of poor, brown, so I felt very lonely.

I remember for the first 10 – 15 years of my life, the only thing I wanted was to be with exciting people, be inspired. All my life, I’ve been looking for my tribe, people who are upstanders, change-makers, inspirational people who – activists, people who do stuff. I’m not so inspired by people that live comfortable lives. I need people who put themselves on the edge.

Most of my life I’ve spent most of my money travelling. I’ve worked and been and lived in 35 countries now. What keeps me motivated is to see and to understand what is going on in the world. For instance, if I want to understand the conflict in Israel, I go to Israel. If I want to understand what’s going on in Saudi Arabia, I go to Saudi Arabia. If I want to understand the pollution situation, I will go to Mongolia. Or if I want to understand the political situation in Russia, I go to Russia.

I wouldn’t use the term lucky, but instead of buying expensive furniture or even an expensive bag, I’ve spent all my money on traveling. The more I travel, funny enough, the more money I make because the more knowledge and inspiration I bring back to my home country, wherever that might be, or the more authentic stories I can put into my books or in my talks. Kind of, when I do what I love, I’m more successful.

I’ve never been drawn to stability. I’ve never found it very fancy to have a life based on routines. I don’t need much. I need a bed. I need my toothbrush. I need my husband that I’ve been together with for, oh gosh, 25 years, and my kids. Everything else doesn’t matter. I can live in a one-bedroom apartment even now. I don’t need much. I just need to travel and write about I see.

That keeps me motivated by traveling the world and seeing what is going on. I’m a tremendous advocate for doing things, so I cannot just sit and see the news; I need to go out there. In a way I’m documenting what is happening in the world. I look at the world as a mom, as a young solopreneur, entrepreneur, investor and as a speaker. I think that’s my life. I don’t have a job. My life is my job. It’s kind of weird.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s really interesting. Even just preparing for this interview, it’s like, well, I know you’ve got some real useful things to say about being awesome at your job, even though your sort of life is your job and your instance, so I was like, but where shall I focus and prioritize. We’ll see what we get into.

One thing I was intrigued with is you’ve got a real message associated with all people having dignity and realizing that dignity and that value. Can you unpack some of those ideas for us?

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah. I’m sorry to say, but there has been done a lot of research showing that most people grow up, live their lives without living accordingly to their core values, meaning they get lost, they find it difficult to focus, they don’t know what is a good chance and what is a right chance, they might spend their money wrongly, their time, their energies wrong.

They might feel kind of lost in life. They end up having a job they don’t like. They might even end up working for a manager they don’t trust or don’t like. That’s not a life worth living.

I’ve spent more than half of my life trying to find out how to connect people with their core values. One of the values that I think is the number one, you can call – you might call it the mother of all values. It’s dignity. Dignity is everything. You cannot give your dignity away. I mean no one can take it from you, but you can give it away.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time of my life traveling the world, building and supporting the message of dignity. I’m on the global board of an organization called Global Dignity, of course. We educate kids in – not elementary, but college and universities and graduates in how to live a more dignified life. I believe by sending them out in life with a great amount of understanding what it means to live a dignified life and how to treat other people with dignity, will in the end create world peace.

I take it one-by-one. I kind of transform young people’s life by having that conversation, what does it mean to live a dignified life. Because if you have that strong feeling of dignity, you don’t get into these maybe troubles, partnerships, relationships. You might not stay in a job where you’re not appreciated. There’s a lot of things you don’t do if you a strong feeling and appreciation of your own dignity.

That drives everything I do I have to say. I’m super passionate about it. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing there in terms of you’re right. The first thing that comes to mind when you talk about being in relationships that you shouldn’t is this comedian Dane Cook. This joke is years old now.

They were talking about someone in a bad relationship. It’s like “You should just get out of there, just get out of that relationship.” It’s like, “Well, it’s not that simple, Karen. My CDs are in his truck.” It just still tickles me to this day is that we all have all sorts of reasons that your CDs being in someone’s truck, if you still have CDs, is not a very good one.

Let’s hear it then, could you define for us what do you mean by dignity and acting in a dignified manner and how do we kind of build that up if you’re lacking in that right now.

Soulaima Gourani
First of all, dignity is a universal feeling. Dignity is the same in Sri Lanka as it is in Palo Alto. It’s the same. It’s the way you treat yourself, the way you think about yourself and the way you behave towards other people.

Dignity is a very strong, deep, and profound feeling. For instance, if someone – if you’re in the schoolyard and some kids undress you and run away with your clothing and you’re standing naked in the schoolyard. That’s a very undignified situation. Or if someone spits you in the face or hit you or steal something from you or say something to you, that’s a lot of – every day actions.

You may not hold a door for an older woman that is coming just after you or you might not help someone crossing the street even though you can see he or she needs the help. There’s a lot of activities throughout the day where you can easily improve your own feeling of living a more dignified life, but also improving others.

I’m enforcing to think dignity in everything, how you communicate, written, verbally, actions, education, school, work, everywhere. It’s about really treating others as we should. Bring more love, hope, light, the more positive feelings, understanding, sympathy.

Tolerance is a very difficult word because I don’t want people to tolerate each other. Tolerance is not a strong word. It’s not a good word. If I tolerate you means I don’t like you, but I need to have you in the room with me. That’s not a good feeling, but I want people to start understanding that we are different. Every single time you meet a person in school, in church, at work, wherever you are, that person has been through a lot of things that makes it and turns that person into being that person that he or she is.

We should show each other some more patience because it’s a tough life for many people. When we lose it, when you lose it sometimes, we should try to meet other people with a great amount of understanding that this has been a tough day or it’s a tough life or – so I want to improve the understanding, not the tolerance, but the deep, deep understanding that we are different and everyone deserves a really good life.

Just a small thing, when I walk down the street, I smile at people. If I’m in Asia, they think I’m super weird.

Why is she smiling? That doesn’t work everywhere, but mostly in US it’s a good strategy just to smile at people in streets. The feeling I’m left behind with is extreme happiness and I can see that the people I’m smiling at – it’s just a small smile – people get so happy. I know that’s a small action of dignity, but I try to implement it in everything I do. Helping, helping, helping if I can help.

It does spread. The good thing is my actions in the morning will impact the people I smiled or helped in the morning, their actions later on in the day. I’m spreading good karma.

Pete Mockaitis
This is intriguing. I’m thinking back to a previous episode we had with Kimberly White, who talked about just the power of seeing people as people. This is kind of resonating with some of those messages and the difference it makes. When you say dignity, you mentioned that is a strong, deep, profound feeling. If I had to put you on the spot and ask for your one to two sentence dictionary style definition, it’s like “dignity is…this.”

Soulaima Gourani
Self-acceptance and love if you ask me.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got you. Self-acceptance and love, then when you don’t have dignity you either don’t think you’re worth much or deserve to be treated well in your job, you mentioned a romantic relationship or in other contexts. One of your theses sounds like is that if you treat other people with respect, acceptance, and love, you sort of bolster within yourself your own strength to expect, demand, or not tolerate not being treated in that sort of a way. Is that fair?

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah, it’s 100% fair. It’s easy to sit and talk about on this podcast, but the true challenge is really to live out your own values because it can be difficult to find your values.

One of them being dignity, of course, but to live out your values because you know when you have to sit down with your mom, your sister, maybe a colleague, maybe even your manager, and tell that person, “I need to tell you, how I want to be treated. Let me tell you how I’m motivated, how I can be a compassioned sister or brother,” or “Let me explain how I function. This is the way I want you to treat me.”

Then you will explain why fairness or freedom or whatever, there’s a million different words to describe the values that you might represent, but maybe you pick out four.

To explain – one thing is to find them yourself. Secondly is to understand them. Thirdly, start communicating them to others. Four, to implement them and kind of make people understand that these are my values and if you don’t live up to those values, and if you don’t treat me this way, we will have to talk about leaving each other or stopping.

It’s very difficult for people because I think most people want to pleasure others. It’s troubling because we end up in jobs and relationships and all those things where we feel that is not based on what is truly good for me, but good for someone else. It should be good for someone else, but we’re losing our self and when we’re losing our self, we get depression, suicidal, we need to drug and drink and overdo things and we have a big issue.

People have never been more depressed, never been more medicated, never more lonely, never more self-hate. I live in Silicon Valley, where our young people are killing themselves. We don’t get it. They have money, future. They have most things that we desire in life and yet they kill themselves. It’s really a problem that is universal.

We cannot create the growth, the prosperity, the happiness, if we don’t fix this first. It’s very hard to think about environmental issues or refugee crises or whatever if you can’t even get up in the mornings and go to job and function.

We need to fix the problems first. It’s very basic, but if you can give that compass to people, deep understanding of what it means to live a dignified life, if you can give that, educate people on just that one value, I promise you, a lot of things will be easier in the future.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so then when it comes to the education and the development of leading a dignified life, we talked about treating others with dignity is sort of one key way that that happens. What are some others?

Soulaima Gourani
First of all, finding your true talent is not that easy either. We still have a very fixed mindset in the education system. I’m not blaming the educators because honestly speaking, I’m married to a teacher myself. It’s not an easy job. But finding out what is my true talent is really difficult because the traditional system, education system has a certain way of looking and describing what is a talent.

It can be intelligence, what is the right intelligence, what is a good job, what is the right job. As we speak, I’m writing on my next book that is kind of, I hope, mapping what the future is going to look like until 2040. I’m looking into what kind of jobs that will disappear and which jobs that will come or be created.

We need more people to understand to find their talents and be more creative about how can their talent – everyone has a talent. Everyone has a talent, but not a lot of people think that their talent can be transformed into a real job where they can make a real living. We’d rather stay in jobs we don’t like, that we’re not good at than actually exploring what could be our best future.

The second thing after dignity, that should be finding your talent. I think it’s a human right that someone teaches you how to find your talent. It might be a very small talent. It might be almost invisible, super small talent, but even the smallest talent can be a job or a way of living.

Pete Mockaitis
When you talk about the finding of the talent and how they can be super small, invisible, can you give us some examples of what you would call a talent that has been found, like what’s yours, and others and then the process by which that is discovered?

Soulaima Gourani
First of all, I was never told I had a talent. I’m not that good in school. I was kicked out of school in seventh grade. I ran away from my parents when I was 13. I lived in the streets. I was in foster care, children’s home, institutions. I had a very troubled upbringing. None of my teachers ever, ever told me I had a talent. Actually, they did the opposite.

I still remember when I was in fourth grade, my math teacher, he said, “Soulaima, you’re so ambitious, but honestly speaking, let me tell you something. You will never be successful in your life. Let me explain why.” No, he said that, honestly.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Soulaima Gourani
I still know that teacher’s son. I still know him, so it’s a very well-known story in my home country, Denmark, because it’s ridiculous. But everyday teachers are without even knowing, they’re killing people’s dreams. It happens every day.

But this teacher told me that I will not reach very far in my life because I was a woman, I’m brown, and my name was Soulaima. He said, “It’s never going to be a success.” I left, I left the class. I left my math teacher and I never returned to math, so I had to learn math again much later in life when I took my MBA. I could take an MBA because I could pay myself. But I was kicked out of school.

I was never told that I had a talent, so of course, this is a very important matter for me because no one saw mine and I was told I did not have any. That’s not okay. It’s really a principle for me. It’s something that I fight for a lot. I’ve spent thousands of hours teaching teachers how to look for talents they have never seen before because honestly speaking, how can you recognize a talent you have never seen before?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm.

Soulaima Gourani
No, but really.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Soulaima Gourani
In the future, we don’t know what talents we need. I’m a mom. I have a nine-year-old and I have an eleven-year-old son, a nine-year-old daughter and an eleven-year-old son, how can I ever be a good mentor for them in the future because I have no clue about what future they are going to be growing up in and all the things I’ve learned, I learned them in a different time.

We need to give people that framework and understanding that by knowing their talents and by working on mental health, health as such, love for learning, they will always be okay. They will always be okay. There’s no such thing as a stable, secure future for none of us actually.

Talents are really difficult to see, especially if you’ve never seen them before. My talent, really, I was told by a teacher when I was 16 that he could see I had a talent. He said, “Your emotional intelligence is very, very strong.” This is way before I even knew there was anything called emotional intelligence. I didn’t know.

He didn’t say anything about my IQ. He just said “Your emotional intelligence is very strong. I can totally see you become a leader in the future.” I looked at him and I said, “Honestly?” I dedicated my TEDEX talk to him afterwards, many, many years after because it was really a crucial moment for me that someone said I had a talent. I was never told such.

He said that “I can totally see that you will be a leader in the future. You alone will change the way we look at leaders.” I couldn’t believe it. I was 16. I had never seen a woman in a management position at that point. It didn’t exist in my town. It didn’t exist really not in my country. We only had a very few women in politics and CEOs didn’t exist as women. Denmark was at that point in time very traditional, still is. I wasn’t inspired. But he said you will be that.

I meditated on that for many, many years after. As you say, I’ve been nominated and received so many awards now as the leader of the future, but I didn’t know how to get there. I just thought about it. That’s what I want to be. I just didn’t know how to get there. But today I am. They say I am the leader, not only of the future, but a leader to be looked up to. I’m a woman and I’m brown and my name is still Soulaima. I think that’s really the good thing about the story.

I’ve seen other people’s talents, like I have a friend who really wasn’t good at much. He was only good at gaming in front of his computer. He was quite old at this time like in his late 30s. His wife was very unhappy with him. He said, “I have to find out how to make gaming into my living because that’s the only thing I love.” He started thinking about developing games and now he’s one of the most successful gamers in the world. He lives in France. He’s a millionaire.

I have another friend who said, “There’s nothing I’m really good at. The only thing I really enjoy is tasting chocolate. Chocolate is the only thing I know of. It’s my pleasure.” He developed one of the biggest chocolate companies in Europe later on. Even the smallest talent that might be – gaming and chocolate, I think most people can relate to those things. They built themselves careers in that.

Pete Mockaitis
So what is sort of the process or key questions you ask or the means by which you explore and zero in on, “ah-ha, this is the thing?”

Soulaima Gourani
First of all, you have to be honest with yourself. Is this my talent? Is this really what I’m good at? Then sometimes you’re really disappointed because you might say to yourself, “Is this it? Is this the only thing I’m good at?”

Then what’s really important is you don’t get depressed. If you realize the only thing you like is chocolate, some people will say that’s really – honestly, that can never be a job or how can that be your skill, then you have to be honest with yourself and really believe that this can be a job.

If you enjoy chocolate, you should then start understanding more about chocolate and become an expert in that field and think how that can be a job, either you create a job or you get a job, where you work with that talent that you have found.

First thing is to find it. Second is to accept it. Thirdly, is to be creative and find out how you can build either a job or a portfolio or whatever around that talent.

It might be a very small talent and that’s where people usually get disappointed with themselves because still a lot of people think that they should be good at something like numbers, coding, leadership, something big, but our talents might be very, very small and we might not even know it’s a talent. It’s not always easy to find your talent because if you ask people what is my talent, they might not see it either because how will they know it’s a talent.

I was told – later on in my life I was told that – I was laid off from my job in 2007. I was pregnant and I couldn’t get a job because no one employs pregnant women, not even in Scandinavia. I had no choice but to create my own business. I decided to become a consultant because I knew I was good in selling. I knew I had some core skills in education, to educate sales people in selling and basic skills from my old job.

Then some of my clients hired me and my old employer hired me back. I was laid off, right? When I asked my employer, “Hey, you laid me off, but you hired me back as a consultant. It does not make sense.” My HR manager said, “You know, Soulaima? We like you and we think you’re so great. We’d really love to have you as a consultant and we pay you a lot of money as a consultant, but we also pay you a lot of money to make sure that you walk out of the door again.”

I never understood what she meant, but she meant that I’m super – I’m brilliant. I’m good at what I’m doing, but I cannot stay too long because I’m also very irritating. Being irritating is really a great skill as a consultant because you’re being paid for being annoying. That’s why ….

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. This thing you keep ignoring, stop ignoring it. It’s very, very important. It’s like, “Stop talking about this. It’s not fun for us to deal with this.”

Soulaima Gourani
As an employer, it doesn’t really work because if you were employed, people don’t like it. If you’re a consultant, you can ask them to pay ten times as much per hour and you do the exact same thing as you did when you were employed, but then at that time they didn’t like it.

I found out that I’m irritating and I totally build my brand about being controversial, irritating, straight to the point, a cutthroat way of delivering messages. I created a great brand as a consultant because I was just me. I was just me …. So I didn’t have to change anything. I just had to change position from being at one side of the table just by going to the other side of the table, yeah, I became, yeah, this recognized leader.

It was only half a meter that I had to change my position, but how would I know? Being laid off was really my blessing. I didn’t think it was my blessing. I was very, very sad and almost depressed about being laid off, being pregnant. That was really a low point in my life. But it was really not a low point. It was my starting point, but I didn’t know that at that time.

Pete Mockaitis
You talk about the finding of your talent process. You zeroed in on the examples of the chocolate and the gaming and those are things that they really like to do. I’m curious, is there a distinction between something that you just enjoy doing versus something that you’re actually good at and how do you think about those waters?

Soulaima Gourani
Oh yeah. Let me give you an example. A few years ago I met a musician. She’s a very famous violinist, artist. I was sitting next to her and I asked her, so oh my goodness, it must be amazing to live from what you do – art must be a blessing. I can only imagine being – make a living out of your art must be the best thing in the world I thought. She looked at me and said, “No, I absolutely hate playing my violin, but that’s the only thing I’m good at.” But she’s famous and she’s extremely talented.
You can be very good at something, very good at something and not enjoying it, while you can be enjoying doing something really, really a lot, but not being good at it. Those things are not related at all.

I mean, it’s a miracle when you’re good at what you’re doing and you enjoy doing what you’re doing. That’s a miracle. Most people never find that. That’s okay. That’s okay. But your talent can be something you don’t enjoy doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Okay, so you’re looking for both of those things to line up and then to build the job, the career, the money maker, whatever format it takes around it.

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah, I mean I’m not a fan of thinking as a job as something that is kind of something you go to and you leave in the night. I’m more into a lifestyle. I’m more into a portfolio of things that you’re doing.

For instance, I’m an author two days a week. I’m always working on a book. I try to publish books every year. I’m an author two times a week. I’m a speaker two times a week somewhere in the world. Then I have one day at home with my kids or I’m having board meetings. Then during the weekend I might do interviews or something else.

The thing is I have a portfolio of things I do. I’m not only a writer or a speaker or an investor or a board member. I’m all of those things. Saying you can be good at a lot of things and you can enjoy doing a lot of things and the thing is really to combine those things and design your own life. Designing your life as it should be where you spend time – then it’s okay to do something you’re not really enjoying doing two times a week because that’s okay. If you can spend three or four days doing something you like for the rest of the time, it’s perfect.

I’m more thinking of life design, how do you want your life to look like. I don’t mind that people have a job they don’t like three times a week if that means that they have three or four days during the week they can do something else.

For instance, if you like – let me give you an example. One of my daughter’s teachers – she’s an amazing teacher, elementary teacher – she works two days a week, maybe three days a week, and she’s having two days off per week. She lives near the ocean. I’m in California, right? She’s a semi-professional surfer. Her tradeoff is, I’m an elementary school teacher three days a week and then the two other days of the week I do my surfing. That’s a brilliant, brilliant example of a great life design.

I think it’s about finding what makes sense for you and you only have one life I believe, so to say that’s the only thing I can prove at least. It’s about getting the most out of it. I don’t mind working hard and sometimes you also have to do things you don’t like because it’s a way of gaining skills, it’s a way of making a living, making money, save, invest.

I don’t believe in throwing what you have in your hands and jump into a new career because it’s more shiny or more interesting. You should be careful because you will be jeopardizing your money and your investments and your time and maybe even your family. Make smart decisions. I like life design because it’s a more responsible way of designing your life.

Most of us can tolerate a lot of pain, even a job we don’t like, if we know we’re doing it because we want to build, gain knowledge, money, whatever to really do what we like doing in our life later. I don’t judge people if they do something they don’t like. I just want them to realize they don’t like it and they must have a reason why they’re staying there.

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

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah, I want to say lots of people come to me and say, “Hey, Soulaima, I always wanted to be this or that, but now I’m too old,” or “Hey, I’m too young.” I will just say age is really not an excuse. Unless you come and you’re 45 and you say to me, “I want to be a professional ballet dancer,” or something, something that is maybe you should have started doing when you were younger, then there’s nothing you cannot do just because you’re 45 or 66 or – age is just really a number.

I have a friend, she always wanted to be a model, but she was not tall enough. She’s pretty, beautiful, but she’s not tall enough, but she really wanted to be in the fashion world, so she just started being a designer. She has her own fashion brand. She was recognized as the best designer in Europe not too long ago. She’s 49, 52, something. She’s mature. She just wanted to be a model, but it was too late and she didn’t have the whatever skills you have to need to be a model, so she just found a way for her to be in the fashion world.

I’m saying nothing is too late. You can be a late bloomer and that’s okay, too.

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

Soulaima Gourani
“We’re stronger together.” I believe that everything can be done in the world if you have access to smart people who are different than yourself because very often we say, “Oh, I cannot do that because I don’t have the skills,” but it’s really not about you; it’s about the ones you know.

If you have a really good network that you’ve mapped, that you have nurtured, that you know really well, that is more diverse than you, who have competence you don’t have yourself, then you have access to the skills you don’t know how to do, meaning you can do anything in the world. I believe we are stronger together.

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

Soulaima Gourani
My favorite experiment is how to stay focused. I think nowadays you’re being tempted so much by social media, things you could do, things you’re invited to, and things – staying focused and get things done is really something I’m very a fan of. I can see people don’t get things done. They talk about it, but they don’t get it done.

I’m very motivated and highly interested in understanding how people get things done and stick to things even when it doesn’t look promising or when it’s hard, they still keep doing it and focus and get it done. I like that. That’s a nice skill.

Pete Mockaitis
You said there’s research there about how it’s done that you found compelling and what is it?

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah, I think Greg, you had him on your show.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, right.

Soulaima Gourani
His book is very-

Pete Mockaitis
Essentialism, Greg McKeown.

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah, yeah, exactly. He’s a good friend of mine. He keeps inspiring to this very day on how to – because I live a life at least where I get invited and attended to travel, go somewhere all the time or jump on this or be part of this or invest in this.

I met him the first time I believe in China six years ago. He’s been a friend ever since. He inspired me because he is, as some of your listeners might know if they heard the podcast, he’s on it, man. He gets things done. He don’t jeopardize his time or his focus. I’m super inspired by Greg.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Soulaima Gourani
Oh man, that’s a tough one because there’s so many friends that I have that have written amazing books. New Power by Jeremy Heimans is a very good book.

I think Giving Work by Leila Janah is how we improve people’s life through the gig economy. She’s the owner of Samasource and she wrote an amazing book called Giving Work. Instead of giving aid and money to people, just give them a job. How about that? Let’s teach them how to make a living. Those two books I think is – New Power and Giving Work I think that’s my two favorite books.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a favorite tool you use that helps you be awesome at your job?

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah, I saw your question and I’ve been thinking ever since because what is my most important tool. I know this might be cheesy, but I will say it anyhow, walking. I walk for one hour every day in the nature. That gives me the power and the mental focus that I need to be good at my job. I know it’s weird. I hope – I wanted to tell you it was an app or something more sexy, but it’s really one hour of hiking in the mountains just near my home every day that gives me the true power of being good at my job.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect, resonate, and gets quoted back to you?

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah, what should it be? Can you give me an example of what’s some – I don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, like with Greg McKeown, we talked about with essentialism, might mention the closet analogy and say, “Hey, it’s not just a matter of might I ever wear this some time. It’s a matter of saying does this garment spark joy.” That resonated for me. I was like “Wow, yeah, that’s really good, higher standard. Does it spark joy? No, no, no.” I’m able to kind of really quickly clean through my closet with that higher standard.

Soulaima Gourani
Yeah, I have actually. Everything I do, everything I do in my life, I measure it out of, “does it make me happy, does it make me more relaxed, does it improve my economic status, do I make money out of it, and fourth, do I improve my skills?”

Not every decision fulfills those four things, but it makes it clear for me that I can make a decision. Okay, I say yes to this, it’s funny, but it’s not going to give me any money. I’m not going to learn anything from it. Then I can make quick, good decisions on behalf of if it doesn’t make me relaxed, not happy, if it doesn’t improve my financial situation, and if I don’t learn anything from it, if none of those four things are being met, kind of, then I shouldn’t do it.

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

Soulaima Gourani
Go to hopefully to my homepage and sign up for my newsletters, Souliama.com. I have had a newspaper for ten years called Straight Talk. I put myself in those newsletters. I love them. I put a lot of energy into it, so if people want to know what I’m doing and if they’re inspired, sign up for my newsletter.

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

Soulaima Gourani
Yes, first of all, really understand the value of your work. If you understand the value of the work you do, then you will like your job more no matter what job it is. If you understand the meaning and what it is doing to others, then you will appreciate your job more and by appreciation, you’re going to be more happy. If you’re more happy, you’re more creative. If you’re more creative, you’ll be more successful.

It’s actually about taking away your stand and start appreciating, I know it’s a tough one this one, but start appreciating where you actually are in life even if you feel you’re at the wrong place, by starting to appreciate, you will do your brain a big favor that will help you get out of your situation if you know what I mean.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Soulaima, thanks so much for sharing your time and wisdom here. This has been a lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck in all of your next adventures.

Soulaima Gourani
Oh, thank you so much for having me on your show. I’m really honored. Thank you.

370: Increasing Your Perceived Competence with Jack Nasher

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Professor and mentalist Jack Nasher shares compelling research revealing how conveying additional confidence perceived competence.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two things that enhance your perceived competence and how you can show them
  2. How to optimally manage expectations
  3. How likability and attractiveness play into perceived competence

About Jack

Jack Nasher is on the faculty of Stanford University and the widest read business psychologist in continental Europe. An Oxford graduate, he has worked with the UN, the European Court of Justices, and Skadden. He is the founder of the NASHER Negotiation Institute and is a leading expert on reading and influencing people. A member of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology and a principle practitioner with the Association of Business Psychologists, he has spoken at TEDx and he also performs as a mentalist at the world-renowned Magic Castle in Hollywood.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jack Nasher Interview Transcript

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

Jack Nasher
Thank you. Thank you for your interest.

Pete Mockaitis
I think we’re going to have so much good stuff to discuss. But I think we should start with your work as a mentalist at the Magic Castle and elsewhere. What’s the story here?

Jack Nasher
Yeah, it’s funny you started with it. Nobody starts with that. You’re the first one who starts with it. Usually it’s like a footnote at the end.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh really?

Jack Nasher
Yeah. It’s quite unusual. But yeah, my performances at the Magic Castle are basically the other side of psychology. Somebody said it’s like using your five known senses to create the illusion of a sixth sense. It’s using psychological tools to create the illusion of mind reading to create the illusion of mind control and all these things. Well, sometimes actually it is mind control.

I do it for fun sometimes. I perform about 20 shows a year at the Magic Castle and other venues. It’s basically psychology, but for entertainment purposes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing. Is there any chance it’s possible to do a demonstration via audio only right now?

Jack Nasher
I wish I could, but no.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I had to ask.

Jack Nasher
You have to look into my piercing blue eyes.

Pete Mockaitis
I will turn on the video.

Jack Nasher
That’s the … basically. That’s all there is to it. But it doesn’t work without looking into the piercing blue eyes.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular – I don’t want to call it a trick or an illusion or a piece or a – what’s the word we use for a unit of performance in a mentalist show? What would I call that?

Jack Nasher
They call it an experiment. That’s the technical term.

Pete Mockaitis
Experiment. Okay, there we go.

Jack Nasher
you know why? Because sometimes it doesn’t work. That’s why.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you-

Jack Nasher
We call it an experiment, nobody … the way you say it’s an experiment. Experiments work or they don’t work.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you paint a picture for us in terms of which experiment is most mind-blowing crowd-pleasing favorite?

Jack Nasher
Yeah, actually good example. I just came back from a cruise. I performed experiment and I blew it. It just didn’t work. I have to be honest with you. Because I tried to hypnotize the whole audience and the spectator on stage and it just didn’t work. That’s the problem. Sometimes really this stuff doesn’t work because it’s real. It’s just not a trick. That’s what makes it really difficult.

Every time I perform a mentalist show, I’m really nervous. I’m in Oxford right now because I’m teaching here. I’m thinking about going to open mic nights in London tomorrow, just to some pubs where everyone is drunk, and they just abuse you, and they insult you, and they throw stuff at you. It’s crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Sounds fun.

Jack Nasher
It sounds very fun, but that’s where you learn to get your act together. I’m thinking about trying to hypnotize the worst drunkards. And I think if I can do it there, I can do it anywhere, on a cruise, in the Magic Castle.

But this stuff is tough because really I’m trying to influence people. I’m trying to hypnotize a lot of people at the same time. boy, I just need a lot of practice for that. I’m thinking about doing that tomorrow. If you’re in London anytime, you’re going to see me in some pub. The more drunk people there are, the higher the chances that I’m going to be there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, thank you. Well, be on the lookout for our London listeners there.

Jack Nasher
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Your day job is a professor for leadership and organizational behavior.

Jack Nasher
Yeah, it’s a bit different than that.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that combo. You had Bob Cialdini endorse your book and it kind of reminded me of that. It’s like okay, a research professor who’s also watching stuff unfold in the real world and immersing yourself in crazy situations. What’s your main area of focus research study as a professor?

Jack Nasher
Yeah, it’s funny you mentioned Cialdini. I’m a great fan of his work. Influence, one of the best books I read. He wrote a great blurb for my book. He actually said, “We need this book,” I was very proud of that.

Obviously applying psychological techniques and applying –that’s my main expertise. I’m looking at techniques from science and I apply them to the real world. I’m interested in theory but also in the application.

I think that combination is very rare because you have scientists who are, very much into their science and answering very small, small questions and then doing research and so on. Then you have salespeople or negotiators who don’t care about science because they say, “Ah, it’s all theory, academics. It’s crap. I’m not interested in that.”

You have very few who actually take the knowledge from academia, from thousands of studies, research and so on and apply it to the real world. That’s what Cialdini did and he’s a great idol of mine, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m looking at science and applying it to practice.

That is my day job and it’s, of course, very different from the Magic Castle and performing hypnotism and all that. But in essence, it’s the same. It’s about how to influence and read people, so it really goes hand in hand.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Now you’ve packaged some of this wisdom in your book, Convinced. What would you say is sort of the main thesis or idea within it?

Jack Nasher
Everything starts with the idea that actual and perceived competence almost have nothing to do with each other.

Pete Mockaitis
… cases.

Jack Nasher
Yeah. You know lots of politicians or people say – Jimmy Carter, US president, some people like him; some say he didn’t do anything. But, as a matter of fact, do you really know what he did? Do you really know the decisions he made? Probably not. Yet, you have a perception of his competence, of his expertise, of how he was as a president.

The same is true with ever profession, whether you’re a lawyer or whether you’re in real estate, it doesn’t matter, whether you sell insurance. People say “Wow, he’s great,” “She’s fantastic. She’s the best I ever worked with,” or “She’s terrible.”

The question is if people don’t know anything about your expertise, how can they judge it? Well, the truth of the matter is they can’t. And yet, they do. What I try to answer is what do they base their judgments on. That’s actually what I wrote my master thesis at Oxford on many years ago, looking at the things people look at when they judge other peopleI found some intriguing, really intriguing points.

It’s unbelievable what these judgments are based on. This of course leads to the fact that you can influence the perception of yourself. You can look like the greatest, the best, the most fantastic expert in whatever field you want to excel in or you want to look like you excel in without actually being an expert. That’s quite amazing. Probably kind of sad to some people, but that’s just the way it is. actual and perceived competence almost – there’s no relation.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s wild in terms of no relation in terms of you looked at data points across the board and you just didn’t find anything of a worthwhile correlation there, huh?

Jack Nasher
Almost none. It’s very different points than actual competence that matter. One of the – I’m sure – that would be the question you’d probably ask, well, what is one of the points. That’s the obvious question. And one of the main points is confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
Just like you saying it like you know it and you – what you’re talking about and you’re certain of it.

Jack Nasher
Exactly. The point is this. I assume that in your job you are pretty confident about certain things and yet probably you’ve heard, “Oh, under promise it, over deliver it. That makes a good impression.” Or probably you’ve heard, “Well, let’s not raise expectations. Let’s be modest about it, humble about it.”

Truth of the matter is, it’s very bad for your perceived competence because people trust people who display competence through confidence, who display high levels of confidence.

Let me just give you an example. If you see two people arguing about who won the 400 meter hurdle world championship in 1954. You have no idea. I have no idea. Let’s say one of them put out a hundred dollar bill and bets on one of the candidates. Who would you trust? One who’s so certain, because certainty really, confidence.

I heard this sentence once “Showing certainty in the midst of uncertainty, that is one of the key tasks of a leader.” ‘The absorption of uncertainty’ somebody called it, ‘absorption of uncertainty,’ because especially when we trust in the competence of somebody, of an expert, we need somebody to take us by the hand and say “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it,” because that person then is – if you do that, you’re a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing and appealing, but I guess it’s worth digging into a little bit. Is that ethical? Is that a form of dishonesty or deception or lying for you to project confidence when you are actually pretty unsure if this thing is going to work out?

Jack Nasher
First of all I’m not telling you you should do that when you have no idea about what you’re doing. But then you probably should change your job. If you really don’t know anything about the work you’re doing, probably you should just work in a different field.

I’m talking about the everyday situations where people come to you with a task and, usually somehow you’ll take care of it, probably a little better, probably a little worse, but you can manage. Right? That’s the everyday situation.

Now, is it ethical to be optimistic about it? Well, let me ask you this. Is it ethical that people who are much worse than you, that they get all the credit? Is it people that – who are much worse than you, and who just show confidence, who can’t do anything that they get the promotions, that they get the clients? I doubt it.

So basically, I’m giving you the tools to PR on your behalf. So instead of having other people take all the credit, why not use the methods yourself? But basically even in my book, I’m not telling you what to do. I’m just showing you what’s possible and how the human brain works. It’s up to you to make the decision. I’m not telling anyone what to do. I would never to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I guess I’m thinking for those who want to be awesome at their job and to pick up, more opportunities and promotion and whatnot, this is something that’s appealing certainly to be perceived as competent. That’s great.

Jack Nasher
Let me ask you Pete. Look, makeup, what’s makeup all about? Well, you paint your face. Well, you don’t look like that, but you still paint it. What about lipstick? Well, you paint your lips – well, you don’t, but a lot of people paint their lips. And why? So they look greater than they actually are. They wear high heel. Well, why? To look different and taller than they actually are.

Guys – Pete, you probably comb your hair. Why? It doesn’t actually look like that. You kind of fake a hairstyle you don’t actually have. You shave. Why? Why do you remove your facial hair? It’s all fake because actually you do have facial hair. So that’s what we do all the time because we only have one life and we want to live the optimal life. What’s wrong with that? There’s nothing wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you there. Yeah, so it’s sort of like in the realm that you painted out there, it’s kind of like okay, someone requested that you do something and you are generally capable of pulling that off, but instead of saying something like, “Oh yeah, I should be able to handle this,” you’d say something like, “You’ve got it Jack. Consider it done, Jack.”

Jack Nasher
Pretty much. Pretty much. You can even point out the difficulties. You can say, “Wow, this is difficulty one. This is difficulty two. But you came to the right guy because I’m the one who takes care of it.”

Interestingly, Donald Trump is a good example. If you like him or not, I don’t even want to bash him or praise him whatever. I’m sick of this. But one of the-

Pete Mockaitis
You’re not even in the US.

Jack Nasher
Yeah. Even in Germany, it’s unbelievable. The exposure … is incredible. But anyway, what’s really interesting is when I saw his campaign I thought wow, he really used this technique. All he does basically is saying, “I’ll take care of it. I’m the best. I’m the greatest.” No track record. No examples. Nothing. I thought, okay, probably he’s – this is just too much. It’s not going to work.

I was amazed to see well, I was wrong. It did work without anything. That was really the epitome of this technique, just giving people confidence without anything, without any track record, nothing. I thought that was really fascinating how far you can actually take this.

By really saying, “I’m the greatest, I’m the best. Don’t worry,” this actually works. Yet, I don’t suggest it. But what I’m suggesting is just changing your mindset and giving people a good feeling. Say, “You came to the right person. Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.”

It cannot be overestimated how important that is to your client, to your superior because everybody is scared. The moment they give you a task, they’re scared that they made a mistake. People remember. There was this famous quote, “People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.” That’s right. That’s true.

Research suggests even if you fail, even if you fail and if you fail miserably, and if you arose high expectations at first, you will still be perceived as more competent than if you had predicted the terrible result accurately.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. Can you highlight a particular experiment or bit of research that … out.

Jack Nasher
Yeah, experiment by Schlenker and Leary, two American psychologists who did that. You know when people said I’m going to perform fantastic at a certain task and they just performed miserably, yet they were perceived as being twice as competent as those who would have predicted the terrible result accurately.

Pete Mockaitis
So after the results came in, they saw what happened.

Jack Nasher
… the result. That’s one of the main experiments I describe in my book in the second chapter, it’s all about that experiment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well tell us – I’m curious, what was the promise and what was the result? That’s just so intriguing. How did the people justify … go for it?

Jack Nasher
They didn’t. it was really, really simple. there was one group, they had to perform a task. The other ones just had to judge their expertise in that task. They were random tasks they were allocated.

The one group predicted their outcome. Then they performed the task, so the result was apparent. You could see how they performed very clearly. Yet, it turned out that their prediction really influenced the assessment greatly of how competent they were perceived. That I thought was amazing because the result was there. Everybody saw the result.

It was very clear that if they said, I’m going to perform fantastic. Great. They were perceived as being much more competent than if they under promised and over delivered, much more competent. Even, that to me was the most interesting part, even if they failed, even if they totally failed – if they were optimistic, they were perceived as being much more competent.

And by the way, you are even perceived as being more likeable because people say, “Is that ethical to be so confident?” Well, let me ask you this. Is it ethical to be modest when you should be doing your job?

Let’s say you’re a surgeon. I broke my leg. You come to my bed and say, “You know what? I’m not a very good surgeon. I’m sorry. I went to university, but I wasn’t the best. I kind of had to do it. My parents wanted me to study medicine.” Do I think, “Wow, what a nice humble guy.” No, I get the hell out of there and I never come back. That’s not nice.

Why are people humble? Why are people modest? Because they fear that they’re going to fail. That’s just one way to say, “Well, I told you I couldn’t do it.” Is that good ethically? Is that good to be modest when it’s about a job you should be able to perform? I doubt it. I don’t think so.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re raising so many fascinating questions there. I guess in a way it’s also like if you kind of commit to a result that is kind of beyond you and a stretch of you, well, often you rise to the occasion anyway. So—

Jack Nasher
Yeah. …

Pete Mockaitis
Over the long term, you’re developing actual competence because you continue to put yourself into stretch positions that you had no choice but to deliver because you don’t want to look like a fool.

Jack Nasher
No, absolutely. That’s the Bannister Effect. Roger Bannister ran the one mile in under four minutes in 1954 here at Oxford. He was an Oxford student and then became an Oxford professor. Just passed away a few years ago.

Roger Bannister, what was interesting is he was the first human being in recorded history to run the mile in under one minute. People thought before they thought it’s impossible. It’s physically impossible. But what was really interesting was that a few weeks after he achieved that, somebody else ran the one mile in under four minutes as well. I think in Finland or somewhere. Then somebody did it in the UK a few weeks after that.

It’s known as the Bannister Effect now that if you raise expectations, you perform better. If you raise your goal, you will actually perform better. Once the goal was raised to below four minutes, people performed better.

That’s really interesting. It’s very interesting for negotiations, called anchoring effects and it’s very interesting for yourself. If you have very high goals, if you’re very confident, you will actually perform better. Also, known as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Pete Mockaitis
Back to that experiment. The assessors who saw the poor results from the confident people, I wonder kind of what rationalization is going on in their head in terms of, “You know what? He must have had an off day. She must have been tired or stressed,” or “This probably isn’t representative. Everyone gets unlucky sometimes.”

Jack Nasher
Yeah, no, it’s exactly right that people when they were very optimistic and failed, it was attributed to external factors and not to internal factors. Exactly what you said.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, I’m going to be chewing on this for years to come I think. Thank you.

Jack Nasher
Yeah, I was thinking about this for years. I was depressed at first. I thought the world was so unfair. Everyone is stupid. I came along a quote from JFK, presumed he said, it’s not confirmed, but presumed he said, “The world is unfair, but not necessarily to your disadvantage.” That opened my eyes. I thought why do I always complain about the world being so unfair. Why don’t I just take advantage of it?

Pete Mockaitis
That is a good turn of a phrase. Cool. All right, let’s say-

Jack Nasher
It’s kind of evil, right?

Pete Mockaitis
What’s that?

Jack Nasher
It’s kind of evil I have to ….

Pete Mockaitis
Right, right.

Jack Nasher
A little bit evil.

Pete Mockaitis
But it’s true. It’s like I’ve had lucky breaks. I’ve had unlucky breaks.

Jack Nasher
Yeah, if you found ten bucks on the street, are you going to say, “Oh, the world is unfair?” No, you’re going to take it, you’re happy and you walk away, even though it is unfair. We tend to forget that sometimes we actually benefit from things being unfair.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about – let’s say, all right, so one thing is when you accept an assignment. You accept it with gusto, with confidence. You say “You’ve come to the right person. Bring it on. Consider it done. I got this. I’m going to crush it,” etcetera. What are some of the other practices associated with radiating competencies or competence? What are kind of some of the top do’s and don’ts when it comes to making that happen?

Jack Nasher
Well, I mean there’s so many points. I have eight keys in my book. Let me think which one should I give you that really – oh yeah, one is really interesting, the Doctor Fox experiment. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. I thought also it was an interesting experiment.

That the researchers took an actor and brought him to a convention, was like, I don’t know, about education, whatever. The actor gave a speech on a very specific topic. Now the speech was nonsense, total nonsense. It didn’t have any content really, but it sounded pretty good. Now you could think, wow, experts would find out because they’re experts.

Now, interestingly when the actor, who didn’t know anything about the topic, when he gave the speech and he did it in a very enthusiastic way, so he was pacing the floor and he seemed to really care about the subject, really love the subject. He got extremely high marks on his presentation.

I thought that was really interesting, especially compared to the control group, where the guy – the same actor gave the same presentation just to a different group, also of experts, but he barely moved. He was just standing there, still. Now, only this made all the difference.

If you talk about your topic in a very enthusiastic way and people will say, “Wow, he or she loves the topic,” you will be rated so much higher than if you just stand there and talk. Even if you say – I just came from an Oxford debate at the Oxford Union, the debating club here. The last speaker, nobody really knew what she was saying because she was saying it in such a boring way. She just read it out that you just couldn’t follow.

There was one Dutch guy who was just pacing the floor. Even though he was repeating his same point over and over, he kind of got us because I caught myself thinking, “Wow, this guy really cares about what he’s saying. This guy must really know what he’s talking about.”

It’s this enthusiasm. So, non-verbal communication, pacing the floor, looking people in the eye and being really, really eager about getting your point across, this makes such a difference. So again, just remember, confidence in whatever your task is and enthusiasm. If you show these two things, this is already a great, great way to show your competence.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. When it comes to enthusiasm, I have a picture of what that means in terms of your voice, it shows emotion on different things like, this is very sad, or very exciting or very enraging. You have some variety in the voice. I think that there’s some swiftness to the words, at times that you’re speaking a little bit faster because you’re into it. And so—

Jack Nasher
Faster also is very good, by the way. Speaking faster, you’re being perceived as being more intelligent. People who speak faster are being perceived as more intelligent because people think “Ah, if he speaks fast, he must think fast too.” Thinking fast, intelligence is linked to competence. Speaking fast is always a good idea.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, cool. Well are there any other kind of subcomponents or individual pieces that get picked up on when someone says, “Whoa, that guy’s into it.”

Jack Nasher
Yeah, also another interesting point is eye contact. We think eye contact is really important. Well, it is but not in the way you would think.

For instance, if you give a speech, if you give a presentation, if you’re in a meeting, it’s actually good when you talk, you should hold eye contact with the people you’re talking to. Very important. Don’t forget that. But, if people talk to you, you should not hold eye contact. It’s actually beneficial for you to look away. Now, you have to be careful not to be rude, of course, but it’s interesting.

You know why? It’s a question of status. Because who looks at who? Well, usually it’s the servant looking at the master, taking orders. By looking people in the eye when they’re talking to you, unconsciously you show them that you have low status and that’s bad for your perceived competence.

So if somebody is talking to you, look away. Again, you have to be very careful not to be rude because obviously that’s very negative. But there’s no problem in looking right and left, kind of pondering about what he or she is saying, but you do not have to hold eye contact.

It’s really interesting that for your perceived competence, it’s better to look away when they’re talking to you. Who would have thought, right? Because some things are common sense and others are just the opposite.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s talk a little bit about managing expectations optimally. I think we talked about it’s best to commit and say yes with gusto. Do you have any other pro tips for how you do that …?

Jack Nasher
Yeah. By the way, the whole book is just filled with this stuff that I found. Sometimes I was really surprised. It’s like any kind of system. It’s eight chapters now. Some of the things are really surprising.

Now, about expectations, what’s also very important, when you raise expectations, when you show confidence, one thing you have to keep in mind, that’s whether you want to sell something, whether it’s yourself, your competence, your services or a product, it doesn’t matter, one thing you have to know is that people don’t choose what they like best. People choose what they fear least.

We have a loss aversion. It’s one of the main motivations of human behavior that we go away from risk, obviously. There are good reasons for that, you know?

You have to know every time you sit down with a client, you sit down with your employer, you sit down with your superior, with your colleague, you have to remember that the main thing is you have to take away their fear. Don’t try to be a good choice. Don’t try to be the best. Just think about everything that makes you a bad choice and eliminate that.

I’ll give you an example. When I applied here at Oxford as a student many years ago, I was a philosopher. I studied philosophy and psychology. I had nothing to do with business and yet I applied to the business school. I thought I don’t look like a business guy. What did I do? Well, I dressed up like a business guy. I bought some pinstriped pants. I went to the interview like that.

I remember my professor, first thing she said was “Wow, I thought there’s going to be some philosopher now, but I think you’d fit right in.” It’s as simple as that sometimes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Jack Nasher
It’s just you have to remember – just think about why – what could it be? Why would they say no to you? What speaks against you and that’s exactly what you face.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us some more examples of how you would take away fears? I guess I’m wondering about if I’m influencing someone to support my proposal or initiative or plan of action, what are some key ways I might take away their risk and fear.

Jack Nasher
Well the very first thing is that you find out what out their fear is. You basically ask them. If you think of most salespeople, most sales situations, people don’t ask you. They just talk. They just come with their pitch no matter what you say. Obviously, that’s one of the worst things that can happen, people just talking to you, blah, blah, blah, without you taking and telling them what you want.

The very first thing you have to do is you have to find out what their fear is. Once you know what their fear is, what they’re scared of, you can tackle it. Usually it’s quite easy.

For instance, I want a haircut. Because I travel a lot for my job, I give negotiation trainings here and there and sometimes I’m stuck in some rural area for a week and I need a haircut. I go to the hairdresser and I’m scared because I don’t know how he or she is. Of course, I can look on Google or how many stars, but they can be fake, they can be bought, whatever.

I’m longing to this day, I’m longing for a hairdresser who comes out of his store and says, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry about it. I know you’re scared. You’ve never been here. But sit down, relax, I’m really good at what I do.”

Now, this sounds very simple, but when has this ever happened to you, that somebody takes you by your hand and says, “Just don’t worry. I’m very, very good at what I do,” because we tend to believe what other people tell us. If somebody tells you, “You know what? I’m really good at what I do,” we tend to believe them.

Interestingly also we tend to confirm our beliefs. Everything he or she does afterwards, we see as a conformation of his or her quality.

Many years ago I bought shoes – British shoemaker. I asked him, “Well, why should I buy the shoes?” Customers ask stupid questions because they want you to take away their fear. The guy said, “Because they’re the best shoes in the world.” I laughed, I chuckled, and yet I bought them. Well, I was back a few weeks later because the heel fell off again … after six weeks. But I wasn’t upset. I felt bad that I ruined his masterpiece.

To this day, I still have these shoes. I’m sure they’re not the best shoes in the world and yet I cannot throw them away after 15 years because I still think, well, they must be very, very special. The guy, he did nothing but just say, “Don’t worry about it. These are the best in the world. If you buy them, they’re just the best.” ying, “Hey, don’t worry about it. Sit down. Have a tea. I’ll take care of it. It’s not an easy situation. It will take some time.” You have to say that because if you don’t say that, they’ll just give you more and more work. Say, “It’s difficult because of this, this, and this, but if anyone can do it, it’s me. You came to the right place. Sit down. Relax. Have a cookie. I’ll take care of it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. Now you also lay out a few particular approaches to elevate our status through praise and peacemaking. What’s the story behind these?

Jack Nasher
Status is one of the eight points. Interestingly that you raise your level of competence, your perceived competence by raising your level of status. If your status is perceived as higher – I mean, Give you a simple example.

If your family doctor talks about some political questions about Congress, chances are you will take him or her seriously. Why? He’s a doctor. He doesn’t know anything about politics, no more than me or you. But he’s a doctor. He has a high status. Because of this, you tend to put more weight in whatever he or she says. That is called status generalization. If somebody has a high or a low status, everything he or she does will be linked to this status.

There are ways to have higher status. It’s not just wearing a Rolex or wearing nice pants or all that. No. There’s some subtle ways to elevate your status. One is the one you just mentioned is by being a peacemaker.

It’s usually it’s a royal, regal task to get – at a meeting, people are fighting and you are the one who makes peace. At the office, you have two people quarreling for a while, well you should be the one who says, “Set up a date. Come on, let’s talk about it.” You will be remembered as the one who brought peace to it. That is a royal task, a royal thing to have done. This will elevate your status tremendously.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. Okay. You can make peace either by formally establishing, “Hey, let’s set a time,” or maybe you can even just sort of chime in and say, “Hey, let’s make sure that we’re respecting all view points,” or something along those lines. Okay, cool. What are some of the other approaches to elevating status?

Jack Nasher
Well, one of the other – very interesting because people came to me and said, “Well, what about Mark Zuckerberg or some people just wear sneakers and they come to all these great conventions?”

Pete Mockaitis
Steve Jobs.

Jack Nasher
Steve Jobs, yeah.  Anyway, so these two are very famous for taking the stage with a turtleneck, sneakers, a t-shirt, whatever, so how is that possible? Well, the answer – it’s very interesting that there’s something called non-conformity. If you do not conform – obviously, do not conform – everyone is wearing a tie, but you are wearing a t-shirt, so what the hell is going on here? Well, this can actually increase your status.

Even Hitler knew that, by the way, interestingly, because he always wore a very plain uniform of the lowest rank. He had other people surround him with the biggest uniform with thousands of medals, whatever, … with crazy medals. He wrote that in one of his texts. He said, “This makes me look like a saint because I’m the one on the stage and even though everybody presumably of a higher status, I must be almost holy to be on that stage.”

It’s an interesting thought. I’m not saying that Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs read Hitler to be like that, but basically it’s the same idea of non-conformity. It’s the idea that if you do not conform, you are actually – your status will increase, but this only works when you already have a pretty high position, when you already have – when you already are respected.

When you’re an intern and do that, it’s just ridiculous. They’ll just boot you out of the place. But if you’re the CEO of Apple and you do that, people will go, “Wow, amazing.” This non-conformity thing only works when you really have a certain status within your company, within your organization. Then this can really work wonders. But just remember, it only works when you have a real high status.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, now you’ve also got some perspective on how you can boost your overall likeability and attractiveness. How is that done?

Jack Nasher
Yeah, now, competence is a very particular trait. You don’t have to be likeable in order to be perceived as competent. Yet, being liked makes it easier because of a halo effect. If people like you, chances are you will be perceived as more competent.

Also if you’re more attractive, that to me, again, was shocking, how important attractiveness is in overall – in our day-to-day interactions. Incredibly attractive – incredibly important, really surprisingly important even in friendships of same sex, heterosexual friends. Children play more with other children who are attractive. Parents love their children more if they’re more attractive. Shocking result. Really, it was incredible.

The thing is that if you’re perceived as being more attractive, that you will be perceived as more competent. There are just some ways to look more attractive.

Pete Mockaitis
Do tell, do tell. Do I have to get plastic surgery, Jack, or what has to happen?

Jack Nasher
It’s interesting that even when I talk to cosmetic surgeons, they didn’t know about this research. Unbelievable.

Pete Mockaitis
This is a value proposition, guy.

Jack Nasher
I know, I know. Yeah, I wish I could tell you. It’s all in the book. I forgot. I’ll just tell you two things because some people say, “Well, I’m attractive, I’m not attractive, what can I change?” Well, funny thing is there are many things you can change quite easily. Also, there are many things you don’t have to change because they don’t matter. Like the nose has almost no significance for attractiveness.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Jack Nasher
Yeah, unless it’s like tremendously big or tremendously ugly or whatever. Tremendously beautiful doesn’t even help because it’s always more difficult – to stand out is as particularly beautiful is very difficult for a nose. To stand out as particularly ugly, much easier. It’s kind of unfair again, but that’s the way we perceive things. That’s how we act.

Interestingly, though a tan, for instance, is one of the most important factors, just a tan and pure clean skin. Probably not very easy, but I think it’s quite easy. You don’t need any surgery. You need nothing almost. Eyelashes, dark eyelashes, one of the things that makes such a tremendous difference.

Also, there are just some points that one researcher found. He looked at all the points that lead to attractiveness. This is unpublished research. It’s a researcher in Germany who spent years doing nothing but this and he never published it. I don’t know why. I talked to him. I said, “Come on, this is unbelievable. This is revolutionary.” He said, “Eh, I don’t know. I just like the research.”

Well, I give you all the points and what really makes people attractive because why? Because first of all I think it’s tremendously interesting. We spend billions every year to look more attractive and most of it is wasted on stuff that doesn’t really matter.

Pete Mockaitis
I think about the teeth. If they’re white and straight, it would be an asset rather.

Jack Nasher
Yeah, that’s also good example. If teeth are white, you won’t say, “Wow, his teeth are so white.” But if they’re yellow, you’ll say, “Ah, it’s disgusting.” It’s not very symmetrical. Bad things stand out in a much stronger way than good things.

Pete Mockaitis
How about clothing?

Jack Nasher
Clothing is all about status. Somebody said you shouldn’t dress for the job you have, you should dress for the job you want to have. But here again, you should keep in mind that a tie and a jacket isn’t always the right choice, if you work in a startup or something, but there are also status symbols. You just have to know what they are. They probably stand in line for some Nike sneakers for a day or something.

But anywhere you go there are status symbols, but they differ. They don’t have to be Ferragamo ties. They’re just sneakers or whatever. But that’s – if you ask me about clothing, that’s the most important thing about clothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that is it’s conveying a status to the appropriate audience?

Jack Nasher
Yup, that’s right. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
I was thinking about the fit being pretty important in terms of you can have a t-shirt that is kind of sloppy and too big or too small or a t-shirt that’s just hugging you just right. It’s just like, “That’s an attractive person,” because maybe you can see my broad shoulders or whatever perfectly.

Jack Nasher
But that, again, would be part of status, that clothes are actually made to measure or bespoke or at least fit. If you see somebody with an XL t-shirt and he’s obviously thin, it just looks stupid.

But these are details I didn’t really go into. It’s more like all the research that tells you ah, okay, these are interesting points, non-conformity, okay. Smiling, for instance, how important is smile – the chapter about non-verbal communication. You find interesting things about smiling. Well, smiling isn’t always good. There are some times when you shouldn’t smile at all because smiling actually hurts your perceived competence. You look like a dork when you smile.

Pete Mockaitis
When should I not smile?

Jack Nasher
Well, you just shouldn’t smile when there’s no reason to smile. If you just smile all the time, you look stupid. People do that. They think it’s polite or nice or there’s so many quotes on mugs about smiling, but, well, for your perceived competence, they don’t necessarily help. If you go to a lawyer and it’s a serious subject because your child is in jail and he keeps smiling, and you think “What the hell? Why is he smiling all the time?”

There’s some misconceptions and you should just smile when something is funny or when say hi, but it actually can be bad for your perceived competence. Why? Because, again, your status will look low because who smiles all the time? Salesmen or somebody who wants something from you right? Low status.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. I suppose you could smile when you’re greeting someone because that’s sort of normal. It’s like, “Oh hey, they’re kind of happy to see me.” But if you’re keeping the smiling going in the midst of a boring topic, it’s sort of like, “What is up with this person?”

Jack Nasher
Exactly. Also, even when you greet, it’s not necessary. When it’s about a real important topic and somebody greets you with a firm handshake without actually smiling, you think “Wow, okay, he or she is really into the topic now. Let’s cut to the chase.” Even then it could be beneficial not to smile. The smile fetish that’s just something you shouldn’t do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, this has been so fascinating. Now, tell me Jack, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jack Nasher
I already mentioned too much. You should buy the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, noted.

Jack Nasher
… give everything away. Come on. Don’t ask me any more questions because there’s nothing – well, there’s some stuff left. yeah, I gave away a lot. Damn.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, yeah.

Jack Nasher
… Pete. How do you do that?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, shucks. Well, so this is not book specific, so maybe the pressure is off a little bit. Can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jack Nasher
Oh you know, I read so much. It’s one of the things I do all the time. I just love reading. I love new input. I’m always fascinated by new ideas. I think just being open, having an open mind and always learning. I think that for me is the best. It’s not just one thing or one book because every week I’m reading a different book on a different topic.

Right now I’m reading the Bitter Angels of Our Nature about how the world evolved in a positive way. I think that’s really fascinating. It’s a great book. It’s very long, but it’s really fascinating.

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

Jack Nasher
A favorite habit is I try to touch or look at things only once. That’s it. I just try to look at one thing once, decide, and just get rid of it. Look at an email once, not save it or something, just do it quickly because I just found that if I keep stuff on my desk, it just keeps piling up. But I just have to allocate certain time slots for things, but then I just look at it once and I just do it.

One of my favorite quotes “It’s better to do it well now than perfect tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or never.” That’s one of my favorite quotes. I don’t even know it’s a quote, but it’s an idea to rather get stuff done now than to do it better in a week or never.

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

Jack Nasher
I’d point them to my website, JackNasher.com. It’s packed with great stuff, free stuff.

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

Jack Nasher
No, I think, and that was one of the points of my book, is that you spend so much time being good at your job, you spend so much time going to college, executive education, reading books, but you don’t spend any time thinking about how you should sell your capabilities, how you should sell your competencies. And that’s what this is about, you know?

I’m not telling you to fake anything. I’m just showing you how to display whatever it is you know, whatever it is you can do and to really excel in your job by displaying whatever competence you have. I think you should take some time off and even if it’s only by reading one book and I’m not telling you which book, but I’m just suggesting one book, I think it’s well worth your time because it’s just not enough to be good. You have to show that you are.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Jack, this has been a real treat. Thanks so much for taking the time. I wish you tons of luck with your book, Convinced, and all your adventures.

Jack Nasher
Well, thank you very much for your interest in my book. Thanks a lot for these great questions. I enjoyed it very much.

344: Confidence-Forming Habits with Jordan Harbinger

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Jordan Harbinger shares mindsets and practices to boost your confidence and your results with people.

 

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret strengths of introverts
  2. Why to ask for what you don’t deserve
  3. How a post-it note can transform  your non-verbal communication skills

About Jordan

Jordan Harbinger has always had an affinity for Social Influence, Interpersonal Dynamics and Social Engineering, helping private companies test the security of their communications systems and working with law enforcement agencies before he was even old enough to drive.

Jordan has spent several years abroad in Europe and the developing world, including South America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and speaks several languages. He has also worked for various governments and NGOs overseas, traveled through war-zones and been kidnapped -twice. He’ll tell you; the only reason he’s still alive and kicking is because of his ability to talk his way into (and out of), just about any type of situation.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jordan Harbinger Interview Transcript

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

Jordan Harbinger
Thanks for having me on, man. I appreciate the opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I am excited to chat because you’ve been an inspiration for me in podcasting. You kind of got me going on the three times a week as a matter of fact, so that – we have you to blame for that.

Jordan Harbinger
Right, so if you can’t keep up with this podcast, it’s largely my fault for also making it impossible to keep up with my podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, one fun thing that I learned about you from your IMDB profile actually – someone’s a big deal – is that you were at one time an FBI informant. What’s the scoop here?

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, when I was actually essentially a kid, when I was younger, I had figured out how to – do you remember green boxes on the side of the road that were like, “Hey, what’s that thing? I guess it’s a phone thing.” Do you remember those things?

Pete Mockaitis
Kind of, but what is it?

Jordan Harbinger
Kind of. Yeah. Not exactly a tourist attraction. I figured how to open those. When I opened them I saw all these screws in there with wired pairs. I went, “Oh, what are these?”

I remember stopping on my bike once when I saw one of the lineman – the telephone company guys, not the football guys – opening that thing up. I said, “What are these?” He goes, “Oh, every house in the neighborhood, all the phone wires, they run right into this box, so each of these pairs is someone’s phone.”

I said, “Oh, and that little orange handset you’re using you can listen to the call.” He goes, “Well, I don’t do that, but I can use it to test the line if someone’s on the line when I put it on there I get this little red light. I don’t hear anything.” I said, “Oh, okay.”

I decided that I was just going to get one of those and open that thing up with the – because you needed a special wrench, as if that’s hard to find. I would get that and open those up and I started listening to conversations and I started to get really interested in people and really interested in the phone system because I could learn more about people through the phone system.

I learned how to clone, which is sort of like hack in a general sense, I learned how to deal with that with cellphones, analog cell phones. That was obviously really quite interesting for me. I started to clone these cellphones. The FBI was like, “Hey, this is actually a crime. You should probably not do that.” But I started to tell them how certain technical things were done and they were interested in that.

Then one day, I worked for a security company and that security company was intern contracted by a really wealthy Detroit area billionaire. I went into work one day at the security company and I was like – we were talking about dating or something like that because my boss was like, “Hey, how are the ladies treating you?” That kind of thing. I was 16 years old.

I said, “Oh, I’m actually meeting women on the internet.” He’s like, “What?” because this is 1995 or 1996. It’s like what are you talking about. I would tell him how I would chat with essentially girls at that age on America Online. He’s like, “Oh, this is so fascinating.” He would ask me about it every time I’d go to work.

Eventually I started working with the – with him on talking with the FBI about the technology stuff, but then one time we started talking about the dating on America Online or the chatting on instant messenger, which we used at the time.

I started saying – it’s funny because I had this really sort of ambiguous unisex sounding username. Some people on there thought I was a guy and some people on there thought I was a girl. I always had to say like, “Oh yeah, I’m a 16-year-old guy live in Troy, Michigan,” whenever I was talking to people.

Pete Mockaitis
ASL.

Jordan Harbinger
ASL, right? Age, sex, location. I eventually started to see people hitting me up. I was like, “Oh hey, I’m a guy. You don’t want to be sending me a picture of a rose or something,” and they’re like, “Oh, okay, sorry.”

Then some people were really creepy about it. I was like, there’s all these guys on there that are like 40 that are totally okay with me being a 16-year-old boy. What a bunch of weirdos. I told my boss about this and he goes, “Yeah, that’s not okay, man. Those are sexual predators. We need to report these people to the police.” I said, “Well, all right.”

We called the police; they had no idea what to do with it. We contacted the FBI, who I had already sort of been talking about with the tech stuff and they were like, “Yeah, we don’t really how to handle this. We have a cybercrime division in Washington, D.C., but no individual office,” again, this is the ‘90s, “has anything to do with computer crime because it’s so advanced.”

Computer crime back then was bank wires probably and really advanced Matthew Broderick dialing into the Pentagon-type of crime, not somebody chatting on America Online. There was no crime to be had there. There was no financial transactions. PayPal didn’t exist. You couldn’t bank online, etcetera.

I started talking about this and they said, “Look, show me what you’re dealing with,” because they thought, “Oh yeah, some pervert’s trying to get you to send a picture with your shirt off or whatever. Who cares?” I sent them transcripts of these emails and other things in chat rooms, because remember back in the day you had whole rooms of people talking.

Some of it was just really, really, really not cool, like really gross and graphic. It’s like who are these people? This is a 14-year-old girl. Look here where she says to another user how old she is and where she lives. Then this is where this guy says he’s 45 and works at Radio Shack.

I started to send those things in by fax, of course, to the FBI and they went, “Oh, wait a minute. This is like really – there’s really – this is really bad.” Because there were guys saying like, “Yeah, I’ll come over to your parent’s house when they’re not there and take pictures of you. You’ll be a model,” like that kind of stuff.

They started saying, “Look, we can’t ask you to do anything, but the more of this we get, the better our case is going to be against some of these users when we go to a judge for a warrant and try to sort of look at this person’s email and all that stuff.”

I started just going into chat rooms and I even made different screen names and I would get into chats with these people and stuff like and I would fax all the transcripts to the FBI. We caught a bunch of pedophiles.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger
We caught a ton. Yeah, we caught a bunch. I was in Michigan, so what we would do – essentially the crime itself online was multi-state, which brought it to the FBI jurisdiction, but what we ended up doing was Toledo, Ohio was pretty close to the southern border of Michigan, so the ruse at that point was “Oh, I’m going on vacation with my family to Toledo. We’re going to be at the Holiday Inn and this place.”

Then the guy would drive from Michigan to Toledo and the FBI, the local PD would be there and they’d be like, “Well, you just traveled across state lines to engage in inappropriate conduct with the minor, so now you’re ours. You’re not Toledo PD. You’re not Detroit PD or whatever suburb PD. You’re FBI and we have all the chats.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger
It was just like boom.

Pete Mockaitis
And Chris Hanson says, “Why don’t you take a seat over there.”

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, that’s exactly what it was. When I first saw that show, I went, “Oh yeah, they’ve been doing this for a long time.” This is not a new operation. In fact, as far as I know, we were one of the first people ever to do this because if I had to talk to Washington, D.C. FBI just to tell them how pedophiles run America Online in ’96, I don’t think there was a whole lot of activity in that area at that time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, if you’re like the lead expert as a 16-year-old from Michigan.

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, as a 16-year-old boy with a dial-up modem is the lead expert on AOL sex crimes I guess you would call it, then there’s not a whole lot of expertise in the area. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jordan, you are full of interesting stories. You share a number of them along with guests on The Jordan Harbinger Show. Tell me, what’s your show kind of fundamentally all about?

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, what I do on The Jordan Harbinger Show, what we do as a team, is we interview amazing brilliant people, in my opinion, and we study their thoughts, their actions, their habits, and then we have them teach their ways to the audience.

For example, I had – I just earlier today interviewed the former head of the CIA and NSA, General Hayden. I said, “Look, how are you making these tough decisions? How are you balancing people’s freedom with the fact that you have to defend us against terrible people?” Or I’ll talk to Larry King and I’ll say “Tell us about conversational skills. You’ve had 60,000 interviews. You must have picked up a couple of tips along the way.”

I’ll have them teach those skills to the listening audience. Then every episode has worksheets. It’s really practical. It’s not just like, “Wow, gee, that was so inspiring. Thanks for coming on.” It’s like, “No, here’s five things you can now do to become better at conversations, networking, body language, persuasion, influence, etcetera.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Clearly we have much synergy between our shows, so it’s so good to have you here. I’ve learned a lot from you, particularly in the realms of confidence, likeability, relationships, communications, like that universe.

Now you’re going to be, if you will, the Larry King is to interviewing and Jordan Harbinger is to likeability/confidence stuff. Let’s go there. What’s sort of your secret sauce or your flavor behind – it seems like, if I may, following you for a while, it’s like you’re kind of a dork. I say that in the nicest way.

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah. No, you don’t have to – not kind of. I mean it’s well established, my friend.

Pete Mockaitis
And yet you’re also super freaking cool at the same time. You’ve got a real good vibe going, which serves you well as an interviewer and broadcaster, but I’m sure many other circumstances. What’s going on in your head in terms of where your seeming abundance kind of confidence and self-assuredness is coming from?

Jordan Harbinger
Where does my confidence come from?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger
Well, yeah, it’s definitely not something that I just woke up one day and I was like I’m good at this. I certainly – it’s funny, people who’ve known me my whole life, they go, “It’s so funny that you ended up being a talk show host interviewer. It’s just comedy.”

Because when I was a kid I was an only child, so imagine I spent a lot of time watching TV sitcoms, first of all, which actually is where I learned a lot of my cheese ball sense of humor because people who know me for a long time will be like, “Oh yeah, I remember you watching The Fresh Prince for seven years straight and just talking and being funny in that way.” I sort of have a humor evolution from Perfect Strangers all the way on up to Seinfeld or Friends.

Pete Mockaitis
The highest echelon of evolution.

Jordan Harbinger
The highest echelon of culture, naturally. But the reason that happened was because I could either sit there and watch baseball with my dad, who like – he’s a smart guy, but he’s an engineer, so his communication is primarily grunting and then getting frustrated when you don’t understand exactly what he means. Then my mom, who loves reading. I’m an only child, so I’m just sitting there like, oh my gosh, I’ve got to – I’m not doing a whole lot of talking.

Then when I was in school, I just found that either things were so boring that I would get in trouble, and then I had like the typical middle school, I wouldn’t call it social anxiety any more than a normal kid has, but instead of me being – acting up and trying to be one of the in-crowd, I just kind of was like, I’m just not going to talk. If I’m invisible, then nobody will bother me. You know that kind of thing?

I did that for years. That persisted even through a little bit of high school. Then in college I studied really hard. I wasn’t concerned with partying and stuff because I thought you get one shot at this. Then I went to law school, not exactly known for its outgoing super social well-adjusted people, especially at that level where I was studying. Then I worked on Wall Street.

The fact that I was able to then leave that and develop a talk show host and interviewer skillset was really a large pivot. But it wasn’t as big of a jump as I think a lot of introverts think. Because when we’re introverted and as we know from new science now, things like Susan Cain and her book and her work, introverts are actually better at forming relationships and generally having conversations with people that are meaningful.

Because – I say we because technically I’m still an introvert. I don’t think that’s something you really shake. We think more about what we’re going to say before we say it. We think about other people’s feelings, what repercussions is this going to have, how’s it going to make the other person feel, how is this going – what conversation should this be like, whatever do I want to put into this conversation to make it worthwhile.

That’s the type of thing that introverts think of, which is why we seem quiet and reserved. We are indeed, but also we’re not just talking because well, if I talk a lot, people will think I’m cool. We don’t have that.

If we talk enough, we go “Oh, I just want to go home and not do anything,” whereas an extrovert says, “Oh, I’ve been working all day, I just want to go out and have drinks and chitchat.” It’s like we don’t rest that way, introverts.

The pivot seems strong, but really it’s just a use of a skillset that I had for a long time. I was always the guy that people would ask for advice. I was always the people – I was always the guy people would say, “I trust you to keep this secret for me. My parents are getting divorced.” I’m like, “We’re in third grade. Why are you telling me this?” That was kind of thing that I always had.

I think it was me putting people at ease because I wasn’t necessarily fronting all the time. I wasn’t trying to be cool. I was just me because I didn’t have the skills to be anybody else or even try to fake it. That I think is why I ended up in this particular niche doing this particular gig.

But I do think that all of us, especially if we think, “Oh, well I’m working at this company and I’m never going to be this outgoing or this person or this type of person that’s going to be a manager, an outgoing leader.” I think we should take a second look at that because a lot of times the things that we think about us are a disadvantage, are often symptoms of an advantage that we have that maybe we haven’t explored yet, similar to the introvert thing.

“Oh, I’m too quiet. I could never be a radio talk show host interviewer.” Well, that’s not really true. All of the characteristics that make you quiet, you think before you talk, that’s actually really beneficial to somebody who wants to have a meaningful conversation in any format, whether you’re a writer or you’re speaking on a microphone.

The shyness, yes, you’ll have to get over eventually. But shyness and being introspective and quiet are actually totally different things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I love that good stuff there. I’m actually a certified Myers Briggs practitioner. I train people on this all the time.

There’s a lot of aha moments in terms of we sort of assume or project onto the other person, “Oh, if I’m extrovert and I’m quiet, it means I’m bored. I’m disengaged. I don’t care, whatever. Therefore, that person is thinking, feeling the same thing.” It’s like au contraire.

[15:00]

As you very nicely articulated, the introvert is kind of operating on all of these maybe deeper levels of consideration about what would be the implication if I say that and the repercussions to the other person, how are they thinking and feeling about that. That’s very well said.

I want to dig into a little bit of that repercussion piece when it comes to thinking about maybe if folks are overly cautious or worried about offending or being rejected or rubbing people the wrong way if they speak up about something, what’s your take on how to overcome those sorts of fears and anxieties?

Jordan Harbinger
Sure. I think for a lot of people this is a slow – I won’t say it never goes away. I will say that it’s slow to go away. It’s not like one day you’re working on this and you finally feel like “Ah, this is gone now.” It’s more like you stop noticing it, if that distinction makes sense.

The way that this works will be something like rejection therapy for example, where you go – some of the drills that I give clients from The Jordan Harbinger Show or for Advanced Human Dynamics, which is our training arm, are things like I’ll point them to the negotiation episodes that we did where most people are using that to get a raise in their salary or they’re using those types of skills to get something else for work or business.

But I’ll also say, “Look, the next time you go to Starbucks ask for a discount.” People will go, “Oh God, I can’t do that. It’s awkward. It’s weird.” So what though? You’re in an airport. You’re in an airport; you’re never going to see that barista again. It’s not the one that’s a block away that you go to every day, where you might actually face consequences. Ask for the discount and the worst they can say is no.

You have to work up courage, of course, to do this kind of thing, but as you do that and you experience positive results, which most people do –

You’d be surprised how many places, by the way, have some sort of discount button that automatically knocks 10% off the price because, “Oh, you’re in the office building above us. 10% off.” “Oh, the manager is standing next to me and that’s totally fine because she’s seen you before. 10% off.” That happens all the – “Oh, you brought your own cup. 10% off.” That kind of thing, always, cafes, restaurants, that happens all the time.

As we experience positive results, we start to say “Well, wait a minute, if I got that by asking, what else can I get by asking?” We used to have all of these different sorts of drills to lead up to that. I won’t spend too much time on that because I don’t want to take up the whole show with it, but a lot of what these do is they build small pieces of situational confidence that then lead to greater confidence in other areas.

If you are able to ask for what you want or a benefit when you actually don’t deserve one, like you do not deserve a discount on that coffee. You don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
But I’m so adorable, Jordan.

Jordan Harbinger
But I’m like, if you ask for that and you get it, then you start to think, “Well, wait a minute. There’s a whole world of possibility that doesn’t make me an entitled jerk for exploring.” Once you start to do that, then you can build on to bigger and bigger things.

When you frame things in the way of negotiation, like, most people do deserve to get paid more than they actually are. Or I should say they’re bringing more value than they’re actually paid. I think in many ways you get paid what you negotiate in certain corporate structures, not necessarily what your value is.

Once you start to realize that you think, “Well, wait a minute. There’s somebody else-“ because chances are, think about this right now. You’re working in a corporation if that’s what you’re doing. I know a lot of your audience is doing that. There’s probably somebody at your same level that’s making more than you and you have no idea.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Jordan Harbinger
The reason you have no idea is because HR cut them a deal with they negotiated with that person and part of it was “I will not tell anyone else what I’m making.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. And that is illegal in some countries. Fun fact.

Jordan Harbinger
I didn’t know that. Really?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it is. You cannot do that in certain countries for the very reason that it is a disservice to workers or employees or wage earners, but business owners and HR folks in the US will – it’s to their advantage. There’s an awesome Adam Ruins Everything, if you’ve ever seen that show,-

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
-episode about this. I was like, “Right on Adam. You preach it.” Yeah, it’s a little bit kind of taboo I guess in the US to discuss those things, but it’s generally to the employees benefit when they do. Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger
Interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m vibing. I’m vibing with what you’re saying there. I’m also vibing with that statement there: ask for what you don’t deserve. I’m thinking I don’t do that very often.

Jordan Harbinger
No.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m wondering if it’s because my sense of justness or rightness or fairness or is being compromised. Set me straight, Jordan, why and how is it cool to ask for what you don’t deserve?

Jordan Harbinger
It’s social pressure, right? The reason we don’t do it. We have some unwritten rules that say look – I’m not saying walk into Wal-Mart and then walk out with a lawn chair and be like, “Can I have this for free?” They’re going to be like, “No,” and then you’re going to apply pressure and turn the screws.

We’re not doing this thing where we’re going to a local mom and pop restaurant, eating a full meal and saying, “I’m going to pay you half of what you asked for for this.” You’re just giving people grief at that point.

But when you’re talking about, “Hey, can I have a discount on this coffee?” Nobody sat down and went “Look, this is the morally acceptable price for us to charge for this cup of coffee.” They went, “People are willing to pay five dollars for this mochaccino. Charge these morons five dollars for that mochaccino,” if that’s a real thing.

If you ask for a discount, Starbucks is still profiting handsomely off of you. They want you to come back. They might do this all the time. There’s a reason they give away free stuff all the time. There’s a reason they have all these rewards programs. They incentivize that way. You’re not stealing from them by asking because you’re giving them a choice. They’re fully allowed to say no.

It’s not when they say no, you walk up to the shelf with all the ceramic mugs on it and knock it over. You’re not doing that. You’re just walking up to the counter and saying “Can I have a discount on that?” Sometimes they just go, “Sure.” Or you say, “Can I have a discount on that? I’ve had a really long day and I would love to just have one thing go right,” and they go, “Yeah, sure. My pleasure.”

Pete Mockaitis
It is their pleasure.

Jordan Harbinger
It is.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re giving them an opportunity to delight you and that’s worth something.

Jordan Harbinger
It is.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re doing them a favor by asking for that. That’s my reframe. I’m rolling with it.

Jordan Harbinger
And frankly it’s often worth about 15 cents, so it really doesn’t matter that much, but it’s nice to have anyway. The reason we ask for what we don’t necessarily deserve in those instances, not because, great, I’m saving a quarter on a cup of coffee. The reason we do that is because imagine how much easier it then becomes to ask for something that you do deserve.

“I know I’m underpaid by five grand a year. Oh, but I don’t want to make my manager’s manager angry. I know that times are tight right now.” No, this is a negotiation. You deserve more than what you’re getting. Other people at other offices are getting paid more for doing the same amount of work and they have better benefits. You should be leveraging that.

By asking for small little things, and again, coffee is not necessarily going to lead to a bigger raise for you, but it can over time compound and you will find not only are you enjoying some benefits of that, but you gain a sense of control over things, namely your environment, that you may not have otherwise had.

Then it starts to lead to the idea that, “Well, wait a minute. If I can negotiate a discount on the cup of coffee that I don’t deserve, then maybe I can negotiate the 5,000 dollar raise that would be a qualitative lifestyle difference for me that I actually do deserve that other people are getting that I’m not because I’m nice, too nice.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m digging it. I’m digging it. Time is already flying here. But Jordan I’ve got to get from you a couple, if I may, pro tips in terms of being likeable or charismatic or kind of winning people over-ness, if that’s a word. What are some of the top foundational principles or tips that you share in that realm?

Jordan Harbinger
Sure. I used to be one of those like, “Well, look people in the eye. Have a firm handshake and positive-“ and I still do the positive, upright, confident body language thing. In fact, I’ll give you guys a – why don’t I give you a body language drill. This is always a nice easy one that people can learn in an audio only format.

I would say some of the major benefits come from developing relationships and networks that really help other people because you can have the greatest nonverbal communication of anybody in the whole world, but if I’ve thrown you three – four show guests or I’ve introduced you to somebody who you ended up marrying or got you a job, you’re just going to like me a little bit more than the guy who has a firm handshake and good eye contract. At least, I hope so.

The body language and nonverbal stuff does have its place though. I think for a lot of folks, especially I used to think this way as well, we often think, “Huh, well my first impression happens when I open my mouth, so I’ve got to have cool, fun, entertaining things to say.” This really actually is not true.

We know that we form our first impressions nonverbally before the other person even has the opportunity to open their mouth.

If you don’t believe me, next time you go to the mall and you’re walking down the street, listen to the little voice in your head – not the one that says walk faster, it’s cold outside – but the one that says, “That person is small. That person is tall. Oh, that person is kind of scary. Should I cross the street? No, I’m just being weird. They’re fine. Oh wow, this person is attractive. I wonder-“

That voice, you’re making judgments about people constantly. We’re evolved to do that. It’s something that keeps us safe and has kept us safe for millennia. We do this. It’s not bad. It does not mean you’re a judgmental jerk. We do this.

Now what this means for us is that our first impression is already made well before someone walks up and says, “Hey, can I borrow a quarter for the payphone? I’ve got to catch the bus.” Whatever. That is not the first impression. That’s the second impression generally speaking.

This happens just as well in corporate environments, at a mixer or something like this. We generally form that first impression within milliseconds. As soon as someone becomes a blip on our radar, we form some judgments of them based on their nonverbal communication.

What we want to do is make sure that our first impression, nonverbal first impression, is upright, positive, confident, friendly, open, all these nice positive adjectives that we can throw out there.

The way that we do that is essentially, unless you’re driving right now, you can follow along with me, stand up straight, chin up, chest up, shoulders back. You don’t have to exaggerate this. This is not like superman pose or anything. It’s just sort of upright, positive, confident, friendly. Put a smile on your face.

We want to do this every time we walk through a doorway because that’s generally when people notice us is when we walk through a doorway. Of course, the problem with that is we walk through doorways all day, so you’re going to walk through a doorway five seconds from now, forget to do this and then everything goes to heck.

Grab a stack of Post-It notes, maybe those little ones that have absolutely no use other than what I’m about to tell you because they’re too small. If you don’t have those, go grab a pack of that from the office supply room or go to the drugstore and grab it. Stick them up at eye level on the doorway. You don’t even have to write anything on it.

What this is going to do is it’s called a pattern interrupt in psychology slash hypnosis speak. What that is is you look at your doorway, you don’t see anything because you walk through it all day. But you look at your doorway, you see a hot pink Post-It note at eye level on the doorframe and you go, “What is that? Oh right, the doorway drill that Jordan was talking about.”

You walk through that doorway and you straighten up. You reset your body to that open, upright, positive, confident body language. You do this in your own home. You do this in your office. You do this when you go out to the break room, the conference room. I don’t think anybody’s going to be too suspicious of a Post-It note on a doorframe in an office.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re not going to snag it away on you.

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah. If they do, you just replace it because they keep on refilling that office supply container, don’t they? Or you put a little note there and you write on it ‘Do not remove’ and it will be there for like five years and people will go, “What is that thing?”

Pete Mockaitis
What the heck is this thing?

Jordan Harbinger
I don’t know. Don’t touch it though. It says ‘Do not remove thanks, MGMT,’ so the management obviously put it up there.

When you do that you start to reset your nonverbals. What this does is it trains you to reset throughout the day that open, upright, positive, confident body language. Within three to six weeks, you’re not going to need the Post-Its anymore. You’re going to have that nonverbal communication going all the time.

What this does, this is great, because then the next time you go to a meeting, a mixer, a conference or Starbucks, whatever it is, you have your body language and nonverbal communication set the right way.

When people form those first impressions of you based on that nonverbal communication, they start to treat you differently. When people start to treat us differently, we actually start to behave differently and there’s a lot of science, which I probably don’t need to go into that proves this. I don’t think that anybody would even argue with that anyway.

When we start to be treated differently and we start to behave differently, then essentially the core of who we are begins to change for the better. We start to behave as if we are indeed entitled to smiles and that coffee discount and-

Pete Mockaitis
You’re worth smiles, Jordan.

Jordan Harbinger
You’re worth smiles. You’re worth smiles. You’re worth people turning around and looking at us and actually being pleasantly surprised that somebody friendly walked in. You’re worth it.

That trains us to behave differently, which is a higher level of social status than we’re typically accustomed to. That’s powerful. It’s kind of like getting taller.

If I can commission a study, I would want to compare the social status equated with being tall or wealthy with the social status equated with high-value charismatic social behavior because there is science to this effect, not using the doorway drill of course, that shows that people who are outgoing, friendly, positive and confident, do enjoy higher levels of income, larger networks, more career satisfaction.

The idea that you can get that from Post-It notes is pretty powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
I was just going to say and it all starts with a hot pink tiny Post-It note.

Jordan Harbinger
That’s right. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. I love it because we had BJ Fogg on the show talking about tiny habits and that’s a potent tiny habit.

Jordan Harbinger
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
It takes mere seconds to do. We have a clear trigger. It has highly leveraged results flowing on the back end. That is a slam dunk. Thank you.

Jordan Harbinger
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me Jordan, any really top things you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Jordan Harbinger
I’ve actually – I love these little drills for networking and relationship development. I think relationships are the most important lever in business and me having had to restart my business in The Jordan Harbinger Show within the last six months, again, after doing my other show for 11 years and bringing this new show, The Jordan Harbinger Show, to 3.8 million downloads a month and already in the top 100, the relationships are what did it.

People go, “Well, you’re really good at what you do.” Thanks a lot, but really it’s the network. I want to just underline/highlight/emphasize the fact that relationship development is one of the most crucial skills that anyone can build. At the end of the show maybe we can plug some of the drills and exercises that I’ve developed similar to the doorway drill that will help with that and people can go and grab those.

But I want to highlight that because I think people put networking off until later. They’re like, “Oh well, I got a new boss right now and I’ve got to bust my tail for this. Then I’ll worry about networking,” or “I don’t need a new job right now. I’m really satisfied where I am, so I don’t really need to network inside my industry or outside it. I want to spend that time doing other things.”

I understand those arguments but they are erroneous because the problem is you cannot make up for lost time. When it comes to building relationships, you have to dig the well before you’re thirsty because at the time you eventually need that network, you are far too late. That’s a tough lesson to learn in real time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jordan Harbinger
Oh sure. Something that I find inspiring. I use to really love “Fortune favors the bold.” It sounds great in Latin. But that sort of sounds a little bit bro these days, so I’m going to share that quote with the caveat that what that really means … our earlier conversation is that people who ask for things that they want or they think they deserve are the ones that get them.

Seldom do things sort of flutter down and land in our lap. That’s usually the right place, the right time, a whole lot of luck. I really do like the idea that fortune favors the bold.

I think that Abraham Lincoln even had something like – or this is one of those internet quotes, where it’s totally not Abraham Lincoln, but it’s credited as him slash Mark Twain. But I think he said something like, “Good things come to those who wait, but it’s only what’s left over by those who hustle.”

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Jordan Harbinger
I love that one as well. It’s very similar.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Jordan Harbinger
Favorite book. Gosh, I read so much. But I really love Extreme Ownership, which of course is written by Jocko Willink, who’s a Navy SEAL. It’s full of these kinds of cool battle stores from Ramadi and Iraq. But really what extreme ownership is about is figuring out what part you’ve played and pretty much any failure or any problem.

If your team fails and your boss totally misled everyone and half the team quit and it was just you and one other person and that person got the black plague and had to stay home for two months and you’re the one that did all the work, you still look at what part you played and what you could do differently later.

Because externalizing blame or faults or anything is always, even if it’s 100% valid, like, “Look, we failed because I had to do this alone with no help.” “Okay, that’s the main reason why you failed. The other reason is, well you decided that it was going to be impossible six months ago, so you kind of resigned yourself to failure.” “Well, yeah, but it was never going to work.” That doesn’t matter.

Extreme ownership means look all the way at every facet, all the way up and down the food chain and figure out what you could have done differently because if you don’t do that, then basically you didn’t learn anything other than woe is me.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. How about a favorite habit?

Jordan Harbinger
Favorite habit. Every day I wake up, and this is also in my networking drills that I’ll share later in the show, every day I wake up and I usually have an alarm for around 10 AM. I don’t wake up at 10 AM, FYI, I wake up around 5:30, but I have the alarm set for around 9 to 10 AM depending on what time zone I’m in.

I scroll all the way down to the bottom of my text messages and I text the five people – those are the texts where it’s like two years old, where it’s like, “Hey, where are we meeting for lunch?” and you’re at some conference in Washington, D.C. Those are people you haven’t spoken to since that lunch.

I’ll text them and I’ll say, “Hey, it’s been a long time. I hope this is still your number. This is Jordan Harbinger. I just wanted to check in. What are you working on lately? Where can I be of service? Would love to touch base with you,” something along those lines. You make sure you sign your name, so that you avoid new phone, who dis.

You also say no response necessary if you’re really busy. That actually increases your response rate by about 30% from about 40-something to 70-something. The reason is because then – when people build urgency because they’re trying to sell something it’s usually like, “Contact me right away,” so of course when you get a text like that you’re thinking, “Wait, I haven’t talked with Pete for like two years. Is it Herbalife or is it Scientology? What is this going to be?”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s ….

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, right. But if someone says, “Hey, look, I know you might be really busy so no urgency. You don’t have to get back to me if you don’t have time.” People are like, oh well, clearly this isn’t somebody trying to be like “Once in a lifetime urgent opportunity.” It’s like, “Hey, look, get back to me if you want.” People usually go, “All right, this is a social thing,” so they’ll do it.

I do this pretty much every day. Some people don’t reply and other people do. You end up with the craziest opportunities. You’ll reengage a couple of people, nothing will happen.

But then once a week, twice a week someone will say, “Hey, Jordan, it’s funny you texted me because I’m about to walk into a meeting where we’re going to decide on our speakers for this year’s annual corporate retreat. Do you speak? Would you be down to do that? It’s in Hawaii. It’s not a bad deal. The fee is really low, but we’ll pay you to go out there.” You go, “Sure, yeah, I’d love to do that.”

Let me tell you, I’ve gotten some crazy opportunities as a result, including literally trips to Hawaii to go speak at corporate retreats because that person just happened to get that text the morning before the meeting. I guarantee you they were not thinking of me as a candidate for that before they walked in the door and before that text came in.

It’s a number’s game. It costs you nothing. Half the time you’re at an airport gate, at Starbucks, taking a break, lounging, waiting for your coffee machine to finish pouring something. We’re talking minutes per day.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that take, especially the non-urgent piece. It reminds me of the one time I sent a low importance email and I got a ton of replies. It’s like “What exactly is this low importance message? I’m very intrigued.”

Jordan Harbinger
That’s funny.

Pete Mockaitis
So good. Jordan, tell me do you have a final challenge or call to action or if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them to?

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, a lot of the drills that I’m talking about, so the texting, reengagement stuff, the doorway drill that I mentioned, I’ve got dozens of these and I give them away for free at AdvancedHumanDynamics.com/LevelOne, AdvancedHumanDynamics.com/LevelOne or if you just go to The Jordan Harbinger Show on any podcast app, you can hear me talk with brilliant people.

But level one will teach you a lot of this amazing stuff. It will change your life. It’s all free, just to be super clear. It’s not something I’m selling.

These are the habits I wish I had like 15 years ago because I started doing them about 10 years ago and I just think the amount that I got, the benefit I got from doing this for so long has been so enormous that any day that I didn’t do this, it’s kind of like dang.

I highly encourage people to do this now because it doesn’t matter where you are in your career, whether you’re new or this is something you’ve been doing for a while. There’s a lot here. I teach the same stuff to military, intelligence agencies, corporations and I’m giving a lot of it away there at AdvancedHumanDynamics.com/LevelOne.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Jordan, thank you for that and taking the time. This has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you and The Jordan Harbinger Show all the luck in the world.

Jordan Harbinger
Thanks Pete, I appreciate it.

295: The Value of Awkwardness with Melissa Dahl

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Melissa Dahl discusses embracing awkward moments and turning them into valuable learning experiences.

You’ll Learn:

  1. When self-consciousness can be helpful
  2. A quick exercise to instantly make you feel less self-conscious
  3. How to effectively navigate an awkward conversation

About Melissa

Melissa Dahl is a senior editor at New York Magazine’s The Cut, where she leads the health and psychology coverage. In 2014, she helped launch Science of Us, NYMag’s popular social science website. Her writing interests include personality, emotions, and mental health. Outside of New York Magazine, Melissa’s byline has appeared in Elle, Parents, and the New York Times.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Melissa Dahl Interview Transcript

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

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’re going to have a whole lot of fun in this conversation. I think we both had our fair share of awkward moments. Could you tell us a little bit about a time you once ran into a light pole?

Melissa Dahl
Oh my gosh, you heard about that too. Yeah, okay.

This happened a few years ago. I am very much not a morning person, but sometimes I kind of like to pretend to be one. I was meeting my friend, Marie, for like a 6 AM jog on the East River. We had just started and I do not know how it happened, but I like ran straight into a pole, like a light pole. To this day I have no idea how it happened.

I write about this in the book and how you’re instinct when these sorts of things happen is to just play it off and say, “Oh, I’m fine. I’m fine. It was fine,” even if you’re like really, really hurt.

The funny – we can kind of get into this later I guess, but the funny thing about that was I didn’t tell my friend Marie I was putting that in the book. When she got to it because I gave her an early copy, she was like, “Oh, I mean I kind of remember that, but I don’t remember it in this much detail,” so yeah, it didn’t have as much of an impact on her as it did on me.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I guess emotionally in the memory and physically.

Melissa Dahl
Physically. Oh my gosh.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh mercy. Yes, that is an illustration of an important principle that we’re going to get to. But maybe you can orient us first and foremost, so your book, Cringe Worthy, what’s it all about?

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, so the book is about – so I am a senior editor at The Cut, where I cover – which is a New York magazine website. I cover health and psychology there. I’ve written about psychology for a long time. I’m really interested in emotions, kind of relationships, how we understand ourselves, how we understand each other.

This book is sort of an outgrowth of that I wanted to understand the feeling of awkwardness, which is something that, I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot.

What I’ve always really liked about my job is it’s like almost like highbrow self-help. I’m reading these academic studies and there’s some kind of just nugget in there of “Oh, I could apply this to my life and it’s going to make me better at this or it’s going to make relationships go more smoothly,” or something like that.  I just kind of couldn’t find anything that applied to awkwardness.

That’s what the book kind of is, just me trying to understand this feeling and what the purpose of it might be. I actually have to tell you, it started as a book about how to avoid awkwardness, how to kind of overcome it and protect from ever feeling this way. By the end, I kind of came to really like this weird little emotion.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. First of all, for those who are curious or intrigued, what’s there to like about it Melissa?

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, a few things l think. One of the things is – the subtitle of the book is A Theory of Awkwardness. My sort of major theory is I think that awkward moments happen when the version of yourself you’re trying to present to the world is shown to be incompatible with reality in some way.

I would like to present to the world that I am not the kind of person who runs into lamp poles and then I do. Or a good recent example of this is at the Winter Olympics a couple of months ago, there was this picture that went around of a – I think she was a Russian athlete – wearing a shirt that said something like, ‘I don’t do doping,’ or something like that. Then it turned out she failed a drug test.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, bugger.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah. I remember someone at my job put that into the chat and just wrote ‘awkward’ on it.

I think it kind of shows you that there’s a gap sometimes between the version of yourself you’re trying to present to the world and the version of yourself the world is actually kind of seeing.

If that’s true, then I think one good thing about these kinds of moments is that it kind of maybe shows us some places where we need improvement if we’re open to it. It’s going to show us some places where we can grow. That’s sort of my main theory of awkwardness.

But the other aspect of it is that I came to really love is these moments feel isolating, it feels like you’re the only one who just feels like an embarrassing idiot, but of course we all feel this way. If we are a little more open about it, it’s a way to kind of connect with people.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh that is good. Well, I want to follow up on a couple of those points there. First you say that the awkwardness happens when there’s a mismatch between sort of your self-perception or the version of yourself that you have in mind versus what is picked up by others.

Would you say that this is a mismatch in sort of the net disappointing direction, like, “I think of myself as someone who doesn’t dope and yet, here I am being found out as someone as dopes,” but can it happen in the opposite as well, like, “I think of myself as just sort of like a normal guy, but then people are telling me that I’m a genius.” Does that also feel awkward?

Melissa Dahl
I actually sort of think – I think we certainly think of it more in the negative direction. If you think you were having a pretty good hair day and then you see a picture of yourself and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, actually my hair was super greasy or something like that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and no one told me. That’s happened before. It’s like, “We were talking for more than an hour, you didn’t think that this worth a mention?”

Melissa Dahl
Exactly. I think it’s typically in that direction. I don’t know.

I sometimes think it might be – I think we feel weird whenever – I think we feel unsettled a little bit whenever we realize the self you’re trying to present to the world is not the way other people are seeing you.

There’s a story I read about in a book. It’s anthropologist story from the late ‘60s. He went to this tribe in Papua New Guinea. He had reason to believe that these folks had never seen their reflections, that they’d never seen a photographic image of themselves. They’ve never seen themselves in a mirror.

He kind of came and his arrival changed all that. He brought mirrors, he brought Polaroid cameras, he brought tape recorders. As he writes it – he wrote this report about it later – they all just kind of cowered and kind of just like clenched their stomachs, and kind of gritted their teeth. I think you could say they cringed. They cringed at the way they looked, at the way they sounded.

I’m not sure we can say they all thought like, “Oh, I’m uglier than I thought,” but just like oh, there’s just something existentially weird about thinking there is the you that exists in your own head and there’s the you running around out there who other people actually see and that those are often the same, but sometimes they’re not. Yeah, I think that’s kind of a part of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s true I guess. It would be unusual if all of those villagers were disappointed.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Because I guess some of them would probably be surprised like, “Oh, I’ve got some good muscles.”

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s paying off all that work I’ve been doing.

Melissa Dahl
Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, I just think there’s something strange about the fact – confronting the fact that – I don’t know, you don’t just exist in your head that other people see you maybe a little differently than you see yourself. It’s just a little strange to reckon with even if it is in a positive direction.

Pete Mockaitis
It is strange to reckon with. One thing I find strange to have a hard time reckoning with is when you’re in the midst of a situation and someone actually explicitly says the word, “Awkward.”

Melissa Dahl
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s up with that? Any research insights on that one?

Melissa Dahl
Oh my gosh, I know. That was such a thing when I was in college. Oh my gosh.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m glad it’s died down a little bit. I don’t hear it as much anymore.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, I know. I feel like it’s kind of migrated to people like my mother now says it a lot, although she might just say it because I wrote this book.

I think that term kind of has become kind of a cliché and almost kind of annoying. But I think that it’s – what it was supposed to be, what it was intended for actually helped a lot. I think there’s something about calling attention to the awkwardness of a situation, but if you do it right, it can kind of diffuse it.

Your listeners want to be awesome at work, there’s a lot of awkward situations at work. You maybe have to give someone feedback and you don’t know how to say it or maybe you have to tell someone they didn’t get this promotion they put in for.

I think sometimes it can help kind of cushion the blow a little bit or make it a little bit less uncomfortable if you just kind of acknowledge this is going to be a little hard to hear, this is going to be a little uncomfortable, maybe even this is going to be a little awkward. I think that’s where it came from a good place, but the awkward thing worked into something very annoying, so don’t do that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. I like that because I think if you just sort of declare in advance, “Hey, this is what’s going on,” that really can be helpful as opposed to just saying, “Awkward.” It’s like, “Ah, shut up.”

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, don’t do that. That’s annoying, but the impulse makes sense. I think the impulse is a good one, so kind of digging that out of the annoying

Pete Mockaitis
That is good. Thank you. I also want to hear a little bit about the awkwardness vortex turn of a phrase. What does this mean?

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, so this is something I discovered in the research. There is all this psychological research linking nervousness and self-consciousness. Basically if you are nervous, you become more self-conscious. If you are self-conscious, you become nervous. The two kind of exacerbate each other and it goes round and round and round. I called this the awkwardness vortex.

It’s the kind of thing where if you’re going in for a job interview and you sit down and suddenly you can’t remember like, “Wait, what am I supposed to do with my legs? Should I cross my legs? Should I cross them to the side? Should I go to the other side? Should I just not cross them? What should I do?”

You’re nervous, so you’re kind of like zeroing in on your body, like “What am I doing? What is my arm doing?” Then focusing in on yourself makes you more nervous and it just goes around and around and around. Yeah, that is the awkwardness vortex.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. That’s intriguing. Can you give us a couple more examples of how that can play out and sort of if you find yourself emerging or beginning to enter that, how do you escape?

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, well another example because it’s kind of a pop culture example, but – it’s like a silly example – but it’s in one of the Austin Powers’ movies. I think it’s like the third one, which is not a good movie. But there’s a part where there’s like a spy or a character or something who has a really big mole on his face.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yes.

Melissa Dahl
And Austin is trying to say anything but calling attention to the mole. Then it just kind of comes out, like, “Oh mole, mole.” It’s a funny scene.

But I think that sort of could be applicable here. If you’re trying so hard not to offend somebody, but then all you can think about is what you’re saying, what you’re doing, and how that might offending them, and then that’s making you nervous you’re going to offend them. It’s just that link between nervousness and self-consciousness is a really established thing in the literature.

The good thing is because it’s so established, the folks who study this say that there is a pretty clear way out, which is if self-consciousness is part of the thing that triggers this, the way out of the awkwardness vortex is to focus on anything but yourself. Just focus on trying to get to know the person in front of you.

To go back to the job interview example, maybe do some work beforehand and think like, “Okay, these are the three things about myself I’m going to get across in this interview.” Just focusing on anything but yourself, calling attention to the weather, calling attention to, I don’t know, some third party thing, that should help.

Pete Mockaitis
That is good. That notion of fixating on what not to say causing problems just reminds me of a scene in The Simpsons where Principal Skinner is addressing the student body. He doesn’t know what to say regarding girls and math. He’s just trying so hard not to say the wrong thing and he just breaks down and says, “Tell me what you want me to say.”

Melissa Dahl
Oh my gosh, yeah. I think that – this is kind of a lot what I was writing about. The book is kind of aimed at people who are acting in good faith, who don’t – that chapter about the awkwardness vortex is people who don’t want to offend someone, not in a politically correct way, but just don’t want to be offensive. They’re people who want to be kind and make other people feel respected and welcome.

Sometimes I think focusing so hard on that, it just causes us to clam up and get more nervous and get more self-conscious. Part of this is kind of just taking a few steps back and not doing in so hard on yourself. It really helps.

Pete Mockaitis
You say we have good reason to feel less self-conscious. Can you unpack that a little bit, if you’ve got a handy exercise?

Melissa Dahl
Well, a really interesting thing about self-consciousness that the psychologists who study this say that it doesn’t exist to torture you. The point of self-consciousness is to help you learn.

A baseball player or something who is working on his swing he has to be – or someone who’s learning to play a sport like tennis or something like that. That’s maybe a better analogy. You are being pretty self-consciousness. You’re zeroing in on your actions, on your body, and that’s a good thing. That’s what you have to do to learn.

That’s actually helped me too to talk about kind of why we feel self-conscious. It’s there to torture me. It’s there for a purpose.

But that said, ways to not let it completely run your life, one of them is the focusing on other people. Then the other thing is just realizing that nobody else is as self-conscious of yourself as you are.

No one else is as focused on you as you are, which I know we all know in our heads, but you forget that when you’ve done something really silly. You think everyone’s looking, everyone’s – like the example with the lamp post. My friend didn’t even really remember that. She kind of did, but not really.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Now you suggest an exercise right in terms of really kind of checking that out with a best friend with regard to your awkward or embarrassing memories.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So can you unpack that a bit?

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, it’s kind of the same thing. It’s the opposite version of my friend Marie not remembering me crashing into a lamp post.

We’ve been friends for a long time and I kind of can’t – I’m trying to call to mind something embarrassing she’s done. She’s someone I see all the time. I know I’ve seen her do something or say something embarrassing, but I really can’t remember anything. Now I’m trying to think of my college best friend, like I’m sure I’ve seen her do a million dumb things. We’ve been friends for a really long time.

To me that’s a good exercise. Your brain will come up with some things if they’re funny stories or if you’ve repeated them a lot, but I think for the most part it’s pretty hard to remember something that – I don’t know, something dumb your coworker said last week that she might be still really punishing herself over, like, “Oh, I can’t believe I made that stupid joke in the meeting. I’m such an idiot.” I can’t remember any of that.

Yeah, trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and trying to call to mind an embarrassing thing someone else has done is a pretty good exercise.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Thank you. Now I’m curious, if we are going to enter into some territory that sounds like it could be awkward, you mentioned one pro tip is just sort of kind of setting the stage of the context and admitting what’s there, calling a spade a spade. Do you have any other perspectives on what is the optimal way to go forward into a conversation you perceive as likely to be awkward?

Melissa Dahl
Okay, so I have a chapter in my book about awkwardness at work. One kind of like underrated awkward thing at work is friendships. We work with people but we’re also friends with them. We’re kind of playing these two roles with them.

I don’t about you, but I’ve certainly been in plenty of situations where I’m friends with my co-worker but also she is not pulling her weight. I don’t know what to do. I feel like I need to – I don’t know how to have that conversation.

Or something like – this is a real thing that happened to a friend of mine. Her coworker just disappears to go to the gym for a couple hours in the afternoon and she has to cover for the coworker and it’s really starting to make her mad. I think work friendships is a place where it can be pretty awkward.

Talking about how to deal with it. I think one thing that helps – I think sometimes awkwardness can come from a feeling of uncertainty. I don’t know what to say next. I don’t know what to do next. That’s such a common thing when you’re feeling awkward.

To use this example of a problem with a friend at work, the best thing you can do to cut through that discomfort I think is just to be as direct as possible, just as straightforward as possible, which can feel uncomfortable, but it’s actually I think the kindest thing to do. You can say it in a kind way, but it’s better to just say it to your friend that “You’re doing this. It makes me feel this way and you’ve got to knock it off.”

I think that straightforwardness and directness can help cut through some of the awkwardness actually. I think we think that the answer is to kind of dance around a subject and like, “Oh, I can’t say that. I can’t say that directly. I can’t bring up this problem,” but I think it would be better if we all got up the guts to be a little bit more straightforward.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny. I think you’re dead on and it makes it more awkward when you’re dancing around it.

I remember one time I was coordinating this youth leadership seminar. It so happened that there was another group in the same facilities that I was familiar with. There was this dude who was like a hero to me that I had heard of from afar. I read his book. It was like, “Oh my gosh, that is Curtis Martin,” which means nothing to most people, but for me it was like well that guy is a big deal.

He’s in the room. Actually, me and my staff we all need to get in this room and sort of set things up because we’re going to have a bunch of students coming through here soon. I was like, “Oh my gosh, how do I boot almighty Curtis Martin out of this room.”

I remember I went in there. I felt super awkward. I was like, “Oh hi, so we – hi, I’m Pete and I’m a big fan. We have also a need-“ He was like, “Oh, you need the room?” I was like, “Yes, please.”

Melissa Dahl
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It was merciful that he directly said what was there. I think that’s a good move. I guess there’s a fear associated with going there like they’ll be offended or they’ll lash back, or sort of terribly negative things will unfold if we say what we really think.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, but I think there’s a way to do it with kindness and I think that sometimes the simplest way is the best way to do it. Yeah, I think you kind of have to either – you either have to have the awkward conversation, you have to kind of be straightforward with the person or you just have to live with the thing that’s bothering if it’s a work situation especially, but probably in any situation.

Pete Mockaitis
That will do it. I’d love to hear what’s your verbiage that you settled upon for the gym situation or the friend/coworker not pulling the weight situation. Can we hear it? Flashback, you’re back there in the scene, what were the words you said?

Melissa Dahl
Yeah. Well the gym situation is a friend of mine.

The other person not pulling their weight, this was years ago before I went through my exercise in studying awkwardness. I didn’t say anything. I never said anything. Actually the resentment grew, and grew, and grew and I don’t consider this person a friend anymore, which I guess that sometimes happens with coworkers.

Looking back I have a really negative feeling about it. I think that I could have stopped that and we could have had a much better working relationship. That’s kind of an example of I just was afraid to have the conversation. I would tell everybody else, like, “I can’t believe I’m doing all the work,” but I never said it to this person. I’m sorry that I didn’t.

I write in the book about I kind of had a spotty track record of rising to the moment of awkwardness. There was a time I was a brand new manager and some folks had kind of complained to me about one of my direct reports. He’s kind of rude. He’s making more work for others. We’re having our weekly one-on-one and I literally had written down in my notes ‘address attitude’ and I didn’t do it. I didn’t know how to bring it up, so I didn’t do it.

I have fallen. I have not stood up in moments of awkwardness. It’s hard. It can be really hard. However, I think since kind of studying the heck out of this feeling I have kind of become less afraid of it.

This is pretty awkward at work I guess. We went through a reorg here last summer as I was kind of finishing up the book. All the sudden I didn’t know who my boss was, which is like a really embarrassing thing to have to admit because I kind of let it go on for a couple of weeks. It was like, “Um, like who is-?” like that Dr. Seuss book like, “Are you my mommy?”

But I just asked directly. I just went into my old boss’s office and I was like, “Hey, this is kind of weird, but are you still my boss? Is this other person my boss?” He was like, “Oh, yeah you should know that. Okay, here let me,” going through ….

I am just so a fan of being direct. The things you do that you think are saving you from awkwardness kind of just dig you in further sometimes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s kind of what’s connected for me in terms of we fear these negative outcomes if you go there directly, but there are other negative outcomes if you don’t with regard to one, you may have the resentment that resulted in the disruption of the relationship or two for the rude coworker with the bad attitude, if you never address that for him, I don’t know where he ended up, but-

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, I’m not doing him a favor in the long run.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, he could get fired.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And he’s broke because you didn’t go there. Not to heap the guilt on you Melissa.

Melissa Dahl
Right, right.

Pete Mockaitis
But yeah, negative outcomes can happen for not going on there that far exceed the negative outcomes that you fear for going there.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah. I also sometimes think we think we’re avoiding an awkward conversation because we’re trying to protect the other person’s feelings, but I think it’s more often we’re protecting ourselves. We don’t want to come off as a critical negative person.

If it’s a boss situation, you want to be the cool boss or whatever or you want to be the cool coworker, like, “I’m chill. It’s fine. Do whatever you want,” but I think it kinder in the long run to have those conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say cool boss I don’t know why I’m thinking about, what was it A.C. Slater or Will Riker, always backwards chair. “What’s up?”

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. That’s how I have my meetings, take a chair, turn it around backwards, “Hey, …”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you’re so cool.

Melissa Dahl
You want a cigarette?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh that is cool.

But that’s a great perspective when it comes to you’re protecting yourself as opposed to their feelings. In a way if you think about what we’d call a hero or a person who is really loving or generous, it’s a person who takes a personal risk for the benefit of another.

It’s like, you’re scared of what’s to come but you know that they’ll be enriched by you sharing it potentially if they receive it. They might just reject it. But there’s a chance of them really being enriched and there’s a risk of you suffering some kind of a consequence. It might be just an awkward feeling. It might be a damaged relationship or …. So in a way you going there makes you a hero.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah. I should say, it’s not like it’s guaranteed that these conversations will always go well. The person might not react well, but I think that you can only control what you can control.

But the other thing I kind of wanted to say is sometimes you’re on the receiving end of the awkwardness, someone is pointing out something about you won’t want to hear, someone is saying to you like, “Hey, I’ve been doing all your work for you the last three weeks or something.” You’re like, “Wait, that’s because I was – that’s because of this, that’s because of that.”

I think when we’re in that situation our natural reaction is to be pretty defensive. I think if, as I kind of think awkwardness comes from, in part at least, from that gap between how you see yourself and how others see you, this is an example of that that someone is showing you, like “I see you in this pretty unflattering light.”

It’s our natural reaction to kind of push that out, but I think it’s really useful sometimes to kind of sit there in the awkwardness and hear what the other person has to say about you. It’s not always necessarily true, but sometimes it is. Sometimes other people’s perspectives about you are worth hearing because other people can see parts of us that we can’t really see. That’s the other side of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. Do you have any pro tips if you’re feeling defensive, you’re hearing something, you don’t like it, you’re getting those defensive vibes bubbling up inside, what’s the best practice?

Melissa Dahl
All I can think is – something that helps is maybe kind of to take a third person perspective almost of the situation or just kind of distance yourself from the situation a little bit it helps, just think, “Okay, this is what this person thinks of me. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. It doesn’t even mean it’s necessarily true, but this is one opinion of me. This is one viewpoint on me. Let me see if I can look at this, step outside of myself and look at this from their perspective and kind of try to evaluate it subjectively.”

Trying to kind of tap into a cooler mindset rather than the kind of heated response I think helps. Then just to me kind of having a mindset of, “This could help me grow. This could help me become a better person. If what this person is telling me is true and if it is something I can improve on then thank God they told me.”

Like the direct report I had who was pretty rude to people around the office, he was a nice guy. I’m sure he wasn’t doing it on purpose.

If I had had that conversation with him, I would hope he could have just let that in and let that perspective of himself in and let it clash with how he sees himself, I don’t know, and maybe use that perspective and use that feedback to maybe become a little closer towards that person he thinks he is or you think you are to turn it back to you. Anyway, I hope that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is good. Certainly to focus in on like, “I don’t like this. I think this is bullcrap,” etcetera to, “There might be something worthwhile within this to facilitate my growth and so I will receive it.”

That third-person perspective sounds handy. Then maybe even just spending some time with it after the fact in terms of, “I thought that was outrageous. They don’t have the right context for it, but this huh. I’ve never heard that before.”

Melissa Dahl
Yeah. It’s sort of back to the analogy of having a picture taken of you where you look really unfamiliar to yourself. It’s true that maybe it did catch you at a bad angle or it’s just a weird look on your face or something, but it shows you a side of yourself you couldn’t see.

You don’t have to take it and be like, “Oh that’s me. I always have that weird look on my face,” or, “My hair’s always doing something weird.” But sometimes I think it’s good to see those unflattering aspects of yourself that you can’t really see on your own.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. Tell me, Melissa, anything else you really want to make sure to cover before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things.

Melissa Dahl
Let’s see. I guess maybe just kind of going back to the part about how these moments can help us connect with each other. I did Jordan Harbinger’s podcast. He also had a story about running into a lamp post, which was like, “Wait, what?” I was so surprised to hear that.

What I have come to really love about these moments is if we look at it in the right light, it’s like these little moments where a very real, vulnerable part of you can connect with a very real vulnerable part of somebody else.

As I’ve done interviews and stuff, people have kind of broken in with their own stories like, “Oh my gosh, that reminds me of this time. That reminds me of that time.” There is something very cool about this little feeling and these little moments that just – they have the power to kind of connect us in a way that I didn’t really appreciate before I started working on this.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Melissa Dahl
I don’t know if this qualifies as a favorite quote, but something I keep returning too lately is ‘constant vigilance’ from Harry Potter, which is the Mad-Eye Moody says this. It’s about keeping on guard against the Death Eaters or something like that.

But I’ve just been thinking about that in terms of I’m trying to get back into shape. The only way to do it is – I think the way I’m interpreting that quote is the only way to do something really is the hard way if you want to do it well.

I’m trying to get back into shape and I’ve just kind of been halfheartedly doing some workouts. I’ve had this quote in mind. It’s kind of helped – this is so stupid, but it’s kind of helped me stick to – yeah, I have to stick to this workout plan. I said I was going to run three miles today; I’m going to run three miles today.

Just the idea of – I think it says to me that little efforts made every single day add up to something. It’s the constant work that adds up to big results, which is not what it means in the book, but that’s what it means in my head right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Well great. Thank you. But how about a favorite study or experiment or piece of research?

Melissa Dahl
Oh my gosh, I have so many of these.

One of them, this is a good one to really what we’ve been talking about. In my work I have covered, I don’t know, hundreds of studies or something like that. Most of them just kind of leave my brain the second the story is done, but this one has stayed with me.

There’s this cool study by a Harvard Business School professor. You might have heard about this. People talk about this one.

Basically, you can do this very cool magic trick if you’re feeling nervous. Basically if you tell yourself you’re actually feeling excited, that is supposed to help you perform better because the theory kind of goes that to your body nervousness feels the same as excitement.

Your blood is pumping. Your heart is racing. That’s just your body knowing that you’ve got something big you’ve got to do. Your body’s like, “Here we go. Here. Here’s all this extra energy. We’re ready. We’re ready.”

If you interpret it as nervousness, it can make you kind of screw up on the thing you’re about to do, but if you interpret it as excitement, it’s supposed to help. I have thought about that so many times since I read that study five years ago. I find it so helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Think you. How about a favorite book?

Melissa Dahl
There’s so many books. Let’s see. Okay, I don’t know if this is a favorite book – I don’t even know if I have a one singular favorite book right now, but maybe it’s this. I don’t know. Something I return to again and again is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It’s a classic. It’s the kind of thing I’ve just pressed on all my writer friends over the years. That’s how I found it. An older writer friend at a newspaper I worked at was like, “Here you go. Read this.”

It’s writing advice, but it’s also just kind of wisdom and advice for life. Just reading that book – I’ve reread it so many times. It has such … advice for writing. She has the idea of the shitty first draft, which is just like letting yourself write the bad version of the thing and you have to do that before you get to the good version of it. It’s just a wonderful, wonderful book, especially if you’re a writer.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. How about a favorite tool?

Melissa Dahl
I guess maybe we could say Slack. We use that at my work. A lot of people are using it now. There’s ups and downs, but I think it’s helped make work feel a little more fun. It’s helped make my team feel more like a community or something. We’re just chatting all day and it’s helped us get to know each other better. Yeah, I guess I’ll say Slack, although sometimes it’s annoying too, but for the most part it’s good.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. How about a favorite habit.

Melissa Dahl
I think that there really is something to the making your bed everyday thing. I’d actually love to do some kind of psychological analysis of that of maybe it’s sort of easy to do, but it’s something that you do in the morning and it really does just kind of set your day. It just kind of organizes things right away.

That one and writing my to-do list for tomorrow at the end of the previous day. I love doing that. That’s probably better than the make your bed thing because I don’t even do that every day. I want to switch my answer to that.

Writing your to-do list for the next day at the end of the previous day is so helpful because then you wake up and you just are like, “Oh yeah, these are my priorities today.” You can just jump right into that. That’s really helped.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you do that at the end of the workday or at the end of the ‘I’m about to fall asleep’ day?

Melissa Dahl
I do it at the end of the work day, but I recently read about some study. It was a pretty small study, but interesting though. It claimed that it helped people fall asleep faster if you write your to-do list right before you go to sleep.

I don’t know. I feel like there probably is some truth to that. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to sleep and my mind is just going over like, “Oh, I have to do this. I have to do this. I have to do that. Don’t forget that.” Right now I do it at the end of the workday, but maybe I should try moving that back a few hours.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m intrigued because in some ways – I can see if you’re ruminating, that’s great to stop that and relax. But I think for me, if I brought my attention to that which tomorrow holds, I would start getting excited and fired up and the opposite of sleepy. I’d be like, “Oh yeah, these are the things I get to do tomorrow.” I don’t know.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, I can see that too. I can see that too.

I’ve tried it a couple times and I don’t know. Maybe it’s only applicable if you like me are constantly going through your to-do list in your head when you’re falling asleep. The times I’ve tried it there is something nice to just being like, “Oh, you know what? I’ve already got that. I don’t have to worry about that. I’ve already got it. Calm down.” Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, they quote you back to yourself frequently?

Melissa Dahl
There’s a couple lines in the book people seem to like. There’s one – it’s just a throwaway line my editor actually wanted to cut, but it’s, “Being human is exhausting and embarrassing.” People have quoted that back to me.

Then there’s a line people seem to like that I also really like. It’s also from the book, which is, “The ridiculous in me honors the ridiculous in you,” which is kind of how I feel about these embarrassing moments.

Now when I see someone – I don’t know. Yesterday I saw someone fall over on the subway. She mistimed her getting up and I just felt this kind of sense of connection to this stranger, like, “Oh, you’re a dummy too just trying to make your way through the world.” People seem to like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. It’s funny, “The ridiculous in me,” acknowledges or greets, what is it?

Melissa Dahl
I think it said honors.

Pete Mockaitis
Honors. Yes. “Honors the ridiculousness in you.” I guess that – isn’t that what Namaste means? The light in me honors the light in you.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Sometimes I just end up saying Namaste for no reason. I think it’s because people have wet hands and they can’t shake my hand. I end up bowing and saying Namaste. I don’t know if that’s offensive to any hard core yoga lovers. Apologies.

Melissa Dahl
I’m sure it’s a nice sense of it.

Pete Mockaitis
It feels good and I mean it. Hey, I’m honoring them. We have a laugh because it is a little ridiculous. “No, I just have wet hands. There’s no need to revert to these practices.” Cool.

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

Melissa Dahl
Probably Twitter is the place I am at way too often. They can also buy my book. It’s called Cringe Worthy: A Theory of Awkwardness available on Amazon.com or wherever you buy books, had to put that in there. But, yeah, Twitter, I’m on it way too much, so if you say hello, I will definitely see you and say hello back.

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

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, I think that fear of awkwardness at work is something that holds people back from, “Oh, I can’t have that conversation with my coworker. It’s going to be too weird.” “I can’t ask my boss this thing that I should have figured out three weeks ago. It’s going to be too weird.”

Maybe your challenge is to think about the problem you’re having or a few problems you’re having at work and if the thing holding you back from solving it is just you’re afraid of it being a little awkward, push through that. You can do it. You can get through that.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Melissa, this has been a whole lot of fun.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, it’s been great.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you for taking time and-

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, thank you so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well good luck with the book and all you’re up to.

Melissa Dahl
Thank you. Thanks a lot.

267: Managing Self-Doubt to Tackle Bigger Challenges with Tara Mohr

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Tara Mohr offers deep insight into how our fears and inner critic operate–and how to optimally respond.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key drivers behind fear and self-doubt
  2. A handy Hebrew distinction for thinking about fear
  3. How to consult your inner critic–and inner mentor–wisely

About Tara

Tara Mohr is an expert on leadership and well-being. She helps people play bigger in sharing their voices and bringing forward their ideas in work and in life. Tara is the author of Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead, named a best book of the year by Apple’s iBooks and now in paperback. In the book, she shares her pioneering model for making the journey from playing small–being held back by fear and self-doubt–to playing big, taking bold action to pursue what you see as your callings.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Tara Mohr Interview Transcript

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

Tara Mohr

Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis

Now, I learned something fun what about you, which is that as a child your dreams were analyzed each morning with your parents along with breakfast. What’s the story here?

Tara Mohr

Yeah, I think I was very fortunate to grow up with a mom who was very interested in psychology and self-improvement, and believed she could start conversations about those things with me as a young child. And so, at a very young age she would say, “Did you have a dream last night?”, and then she would ask me about it and she would explain to me that the different characters in the dream could be different parts of myself, or they were symbols. And she would get out a yellow pad and we would diagram it, and she talked to me about architypes. And that’s how I grew up; that was just one example of how she brought the kind of conversation you have on this podcast. I was really lucky to grow up with that as an everyday matter in my house.

Pete Mockaitis

That is so cool. Tara, last night I dreamt that I got shot by a gun twice in different places. One was in just a value priced hotel, and the other was in my childhood home, recovering from the first gun shot.

Tara Mohr

Okay, that’s very interesting. We could really dive into that. And how did you feel in the dream after that?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I didn’t like it. Actually I woke up at 4:30 am against my will, and I was a little riled up. It took a while to calm down and fall back asleep.

Tara Mohr

Yeah. Have you ever heard the Buddhist phase “the second arrow”? Have you heard that?

Pete Mockaitis

Ooh, no. Tell me about it.

Tara Mohr

So it sounds very much related to what happened in your dream. So there’s this idea of, in life there are things that wound us, or there are feelings we have that are hurt, and that’s the first arrow. But then we often impose the second arrow of our reaction or the story that we make up about what happened, or the shame or guilt we have, or the self-judgments we have for having the feelings we have. So, that whole idea of being shot twice is interesting, and of course I would ask did something that hurt or wounded you, and then you went back in your literal childhood home or kind of in your family self? Was there something in the recovery process that wounded you further? That would be the first place I would look.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, nothing is leaping to mind, but I’ll definitely chew on that and see what happens as I explore, because we could spend a full conversation on that alone.

Tara Mohr

We could. And that’s actually dream interpretation, although part of my childhood is really not the center of my work now.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, tell us about your most recent book – Playing Big. What’s the main idea here and why is it important?

Tara Mohr

Yeah. Well, I found when I went into the working world, I had come out of graduate school, I had had the benefit of a good education, I was an academically-oriented and achievement-oriented person, and I was very surprised to find that I didn’t feel confident in those first years in the working world, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my ideas or my voice, and I also wasn’t really going for what I really wanted with my career. I was kind of in a job that was fine but not great, but didn’t really relate to the creative dreams or the entrepreneurial dreams that I had for myself.
And I was really curious about why I was getting so stuck around that. And then I knew I wanted to do work in the personal growth world, partly informed by how I grew up, and I got trained as a coach and I started coaching people just in the early mornings before I would go to work, or sometimes in the evenings, on the weekends, around my regular job. And I saw again and again actually at all stages of career my clients grappling with the same thing – self-doubt, not trusting their ideas and their voice, not really going for what they really wanted to do and believing there was some reason they couldn’t.
And I got really interested in this question of why do we play small and how can we play bigger? And my definition of playing big is it’s being more loyal to your dreams than your fears. So it’s whatever that means to you. It’s not necessarily anything that would look “big” in the eyes of the world, but you know it’s the real challenge, the real work for you to live that life or do that work. It’s an individual matter of discernment. And so I started to make that the focus of my coaching practice – how can people play bigger in that way, what are the tools and ideas that help us?
And I found there really were a set of things that made a transformational impact. And so that became kind of an arc that I would take my clients through, and then I started teaching large groups that all around the world, and then it became the topic of the book. And now for 10 years of really being immersed in working with people around defining what “playing big” means for them, and then most importantly doing the day-to-day practices and work to bring that vision into reality.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. Well, I like that simple distinction then – more so about your dreams than your fears. And it really kind of puts into focus in a hurry, in terms of what’s my thinking right now, the patterns, who’s sort of got the upper hand. And so, I’d love to get your view then, when it comes to these fears or lack of confidence and self-doubt, what are some of the key drivers behind it? Why is that there and what should be done about it?

Tara Mohr

Yeah. Well, I think that we all have a very strong safety instinct inside of us. And the safety instinct is a primal part of us that is a very deep part of our wiring to be on the lookout for any possible danger or threat, and make sure that we avoid it or we fight it, right? And our fight or flight instinct is there to make sure that if we see any possible risk to our survival, we go into fight or flight mode and we make sure we’re conquering in some way, or we’re avoiding.
And what we know now is that in our contemporary lives that same safety instinct gets misapplied to the emotional risks in our life. So, the safety instinct that should be very conservative and over-reactive if it’s trying to ensure the physical survival of people who are threatened by lots of predators or warring tribes or poisons, as our predecessors were – that instinct is now operating when we face everyday risks, like the risk of failure, the risk of feeling really uncomfortable, the risk of worrying.
We might feel like a beginner or feel clueless or be embarrassed or do something that really rocks the boat among our friends and family. And that safety instinct then tries to do everything it can to get us to stay in the comfort zone of the known or the familiar, and that includes making up a lot of narratives that feel believable but then aren’t true, like, “You aren’t qualified for that. Who do you think you are? You’re not enough of an expert in that. There’s too many other people doing that.” All those inner critic narratives we hear are really manifestations of the safety Instinct.
And the good news about that is it means that our inner critic is not going anywhere. And I know you have many listeners who are a little bit more in the earlier phases of their careers, and I think it’s so game-changing to understand early that confidence doesn’t actually come in an enduring way with experience.
There was just a study done through KPMG that looked at confidence levels among professional women, and they looked at how many women early in their career would say they’re confident, and then how many executive-level women, senior women, would say they feel confident in their work. And the difference between those two groups was only about 10%, in terms of how many indicated they were confident.
In other words, experience didn’t change it, because when you get into a new senior role – sure, you’re more confident about some things that you did a long time ago and you’ve been doing for a long time, but you have a new edge, and the voice of the inner critic and self-doubt comes up again because that safety instinct is perceiving more emotional risk, no matter what the situation. And so we’re really not looking to get rid of the inner critic or find some unfailing sense of confidence. The “playing big” process is in part about learning how do you hear your inner critic, let it be there, know it’s always going to be there when you’re doing important work, and just not take direction from it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, thank you. So that is powerful, to assimilate that really inside your psyche there. The inner critic, as you said, it doesn’t go away – the KPMG study is pointing to that. And in a way, that kind of unmasks everything.

Tara Mohr

It does. And there are so many lies we tell ourselves. We tell ourselves, “Well, when I get to this stage in my career, then I’m going to feel confident.” We also tell ourselves, “If I get that additional certification or degree, then these uncomfortable feelings of self-doubt or uncertainty or fear will go away.” We tell ourselves, “If my weight changes and it’s this amount, then I’m going to feel confident getting up and sharing my point of view in front of a group.”
We fill a lot of things into that blank, and what we’re really doing there is making it convenient for ourselves to put risks on hold, put playing bigger on hold, put really stepping into our gifts and using our natural talents and gifts more, which is actually a very vulnerable thing – put that on hold thinking something is going to come along that’s going to bring confidence. But it doesn’t. And what we want to do is really learn to work effectively, live effectively with the voice of self-doubt, letting it be there but not taking direction from it, not letting it make our decisions.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s so powerful. And so then the implication is that you’re going to feel some lack of confidence and some self-doubt till the day you die, right?

Tara Mohr

Hopefully, right? And I say “hopefully” because it comes up most strongly when you are on the edge of your comfort zone. So for those who might be sitting there right now thinking, “I don’t really hear my inner critic that much”, I would ask you two things. One – make sure you’re looking across all areas of your life, because sometimes people think, “I’ve kind of got it down at work”, but then they’ll realize, “Oh my gosh, in my dating life, or in my parenting, or my body image” or, “I’d love to play music again but I have that voice in my head saying…” So look across all areas of your life.
But second – notice where that lack of inner critic is just kind of a dead-end part of your life, where you are not pushing yourself to an edge, you’re not doing what really matters to you, you’re not being loyal to those dreams. The inner critic will come up when there’s vulnerability, and so if you’re doing something that is 100% in your comfort zone and routine to you and not very important to you, you might not hear it, but that’s not a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, I’m with you there. And so then, I also want to get your view – now, there’s a bit of a postponement factor – the way that the inner critic can sound, in terms of, “Hey, if this changes – if I lost the weight, if I got the certification, if I had a certain preparation – then I would feel confident.” And so now, for the most part that seems like that is often a lie. It is a deception that is destructive, but at the same time there are times in which no, you really are not prepared for that opportunity or that dream that you’re thinking about, and some action, some preparation is necessary to get there. So, I’d love your view on, how could we prudently discern the difference, and what’s a wise means of thinking through that, so that you get the valid prep steps done but you don’t delay yourself till it never happens?

Tara Mohr

Yeah, yeah, and it’s so funny that you are asking that specific question, because I just got off of our course call and we were exactly talking about this piece today. So there’s a few things I’d offer around that. One is, pay attention to the evidence that you’re getting from the world. Are you getting clear repeated information from the stakeholders that matter to you, that you need more preparation? In other words, maybe you want to offer a support group for moms, and you do a trial day where you invite a few moms in your community to come together, and you put together a great little program for them or whatever.
And then you hand out feedback forms and you notice there’s really a theme on the feedback forms, that people felt like they wanted more content or more expertise. And you hear again and again that your audience is asking for a different level of preparation and knowledge for you – okay, then you have some evidence. But most people never get to that stage of even asking their intended audience for information. They make up a story in their head and it’s usually a convenience story that allows them to hide a little bit that they need to do a lot more preparatory work. So that’s one piece – is it coming to you in real information and evidence from the outside world?
A second is, what’s the energy that you have or the beliefs that you have around that preparation? If you notice that in a very sort of joyful, light, abundant kind of energy you feel like, “I’m going to go learn more so I can do even more here, and this is going to be an enriching process for me” – that can be a great thing to follow. But if you notice that you’re feeling, “I don’t know enough until…” or, “There’s no way I could contribute any value until…” – the sort of like “This will complete me.” It’s like the equivalent of the romantic “He or she will complete me” feeling. Notice that, and that’s kind of a clue that you’re probably putting a story there that is more about fear than about the external thing itself.
And then a third thing I would offer is… A real issue in our culture is that we tend to put all the emphasis on expertise, and have a kind of cultural narrative that the people who contribute value around a topic are the “experts”. And that’s a view that’s really enforced by our educational system, reinforced by our educational system that says if you want to do something in X topic – if you want to do something around history – go get your degree in history. If you want to do something in serving kids, go get X degree. We’re looking for, what information do I need to absorb to be able to contribute value on that topic?
And that is certainly important, and you’re talking to someone who really values education and has a graduate degree and I believe it’s very important that we have those places to get expertise and we have experts in our culture. But on any given subject there are people contributing value as the expert. Let’s take for example breast cancer. So we have our experts who have PhDs in breast cancer treatment and prevention and rehabilitation and so on. And they’re playing a certain role.
But then we have other people – we have people who are survivors, who have different insights and a different sensibility and can contribute something different, in terms of sharing a message, inspiring people, improving upon services, innovating. The experts can never bring what they can bring.
And we have other people who I would call “cross-trainers”, who come from a completely different type of expertise – maybe they come from the design world or the business world or the activism world, and they can take their lens and their expertise and look at a new topic. And because they don’t have formal training in it and they’re bringing a fresh lens, they add value in a different way. And I think we really deemphasize those things.
So that’s another question when you’re discerning, as you’re asking, Pete – do I get more training? Part of it is, who do I want to be? Is my calling to be the expert on this, or is my calling to contribute value in a different way? And really we can’t discount how significant the value is that people contribute, who are coming from that cross-trainer or survivor perspective, not from the formal expert perspective.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, so much good stuff. Okay, so we’ve amassed a big lie, we’ve got a nice distinction here associated with, is preparation necessary, and some indicators how the inner critic can be a useful indicator, in terms of maybe pushing harder toward the edge. So, that’s a lot of great stuff. So now I’d like to zoom in sort of in the heat of battle. You’re trying to do some bigger things, and tell us, what are the particular fears that arise and your pro tips for responding to them?

Tara Mohr

Well, I’ll share a little bit about how I look at fear. And in the book I call this “a very old new way of looking at fear”, because I’m drawing here on two terms that are actually Old Testament, ancient Hebrew terms. These are two words that are used in the Old Testament to describe types of fear. And when I came across these I kind of fell off my chair, because I felt like they were so illustrative of what I was seeing with my coaching clients, but I had never heard about them before. So let me walk you through the two.
So the first word is “pahad”. And pahad is defined as the fear of projected things or imagined things. So this is when we imagine the worst case scenario of what could happen. It’s when we project the movie of how things might play out. And most of the fear that you and I and our friends and colleagues experience on a day-to-day basis is this, right? We are imagining a potential outcome and feeling afraid. It’s an anticipatory feeling; it is not usually about what’s happening right now, in this moment, but about what we fear could happen.
We know – not from the Old Testament but from all the biological and neuroscience research that has come since – that this kind of fear is generally over-reactive and misleading. We know for example that when we learn to fear a particular thing through conditioning – let’s say we get bitten badly by a dog and then the way the human response to that works is we learn to fear being bitten by a dog. We also know that we have a very generalizing response to that experience, so we won’t just become afraid of that dog; we might become afraid of dogs in general.
And in the foundational experiment that was done on this in the 1920s, they could actually see how by priming a baby to be afraid of a small white mouse… The baby initially was not afraid of the white mouse, but then they paired it with a very loud startling noise, and so then the baby started to associate the two and would see the mouse and would have a fear response. But then the baby also became afraid of a white rabbit and a white cotton ball and a man with a white beard.
This is what we’re also doing in our adult lives, right? Whether that’s you had one negative relationship experience and now you’re generalizing that a certain type of relationship or a certain type of person – you’re going to fear that. Or maybe you did something in one professional environment that was met with really painful feedback, and then you come to fear a whole set of associated things. So that associative quality of our fear response means that fear misleads us, because of course that white rabbit and the white beard and the cotton ball are harmless, as are many of the things we come to fear.
Another way fear misleads us is that we learn what to fear not just from our own experiences but also by watching what the people around us fear. And that of course happens in early childhood for a lot of us, and happens in problematic ways because many times the fears that those around us have are based on their own false stories. So all to say when we have pahad kind of fear, we do not want to believe it or let it be in charge; we need to know, “Okay, I’m in pahad, I’m in that anticipatory fear. It is probably not accurately guiding me and I want to shift myself out of it.” And you can do all kinds of practices, whether it’s calming your nervous system through meditation or shifting into another energy. I like whenever I’m afraid to just focus on, “What can I be curious about in this situation? What can I get really interested in?” Because if you’re in curiosity, you can’t simultaneously be in fear. So we always want to be looking at shifting out of pahad.
Okay, the second kind of fear that is mentioned in the Old Testament is something we really don’t talk about in our culture, and the word for that is yirah, is the ancient Hebrew word. And that has three definitions. Yirah is what we feel when we are inhabiting a larger space than we’re used to. It’s what we feel when we suddenly have more energy, when we come into possession of more energy than we normally have. So think about in your life, like what lights you up, what fills you with energy, your passions, using your gifts, telling your truth – whatever gives you that infusion of energy. That kind of exhilarated, scared feeling that can come with that – that’s yirah. And the third definition is this is what we feel in the presence of the sacred. So in fact when Moses is at the burning bush, yirah is the word used to describe how he feels when he’s at the burning bush.
So this was very significant for me to see as a coach and as a human being, because I understood that when I was working with people and they really told the truth about what they wanted, or they made a momentous decision that really resonated with the core of them, this was the feeling they felt. And it did include fear; it also had awe and exhilaration in it. And yirah is really different that pahad. We don’t need to shift out of yirah; we kind of need to learn to tolerate it and breathe into it and not find it such an electric infusion of energy that we block it or numb out or avoid the things that bring it. So that is the framework we use in the “playing big” model for working with fear.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, it’s so interesting when you say yirah, if I’m pronouncing it correctly. When you say “inhabiting a larger space”, this is kind of both literally and figuratively?

Tara Mohr

Exactly, exactly. So certainly when people step onto a bigger stage, speak to a bigger audience, maybe stand at the front of a bigger conference room, or whatever that might be. There’s literal spaces and then there’s the figurative, like I am reaching more people or I am being willing to take up more room. You can look at it that way as well.

Pete Mockaitis

That is so cool, because I really do find if I have a speaking engagement and I arrive there early, I actually love it. When I’m in the room and it’s completely empty but there are hundreds of seats there, there is a sensation – and now I’ve got a word for it, thank you – and I love it. It’s just so full of possibility. And it’s interesting you say “presence of the sacred” because it does often prompts me to pray – not because I’m terrified, but it’s just like there’s a bigness to it, and that’s just sort of a natural response for me. And that’s so cool and I think really eye-opening, because maybe my personality is I’m just like, “Oh yeah, I love that. Bring it on! I want some more of that in my life!” But you’re saying that for many of us, “Oh no, that’s just too big and I can’t even sort of abide there for very long without getting into maybe like a freak out type of sensation.”

Tara Mohr

Yeah, that’s what I find, that it’s both wonderful and it often feels wonderful when we’re in it, but there is a quality to it of, it’s a heightened state, it does take us out of our comfort zone a bit, it does have that component of fear or almost breathlessness in it. Sometimes it asks us to change, right? Like you could imagine that if you were in a different career and you were only doing speaking once a year or every 18 months and then you felt that feeling when you were speaking, when you were doing public speaking –that’s telling you something about your life and your career, which you may or may not want to hear at that point, because it might ask you to make some changes that require courage or trade-offs and so on. And so we do sometimes try and block the yirah or turn away from it.
I think also yirah, for a lot of people there’s kind of transcendence of the self that comes with it, and you may find when you’re doing that public speaking, you get into the zone, you get into flow state – you kind of lose the sense of Pete and you’re one with the words or you’re one with the audience. And then at the end it’s like, “Oh, where did I go? I went fully into that.” And that happens for a lot of people. The things that bring them yirah – they lose their normal sense of self while they’re doing them, and that’s that flow state, that kind of immersion, what Martin Seligman calls our “gratifications”. And that can be a little bit threatening to our ego sometimes, because our ego likes to be, “I’m Tara”, “I’m Pete”, “I’m in my mundane sense of self.” It doesn’t really like that transcendence of self, and so that could be another reason we resist it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Excellent, thank you. So then you say that’s kind of the different prescription then, in terms of with the projected things and fear. It’s a matter of, “Hey, slow it down, calm it down.” And with yirah the big stuff is being able to hold on for a bit.

Tara Mohr

Breathe into it, lean into it, notice what brings you it, pursue those things. Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So now thinking more a bit about self-doubt and it popping up – you say that confidence is not the prescription or the answer to self-doubt appearing. Tell us a little bit more about that, and what is?

Tara Mohr

Yeah. Well, just as we were talking about before – if confidence isn’t coming and if the inner critic is always going to be speaking up when we are on the edge of our comfort zone, we certainly don’t want to wait on confidence to do our most important work. And instead of looking for aiming for confidence, I believe we need a new relationship with our self-doubt. And so that has a couple of components. The first is being aware when you are hearing your inner critic.
For so many of us the inner critic is the background noise that we live with, it’s the music that has been playing in our head for a long time, we don’t even hear it anymore, it’s the water that we’re swimming in. It’s like, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve never been good at that kind of thing”, “Oh, those people over there are the ones who have it going on and I’m the outsider, “Oh, my body this and that” – whatever your inner critic lines are, many of them become just so habitual you don’t hear them anymore, or you hear them as those are true facts.
So step one here is starting to be able to notice and name your inner critic, so that in those moments you can say, “I’m hearing my inner critic right now.” Now, a lot of times that’s enough; it’s just like a mindfulness practice. That’s enough to let you go, “Oh, if I’m hearing my inner critic, then that’s certainly not the part of me I’m going to listen to.” But sometimes we do need a secondary tool, and there’s a whole range of things that can be effective – sometimes for people creating a character that personifies the inner critic so they can actually see, “Okay, my inner critic sounds like the perfect housewife”, or the stern old mean professor, and really getting a visual, so that when you are hearing your inner critic line you see it as coming from that character. And all of a sudden then there’s humor and you can have perspective on it.

Pete Mockaitis

What are some names that you’ve heard given to inner critics?

Tara Mohr

Oh gosh, all kinds of things. I feel like there was a year there where everywhere I would go and speak, the inner critic was always a Downton Abbey character. I’m trying to think of the name. The evil folks downstairs in Downton Abbey, and Harry Potter characters, and sometimes it’s a random name that comes to people and then I always have to hope there’s no one else in the class with that name. Sometimes they won’t write it down because it’s their colleague from down the hall and they don’t want that their worksheet from the program is seen by anyone later. So yeah, creating a character can be useful.
I really like using another tool, and I’ll share an example of how I used it for myself. When the Playing Big book was coming out, about six weeks before the publication date, I got an email from my editor at Penguin and she said, “Oh Tara, great news – we’ve piqued the interest of the editors of the Sunday Review section of the New York Times. They’d like you to write an essay based on Chapter 6 for their consideration for the Sunday Review.
So I see that and my mouth kind of fell open because I didn’t even know they were pitching them, or I had no idea that was even on the table. And my very first thoughts were, “Oh no, this is going to be a huge waste of time. I have an actual book launch to prepare for and a lot to do, and now I’m going to have to spend all this time writing this piece, which we know is never going to be published, because people who write for the Sunday Review section sound very grown-up and articulate in their writing, and Tara, you know you’ve never sounded that way.”
That was what the voice in my head said. And that voice and those thoughts pretty much stayed cycling that way for a few days. And then there were some other ones that got added in, like, “You can’t write about this for a co-ed audience because the book had been directed at women”, and, “There’s no way you can translate that chapter’s topics into an op-ed; it won’t make sense.” I had piling on every problem and excuse.
And on about the fourth day of this, somewhere there was a little graced thought that flew into my head that said, “You know, Tara, maybe that’s your inner critic talking.” Now, this is like a primary subject of the book that I had just written, but it took me four days because in our own minds the inner critic always sounds like truth. But on the fourth day… And that’s what I think we can get with practice – it might not be immediate but it didn’t take me six months at least. On the fourth day the voice said, “Maybe that’s the inner critic.” And of course internally my response was like, “No, no, no, it can’t be the inner critic. There’s no way you can pull off this piece. Your writing and your voice is just not mature enough.” But another voice said, “You know, this kind of sounds like an inner critic.”
And then I used this tool, which I love, which is to say, “Well, what does my safety instinct not like about this situation?” Because I know that my inner critic is always going to be a strategy of my safety Instinct. So, when I asked myself that question: “What does my safety instinct not like about this situation?”, the whole picture looked so different to me. I could suddenly see, “Wow, this is basically the worst nightmare of an emotional safety instinct”, because in one scenario here I’m going to write a piece that my editor thinks is not good and I’m worried she’s going to write back and be like, “It’s not good enough; I can’t pass it on”, and that’s going to be painful. Another scenario is the New York Times editors say that, and that will be painful because that will make me feel like I don’t measure up.
And even in the best case scenario, what’s my big reward? It’s that 3 million people are going to judge what I write and have opinions about it. And that’s scary for a part of us, for sure. And it can be especially, I would say, even more so often for women, because we are really socialized to not rock the boat and not do things that bring criticism. And I knew if I write an op-ed about some of these issues in the New York Times, they’re some controversial topics, there’s going to be a mixed reaction.
So then I could see, “Okay, I get it. I get what my safety instinct doesn’t like here.” And I’m going to lovingly parent that part of myself and say, “I get it. This feels really big and scary to you. We’re going to be okay. I’ve got this, and you’re allowed to be here with all these fears, but there’s another part of me that wants to be in charge here – the part that loves writing, that wants to get these ideas out, that likes taking a seat at the table in this way.” And that allowed me to proceed.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful, thank you. That’s a great illustration, and talking about the second arrow – coming full circle here. You’re beating yourself up maybe, associated with, “I’m supposed to be the expert on this and I can’t even…” There may be a risk of some self-judgment even when you’re trying to apply the tools and are aware of this wisdom here.

Tara Mohr

Yeah, and luckily I do. That part I feel very clear on, and I would offer that to people too, that I never have felt I need to be an expert on these things and be flawlessly playing big in my own life. I feel the opposite – I feel the only way I can stay interested in these topics and have something relevant to say about them is if I’m really grappling with them and I am compelled around these topics, because I’m a fellow traveler. And so I proudly use all these tools myself and always try and work my own playing big edges myself.

Pete Mockaitis

Awesome, thank you. Well, Tara, tell me – is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some your favorite things?

Tara Mohr

I do want to mention inner mentor for a minute, because I think that’s such an important topic, and it’s really kind of the antidote to the inner critic; it’s the other voice in us that we talk about a lot in Playing Big. And the idea with the inner mentor is that rather than always seeking external mentors and looking for that person out there that has the answers for you, you come into contact with a sense of your own older, wiser self. And so in the book we do a guided visualization, so you can meet yourself 20 years in the future.
And what people find is they don’t just meet their older self, they sort of meet their elder, wise self, their authentic self. And then you can really consult and dialogue with that part of you as a mentor. And it is absolutely the best mentor you will ever have – all its answers are customized for you, it is always available to you. And so, that’s just been such a powerful tool and I want to make sure people know about it, because I’ve watched it be really, really pivotal for so many people now.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s so interesting, and I’m right now imagining an older, wiser Pete with a cane, sitting on a log on an autumn day.

Tara Mohr

Well, we can do that right now. Yeah, so one thing that you are finding a
dilemma right now – just ask him for his perspective on it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. Well, so the silence there… Yeah, I was just thinking about, I just have a new baby. Yay! My first son.

Tara Mohr

Congratulations!

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you. And so, I’m just thinking about, what’s prudent, in terms of kind of growing business without spending crazy hours, in kind of a way that would be troublesome for a family living. And so, it was only a few seconds, but what I’m picking up is the notion that there’s no need to sprint, rush, rush, do more, is kind of a wisdom nugget I’m starting to unpack there.

Tara Mohr

Yeah, and it sounds like… So did he kind of give you a vibe or a perspective around this question that was a little different than what you were holding in your mind before?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, kind of, yes. Because my instinct is to, “Alright, strategize, let’s figure out what is our optimal point of leverage”, as opposed to having a bit more of a calm, spacious, patient view of the matter.

Tara Mohr

Yeah. So Pete, it sounds like you tapped in really quickly, which is wonderful. Even without doing a longer visualization you could just call up a picture of him and then connect with a voice that was different than that of your everyday thinking, and that’s exactly it. And usually that inner mentor voice is more spacious, it’s more calm, it’s more loving, and it does give us something really different. I can’t tell you how many times people will come with like, “I don’t know, is it A or B? Is it A or B? And I’m stuck between A or B.”
And they check in with their inner mentor for a second and there is a C option that comes that they didn’t perceive before, that feels really right and gives them kind of a new path forward. So, it’s an amazing tool and it sounds like you have it right there at your fingertips. For people who feel like they need a little more help or if you just want to have a deeper experience with that, there’s an audio that you can use and a written form also in the book. But it’s a great tool to tap into.

Pete Mockaitis

That is wonderful, and I’m glad you highlighted it before we moved on to the next phase. And it’s so funny, I’m tempted – you tell me, is this a good idea or a bad idea – when it comes to the visualization, one of my knee-jerk reactions was, “Oh, I bet there is a website where I can put a photo of myself and see what I look like when I’m old.” And it was like, “Hm, on the one hand that could be interesting and help bring about a picture, but on the other hand, maybe I won’t like the picture.”

Tara Mohr

Yeah. I would say, let your subconscious mind do it because it’s sort of going back to our dream conversation – you’re going to see where this person lives, how they live, how they carry themselves. You want your right brain and your intuition to bring all that to you, rather than some computer-generated literal thing. So yeah, I’d say let your mind’s eye dream it up.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Tara Mohr

Oh, sure. Well, one of my favorite quotes comes from Marianne Williamson, and it is, “Ask to be a representative of love.” So, in any situation that you’re feeling stressed about… And I have used this in professional situations, including before I was an entrepreneur – very traditional professional situations – with amazing success and results, like going into a tense meeting where there was a lot of conflict and my prayer and inner intention was, I want to be a representative of love in the room. And what that allowed me to do was get out of myself and my fear and my ego, and contribute so much more value and be such a more helpful, mature voice in the room. So that’s always for me like a mantra, a favorite quote, a favorite practice.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Tara Mohr

I have so many, but I just finished one that I think is outstanding and that your listeners will probably really enjoy. It’s called Einstein and the Rabbi. It’s by Rabbi Naomi Levy and it’s really a personal growth type book that is just very compelling and helpful.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours that helps you be awesome at your job?

Tara Mohr

One of my favorite habits is surrender, by which I mean remembering that I’m not supposed to figure it out all on my own. So when I’m feeling overwhelmed or unclear, I can very consciously say, “I don’t know. I don’t know what to do in this situation.” I physically open up my hands to the world, the greater space and say “Help!” And then I kind of go through my day with a sensitive listening for the insights and answers. And I find that that surrender and asking for help really changes everything.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Tara Mohr

I’m at TaraMohr.com. And the Playing Big book is available on Amazon and everywhere that books are sold.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Tara Mohr

I do. I would invite everyone to circle back to that idea we started our conversation with, and ask yourself are you being more loyal to your fears or your dreams? And what’s one thing you can do today to be more loyal to your dreams?

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, Tara, thank you so much for sharing this. I wish you lots and lots of luck in your coaching and your book and all the cool things you’re up to!

Tara Mohr

Thank you! Likewise.