Tag

Difficult Conversations Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

717: How Logical and Sensitive Professionals Work Best Together with Devora Zack

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Devora Zack says: "Work with rather than fight against your own natural personality."

Devora Zack shares approaches to understand a key personality trait–in yourself and others–so thinkers and feelers can thrive together at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to tell if you’re a cactus or a snowflake 
  2. The leadership style that harms motivation
  3. The platinum rule for giving feedback 

About Devora

Devora Zack is CEO of Only Connect Consulting, a Washington Post bestselling author, and a global keynote speaker with books in twenty languages. Her clients include Deloitte, the Smithsonian, Delta Airlines, the FDA, Johns Hopkins, and the National Institutes of Health. She has been featured by The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, US News & World Report, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Self, Redbook, Fast Company, and many others.

She is the author of Managing for People Who Hate Managing, Singletasking and her upcoming book is called The Cactus and the Snowflake at Work: How the Logical and Sensitive Can Thrive Side by Side, releasing November 2021. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors

Devora Zack Interview Transcript

Devora Zack
Thanks for having me back. It’s a pleasure to be with you again.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. Well, I’m excited to dig into your work here, The Cactus and Snowflake at Work. I’ve done a number of Myers-Briggs workshops in my day, and so I’m digging what you’re talking about. Can you maybe share with us what’s sort of overall the big idea or main thesis here?

Devora Zack
The big idea of this book is that some people lead with their heads and some people lead with their hearts, and they can really get on each other’s nerves. However, with the right set of tools and understanding of different personality styles, we can be each other’s best friends instead of worst enemies.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well-said. And so, can you maybe share with us, for starters, something that was particularly surprising or counterintuitive that you discovered in putting together this work?

Devora Zack
I’ve actually been really interested in this dimension of personality for many, many years, and, as you know, I’ve written a couple books that feature introversion and extroversion, and those are better known in the general culture than thinkers and feelers, so I really was excited to come out with a book with a different focus about thinkers and feelers. However, since those terms aren’t as well known, we decided to give the more playful terminology and called them cactus and snowflakes.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the cactus, being the thinker because they might be prickly or blunt, and the snowflake, the feeler, because they may have hurt feelings. Is that the premise here?

Devora Zack
I’ve identified three main distinctions between these two. The cactus, who leads with his head or her head, tends to be more logical, analytical, and direct. And the snowflake, who leads with his or her heart, tends to be more sensitive, empathetic, and diplomatic. One thing to keep in mind is that everyone has bits and pieces of both of them, so it’s not that there’s just two clear-cut types of personalities, but envision a continuum, a line where people are somewhere along the middle. A few people are at the far ends, but most of us can identify to a greater or lesser extent with both personality dichotomies.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. That totally resonates. And I guess I’m curious, if folks are in one camp and then the other, what might be some mistakes that they make, they don’t even know they’re making, like a straight up blind spot, like, “Oh, I had no idea that I have offended you in this way or overlooked this key thing”? What are some real watchouts that each type should look out for?

Devora Zack
Well, one watchout is to think that people are all basically the same. In fact, people are dramatically different from each other in terms of how we live in the world and how we experience the same situations and how we communicate. So, a mistake many of us make is that we tend to use what would motivate us to try and motivate others or to build rapport with us to use that on others when, in fact, often what would motivate you, if you’re a different personality style than me, is completely opposite of what I would be motivated by.

So, I introduced the big two in this book along with a bunch of other ideas and tips and techniques. The big two is to observe and ask to figure out what someone else’s preferences are, and then to calibrate your communication to meet others where they’re at.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when we’re observing, what are some of the key things we should be on the lookout for, some telltale signs that are helpful?

Devora Zack
One is the types of words people emphasize, the language people use, and I have a whole translation section in the book. However, at the most basic level, cacti tend to use the word “think” more often, and snowflakes tend to use the word “feel” more often. And in our English language, they’re mostly interchangeable. You can say, “Well, what do you think about that podcast?” “Oh, I felt like it was really interesting and enlightening.”

So, just listening, at the very beginning of learning how to flex your style, that’s what I call meeting people where they’re at, is to just notice and observe who uses “think” and uses “feel” more often, and then to match that language whenever possible. If you’re, let’s say, presenting to a large group, you can assume there’s cacti and snowflakes within the room, and you want to practice integrating both types of language into your presentation so that you can connect with as many people as possible.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really an interesting point there in terms of just the language itself, there’s, “I think this,” “I feel that,” because a lot of times when people say, “I feel this,” it’s not actually an emotion that they’re identifying. It’s like, “I feel like we’ve been spending a lot of money lately.” It’s like that’s not an emotion. That is a thought and, yet, if someone who, a cactus, who prefers thinking would be more likely to say, “I think we’ve been spending a lot of money lately,” versus the snowflake who prefers feeling would be more likely to say, “I feel like we’re spending a lot of money lately.” And that’s really intriguing that we’re expressing the exact same thing and yet there’s a clue as to how we may be oriented in and working with the world around us.

Devora Zack
That’s right. And that’s the tip of the iceberg. We can also look at how people decorate their homes or offices, and you can do that even if you’re Zooming or working remotely. You can also calibrate how you envision or experience a situation against how others do.
Another important concept that I introduced in this book is what I call the non-event. And what that means is that something that could be a big deal to me, if I’m a snowflake, might be a complete non-event to you as a cactus. So, we may walk out of a meeting and I may think, “Wow! Everybody sure fell apart in that meeting. We’re going to have to start from scratch.” And you might respond by saying, “What are you talking about? It was totally productive. It was fine.”

And it’s easy to be judgmental to each other around that and think that each other is wrong, or insensitive, or too sensitive, when, in fact, what one person picks up on may be completely a non-event to the other person as if it didn’t even happen. Similarly, if a cactus and a snowflake are walking along together, and one of them maybe ignores the other one for a few minutes, then one person could be really offended, and the other one was thinking, “What are you talking about? We were just walking quietly.”

So, non-events are very big deal to look out for in the world to figure out if you and other people are on the same wavelength.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s interesting. Thank you. And so then, I’m curious, let’s say you got a clear sense, “Okay. Hey, I’m clearly a cactus,” or, “I’m clearly a snowflake,” and then, “I’m interacting with someone who has a differing preference,” what are your favorite tips in terms of how to do that effectively?

Devora Zack
Well, the first step, even before that, if we can just rewind it a tiny bit, is to get to know and understand your own personality style. So, the book actually has a self-assessment in it so you can figure out not only if you’re primarily a cactus or a snowflake but how strong your preference is. And then it’s to work with rather than fight against your own natural personality. So, that’s the first step, is getting acquainted with yourself and having a level of acceptance with yourself.

Then, we get to the next point, which is what you were getting at, which is, “How do we communicate with each other?” And we aren’t always going to get it right, particularly because we may not know what personality style people have when we first meet them. However, by listening carefully, that’s a very useful tool in finding out where someone is coming from, and asking general questions and letting the other person decide how specific to get in their responses. That helps us in building rapport and also communicating with people that we may or may not know where they’re coming from.

That presupposes also that we are open to understanding and working with different types of people. It’s easy to say, “Oh, if you’re the opposite personality style of me, that we’re just going to aggravate each other.” However, we can be each other’s greatest resources because, let’s say, if I’m cactus and I’m very logical and analytical, and I work with you, and you might be more of a snowflake, and you’re more empathetic, we can give each other tips and help each other out in areas that we’re not gifted in by filling in the blanks for each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, can you share some cool stories and examples that bring this to life?

Devora Zack
Sure. Here’s one and it is “do good” versus “feel good” leadership. So, a lot of people who read my books are interested in how they can work with other people, particularly if they’re managing other people. And what’s tempting, as a leader, is to be what I call a “feel good” leader to just make people feel good and to say, “Oh, that was great. Keep up the good work. I’m so proud of you. Keep at it,” but, in fact, it’s also very helpful, and that’s more of a snowflake tendency.

What the cacti is more likely to do is what I call “do good” leadership, which is to say, “Well, you can do better than that. I know that you can achieve higher aspirations than what you’re settling for, and I know you can try harder.” So, a snowflake might initially be really put off by the fact that someone is telling them that they can do better and it’s not good enough. However, what’s interesting is that when I work with different groups, the “do good” leadership style actually motivates people more and makes them feel better than the “feel good” leadership style, which just says to people, “Oh, you’re fine. You’re fine as it is,” and then they don’t achieve their potential.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now that’s quite an insight right there, and I think those who are practicing the “feel good” approach will probably have a better resistance to making a switch because one that could be rather uncomfortable. Yet, the prize is twofold there. That’s pretty awesome in terms of not only are you getting better results but people are feeling better, like, “Hey, I did great work and I’m improving and I’m making cool stuff in the world.” So, that’s powerful.

So, can you underscore that a little bit for the skeptic or the resistant snowflake? What’s some of the most compelling evidence that really confirms, “Yeah, this is absolutely true, so go for it even though it’s uncomfortable”?

Devora Zack
What I do, when I’m working with people and I’m trying to convince them that there’s a lot of benefit to “do good” leadership, is I ask them to reflect upon an important and meaningful coach that they’ve had in their life, and it can be an actual coach like from a team, or it could be a leader, or a family member, or somebody that inspired them, and to write down traits of that coach, and how the coach inspired that person.

And more often than not, the lists are full of things like, “Pushed me harder than I’d been pushed before,” “Didn’t take half an effort for…” “Didn’t accept half an effort.” And they’ve soon discovered that the people that have made the biggest positive impact in their life have often been people that pushed them further than they thought they could go, which is a trait of “do good” leadership.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s beautiful. As you say this, I’m thinking right now about a high school English teacher, Judy Federmeyer, and how I was kind of accustomed to getting great grades all the time fairly easily. And then I think with our first writing assignment with her, I got like a B or a B+, I thought, “What’s going on? I’m not accustomed to such things.” And it was kind of unsettling in the moment but, boy, it was so valuable in terms of it’s like, “Oh, I actually need to exert some effort,” in so doing, my writing got a lot better. And so, I am forever grateful to Mrs. Federmeyer.

Devora Zack
Pete, I loved that you gave that example because my best coach was also my high school English teacher, Mr. James Killian.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome.

Devora Zack
And my first essay that came back covered in red ink was quite a blow. However, the fact that I could write books now, I give him all the credit.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Certainly, and it does feel good in terms of the growth in the moment, and then the long-term abilities that you have. And then my fondness for her, as you share, to this day. So, that’s beautiful. Cool. Well, so tell us, any other transformational tidbits along those lines in terms of, “You might think this but, in fact, here’s this other thing that’s true that you might want to get on board with”?

Devora Zack
Sure thing. So, another idea I have in the book is what I call “nay.” And it stands for “not about you.” So, whether you’re a cactus or snowflake, when you’re put off by another person’s behavior or language or style, is to think, “It’s not about me.” N-A-Y, “Not about you. Not about you.” Because we often tend to take other people’s personalities personally when, in fact, they just have different personalities than us.

And the more we can accept, once again, as I mentioned before, that we’re really different from each other and stop trying to correct other people, particularly in our own minds, the more effective we’ll be. So, if I want to improve the world, the best thing I can do is focus on myself and focus on the three things that I can control, which are my thoughts, words, and actions. And that’s it. I can only control what I say, do, and experience in the world.

And to this end, I encourage people to mind their own business. So often, when you hear, “Mind your own business,” it’s considered something kind of rude or impolite. However, it can be inspirational, too, that I don’t have to live outside of my own business. I don’t have to worry about other people achieving their potential by meeting me where I’m at, instead I can just always say, “It’s my responsibility to meet others where they’re at regardless of what our relationship is like, or if I report to them, or if they’re more senior than I am.” It’s to always just say, “I’m going to focus on my own thoughts, words, and actions and take responsibility for how I engage with others.”

Pete Mockaitis
I really like that “Not about you,” and sometimes it’s not about you even if they’re talking about you in certain occasions in terms of like just the mood, right? If folks are, I want to say, sometimes it’s lashing out. Or, if you’re in a mood, it can sort of color everything in terms of how you are communicating with other people and/or if you’re the cactus and have a certain bluntness, then it can be super helpful to remember, in the snowflake position, “Oh, I’m not horrible at my job. This person doesn’t hate me. It’s not about you at all. It’s just how they express it.” That’s lovely.

Could you give us some more cool examples of collaboration then when it comes to how we might complement each other’s temperaments extra nicely?

Devora Zack
Sure. So, let’s say, for example, I’m a cactus and I believe that this touchy-feely stuff can make a difference in building rapport, but I’m not really gifted at it, and so I think, “Well, my team is better off without us attempting to have this motivation of rapport. Our team is better off without having these touch-feely interactions.” Instead, what I can do is identify someone who I work with who seems to have a snowflake quality, and ask them to take the lead on maybe some get-to-know-you activities or building connections among team members.

And so, finding out who’s good at what, and you don’t have to always be the smart one in the room, or the one who’s leading, and instead finding people who match certain objectives you have and letting them take the reins. So, it takes a little bit of humility to do that. And, in the end, you’ll be having a more productive team because you’ll have all different perspectives introduced from the cactus and the snowflake perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. And I think it can go vice versa in terms of I’m thinking about days where we interviewed a bunch of candidates, and then we made our decisions, and then we needed to call all of them and the vast majority were told, “No, you will not be moving forward in this interview process,” which I have a lot of snowflake tendencies myself, it’s like, “Oh, I don’t know. Oh, I really, really don’t want to do that, killing dreams, after dream after dream on the phone.” And then someone else on the team is like, “Oh, that’s fine. I don’t mind. Just like no problems.” So, it’s intriguing how it can take just way more or way less sort of emotional energy, depending on the nature of the task and the nature of their temperament.

Devora Zack
That’s right. And when you’re working with someone more long term, and let’s say you need or want or don’t want to but have to give someone feedback, it’s easy to give feedback in the way that you like to hear it as opposed to what resonates with the other person. So, that’s why I don’t totally believe in the golden rule, which is treat others how you want to be treated. I use the platinum rule instead, which is treat others how they want to be treated.

So, if I am a snowflake and I like to get feedback in the following way, like, “Oh, Devora, it’s so nice to see you. You look really nice today and we all really appreciate your input,” and then that might ease the blow of things I need to fix, or work on, or improve upon, or things I might not be aware of that are not in my realm of consciousness.

On the other hand, someone who’s a strong cactus, if I started giving feedback to that person in the same way, it would really get on their nerves and make them feel like it was just fluff and I was beating around the bush and so on. So, they might much prefer, and in my experience, this is true, feedback that’s very direct, like, “I want to give you feedback on three behaviors that I think we can switch and improve so that you can be more effective when working with the board of directors.” And that can actually make their eyes light up, like, “Oh, great. Thanks for the feedback.”

And I’ve seen this play out in real-life situations again and again, that flexing our style, in other words, giving feedback or communicating with someone in a way that works for them is way more effective than giving feedback in a way that works for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s nice. So, the platinum rule is a nice example of a best practice that sort of cuts across here in terms of regardless of whether you are a cactus or a snowflake, or the person you’re communicating with is a cactus or a snowflake, that notion of thinking about their style in a manner that works with their style works well. Are there any other “universal” best practices that kind of, “Hey, regardless of who you are and your preferences and temperament, and the person you’re interacting with,” some things that tend to work well across the temperaments?

Devora Zack
Yes, another concept that I introduced in the book is what I call “beans up the nose.” And its roots come from, perhaps you might recall in first grade or so, if a teacher might do an art project with dried beans and Elmer’s Glue and paper, and what you would do is glue the beans to the paper in artful designs, and that was your project. Does this ring a bell? Did you ever do that as a kid?

So, the worst thing the teacher can say, as the students start working away with their projects, is, “Now, class, whatever you do, don’t put beans up your nose.” And, sure enough, beans start flying up noses, and the school nurse has to come running in and help out. So, I’m using that as a metaphor, we put beans up people’s noses all the time, and whether we’re snowflakes or cacti, we just have different tendencies in how we do it.

So, what I caution people about is be careful what you say because you might be putting beans up someone else’s nose. So, always pause before you speak, and think, “Is this putting beans up the nose?” And I have to say, I do it myself, and it’s amazing how often I almost suggest to people to put beans up their nose in terms of, “Oh, I’m really not good at speaking off the cuff so I’m probably going to mess up this Q&A at the end of the speech.”

Or, if someone says, “I’m really very sensitive as a snowflake, so I might start crying in the middle of the performance feedback.” In other words, making people think about things that they didn’t have in their mind beforehand. And this happens in interviews a lot, and it happens when people are working with opposite types a lot, so just be careful about putting beans up people’s noses.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that connects in terms of some folks talking about certain kind of rules or guidelines or principles, and it’s like, “That wouldn’t have even occurred to me to do this thing that I’m not supposed to do.”

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

Devora Zack
Well, to know that everyone has times when they are their own opposite, and sometimes that can be by design because they want to be effective and so they’re using tools that come from the other side of the spectrum, which is fine. And other times it can be because we’re in a difficult spot and we kind of go into our own shadow state, which is based on some of Carl Jung’s concepts.

So, sometimes we short-circuit and become our own opposites. So, I might, for example, if I’m a sensitive snowflake, suddenly start being very insensitive to people around me, or if I’m a cactus who’s very straightforward, and I might start beating around the bush and not tell people really what I’m thinking. So, it’s to be understanding of ourselves and to be able to recognize when we’re in a shadow state, and that’ll help us get out of it.

And, also, if you have worked with someone, or live with someone, or know someone pretty well, and they start acting like their own opposite, to know that they might be short-circuiting also, and to respond in a way that’s supportive as oppose to amplifying the issues that someone is dealing with.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say short-circuited, I’m curious, what are some things that sort of trigger you to go opposite or shadow state?

Devora Zack
So, sometimes it’s unanticipated change, sometimes it’s when you’re sleep-deprived, or mentally or physically drained, sometimes it’s when you feel misunderstood or when you are unclear about what direction you want to head in. So, when you’re in challenging situations is when you’re most likely to go into a shadow state, and I call that being in the grip. Like, in the grip of your own personality short-circuiting.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so then, those are sort of stressors. And then, ideally, someone will be supportive and encouraging when we’re in that place. And if we’re only kind of working on ourselves without that support, any pro tips in terms of kind of getting back to center?

Devora Zack
Yeah, and it actually a similar tip to people trying to be supportive also. A lot of times, people try and be supportive by saying, “You shouldn’t be upset,” or, “It’s not a big deal,” downplaying it either in your mind if you’re taking care of yourself or to someone else if you’re attempting to make them feel better by letting them know that they’re overreacting, and that completely backfires.

So, instead, is validating yourself and others when they’re in a shadow state, and to not say, “You shouldn’t feel this way,” but to say, “I can see that you’re really upset.” Or, if it’s just you dealing with something inside your own head, is saying, “It’s valid for me to be upset,” as opposed to saying, “There’s something wrong with me,” and then you get more upset about the fact that you’re upset.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. All right. Well, now, can we hear a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Devora Zack
Sure. So, this is a Henry Miller quote, he’s an author. And I love it so much that it’s taped to my computer when I’m writing a book, “Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly whatever is in hand.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Devora Zack
Well, I really just love following any up-and-coming neuroscience because I find it really fascinating to see how our brains work according to scientists, and how that plays into organizational behavior, and supports a lot of stuff that people in my field in general management have been professing for a long time, but then finding out what is happening with our neurotransmitter signals in our brain, to me, it’s just fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Devora Zack
My favorite book has always been The Phantom Tollbooth since I was about 11 years old, and I just think it’s the greatest book I’ve read in a million times.

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

Devora Zack
I actually have a brand-new favorite tool, I’m so excited. It’s a 1960 typewriter that still works. And to be able to do writing on a real typewriter is very exciting, and it’s called The Torpedo, which I think is kind of cool. But really, it gets a whole different part of the brain going when I write on it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. What part of the brain? How would you articulate the difference?

Devora Zack
Well, you can’t backpedal like you can when you’re typing on a computer. And so, you have to just move forward and do a pure stream of consciousness writing without rearranging things or deleting things. And what you come up with then is very visceral and often more raw than what happens when you’re writing on a computer, and a lot of great insights come of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a favorite habit?

Devora Zack
Journaling every morning.

Pete Mockaitis
And a key nugget you share that really seems to resonate and connect with people; they quote it back to you often?

Devora Zack
Be true to yourself. Work with rather fighting against your true personality.

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

Devora Zack
My company website MyOnlyConnect.com, and currently, there’s also a link to it for CactusSnowflake.com.

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

Devora Zack
Everyone is exactly how they’re supposed to be. Nobody needs to be fixed.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Devora, this has been a treat. Thank you. And I wish you many happy collaborations.

Devora Zack
Thank you. With this being one of them.
Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

707: Amy Edmondson on How to Build Thriving Teams with Psychological Safety

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Amy Edmondson shares how to boost psychological safety and high performance.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why the average non-toxic organization is still ineffective 
  2. The crucial belief that makes us more courageous
  3. How we unknowingly make and break psychological safety 

About Amy

Amy C. Edmondson is the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, a chair established to support the study of human interactions that lead to the betterment of society. 

Edmondson has been recognized by the biannual Thinkers50 global ranking of management thinkers since 2011, receiving the organization’s Breakthrough Idea Award in 2019, and Talent Award in 2017.  She studies teaming, psychological safety, and organizational learning. Her articles have been published in numerous academic and management outlets. Her most recent book, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth  (Wiley, 2019), offers a practical guide for organizations serious about success in the modern economy and has been translated into 11 languages. Her prior books – Teaming: How organizations learn, innovate and compete in the knowledge economy (Jossey-Bass, 2012),  Teaming to Innovate  (Jossey-Bass, 2013) and  Extreme Teaming  (Emerald, 2017) – explore teamwork in dynamic organizational environments.

Before her academic career, she was Director of Research at Pecos River Learning Centers, where she worked on transformational change in large companies. Edmondson received her PhD in organizational behavior, AM in psychology, and AB in engineering and design from Harvard University. 

 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors!

Amy Edmondson Interview Transcript

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

Amy Edmondson
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so excited to be speaking to you. You’ve been on our list for years, and so here we are. And so, I’m excited to dig into all of your wisdom, or as much as we can get, within the time we have available on psychological safety. But, first, I think we need to hear about you and competitive sailing. What’s the story here?

Amy Edmondson
How did that come up? I must’ve answered a question somewhere. Well, I was a competitive sailor as a child, not as much as a child can be, with my great friend Beth Haffner. We’d sail and race all summer and had a wonderful time. Then I sailed and raced in college, and then I took about 35 years off but started up again maybe six years ago. And it’s great fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. So, now I’m curious, when it comes to competing, what is the nature of the event and the competition? And is there a team? What’s your style here?

Amy Edmondson
Yes. So, I compete only in the summer, in a small community in Maine where I’ve gone for many, many years. And I compete in a Sonar with two teammates, and there are only nine boats in the fleet, so that’s the limit to our competition. We race Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons in July and August.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And are things going pretty well, competitively speaking?

Amy Edmondson
Well, as a matter of fact, we just won the season.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-done.

Amy Edmondson
Yeah, thank you. It’s teamwork, it’s all about the teamwork and the psychological safety, of course.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. All right. Well, yes, let’s talk about psychological safety. First of all, well, I guess, whenever I hear your name, I think psychological safety, and vice versa. So, maybe first and foremost, can you give us your official definition? What do we mean when we say psychological safety?

Amy Edmondson
Well, recently, I’ve been thinking the best way to say this is just a sense of permission for candor. And the reason I say permission is that I don’t want to imply that psychological safety means it’s easy to speak up about, potentially, challenging issues, disagreements, or crazy ideas, or questions, or mistakes. But that there’s a belief that it’s feasible, expected, desirable, that people won’t think less well of you for it. So, permission for candor.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s a great distinction because I’ve heard it said elsewhere, a definition of psychological safety is the belief that you are able to say whatever is on your mind without fear of a negative reaction. And I thought, “Hmm, I don’t have that relationship with almost anybody.”

Amy Edmondson
Right. At least without fear of being marginalized or penalized in some way. We all are human and we will have negative reactions to disagreement or certain kinds of bad news. It’s just our emotions will kick in quite quickly. But if we’re thoughtful and we’re a good team and we’re committed to doing the best we can, we will catch ourselves, and say, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” Just because you just said something unwelcomed doesn’t mean I should shun you or think less well of you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. So, not marginalized, not penalized, not shunned, not thought less well of. But naturally, someone might say something and you think that they are mistaken, and you maybe even feel underappreciated that they would bring up such a thing, but you’re not going to, like, punish them over that even if you have a difficult interaction.

Amy Edmondson
Right. And I think that’s easier to do if you have an honest appreciation of what you’re up against, meaning the nature of the work requires stumbles and falls along the way. If you’re talking about doing something that’s utterly routine and well-understood and well-known, then maybe your expectation should be of only perfect comments and only perfect performance.

But if you’re doing work, like most of us are, where there’s lots of potential for wrong turns and screw ups along the way to greatness, then that’s just part and parcel of what we’re doing here. So, it helps to have a clear-eyed sense of what we’re up against and what we’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then, tell us, that sounds like a pleasant thing, “Oh, yeah, psychological safety, I’d like to have that with my friends, family, colleagues, collaborators,” but more than just a sort of nice to have and pleasant vibe, psychological safety has huge implications for performance. Can you share with us a little bit about that relationship and some of the most compelling bits of data or stories?

Amy Edmondson
Sure. It’s funny because the variable, the measure of psychological safety that I’ve developed 20 years ago, it’s been around in the research literature for a long time, but it’s now been more widely used in company settings and so, in other words, we have more and more data on some of the benefits of psychological safety.

Probably, the most visible, widely read that they’ve done at Google called Project Aristotle, and that was about five years ago. And the study set out, it didn’t set out to study psychological safety, it set out to try to figure out what are the key factors associated with differences in teams at Google, so they studied 180 teams. It turns out they tested about 250 different variables, and psychological safety emerged as the number one predictor of performance in teams, so the number one sort of explainer of variance across teams.

And I think it’s a strong statement to say that surprised them because if you’re looking for something, it’s easier to find it. If you’re not looking for it, it’s almost a more compelling discovery when it pops up as the factor that really helps explain these differences. One of the things I like about that study, too, is that it shows very clearly that there were differences, differences in performance and differences in effectiveness across teams at Google.

So, it helps us see that this is something that varies across teams even in the same corporate culture, and that’s important because we then can be very clear about the fact that psychological safety isn’t just mirroring the culture. It’s climate. It’s interpersonal climate. And even in a very strong or very interesting or healthy corporate culture, you can still have differences in interpersonal climate, differences in just subtle willingness to be candid, to speak up, or to not hold back.

Sometimes I think it’s easier to explain that the absence of psychological safety is basically a preference for, “Oh, I’ll just wait and see. I’ll hold back and maybe things will clarify, and then maybe I’ll speak up.” But that’s an awful lot of cognitive work. So, putting that aside, so the Google study is a good study of the nice relationship between psychological safety and performance, and many others.

One of my favorite studies that I did, which was in a healthcare delivery setting in intensive care unit setting, 23 North American hospitals, 23 intensive care units, we found a statistically, significant relationship between psychological safety and quality improvement. So, the ability over time for teams to improve the quality of care, which was ultimately associated with lower rates of morbidity and mortality, that’s harm and death, so that’s a pretty strong one where life and death are concerned. There are many others though. They’re now really hundreds of studies that have relationships to things like performance, learning behavior, quality improvement, you name it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s a nice overview. Thank you. Could you now perhaps paint a picture of kind of across, I know I’m sure it’ll vary greatly, well, hey, even relationship by relationship, let alone team by team or workplace by workplace. But kind of, roughly speaking, what’s the median average-ish level of psychological safety in workplaces today in the US? And I don’t know if you want to give me a number or paint a picture for kind of like the theme or the vibe.

Amy Edmondson
Yeah, I’ll paint a picture.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s the typical psychological safety story in a workplace these days?

Amy Edmondson
Well, it’s probably a fool’s errand to try to say what’s typical because there’s so much variability. And even during this difficult time of COVID, there’s been extraordinary variability in terms of some places. I think that the rallying together to do what people can to sort of make things work during these difficult times has created the stronger sense of a bond and more psychological safety where people realize, “Yeah, it’s okay for me to say what I’m thinking and to get help when I need help, and that’s acceptable now.”

But in other places, I think where people, especially in workplaces where people are being asked to do things they might not be comfortable doing, one could arguably say that psychological safety has gone down. I strongly believe that, in most organizations, there’s still variance across groups. And this is, in part, because psychological safety is a very local thing that this team might have and that team doesn’t, and that may mean, this is really a middle manager thing, or team leader effect more than, say, a CEO effect, and that’s very much been the case in all of the datasets that I’m aware of.

But, still, I’m dodging your question, saying it depends, there’s lots of variance, some people have it better than others. And, yet, there’s no question in my mind that, nowadays and even before the pandemic, it’s not high enough. So, I think it’s fair to say that very few workplaces have as much psychological safety as would be optimal in terms of helping people do their very best work and helping people team up effectively and solve problems.

Fortunately, the average workplace, I’d say, is not one that’s incredibly toxic or incredibly fearful where there’s a complete focus on self-protection as opposed to on the mission or on what our colleagues need from us and, really, a state of fear. I think that it’s out there, for sure, but it’s not the dominant workplace.

And then I would say there’s few where it’s just extraordinarily high where people are candid and aware of their fallibility but ambitious about what they might do together, and they sort of engage in dissenting views and conflict and problem-solving without fear of reprisal. That’s the other end of the spectrum. In the middle is a whole range of places where, in fact, it’s not toxic, it’s not terrible, but, on average, there’s still too much holding back. People are holding back their ideas, their perspectives, trying to look good in front of their colleagues, their managers, and it limits their ability to contribute.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, the “average” or “typical,” which is hard to do, looks like not just straight up abusive hardcore toxicity and fear rampant, but plenty of people holding back in order to look good and concerned about speaking up, and could be harmful or problematic to them. So, I guess I’m curious, if we think about making the leap from kind of “average” or “typical” the suboptimal picture that most of us find ourselves into, versus approaching best in class, well, maybe could you give us a cool case study of do we have a transformation there in terms of what was it like before and what was the vibe like after? And then how did that translate into some results?

Amy Edmondson
So, one of the great turnaround stories, and I do write about this in some detail in The Fearless Organization is Cynthia Carroll, CEO of Anglo-American, which is a mining company in South Africa. And when she became CEO, which is already a stunning thing because the first woman CEO and so forth, she was appalled to discover the degree of worker accidents and even deaths.

And so, she decided to make that her mission to profoundly transform the performance on this crucial dimension of workplace safety. And to do this, she realized pretty quickly that she needed people to be speaking up, speaking up about unsafe conditions, speaking up when they’re being asked to do something that’s unsafe, or when they’re sort of aware of a hazard.

Not easy to do because it’s been decades, even generations, of not being heard and not being listened to and feeling that you just go in there, you do your job, and that’s that. It was a pretty stunning kind of intervention, got everybody in the stadium and got them talking in a new way, and was able to kind of apply that into the workforce and turn this around and make a dramatic difference.

Here’s a very different context. SED, one of the largest Nordic banks, did a sort of, I wouldn’t call it as a dramatic turnaround because I don’t think they weren’t in real trouble, but senior leaders were aware that the financial services industry was changing, more fintech players, more innovative. And the executive who ran the risk group decided, that psychological safety for speaking up about potential risks.

Because when people just feel like, “Ooh, maybe I’m wrong,” and they hold back and they’re not confident enough that their superiors want to listen to them, the bank is more vulnerable to risks. And so, that was a very thoughtful turnaround of that unit, and then it started to spread to other business units in the bank as well. So, that was a fun one to write about.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. All right. So, that’s sort of the picture there. And I’d love it, in terms of sort of the practical how-to, if folks are in organizations and they want to improve the psychological safety for themselves and others in their teams, what are some great starting points or key practices that make all the differences?

Amy Edmondson
A way to answer that question, in terms of both as a starting point and a practice that makes a difference, is start with the work, start with how the performance goals that you share, what they look like and what they require so that we’re not doing this just for the sake of doing it, or because we’re interested in culture change per se, but we articulate sort of why the work we do needs us to behave and show up in a different way.

So, articulating goals that matter, that are motivating, that are energizing, and then kind of having some discussion about why achieving those goals requires people to voice their ideas, to challenge each other, to be open about failures, is sort of the next logical step. And then I think it’s really important not to dictate how we’re doing to do this but to invite people to sort of suggest some things that they think might work, that might help them have an easier time offering their ideas or asking questions. And then start testing some of those suggestions, and just keeping it in the context.

I’m advocating not for, “Let’s go offline and learn some things,” but, “Let’s practice some new ways of talking and being while doing our work.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That sounds good. So, that’s a nice thing to kick it off and kind of get folks engaged, rallied around that goal, and it makes sense. It’s not some extra thing, but it really has impact on what we’re trying to do here. That’s cool. And then I’m curious about just sort of like the basic ways in which we talk to and interact with each other. Like, what are some dos and don’ts in terms of kind of offering feedback, asking for input, responding to failure? I think some of us might need a pretty dramatic re-programming of just the way we talk to people.

Amy Edmondson
That’s a great way to put it and it’s hard. I struggle with this question. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about it. But I struggle because there’s no easy answer. It’s, “How do you do re-programming?” And I talk a lot, I think a lot about framing and I talk about reframing. So, framing is something we do all the time as human beings. We think we’re sort of under the illusion that we’re seeing reality. We’re not. We’re seeing reality filtered through our own beliefs and all the rest.

And sometimes our frames are really obsolete. There are frames that we inherited from an earlier era, an era when the relationship between kind of effort and results was more straightforward. You tried really hard; you’d get the results because the formula was pretty clear. Follow the recipe, you get the results.

And as an increasing portion of the work doesn’t really conform to that simple frame, we have to explicitly and deliberately reframe which is another way of saying re-reprogram to help ourselves really appreciate that we’re fallible human beings in a complex uncertain interconnected world. Those are conditions that will necessarily give rise to the unexpected and the undesired and, also, some, now and then, happier surprises.

So, that re-programming, in a way, it helps us get over ourselves. We’ve got to shed the idea that we need to be perfect. We’ve got to shed the idea that we need to look good all the time. And I know, I suspect most listeners don’t think, when they say, well, I’m not telling I need to be perfect or I need to look good all the time, but, in subtle ways, we’re acting as if that’s the case. We’re holding back too often. We’re putting the threshold for when we should speak up higher than it needs to be.

And so, to do this re-programming, I think it’s a lot of having a kind of cheerful recognition that you’re a fallible human being in a fast-paced uncertain ambiguous world, and then, “Ooh, if I really appreciated that that was the case, how would I show up? Well, I’d ask a lot more questions. I’d be a lot more curious.”

So, the re-programming starts with that kind of clear-eyed acceptance of reality and realizing that might be different than how we kind of tacitly think about reality. And then forcing ourselves to be curious, which then allows us to do what I think is the most important thing of all, which is to ask more questions, genuine questions, like you’re doing. You’re asking me questions, and then you are quietly listening to the answers. If only real life were like this, not just podcast life.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah, that would be nice. And so then, that’s a great frame for starters in terms of, well, boy, say it again. I’m a fallible human in a changing…that’s so good. Let’s hear it again.

Amy Edmondson
Okay. And I might not say it the same way twice, but I’m a fallible human being living in a fast-changing uncertain interdependent world.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, tell you what, just sitting with that, for me, in this moment, is just bringing a sigh of relief, you know, in terms of like I can let go of a lot of pressure, stress, expectation that need not be there.

Amy Edmondson
Right. I’m the same way. I talk about this, but do I practice it consistently? No. In fact, I have this to-do list that I started with this morning. It’s utterly unrealistic. There’s no way I can, you know, get, “Oh, I’ll finish a chapter, I’ll have this wonderful time with you.” It’s crazy. But I do it every day as if. And then I feel bad about not getting through it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. And then if you really do internalize that conviction, it’s like if someone…even though someone does kind of disrespect you with regard to, it’s like, “Really, Pete, that’s on page four of the briefing document. Like, that was a really stupid question and I’m appalled that you asked,” in that tone of voice, face, which is where I think about this, the violations of psychological safety left and right.

You can feel better about that, it’s like, “Okay, yeah. Well, yeah, fair enough. I should’ve read the briefing document before making…that’s true. Easy mistake I made,” but that doesn’t mean I’m bad or a loser or worthless, a team member who doesn’t belong here. It doesn’t mean any of those things. It’s just like, “Yeah, I made a mistake. We all do it. Yeah, moving on.”

Amy Edmondson
Right. And I’m not a fan of making the same silly mistake multiple times in a row. We do have to learn from and keep striving to do better, but I imagine most people feel that way as well.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I would love it if there are any particular words or phrases that you see and love in psychologically safe organizations versus see and really irk you in not so psychologically safe organizations because I think there’s just a lot of little subtle ways that psychological safety is built and destroyed. Just for example, one of mine is when someone says “Obviously,” I really don’t like that because it’s like, “Oh, I didn’t know that I must be an idiot.” That’s one of my pet peeves.

Amy Edmondson
That’s a beautiful example.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think most people need not say the word obviously in most of their business communications, but that’s just sort of my hobby horse.

Amy Edmondson
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
You tell me, Amy. What are some of yours?

Amy Edmondson
No, that’s a really good one. And, because with compassion, it can be a habit. So, it’s a very counterproductive word to use in interpersonal communication for the reasons you just articulated. And I’m aware that I accidentally do use it sometimes because my brain speaks that way to me, and then I use it. So, that’s okay as long as we can sort of catch and correct and occasionally laugh at ourselves for doing that. And I sometimes will, I’ll use the word, like obviously, and then I’ll stop and say, “Oh, no. So, if it were obvious, I wouldn’t say it,” or it wouldn’t be a nice way to say it anyway.

Another one is “To be honest.” I mean, crazy to say that because it basically invalidates so much of the prior conversation we might have. So, if I say “To be honest,” it’s like, “Wait a minute. Was everything up until now not really honest?” And so, these kinds of things can be well-meaning but problematic. It’s such a good question that you just asked that I’m going to now commit to creating a list.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please let us know and we’ll link it in the show notes and share it if we can when the time comes.

Amy Edmondson
Perfect. That’s a good idea. That’s a good idea because I do love studying conversations, studying the actual exchange of words, and noting those problematic triggers that sort of indicate, any word that indicate, “Oh, you’re supposed to have known that already,” or, “Your question isn’t really welcome,” you name it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. Yeah, those are good categories right there, like, “Your question isn’t really welcome.” We think that, “You’re dumb. I think you’re dumb because you said that.” I remember once, I was working on a project in retail, and, again, it’s these little things. And so, it was a major department store, this was a consulting project, it was a major department store, and we were learning about size packs, which was a new concept to me in terms of, like, if you buy it from a clothing designer, I don’t even know if this still works this way, but you can choose from size packs.

So, a size pack might have four extra larges, ten larges, three mediums. And that was really surprising to me, and I was like, “Wait a minute. So, we’re a huge department store client, right? And we got these clothing suppliers…?”

Amy Edmondson
Pretty limited, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
“We can just tell them, no, I want exactly these many smalls, mediums, and larges. Like, really, size packs? Like, why do we do that?” And I remember the partner on the case looked at me, and he said, “Are you serious?” Like, he genuinely didn’t know if I was trying to make a joke, but I really wasn’t. But when he said that, I was like, “Oh, apparently, that was a phenomenally stupid thing to say.” And I still don’t know why to this day, I’m like, “If you’ve got the market power, shouldn’t your suppliers give you what you want?” I don’t know, but maybe there’s a logistical supplier reason and trucks or packaging or something less known.

Amy Edmondson
Well, it’s easier for them, clearly. But, “Are you serious? Because, as you said, “Are you serious?” as a sarcastic statement, which it may have been, is problematic. But if it were genuine, I’m in favor, “I just need to check, I’m not sure. Are you serious or are you…?” so, anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you, yeah.

Amy Edmondson
The genuineness really matters.

Pete Mockaitis
It was genuine. And then I think that’s another layer to this psychological safety stuff. It’s like you could be speaking perfectly safely, and someone could still receive it negatively.
So, for example, that partner said, “Are you serious?” and even if it was genuine, he was like, “Are you serious?” And I really was, but the fact that he sounded serious made me think, “Oh, apparently, this is so obvious I’m a moron.”

Amy Edmondson
Yeah, right, that’s true. That’s true. And then you backed down.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s the conclusion I leapt to but that’s on me. He didn’t demean me or he wasn’t rude to me.

Amy Edmondson
Yes, that’s great. That’s on you. That’s you withdrawing and feeling, “Oops, just slightly less safe,” expressing your thoughts about this work-related matter, even though technically it wasn’t his fault because you put sort of that embarrassment on yourself, you said, “Oh, I guess this is something I’m supposed to know. And maybe I stepped out, I tiptoed out, and it didn’t work out well, so now I’m going back into my shelf.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that happened. And I guess I’m curious, given that human beings with our varied triggers and hot buttons and sensitivities, that can happen, any pro tips for dealing with that and trying to continue building psychological safety given that reality?

Amy Edmondson
Yes. Interpersonal skills are skills that we can continue to develop our whole lives. I don’t think anyone ever perfects them. And the interpersonal skill that I’m deeply interested in, because of its relationship to mutual learning, is that ability to kind of have an honest conversation, especially about a misunderstanding, like in that moment. Now, don’t think you want to do a deep dive in every crosswire that might happen throughout the workday, but, occasionally, that one really stuck with you, that really struck you.

Pete Mockaitis
This was a decade ago, yeah.

Amy Edmondson
You were puzzled by it. It stuck with you. And so, occasionally, really, it’s worth saying, “Hold on, could we do a quick timeout here?” or maybe if we’re too busy now, “I’d love to talk about this later. I need to understand better. Here’s how I was seeing it. Am I really missing a sort of area of expertise in this industry that I need to develop? Or, might this possibly be an area of innovation that we could work on together?” And so, that’s the substance.

And then the interpersonal substance is, “I felt bad and maybe even assumed that my ignorance was glaring in that moment when you said that, but I understand why you said it.” So, that we can sort of start to develop working relationships with people where we understand each other’s needs better, and then we’re better able to learn together.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is good. And, as I imagine, I’m sure there’s all kinds of potential sensible explanations under the surface, like, “Oh, I’ve been working in this industry for 20 years, so size packs are just like second nature to me.” But, yeah, yet you might think that…whatever. So, I could see how that unfolds. And then, over time, certainly, that feels great in terms of relationships being strengthened by engaging in these exchanges. All right. Well, then could you tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Amy Edmondson
“I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work,” and that’s, of course, Thomas Edison. And it’s this notion that in new territory, which all of us are in, more and more frequently nowadays, we reframe. We have to reframe how we’re thinking about the things that go wrong so that we actually understand them as progress toward the things that are going to go right. So, that’s one in terms of the substance and just sort of feeling better about ourselves when things don’t go the way we had hoped.

The other one is a quote from Abraham Lincoln that I adore because it speaks to this interpersonal realm. And he said, “I don’t like that man very much. I must get to know him better.” To me, that’s a very profound statement. Most of us, “I decide I don’t like someone. I’m going to, okay, I don’t like him. I’m going to go spend time with other people.” It doesn’t occur to me, instantaneously, to think, “I don’t like him. I guess I don’t understand him well yet. If I understood where he’s coming from and what he cares about and his hopes and dreams, I’d like him.”

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

Amy Edmondson
I’ll have to say that a favorite study was the study that didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, was the first real project I did as a graduate student, as a PhD student, where I was trying to show the better teams in a healthcare delivery setting had fewer errors, and the data, once I had it and analyzed it, seem to suggest the opposite. In other words, the better teams, according to the team survey instrument, had higher not lower error rates, like, “What? What’s going on?”

Well, that was the surprise, undesired result that led, ultimately, to you and I having this conversation today because I was able to figure out that, right away, with a lot of extra work, that the reason for this result was that the better teams were more open, more honest, more willing to report error, and so it looked like they had the worst error rates. But, in fact, we don’t know the denominator, we don’t know what the real error rate was for any of those teams, but we did find out, ultimately, they had very different interpersonal climates, which I would then call psychological safety.

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

Amy Edmondson
Leader is a position, leadership is an activity. Anyone can exercise leadership.

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

Amy Edmondson
AmyCEdmondson.com or Harvard Business School Faculty page, HBS.edu. Go to Amy Edmondson there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Amy Edmondson
Ask more questions.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Amy, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you many fun adventures in sailing and more.

Amy Edmondson
Thank you. It’s been a treat talking with you.

706: Minimizing the Frustration and Resentment of Workplace Conflict with Jeremy Pollack

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Jeremy Pollack says: "Put care first."

Jeremy Pollack shares how to prevent conflict from ruining your relationships.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The six basic needs at the heart of conflict
  2. Three tactics for keeping your calm in a conflict
  3. How to handle a conflict that’s going nowhere 

About Jeremy

Jeremy Pollack is a leader in the field of workplace conflict resolution and peacebuilding. He is the Founder of Pollack Peacebuilding Systems, the largest workplace conflict resolution consulting firm in North America, and a regular contributor on the topics of leadership and organizational conflict management to publications such as Forbes.com, Fast Company, Industry Week, and many more. Jeremy is also the author of the recently released book The Conflict Resolution Playbook: Practical Communication Skills for Preventing, Managing, and Resolving, Conflict. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors!

  • Setapp. Try out up to 200 of the best software tools in one streamlined place at setapp.com.

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

Jeremy Pollack Interview Transcript

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

Jeremy Pollack
Hey, Pete, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. You’ve got a wealth of experience when it comes to conflict resolution. And I’d love to hear, for starters, what’s one of the most surprising and counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about conflicts and resolving them?

Jeremy Pollack
That’s a good question. So, I’m not even sure that this is totally counterintuitive but it’s just something that has dawned on me through the work that I’ve done, is that someone’s sort of approach, attitude, etc. in a conflict really dictates the way that others are also going to interact with them.

So, if you’re in an escalated state, it will escalate other people. And if you aren’t, it’ll help deescalate. And so, one thing that I’ve worked on with people, for instance, is what I call being generous with your heart, essentially, which is making the first concession. And sometimes people feel like, “Well, why do I always have to be the bigger person?” or something like that.

But if you start to cross that line and be a little bit generous, be a little bit more open, maybe a little bit more vulnerable, it usually opens the door for someone else to do the same, because a lot of people are trying to save face, especially when they’re resolving conflict. They don’t want to admit they’re wrong and they don’t want to admit the other person is right or something like that.

So, if someone is willing to make that first concession, and say something like, “You know what, I think you’re right,” or, “You know what, you’re not wrong,” or just admit that there’s a sphere of possibility that someone is not necessarily wrong or right, and be a little bit vulnerable. It actually opens up the space. So, I don’t know if that’s counterintuitive but it was something that it seems almost intuitive but it kind of dawned on me through the work, I’m like, “This is really an important step in resolving conflict.”

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s interesting about that concession, “Okay, you’re right,” it’s like they don’t have to be right about the core contentious piece, but it sounds like, if this is fair, you could give them some bit of concession, affirmation, validation, on anything, like, “Hey, it totally makes sense that you’re trying to look out for what’s best for your building,” or, “your tenants,” or, “your employees,” and they’re like, “Well, yeah, of course.” And so, it’s like that costs you nothing.

Jeremy Pollack
Absolutely. If you could just find one point of agreement, especially if it’s like a deeper-level agreement, an agreement on sort of a core value, or a core interest, or a core need, or something, if you just find one point of agreement, that opens up a sphere there of possibility to start collaborating so someone can see you not necessarily as an opponent but they start to see you as, “Okay, this is someone who’s essentially becoming a partner in this resolution process.”

So, it’s as simple as when you say the words, “You know what, I think you’re right about that,” or when you say the words, “I agree with you that that’s important,” or, “That concerns me too. You’re right.” Those kinds of things, it suddenly takes you out of the opponent mode and into a mode of, “We’re on the same team, potentially. We just come from different perspectives or different positions. We need to figure out how to get aligned in some way, but we do have some shared or common values there.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Cool. Well, hey, so we got one tip off the bat. So, maybe we can zoom out a bit and tell us your book the, Conflict Resolution Playbook, what’s sort of the core idea here?

Jeremy Pollack
The Playbook is really aimed at being a very practical step-by-step book for different types of conflict scenarios. So, for both personal and professional life, I think we’ve got several chapters, 15 chapters on just different types of conflicts and give a little bit of an example of what could happen and some techniques to help resolve, manage, or transform the conflict. So, it’s meant to be like a very sort of step-by-step playbook as it’s written in the title.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I understand the psychology of human needs is a big part of this. Can you unpack for us what are some of the core needs that we got to have in mind as we’re engaging in these conversations?

Jeremy Pollack
Yeah, there’s a wide research field in human needs theory, and it’s been done in different types of fields from economics to psychology to anthropology, and there’s sort of a consensus on certain needs. But essentially, I’ve done a lot of research in this field and it seems to me, I’ve focused on six core needs, essentially. But some of the really basic ones are safety. It’s not physical safety but psychological safety, a feeling that, “I have an expectation of feeling secure and stable and, also, I feel safe to be myself, be who I am without the fear of retaliation of some sort.” So, that’s psychological safety.

We have a basic need for autonomy, to feel that we have agency or some input in making decisions that affect us in our lives. We have a basic need for identity, and I might clarify that by saying it’s a need for a positive, coherent identity, so we try to structure our world in a way that makes sense for us and how we fit into it.

And when someone, for instance, does something, or seems to do something, or seems to say something that threatens, even unconsciously feels like a threat to one of those basic needs, we respond in fight/flight, we respond in acute stress response, and that’s typically where a lot of conflicts start is this perception of a threat to one’s basic needs, goals, or values.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. You listed three of those needs. Can you share what are the other three?

Jeremy Pollack
Sure. Well, we have a basic need for care, or what we might call connection, so being part of groups and feeling like we’re cared about by other people. We have a basic need for stimulation, for feeling challenged, engaged, etc. And we have a basic need, at least in this culture, we have a basic need for growth and progress, a feeling that we’re making some progress in life. And it doesn’t mean financial progress, or it doesn’t mean progress in a certain domain. It means progress in some way, like, whether it’s on a health domain, or a self-care domain, or my home domain, or some feeling that I’m moving forward. So, most people have this basic need.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really interesting in terms of when you start to feel escalated, I think this is a really great framework in terms of, like, “Hey, what’s going on here? Oh, I feel that my autonomy is potentially being impeded here. That’s what’s going on and that’s why I’m getting a little bit, like, going.” So, maybe while we’re there, do you have any tips for, hey, when you’re in the moment and you’re starting to feel a little bit like you’re approaching the furious, how do you cool it off?

Jeremy Pollack
Yeah, good question. So, number one, I would say there’s a little bit of prep work sometimes. If you’re noticing that you’re getting triggered on a regular basis by certain things, certain situations, certain people, you might do a little analysis, like you said, and just determine, “What is it that this person or that rhetoric is triggering in me? What does it feel like it’s threatening?”

And you can go through those kinds of six basic needs or some basic goals that you have, or values that you have, and start to understand, like, “Is that a true threat? If it’s a true threat, how do I know that’s truly threatening me? What are the consequences?” kind of unpack it a little bit. And if you’ve noticed that you’re feeling threatened by something, you might have a framework for what would be called cognitive reframing or I sometimes call it soothing.

So, like for instance, if I’m in a situation at work and I’m feeling micromanaged, and it’s feeling like I’m not being trusted, that might be threatening my sense of identity as a worker there. It might also be threatening my sense of autonomy, to control my own sort of work style, etc.

And if I start to remind myself, “Wait a minute,” just mentally, “Wait a minute. I’m still in control of my work situation. I have power. No one’s taking away my power. I’m safe. I’m okay. I know who I am,” whatever the kind of thing is that you need to hear to soothe yourself, that’s a cognitive reframing technique that could be important, and it’s really unique to each person. They have to kind of figure out, “What is it that feels like it’s a threat? And how do I reframe it that?”

The other things that I talk a lot about are breathing, which is I think something that a lot of people talk about when they start feeling like they’re escalated. Focusing on your breath, you can do some basic breathing techniques like counting down three, two, one, as you breathe, as you exhale, and counting up, one, two, three, as you inhale, and just focusing on that breath and just kind of staying calm.

Another one is mindful speech. So, being able to speak, you’re going to slow down your speech a little bit so that you actually hear yourself enunciate words, articulate very clearly. And that process, any mindfulness techniques, whether it’s breathing or speech mindfulness, helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, it gives the brain a signal that it’s okay to slow down, we’re not in a flight/fight, we don’t need to protect ourselves against the threat. So, slowing down your breath and your speech and even your movement sometimes can actually help you sort of signal the brain that it’s time to calm down a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool stuff. And I’m curious, could you share with us a cool story of some of these things really coming together for someone who used these principles to get through a tricky conflict situation?

Jeremy Pollack
Well, it’s hard for me to speak exactly on other people’s experience. I can speak on my own, I guess. I definitely had, for instance, a difficult conversation even yesterday with an employee who gave me some feedback about something that I did as a leader and put her in an awkward position, and it was tough for me to hear at first, and I was listening and, really, my inclination, just like most people’s inclination, is I really want to defend myself, I really want to sort of dismiss what she’s saying, almost reject it, let her know, “You’re incorrect. That’s not what I said. That’s not what I meant,” and sort of defend against. I’m sort of feeling my heart rate increase a little bit.

But I used these techniques. I slowed down my speech. I waited and listened. I didn’t defend. I very, cognitively, made a point not to defend myself and, instead, try to validate her. Slowed down my speech, focused on my breath, and just calm. And then when she was done talking, I just tried to kind of repeat back what I heard from her, made sure that I clearly understood it, and then validated her in some way. I actually ended up agreeing with her on some levels, I said, “You’re right. I did put you in an awkward position, and that wasn’t my intention. And I didn’t even realize I did it. It was definitely a blind spot. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I’m going to make sure that that doesn’t happen again.”

And I gave her a little bit of a plan that I thought would be a good plan, and she agreed and that kind of thing. Anytime, especially for a leader, I think, in my experience, it’s very hard to get feedback sometimes because we have an identity as being the leader or the boss or something like that, and if someone is challenging that, giving us feedback, it’s very easy to get triggered and to feel like, “Well, this person is kind of challenging me on some level as being her boss or his boss,” or something.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And so then, in order to have more of those positive conversations and outcomes, you outlined 10 essential communication skills for resolving conflict. And I’m curious, it might be tricky to go through all 10 in the time we have available. But what’s maybe a couple that you think are super easy to improve with a couple quick practices or tactics that make a big difference?

Jeremy Pollack
Okay. So, one skill that I think is really important that I include in pretty much every training and coaching program that I deliver is called validation, and there’s some great material on validation, but it’s really simple. Essentially, when someone gives you some piece of feedback and it’s hard for you to hear, first of all, calmly listen and some of those techniques we just talked about where you can start breathing and you can just calm yourself down, maybe cognitive reframe things. Just breathe for a second and just listen.

And when they’re done, the validation part is, number one, “Can you repeat back what you heard?” So, this is a form of reflective listening. So, repeating back what you heard in some concise way so that they know you heard them and you also know that you heard them correctly because then they have the opportunity to say, “No, that’s not what I meant,” or, “That’s not what I said.” Or they could say, “Yeah, that is what I said,” and so they feel heard. So, that’s really important to calm someone, deescalate someone in a moment, especially if they’re feeling a little emotionally triggered.

And then if I could find some piece, as we said in the beginning, if I could find something that I could find agreement with or some merit in what they’re saying, and let them know, “You know what, that’s important,” “You know what, I’m concerned about that too,” “Yeah, you know what, I think you’re right. That was a misstep on my part,” or anything that you can find agreement on. Again, that lowers the defenses and it opens up a space for being collaborative.

And then the next part, I always say that there’s two main parts to conflict resolution. One part is the care part. It always starts with care, and that means listening, validating, trying to find alignment. So, it’s showing that I’m here, I’m caring about what you’re saying. And then the next part is solution, which is a collaborative process. It shouldn’t just be a sort of unilateral where I say, “Well, here’s what I’m going to do.” It should be, “Well, here’s what I’m thinking about doing. What do you think about that? Or, do you have any suggestions?” and opening up that space for collaboration and creating a solution that seems to work for everyone.

So, those two pieces – validation, alignment in all that care bucket – and then the next piece is sort of working towards a solution of collaborating on a solution, being creative, maybe sometimes thinking outside the box. Those are two pieces that are really important.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally, I think those really do make a world of difference and often is a lot of fun to see what you can come up with together there. Now, you also mentioned six classic conflict scenarios: criticism, passive-aggression, gaslighters, insubordination, conflict with the supervisor, and confronting a bully. First, just definitionally, I’ve heard different definitions for gaslighting and gaslighters. Lay it on us, Jeremy, how do you define gaslighting?

Jeremy Pollack
Gaslighting, essentially, is a way of trying to call into question someone’s reality. So, if someone brings to you, “Hey, this is how I’m feeling,” or, “This is what I experienced,” or they’re confronting you or giving you some feedback, essentially, and you say something like, “Well, that’s crazy,” or, “Well, that’s just ridiculous. That didn’t happen. Stop being so sensitive.” Those types of things where you’re basically calling into question the validity of someone’s reality, that’s gaslighting.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, when you find yourself in these scenarios, I’m curious, to what extent are there some universal prescriptions versus specific prescriptions in terms of, “With criticism do this, versus gaslighting do that”?

Jeremy Pollack
I have some formulas that I tend to use so if I’m feeling like I’m getting criticism instead of gaslighting someone, I have a different, like a sequence that I might use. And one thing that I tend to focus on is trying to separate behavior from interpretation. And what that means is when I’m hearing someone giving me feedback on something that I’ve done, like this is what happened yesterday, they might have a story or an interpretation or a judgment on the behavior that I did or what I said, what I did.

And my job is not to internalize their story and their judgment, and start making me feel a certain way about myself, and then I get triggered. My job instead, if I can, is to separate out, “What’s the behavior that they’re talking about, what I actually said, what I actually did, and the interpretation or the judgment that they placed on it?”

The first part, I can own. And if I can own that, if I can go, “You know what, you’re right. I did do that. I did say that.”

That helps a lot in deescalating the situation because it helps people feel like I’m not gaslighting them and, actually, I’m owning up to the thing that I did. The next part, the interpretation part, I don’t have to own because that’s their interpretation, that was how they perceived it.

What I can do with that part is I can reinterpret for them, “Here’s why I actually did it,” and I can also reassure them, “Let me just tell you that I didn’t intend for that. I actually really do value you, and I apologize if I was not clear and I came across like I didn’t value you or I don’t value your time. I really do value your time. I appreciate your time and that wasn’t my intention. And the reason that happened was…” and then you can give your real explanation.

So, reassurance and reinterpretation are what you can do for the judgment part. Ownership is what you can do for the behavior part, and that requires you separating those two things out – behavior and interpretation. That’s a way to respond to someone’s criticism. To respond to someone’s criticism with gaslighting where you just kind of immediately dismiss or reject them, and you say, “Well, that’s ridiculous. That’s untrue. I didn’t do that. I didn’t mean to do that. It’s crazy that you think I did that.” Those kinds of things are very, very frustrating because it makes the person feel completely unheard, completely unvalued, and will usually escalate the situation or create a lot of resentment.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if you are, I guess, I don’t know, the victim or the recipient of gaslighting or bullying behavior, or passive-aggression, what are some of your top tips in terms of how do you address that well?

Jeremy Pollack
Yeah, this is an important topic. I’ve coached a lot of folks that are recipients of sort of chronic gaslighting and sometimes chronic bullying. If you’re in a situation with someone who you generally trust and you have a good rapport with and you just feel gaslighted in that moment, certainly, you can give them some feedback and say, “You know what, I understand that this is feeling a little bit intense for you, or it’s triggering you in some way, but it feels like you’re not listening to what I’m saying. You’re not hearing me. How can I get this across in a way that we can communicate better about it?”

You kind of call it out in the moment, because if you have the rapport and the trust with that person, you have a relationship with that person, it helps to highlight that and maybe they can calm down. And if they can’t, then maybe it’s time, “Let’s pick this conversation up tomorrow. I think it’s probably better if we pause for a second,” or something like that.

But if you’re dealing with someone who’s a chronic gaslighter, who you really never feel heard by, they’re never willing to own up to their behaviors, admit that they’ve done anything wrong at all, it’s always someone else’s fault, or etc., that’s a tough one to correct in terms of the relationship. And what I usually work on with people is they need to set boundaries for themselves as a form of self-care, as a form of self-esteem because self-esteem can be very much hurt in relationships where there’s constant gaslighting or even constant bullying going on. So, really making sure that you take care of yourself by setting some clear boundaries.

And sometimes with gaslighting, a lot of what I hear with gaslighting is someone will make an agreement with someone, and then two weeks later it’s out the window because the gaslighter basically says, “Oh, it never happened. We never talked about that. You’re crazy.” And it’s really important for someone who’s dealing with a gaslighter to start writing things down a lot, unfortunately, taking notes, making sure that they can check with themselves, not that they’re going to convince the gaslighter that they’re wrong or something, but they can check with themselves and go, “You know what, I am right. We did say this. I wrote it down here so that I know I’m not crazy, so that I don’t internalize this person’s story that I’m crazy or my memory is going or something like that. I need to set boundaries for myself so I can take care of myself.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s perfect. Thank you. And maybe if we back it up a little bit in terms of, before we even get to a conflict scenario, you’ve got a whole section in terms of strategies to prevent conflicts. And I was most intrigued by letting go of resentment and setting clear expectations. What are your top best practices for these two conflict-preventers?

Jeremy Pollack
Well, resentment is a tough one to let go of because when I talk about letting go of resentment, people often push back and say, “But if I stop resenting them, then they won,” or, “If I stop resenting them, it means either I’m saying they’re right or I’m not holding them accountable anymore,” or something like that.

And, really, resentment is like serving yourself poison. It’s not doing anything to the other person. It’s just hurting yourself. It’s just sort of a ball of energy that you’re holding onto. So, if you want to confront someone that you have rapport with, I think that’s important if you’re feeling resentful and you could do some reconciliation.

One exercise that I have people do sometimes is I do a writing exercise, especially if it’s not someone that they can actually do any kind of conflict process with, especially if it’s someone who maybe passed away, like they’re resentful of their father or their mother who’s not with us anymore, something like that. They’ll do a writing exercise where they actually write to the person, they actually write a letter to the person saying everything that’s in their heart, on their chest, everything that they really felt hurt about, etc., and they don’t send it, they just put it in their drawer. And then they write another letter from that person to themselves in a way that they think that they would like to hear from the other person.

So, whatever they would like to hear, “What would it sound like if they really heard you and they really wanted to resolve this, they really wanted to get back in a place of trust and care with you? What would that sound like? What would that letter response sound like?” And I have them write that letter. And it opens up the heart a little bit and then I have them write one final letter back to the person in response to that and, again, opening up their heart this time, being caring and potentially vulnerable. And so, doing some sort of writing exercise sometimes can help if that person is not available for it.

Setting expectations is really important to prevent resentment because, a lot of times, people have expectations that they never set with anyone, that they just assumed were there, so they hold someone else to their standards without getting an agreement on it, and then they create resentment in that way. So, I think it’s really important when you’re noticing you’re having conflicts with someone to sit down with them and to start kind of looking at, “What do you feel like are the standards or expectations here in our relationship, or in our organization, or in this workplace, or something?”

Let’s make sure we’re really clear and we’re aligned on that because, a lot of times, that process of setting expectations with someone will bring out how misaligned some of the things are, “I never knew you expected that of me,” or, “I think that’s unreasonable,” or, “Oh, you expect that. Okay, I can do that. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know you wanted me to do that.” And so, that process of transparency and clarity is really important.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if you’re working with someone and you’re trying to follow all these best practices and you’re just not making much headway, like someone else just does not want to cooperate or play ball, how do you think about tough cases and when you want to kind of walk away and find an alternative?

Jeremy Pollack
Yeah, I think a lot of conflict resolution has to do with motivation. Every relationship, whether it’s a relationship with a company, with a boss, with a partner, with a spouse, every relationship has some cost benefit analysis. And the benefits, the value you get from the relationship has to outweigh, I think, by some measure, the cost of managing the relationship. In other words, the stress that you get from it.

So, if you have a really low stress relationship, you get a lot of value from it, your motivation to stay in that relationship is going to be high, and vice versa it’s going to be low. So, I sometimes work with folks and companies that, for instance, say, “I don’t want to resolve this conflict with this person because I don’t need to work with them, I don’t need to talk to them, there’s no downside of me just not having any conversation with them,” and yet the company goes, “No, they need to work together.”

So, this individual has very low motivation to resolve. And with low motivation, it’s going to be very tough for them to do some of the uncomfortable stuff that conflict resolution processes tend to bring people into. So, there’s a level of discomfort that you have to look at motivation. So, if someone says, “I’m just not motivated to resolve,” then sometimes what I’ll do is I’ll work with them and kind of understand, “Well, what are you motivated to do? Like, how do we reframe motivation? What do you want here? What kind of work life do you want, for instance? Or, what kind of life at home do you want? Paint a vision for me. Tell me how it would look.”

And we create a vision and we go, “What steps can we take to get there? Or, if those steps aren’t possible, then is this the right place for you? So, I ask them, “Is this the right place for you? Is this the right relationship? Is this the right organization for you to be in?” Sometimes, a lot of times, when they get to the point where there’s just no motivation to resolve, they can admit, “I’m not sure that this is the right thing.” And sometimes I’ve coached people out of relationships, out of their work situations, where they just didn’t feel confident in doing it but they really wanted to leave. And so, sometimes that’s where it’ll lead, they just need some help.

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

Jeremy Pollack
I would just say I’ll reiterate these two main buckets of conflict resolution when people are resolving conflicts – care and then solution. I just want to reiterate don’t skip the care part and jump straight to problem solving. Whenever possible, do the care part first, meaning listening to someone, validate them, let them know that you care, that you agree with some part, you can find merit in what they’re saying, and then open up the space for collaborative solution-building.

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

Jeremy Pollack
Well, I think the Robber’s Cave experiment by Sherif back in the 1950s was a seminal work in intergroup contact theory. I think that’s a really important work. And the whole field of intergroup contact has emerged from that. Basically, a seminal work.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Jeremy Pollack
Getting to Yes, right behind me. Getting to Yes is a really foundational book on negotiation and conflict resolution. I think that’s a really important one.

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

Jeremy Pollack
When I do coaching work, I just use Google Spreadsheet. I track all our progress for my coaching clients in there. I’m sure there are other platforms that are more robust but I love to use something like a spreadsheet to track progress with every coaching client I have so I know exactly what we’re doing, what action items we’re using, and what commitments they’re making.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jeremy Pollack
Meditation. Morning meditation.

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

Jeremy Pollack
I have just a tendency to consistently kind of remind people to put care first, and that seems to resonate. Put care first.

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

Jeremy Pollack
You can go to our website PollackPeaceBuilding.com. I’m also at CoachJeremyPollack.com.

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

Jeremy Pollack
Final challenge to be awesome at your job, stay open-minded with people’s perspectives. Don’t think that your perspective is the only right one. There might be multiple right perspectives.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jeremy, this has been fun. I wish you much luck in all of your conflict resolving.

Jeremy Pollack
Thanks, Pete. I appreciate it.

705: Helping Others Change in Four Steps with Peter Bregman and Howie Jacobson

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Peter Bregman and Howie Jacobson break down their simple four-step process for encouraging others to change.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The critical question that opens others to change
  2. The best thing to do when a person doesn’t want to change
  3. The perils of giving positive feedback

About Peter & Howie

Peter Bregman is the CEO of Bregman Partners. He coaches, writes, teaches, and speaks, mostly about leadership and about life. His sweet spot is as a strategic thought partner to successful people who care about being exceptional leaders and stellar human beings. Peter is recognized as the #1 executive coach in the world by Leading Global Coaches, the bestselling author of five books, and host of the Bregman Leadership Podcast. His works frequently appear in Harvard Business ReviewBusinessWeekFast CompanyPsychology TodayForbesCNN, and NPR.

Howie Jacobson, PhD, is an executive coach to clients ranging from startup founders to established and rising Fortune 100 leaders. He is director of coaching at Bregman Partners and head coach at the Healthy Minds Initiative, as well as host of the Plant Yourself Podcast. He’s written a bunch of books, and his mission includes helping kind and generous people grow their capability and scale their influence.

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors!

Peter Bregman & Howie Jacobson Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Peter and Howie, welcome to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Peter Bregman
Thanks so much. It’s great to be here.

Howie Jacobson
Ditto. Ditto.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to learn that it is, in fact, possible to change other people. Tell us, how did you reach this discovery?

Peter Bregman
It’s a truism, right? You hear it all the time, “You can’t change other people.” And, actually, one of the things that occurred to me is that every time someone says to you, “Hey, you can’t change other people. You can only change yourself,” they’re actually trying to change you. They’re almost always saying that because they’re trying to change something that you’re doing.

And both Howie and I, we change people for a living. That’s what we do when we’re coaching people. We’re helping them to make changes that they, otherwise, find difficult to make in their lives, and we’re making a difference. And so, Howie and I were just in a number of conversations, and thought to ourselves, “You know, let’s actually talk about this more widely, and let’s give people the tools to do it in a way that actually works.” Because it’s not that people don’t try to change each other, it’s just that they do it so poorly, and that there’s actual ways of doing it that work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then so what is sort of the big idea or core thesis associated with the book You Can Change Other People: The Four Steps to Help Your Colleagues, Employees– Even Family– Up Their Game? I guess one is that, first, it’s possible, but, fundamentally, how does it happen? Or, what are the missing ingredients that folks are overlooking?

Howie Jacobson
Yeah, so one of the key points is that when we approach people to change them, we often are upset, we’re judgmental, we’re critical, we know better than they do, and that approach actually creates tremendous resistance. And so, I’d say the key point of the book is instead of approaching people as a critic, approach them as an ally.

So, that’s actually the first step of the four-step process. When we approach someone as an ally, as we want the best for them, instead of coming across as we know better, their defenses don’t come up, and very often the changes that we’re hoping they make are changes that they would like to make themselves. So, what we’re doing, first and foremost, is not creating or fomenting or exaggerating their resistance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, could you give us some examples of how we can make that shift? Like, I guess the end destination is the same. We still want to get to the same place. But it’s sort of the stance, the posture, the vibe that we have with the other person. Can you sort of share some contrasts, like, “Hey, saying something like this is critic territory versus saying it like that is ally territory”?

Peter Bregman
Yeah, I think that the first step is even before that, in a way, which is to say, “How are you thinking about this? How are you approaching it?” Because, like Howie just said, almost always we’re annoyed. Like, the point at which we want to start changing people or helping people change is from a place of frustration and annoyance.

And so, the first step almost is, “How are you talking to yourself? How are you showing up in this dynamic and in this situation?” And if you’re saying, “That person is so annoying, and it’s so frustrating.” And in that frustration, finding the care behind it, underneath it, meaning that anytime you’re frustrated or angry about something, it’s because you care about something. There’s something you care about.

And, in some ways, that first step is to speak to yourself in a way that says, “I care about this person,” or, “I care about the outcome that we’re both trying to achieve, and I care enough to want to put some energy and effort into kind of helping it move in a certain direction, or helping them move in a certain direction.” And that’s really a first step.

Howie Jacobson
Yeah. So, you spoke also about the idea of, like, we’re trying to get to the same place. Maybe not, though. Because when we’re focused on, “Okay, I want my spouse to eat better,” and we’re going to do things that are going to try to lead them there, as opposed to what we really want to do is to ignite in them the qualities that allow them to change themselves for the better.

So, one of those, for example, is ownership. So, the more we’re pushing for it, the less space they have to say, “Yeah, this is something I want for myself.” We want them to have independent capability so that they have to develop it over time and be able to do what it is they have to do in various situations of increasing challenge.

So, if we’re really focused on enabling them with these and a couple of other qualities, then we’re going to go about it very differently. So, instead of saying, “Here’s what you should do,” and just go out and giving advice, we’re going to be very curious, like, “Hey, tell me about the situation. Tell me about the challenges you’re facing with eating healthy. Tell me what bothers you about your body right now that relates to food.”

Very often when we get people talking, they solve their own problems. And when we create the space for them to not feel judged, they can open up and become very creative.

Peter Bregman
And, Pete, I’ll just throw out one other thing, which is initiating that conversation is really important. And instead of just offering advice or criticism, or using the example that Howie gave, instead of just sort of saying, “Hey, I noticed you took that third cookie. Is that really the best decision given that you’re trying to lose weight?” to actually ask permission to engage in the conversation, to say, “Hey, that’s the third comment you’ve made about how you can’t stop eating. And I just noticed it, and I’m wondering, do you want to think this through together?” And they might say, “No, I’m not interested in thinking it through together,” in which case, you don’t have the opening to engage in the conversation and support them and help them change.

But, oftentimes, if you’re raising it in a way that’s uncritical, and then you’re able to say, “Hey, this thing that you’re struggling with, do you want to think it through together? I have some thoughts. But do you want to think it through together?” Their likelihood of saying, “Well, yeah, I’m happy to talk with you about it” increases their ownership in having the conversation and being part of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. And then, let’s see, so we’re shifting from the critic to ally. And then, can you walk us through? You got four key steps, that’s the first one. Can you give us the overview and sort of dig into each of them a bit?

Howie Jacobson
Sure. So, the second step is once they’ve said, “Yeah, I’d love some help thinking this through,” is that’s the point in which we all just want to give them advice, like, “They have said yes. Great. Now, let me tell you all the things I know.” And instead of that, our approach is to immediately ask about an energizing outcome, an outcome that they want, because we’re still going to get into all the nitty-gritty and all the good, bad, and the ugly of the situation, but we want to frame it in terms of, “What do you want?”

Because when people are in problem mode, when they’re struggling, their brains, our brains, when we’re struggling tend to be very defensive. So, we’re looking at threat, we’re trying to avoid threat, as opposed to when we are looking for good things, looking for food, looking for opportunities, looking for mates, this is like evolutionary, biology, psychology 101, when we’re in opportunity mode, we see much more broadly, and we can act on opportunities, that when we’re in defensive mode, we don’t even see.

So, by immediately getting them to shift their thinking towards, “What do I really want here?” not “What am I trying to get away from?” we can open up a huge internal reservoir of creativity and optimism. So, that’s step two.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Peter Bregman
Yeah, and I can jump in with step three. So, step three is the opportunity. So, in some ways, we’re starting the conversation by getting permission and really focusing on being their ally, then we’re identifying what is the outcome that they want. And then the third is, in this problem, there’s an opportunity. I don’t know what it is yet, they might not know what it is yet, but there’s an opportunity. And how do we find out what’s good about the problem that can guide us to finding an opportunity that doesn’t just solve the problem but makes us better off than we were before the problem?

So, if the problem brings us to a negative, and solving the problem brings us to zero, we’re going for positive, we’re saying, “How do you find an opportunity?” And I’ll give you an example of that, which is it’s actually an example I was thinking about today.

But I eat too much sugar, and so the problem is I eat too much sugar, I want to start eating less sugar. And one way of handling it, the issue is to just sort of say, “Okay, how do I stop eating sugar? Like, if I stopped eating sugar, then that would solve my problem.” But if you really ask questions, and when Howie uses this process with me, and Howie asks me a bunch of questions, one of the questions is, “What’s good about the sugar habit? Like, you have a sugar habit. What’s it doing for you? How is it helping you?” And I realized how it’s helping me is I’m way overtired, like, I’m working way too hard. I’m doing too much, and sugar keeps me going.

And so, maybe the problem I’m trying to solve isn’t, “How do I stop myself from eating sugar?” but the sugar problem is identifying an opportunity that I could use more rest in my life, like there’s a larger problem and a larger opportunity that the sugar habit is pointing to. And once I understand that, I can begin to solve for the opportunity of getting rest in my life. And by doing that, not only do I solve my sugar problem, but I solve a whole bunch of other problems that go along with my sugar problem.

So, that’s just one example of what is the opportunity that’s hidden in the problem. And then the fourth step is a plan, and it’s getting very, very specific, “What am I going to do? By when? How am I going to do it? How will I measure my success? How will I know that I have succeeded or haven’t succeeded? And how do I learn from the experiment that I’m going to be doing on sort of addressing this or finding this opportunity to achieve the outcome?”

So, if you think of the four steps, you’ve got being an ally and really being supportive and getting permission, identifying an outcome, finding the opportunity to achieve that outcome, and then identifying a path forward and ways of holding myself accountable in order to get there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Well, could you give us a couple examples of folks successfully changing other people, and then kind of walk through these four steps?

Peter Bregman
Sure. So, I’ll give you an example that we talked about in the book, and it’s an actual example. It’s a guy named Brian Gaffney who is CEO of Allianz Global Distributors, and he walked into an organization that was losing $30 million a year. And it had a leadership team in there, and he came in and he basically used this process, he used the process, in order to, with the same team he was working with beforehand, he came in and he turned the company around to a gain of $140 million. And there were all sorts of problems on the team. There were people who were like really salespeople who were smart but kind of sloppy and turning off other people, there were like all sorts of different people had different problems or challenges on the team.

And the first thing that he did was he would go in and, basically, identified where there was a larger opportunity, basically saying, “Look, we’re losing $30 million. That is not our intention. We cannot sustain ourselves as a business if we continue to lose $30 million,” and talking to the team, in general, to be able to say, “Are you willing to think with me about ways that you can change that will help turn around this company, and, also, to learn how to have these conversations with the people who report to you? Like, are you willing to do that?”

“Because if you’re not willing to do that, we’re going to continue to lose $30 million, and that’s not going to help any of our bonuses. So, there’s certainly motivation to do it. That said, I still need to know that you’re willing to do it because I could tell you plenty of examples where people are losing $30 million and the company goes bankrupt because they don’t make changes in the team.”

So, to a T, everybody said, “Yeah,” but that doesn’t mean that they know what to do and how to change. So, now, Brian is in this role where he has to help all of the leaders in the organization make certain changes. So, step one is he’s got their permission. Step two is identifying the outcome, and, organizationally, there’s a big outcome. The outcome is to become profitable, that’s organizationally. But individually, the outcome is going to be different for each person because each person is struggling in a different kind of way. So, it’s having a very specific conversation with each person, and saying, “What is the outcome that you’re going for?”

And I think one of Brian’s great successes is he didn’t leave it at a mild outcome. He kept raising the bar and encouraging people to raise the bar so, for example, in the example I gave beforehand, which is someone who was sort of smart but, literally, sloppy, they showed up in a sloppy way, they presented poorly. That person says, “Okay, I want to not be sloppy.” “Well, that’s solving the problem. But what’s going on, like what’s the real outcome you want? The real outcome you want is to have an incredibly impactful presence when you’re in a room with a number of people so that you move the room. That’s the goal. Yes, not being sloppy is part of it but that’s not the goal. The goal is to have the kind of presence that moves the room.”

Great. So, now, let’s look at where are the opportunities to help you grow that capability, and it has to do with feedback from other people, it has to do with engaging people in a different kind of way, and then they can work through and work through, “How do we explore and identify the sloppiness in dress, and sloppiness in style, and sloppiness in approach becomes this trigger that says, ‘Okay, so what do I have to do to have the kind of impact that moves a room?’”

And, yes, the person ends up cleaning up how they present but they also begin to think about their audience, they begin to think about, “Who are these people I’m presenting to? And what is it that they need? Not just what do they need to see in me, but what are they longing for?” Like, the whole mentality of this person started changing to go from living in their own kind of world of brilliance to thinking about their audience. And their opportunity was to think through, “How do I serve the need of the clients that I’m trying to serve?”

And then it was being very, very accountable about saying, “What are the challenges that we’re facing? And what are the opportunities that we have and specific milestones and benchmarks for making the kinds of sales that we want to make?” But it’s all based in the outcome of having an impact on your clients in a certain kind of way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. Well, so digging into each of these in some depth, I’m curious, when it comes to getting the permission, in your experience, how often do people say yes? And what do you do if they say no?

Howie Jacobson
Well, one of the things you have to do is you don’t ask a question you’re not willing to hear any answer to. So, if you’re not willing to hear, “No, I don’t want to work with you,” then don’t ask the question because then you’re just trying to force an outcome in which we saw that any kind of forcing on our part makes it less likely. So, we’re really talking about best odds rather than some sort of Svengali Mesmer technique that’s going to be manipulative and gets them exactly where we want them to go.

So, the first is be willing to have people say, “No, I don’t want to engage.” Saying the best way to increase the odds is for someone to feel like you have their best interest at heart. And so, one of the things as coaches, we learn, is that our first thought about what someone needs is almost, always invariably wrong. Like, someone will talk to me, and I’ll go, “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen this before. I know exactly what’s going on here. I’ve solved this a hundred times. I’m just going to keep my mouth shut so I’ll be a good coach but I really know the answer, and I’m going to get them there.”

And three minutes later, I’m like, “Boy, I’m glad I didn’t open my mouth because I had no idea, neither did they, but the space of exploration opened it up.” So, to be willing to say, like, “I want the best for you. I want you to have ownership of your life. I want you to have independent capability to chase the things, the outcomes that you want and achieve them. I want you to have the emotional courage to make tough decisions and stick by them when the going gets rough. And I want you to be able to do all that well into the future when we don’t know what the future might hold.”

So, if I’m trying to get someone to eat a certain way, or to start exercising, or to stop interrupting in a meeting, it’s my agenda. But one of the things the book really believes in is we basically trust other human beings to know what’s best for them, and then if we open up the space for them to take ownership over their lives and to achieve the outcomes they want, that that’s probably good for everyone.

Peter Bregman
A hundred percent, and I’m thinking about something as you’re saying this. And, Pete, your question is a great question because there is some magic in asking permission not just for the person who gets to say yes or no, but for you. Because if I’m frustrated with your behavior, and it’s just sitting in my mind and I’m annoyed and I’m frustrated, and I don’t ask permission and I just start giving you advice, and you get pissed off and you don’t accept my advice or you tell me to mind my own business, I leave both more pissed off, you leave pissed off, we’ve hurt our relationship.

But if I ask you, “Hey, look, I’ve noticed this thing, and are you open to thinking about it with me? Or, do you want some of my help?” If you say no, for me, it separates me from an obligation to impact you. Like, you’ve said, “I don’t want your help.” Now, I know, I understand the dynamic now. Now, I might be frustrated by that but I’m probably not going to keep trying to change you.

Now, there are sometimes when you have positional power. If you’re a boss, and you say, “Hey, if you want my help in thinking through how to be more effective in a meeting,” and the person says no, but they still do poorly in a meeting, ultimately, there’s going to be consequences. That’s just the reality of a corporate organizational life, which is, “If I have positional power over you, and you’re my employee and you’re not performing, there’s going to be consequences to that non-performance.”

But if I offered help and you say no, you are now really accountable for your behavior, and I am now really not accountable for your behavior, and it creates a lot of clarity of who’s responsible for what, which keeps things very, very clean. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Howie Jacobson
Yeah, and another thing is when somebody says no, and you accept that with grace, you might be confounding them a little bit. Like, if you’ve been trying to change them for years, and they say, “No, I’m not interested,” and you give up, you say, “Okay, cool.” They’re like, “Huh, did they just do that? That’s different.” And you could play the long game, and, at some point, they might start trusting that you’re not trying to force them to change. So, the very act of saying no can open the path for a later yes.

Peter Bregman
I’ll give you a very precise example, which is what happens with my daughter. Like, I would give my daughter all sorts of advice, and I was sort of giving the cookie example, and I’ve talked a lot about sugar, so now you know what my habits are. But she had eaten a whole bunch of cookies, and she was complaining about it, and I said, “Do you want my help?” And she said, “No, no, I’m good,” and I said, “Okay,” and I didn’t mention it again.

And then she comes back, and she goes, “Hey, but I would like to talk to you about it now.” I’m like, “Okay. Well, that’s great. I’m happy to talk to you about it now.” But it was her choice, like it wasn’t dad forcing something on her. It was her saying, “Hey, maybe dad can help here.” And that’s really powerful. Now, I’m responding to her requests as opposed to being a naggy dad.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. So, then we talked about the permission piece of things. And then I’d love it when we talk about, could you just layer on the examples associated with the energizing outcome? Because I hear you in terms of, “Hey, stop being sloppy” is not nearly as energizing as “Have a commanding presence in a room,” like, “Ooh, yeah, I like that.” So, could you give us a few more examples rapid fire so we can go, “Oh, okay, I see the difference between a not-so energizing versus a quite so energizing outcome”?

Howie Jacobson
Yeah. So, a friend of mine had lost like almost 200 pounds, and he started running marathons, and he contacted me because he was starting to gain weight back, not significant but five or ten pounds, and his whole thing was like, “I don’t want to be fat again. I’m not going back there and I’m scared because I’m starting to let things into my diet a little bit.” And we had a conversation, and the reason he wants to keep the weight off is he wants to be a better runner.

And so, his energizing outcome was, “I’m an athlete.” He’d never been an athlete, he never played sports in school, but now in his late 40s, he started seeing himself as an athlete, and so that was an energizing outcome. And to be an athlete, he was going to eat and move and live his life in such a way that he wasn’t going to be gaining that weight back, but it wasn’t about his relationship with the scale, trying to go two pounds up, two pounds down, which was, for anyone, can be a very annoying demanding relationship with very little benefit. But becoming an athlete, and seeing his identity as someone, something he never thought he could be, that really excited him and it made it much easier for him to do all those same actions.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Let’s hear another.

Peter Bregman
I’ll give you one that is a little bit of a complicated process but is really, really powerful, which is a guy that I was coaching, who was very, very frustrated with the way his boss’ boss was acting. His boss’ boss was getting aggressive and promised things that he felt like, “It wasn’t really something that we’d be able to deliver,” and it was like a difficult situation.

And so, he came in, and the problem was, “I’ve got this boss’ boss who’s getting in my way, and I would really like him to just go away. Like, how do I get out from under this?” And as we thought about, “What is the outcome that you really want?” and this will drive into the next step, too, which is opportunity, but, “What is the outcome you really want?”

It’s got nothing to do with the boss, “The outcome I want is to be a powerful actor in my own world and to be able to make the changes and the moves, organizationally, that I think are going to be most effective for the organization, and do it with integrity. Like, that’s the outcome I want. Like, I want power. I don’t want to be hamstrung by this manager,” the manager’s manager, in a sense, “And I don’t want to feel like my integrity is in question but I really want the freedom to deliver for my customers the way I want to deliver for my customers.”

Okay, great. So, now, it’s not about the manager’s manager anymore. Now, that problem still exists and we’re not going to ignore it, but, “The outcome is how I want to show up in the business, how I want to show up as a leader, how I want to show up as a contributor in the business.” And that’s an outcome that’s exciting, like, “Well, I’m going to have some power in how I show up. I’m excited about that.”

So, I can give you other outcomes, but do you want me to jump into the opportunity here, like where the opportunity falls in? Because, to me, I found this to be a fascinating one. It turns out that the same characteristics of that boss’ boss who was aggressive, and out there, and shooting from the hip, and willing to make promises, that there were things about those behaviors that were potentially very, very damaging, and there are ways in which this person that I was coaching was so far removed from those kinds of behaviors that he wasn’t able to have an impact.

Meaning, he wasn’t making commitments until he was a million percent sure that these were the right commitments to make, that he was afraid of being too aggressive, that these attributes that he saw as so negative in his manager’s manager were attributes that he was missing in his own life, and was making it harder for him to show up.

So, now, it turns out that this problem that he was trying to solve turns out to be a key element to how he’s going to achieve his outcome, which is, “I don’t have to get rid of my manager’s manager or avoid him or try to work around him. I actually have something to learn from him. And it doesn’t mean that I’m going to lose my integrity, and it doesn’t mean that I’m going to agree with everything he says, but there’s something about his behavior that I find alienating that can really help me to be successful. And because I find it alienating, I’m staying as far away from him as I can, and it’s limiting my own growth.”

“And so, I actually am now going to get into a little bit of a development relationship with him, which now is exciting because this behavior that was so infuriating to me beforehand, and so frustrating and alienating beforehand, I’m realizing, wow, I have an opportunity to learn something from this. And it doesn’t mean I’m going to take on his personality but I’ve got something I can learn here, and that’s kind of exciting when I think about how it might help me to achieve the outcome I want to achieve, which is to have more impact on the business.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And the last step, create the plan, you’ve used the phrase create a level-10 plan. What does that mean? And what makes a plan level 10 versus something lesser?

Howie Jacobson
Yeah. So, level 10 is our way of saying, “I want the person who is going to commit to the plan to say, when I ask, ‘How confident are you that you will try this plan?’ they’ll say, ‘Ten.’” Because, very often, what happens is we can get people to think of wonderful things to do, and, “Oh, that would be great. And, yes, I’m so excited,” and we never ask them, like, “How confident are you?”

So, to go into it, like think about the next time you’re going to have say no to a cookie, Pete, or the next time the guy you were just talking about has to have a development conversation with the manager’s manager, “How confident are you that you’re going to actually do it?” And we then take people to think about what’s that moment, and really like, “Yeah, no, I probably wouldn’t,” or, “That’s a step too hard,” so then we can say, “Okay. Well, let’s think about the rungs of the ladder. Can we do something easier?” Because momentum and motivation come from confidence, and confidence comes from experience.

So, one of the things we’re helping people do, one of the four attributes we’re looking for is this emotional courage. And so, we want people to challenge themselves but we don’t want them to have something that they really don’t think they’re going to do because the best predictor of whether you’re going to do something, aside from whether you want to do it, is whether you think you can. So, that’s why we say level 10, where we want to make sure that we’re offering people a path forward that they are willing to try because they think they can succeed.

Pete Mockaitis
And, zooming out a bit from this, I mean, sort of across the four steps, what are the top things that we shouldn’t do? Any key phrases not to say? I’m already kind of gathering that it’s like, “You always do this. What’s wrong with you? Get your act together.” All those things are probably incompatible with your ethos and model here. But any other choice words or phrases to embrace or avoid?

Peter Bregman
Sure. I think anytime you’re going to give someone advice that’s not requested, and it took me a long time to learn this because people pay me a lot of money to give them advice. Like, I’ve built a really good business on giving people advice. So, when I try to give advice to people, like in my family who are not asking me for advice, I find it’s not appreciated the same way I would expect it and want it to be appreciated. So, anytime, like to really hold off on criticizing people or giving them advice or even suggestions, unless they’re asking for it, is really helpful to do, and that means sort of managing and controlling your own emotions around kind of what you’re seeing and what you want to have happen.

Another thing is, and this sort of seems obvious and yet it’s very hard to hold back, sort of snide passive-aggressive comments, like, those are not very helpful. Or, even little comments, like, “Oh, huh, so you’re eating another cookie?” Like, not helpful. Commenting on your behavior is probably not going to have the impact that you wanted to have. If you comment on someone’s behavior, like giving them a narrative, “Oh, I see you went for seconds,” or, “I noticed, oh, you’re talking again in the meeting. Another comment from John.” Those things lead to shame, and shame is an inhibitor of change.

So, if I feel shame about something, it’s counterintuitive. If I feel shame about something, I’m probably going to deny that I’m doing it and I’m going to end up keep doing it because we will do almost anything not to feel shame. And so much of the way we try to change people, often elicits shame. And so, any kind of comment that is offered without permission, I would say don’t share.

Howie Jacobson
And there’s a flipside to that, which is we think so we’re not going to say negative derogatory things, that we want to say positive upbeat complimentary things, and that can be dangerous. If someone comes up, we’re working on the plan part, and we’re helping them identify options for what they could do, and they say one and it’s the one we’re thinking of, we could say, “Oh, that’s great. That’s terrific.” We’ve just shut them down, they’re not going to think of other ones because now they’re afraid, “Well, if I say another one, then he might not like it as much.”

So, we want to make sure it’s not our agenda that’s driving it, and we want to appreciate their willingness, their courage, their willingness to be in the process with us, but we want to not evaluate. And the flipside of a negative evaluation is a positive evaluation which still puts us in charge.

Peter Bregman
And to your question, Pete, about let’s keep it really simple, what do you say or you don’t say. That’s where the four steps come in. It’s like it’s actually very simple. Ask permission,  , like, “Hey, do you want to talk about this? Or, can we talk about this?” If they say no, it’s a non-starter. If they say, “Yeah, I’d love to,” then the only thing you’re saying is, “What’s the outcome you want here? What are you going for? What are you looking for? What, ideally, would you want as an outcome?”

And then you’re just engaging in a conversation about how they might be able to get there. We make things more complicated than it needs to be in many ways, and it’s very simple. Ask permission. Identify where you’re headed, what the outcome is. And then brainstorm ways of getting there and opportunities that your problem might be offering you.

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

Peter Bregman
I think the only thing I would want to mention is that this is…I think changing other people gets a bad rap. As soon as you say, “You can change other people,” you’re seen as possibly as manipulative or like you’re controlling, and I honestly feel like changing other people, helping them make the kinds of changes that they struggle with and are unable to make on their own, is the most gracious, kind, caring, loving thing that we can do.

And the reason Howie and I wrote this book is because to give people the skill, the capability to skillfully help others make changes that they struggle with in their life. The world is a better place if we’re able to do that with each other. So, I just wanted to kind of share that.

Howie Jacobson
Yeah. And we talk a lot about the litmus test of whether you were successful is whether the person thanks you afterwards, like they’re really grateful for the conversation. It’s the opposite of half nelson-ing them into compliance.

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

Peter Bregman
One of my favorite quotes of all time is Frederick Buechner, the theologian, who wrote, “Your vocation in life,” or the work that you should do, your calling, “is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” Like, find that intersection of your greatest joy meeting the world’s greatest need, and spend your time there. I love that quote.

Howie Jacobson
One that’s come to recently is very much related to the book is a Joseph Campbell quote, he says, “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” So, all the places that I say, I wake up and I say, “Ah, I wish this wasn’t happening,” to look at it again and say, “What can I make of this? How is this an opportunity for me to become a better person?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Peter Bregman
I’m going to be a little disappointing here but almost all of…I mean, I read a ton of books for my podcast, but my favorite books, or I make a habit of reading what my children are reading, and my children are really into like YA fantasy fiction, and the Crooked Kingdom is the last thing that I read. My kids often will tell me, “There’s a lot of leadership in these books. You should have the authors of these YA fiction fantasy books on your podcast.” And I’m like, “Yeah, maybe I’ll do that someday.”

But I love reading what my kids are reading.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Howie Jacobson
And, for me, the book that’s had the biggest impact on me over the past couple of years is Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta, and the subtitle is “How Indigenous Wisdom Can Save the World.” And it’s an indigenous Australian philosopher and craftsman talking about Western civilization from his perspective and how it’s unsustainable and the lessons we need to learn. And it’s a very beautifully insidious book. It got inside my head, and I’m now seeing all of our problems from this other perspective. So, I found it very helpful.

Peter Bregman
Howie, you are so much more profound and sophisticated than I am.

Howie Jacobson
I wish I had known what you were going to say. I didn’t have to go that high to beat it.

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

Peter Bregman
Honestly, like I got to tell you, the tool is my phone but I use it in a very, very different way than 90% of the people, which is I actually use it to make phone calls. Like, I love, I just pick up the phone and I call my clients and we’re in this brief conversation, even if it’s a 10-minute conversation, and I just…I really love the phone for the use that I grew up, knowing what it’s for and having real conversations.

Howie Jacobson
My tool right now is my adjustable height desk.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Howie Jacobson
I do different things at different heights, I found. Like, I write at one height, I podcast to the second height, I do admit in the third height.

Pete Mockaitis
Those are fun for sure. Well, do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Peter Bregman
My final call to action would be to, and do it now as you’re listening to this podcast, think of one person in your life who could really benefit from your support, like one person, and start to try to use this stuff. Take that first step and ask permission if you can have the conversation with them because you will be awesome in your job if you help the people around you be awesome at their jobs. And so often, we think we’re struggling to be awesome at our jobs despite the people around us. And I think we would be far more awesome in our jobs if we can help all of them be more successful, we’ll be more successful as a result.

Howie Jacobson
Yeah, I want to leave that right there.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. Well, Howie, Peter, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of success and positive vibes as you’re changing other people.

Howie Jacobson
Thank you.

Peter Bregman
Thank you, Pete. Such a pleasure being on with you.

702: Building the Courage to Speak Up and Stand Out at Work with Jim Detert

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Jim Detert says: "Advocacy isn't just yelling my conclusion more loudly. It's helping people see why I came to that conclusion."

Jim Detert discusses how to build your courage to stand out and influence.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why acting courageously is easier than you think
  2. The four fears that keep us from acting courageously
  3. The most effective way to get others to listen to you

About Jim

Jim Detert (PhD, Harvard) is the John L. Colley Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Detert’s research focuses on employee voice and other forms of workplace courage, experiential leadership development, and ethical decision-making and behavior. His research has won several academic best-paper awards, and his teaching and curriculum development have also won multiple awards at UVA and Cornell.

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors!

  • LMNT. Get a free sample pack with 8 delicious electrolyte packets at DrinkLMNT.com/awesome.
  • Blinkist. Read or listen to summarized wisdom from thousands of nonfiction books! Free trial available at blinkist.com/awesome

Jim Detert Interview Transcript

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

Jim Detert
It’s great to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be chatting about courage at work. And I’d love to hear from you upfront, what was a time you really had to muster up some courage at work?

Jim Detert
Well, as a tenured professor, it’s actually kind of laughable perhaps to talk about courage at work. I have a real privilege of a type of job security most people don’t have. So, I would say, most of the times I’ve had to muster up courage at work in the spirit of challenging long-standing tradition. We’re pretty slow to change.

And so, when I was dean, for example, of our executive MBA program, I found myself repeatedly responding to statements that we can’t do something, with statements of, “By ‘I can’t do something’ do you mean it’s illegal or immoral, or simply that we haven’t done it in the past and prefer not to?” Those, frankly, are so numerous that I won’t bore listeners with all the specific examples of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that is a nice helpful distinction to put front and center there. Cool. All right. Well, so that’s your personal experience. And how about your research, any particularly counterintuitive or surprising discoveries you’ve made about courage at work over your research career?

Jim Detert
Well, I think a few insights that have emerged that might seem counterintuitive, or at least they’re counter to the narrative. So, for example, I think we have a myth, in fact, I know we have a myth that courage is some kind of in-born trait or capacity that a few possess but most don’t. And having studied, literally, thousands of individual actors and acts of courage, I can tell you that there is no magic gene, there is no magic personality trait, background experience. People who step up and do the right thing at work, when they could and should, very tremendously in every dimension you and I can name. So, one sort of insight or sort of myth-busting for me has been it is not about a personal type. It is about a personal choice.

I think related to that is that people talk about courageous action as if these folks were sort of born ready or it was easy but, in fact, when you study folks, when they’re talking about John Lewis, for example, in the political realm or so many people I’ve studied in more regular kinds of workplaces, what you realize is that actually what looks like this natural confidence comes from hard work, years of practice, years of trying things, learning how to be more effective. So, that’s a second takeaway, is that this is like any skill. It’s developed through practice and commitment.

Maybe one insight or aha about the process itself is we think a lot about the moment when somebody speaks up or steps up. That’s the thing we remember and tend to pass on through narrative. But it turns out that what seems to make a difference in many cases for how those moments go is the preparation work and the things people do before those acts, and then, maybe most surprisingly, what they do after. So, skillful actors don’t just manage the moment well. They’re really good about after the fact, following up when things seem to have gone well, getting commitments, securing resources.

And when things didn’t go so well, they’re courageous enough to go have yet another difficult conversation, and say, “Hey, you look upset or angry or your body language suggests that you weren’t onboard. Can we talk about that?” And I think that follow-up is something we don’t think much at all about because we’re so focused on that big-bang moment itself.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing, yes. So, you’re right, in terms of as we just think about being courageous, like what comes to mind is exactly that, those moments of stepping up, saying something unpopular, or challenging the status quo in some way. And so, that’s a good thought in terms of there really is some private work going on either internally in their own brains or sort of afterwards one-on-one in the mix. Well, thanks for those. And maybe zooming out a bit, so your book Choosing Courage, what’s the central thesis here?

Jim Detert
The central thesis, I guess, going back to where we started, is really that courage is a personal choice and it’s a responsibility, and it helps to think not about courage as if it’s some sort of property. I often say, if you do an autopsy of somebody, you won’t find some stock of courage somewhere in the body. There is no such thing. So, it helps to think about courageous action.

And once you say it’s about whether you do something in those critical moments, you then can assume personal responsibility. And, in a sense, the thesis is that we don’t allow ourselves to say that any other virtue is just a responsibility of some, or that we should do some of the time. If you think about fairness or moderation or kindness, so many other principal or cardinal virtues, those aren’t just the responsibility of one of my ten coworkers, or myself, one of ten opportunities.

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m not really an honest person, Jim. You know that. I leave that to the other guys. They’re often honest. That’s good enough for me.”

Jim Detert
The question, right, is, “Why have we allowed that?” We wouldn’t say that about any of these other traits, these virtues, so why do we allow that in the realm of courage? Frankly, I think we let ourselves off the hook too frequently. And part of it is because we’re afraid, and so the book talks a lot about how to address fears, and part of it is because we’re not very skilled, and so we see so many screw ups in ourself and others when people do try to behave courageously, that we conclude, “It’s just too dangerous.”

And so, the book is fundamentally about saying, “Hey, you got to choose your moments, but then you have to be willing to take on some risks and you have to be willing to do the work to increase your competency.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, Jim, it’s interesting, we’re talking about virtue, and I’m thinking about Aristotle and how the pursuit of the good life is good in and of itself, and brings about happiness and such. But just to get mercenary for a second, is it in professionals’ best interest to choose courage? Will that help them be more awesome and advance their jobs? Or is it better to play it safe? How do you think about that?

Jim Detert
So, I think there’s basically two answers to that question. First of all, it depends on your goals. If your goals are basically to just get ahead, potentially as quickly as possible, then, frankly, you and I know there are lots of organizations where the definition of being awesome at your job is keeping your head down, doing what you’re told, and just delivering. And in that regard, you could say choosing courage in the short run, not a great idea.

On the other hand, if you say, “I want to live of life where I felt I had agency, where I was authentic, I was true to myself, l lived my values,” then, hell, yeah, it’s the right choice to make. Another way to think about it is, “Over what time horizon?” So, if you’re talking about whether, “Choosing courage will necessarily put me in line first for the next promotion,” well, maybe, maybe not. But when you start to look at a longer-time horizon, like, “Will I be proud of the legacy I’m creating? Will others really remember me and want to stand with me? Will I have long-term regrets or not?” that’s when this choice is so critical.

If you look at the regret literature, for example, it’s pretty well-established that people, by a large margin, tend to regret inactions, things they think they should’ve done and didn’t than actions they took that didn’t go well. This is true even in people who suffer pretty big consequences – whistleblowers, for example. Almost none of them say they regret doing it.

So, what I would say to listeners is it depends. If you’re talking about how to be most popular or get ahead tomorrow, well, sticking your neck out is not always the best approach. If you’re talking about living what you or I or Aristotle or anybody else would call the good life, then I’d say, yeah, you got to choose courage sometimes.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d imagine, with sort of any measure of prudent risk-taking and say, “I’m going to take on this big project or responsibility or duty or opportunity where the outcome is uncertain,” I think that a level of that is essential for a career to advance, otherwise you don’t seem that special, it’s like, “Okay, you did your job within the realm of ordinary responsibilities. You didn’t deliver near really cool sort of noteworthy improvements, so.”

Jim Detert
Yeah. Okay, I would say if we’re really honest there, a few paths probably to eventually standing up. One, of course, is to be the absolutely best political player. Attach yourself to the most important people and play their game and you’ll get ahead to some degree. Now, for those of us who find that approach distasteful in a variety of ways, I think you’re right, you have to stand out eventually and with some consistency in other ways. And that’s where there’s such a difference between just being courageous and being competently courageous.

My book is titled Choosing Courage. It many respects, it should’ve been titled Choosing Competent Courage because, indeed, the route to success is not just speaking up or speaking out, pushing back against every possible thing you could in offensive language or with terrible emotional valence. It’s about doing those things in ways, to your point, to help you stand out positively. Because not just did you point out a problem, a path forward, a way to expand a market, a creative idea, but you did it in a way that those above you could hear, that they weren’t offended by. Because, at the end of the day, you can stand out in positive or negative ways. And what you’re referring to is how to stand out in positive ways, and that’s about skills when you behave courageously.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, we’re talking a lot about courage and standing up, standing out, taking risks, speaking up. Could you make it all the more real for us in terms of some examples of common places where courageous acts make all the difference at work, or where people often shy away? Kind of what specific kinds of moments are we talking about here?

Jim Detert
So, there are a few sorts of prototypical types of acts that if you sample thousands of people, as I have, say, 75% or more will say, “Yeah, unfortunately, these behaviors are moderately courageous or more.” The most obvious type of behavior, set of behaviors, are what I call truth to power behaviors. So, these are challenging your boss, or skip-level bosses. It could be about policies or practices. It could be about interpersonal behaviors that are offensive or hurtful. It could be about actually illegal or unethical things. It can be about going to bat for your own subordinates to people above you. So, lots of truth to power behaviors.

Somewhat surprising, going back to that conversation, I was surprised to the degree to which when I just asked people, “Tell me about a behavior at work that would be courageous,” I expected that everybody would say truth to power type behaviors. What I wasn’t prepared for was the frequency of people talking about how hard it was to have honest conversations with peers or even have honest conversations or give difficult feedback to subordinates. And the reason I think that was originally surprising to me is I was thinking primarily of risks in terms of economic or career consequences, “If it doesn’t go well, my promotion, my pay, my future here is at stake.”

It turns out, people have a few fundamental fears, and that’s only one of them. People are also highly afraid of social consequences. If you think about it, it makes sense. We’ve evolved in small clans, bands, tribes, and our daily tasks was survival. And if you got ostracized from your group, you were going to die, and you were going to die in short order. And so, it’s not illogical that even though that’s not our environment today, evolutionarily, we’re still programmed to be hugely afraid of being ostracized, to have social consequences.

We also hate psychological risks. We say, “Why don’t people step up and try a new task or take a new job or be more innovative?” The answer there is often they don’t want to look stupid. They don’t want to feel embarrassed. They don’t want to see self-doubt creep in. And so, there’s actually this huge range of behaviors that’s not just about challenging power. It’s about difficult interpersonal situations with peers, subordinates, external partners. It’s about being innovative.

I developed an index of the most common behaviors I heard about from thousands of people, and there’s 35 different behaviors. And many of them, you would probably say, “Gosh, for a professional or a manager, isn’t that just doing your job?” And I’d say, “Yeah, it is, but these things have been surprisingly infrequently.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I love this. So, categories of fears: economic risk, “Might lose my job or money or promotion”; social risk, “Folks will not like me, shun me, ostracize me”; psychological risk, “I might feel stupid or embarrassed if I screw this up and look real dumb.” Are those kinds of the three categories or are there some more there?

Jim Detert
Well, the fourth one, which is real in many contexts I didn’t mention, is physical. If you go back 2,000 years of courage-writing, the vast history of courage-writing was about military contexts. And sure enough, there are still, in military, firefighting, police work, plenty of other settings that come to mind, they’re so physical risks. And even, frankly, I was surprised the degree to which folks who work in any sort of service occupation – bartenders, waiters, customer service – actually report cases of being physically assaulted, accosted, threatened with a weapon, so there’s physical risks also that some people face.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And these 35 behaviors, can you tell us what sort of tops the list in terms of like one, two, three?

Jim Detert
So, in terms of level of courageousness, not surprisingly, those physical risks. So, jumping into the middle of imminent physical risks or harm is number one. What’s surprising, though, is that there are several other behaviors that are statistically no different in terms of how courageous they’re seen as being. These are things like being willing to challenge bosses or skip-level bosses about unethical or illegal behaviors, quitting a job on principle. There are actually several, more available to all of us, kinds of jobs that are actually seen as just as courageous as these physical risks.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. So, that’s the lay of the land. Now, Jim, tell us, if we think we want or need or should do something, and we feel scared about doing it, walk us through it, how do we go about choosing competent courage?

Jim Detert
So, let’s talk just briefly about what you would do before you would take that specific action, then sort of the moment itself, and then what you would do after. So, before. Some people say, “Hey, I’m not ready to take this specific act,” and I say, “That’s fine but you can still work on it every day.” And they say, “What does that mean?”

Well, what it means is the reception you’re going to get to that challenge you issue is, in part, based on the content of the issue. Is that a highly sensitive threatening issue to the boss? But it’s also going to depend on the impression that boss has already formed of you. Does that boss think you’re benevolent? In other words, is the reason you’re speaking up because you actually care about him and others in the organization, or is it because you’re self-interested and just trying to get ahead?

And the boss is also going to ask himself or herself, implicitly, “Hey, if I listen to Jim or Pete, and give them resources or take action they’re suggesting, are they competent, can they do it? Can they make good use of these resources?” And so, every day, we are creating in others, perceptions of whether we’re warm and competent, and that’s really sort of setting the stage, showing people we are fair, we’re emotionally intelligent, on a regular basis sets the stage. So, those things you can be doing every day.

Another thing is the question of, “Is this really the right issue? And is it really the right battle and the right time?” So, if you work in an organization, any organization I’ve ever studied, you could pick something to speak up about every single day but most of them are not truly important to you and don’t make a huge difference. And so, having the skill to sort of suss out what are critical to your core values and to your objectives, and which are sort of tertiary issues, that’s really important.

A woman I work with, Tawana Burnett at Facebook, African-American female leader, really a spectacular leader, and she’s one of the first 20 black females at Facebook, and she said, “Look, if I was going to speak up every single time somebody said something that was inappropriate or insensitive based on race or gender, I’d be doing it every day, but I also would quickly become ineffective because people would stop listening to me.”

And so, she said, “Look, my core value, my core objective is that we have to get more black females into leadership roles, senior leadership roles, because only then will things really change.” So, her rule is, “When things offend me, I ask myself, ‘Is this about the hiring, evaluation, or promotion of black females?’ And if it is, I speak up because we’re not going to get where we need to go if I don’t. If it’s about other things, I may choose to let it go.” So, it’s really about sort of choosing wisely.

Then there’s the moment itself. That’s about what you say, where you say it, how you say it, with what emotional tone, and I’ll give just one specific sort of general piece of advice here. All of us, when asked or when thinking about, like, “I’m going to go for it on this issue,” our first instinct is going to be to say the matter, present the issue, try to give the persuasive remarks from the perspective that’s compelling to us. After all, it’s our brain in which we’re concocting the story, the argument, the pitch, and so our tendency is going to be to frame it in a way that works for us. Often, that’s exactly wrong because if you already control the behavior of the other person or the resources the other person controls, you don’t need to do this anyway.

And so, imagine, for example, that I work for you or with you, and you are really compelled by things that affect us economically, that hit the bottom line, and you really are sensitive to threats or risks to our wellbeing or performance. So, you care about the money and you care about threats. But I come in pitching this great new idea to you, and I’m talking about how it fits with our values and it’s so culturally aligned with who we are, and how it’s such an opportunity, and that opportunity framing and cultural framing doesn’t resonate for you at all because I failed to mention the economic reality or the potential threats if we don’t do this.

And so, people have to remember that it’s the target’s ability to hear and respond well to what you’re saying that makes all the difference. And my book talks about lots and lots of specific strategies for achieving that, but the high-level concept is you got to speak to the target. And then as we started with, I mentioned the importance of following up, whether things have gone well and you’re securing additional resources or timelines, or whether they haven’t gone so well and you’re trying to mend fences, that’s really important, too.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, when it comes to the framing, I would like to hear some of the specific tidbits there. So, do you have some archetypes or categories of frames, so values, economic? Those sounded nice in terms of, yeah, those have very different flavors to them. Any others that come to mind?

Jim Detert
So, there are some other sort of broader frames. For example, I versus we, or sort of win-win versus win-loss. I think what we often fail to remember, we know this but we fail to remember it in the moment, is that when you’re telling somebody why they should do something differently, or you’re pitching your idea, part of what they’re hearing is, as the recipient is, “Oh, you’re saying I’m bad, or my idea or current practice is inferior,” or, “Oh, you want to do this,” or, “You look good and I look like a fool.” And so, framing that helps people understand, “I don’t want to replace or win at your expense. I want to take what you’ve done to the next level. I want to be the scout out front who then brings us all along together. I want to expand the pie for everyone.”

So, helping people be able to hear what you’re saying because they really think you’re on their side, and that you’re advancing excellence rather than beating something down in a win-loss, that’s a huge element of positive framing. And then, frankly, there are lots of just small things we inadvertently say. We can have sort of a beautiful set of data compiled and we can present evidence and solutions, and in just a couple small words, we can screw things up.

We often follow, for example, into the trap of naïve realism, which is simply this idea that there’s just one reality out there, and it just happens to be, “The one that I see. So, if you don’t see it my way, you’re dumb.” And when we unconsciously operate that way, we’ll say things like, “Well, since it’s so obvious that this is the case,” or, “Since this is so unambiguous,” “Since it’s so clear to everybody,” “Since it’s unquestionably the case.” Well, the effect of words like unambiguous, or so clear, or unquestionably, is essentially to say, “If you have any questions or doubts or see it any differently, you’re a dummy or you’re self-interested.”

So, learning to speak with less certainty, learning to avoid other certain phrases, I call them frequency words. My wife and I still joke, 25 years in, how often we would get distracted from the actual content of what one or the other of us were saying because the person who pointed something out would use the word never or always.

So, for example, if my wife wanted me to actually help with the dishes, she was actually quite correct if she would say, “You don’t help clean up as often as you could or should.” That was a correct statement. But if she would say to me, “You never help with the dishes,” the never would trigger me and I would get into a frequency argument with her, and say, “That’s not true,” and I would pull out my little notepad and say, “On Tuesday, July 30th, I actually put the pizza dishes in the…” And so, we would get derailed into an argument about never or always and away from the underlying issue itself around which she or I would be right.

Also, saying things, for example, like, “Don’t take it personal.” I would submit to listeners that we actually never use that phrase except in situations when we know at some level it’s personal. There’s no reason you would say that if that wasn’t the case. There’s the classic scene from You’ve Got Mail where Tom Hanks has got the big Fox Books store and he’s putting Meg Ryan’s little family independent bookstore out of business, and he says to her, “Why are you so mad at me? It’s not personal. It’s just business.” And, of course, she rightfully says, “What are you talking about? ‘It’s not personal?’ This is my family’s bookstore. This is nothing but personal.”

And so, I think avoiding phrases like, “It’s not personal.” And, listeners, if they want, can easily find a short piece on HBR.org that I wrote just a month or so ago on trap phrases and words to avoid in a conversation that speak to all of these kinds of examples.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it when we get specific about precise words to avoid. Any words that you love, key things that find their way into a lot of great communications?

Jim Detert
So, if you go back to the great sort of master Chris Argyris, he talked about the idea of cognitive ladders of inference and advocacy and inquiry. And so, for listeners who haven’t heard of this, the basic idea was that most of the time we communicate at what Chris called the top of the ladder, our conclusion. I say, “Hey, Pete, we should do this and we should do it tomorrow.” That’s a conclusion. And Pete says, “That’s crazy. We should stick with what we got.” That’s a conclusion.

What we fail to do is get below those cognitive ladders of inference, that is what’s going on in our head. So, if I’m saying, “Hey, we should do this and we should do it tomorrow,” what I have done actually is I’m drawing on some data, like, “Hey, here’s data on what our competitors are doing. Here’s data internally on how our sales have decreased recently,” or, “Hey, here are some data on us losing some top talent because they’re bored.” And from that, I might reason, “We need to do something new and we need to do it in a way that catches the market’s attention, and, therefore, I reached that conclusion I said to you.”

And, similarly, you’re saying, “Hey, we should stick with it the way it is.” The thing is that you’re looking at other data. You may be looking and saying, “Nobody above me has said we have a problem yet. Most of the industry is still doing what we’re doing.” You might therefore reason, “I think things are fine. Jim is just antsy. They’re ballistic with what we’ve got.”

And so, the specific tool here is advocacy and inquiry. And advocacy isn’t just yelling my conclusion more loudly. It’s helping people see why I came to that conclusion. So, phrases like, “Can I share my data with you?” or, “Can I help you see my reasoning?” things that reveal your ladder, language that reveals your ladder. And then the most powerful thing are inquiry phrases, saying, “Hey, Pete, I heard you say that you think we should stay. Can you help me understand why? Can you help me see where you’re coming from? Can you share your reasoning with me?”

Skillful inquiry is perhaps the single best way to sort of build communication bridges I know and have ever read about. And all you got to do, we’re talking about the world of work, but all I got to do is look around the world we’re living in, the divisiveness politically, etc., and you realize we are all constantly screaming at each other from the top of our ladders, and we’re not good at all of helping people see where we’re coming from, or taking perspective by asking people where they’re coming from.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. That’s so good. That’s good. And speaking of emotions, what are your top tips on managing the emotions, like, either you’re super scared or you’re super angry when you are prepping to speak up, choose courage?

Jim Detert
Yeah, so fear and anger, we sort of all intuitively know, they have the opposite action propensities. So, fear will tend to make you sort of flee or freeze. Fear is an avoidance emotion, whereas, anger is an approach emotion. Anger makes you want to go toward the source. So, the advice has to be quite different. With fear, you have to do things, frankly, often ahead of time. Over longer periods of time, it can be about being in good physical shape, it can be about mindfulness, yoga, anything that sort of helps you sort of change your sort of base physiological response.

People with high fear often find they have to also take specific steps like scripting out in advance things they’re going to say. They may have to practice more and have people sort of shoot back at them so they can practice sort of staying in the moment and not fleeing. Most people don’t physically run out of a room but you’ll see them just shut down and cave. And so, they have to really practice camping down the fear.

Anger, on the other hand, is, in some respects, useful because if you get angry enough about something, you’re actually likely to bring it up and say or do something about it. The problem with anger is you’re likely to be quite unskillful – offensive, for example. And here I’ll tell a story about myself. Most people, I think, in fact, almost everybody who knows me would say, “Jim has no problem choosing courage but at times Jim has had a problem with displaying competent courage.” And in most instances, that would be because I let anger at injustices or problems or whatever get in the way.

And so, part of dealing with anger is what you do in the moment. It turns out these old adages like, “Count to ten,” or, “Take three deep breaths,” these are actually quite useful because what they actually are doing is trying to engage your parasympathetic nervous system to calm down. It’s often a very useful tactic to try to teach yourself, to train yourself, to accept in emergencies not speak in that moment but schedule a follow-up, allow the moment to pass and then schedule after you’ve sort of gotten your emotions back together.

And then, frankly, part of it is knowing who you are and using strategies, sometimes even technologies to be your friend. So, in my case, this was a number of years ago, having made the classic mistake of firing off some emails when I was upset. I’d learned that you can actually set the Outlook timer to basically hold all emails you’ve sent in the outbox for any designated number of minutes or hours. And so, for quite some time, I set my Outlook outgoing mail to hold for 60 minutes because I knew that if I basically didn’t send emails for an hour, there was a very high likelihood I would calm down and revisit that email and have a chance to save it before I couldn’t.

So, learning strategies for both, lessening your anger, and then sort of navigating around it are really important.

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

Jim Detert
I think, again, the thing to really know is that if you accept the premise that we’ve talked about here today, which is that this is a choice everybody has to make and it’s about skills, then the really important thing to do is to set specific goals. And I guess one thing we haven’t talked about is the reason I think people often don’t engage in courage at work is they think of the very scariest thing that comes to mind first, and then they, rightfully so, conclude one of two things, “I’m not going to do that because it’s too difficult and it’ll go terribly,” or they’ll say, “I tried it, and because it was so incredibly difficult and I wasn’t ready, I totally screwed it up. And that only confirmed for me how stupid choosing courage is.”

I think this is akin to the idea that you decide, you’re not a runner but you decide you’re going to run a 10K. Well, the dumbest thing to do would be to go out and try to run 10K the first day. You’d be so sore with so many injuries, you’d probably never jog again. So, what I encourage people to do is build a personal courage ladder. Yeah, you can put that scariest thing on the top rung but put some sort of moderately difficult things in the middle rungs, and put some things that you’re a little afraid of but you could imagine doing on the lowest rungs, and then choose those to start with.

Because, as with any skill, the way you actually build competence over time is you start small, and you have a little success, and you feel better about yourself, it increases your motivation. So, what we haven’t really, I think, talked about enough is the importance of starting small. That’s how all skills are developed.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jim Detert
Yeah, I love the quote of George Bernard Shaw. He says, “Reasonable people adapt to the world around themselves. Unreasonable people try to adapt the world to themselves, and that’s why all progress depends on unreasonable people.” I think we give so much advice about sort of fitting in, getting along, and sometimes we forget that, actually, the great change agents, the people who we most admire were okay pushing boundaries and being a little bit unreasonable.

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

Jim Detert
So, although these are quite dated, I think, perhaps the most powerful research ever done was the Milgram experiments on deference to authority. Milgram was, essentially, showing that in any reasonable size town in America, he could find people who would be willing to pull the shock lever to pretty high voltage simply because they were instructed to do so by power. And I think the Milgram studies and Asch’s conformity studies, they have shown us, time and again, how powerful the forces towards sort of conformity and deference in hierarchies is. And that is such a potent set of research to remind ourselves why we have to sort of choose courage and change systems.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Jim Detert
So, I love some of the classic fiction books, like Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four, these books that you say, “Gosh, 50 years, or however ahead of time, these people, even though writing fiction, really foresaw a world that was going to come into being.” Also, recently, a much more recent favorite, I read a book called Awareness by Anthony De Mello. He was sort of a Buddhist monk who, essentially, in this book is saying, “Stop trying to change everything in yourself and everybody else. The first step is just awareness,” and then has a lot of tips on how to just become more mindful and self-aware.

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

Jim Detert
Yeah, I tell you, I was thinking about this notion of tools, and I felt a little bit like a Luddite because I’m not so much of a tools guy. But I will tell you that what I love, actually, are intellectual frameworks. A simple one, very consistent with the conversation we’re having, is Kim Scott’s Radical Candor two-by-two framework where she describes being radically candid as that beautiful combination of telling the truth but also having people understand you care.

And I love her off-quadrant descriptions of ruinous empathy, people who don’t tell the truth because they’re so worried about looking like they care, or people who are obnoxiously aggressive, they tell the truth but nobody thinks they’re doing it for the right reason. And I find that notion of having to move either from ruinous empathy or from obnoxious aggression toward that quadrant of caring honesty just such a compelling reminder when I work with folks.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jim Detert
So, I am a big reader of other folks’ advice on writing. And while people vary across the board – they write in the morning, they write at night, they write with a suit on, they write naked – you name it, there’s huge variance. But one thing that all writers seem to agree on is you got to have butt in seat, that books do not get written, articles do not get written, if you aren’t at the desk, if you aren’t writing.

And so, for me, a really important habit is just butt in seat. I don’t have to feel it, I don’t have to think I’m going to have great wisdom, I just do it. And, in fact, when I wrote Choosing Courage, I set a goal that I was going to write 15 minutes every day, just 15 minutes, I said, “If that’s all I got in me, fine. I’m going to write 15 minutes every single day until it was written.” And I did. And some days, because that was such an easy goal to achieve, I wrote for several hours, but there was no pressure to do just 15. And I think I wrote the first draft of Choosing Courage in 173 days of my 15-minute rule.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And is there a particular nugget you share that resonates with folks; you’re known for?

Jim Detert
So, I think I have said and seen multiple people quote this notion that leadership is not a popularity contest. We grow up thinking, because we see leaders as folks who emerge in the playground or in student council elections, or whatever, we think leadership is a popularity contest but great leadership is much, much harder than that and actually involves a willingness to sort of stand alone and sometimes do unpopular things. So, leadership is not a popularity contest. And then, more recently, I think this notion that competent courage comes from practice not any innate quality or capacity is, I think, something that has resonated with people.

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

Jim Detert
So, I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. I do a lot of writing and posting on LinkedIn. And I also have a website, simply JimDetert.com where my different projects, writing, curriculum, etc., are all shared.

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

Jim Detert
Build that courage ladder for yourself and commit today, not tomorrow, not next week, not next month. Commit today to what you’re going to do. And the particular challenge, beyond just build the ladder and choose something, is lock yourself in. So, if you know you have a hard time following through on things you find sort of difficult or risky, put some stake in the ground. Tell your boss you’re going to do it. Make a pledge that you will give a sizable amount of money to a charity or political party you hate if you don’t take the action by a certain date. Somehow lock yourself in. That’s how people end up doing hard things.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jim, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and success in all your courageous choices.

Jim Detert
Thank you much. Same to you.