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587: Finding the Beauty in Conflict with CrisMarie Campbell

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ChrisMarie Campbell says: "Do you want to be relational or do you want to be right?"

CrisMarie Campbell discusses how to get comfortable with handling disagreements.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to make conflict productive 
  2. The magic question for when you reach an impasse 
  3. A handy script for when you need to disagree with your boss 

 

About ChrisMarie

CrisMarie Campbell is a former Olympic and World Championship rower. She has also previously worked at Boeing as an engineer and helped initiate a groundbreaking cross-functional team approach for how Boeing designs and builds airplanes.

CrisMarie, together with her partner Susan Clarke, founded Thrive!–a coaching and consulting firm that specializes in helping individuals, leaders, teams and entire companies learn how to deal with differences to ignite creativity and innovation.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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CrisMarie Campbell Interview Transcript

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

CrisMarie Campbell
I’m excited to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your wisdom. You have had adventures in Olympic rowing, Boeing engineering, and now speaker, author, thought leader in the realm of conflict stuff. So, could you just give us a snippet, an anecdote, a tale, from your adventures in Olympic rowing?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yes. Well, first, you have to know I did not pop out of the womb being, “Woo, conflict.” Definitely, I was a professional conflict avoider. And I rowed at the University of Washington, go Huskies, and then went on to the Olympic team, and the National team really, and I had two boats that were very different. So, high-caliber athletes, both teams, but one team, I call it the tale of two boats because one team shouldn’t have performed, and we did, and the other team, we should’ve performed and we didn’t.

And what happened is, in the year before the Olympic Games, I was on the National team, and we had a group of people, I was wet behind the ears, I’d never been really on the world stage. I could’ve stroked the boat, which is the leader of the boat, the first person that everybody follows and sets a rhythm, but because I hadn’t raced at a national level, that we had this conversation and we picked a more senior person who had been at the Olympics before to row.

And so, that boat, we trusted each other, we dealt with conflict, we had each other’s backs. And when we came to the World Championships, we hadn’t beaten the Russians in like 15 years, and the Russians, they were so dominant. They were on lane one which is smooth water on the inside lane. We were all the way across the course on the outside lane, lane six, choppy water. And the start of the race happened, the Russians just took off, and we were rowing in the pack. And then halfway through the race, the cox then said, “We’re moving on the Russians.” And, you know, our boat just sparked alive and we picked up.

In the end, Romania won gold, we won silver, but we’re also happy to topple the mighty Russians. There was this big Romanian woman, and when we came to the docks, she had this big white hair, she picked me up in her arms, she picked another U.S. rower in her arms, “We beat the mighty Russians!” It was so cool. But that boat, we were able to deal with conflict and we trusted each other.

Now, the Olympic year, we had the same caliber of people. My story was I was injured and so I was off the water for three months before the games. I had to climb my way back in. I had made it into the boat, but that boat, we had factions, we had egos, and when it came, a month before, so bad, strategic decision, a month before the games, we made a last-minute decision to use an experimental boat. And I tell you, in that conversation, I didn’t speak up. I couldn’t row the boat, but I was like, “Who am I to say anything? I’m the last one in. I’m not going to speak up.”

And at the Olympic Games, we came in a disappointing sixth, and it was really heartbreaking, and that boat was never rowed again. It was scrapped because it was built on a computer. It was designed. But that team, I think we were more brittle because we didn’t have conflict, we didn’t speak up, I didn’t speak up. And so, I think that happens all the time in business where there’s egos, factions, people say, “Well, it’s not my place to speak up,” and then you don’t get good results.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that is a tale of two boats, and handy in the illustration there. So, your book is called The Beauty of Conflict. Tell us, can you make your pitch for why, in fact, conflict is beautiful?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, and I never would’ve believed it. I think conflict is beautiful because when people are willing to hang in there and hold for the tension of conflict, because conflict is when you have different opinions, passion, and you’re focused on a goal, and you bump into each other’s, well, different opinions, and we’re not comfortable with that tension, so we tend to opt out, and, “I’ll just do it myself,” or, “Wait a second. I just want to make sure you’re okay with me,” or, “I’m just going to focus on something else, not this problem,” and so we don’t hold for that tension. And that tension is potential energy. That conflict, that discomfort, that none of us like is pure potential creativity.

And what I’ve seen time and time again is when people can develop enough trust on a team or in a relationship to hold for that, what happens is new ideas emerge. That’s not your idea, Pete, or my idea, but something else percolates up because we’re holding that tension. And this happens all the time when we work with teams. We’ll do a two-day offsite when we could meet in person. We’re doing it virtually now, but that we develop trust, people get to know each other, they clear up some differences, and then we start talking about their business ideas.

If they had started right at first in the morning talking about it, they’d be grinding away. But when they’ve learned something to hold for that tension, new ideas percolate, and they have so many innovative and creative solutions that emerge. It’s really powerful. So, that’s what I think the beauty of conflict is.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then it’s intriguing. And you say that it’s uncomfortable for everybody.

CrisMarie Campbell
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I think that’s handy to understand that it’s not…is it fair to say that it’s not so much that once we just understand the theory about why conflict is beautiful, then we no longer feel those feelings? I guess that’s what I want to hear. So, I’ve done some training in Myers-Briggs workshops, and thinkers versus feelers. What’s really fun is that I’m a feeler myself.

CrisMarie Campbell
Me too, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
I will talk about conflict, and then I’ll ask, “Hey, if you get this weird sensation of discomfort, like crawling on the back of your neck, raise your hand.” And, usually, it’s mostly feelers and no thinkers who raise their hand, and it’s sort of a fun aha moment, like, “Oh, we are getting mutual understanding. Thanks, Pete. You’re great.” Anyway, that’s where I’m going for. And so, for those who are feelers, and still have this uncomfortable and unpleasant icky feeling like we still would prefer to avoid the conflict. Well, how can you encourage us and give us hope?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, you know, it is tough. And I think thinkers, because Susan is also a T and I’m an F in the Myers-Briggs, but it looks like they enjoy it. They like debate but only kind of on their terms. If they get threatened enough in their ideas, it’s uncomfortable for them, I think, as well. My story, I could be wrong. But I do think… so your question was how to actually get comfortable with it?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so yeah, maybe and maybe we never will. But if you could give us a little something so that we can feel better when we’re in the midst of it.

CrisMarie Campbell
Right. Well, there are things that I actually do to help settle and I teach people to do this, just help settle the nervous system. Because, really, if you ask anybody, “What did you learn about conflict growing up?” That’s a great team conversation because I grew up with an Army colonel dad who was pretty angry at dinner times, pretty consistently, but you never knew what was going to set him off. And my older sister liked to press his buttons, so every night at dinner I was like, “Oh, my gosh, don’t get him upset.” And so, I’d change the subject, I’d rephrase what my sister said, I’d do anything to kind of try to diffuse the energy of conflict. So, that’s how I became a professional conflict avoider, an accommodator.

And I think what I learned is that was wired into my nervous system so I’ve had to actually do things to help settle me in the midst of conflict. And one of the things that I do is I actually bring my awareness down to my feet because usually in conflict, my energy is up and out. I’m trying to manage and calm everything down, “Please.” And if I actually bring my energy in and down, I cultivate a sense of safety in my own skin. I can also notice…

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’re just thinking about your feet and how they feel? This is what you’re doing then?

CrisMarie Campbell
So, you can do this right now. Like, wiggle your toes, swipe your feet, and just imagine, you could feel your feet getting heavier, and you could even visualize like you’ve got roots coming out of the soles or cement blocks on them. And when I do that, because I’ve done that enough…

Pete Mockaitis
I’m waiting for you to insult me now, it’s like, “Okay, I’m ready. Bring it on, CrisMarie.”

CrisMarie Campbell
Often what happens is I take a deeper breath because, usually, when I don’t feel safe inside my own skin in conflict, I think, “Oh, my gosh, you’re going to get mad at me, or you’re going to attack my idea, or you’re going to leave.” So, we have these two basic things. Either somebody is going to attack me or somebody is going to abandon me at the core root of who we are as humans. And that’s the fear that comes up. So, when I can cultivate a sense of safety in my own body, it expands my ability to tolerate the tension out there if you’re upset at me. Does that make sense, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it’s interesting, I think I buy it as I’m doing it right now. And I guess I used to, when I was getting nervous when I was an interview candidate, you know, job hunting, I would just try to plant my feet on the floor, like, “We’re grounded here.” And so, it seems like you’re really kicking this up a notch in terms of imagining cement blocks and weights and rooted firmness, and sort of take it to the next level, so I think that would be just as good or better.

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, yeah, you can do feel your feet and also your seat. So, you can feel the weight of your bum in the chair, and just relax into it. Because, again, I’m up and out trying to like protect, “He’s leaning back.”

Pete Mockaitis
Adjust the mic stand.

CrisMarie Campbell
It usually helps me settle down. And if I’m really stressed out, okay, let’s say I’m really stressed out and I need to take a break, I actually go to the bathroom and I do a sound called voo, and this is from Peter Levine. And what it does is it vibrates your vagus nerve which is the second largest nerve in your body beside your spinal column, and that goes into your rest and digest.

And anything you can do to turn on your rest and digest, which it actually, it floods your brain back with more blood so you’re thinking more clearly. When you’re in that, “What’s going to happen here?” we’re in flight or fight, or freeze, or faint, whatever it is, and our brain is not online so you’re not going to be saying the best things or your eyes get very narrow like, “There’s the enemy over there,” versus opening up your eyesight, and even turning your head sideways. That’s another thing you can do. And I would suggest doing it slowly, and then picking an object and noticing it, and then turning slowly again.

And it gets you out of that, “Oh, my God, somebody is going to attack me over there,” which is the beady-eyed narrow focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that and I experienced that when I’ve done some keynotes in terms of if I’m sort of doing this scan. I just somehow feel more powerful in terms of, “I’m surveying my dominion,” as opposed to, “Uh-oh, that guy thinks I suck.”

CrisMarie Campbell
I can so relate to that.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say voo, is that it?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, it would be a big inhale and a vooooo. I’d keep doing it, like a long exhale, and that’s the vibrating. And you could even…

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like a lower tone, too, as opposed to…

CrisMarie Campbell
I like to do it lower, yeah. And if you purse your lips tight enough, you’ll vibrate your lips which, by the way, even if you were in a meeting and you couldn’t do the voo, you can touch your lips, and that actually accesses your vagus nerve which, again, goes to your parasympathetic rest and digest. So, even in meetings, if you can’t get out and go voo, because who wants to do that, you can just rub your lips like you’re thinking, like, “Yeah, hmm. Tsk, I wonder.” And that’s why kissing actually makes us feel better because it’s accessing your parasympathetic nervous system. That’s one reason, yeah. It activates a lot but…

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, CrisMarie, this is the good stuff in terms of it’s simple, it’s actionable, it’s tactical, and I have heard it before, so that’s why I love to hear it. Thank you.

CrisMarie Campbell
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So, there we have some comforting approaches when you’re in the heat of the moment, so that’s really handy. Thank you. Well, then let’s discuss maybe the actual content of the conflict in terms of what makes it come about and how do we engage it well in terms of actual maybe word choice or do’s and don’ts?

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, I think, Pete, most of us sometimes we’re not aware we just bumped into conflict. Like, if you’re upset about something I’ve said, I may not be aware of it, that, “Oh, my gosh, we’re, all of a sudden, in conflict.” So, to be aware and checking what are the signs and signals that somebody is upset. A feeler is probably hyper-aware, could be, scanning, “Are you okay with me?” that sort of thing. And if you are, let’s say, somebody gets defensive when you’re saying something, and you’re kind of taken off guard, the key that I usually suggest is rather than respond or apologize, is actually just reflect back what you’re hearing them say, like, “Oh, so it sounds like you think I don’t like your idea and I’m actually trying to put you down. Is that what you’re thinking right now?”

Because, one, if I take the time to reflect back, I’m buying myself time if I’m escalated or heightened. I’m also letting this person know that I hear them and see them and that they matter. I’m not agreeing with them. I’m just reflecting back what they’ve heard. And that, I know when somebody does it to me, I often settle down, and go, “Yeah, that is what I think is happening,” if I’m brave enough to acknowledge that. And then that’s a place of starting if you do bump into defensiveness. Or even if you’re defensive, you can reflect back what somebody else is saying as a way of buying yourself time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s a handy tip right there. And is there anything else that you recommend in terms of particular, I don’t know, scripts or specific words that seem to really help out frequently?

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, reflecting back is good. And then, also, usually, the heat comes up inside of me if I think you’ve said something that I take as like disrespect. That’s how it lands over here and that’s when I get upset. So, rather than just assuming that’s what you meant to do, is actually stepping back and asking, “So, I heard you say the Olympics were dumb. I’m wondering, was it your intention to insult me and my Olympic background? I just want to check.” So, I’m pulling something.

Pete Mockaitis
Has anybody said, “Yes. Yes, CrisMarie, I’m trying to stick it to you”?

CrisMarie Campbell
But you’re usually not trying to stick it to me. You’re usually just being you, but I take offense to it. And if I can say, rather than just react, like, “Pete, stop acting that way. You’re such a jerk,” which often people do. Rather than doing that to just, “Wait a minute, is that what your intention was because that’s how it’s landing over here?” And often you can say, “Well, yeah, I was in a snarky mood. I was trying to give it to you.” And then there’s something we can talk about, “Well, I don’t like that.” Or you can say, “Well, no, I was just teasing you,” or whatever is happening for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That is helpful. And then tell us what not to do. Those are some top things you recommend we do do. And what should we not do?

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, a lot of times what happens is we take in information through our senses, what we see and hear, and then it goes through our own personal filter. And this is all our historic significant emotional events, our gender, our culture, our race, what’s ever happened to us. And we have this giant data table in our head that says, “This is good and this is bad,” and out pops our story. And the problem that most people have is we think our story is right or fact.

“And so, it’s clear you don’t respect me,” that might be something that I lead with. We’re like, “No, no, no, don’t lead with your story.” Actually, break it down and say, “Well, I heard you say this. My story is you disrespect me but I want to actually check it out and find out what is going on with you right now.” So, one, break it down, and, two, check it out. That’s another language thing.

So, you’re not saying, “Am I right or not?” You’re just saying, “What fits and what doesn’t fit?” so it creates room for dialogue in this whole interchange. So, what you don’t want to do is assume your story is right. What you do want to do is break it down, check it out, and come to the conversation with some vulnerability and realness, and also curiosity about maybe, just maybe, you aren’t right about how this person is responding to you in that moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really handy in terms of I guess this entangling honest misunderstandings and I think that really does cover a lot because most people most of the time are not trying to stick it to you. Can you share then when we think about healthy conflict versus unhealthy conflict, are there a couple sort of principles or guidelines that you recommend that just sort of all professionals follow all the time?

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, there’s no one right way to be. Like, even teams, different collections of people have different things that they think is okay. Like, you can work with a team in New York and they’re into really hardnose teasing, and then somebody, a team in L.A. and they’re all very polite and nice. Those could be any two spots. So, each collection of people has to figure out what fits for them and in relationships.

I think if I could give kind of…when you’re stuck in a spot, do you want to be relational or do you want to be right? And, quite often, we get stuck trying to be right because that’s what we’re trained to do in school is get the right answer. That’s what got us the good grades. And that is just never going to be an influential relationship tool. If I proved that I’m right to you, what does that make you?

Pete Mockaitis
Wrong.

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah. Who wants to be wrong? So I would say notice, if you’re trying to be right, or do you want to be relational? And can you actually bring some curiosity even if you think that…Like, we were dealing with a group and we work a lot with teams of people. That’s often what we come in and do. And so, my examples are related to that.

But we had a team, it was an executive team in China, and we had done kind of a one day of healthy how to get along, deal with tough conversations, and then we’re dealing with their business strategy. And they were coming up to something, and everybody was kind of agreeing except for this one woman and she had a differing agree. Well, they got so mad at her. It was almost like they were going to back her into a corner like, “No, you have to agree with us.”

And we said, “Time out. Wait a minute. Do you remember any of those tools that we taught you?” And so, one person said, “Okay, I want to see if I can do this.” At first, he went over and sat next to her, so not right across from her, but next to her, and said, “Okay,” and this is a magic question we suggest you ask in your relationships at work when you’re at really big odds and you can’t get through, is, “Tell me, why is this so important to you?” And he said, “You keep pounding on this one idea. None of us agree with you. Tell me, why is this so important to you?”

And she started to talk, and he was reflecting back, he was doing that really well. And then, all of a sudden, you saw that, like, we’re going through interpreters. But, all of a sudden, you could tell like lightbulbs started going off in his head because he had slowed down the conversation enough to get what was underneath the strategy. So, they were all fighting over strategies, but he said, “Why is this so important to you?” And she was talking about how to grow the business in a whole different way, and then the whole room lit up, and they totally took in her idea and changed their strategy to incorporate it only because he was willing to slow down enough to try to understand what was going on with her.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is powerful and I think a lot of times, we just sort of assume that the other side is aware of these strategic implications, and we’re just sort of ticked off, like, “What’s wrong with these people? Why on earth would you be advocating these things which are diametrically opposed to what we obviously need to be doing?” And then they say, “Oh, yeah, we actually kind of forgot about that thing that we said we were supposed to be doing. Oh, I do kind of see.” So, that’s excellent.

And I’m curious. Like, I know that a lot of times, we want to move quickly and we want to have something close-ish to consensus and we find that holdout irritating. Like, “You’re slowing us down and being difficult. Now, cut it out.” But I think most of the time we don’t say it like that. But what are some like maybe the words or phrases that, if we hear ourselves saying them or hear someone else say them, we should be on the lookout, like, “Ooh, watch out. It sounds like you’re quashing dissent or destroying psychological safety to get the benefit of those holdouts”?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, I think it is like, “Could you just…? Like, what is your problem?” That would probably be one of them.

Pete Mockaitis
“Is this fun for you to slow all of us down and be annoying?”

CrisMarie Campbell
Because, again, usually people are just…they are putting the world together very differently, and so, yeah, “Could you just stop being a problem? You’re always the naysayer. Why are you such a pain? We just all need to agree.” And we don’t actually believe in consensus. We believe in having each person, kind of as adults, we don’t need to get our way but we do need to feel heard and considered.

So, if you have that naysayer who contend to be a scapegoat or the black sheep, if you can slow down and see how are you putting the world together, because this happens all the time with Susan and I, we work together. And she puts the world together so differently. And I have to admit, my first impulse is, “You’re just dumb. No way.” I have my arrogance about me because it’s so clear to me. And I have been confronted with, when I actually slow down and listen to her, it’s that same aha like, “Oh, wow, I did not think about that.”

And this is so important with what we’re going through today in our divides because it’s like we all collect our different pieces of data differently and put a story around it. Most of us want health and safety and success, economic, and all these things, but we’re almost too afraid to talk about it because we’re talking about that topline, like, “You’re right,” “You’re wrong,” versus, “Wait a minute. How did you come to that conclusion?” That would be another good question, like, “Help me understand how you came to your conclusion,” and slow down and don’t interrupt how they’re putting the pieces together so you can see what’s underneath that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it when someone shares a magic question, which you did, “Why is this so important to you or what makes that so important to you?” Any other magic questions that we should all know?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, “Help me understand how you put the world together, how you put these pieces together.” That’s one. Like, “Help me connect the dots.” And then the other is, “Why is this so important to you?” Because what happens, this is a really good one in couples because we also work with couples. And often, “You want to save money, I want to spend money,” we’re focusing on that. But when we slow it down, and couples usually want to get to a solution, work teams want to get to a solution, and so a lot of this is about slowing down and having the conversation, which seems like such a timewaster in the moment but it’ll save you so much rework in the end.

And you ask, “Why is this so important to you?” You’re going to get to people talking about what their values are, and why this matters, and what they’re really trying to get at. And that’s really the influence piece. This is a neat little tool that you can use this at home, you can use it with a coworker, if you are really stuck in loggerheads. It’s usually best done one-on-one, it’s called the 5-5-5, where, let’s say, you have a topic, let’s say you and your business partner are talking about expanding, and one agrees and one doesn’t.

And so, this 5-5-5 is you take the first five minutes and person A just talks about their position on that topic. There’s no interrupting, B is just listening and letting it in and letting it soak in, and A has enough time, five minutes could feel like forever. You don’t have to fill that whole space but it’s kind of like your space, your block of time to kind of, “Hmm. Well, I think this is why it’s really important to me. And, wow, I haven’t thought about that.” And so, what happens is the person is thinking out loud a bit more and they’re connecting the dots, and B is witnessing. And you use a timer, at the end of five minutes, then you flip, and B talks and A listens. Again, uninterrupted, not with a lot of reactions or theatrics, just kind of taking it in. You don’t have to take notes. You’re just kind of letting it wash over you.

And the last five minutes is a dialogue where that’s where you can ask clarifying questions, or, “Wait a minute. Did you just say that because I disagree?” You can have more of the dialogue. But at the end of the 15 minutes, you stop talking about it. It’s not a 5-5-45, it’s a 5-5-5. And what happens is the idea is not to come to solution. It’s more this investigative process. And if you have a stuck issue and you did this like once a week, or once a day, or whatever it was the right rhythm, you will find a much better solution and you’ll at least know you’ll have so much more clarity about what’s going on with each of you and what you want to do in that situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, what I really love about that is that, in a way, so it’s time-bound, so that’s great, it’s not going to carry on forever so you feel a bit more maybe safe or comfortable going there, it’s like, “Oh, boy, this is such a mess. I don’t even want to start.” It’s like, “Well, hey, no, we’ll do it in 15 minutes.” And, in a way, the fact that it’s likely incomplete after the 15 minutes, almost creates an improved condition to have great ideas in terms of like, “Hey, I know some stuff I didn’t know before, you know some stuff you didn’t know before, and now as we live our lives, we go to sleep, we wake up, we’re in the shower, like new ideas can come to life over the interim period before the next conversation pops up.”

CrisMarie Campbell
That’s true and I love that. And what you’re describing is what we think happens in the brain. Your brain keeps working on it in the gap, and that’s the same thing when you hold for the tension and you don’t run to a solution or opt out of the conflict. Like the energy is held and things start to percolate that’s why new ideas emerge with a group or a pair of you versus just the same thing that happens in your brain happens in the system, if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, tell me, I’m also curious, if it’s someone more senior, like your boss or your boss’ boss, how do you play that game? If you have a difference of opinion and you’re extra uncomfortable about bringing it up, what do you recommend?

CrisMarie Campbell
There was a study, it wasn’t done by us, it was where this organizational development group, they would do a survey, you know, they did their regular company surveys, and they said, “Hey, can we tack on a question just for our own research when we’re doing your survey?” And they said, “Sure.” And the question they added on is, “Who’s most influential in your company?” And if the name showed up three or five times, no big deal. But 30 times, they ask if they could shadow that person.

And what they found is, first, all the influential person weren’t the VPs. They were scattered all around in the organization. And what they found is that those people were most influential when…they were pretty average performers, not too stellar, but 5% of the time, when there was a difficult conversation, they showed up differently. And what they did is rather than let it go by or assume they couldn’t speak to a person in power is they would actually basically check out their story and say, “Hey, I heard you say this. I’m thinking this,” so they’re saying, “I’m thinking, I’m making up this story. My assumption is, my theory is, the story I’m telling myself is blank, but I want to check it out with you. Do you agree or disagree?”

And that simple model of, “I heard you say this,” or, “I saw you do this, so my story is blank, but I want to check it out with you,” is a very, “I’m speaking tentatively. I’m not attacking. I’m not assuming.” That was so powerful in shifting the dynamics of the discussion that they were influential in specific situations, powerful situations.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s beautiful because, I mean, anyone can do that and to know that that can get you on the most influential list with one little trick. It takes such courage I think to do it but it’s nice to know that there’s a framework. And it’s very hard to imagine the person on the other end saying, “How dare you?” So, it’s like, “Oh, well, no, that’s not what I meant.” Or, I guess the worst-case scenario is like, “Yeah, you’re darn right that’s what I meant. If you don’t like it, you can get out.” It’s like, “Oh, okay. Well, I guess I know now where we stand and, in a way, that’s helpful too.”

CrisMarie Campbell
Right. That’s clarity. I really appreciate that, Pete. You’re exactly right. Do you really want to be working for that type of person in that sort of situation? And it does take courage. And we say courage is vulnerability and curiosity. We call those the two magic ingredients – vulnerability and curiosity. The willingness to share, “This is how I’m putting the world together,” and most people just want to ask a question, like, “Do you really agree?” whatever it is. They don’t want to reveal themselves. But you are more influential when you do speak up, and say, “Hey, this is what I saw, or this is what I heard, and so this is the impact over here, the story I’m telling myself but I want to check it out.”

And nine times out of ten, when people don’t take those times to speak up, they start to feel smaller, like a victim, and resentful in the situation if they have to take on more work or things like that. And even if I do speak up to you, you’re in a position of power and I speak up and it doesn’t go well, or I don’t get what I want, you don’t change, you’re my boss and you still give me this same amount of workload, you’re right, at least I have that clarity, and I also have my own back. I spoke up for myself. And that’s often what I am coaching.

I typically coach women leaders who are successful. They’re smart even assertive but struggle speaking up to power in those 5% of the times to actually create the influence that they want and, I mean, because that was me. I remember my boss, I was working at Arthur Andersen for a big project and I was leading a team of six and we mapped out the strategy. And my manager came in, a senior partner, and he said, “No, you’re not going to do that, you’re going to do all this.” And he changed the whole thing. And I thought, “That’s not going to solve the client’s problem.” But I didn’t say that. I just asked a question, I said, “Do you think that’s going to solve the client’s problem?” And he barked at me, “Yes! Get back to work.” And I was catapulted back to the colonel, my dad’s dinner table, and I shut up.

We got to the end of the project, we did it his way, it didn’t solve the client’s problem. And, of course, we wanted to have more work at this client so all the partners came in, they invited the vice president in, and all the project managers were sitting around the sides of the room, you know, the peons. And they said, “So, how have we been doing?” And he goes…this is a humiliating experience. He actually pointed to me and he goes, “Well, you know that project, CrisMarie ran? That’s a disaster. Complete disaster.”

Now, my manager was sitting in the room, he didn’t say, “Oh, no, she followed my strategy.” I took the blame for it, and I was like, “Okay, I got to figure out how to speak up because this is career-limiting.” And it often is when we don’t learn how to speak up to power and especially bully-type power. We wind up feeling marginalized and less than, and we energetically shrink and take less risks, which I think is horrible.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you have to finish the story now, CrisMarie. So, then what did you do in the moment?

CrisMarie Campbell
I did not know. I did not know. I actually met Susan like in a few months, and I saw her deal with a group of people, this is why I probably thought of the bully. She was facilitating this group, and this guy was just being not very…I don’t want to say anything bad on your podcast. He just wasn’t being a nice guy. And she said, “Hold on a minute.” And she went toe-to-toe to him, and he backed down, and the rest of the group took a sigh of relief, and I thought, “I want to know what she does.”

And so, that actually was the start of our working relationship because I wanted to work with her, and that was 20 years ago. I brought her into a project, a different project than Arthur Andersen, and she just was willing to stand up to people in power in a way that was strong and worked. And I thought…and so that’s how I solved it. I changed my whole career.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is this sort of using the tools that you’ve spoken about here? It’s like…

CrisMarie Campbell
It’s using the tools and it’s also really, Pete, I had to go through my own un-programming of my nervous system based on my upbringing with the colonel, the dad, because I basically was terrified. But that wasn’t because of what was happening in the room right now. It was actually because of how I grew up. And so, when I realized, “Wow, this is just like…” how you know it’s an old pattern is it happens every time, you feel the same way. That grip on your shoulders. Mine was like, “Ugh.”

I remember I was in a situation where I recognized it. I looked down, my shoulders curled…I couldn’t breathe, and I went to the bathroom, and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m terrified of conflict,” and I was shaking. And I came out and I said, “You guys…” this was with a group of friends and they were debating, and I said, “I can’t…I need you to stop.” And they were actually more curious but it was the start of me unraveling this pattern from before.

And once I did that, you know, you can have all the tools but unless you do kind of that discovery work, and it’s often in the body in the nervous system, that is what really creates the free…the courage, if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
This is lovely. Thank you. Well, now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yes. “It’s not what you do, it’s what you do next,” and that’s from Susan Clarke who I work with. And she’s a great believer in, “Hey, if you say something, and somebody across from you is like looking hurt or upset, it’s not not to say it, but then to be interested.” Like, “Whoa, okay, something I just said landed over there the way I didn’t intend. Tell me what’s going on,” and to be interested. So, “It’s not what you do, it’s what you do next.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

CrisMarie Campbell
Currently I am reading Permission to Feel, and it is a book about how emotions are so important and we try to pretend they’re not there, and it’s really harmful for us. And so, how to actually deal with your own emotions as a tool to help you make better decisions and have a happier life.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

CrisMarie Campbell
It’s going to be feeling my feet and my seat because I probably do that 20 times a day. It seems simple but it’s something that brings me back inside of myself versus trying to please or achieve, and it helps me settle down and make better decisions. It’s free.

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

CrisMarie Campbell
A lot of people like “Do I want to be relational or do I want to be right?” They think about that in their primary relationships because we so often want to be right when with our spouse, and that seems to really resonate for them. Ask yourself that in the midst of a tense situation.

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

CrisMarie Campbell
You can check out our website which is ThriveInc.com and I’m also CrisMarieCampbell on LinkedIn and Facebook, there’s not too many of those that spell their name like I do.

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

CrisMarie Campbell
I would say slow down and ask the people around you, “Why is this so important to you?” to really find out how they’re putting their world together. And while you’re doing that, especially if you’re getting triggered, feel your feet and your seat so you can keep coming back to yourself and not worry about changing them or agreeing or thinking you have to do something different because that’s usually when we get ourselves upset.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. CrisMarie, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all of your conflict situations.

CrisMarie Campbell
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate that. You, too.

581: How to Empower Teams in Difficult Times through Coach-like Conversations with Michael Watkins

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Michael Watkins says: "You're not there to provide answers or solutions, you're there to help facilitate a process... of discovery."

Michael Watkins shares the new conversations leaders need to have in order to empower and support their teams during difficult times.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The question all leaders must ask during a crisis
  2. Why you don’t need to solve problems to be of value
  3. The best thing to do when conversations get emotional

About Michael

Michael Watkins is the co-founder of Genesis Advisers, a global leadership development consultancy based in Boston, Massachusetts, specializing in transition acceleration for leaders, teams and organizations, where he coaches C-level executives of global organizations. He is the Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at the IMD Business School. He has spent the last two decades working with executives—both corporate and public—as they craft their legacies as leaders and was ranked among the leading management thinkers globally by Thinkers50 in 2019.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Michael Watkins Interview Transcript

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

Michael Watkins
It’s great to be back, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s great to have you. Boy, I think it’s been about four years. You were episode 29 back in the day. What have you been up to in four years?

Michael Watkins
Well, it’s been interesting, right? So, still at IMD, still doing a lot of work on leadership transitions, still running the consulting company, coaching a lot of CEOs these days, which is absolutely fascinating because, of course, going into a new job right now is just so different than it was before; writing some stuff on onboarding people remotely. But probably the most interesting work has been around the crisis and how people are responding to it, how companies are responding to it, that’s really been the most interesting stuff in the last sort of two-three months.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes. And tell us, what have you discovered in your observations, in your research, in terms of what’s new, what’s different? How is work a different ballgame?

Michael Watkins
So, there’s a few different dimensions to that, Pete, and maybe we can unpeel them a little bit, right? The starting point for me getting really interested in this work was I was sitting with an executive team, and it was a senior C-level executive that I was coaching, and she had her team together to sort of talk about the crisis and how things were doing, and doing a little bit of a check in, and they were all kind of expressing their gratitude for, like, “Hey, look, this hasn’t been so bad for us really, but when we look at our people, I mean, look at a level down below that, there are some really different level of magnitude of impact on lots of people.”

And one of the leaders in the room said, “We need to understand, as a leadership team, that we’re in the same storm but we’re in very different boats.” And that was, I think, a very interesting phrase. He knew it wasn’t an original phrase and I tried to kind of track it down. But that got me thinking a lot about just how different the impact, Pete, is on people by age, by stage, by industry, and so I started doing a little bit of writing about that. We also did a pretty big survey through IMD looking at some of the impacts, and so a survey of 600 or 700 leaders across the globe, looking at how they were being impacted.

And one sort of related finding that was really interesting was that it’s the middle tier of leadership that’s really being hit the most by this. The junior people are doing reasonably okay, the senior people are doing reasonably okay, And our theory about this, basically, is, “Look, you’re a part of a two-career family, people you know are losing their jobs, you’re trying to manage the kids at home,” so that was kind of an interesting piece of research and writing. And I want to help leaders think about what’s the impact on their people and begin to coach those people in a reasonable way.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you say hit hardest, is this just like on the questionnaire that says, “Hey, I am experiencing a great difficulty,” and we see like those responses are kind of the strongest there? Or what do you mean by hit hardest precisely?

Michael Watkins
So, the way we framed the question was, “To what extent is the crisis creating negative impacts for you at work and at home?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael Watkins
And so, what we saw that was really interesting was the biggest impacts for work, the work side, were senior then middle then lower level. But the biggest impacts on the home front were the lowest on the senior because often their kids are gone, they’re pretty well off, somewhat higher at the bottom but it was the middle tier that was really suffering at home, and that’s, I think, not surprising in some ways once we thought about it given the pressure that you’re facing if you’re dual career, with kids, trying to manage some of what’s going on right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. And so then, you field out this whole COVID-19 stress index, and what kind of insights can we glean from that in terms of, let’s say we are in the middle, it’s like, “Hey, we’ve learned it sucks to be you”? Okay, well, that’s one insight. What else do we got?

Michael Watkins
No, it really sucks to be you. Let’s be clear, right? So, look, I think the biggest insight here was that senior leaders needed to understand, first of all, at much a deeper level than typically they do, what’s going on with their people. And they need to be willing to coach those people in a way that they probably have never coached them before, and they need to get over the terror of opening up that box of kind of “What’s going on with you really, Pete? Like, what’s really going on here for you?” Because normally, most leaders in normal times, they don’t open that box up very often, and they don’t dig into sort of, “Where are you energetically? Where are you in terms of what’s going on with you right now? How much capacity do you have to really deal with more?”

The context was, by the way, the team was trying to decide how hard to push on the transformation. They’re like, “Yeah, we got everything under control. We did this, we did that. We reacted beautifully to the crisis. We’re feeling great about things. So, hooah!” And this is something else we could talk about, Pete. The crisis is actually accelerating a lot of transformation in ways of working and digital, we can talk about that a little bit, so let’s just drive. And there’s kind of like a, “Well, wait a minute. Let’s take stock of how much energy our people really have and try to understand and factor that into our thinking about how rapidly we’re going to try and push this whole process forward.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s so many fun directions we can go. And I want to talk about that notion of “How are you doing really?” is not something that people go into very often in terms of sort of a work context. So, I want to learn all about that in terms of to what extent should we, “Hey, work is work, and home is home, and people need personal lives”? To what extent is it optimal that colleagues engage in that discussion? Let’s start with that. Tell me this, how often do you think we should go there?

Michael Watkins
Well, I think we should go there now a whole lot more as leaders than we normally would because this is not normal times, and there are such major differences in the impacts this is having on people. And I guess I start with a very pragmatic point of view, which is you want to try and get the best out of your people right now. That’s part of your role as a leader is to mobilize and focus and to sustain the energy of your people. It’s core to what leaders fundamentally do.

Under normal circumstances, we create this kind of reasonable division between work and life, and we tend not to dive too deeply into people’s lives because, in general, we’re not responsible as leaders in a business for those lives. And you know people are going through things, they’ve lost a spouse, they’ve lost a child, they’re going through financial difficulty, and, depending on the leader you are, you may open that selectively for certain people. If you are someone who’s a real high performer, Pete, “Here’s Pete. Pete’s a real high performer but something is not right. His performance has dropped off pretty significantly. He doesn’t look like the Pete we know, so maybe we’ll peel open that box a little bit and maybe we’ll say, ‘Look, we’re going to give you a little time to get through this divorce, this situation.’” That’s the norm, the way it was before.

Now, almost everybody, when you get down a level or two in organizations, is in some form of challenging situation right now. If you think about the people at the very top of organizations, in general, they’re not going to lose their jobs; in general, they’re financially secure; in general, they’re living in safe places, but so many of the people below them in the organization, none of those things are true. And so, what would’ve been an exceptional thing that you might’ve done, Pete, to open up that box and, “Pete, how are you?” I think it’s become what you normally need to think about doing. Doing those check-ins with your people, seeing where they are, just for the simple reason that you want to try and push that organization forward, continue to get work done.

Like the team I talked to, that chief quality officer, knowing how much she can push forward with something without crashing the organization, crashing people, it’s just, to me, is a very different situation. most leaders are not equipped to open that box up on a fairly broad basis with a lot of people. In fact, they’re often terrified, Pete, about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I want to talk about how you open the box well and how you deal with the internal terror. But, first, if we could maybe get a preview of the prize to be had when you go there, could you share with us a cool story about a leader, a team, who made the shift and saw some cool results?

Michael Watkins
Yeah. So, this, I’ll keep with the example I gave you because I think that what happened, it was fascinating what happened, which is the CQO, the chief quality officer, she said, “So, how are we doing?” And the first person out of the box basically just kind of bared their soul not about their personal challenges, but about some of the challenges that a couple people who were working for them were facing. And there was this kind of like silence, kind of this “Huh,” kind of everyone else sort of when she finished, there was this kind of like, “Wow, I didn’t think we were going to go there. I thought it was like the usual check-in where we’d say, ‘Oh, yeah, everything is fine. Things are going great. Working on this now. Everything is good.” But it opened the floodgates of a lot of dialogue about the differences in what some significant people were facing.

And this person was, “We didn’t know they were high risk. We didn’t know they had a mother who was living in an old-folks home in the midst of a fire zone of virus.” You got to understand the things, right? And so, there were decisions made about how quickly and in what way to push forward with that transformation that were very different than what would’ve happened otherwise, Pete. There was a decision, “Hey, we’re not going to quite push with the pace we thought. We’re going to buy ourselves more in the direction of asking for volunteers, for people to step up and do things, rather than start to assign roles and responsibilities.” And, to me, it was just fascinating how different the response could be if you had people who, as leaders, were tuned in to some of the emotional reality of what was going on.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s cool. Well, then it sounds like that team had a greater appreciation, understanding, camaraderie, bond there, and just didn’t put people in terrible burnout-type situations by demanding that they step on the gas full steam ahead when there’s not much in the tank available to do that.

Michael Watkins
Oh, exactly. Right. Exactly, Pete. And I think that if you ask sort of what’s the longer-term benefit of that, it creates a greater sense of cohesion, it makes people feel connected to the organization and not so alone, it’s an expression of humanity. We don’t expect humanity necessarily in business organizations but it turns out that there are humans in business places, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Michael Watkins
So, yeah, to me that was just kind of fascinating. And then the other point you were getting at a little bit was, “Okay. So, wow, I’m going to open the box. I’m going to sit with Pete and three or four of his peers on my leadership team, and I’m going to open the box. And, Pete, how are you really doing?” And you’re going to start with level one of, “I’m fine. Everything is good. Yeah, challenging times. It’s good. But when the going gets tough, the tough gets going, you know. Ah, I’m fine.” “No, Pete, how are you really? Because I’ve seen, to my eye, it looks like there are some challenging things going on for you.” “It looks like, whoa, you actually are asking me what is happening for me?”

And there may be a little bit of time and you may have to do it a couple times, but pretty soon there’s a real discussion going on. Now, you might ask yourself, “What’s the benefit of that?” And you might ask yourself, “That sounds like the work that a coach would do, or a therapist would do, to open that little box up. I’m neither of those things. I’m a leader. I’m not a therapist and I’m not a trained coach. And a kind of this scary thing for me.” And think about it, Pete, why is it frightening to do this?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess, as I’m putting myself in that shoe, well, one, I guess it could just be anytime something is new, different, unfamiliar, there is a weirdness or awkwardness associated with, “Oh, we’ve never really talked like this before, so this is…” So, it’s just weird because it’s new. That’s one thing. And then I think the other thing is, as a leader, I kind of want to be able to provide all of the answers and resources and solutions, and when you sort of go into a different domain or arena, I may very well have really nothing to offer, and that feels uncomfortable as well, like, “I can’t give you what you need.”

Michael Watkins
Well, so I think that you just nailed the second one. I think there is, “Uh, this is different,” but it’s really that second insight, Pete, that’s so crucial which is, “I’m used to solving problems. Part of the reason why I’m a leader is because I’m really good at diagnosing and solving problems. And so, my inclination to a situation like this is to try and fix your problem. And so, if you present a problem to me, I’m going to feel like I’m responsible for solving that problem, and I can’t.” And so that’s part of that. Part of it, too, is, “If I open this up, what happens if Pete really starts to show his suffering? What if, all of a sudden, I’m confronted with a Pete who’s really suffering in front of me clearly? How do I respond to that?” So, I think it’s a combination of those two things.

And so, the implication is that you need to kind of really shift your mindset a little bit as a leader away from thinking that the way you’re going to add value in this situation is by solving the problem, to where it’s thinking that just by opening up the conversation, you’re creating value here. Simply giving you a forum, Pete, to talk about what’s really going on with you, express your emotions, feel like someone cares to some degree about what’s going on, recognize what’s happening, that’s what needs to have happen here. But, for most leaders, you nailed it, the terror is, “I’m going to be confronted with a problem that I don’t know how to solve.”

And, by the way, when you’re trained as a coach, one of the most important things I think you learn is that you’re not there as a consultant, you’re not there as an advisor, you’re not there to provide answers or solutions, you’re there to help facilitate a process. A process of discovery, a process of learning, a process of connectivity. But there’s lots of leaders who don’t, have never really been trained, and perhaps think that they can’t do that, or they worry a lot.

I talked to someone recently about this, they said, “It’s like if I open this up, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to close it. I don’t know where this is going to take me. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to manage what flows out of that box at me.” And I think, again, the advice I give to people is, first of all, you don’t have to be a trained coach to deal with this but you do need to adopt a different mindset, and that’s a mindset of curiosity. It’s a mindset of inquiry. It’s not a mindset of, “Let’s frame your problem and solve it.”

And you need to accept that you may not accomplish much in terms of solving the problem in the moment. But that, even by showing that degree of humanity, even by allowing that person, allowing you, Pete, to begin to express yourself to some degree about what you’re really up against, you’re creating what psychologists would call a secure base, a place that this person can anchor themselves. And, in times like this, the role of the leader in providing a secure base for their people, it’s essential. And you can imagine, too, what happens if you’ve got leaders who don’t create secure bases for their people in times like this.

By the way, this is another part of the conversation. I actually wrote an article after listening in on this meeting. I was just so fascinated by the dialogue. And there was another leader who said, basically, “We have to show them, them being our people, that we have the backbone and strength to lead them through this, but the heart that lets them connect and know we care.” And, to me, that was just such a brilliant articulation of the tension that you feel as a leader in moments like this, because I can’t just go all soft and gushy on you, like, “Oh, poor Pete. That’s terrible. Let me hold you, Pete.” There are limits, obviously.

To be a secure base for you in a moment like that, you have to feel like you can trust me, that I’m going to lead you and the organization towards promising directions, that I’ve got the emotional capacity to deal with what’s happening, but you also want to feel like there’s some connectivity. And this is the way to begin to create that kind of connectivity. Does that make sense, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And so, I’d love it if we could get a little bit more of the verbiage, or not that it’s a script, but I imagine there are often some keywords, phrases, expectation-setting, follow-up, bits of dialogue, that come up again and again. So, one example you shared was, “How are you doing really?” Any other things that…?

Michael Watkins
“What’s going on for you?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, “What’s going on for you?”

Michael Watkins
“What’s on your mind?” And not accept the first answer necessarily, “Okay.” “Yes.” You saw a little bit in that interaction, “Yeah, I hear that things are basically okay on the work front but it feels like there’s more going on for you.” And then the person on the other side of the table, you in this case, has a choice. They can say, “No, everything is really fine.” And, at that point, you’ve done the work you need to do as a leader. You’re not there to try and force people into revelation. That’s not your job. Your job is to create a safe space within which that person can share things to the degree they feel comfortable doing so. But the key is not to necessarily accept the surface answer but to maybe open that box up a little bit more.

And there’s other things you can do. You can share a little bit about what’s going on with you. Social psychologists, there’s lots of good studies that have been done on what’s called the reciprocity dynamic. I do a favor for you. You feel obligated to do one for me. It works in a funny kind of way with self-revelation, Pete, which is if I engage in a little of self-revelation, you can feel like it’s okay. Now, I’m not going to say, “My life is a mess, Pete. I can’t begin to tell you how bad things are.” That’s not what I’m saying. But you could give an example of someone, “So, my brother-in law just lost his job. It’s really challenging right now.” And the key here is to be willing to demonstrate a little bit of vulnerability yourself in the name of creating that secure space, again, within which that dialogue could begin to take place.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, let’s say that we do go there, we open it up, and then some, I guess, the fears are realized, yup, some big problems have emerged that you can’t do much about. Let’s say, “You know what, it’s just like…” Let’s just say, “Hey, my marriage has been kind of tense and rocky before the crisis. And then when you add in all these extra obligations and difficulties and challenges, now it just seems like we are really at the breaking point.”

Michael Watkins
So, first of all, “I’m really sorry to hear that because it’s coming at a really tough time for you.” And the second thing is, “Are there ways that you can get support that might help you through this? Who are you able to talk to about this? Are there resources that you can start to bring to bear?” You can begin to ask questions that are about creating a context within which perhaps they begin to see alternative ways of looking at the situation, “Is there another way to look at what’s going on? Are there alternative perspectives you might explore about what’s happening here?”

And, again, there’s no rocket science here. It may be that you help someone just get a little bit different of a view. Maybe you help someone think, “Hey, wait a minute. There is someone maybe that we could talk to about this. There may be someone in the family system that can help us think about this a little bit.” You might ask, “Have you talked to each other about it? Do you feel like you’re communicating well about it?” And, again, none of this is about you solving the problem, Pete. It’s about you enabling a thinking process to go on, and a feeling process to go on, and may take people in a potentially productive way.

And, by the way, you don’t have to go too far down this road necessarily, and it may be a few different conversations that lead to this, or they may just walk away feeling like, “Hey, at least someone was listening.” Does this make sense to you?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got you. Thank you. Yes, that is good. And just to reassure listeners, Katie and I are doing well. That was an invented example. Not to worry.

Michael Watkins
But you say you’re doing well, Pete. But do you feel like everything is going on…? I’m teasing you. I’m teasing you. We’re not going to do this.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, hey, I was going to say, well, we could do it. I think demonstrations are valuable. Well, I talked to Marcia Reynolds, who’s a great coach, on the show. We went into this a little bit. But I do, I feel like I have less, I think, capacity is a good word, in terms of I’m a bit less zesty, energized, fired up. I have a harder time doing a 10-hour workday in terms of real work than I used to. And so, a lot of times things just seem too hard, like little things. Like, “Oh, I should maybe clean up this office a bit.” It’s like, “Oh, it just sounds so hard. I should go to that pile of mail there.” It’s like, “Oh, geez, that’s too much.”

So, there’s been some of that in this midst of feeling kind of I’m an extrovert, I like to see my people and have some adventures. And two plus months of deprivation on that front, in church, I miss that. they wear on you, and so I’m feeling less zesty and less capable of cranking out great work hour after hour. But I do like that I’ve gotten pretty good at prioritizing, it’s like, “This is the stuff that really, really, really, really matters,” and I’m kind of managing to be consistent in executing those things.

Michael Watkins
So, there’d be a few different directions we could go. And, by the way, we’re kind of a little past the leader stuff and into the coach stuff now, and that’s okay, right? You can have a conversation that revolves around a little bit of what you just did, which was sort of the good and the not so good, and try to see that there are different perspectives about what’s happening, that it’s certainly not all bad. I certainly don’t feel like everything that’s happened is bad. There’s some been real positives. So, how do we sort of explore that a little bit?

I’d be asking you whether there are things that you’re doing that are consistent with your values and do you feel like you’re creating value with what you’re doing. And I can tell you do, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah.

Michael Watkins
For sure. I’d be talking to you a little bit about your energy probably, which is sort of what you’re describing is a situation within which the normal things that energize you, especially as an extrovert, may not be as present for you. There are some different ways to deal with that. One is to accept it, “Okay, I’m going to have a little less energy right now. I’m not going to beat myself up about the fact that I didn’t deal with that little pile of stuff today.” Or there could be a discussion about, “Are there alternative ways of replenishing your energy?” Maybe even a discussion about, “How in tune are you with your energy level?”

Now, we’re sort of past what I would expect a typical leader to do in a situation like this. What I would expect a leader to do in a situation like this is at least open up a discussion, create a space within which some conversation can happen, demonstrate that secure base, that you are a secure base for this person to some degree, and maybe you can offer them some ways of thinking about things in somewhat different ways, or seeking out other sources of support. I think, as a leader, you can go. Beyond that, you’re into the realm of coaches and perhaps even therapists, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s helpful. Thank you. And it paints a nice picture. I want to address the fear or concern that, “Uh-oh, if I open this box, maybe I can never kind of bring it back.”

Michael Watkins
Let’s imagine the worst case happens. So, I say to you, Pete, “How are you doing?”

Pete Mockaitis
And I say, “Fine.” Okay.

Michael Watkins
And then I say, “You know, Pete, it seems there are some things you seem to be struggling,” and you just break down completely in front of me, which can happen. And it’s not a male-female thing. It could be that you’re under so much pressure and so much stress that at that particular moment it all comes crashing in on you, and you break down in front of me. I mean, I can’t imagine anything that’s a whole lot harder than that, to see somebody having to just crash on you.

Pete Mockaitis
Full on crying, yeah.

Michael Watkins
What do you do in a moment like that? You wait and sit with the person. You’d be present with them. You give them the space to recover. You engage them in a way that you can tell they’re willing to be engaged with. I think the bottom line, Pete, is that there’s kind of an overblown fear here, that if I’m in the presence of such powerful emotion, I’m not going to be able to deal with it. But the reality is I don’t think it’s that.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. I buy it. I’m with you. And then, I guess, I imagine that it’s overblown fear. It’s not going to continue forever. I guess maybe the fear is that if you’re going on for two hours, like, “How can I…?” how to say, like, “Well, we’re done now.” How do we bring it to a close?

Michael Watkins
“Pull yourself together, Pete,” you know. Start the Patton solution, right? The General Patton solution comes in. Like, that’s not going to happen. It just isn’t. And if it does, then you’re dealing with someone who probably needs some real therapeutic support because they’re depressed it’s probably better that you know that, honestly, and you can suggest that maybe they need to do it. You also need to deal with the next-day phenomenon, too, which is they come to work the next day, and they’re kind of embarrassed by what they shared.

And you kind of got to be thoughtful about making sure that they understand that whatever was revealed was okay. You haven’t lost respect for them. They’re still a valued member of the team. Because I’ve seen this happen, I’m sure you have too. It’s kind of you do something, you make a revelation and then you go back, and then you kind of go, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe I shared that with Michael. What must he think of me?” And so, you’ve got to be aware of the residences, the waves that kind of flow out of something like this.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha.

Michael Watkins
But, again, there’s nothing rocket science here, Pete. It’s just kind of this whole humanity but we’re not used to as leaders necessarily playing that role.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, thank you, Michael. So much good stuff. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Michael Watkins
No, I think that’s the big point. I think the other thing that I’m finding interesting these days is how organizations are kind of how organizing to thrive as we come out of this, so that’s been another stream of work I’ve been doing because the tendency at times like this is to really focus on the crisis, focus on trying to deal with the financials, trying to retrench, you get into survival mode. But I see some organizations that, even though they’re in the midst of that, you’ve already got leadership that’s beginning to think about, “What might after that is going to look like?”

I’m working with a big healthcare system right now. It’s been pretty fascinating because they’ve been very badly hit, as you can imagine by what’s happened. And the healthcare systems have taken a double blow, Pete. On one hand, they are the frontline of what’s going on with COVID-19, and so they’ve got frontline caregivers that, as you can imagine, are going through really tough stuff. They’re mobilized into trying to deal with this crisis. They’re trying to find the equipment. They’re doing all this stuff that they’re doing. And, on the other hand, their largest sources of revenue are being demolished because people aren’t coming for office visits. Some of them are doing better with virtual stuff. They haven’t been going for surgeries, and so they’re kind of watching their financials just go, right?

Now, you can imagine that the response would be, “Oh, my God, we need to focus just on the financials. We need to focus on those caregivers. We need to retrench.” But what I found fascinating with this particular organization is the extent to which they have kind of pulled out aside some energy, some leadership energy, and devoted that leadership energy to imagining how they are going to reimagine key parts of their business to really propel themselves out the other side of this. And I think that’s pretty rare but it’s pretty fascinating how they’re doing it. And if you think about the value of doing that, they will be in so much better a place when they come out the other side than they are right now.

And I’ll give you an example of something they did. There’s lots of little examples. So, the crisis breaks, and all their offices are closed, all their primary care practices are done, all their elective surgeries are cancelled, and there’s COVID-19 in the area. This is a big healthcare system in the southeast U.S. And, all of a sudden, they’re getting deluged by calls from people who are saying, “I think I might have COVID-19. How do I…? What do I do? Well, can you see me?” And so, sort of day one, when this happened, when it broke, they got 35,000 calls.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Michael Watkins
Thirty-five thousand calls, okay? Now, how do you respond to something like that? One answer is you don’t take the calls. They’ve got a lot of people who are very worried. But what they did was just fascinating, and their chief strategy officer in this organization is a real visionary. He happened to have some great connections with Microsoft, and they knew that they were building these AI chatbots for healthcare. And, within two days, they had a functioning screening chatbot that would basically triage people to determine whether or not they really were likely to have COVID-19, and if they did, they would then take them to the next phase, which was a virtual care that fortunately they built the platform for that.

That system, in the first month and a half, handled more than a million and a half calls. Now, you can say, “Hey, that’s a great reaction to the crisis and very innovative.” But they then took it one step further. They said, “Okay, this is really what the future is going to look like from this, so we’re going to use this to learn about our customers. We’re going to use this to pilot this technology. We’re going to lay the foundation to take this in a number of different diagnostic directions even as we’re dealing with this particular issue.” And, to me, that’s what differentiates an organization that’s operating in that reimagined mode and not just in that reaction mode. And I personally find that pretty fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. And it’s a lot more fun, as I’m imagining being in that workplace in terms of like, “Okay. Well, hey, we got a capability now to handle a ton of incoming calls that we didn’t have before. That’s great. We’ve got a capability to do virtual appointments now, which we didn’t have before. Okay. Well, now what do we do with these sort of like two new toys that we have to play with in the marketplace to really help patients and financially stabilize?”

Michael Watkins
But I think I would add to that, Pete, think of what it takes from a leadership foresight point of view to devote some of your time and energy in the midst of something like this when, literally, all hell is breaking loose to reimagining the future even while that’s happening.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it takes some fortitude, and you’ve got to kind of…

Michael Watkins
Discipline, my God.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you want to do this but you force yourself to go do that.

Michael Watkins
Yeah. And, to me, this is just…as you know, I’m fascinated by great leadership, and I think that these two examples are examples of ways in which the crisis is driving new types of great leadership whether it’s at the micro level with the coaching and the stuff that we were talking about, or it’s at a more macro strategic level when you’re seeing people who have the foresight not just to react but to reimagine in parallel. And I think we can talk lots more about things as the crisis is accelerating in terms of transformation, ways of working.

Well, same healthcare system but another discussion with the HR chief of staff. Before this broke, this is a 70,000-employee healthcare system. They systematically discouraged work from home, systematically, because they had a culture that basically had a belief in it that, “If I couldn’t see you in the office, you weren’t working.” And, all of a sudden, they’ve got a quarter of their workforce working from home 100% of the time. That’s accelerated the way they will work in the future by five years, more. They’re already putting in place new policies, they’re rethinking their real estate needs for the future.

And, again, it’s just part of that foresight, that reimagine and don’t just react piece that I just think is really so fascinating. But we’re seeing lots of examples of things where something that could’ve taken five years or more and a half is happening in the space of months if you’ve got leadership that is willing to kind of embrace it. Not just react but engage in that reimagination and actually devote some energy to it.

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

Michael Watkins
Maybe not a quote but I have a mantra, so maybe that’s a little bit in the same ballpark as a quote. “Every day is a new adventure.” And that adventure can be a great adventure, a fun adventure, or it can really be a hard thing you go through. But, in these days, you’ve got to expect change. You’ve got to expect challenge. You’ve got to expect that you need to be resilient against those things and, indeed, embrace them to a degree.

And then the quote that I’m thinking about, I guess, goes back to the discussions we had about the first 90 days and leadership transitions in the last session we did, the work I do there, which is, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Pete Mockaitis
I believe you shared that on episode 29.

Michael Watkins
Yeah, exactly. That’ll take us back. It’s a little bit of a time warp for you.

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

Michael Watkins
So, I was trained at Harvard Business School originally many, many years ago. And as part of the doctoral training that we went through, we studied classic studies of human behavior, and there was something called the Hawthorne experiments. Basically, they were early studies that were done on productivity where they basically took a factory and they tried different things to see if they could make people more productive. And they’ve crunched the data, and in the end, what do you think they discover?

Pete Mockaitis
I think, as I recall from the Hawthorne experiments is they tried to change something, like the light, it’s like, “Hey, it’s better.” And it’s like, “Oh, wait, maybe it’s not.” And it’s sort of like I think what they’re finding was people just liked feeling that you were listening and trying things with them.

Michael Watkins
Exactly, Pete. Well, that’s great that you know that. Not many people know about that study.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

Michael Watkins
But the bottom line was that it was the simple act of paying attention to people and making them feel like they were part of something, that was what grew performance. It wasn’t the amount of light. So, to me, that was a really seminal kind of insight that came from that particular piece of research.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And how about a favorite book?

Michael Watkins
I’m very interested in strategic thinking these days, and so I’m going back to some of the original literature that was done about decision-making and how people actually make decisions as experts.

And so, it’s funny you say this, there’s a book, I’m going to pull it out from under my computer right now, believe it or not. It’s almost like I had a prop ready for this, called Naturalistic Decision-Making. And this is a book that probably no one but me could love but it’s absolutely fascinating. Because if you think about it, it’s really all about what is the foundation of human expertise? What is it that makes us reasoning, thinking, decision-making creatures? And it’s not that we run like computers. It’s that there’s something about the way our brains work that allows us to do that.

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

Michael Watkins
I’ve used mind mapping some and I’ve found that’s a pretty productive way to do things. I’m looking at a tool right now so I’m a little bit advertising it here. I’m in the process of taking my first 90 days program at IMD fully virtual with coaching and a bunch of other stuff. And so, figuring out how to make virtual sessions really interactive and not just the standard one more Zoom call. There’s a tool called MURAL.

It’s a really interesting way to kind of do visualization in real time with different kind of sub-tools associated with it, and I’m going to be experimenting with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool.

Michael Watkins
I just think it’s a really cool thing. I don’t know about you but I get so tired of Zoom. Like, please, not one more Zoom call. I think there’s real challenges in how you continue to motivate teams when you’re operating in an environment like this. We’re way past finding it interesting to do this, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Like, “Oh, this is interesting. It’s like I can see you. Wow!” We’re over that.

Michael Watkins
Exactly. Like, we’re so past that. And so, how do you continue to sustain energy in situations like that? How do you build teams? It’s not easy to build teams and sustain teams and sustain culture through this. And so, tools like MURAL, I think, are really valuable because they introduce a little bit of a creative dimension as well into what can be a fairly sterile set of interactions.

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

Michael Watkins
So, the easiest way to get to me always is LinkedIn just on my profile Michael Watkins. I manage my own messaging and it’s a great way to do that. Otherwise, I’m a professor at IMD. So, if you go to the IMD Business School website, IMD.org, I’m there. And then Genesis is my consulting company. But, really, if people want to connect with me, LinkedIn is probably the best way to do it.

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

Michael Watkins
Yeah, I think, to me, this is so much about what are learning about ourselves through the process of living through these times. What is it that we’re really truly learning about ourselves? What actually are we going to do differently when we come out the other side? I’m not, as you know, a pessimist exactly, Pete, but people talk a lot about the new normal at the end of this. I think it’s possible there won’t be a new normal at the end of this, that the world could be a much more challenging place for a long period of time as we continue beyond this. And so, to me, developing the resiliency to manage what is to come is maybe the biggest challenge we’re going to face.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Michael…

Michael Watkins
Sorry to end with this note. Sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I appreciate your candor.

Michael Watkins
Like, “Oh, right, Michael. A real downer for the end.” But I actually think it’s exciting. I think it’s exciting to think about how we adapt, how we truly adapt, and what we truly learn from all this.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. Michael, it’s been fascinating hearing your latest insights. Please keep up the great work.

Michael Watkins
All right. Thanks. Great to see you again, Pete. Thanks for having me back.

550: How to Free Yourself from Conflict with Dr. Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler

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Dr. Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler shares what to do when your attempts to resolve conflict fail.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The simplest way to stop conflict from overwhelming you
  2. How to untangle the complex web of recurring conflict
  3. The smartest thing to do when a conflict goes nowhere

About Jennifer:

Dr. Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler is founder and CEO of Alignment Strategies Group, the New York-based consulting firm that counsels CEOs and their executive teams on how to optimize organizational health and growth. Author of OPTIMAL OUTCOMES: Free Yourself from Conflict at Work, at Home, and in Life (HarperBusiness, Feb. 25, 2020), she is a keynote speaker at Fortune 500 companies, public institutions and innovative, fast-growing startups, where she inspires audiences of all kinds, including those at Google, Harvard and TEDx, and in her popular course at Columbia. A former counterterrorism research fellow with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, she is a graduate of Tufts University and holds a Ph.D. in Social-Organizational Psychology from Columbia University.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Dr. Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler Interview Transcript

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

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Pete, thanks so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig in. First, I understand that you hiked the Appalachian Trail. And did you do the whole thing or what’s the story here?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
I did not do the whole thing, although that’s a nice goal. I’ve been on many parts of it but the part that I write about in the book is four days in the New Hampshire White Mountains part of the Appalachian Trail.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Cool. And so, can you tell us any key lessons learned or what inspired you to get out there?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Well, what inspired me to get out there is two things. One, on the personal level, I just love being outdoors. I find connecting to nature to be just spiritually grounding and nurturing and fun, so that’s one piece of what inspired me. And then the other piece is what I write about in the book, is I was in the middle of writing the chapter on emotions when I decided to go on the trip. And I decided that what I would do was experiment with feeling each of my emotions as they arose and just noticing them and naming them, identifying them, and then seeing if I could just be with them and let them go.

And that is exactly what I did. And it was a very rainy few days on the trail, and I began to notice that the emotions were really, like the Buddha say, like the weather. They came and they went just like the rain came down heavier and then came down lighter, and then sometimes went away, and the sun came out. And so, it was great learning about what it was like to really feel the emotions as they come because there were so few distractions on the trail like there are in the big city.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, so that’s intriguing right there. So, what is the implication for professionals or folks dealing with conflict that that is how it works with emotions, they come and go like the weather? What does that mean for us?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Well, first of all, it means we do not all need to go hiking on a trail for four days.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, fast forward, it’s just you.

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Or even hours, right. What it means is it can be important to just pause. That might mean 30 seconds of pausing while you’re on the commuter train, and you look up from your phone and look out the window at the view, or that might mean in the middle of switching computer applications, taking a deep breath and standing up and then sitting back down and keep on going. But any practice that you can do. Frequency is, I think, much more important than duration. So, doing something like that once a day, or twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, is very helpful.

For all those people out there wondering, the question I get so often is, “What do I do when I’m stuck in conflict and it’s like the heat of the moment, and I’m just so triggered and I’m so angry?” One of the best practices that I know of is to, on a regular basis, pause and notice, “What am I feeling right now?” That’s all there is to do. And it can be very uncomfortable, of course, but we gotta do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Jen, we’re on a great start.

Pete Mockaitis
So, then I want to hear, so you got this book Optimal Outcomes and I love things being optimal. Fun fact, the name of my company is Optimality LLC. So, tell us, what made you conclude that the world needed you to write this book Optimal Outcomes? What’s sort of like the main issue we’re addressing here?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yeah. Well, first of all, I’ll say I love that we both like things being optimal. I think there are strengths and limitations to that, which I can talk about. But the reason why I think the world needs this book is because all of the conflict books that I know of that I’ve been sharing with people for years that are great, all help people resolve conflict. And the problem is sometimes conflict is not resolvable. I want to say that again.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m hearing Gottman echoing in my ear.

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Continue, yeah. It’s not resolvable.

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Well, not all conflict is resolvable. And I think that that can come as a surprise to many, many people because many of us have been inculcated in this idea that we must be able to collaboratively resolve conflict when it arises. And what we know from now, the last 40 years of conflict literature, is that conflict naturally begets conflict. That is the nature of the beast. So, if that’s true, sometimes we may be able to use collaborative win-win principle negotiation methods in order to resolve it, but sometimes we won’t be able to. Sometimes that conflict will turn out to be what I called resolution resistant.

So, this book is all about what to do when you find yourself in recurring conflict, that is conflict that doesn’t go away no matter how many times you’ve tried to resolve it, and that’s what Optimal Outcomes is all about. It’s about how to free yourself in those kinds of situations.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that sounds very helpful and important. And, yes, I’m thinking about Dr. John Gottman, I think that’s one of the main points he puts forth. This is the legendary, for listeners, relationship therapist who can predict divorce rates based on observing them. At first, it seems like a depressing thought, like, “Oh, many conflicts. You’re going to have the same argument until the day you die with your spouse.” Like, “Oh, wow, that’s a huge bummer.” But, in a way, it really kind of frees you, it’s like, my wife is always going to be super into safety as the top, top, top priority, maybe more than the average person, has a Master’s of Public Health.

And I want to be more into efficiency, optimality, productivity than the average person. And sometimes these things coincide beautifully with our vacuum robot, safety and efficiency, and sometimes they are not at all in accord, and that’s kind of just what we’re going to deal with until we die. But, knowing that, we’re able to sort of deal with these matters more healthfully and productively. So, tell us, what do we do when we find ourselves in that situation?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yeah. Well, Pete, what you were just talking about reminds me of how I define an optimal outcome. The definition of an optimal outcome is one that both takes into account the greatest ideal future we can imagine in that situation and it also takes into account the reality of the situation that we’re facing. And I think, again, one of the places where we tend to get stuck is that we’ve been taught that the way to reach an optimal outcome, or the way to resolve conflict rather, is to imagine what we want and then offer other people options, and that we’re taking into account what they want. And the problem is sometimes they don’t know exactly what they want, and we don’t know exactly what we want because we’ve buried some of our interests and needs and desires inside of ourselves.

So, because of that, it can be very difficult sometimes to do that classic collaborative problem-solving. And we need to take into account the reality of who it is that we’re facing, the reality of the constraints of the situation, even the reality of who we ourselves are, just like you were starting to talk about. You sound like you have some self-awareness about you like things to be optimal and your wife is all about safety. But, for many of us, when we don’t have that self-awareness or we’re not willing to admit certain things about ourselves, it can be very difficult to take those realities into account. So, that is part of the definition of an optimal outcome, so it does take those realities into account.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, yeah, that’s really connecting. And I don’t know why you got me thinking about contractors right now in terms of, because sometimes I wonder, “Why is it hard to get them on the phone or to show up when they say they will?” And part of me wonders, like, “Maybe this is somehow optimal for them in a way that I’m not even aware of.” And so, what you’re surfacing here is that maybe they’re not even aware of it, and so awareness is a key foundational step. How do you recommend we get some more of that?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Well, I’ll give a name to what it is that you just mentioned. That is distinguishing between our ideal values and our shadow values. So, our ideal values are those things that we care about in life that we’re proud to say we care about, things like adventure, spirituality, customer first, collaboration. These are things that people tend to be proud of. That’s in contrast to things that we really care about in life that we’re not proud to admit that we care about. Tend to be things like everyone’s different, and I can talk about it more about how some people’s ideal values are actually other people’s shadow values, and vice versa.

But some classic shadow values, in my experience working with thousands of students and clients, is that things like status, recognition, power, financial security, competition. These are things, ease, right? So, in the case of, in the example that you just gave about a contractor who doesn’t call you back, they may open up a business because they want to be helpful to people and do great work and get paid for their work. And yet there may be things that they care about, like quality of life, ease of not having to keep track of phone numbers, or I don’t know, I’m not a contractor so I don’t know what those things are. But it can help us just to imagine what might be driving someone to do or not do what it is that we hope or want them to do.

And it’s just in guessing even what someone else’s shadow values might be, even if we’re wrong, just the act of wondering what their shadow values might be can help raise our empathy for them. And so, even if we’re wrong, it’s a very helpful exercise to do. The rewards are worth the risk of getting it wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that gets you thinking in terms of like, “Oh, maybe this poor roofer has just been nonstop and needs a break.” And I like that list of shadow values. This reminds me of, I don’t know, St. Augustine or someone who laid out sort of money, power, honor, fame, comfort, pleasure was kind of the framework, and it seems like there’s some rich overlap to what you’re describing, so this is really timeless stuff in the human condition. So, okay, that’s a great step is we become aware and think and maybe guess about some of the shadow values that others are having. And so, where do we go from there?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
So, this is only one of eight practices that are part of the optimal-outcomes method. A nice place to begin, so I dove into this idea of looking at your values and other people’s values, and I should say looking at shadow values is not only about looking at other people or guessing at other people’s shadow values but, obviously, a really great thing to ask yourself is, “What might my own shadow values be that might be driving my behavior in this situation that I might not be proud of that I’ve pushed down?”

But doing that can really, really help free you from conflict, because once you realize what’s been driving your behavior, you have the power to either own up to it and stop doing it, or own up to it and say, “You know what, this is something I’m going to own, and I’m going to do it right out. So, if authority is important to me, and I wish it wasn’t, well, maybe I need to start being more direct, and that would help in this situation where I’m confusing people because I’m trying to be so collaborative but they don’t understand what it is that I want them to do.” So, that’s values.

But a great place to begin is about mapping out the conflict. So, so often, when we’re stuck in conflict, it can seem, on the face of it, like it’s just a very simple situation, “It’s between me and you, and you’re wrong, and I‘m right.” Right? And so, the thing is when we’re stuck in recurring conflict, it’s usually not that simple. If it were, we probably would’ve figured out how to get out of the situation a long time ago, or had resolved it a long time ago.

So, a great tool is to map it out. And, in fact, people can go, if they’re interested in an online, a very cool online mapping software, or even paper and pencil, you can go to OptimalOutcomesBook.com and download the paper and pencil template and also find this very cool online software conflict mapping tool. So, what you do is put down on your map as many, first of all, the people that are obviously involved in the situation. And then your job is to add as many people to your map as you can, people who are related in the situation that you hadn’t thought of before.

And I not only want you to put people on your map, but also any other events, timelines, background, history, anything that has impacted the situation, and also anything that might be impacted by the situation, so people that are impacted or could be impacted by. And, all of a sudden, your map starts to have some texture to it. And it’s amazing to me, it can sometimes take people less than five minutes to sketch out a map like this and, all of a sudden, the lightbulbs are going off and people realize levers for change on that map that they had never thought about before. It also really can help raise empathy for other people, and also compassion for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that sounds very exciting. So, could you maybe give us an example of someone, they got a conflict, and they hunker down and they make the map, and what sort of results for them?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yeah. So, I have a client who is named Bob, I write about him in the book, and he was in a very long standing conflict with the head of sales of his organization. He’s the CEO of a startup tech company. And they had been growing by leaps and bounds, and the salary that he had been paying to his head of sales was completely out of whack, way above market rates, and he knew that he needed to lower it, but every time he tried to bring it up with Sally, the same thing happened. She would get very angry, they would start screaming at each other, and they would walk away and shut down for weeks, sometimes months. By the time he and I started working together, they had not talked to each other for a number of months, and that was a big problem because they needed to run the business together.

So, when I asked him to map out the situation, at first it was just very obvious to him, well, it’s him and Sally. But a few minutes later, when I asked him to put more people on the map, what he realized is, well, the executive team is involved and, particularly the CFO, who had been pressuring him to lower Sally’s compensation. And then he realized he had to put his own family and his background on the map because his ideas about his father and his brother, who were these entrepreneurs, who had taught him that entrepreneurial risk-taking was important. And, also, the way he grew up as an adult in the software field, that touted collaboration as the highest virtue, had made it very difficult for him to be authoritative with Sally and be direct about what he needed and wanted from her.

He also puts Sally’s family and background on the map, and noticed that he knew this from stories she had told him, but he realized she came from a poor family. Even though she made so much money now, she still might have fears about not having enough because of how she grew up. He also put their VC, venture capital investors on the map because they were also pressuring him to lower Sally’s compensation, and that influenced the situation.

So, all of a sudden, a situation that began with him thinking it was just him and Sally yelling at each other on a street corner, it turned out to be a little more complex, and that helped him see these levers for change of people that could potentially be helpful and ways he could have more helpful behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then tell us, what’s the end to this story?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yeah. Well, the ending to the story, I will let you find out in the book, but I will say that he was really able to see because he had been pointing his finger at her, saying, “Why is she so greedy? She’s so greedy. Why can’t she just understand that for the sake of the business she should take a cut? Her salary is just completely out of whack.” And noticing that she was just driven by fear from how she grew up helped him not forgive and forget the behavior that he didn’t like. He didn’t like that she had yelled at him and walked away from him, that was not appropriate behavior in his opinion, or mine. It didn’t make that go away, but it did help him calm down, and it did help him stop yelling back, and it did enable him to actually decide to have a conversation with her.

And the mapping also helped him realize he had beenpressured by the CFO and the VC investors to have this conversation with Sally, but he had gotten no guidance from them, he hadn’t asked them for help on how to have the conversation. So, mapping helped him do that, helped him go to them and ask for advice and help about how to do this. So, those are just a couple of examples of how his map helped him.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. Thank you. So, then you’ve got a term, a distinction between conflict freedom versus conflict resolution. Can you kind of help us get our arms around this distinction?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yeah. Well, conflict resolution is what I’ve talked about before, which is thinking that a collaborative win-win style of negotiation is going to help you resolve a particular conflict. But so often it doesn’t work or it’s about safety, right? We could go back to the example you gave about you and your wife. You’re talking about things that are values that are near and dear to your heart. If someone cares deeply about safety, or someone, I’ve worked with plenty of executives who complain about their CEO who cares so much about financial security that that CEO can’t be innovative or can’t put resources in the places that the person thinks they need to in order to allow the organization to grow and innovate because they’re so worried about quarterly financial reports.

And so, whenever we care about things that are deeply ingrained in us from a values perspective, we’re not always going to be able to resolve that conflict and tie it up neatly in a bow. Instead, our job is to free ourselves from that conflict loop. I call it a conflict loop instead. So, the way the conflict loop works, the way we get stuck in it, is that we have conflict habits. There are actually four conflict habits that I’ve identified in the book. And our conflict habits get locked in patterns, in a pattern, with someone else’s conflict habit, or another group’s conflict habit, and those conflict habits make it very difficult to break free from that cycle. So, it’s just a conflict cycle that goes around and around and around.

And so, the goal there is not to resolve anything, sometimes there’s not even anything necessarily really to resolve when we look at that. A classic conflict pattern is blame-blame. So, we blame someone, right? So, that’s what Bob and Sally were stuck in, they were blaming each other. He would tell her he needed to lower her compensation, she would yell back that that wasn’t going to be possible, and then they would just call each other names and how horrible they each were to each other, and they were blaming each other.

So, when you’re stuck in a blame-blame conflict pattern, it can be very difficult to resolve, but you can take what I call pattern-breaking action to free yourself from that situation. And the beauty of freeing yourself from a locked pattern is that it doesn’t take anyone else’s cooperation. You don’t need anyone else’s help or cooperation in order to free yourself from that conflict loop. All you need are your own resources which is the practices in the optimal outcomes method, looking at what your own shadow values are, looking at what other people’s shadow values are, mapping out the situation, using your emotions in your favor, not taking other people’s emotions on as if they’re your own, but keeping those separate from you. And there’s a whole bunch of work you can do around that.

Designing a pattern-breaking path, so not just taking one pattern-breaking action but actually having your actions build on one another over time, because it probably wasn’t one action that got you stuck in this. It’s been going on for a while so it’s not only one action that’s going to get you out. It’s going to be a whole series of simple but surprisingly different pattern-breaking actions that will get you out.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you please give us an example? So, some pattern-breaking actions that come together in a pattern-breaking path. What are some examples for how that comes to life?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Well, the beauty of a pattern-breaking action is that it’s basically anything that’s not what you’ve already been doing. So, typically, when we get stuck in conflict is because we’re doing the same habitual conflict habit over and over and over again, and expecting a different result. So, in the case of Bob and Sally, they’ve been blaming each other. In other cases, you might be blaming someone, and they’re running away and hiding from you. They’re not engaging. They’re shutting down. Or you may be relentlessly trying to collaborate with somebody and they are shut down, they are not cooperating with you, and you’re just offering them option after option, spinning your wheels, wasting your time, wasting energy, focus, money.

So, a pattern-breaking action is anything that’s different from what you’ve been doing. And, obviously, that’s different in any situation, in all different kinds of situation depending on what you’ve been doing. But the beauty of it is that there’s like a bazillion different possibilities, right? So, I also like to say you want your pattern-breaking action to be, ideally, something constructive, so I would not advise, if you’ve been blaming someone else, then like go blame yourself instead. No, that’s not what I’m talking about. But what I am talking about is it could be that if you’ve been blaming, blaming, blaming, and you take a pause, notice the pattern that you’re stuck in, and decide that you want to do something that’s pattern-breaking, something different, it could be you decide to kind of hang back for a little while and not do anything at all.

Sometimes just pausing is a pattern-breaking intervention, in fact. And if people want to find out what their conflict habit is, you can also go online at OptimalOutcomesBook.com/assessment and you can find the conflict habit assessment. It takes like seven minutes. It’s totally free. And so then, you could also ask your friends and colleagues to take the assessment as well. And once you know your conflict habit, and other people know theirs, you can figure out what is the pattern we’ve gotten stuck in, and then you have each some ideas about other things you could do instead.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you could take the assessment to learn what specifically is yours in the habit. Can you give us sort of the menu, the rundown of options, in terms of, “These are the conflict habits.” So, one of them is blaming. And what are the others?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
One of them is blame others, one of them is blame yourself, blame and shame yourself. So, some of us gets stuck in that negative self-talk cycle. One of them is shutdown, so we avoid to the point of letting the conflict brew until it boils over and then we have a crisis on our hands. And then the final one is relentlessly collaborate, so we will collaborate even when other people refuse to cooperate with us. So, we’re offering option after option, and people are not working with us.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, and that’s the whole menu right there?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
That’s just four, yeah. So, there’s 16 different patterns that can emerge out of those four.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, intriguing. Okay. And so then, when you say just a pattern-breaking, it’s just a matter of doing anything other than that, so it could be one of the other three. Or is there something completely different beyond those?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Definitely, things different beyond those, but it’s very idiosyncratic so I can’t say to you, “Here’s the thing that you must do to break the pattern,” because we need to know what it is that you’re dealing with. So, in Bob and Sally’s case where they had been blaming each other, Bob had to take a step back and take a break. And then pattern-breaking action for him was that, instead of surprising Sally as they walked out of the client lunch with telling her that he needed to talk to her about her compensation package, which is what he had done previously, he realized that he could do better by giving her some advanced notice and asking her when was good for her to talk.

So, he did a bunch of different things that were pattern-breaking. Like I said, he kind of created this pattern-breaking path. So, one of the things he did was not surprise her at the last minute, asked her in advance to talk, emailed her, asked her if it would be helpful for him to send her in advance a proposal for what the package would look like. He also asked her if they could just talk about their relationship first. So, they ended up talking about their relationship, their working relationship, even before they then had the conversation about the compensation package itself, because he realized that their relationship had become so damaged that that actually itself needed to be talked about. So, once you start asking yourself, “What else could I do?” well, there’s lots and lots of ideas in the book about how to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And I guess I’m also thinking about. I found that a lot of times breakthroughs happen when you stop and really, I guess, empathize, walk in their shoes, proverbially, and get a sense of, “You know what, she’s probably feeling this because this, this, this, this, this.” And it’s amazing, like, occasionally, it’s sort of like I think maybe we just sort of assume we know and understand, “We all understand what everybody’s thinking.” But then when you actually sort of stop and articulate, it’s like, “Well, hey, let me make sure I understand where you’re coming from.” They say, “Hey, he’s really concerned about this because of these matters, and then it really feels like this under these circumstances.” That can often just be just so powerful for folks with just that empathy, it’s like, “Well, yes, that is exactly how I feel and it feels great that you understand me.” And it’s sort of like we’re already getting somewhere now.

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yeah, and that can happen and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes no matter what you do, you could be the most empathetic person on the face of the earth, and the other person is not interested. And so, sometimes the key is to be able to cut your losses and notice for yourself. So, the last chapter in the book is all about helping people stop living in fantasyland. So, if you’re fantasizing about that kind of conversation happening, and no matter what you’ve done, no matter how much empathy you have for someone, they’re still like a blank wall and just not responding to it, it may be that that relationship is one that’s not going to happen the way that you thought it was. And that’s part of what it means to take into account the reality of who the other person is and what they need and want.

And so, there’s exercises in that last chapter that help you determine whether you should continue to go for that ideal future that you might’ve imagined, or whether walking away is going to be less costly to you and more beneficial to you than you had originally thought. So, it’s basically asking you to do a cost-benefit analysis of what it looks like to stay stuck in conflict, what it might look like to walk away from the relationship or the situation completely, and also what it might look like to go for, to pursue that ideal future that you’ve imagined.

And this can be very striking for many people. So, I’ve seen people who thought that they were just going to keep on trying to have empathy and trying to collaborate with someone else, and then they did that practice of choosing an optimal outcome, and realized that the cost that they thought they would have to pay for walking away from that relationship, whether it was a business relationship, or a personal relationship, or some combination of both, that the costs were actually not as high as they had originally thought. And I’ve seen the opposite happen too. People who thought that the costs of staying put were so high that it was going to make more sense for them to walk away, realized, “Oh, my gosh, the costs for me walking away from my mother, from my best friend, from my co-founder, are so high, that’s a fantasy.”

I’ve worked with many clients who loved to fantasize about walking away, but all that does is it kind of acts like a soothing mechanism, because it makes it that you don’t have to deal with what actually is going on in the moment for you, but all it does is just distract you from what it is that you do have to deal with. And if you are going to stay, let’s stop fantasizing about walking away and really focus on, “What are some pattern-breaking actions I can take in this situation today?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is nice. We’ve covered a nice little lineup of some of your eight groundbreaking practices.
Okay, sure thing. Well, now, could you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yes, my mentor Dr. Morton Deutsch, who is the father of conflict resolution, always used to tell me, “Prevention is the best medicine,” and I believe he’s right. I’ve quoted him in the book as well. And there are so many parts of life that that quote is relevant to.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
I have many favorite experiments and research, one of them that I talk about in the book is about Dr. Wendy Wood’s research on habits. And what she basically says is, the best way to form new habits is to replace an old habit that you’re not happy with, with a new one. So, rather than trying to get rid of one that’s not working for you, just replace it with something new. And she has a new book out on that as well, and I encourage people to go study her work. She’s really a powerhouse and has done just amazing work in the habits area.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. So, that’s a great study and also a book. Any other favorite books?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yes. A friend of mine named Priya Parker wrote a book a couple of years ago called The Art of Gathering and it is just a wonderful book. It’s easy to read, full of great stories, and it’s all about how to gather people together from the informal wedding shower to the formal business meeting, and everything in between.

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

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Pausing. Pausing. It’s a very low-tech tool. I know there are tons of apps out there, Calm and Insight Timer that people love, but I will say just being quiet. It doesn’t take much. I like to just sit quietly every once in a while, and just breathe. And I don’t do it as often as I might like or benefit from but when I do, it is just super helpful to just sit and be quiet.

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

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Well, it’s something my father told me that I say to a lot of people, “Everything in moderation, and moderation in everything.”

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

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
OptimalOutcomesBook.com is a great place to begin.

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

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yes. When you find yourself stuck in recurring conflict, do something different, something pattern-breaking.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Jen, thank you for this. And best of luck with the book and all your adventures.

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Thank you so much, Pete. You as well. Great to talk with you.

519: How to Have Productive Disagreements with Buster Benson

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Buster Benson says: "The real challenge here is not to solve all disagreements... but to actually learn a bigger perspective through disagreement."
Buster Benson discusses how to conquer your fear of conflict and start disagreeing well.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The surprising cost of avoiding conflict
  2. Eight crucial steps for productive disagreement
  3. What to do when you disagree with your boss

About Buster

Buster Benson is an entrepreneur and a former product leader at Amazon, Twitter, Slack, and Patreon. He’s now editor of and writer for the Better Humans publication on Medium, creator of 750Words.com which brings private journaling to a safe place on the web, and developer of Fruitful Zone, an online platform facilitating healthy discourse. He is also author of the Cognitive Bias cheat sheet with over one million reads.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Buster Benson Interview Transcript

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

Buster Benson
Thank you. I’m really excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be talking to you. There have been no other guests who have created a poster that hangs in my office.

Buster Benson
Oh, wow. Cool.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you have that unique distinction. “The Cognitive Bias Codex,” it is a work of art. And could you maybe share the story of that because I’m thinking it’s so cool?

Buster Benson
Yeah. It was a really strange and long story but like, basically, I have been interested in cognitive biases fairly pretty much my whole life and yet I always felt them really hard to remember. There’s just so many of them, there’s 200 plus, they all have really weird names, like the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon so there was no easy way for me to actually internalize what was happening here. And I’ve decided to take a couple of weeks, a couple of years ago, in 2016, to essentially try to eat this entire body of knowledge and figure out how to synthesize it into something I can understand.

And so, what came out of it was this framework where, instead of thinking about biases as mental bugs where your brain is glitching out, they’re actually all there to solve hard problems, like there’s too much information in the world, so we do have to filter some things out. Nothing really makes sense so we do have to connect the dots and fill in the gaps with sometimes generalities and stereotypes. And we also have to do things, like we can’t just sit and talk about it all day long. We got to go out and make decisions and take action, and that means that we have to be confident even though we don’t have all the information in front of us.

And so, all of the biases in the world fit into these categories. And when this poster was written, I figured I might as well make it a visual because this is already still such a hard topic, but make it look really nice, and the poster came out of that. And with a friend of mine, John Manoogian. and he really helped make it look like something beautiful, like a work of art.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, it is and it hangs there and I’ve been wondering if it’s possible for me to get that as a sound wrap, like an acoustic panel, you know, and that’d be the visual so it serves a double duty.

Buster Benson
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
But, anyway, so thank you for that. It’s really cool. And I love some of those names, they’re funny. Some of them are crazy and some of them are intuitive, like the IKEA effect, it’s like, “Oh, that’s exactly what I think it would be.”

Buster Benson
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“I spent all this time assembling something I think it’s worth more because I invest in that.” Is there a particular cognitive bias that shows up for you a lot still today even after all of your research and work?

Buster Benson
Well, that’s the thing is they don’t go away just because you know the name, unfortunately. Yes, so the confirmation bias is obviously one that really affects us today where we tend to not only prefer information that confirms us but, now, we’re actually also just only seeking out sources of information that confirm our biases. So, that’s an important one to think about.

There’s also the one called naïve realism which is really interesting and somewhat depressing, I guess, if you think about it too much. But it’s this idea that we think that what we think of people is what they’re actually thinking, and this happens a lot in conversations and debates and disagreements. We might say, like, “Oh, wait. I don’t understand why you think this.” And suddenly you brain is like, “Here’s a reason why they think it. It’s because they’re dumb,” and then we believe that, and that’s a strange bias that we do because we can’t read minds. We have to fill in the gaps there. But we could also ask the question to fill in the gaps, and especially if they’re right there in front of us. So, that really is on my mind recently.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Well, and a perfect segue to your recently released book Why Are We Yelling: The Art of Productive Disagreement because I think that’s quite one way that things go sour real fast is if you say, “Well, the reason that person thinks that is because he or she is a moron, or a racist, or hates me.” That gets you into some trouble. So, maybe let’s zoom out a little bit and, say, sort of what’s the big idea behind your latest work here Why Are We Yelling and, yeah, let’s get oriented that way?

Buster Benson
Yeah. So, similar to the cognitive bias approach, I felt like there’s all these books about negotiation and rationality and persuasion that were really useful in particular context, like work, or sales, or debate in the courtroom, that kind of stuff. But there weren’t that many ways to really make it real for my everyday life. Like, what’s going to help me have a better conversation with my friend over a meal? What’s going to help me have better conversations as I’m going on a walk with my son? These things where we don’t have the tools, we haven’t been really taught how to have these conversations in a productive way.

And so, we resort to just these trial and error attempts, and some of us have luckily stumbled into the right approaches and some of us didn’t, and there’s no real way to help people develop that skill. So, that was my impetus for writing this, first, for myself, because I really need these skills and I want to synthesize it in a way that made sense to me, but also for other people because I feel like more and more these days we just feel stuck and frustrated with the way that our conversations are going.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love it if, do you have any data that sort of tell that story? Like, I’m wondering if things sure seem nastier and more hostile these days and less productive in our disagreements, but do you have any proof?

Buster Benson
Yeah, there’s proof everywhere you look. So, depending on which avenue or domain of the world you want to look, there’s different ones. So, one of them I found is that, in a work setting, for example, which is one of the safest ones, 85% of people believe that they have some crucial information about the business, about the company, and they’re not talking about it because they don’t want to start an argument. And so that’s where conflict avoidance has really risen to the surface.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Woo, I’m sorry. That’s huge.

Buster Benson
That’s shocking, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That is just… that’s huge. I think that’s like the core of so much dysfunction right there, it’s like, “I’ve got some info and I’m not telling you not because I’m diabolically trying to sabotage anything but just because, oh, man, this is going to cause a big old argument. I don’t want to deal with it.”

Buster Benson
Yeah, if you don’t feel it’s a safe environment to have disagreements or you don’t know how to have them, you’re not going to move forward and you’re not going to have that conversation, and that’s just going to linger and get worse, and eventually pop up in some other person’s lap. And this happens not only at work but obviously also in the political sphere. We don’t necessarily think that we’re trying to go out there and solve problems, where we all know what the problems are, and we’re just unhappy about it and yelling about it.

I think there’s ways that we can move away from this conflict avoidance stance, which turned out to be way more common than the unproductive disagreement stance. Most people are not having that many unproductive disagreements. They’ve given up and that’s even worse in some senses in terms of like, “Well, if you’ve already given up, how do we get you back in the game so that we can actually work through these problems?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, do tell. How do we do that? So, you’re feeling like, “Oh, that’s just going to cause a big argument. I’m not even going to bring it up, not even going to go there.” What’s sort of the next step?

Buster Benson
Yeah. So, one of the first things we need to do is remember that other people are humans and other people are as complex as us. So, to do this, when we go into a situation where we’re feeling like, “I think that they aren’t as smart as I am, or I think they don’t get it,” that’s an opportunity to fill in the gaps with real information. So, having someone in front of you that has all these information and perspective is actually a blessing. You can ask them, “Tell me, I just don’t get how this works for you. Like, what’s the story? What’s the background? How did this happen? Help me get there. Help me see the world through your perspective,” just because that’s information that we don’t have, and until we have it, we just feel confused and baffled. And it’s frustrating. It doesn’t feel good.

So, use these people that you might normally think of as opponents or enemies as a source of information that can help you feel a little bit more relaxed about the world if you can understand their perspective better. And that’s really the first step is just think about, “What are the openings? What are the stories we can glean from each other in a safer setting to have a wider perspective of the world?” Not necessarily to change minds or anything, but just to see it from one more, a little bit higher on the plane of perspectives so that we can see, “This person exists because this happened to them and this is their story, and I’m like this because this happened to me, and I could see now why we both exist in the same world, and we both think we’re doing the right thing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so when you say, “How do you get here?” you don’t specifically mean, I don’t know, why you did the project a certain way, but, like, their whole life backstory, history picture.

Buster Benson
Yeah, we oftentimes resort to what are the facts, what are the evidence. The facts and evidence are there to prop up our story once we already have it for the most part. So, asking for that is really about continuing the information, bludgeoning, you find the gotcha information. The stories behind the facts are the real reason we believe things, and that’s what we should go after because those are rich. Those are really filled with interesting detail, they’re exciting to hear about, they’re new. And our brains are trained to really delight in hearing these kinds of stories. That’s why all of fiction is story-based, it’s not about, “Here’s more facts about the world.” Worldbuilders spend all the time telling you about the small details. You get bored real quick, you want the story, you want the plot.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, could you maybe give us some examples of what a rich backstory sounds like, and how it can color, shape and inform a position or an opinion, and how a different backstory would give rise to maybe a contrary opinion or view?

Buster Benson
Yeah, so I try to tackle gun control in one of the chapters and I tried a bunch of different things online and in person. What ended up working was having a salon or a potluck in my house and inviting a bunch of people that have different experiences with guns. And we went around the table and each shared their own personal story. There’s someone who was a former NRA member. There’s someone that had a bunch of assault rifles. There’s someone who just bought a shotgun, and there’s a bunch of people that have never fired a gun before. There are people that have had suicide in their family. There’s people that had violence in their family.

And so, just going around, and saying, “Oh, wait, I know some of you, I don’t know some of you, but I don’t know any of these stories.” And the variety was just so eye-opening just to begin with, and that was really great. But the interesting part came when we decided to figure out, “What’s a policy we can all come to? What policy we think is going to have the biggest impact on gun violence. And let’s come up with proposals and then we’ll tear them apart together just for fun and we’ll see where it goes. Because if we all have the answers, this should be easy.”

What ended up happening as we all went into small groups and came back and now had proposals, and they were all terrible ideas. We all found flaws instantly. And this was eye-opening not because we learned that we didn’t know a whole lot about this issue but the fact that, “Oh, wait, this is complicated. And my simplistic position on it going in is incorrect.”

And that’s not necessarily changing your mind, but saying, “Okay. Well, in order to really do justice to this problem, I’m going to have to really know a lot more than I currently do.” And that can be both exciting and, if that’s not what you want to do, you could be like, “Well, I don’t have time to do that, but I know that the answer is out there somewhere. I hope we can facilitate conversations because we don’t have the answers right now.” And that’s an example where I came in with a really narrow perspective and came out thinking, “Oh, wait. Yeah, this is more complicated than I thought. I shouldn’t feel as self-righteous about this as I did before.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I really appreciate that example, and I guess I’m always a little skeptical when some people seem to know everything about everything, it’s like, “You know…” Oh, I forgot who said that quote but it said, “Some people are more sure of everything than I am of anything.”

Buster Benson
That’s very true. That’s one of the biases, right? Overconfidence is a big chunk of them, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. So, that’s, well, in a way that’s a “call me an optimist.”  I mean, in a way, that’s sort of discouraging, like, “Oh, man, this problem is going to be not resolved quickly because of its difficulty and complexity, but my optimism says okay.” It sounds like some people had some epiphany, some awakening, some understanding about other people’s viewpoints and were enriched as a result by being able to engage in those conversations and, well, I don’t know if you’re editing the story, but it doesn’t sound like anyone just started screaming someone else’s head off and stormed out.

Buster Benson
No, definitely not. Having food there also helped a lot because food calms you down, it sort of regulates your blood pressure a little bit more, and there’s also this culture element, like, if you’re sharing food with someone, you sort of see them as a peer or as a member of your tribe more than if you’re shouting at them over Facebook comments or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so there’s one quick tip right there. Hey, food is handy. I guess I’m wondering what are sort of like the general principles such that we can disagree with folks and walk away sort of with our relationship, at least, not harmed but hopefully improved? I think that’s sort of challenging is folks believe and sometimes it’s true that, “Boy, if I go here and we argue about this, they’re going to respect you less, or I’m going to respect them less, or it’s going to get ugly in one way or another.” So, how do we not have that happen?

Buster Benson
Yeah, it’s intimidating because it is a hard skill to acquire and a hard skill to practice, and if we’re not aware of where our skills are, we’ll oftentimes put ourselves in situations that are above our skill level. And so that’s why I advocate, let’s just start with small steps and get better in safer places and then move into harder ones, more challenging ones.

So, one way to think about it is that we don’t need to answer every problem. We can think of the world as a bunch of problems that are happening, a bunch of different people that are out there. And what is the one, or the two, or the three, that we are most well-suited to really deeply immerse ourselves in, understand from the inside, and to proactively act on?

And the feeling of when things happen in the news, and you have the answer in your head, and you’re like, “Why doesn’t everyone just do this thing that’s obvious to me?” That feeling goes away when you start to understand some of the problems deeply and you can respect that there’s probably more complexity going on.

And, secondarily, it helps us propose that we do have unproductive disagreements more often because unless someone is thinking about this and working on it, nothing is going to happen and this problem is just going to get worse. So, this mix of, “What is going to help me feel better? What’s going to lower my anxiety about just watching the news, or reading the news, or having family dinners?” Part of that is just being okay with this ambiguity of like, “These problems are harder than I thought they were.” But also, what can we do to make each other better at having these conversations?

First, we have to know what that means for ourselves but, secondly, we have to respect each other and help people get there because nobody taught us this, we don’t learn this in school, we don’t learn it at work. Yeah, it’s something that we should all be better at.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, when it comes to developing these skills, I mean, what are some of the practices, or action steps, or things we should do to get them going?

Buster Benson
The easiest one just to begin with is just to want to do it. And I think it sounds sort of trite but we go about most of our day in a pre-reactive mode where we’re like, “Okay, this bad thing happened. I’m going to go attack that. This bad thing happened, I’m going to go attack that,” versus like, “Okay. Well, what would it take for me to just pay more attention to what my reactions to these things and to think about if I did the same over and over again, things aren’t going to get better, so let’s just pay attention to it.”

I say, like, starting a disagreement journal is a great way to do that, if you’re into journaling, or just like talking to yourself and going on a walk, and like, “Let’s go back in that conversation and think about where I went off the tracks, where the thing that triggered me made me change from one that’s like asking open questions to one that was more like defensive, or even insulting, or whatever it is, and see what was it that was important to me that got challenged?” And maybe even follow up with that person the next day and say, “Hey, remember that conversation we had? I realized after the fact that I felt a little bit threatened because this is a value I held. Do you have that value? Is this something that you are really thinking about? What is your perspective on that?” And you might be able to use that as a bridge because there might be something, “Well, yeah, of course, that’s important. But I was talking about this other thing, completely different from that topic. And I’m sorry for lashing out.”

And so, you can use this as a way to go back after the fact and repair that relationship, and then use it as a way to connect it and make sure that the next one is a little bit better because it’s really hard at the moment to know what to do until you’ve sort of reflected on things a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve got, specifically, an eight-step process here to become better at productive disagreements. Could you give us perhaps a one-ish minute or less on each of these steps?

Buster Benson
Sure. So, there are eight of them. Each one of them is about summarizing a big field of work. So, the first one is watch how anxieties sparks. This is what we’ve been talking about mostly, like this mindfulness about that moment that you switch from the calm, curious, open person to the defensive, sort of protective person, and sort of really understand that, where that switch happens, and use that as a way to identify your own values.

Number two is to talk to your internal voices. We all have inherited these, some voices that are very authoritarian, some voices that are very calm and reasonable, and some voices that are like, “Screw this. I’m out, then I flip the table and leave,” and I call it, that’s the conflict avoidance one. And it’s different in each of our heads, and we oftentimes think these thoughts and then we speak them out loud. And so, our internal voices turn into external voices.

And to understand why we say things the way we do, we can sort of go back and think about, “Where does that voice come from? Who in my life am I mimicking in that voice? Do I still need it?” and think about that. That’s cognitive behavioral therapy and sort of the many-minds theory of like, “Oh, gee,” which is really interesting. It can help us tease apart, like, “These thoughts aren’t as necessary.”

Number three is developing honest bias which is sort of the further step past the poster you have. Not only like the what are the biases but what do we do with them? How can we use this information to have better conversations? And I think developing honest bias is the key here. Rather than trying to un-bias yourself, or point out the bias in other people, look for the damage that it does and repair that because that’s tangible, it’s practical, it’s right in front of you, it’s something that you can actually have impact on, versus trying to change the wiring in someone’s mind that’s going to be really, really hard and frustrating.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, to do that, are you just sort of identifying, like, “Hey, this is some things that show up for me in bias”? Or what are you doing exactly?

Buster Benson
Depending on what the situation is, you can say, like, in the work situation, we have this hiring flow that is biased towards candidates that come out of Ivy League colleges. Just fix that and say, like, “Okay, who knows who set that up and whose bias was the one that designed it?” But you can actually fix the process itself. The same goes for if you’re looking for a new job, you’re looking for a new place to live, or any decision that you’re trying to make, you can say, like, “Okay. Well, regardless of what my initial state is, I might seek out familiar things, or I might seek out a safe thing, or I might seek out the thing that makes me look the best.”

What options did you undervalue that you can add back onto the list before you make a decision? And so, there’s these 13 questions you can ask yourself about, like, “Am I favoring the bizarre, interesting, adventurous answers over the seemingly boring ones, even though the boring ones might be better answers for me?” and just add them back on the list, and then look at them altogether. So, you don’t have to change your bias, you can just fix the results of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you.

Buster Benson
So, number four is speaking for yourself. This is one that we do all the time where we speak for others, right? So, we will say, “That party is doing this for these reasons,” or, “That person is evil because they think this.” Rather than doing that, try to invite them into the conversation and ask them to speak for themselves, and also share your perspective from your own stance rather than trying to imagine what they’re thinking. That’s sort of what we talked about at the very beginning.

And it’s a hard habit to break because, I know, speaking from experience, we are just so used to using group labels, and saying, “This group of people has this intention, is doing these things for these reasons,” and we don’t question where we got that from, because we obviously can’t read their minds, and we don’t talk to them a whole lot. So, how can we know? Let’s go ask them directly. It also shows that these groups aren’t as homogenous as we think they are. There’s a whole lot of variation in our own groups and there’s a whole other variation in the other groups, so you can find reasonable people on both sides.

Number five is asking questions that spark surprising answers. There’s a whole list of questions you can just put in your back pocket and pull out right when you’re feeling flooded, you’re like, “Okay. Well, I don’t know how to address this. Okay, I’m going to ask a question,” because we oftentimes tend to ask questions that are black and white but are very limited in possibilities, and we often already prejudged many of the answers to the questions we ask. So, those aren’t going to return a lot of information about the other person that could surprise you. So, open questions, where no matter what they say, it’s going to be interesting and surprising. I think that that’s a better approach, and we can just make a list of these and use them.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you give us one or two right now? I like that way of articulating it, asking questions that invites surprising answers. So, that’s even a little bit more than just not just yes or no, but it gets you thinking about even better questions. So, can you lay a couple on us?

Buster Benson
Yes. So, one that I use a lot is just like, “What am I missing about your perspective that would help me understand you better?” I like to say, “How has this belief been useful for you? Who do you admire?” All these questions are ways of pivoting into their perspective and seeing the world through their eyes, which is always surprising.

In fact, the more different, the more bizarre they are in terms of their worldview, the more surprising it’ll be. And this is a self-reinforcing system because if you do this once, and you get an interesting answer, you’re going to like it. It’s going to be entertaining and meaningful to you. You’re going to want to do it again. You’re going to now have more information to ask even more interesting questions. So, it builds on itself in a really great way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is fun. I guess I’m thinking about things like, “What TV or movie character do you most sort of relate, connect, identify with?”

Buster Benson
Oh, exactly, yeah. There are so many ways to bring your own personality into the questions and ask the ones that you think has some overlap with you, because you can embed that shared interest in a question, and say, like, “Hey, we both like this story. Let’s talk about it,” and through that, talk about the world.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Very good. What’s next?

Buster Benson
So, sixth is to build arguments together, and this is an interesting one. It requires the other, speaking for yourself, asking questions that spark surprising answers, building arguments together means, “Let’s put aside whether or not your argument is right. Let’s just work on it together and make it as good as possible.” Because any argument, any position, has a best version of itself. Even something like the flat-earth theory of the world has a best argument for it.

And it’s interesting because by bringing yourself to this question, you can be creative, you can sort of start building something that you may never have thought about before. And flat earth is sort of, in the topic, but like to just illustrate the point, it’s just interesting to build that up and think about, “Okay. Well, I obviously have a lot of problems with this. I can help you address these. Like, let’s find the answers to all my questions, and then you’ll potentially will build up to a point that you can convince me from this argument, then that’s a win-win as well.”

So, it’s one way of just turning the conversation from combative to collaborative that can turn out to be really fun. You do have to have some trust built in there because you don’t want to come across as, like, “Oh, I’m going to go in and let’s play blocks and treat your argument as a game.” But assuming that you can pull it off in terms of like, “Yeah, I really do want to build this up for you, and I want the best person and the best people to represent your position so I understand it,” then it can lead to really interesting places.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha.

Buster Benson
Seven is cultivating neutral spaces. This is one of the hardest ones because think that arguments exists in the land of abstractions and ideas. Really, they exist in the world of words, sounds, body language, lighting, and power dynamics, and rooms, and sort of it’s really important to think about, “Which ideas are allowed on the table in this conversation? What are the power dynamics between us that maybe I’m not going to share everything because I know that if you don’t like it, you can fire me?” And then there’s also the question of, “Who can be in this conversation in the first place? Who can enter the room? Can I leave the conversation if I feel like it’s no longer being productive?”

It brings to the surface a lot of the power dynamics that have to happen. And these have a material impact on the success of the conversation. You can always turn something that’s really not a neutral space into something that’s more neutral. And we do this instinctively by saying, “Let’s go on a walk,” or, “Let’s go get dinner tomorrow,” or, “Let’s do something where the dynamic is different and the space feels a little better.”

Pete Mockaitis
Or if there’s sort of anonymous inputs in terms of we don’t know whose name is on that idea.

Buster Benson
Right. Exactly. And there’s people, you know, we don’t even see faces, or there’s no accountability, and people can drop in and drop out whenever they want. That’s another thing to consider especially online where these things happen, yeah.

And the last tip is to accept reality and then participate in it. And this is the most abstract one, but, really, it’s a call to this desire that we shouldn’t try to reject the world that exists and just refuse to participate in it until it is more likable. It is the way it is, and the only thing we can do is be a positive or a negative influence within it.

And I see disagreement as this opportunity for us all to say, “Okay, we’re not going to be unscathed, and we’re not going to be on the sidelines just critiquing all the bad things happening. Let’s get into the mix. Let’s be part of the solution. Let’s even be willing to be vulnerable and compromise in those situations and admit how we’re complicit in them,” because that’s the arena that these can be resolved in, and that’s really the way to participate in the most productive way.

So, this idea, like we can just exile, or censor, or ban all the things we don’t like is the opposite. Let’s bring everyone in and let’s figure it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so much good stuff here. And as you kind of walk through these eight, what really stuck with me, or struck me the most, is that “speak for yourself” bit. And I remember, this will be super quick, but, boy, when we were closing on our house, we had what we call split close where this other side was in a different room with their team and they were talking through the cellphone to, say, our lawyer. And there was this one point, like, “Oh, a little bit.”

And so, our lawyer was, say, “Well, hey, we would like this and that as a result of this,” and then she hangs up the phone and says, “Yeah, they basically say, yeah, they think this is a shakedown.” And then our real estate agent says, “A shakedown? For them to impute our integrity in this way,” and it was so funny, like they didn’t use the word shakedown. Our lawyer summarized for them using the word shakedown, and then the real estate agent took Umbridge at the words they never said, and I was just like, sometimes lawyers, not to point fingers, they come back and stuff happens.

Buster Benson
And this happens all the time, the tiny small steps can really derail a conversation so quickly, so quickly that we don’t even notice that it happened. So, yeah, that’s really a good example of just how easy it is to go on the wrong direction. But there are ways to notice them and say, “Okay. Well, let’s hear it from them. Can we just confirm that this is what’s happening?” because there’s more to be gained by a positive outcome for everyone than to just leave the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
And, speaking of that, well, I guess a shakedown is probably not one of them. But I want to get your take on some common phrases that can show up in arguments that tend to make things unproductive in a hurry and show up a lot, and some superior alternatives to those.

Buster Benson
Yeah, and there are just so many. Choose a genre of conversation that we can tease apart a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. We are professionals in a workplace considering what is the best option to complete an objective in terms of, “Should we invest in A, B, C, or D?”

Buster Benson
Right. Okay, so many things there, yeah. One of them you might be familiar to is, “Let’s take this offline,” is a really, really common one in the world of, okay, that just basically means, “There’s too many people in the room. We want to have this decision between a smaller group of people. And I’m going to decide who those people are.” That’s unproductive. I think that there are ways to identify the goal instead of just saying that the entire conversation should be taken offline. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that. But there’s also, let’s see…

Pete Mockaitis
That makes a lot of sense in terms of it’s quite a power grab, really.

Buster Benson
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay. You can just unilaterally declare that these topics are not going to be discussed here and, apparently, at an arbitrary later time with a group of people to be determined, it may or may not be discussed. Thanks.

Buster Benson
Yeah. And it is a tool that works but it’s also a tool that’s slightly dysfunctional if it’s misused. So, I think that a lot of these tools, they have good intentions. They’re like, “Okay. Well, we’re not ever going to go around the room and get everyone’s opinion, and then figure out what this is going to be”  because we think that that’s the only other option. But there are ways to move fast and make decisions and include people at the same time. It’s not a tradeoff you have to make, as much as it feels like that in the moment sometimes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. And do you have, could you share, what are your favorite approaches for pulling that off?

Buster Benson
Yeah. So, I was thinking of, as a product leader, I have many projects where your team is spending months working on something, and at the very last minute, the leadership is like, “Oh, I don’t know about this. Have you considered this possible downside?” And usually you have but you only have a very limited amount of time to talk about this. And so, this can turn a project from launching to taking months and months and months.

And then they’re like, “Let’s talk to more people. Let’s take this offline. Let’s revisit this in a month,” or whenever. One way around that is to say, “Okay. Well, let’s just go through worst case and best case scenarios of this so that we can mitigate those possibilities that are bad and sort of look forward to the ones that are good,” because then they’re heard. You can say, like, “I think the worst-case scenario is that all of our advertisers, they’re going to leave, or our users are going to revolt.” And they can say, “Okay. Well, here is how we’ll know if that’s happening. We’re going to launch it with a smaller group of people. We’re going to roll it out slowly. And if this starts happening, we’re going to stop. But we’re going to start going and find out if that’s true or not.”

So, trimming it from like, “Is this going to be a problem?” to, “Let’s find out if it’s a problem as quickly as possible, and keep the ball moving forward,” can save months and months of time in a lot of situations.

And that could be used in a lot of situations where people are risk-averse and feel like they don’t want to move forward until they feel more confident. But the way you feel more confident is by learning, and so there’s ways to make a prediction, “Let’s learn, let’s move forward. And if it turns out that I’m right, great. If it turns out that you’re right, we’ve learned something. Either way it’s going to be okay and we’re both going to win.” So, that’s really one of the simplest ways to move things forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And, quickly, I also want to get your take on is there any best practices, approaches, or tips you’d suggest for when we’re disagreeing with our boss or someone who outranks us?

Buster Benson
Yeah. So, I always like to turn it into, “What would the evidence be of…?” especially with power dynamics, there’s like, “Do this,” right? And you’re like, “Oh, but that’s a bad idea,” or, “I don’t want to do that,” or, “I’m not good at that,” or sometimes it’s a judgment saying, “You’re not good at this,” or, “You’re not the right person for this,” or, “Your promotion is not going to happen.” Those kinds of things, that are really about a judgment of the worth of something, sometimes you, sometimes your work.

The way to turn that into productive disagreement is to say, like, “Okay. What would you see in the world if I was performing at a higher quality? Or what evidence would there be if I was ready for a promotion? Or how do you see it?” Just so it turns it from something that’s a judgment call into something that can be found in the world. And that’s also a great way to summarize what they’re really trying to say, which is like, they’re going to ultimately going to use signals in the world to make decisions, and it brings clarity to that.

So, turning it from something subjective to objective, saying that in the future if you had done these three things, or if you had spoken for the company and those things that happened, then I would sort of think that you’re prepared for the next step. Versus, like, “Oh, you’ll know when you see it,” or, “I’ll let you know,” kind of thing which is really vague, ambiguous, and can only increase your anxiety over time.

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

Buster Benson
Yeah. So, the last thing I’ll say is that the real challenge here is not to solve all disagreements, be like a perfect disagree-r, but just to have one or two to experience what that’s like, how enjoyable they can be, what it’s like to actually use disagreement to connect, what it’s like to actually learn a bigger perspective through disagreement, because if we can feel that feeling and sort of see that as the antidote to the anxiety we feel, then we could begin to expect it from our leaders, from our politicians, and the world more broadly, because right now we just don’t expect a whole lot from people because we haven’t experienced it for ourselves. So, taking baby steps and saying, “Okay. I just want to feel this and sort of see it in other people as well,” in the long run is the challenge here, and my hope that this sort of brings out.

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

Buster Benson
So, not to be too trite, but, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” is a Gandhi quote, but I think that that is one that has really influenced my approach to the world. It goes back to this accepting and participating. Don’t just be the critic. Be in the mix. Get all messy in the mud and get something done. If that’s what you want everyone else to do, then you got to do it too.

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

Buster Benson
In the news recently, I saw that this Stanley Milgram experiment has been debunked, which is really interesting to me. The interesting thing I think with experiments that I love the ones that had been falsified just because it helps us understand science as an evolving process. And one of the worst biases out there is publication bias where we only look at the studies that sound good as a headline, and that can sort of validate something about our lives.

So, I love any experiment that feels like it should be right that gets disproven just to add a little bit of that complexity back into our conversation. So, we can’t just listen to what feels good in our studies. So, Stanley Milgram is the prisoner experiment is going to be one that I would recommend reading or listen to, but the fact that it was revised and that we’re now questioning this is really interesting to me.

Pete Mockaitis
We’re talking about the authority with the shocks?

Buster Benson
Yeah, the one where you would zap people until they were basically dead because you’re the authority.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I want to see the latest on this. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Buster Benson
Favorite book right now. There is this book by Jenny Odell called How to Do Nothing, and it is just a delightful book that is both meditative and practical and rich in imagery in stories and stuff. She talks about how to live in a world where everything is trying to make us more productive, including my book, and how to just maintain integrity and dignity in that sort of high-pressure environment.

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

Buster Benson
My pen and paper are the ones that I go by the most. To add something a little bit more quirky, I’ve been really interested in the art of tarot decks recently, and I’ve been using this as a way to add symbolism and interesting this to my life.  We just have these tendencies to get into these routines and ruts where things can get really dry and sort of abstract.

Bringing back art into our work is really important to just remember that there’s a creative force that goes into the things that we do. Not necessarily advocating for the pseudoscience of tarot but I’m saying that just seeing the magician and the empress and the hanging man next to your desk, and say, “Okay, yeah. We live in a really rich world,” has been really helpful for me.

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

Buster Benson
So, my favorite habit is private journaling. I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s morning pages, Julia Cameron wrote a book called The Artist’s Way. It’s like this brain dump. Anytime that my brain is tangled up and I’m not into open question, I’ll just type furiously until all the knots get worked out. And it’s been a really, really helpful tool for me over the years to figure that out through that because, otherwise, you need to go on a long walk or ask someone out to coffee and talk about it. But this is a way that’s always handy and you can always use it to figure something out for yourself.

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

Buster Benson
BusterBenson.com is my website, there’s all kinds of weird things, and @buster on Twitter is where I live on the internet.

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

Buster Benson
Yeah. Have one proactive disagreement about something that you feel is important, and don’t keep it bottled up, and see how it goes. And be patient with yourself if it didn’t go right the first time.

Pete Mockaitis
Buster, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks. And keep on having some lovely productive disagreements.

Buster Benson
Thank you so much. It has been a joy.

516: Making Difficult Conversations Easier with David Wood

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David Wood says: "The tough conversations we haven't had form the boundaries of our world."David Wood shares his process for making difficult conversations more manageable.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What makes difficult conversations so difficult
  2. The four-step blueprint for tackling difficult conversations
  3. The simplest way to receive more quality feedback

About David

After life as a consulting actuary to Fortune 100 Companies, David built the world’s largest coaching business, becoming #1 on Google for “life coaching.”

He wants every human to play the best game they possibly can in work AND life and to have zero-regrets when they die. David coaches both high performing leaders, and soon-to-be-released prison inmates, to higher levels of Truth, Daring and Caring.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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David Wood Interview Transcript

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

David Wood
Hey, my pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to kick it off if you could share an interesting story about some of your work with people in prison.

David Wood
Well, I’m moved by their stories, and I’m particularly moved by some of the tough conversations that they need to have. There’s one inmate who we interviewed. We took in a film crew and we interviewed her, and she was part of a robbery. She didn’t actually do the robbery but she conspired to plan the robbery, and they didn’t follow the plan. They did something else, and someone got shot and killed. So, she got sentenced to 25 years in prison for planning a robbery whose plan wasn’t followed.

And one of the toughest conversations of her life that was coming up when I spoke to her, and I haven’t spoken to her since she had it, was she said, “How do you explain to the widow of your victim how sorry you are? How do you say ‘I understand that your kids are now suicidal, and you’ve lost your husband, and it was all because of something that I set in motion’? How do you explain how sorry you are?” And I didn’t really have any answer for that. So, that’s one story I’m moved by. I’m moved by many of the inmates and what they’re facing on a daily basis.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m intrigued. And so, in terms of your life’s work and expertise, what is it that you think that causes you to return this population again and again?

David Wood
I keep wondering why I go back into prison. I think, initially, it was a fascination with confronting my own freedom because I think that we take so many things for granted, and I wanted to see what was it like to go in and serve this underprivileged population. And then when I got in there, I found out how grateful they were. They were really humble, and they were really listening. They wanted to learn, “How am I going to communicate with a potential employer? How am I going to handle tough conversations with my family while I’m in prison and then when I get out since they’re blaming me for everything that’s gone wrong?”

So, they’re listening, and they want to know. And when we leave there, they’re just so grateful. They said, “A lot of people won’t come and spend the time with us. Thank you so much.” So, it gives me a chance. A lot in my life is going really well and it gives me a chance to do some service.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, can you zoom out a little bit? I want to hear a little bit about your philosophy and organization, play for real, what does it mean?

David Wood
Well, I believe we’re playing a game. I know not everybody has that viewpoint but I think life is the greatest game there is and the stakes are very high. Literally, we can die. So, the stakes don’t get much higher than that. But if you don’t know that you’re playing a game, what can happen, let’s say in your job, you can get tense, you can start to feel overwhelmed, you can start to get a bit crabby and snap at people because, now, you’re stressed and you’ve forgotten that you’re playing a game. So, I’d like everybody to be able to tap into the flow of life by remembering this is a very high-stakes game.

But I don’t mean we’re being frivolous about it and we’re just, say, dancing through the daisies with butterflies floating around our hair and not a care in the world. I’m saying, let’s play the game but let’s play it like we mean it. Let’s play it as if we may not get another chance to be reincarnated and live a second life. Let’s play but let’s play for real. So, to me, that means let’s try and live so that on our deathbed we will have zero regrets and say we absolutely gave our job and our relationships and our life everything that we possibly could.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. And so, we’re going to spend most of our time talking about how real conversations are difficult conversations play into it. But just to get oriented to the broad picture, you lay out four particular obstacles or enemies of playing for real. So what are those if you can give us the quick version for how we overcome those?

David Wood
Yeah. So, one thing that people are missing is real goals. They’re going through life but they haven’t actually set goals to light them up. So, that’d be the first thing that’s missing. The second thing, suppose you have goals, you know where you’re heading, but not everybody sits down and creates a strategic plan, and says, “This is exactly what needs to happen for me to achieve those goals.” So, we’re just talking about a lack of a strategic plan.

The third one is there’s no real action. It’s one thing to have a plan, it’s another thing to implement the damn plan. So many of us get distracted by Facebook messages and text messages and people coming and knocking on the door that we don’t actually take action on the things that we say matter. So, lack of real action is the third one.

And then the fourth one is lack of real growth. And I’ve identified three values that I found critical to up-leveling in life and business, and that’s increasing your truth, increasing your levels of daring, and increasing your levels of caring. So, by addressing these four, we can actually create real goals, we can create a real plan, we can get in real action. And by increasing levels of truth, daring, and caring, we can actually have real growth in our life. And if you follow all four of those, then I say that leads to a regret-free life.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that makes a lot of sense to me in terms of, yeah, I can see those four things need to be in place to move toward really cool stuff that matters. And if we increase the truth and daring, that’s going to certainly help you out there. Now, I guess I have a bit of a picture or assumption on how daring and caring apply and how they’re special. But could you expand upon increasing truth? What does that mean and how is it done?

David Wood
Right. Well, let’s say, this is about being awesome at your job, right? So, if you want to be awesome at your job, let’s look at how you can increase your levels of truth. Now, if you’re not speaking up and talking about something that doesn’t work for you, then you’re hurting yourself and you’re hurting the team. So, let’s say Bill, over in accounting, is doing something that’s actually slowing down your job, and you stay silent. Well, that doesn’t really help anybody. So, by increasing our levels of truth, we can start to speak up about what I need, about what the team needs, and about what the company needs. It might be that you need a pay raise, and so while you’re sharing that with your boss, you’re increasing your level of truth.

And I actually have a secret mission. I want everybody in the world to increase their levels of personal responsibility, increase their levels of agency so that we’re speaking up and we’re causing the matter instead of just being passive or, even worse, complaining or gossiping. So, that’s an example of how we might increase truth.

Now, to increase daring, I think you can start to see how it goes hand in hand. For you to speak up and be the squeaky wheel at work, it might take some courage to go to your boss and say, “May I have more money?” or, “Can I get a transfer to this environment?” or, “Hey, I think I’m being discriminated against sexually in the workplace.” All of these things take daring to speak up. Also, it’s daring to say, “Can I have that Japanese account?” or to say to a prospective customer, “How about you sign up for a year instead of one month?” So, those are just some examples of the daring.

And then caring, you can care for your fellow workmates and actually care that they do a good job, and that they’re doing well, and that they’re feeling appreciated. You can care for your direct reports. You can care for the relationships between you and your customers. You can care for your personal relationships and nurture your relationship with your kids, with your parents, with your spouse, and you can also practice self-care, because burnout’s becoming a bigger and bigger problem in the workplace. And if we’re not taking care of our nutrition, and our rest, and our exercise, then, eventually, we are going to burn out and it’s going to whack us with a big stick.

So, does that answer your question of, “How do we increase levels of truth, caring, and caring?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, so I’ve got a broad picture for how that unfolds there. So, now, yeah, let’s just talk, when it comes to pulling all that and you’ve got some conversations that are tricky, I mean, for starters… I made this more philosophical. Let’s see how it goes. What makes a difficult conversation difficult in the first place?

David Wood
Fear of loss. We’re usually worried about losing something. So, a difficult conversation at work would be, again, “May I have a pay raise?” We might be worried about annoying our boss and getting cut out of the next project, or maybe the boss says, “You know, we really don’t have the budget to support your salary, and you’ve just reminded me. You’re fired.” Or, let’s suppose, with our partner, a really tough conversation can be a confession, “Hey, I kissed someone and broke an agreement three years ago, and I want to come clean about it.” We could lose that relationship. So, fear of loss is one of the biggest things that make something a tough conversation.

The other thing, which I think is linked to this, is vulnerability. We can’t control a tough conversation. We can’t control the other person’s reaction if they get upset, if they get defensive, we can’t control what they do. We can’t even control how the conversation goes so we’re stepping into vulnerability to have a tough conversation. And I can understand why a lot of people might want to just sweep that under the carpet.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so that’s why it’s sort of tricky. So, then how do we go about having these conversations effectively?

David Wood
Well, I have a four-step blueprint. And, by the way, tough conversations, I’ve been interested in those for 10 years in helping my clients, but I only recently, but I realized how well they fit into truth, daring, and caring because it’s all about telling the truth. It takes a lot of daring to have a tough conversation, and it takes a lot of caring to do it right. So, I’ve been very excited when I realized, “Oh, this is a way I can express truth, daring, and caring in the world and one the ways that we can play for real.”

So, how we do it, as I have a four-step blueprint, and if you like, we can give listeners a download at the end of this so that they don’t have write down a whole bunch of notes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Let’s do that too. So, okay, four steps.

David Wood
Yeah, four steps. And if you like, we can use an example with an authority figure. So, it could be something that you want to say to your boss, or we had an example with one of the prison inmates, and she was saying, “When the guard was late to his shift, that meant that I couldn’t be where I needed to be in the prison, and I got chewed up by another guard, and it really impacted my life.” And she said, “How do I have that tough conversation with an authority figure who has the ability to make my life hell?” And anyone with a job knows that their boss has a lot of power over them financially, their work hours, a whole bunch of things. So, we can use that as an example perhaps.

Step one is you ask permission for the conversation. Don’t just launch into it. So, with this prison inmate, for example, she could say to the guard, “Excuse me, Mr. Smith, do you have just a few minutes for a quick conversation?” And this is a good point to share your hope for the conversation, and we’ll give listeners a worksheet as well. When they download the four-step worksheet blueprint as a worksheet so you can prepare for this, and that’s where you work out your hope.

Now, her hope was, “My hope is you can understand a little more about what it’s like to be an inmate and that, hopefully, that might influence some of your decisions in the future,” something like that. Or, “My hope is that my life might be a little bit easier if you understand a bit more what it’s like.”

And then, step two, this is where you can share your fear or concern. Now, I guarantee there’s a fear or concern or you wouldn’t be calling it a tough conversation. So, in her example, “I’m hesitant to bring this up because I don’t want to offend you. You might feel offended or defensive and you might not want to listen to me, and I might get in trouble.”

And then, step three, this is where you share the issue. And if you have a request from your worksheet, this is where you put it in the request. So, in her example, again, it might be something like, “When you were late, I got in a lot of trouble. I got chewed out and I couldn’t pick up my property, and it really had an impact. And my request is, to whatever extent you’re able to, if you could try and be on time, then I’d be really grateful.”

And then, step four, the last one, I think can be the most important. This is where you get curious and you listen and negotiate. We don’t want to have tough monologues. We want to have tough conversations. And this is also where caring comes in. So, it might look, in this example, something like, “I’m wondering how is it for you to hear that? Does that make sense? Does that sound workable? Do you have a better idea? I’d love to hear anything you’ve got to say,” because you don’t want to just dump this and then run. And you may find out, she may find that this corrections officer may have a better idea than she had. The corrections officer may be like, “Look, I’ll speak to the other CO and I’ll smooth things over for you,” or, “I can’t guarantee I’ll be on time but I’ll help you out if you get in trouble because of it.” We don’t know. But that’s the plan.

Step four is get curious, and then we listen and negotiate.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yes. I like that. It makes sense. It’s handy when you sort of have, I don’t know, a preamble but you share those bits in advance. And I think it makes them more kind of sympathetic or appreciative that you’re a human being and you have some sensitivities and vulnerabilities and you’re not trying to attack them.

David Wood
Yes, that’s right. It’s relational and it’s vulnerable. It’s like, “Here’s my hope out of this, here’s my fear or concern out of this, I’m a real person. I’m kind of at my edge here.” It changes the whole space. And people are more, I find, they’re more likely to listen when you show a bit of vulnerability and let them know the context of what’s going on instead of just you working it out in your head, and then launching into a tough monologue trying to get what you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s do another scenario here and I think this happens a lot at workplaces. Okay. Let’s say you are responsible for your project to get done and that has any number of dependencies from other departments which you don’t have really control or authority over those folks who need to provide key stuff or inputs for you to get the job done. And so you’ve got to do some of those prompts, like, “Hey, you didn’t give me your stuff when I needed it.” But I always found that tricky in environments, in terms of, “How do I do an appropriate follow-up and what are the prompts I should be using to get what I need without being sort of offensive or pestering?” Because I don’t want them to think like, “Who’s this guy and why is he always in my business pestering me non-stop?” So, yeah, there’s the scenario. Let’s walk through how’d you approach such conversations.

David Wood
Perfect example and very similar to this inmate who wanted something from someone else who had some authority, she couldn’t control it so it was really a request. And in giving that preamble, I think you’ve given all the answers we need. So, first step would be asking permission, right? We’re not going to dump it on someone. We’re going to say, “Hey, if you’ve got a few minutes to talk about this project,” and this is where you’ll sweep in your hope, “My hope is we can be more in sync as a team and to be honest that I’m going to look even better with my boss,” for example, right? I’m making that up, “But I probably want to look good with my boss. So, that’s my hope.”

“And then my fear, or my concern about bringing it up is I know you don’t report to me, I know it’s not your job to make me look good, and I don’t want to be too obnoxious. I don’t want to be stepping on your toes, and I don’t want to put you offside, so I’m a little hesitant to bring it up, but I think it’s worth talking about.” So, now, we’ve been real, we’ve shared a hope, we’ve shared a concern.

And then, step three, share the issue and include a request if you have one, “So, the issue is I would share the impact. When I get the material later than you said it’s coming, there’s a whole pipeline that gets messed up, and it ends up taking us longer, and then sometimes I get in trouble for it. That’s the impact. And so, my request is that if we can be more rigorous around our deadlines, and if you don’t think you can get it to me by Thursday, give me a firmer deadline of Monday. But if you say Thursday at 5:00 o’clock, my request is that we be a bit more rigorous with it. Do you think that would work?”

And now I’m already going to slip straight into number four, “What do you think about this? Have you got any other ideas? Because this isn’t quite working and I’d really like to find something that does work.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, defensiveness pops during the course of the conversation. Do you have some pro tips for navigating that?

David Wood
Yeah. And I like what you said, like, “I don’t want to be obnoxious. I don’t want to be nagging all the time.” So, I’ll share that concern and I’ll say, “How do I request things from you without being a nag? How do I do it? Do you have a suggestion for language? I’d really like your ideas on this because I’m a little bit stumped.” And then you work it out together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, sure. Now, can we talk about going first. I’ve got Stephen Covey in my head here now. You know, “Seek first to understand then be understood.” How do you think about that sequencing or timing of who’s going first, and when is it optimal?

David Wood
Yeah, yeah, great. I love that. So, in the download, you’ll get some pro tips. And one of the tips is if you find that the other person is not really listening, they’re just jumping in, so you say something like, “You know, if I get the things later than we said, then I said, ‘Oh, well, my boss was doing this, and blah, blah, blah,’” they’re not listening, then you could try some words like this, “Hey, I want to hear that, and I want to try and get this out in one go. Do you think you could give me just two minutes? And I think I can cover all the bases. And then I’d love to hear everything you’ve got to say. So, we’ll just take turns then. Is it okay if I go first?”

And if it’s not, “Okay, maybe you go first and I’ll listen first. I’m okay with that.” The main thing is that you take turns and that there’s actually a two-way communication instead of someone just getting triggered and kind of running the show. If that happens, make the request, “Can I go first? And if not, you go first.”

Can you say the question again about the sequence of timing?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. So, we talked about, “Can I go first?” and I’m thinking about Stephen Covey with one of those seven habits of seek first to understand then be understood. So how do you think about the timing, sequencing of who goes first, talking versus listening. And are there particular circumstances in which you recommend listening first or just how do you think about that?

David Wood
Well, I think it’s sometimes a matter of charge, like, “Who has the charge?” So, if you’re the one that has some emotional charge on something, and you’re a bit at your edge, you might just want to request permission, “Can we talk about this? Can I share this issue?” And if you a yes, go for it. And then find out their reaction. So, I think it makes total sense for you to go first.

If you think that they might have a bit of charge, let’s say that you think they’re really upset with you about something, then you might say to them, “Look, I want to have a conversation about this and I can go first if you like, or if you like, you go first and I’ll listen, and then we’ll switch.” So, you’d still ask permission for the conversation, then you might throw it up in the air. Because if they’ve got a lot of charge, then the chances are higher they’re going to get triggered, angry, defensive, upset, something like that, and I might want to preempt it and let them, just hear their issue first.

But sometimes you’re taking something to someone where you don’t even know if they’ve got an issue, so I don’t think we have to artificially try and get their side first. I think it’s fine to just lead in and see if there’s permission for you to share your side.

Pete Mockaitis
I got you. Thank you. And then in terms of sort of managing in your own head and the emotions in the midst of these conversations, anything you recommend on how you can do that well? So if you’re starting to freak out, do you have some tips? Or if you’re feeling a little scared, nervous, anxious, and some things show up that you weren’t expecting… What do you do?

David Wood
I can see why you’ve got so many reviews on your podcast. You ask really good questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

David Wood
So, yeah, we’re talking about some emotional regulation now. If you know that you’re going to have an issue, for example, I had a podcast host say, “How do I share with my mother who’s got Alzheimer’s and who’s dying? How do I share with her all the things that I’ve been disappointed about in my life? I want to have no secrets between my mother.” Now, that’s a tough conversation.

And one of the tips that I gave her was to talk it out first with a friend or even journal it. Like, get it out. Don’t take all your charge about your disappointment about how your mother raised you and dump it on your mother. Better to go through your worksheet, work out your hope, work out your fears, you might write down all your disappointments, talk them out with a friend, in this way you can release a lot of that emotional charge so that when you go into the live conversation, you can be more matter of fact and deal with the facts, say, “Yeah, I was disappointed about a few things. Here are a couple of the key ones. And now that I’ve talked it out with a friend, I’ve realized that you’re actually doing the best you could.”

Those kinds of insights can come out of doing this. And I’ve also, I had one client who’s a manager in a tech company, and she said, “I’m worried about this tough conversation with my staff. They’re going to give me feedback on my management style. What if I get triggered? What if I get defensive and shut down?” Which is a super smart thing to be aware of. So, I said, “Great. We’re going to practice it. I’m going to be your employee, and I’m going to give you feedback, and I’m not going to go very easy on you, and we’re going to see how you go.” So, she got to roleplay it. And I started easy, just with a few things, and she handled it really well. And then, finally, I said, “You know, basically, you’re just clueless.” And that was too much.

So, we found her edge and she shut down, and then we slowed down, and we worked through it, found out why she would shut down, and she learned a new language. She learned how to say, “Ouch! That hurt,” instead of pretending and covering it up. So, long answer to a short powerful question, you can roleplay it, and you can talk it out with your friends first to release a lot of that charge so that you’ll be more settled when you actually have it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is good. And while we’re talking about feedback and being on the other end of some of this, are there other perspectives in terms of, how can we be open to the feedback and encourage and receive it and put it to use all the more often?

David Wood
Well, one way, this might seem flippant, but one way that we can get good feedback more often is to listen to the feedback we get. Now, I’ll put myself up and confess straight away that this isn’t automatic for me. If someone says something that I receive as critical, my first thought might be to defend, “Well, the reason that happened was blah, blah, blah.” I’m not listening. I’m not listening to their experience. So, if you can catch yourself, you go, “Oh, wait a minute. I just reacted to that. Let me slow down and listen to this. All right, you’re saying when I deliver this late, it has an impact on you and you get in trouble with your boss. All right. So, what I need to do is to be better about managing my deadlines.”

Now, if I’m willing to actually listen to someone’s woe instead of just defending myself, they’re more likely to come to me next time and say, “Hey, you know that conversation went well. How about this one? Would you be willing to try this?” But how many people do you know at work who just, historically, have not been open to requests, or criticism, or feedback that’s less than glowing. I know people that I’m not going to give them any feedback because they’re bumpy and they’re just not open to it so I stop giving it to them.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally, yeah.

David Wood
Yeah, I’ve got this manager I was just talking about, she wants feedback. She wants to be a great manager and she knows to be a great manager she’s got to know if there’s a problem so she’s gone to each of the team members and said, “Would you be willing to tell me if there’s something I’m doing that’s not the best?” And she told them a story about her boss. She told her boss, “What could I do better?” The boss said, “Oh, everything is good. Everything is good. No, you’re doing great.”

Pete Mockaitis
What happens?

David Wood
And then when it came to review time, the boss said, “Well, here are five things you could’ve done better.” And she was naturally pissed. She’s like, “I wanted that feedback. I could’ve been better already.” So, she told that story to her staff to let them know that she really does value feedback, and to model for them what it’s like to actually request for feedback so that some of them could go, “Oh, same here. Let me know if I can do something better.” A real ninja move to cause some of that.

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

David Wood
Well, I like talking about my favorite things, so let’s shift gears.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, let’s do it. How about a favorite quote or something you find inspiring?

David Wood
Well, I’m going to quote myself because I said something a couple months ago and it stuck with me, and it feels so core to the work I’m doing. And what I said was, “The tough conversations we haven’t had form the boundaries of our world.” They literally form the boundaries of our reality. But the tough conversations we do have become the defining moments of our relationships, our career, and our lives.

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

David Wood
A favorite bit of research? Well, there’s an assistant professor on the East Coast of the U.S. who surveyed, I think, it was 150 hospice nurses to find out what people actually regret on their deathbed. You hear so much talk about, “Oh, on your deathbed, people wished they hadn’t spent so much time at the office, blah, blah, blah.” But where’s the research? Well, I’m telling you, there isn’t any. This guy has got the closest piece of research, it’s very hard to get to the actual people dying due to privacy laws and permissions at the hospital and family and all these things. I’ve tried. But he actually researched the nurses and found, say, the top five regrets of the dying. So, that’s one of my favorite pieces of research just because it’s the closest that exists to what I really want to see which is actually asking those who are dying.

Pete Mockaitis
And for those who haven’t seen the study, could you share a couple of them?

David Wood
Oh, being true to one’s self, that’s one. And I may not have the words right but being true to one’s self, speaking up for you instead of living other people’s dreams, that’s one. And I think an example of that would be telling people how much you love them.

And I can relate to that. When I imagine being on my deathbed, there’s a scan, and I’ve been near death. I’ve been sitting on a plane with the engine caught on fire, I’ve had my parachute collapse and head plummets towards the ground, and I’ve scanned, “Is there anything left? Is there anything left unsaid?” In fact, I turned to my partner, with the engine on fire, and said, “Well, good, Ray. Is there anything we haven’t said?” And we agreed we were solid. I want that experience for everybody, that you don’t die with anything left unsaid.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

David Wood
I’m a fan of The Work of Byron Katie. And so, I’m going to mention Loving What Is because it was my first introduction. I didn’t get a grasp for The Work from that book but it was what led me to go further with Katie and finally get a grasp on The Work. So, Loving What Is by Byron Katie will start to introduce you. This reminds me of a quote of hers which is one of my favorites, which is, “The worst thing that can happen to you is a thought.” Yeah, a whole gamechanger to start to realize that circumstances don’t give us our experiences of our life. It’s what we’re believing that gives us our experience of life. And Katie gives us a way to hack those painful thoughts to get to peace.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a favorite tool you’d recommend to people to be more awesome at their jobs?

David Wood
Yeah, I recommend the four-step blueprint for tough conversations which we’ll give your listeners in a few minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

David Wood
Ooh, I like something called somatic sequencing. It’s new. This is new for me. I’ve been running from a lot of the sensations in my body for years and years, and I believe this is what people pick up with cigarette, or they smoke, or they have a glass of wine. Or you take some medication to kind of numb ourselves, or watch TV. But I’ve been experimenting with a therapist in feeling the feelings. Like, I’ll go and lay down a special place in the house and I’ll be like, “What is happening in my body?” I’ll just feel it and I will try and welcome everything that’s happening. And that’s been a bit of a game changer for me. So, that’ll be my new favorite tool or practice.

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

David Wood
You can go to PlayForReal.life. At PlayForReal.life you can download the blueprint. If you are serious about up-leveling in career and life at the same time, then see if you qualify for a discovery session with me. If you do, I don’t charge for those sessions. And I have joined the ranks of the podcasters in the last week, Pete. And if you’d like to listen to me as well as Pete, then Tough Conversations with David Wood is a new podcast you can subscribe to, again, at PlayForReal.life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Well, David, it’s been a whole lot of fun. I wish you all the best and keep on doing the great work as you’re playing for real.

David Wood
Thanks, Pete. I appreciate you.