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491: How to Have Powerful Conversations that Improve Performance with Jonathan Raymond

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Jonathan Raymond says: "We're too nice to each other. We're not having honest conversations."

Refound CEO Jonathan Raymond teaches how to communicate feedback that gets results.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What makes traditional feedback ineffective
  2. How to have more effective conversations using the 5 stages of the Accountability Dial
  3. How to articulate feedback to your team, your peers, and your seniors

About Jonathan

After twenty years of not being able to decide whether he was a business executive or a personal growth teacher, Jonathan stopped trying to figure it out. He’s the author of Good Authority — How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For, and the Founder & CEO at Refound, a people training company that teaches people how to have human conversations at work. Refound specializes in working with people leaders at high-growth organizations and is proud to be a trusted learning partner to Fortune 100 organizations like Panasonic and McKesson, cutting edge tech firms like Niantic and Box and small businesses that are going places. He’s madly in love with his wife, tries not to spoil his daughters, and will never give up on the New York Knicks. Jonathan is an experienced CEO and people manager and has thrown his heart, mind, and soul into more than a few culture change projects. He lives in Encinitas, California and is an avid, albeit mediocre, surfer.

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Jonathan Raymond Interview Transcript

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

Jonathan Raymond
Thanks, Pete. It’s great to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear, have you learned anything extraordinarily useful and maybe new that changed the way you were thinking from two years ago?

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, I hope the answer to that is yes. We’ve learned a ton, really, as an organization.
I think that one of the ways that we work with organizations and try to advise them is, you know, a lot of people will say, like, “Well, we want more communication.” But if you actually talk to people inside an organization, which we do through our engagements, they say, “Well, you know, it’s not so much that I want more communication. There’s plenty of communication.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Plentiful.

Jonathan Raymond
“What I want is for them to think a little harder.” They meaning the organization or the leaders or whoever. “I want them to think a little more about which ones matter to me and why, and invest a little bit more time in context and why, why this particular piece of communication.” There’s a bunch of stuff that you’re telling me about that, it’s not that I don’t care but I have so many things that I’m trying to digest at the same time, I’d rather you didn’t. If you could just invest a little bit more time in thinking into which pieces of communication need a little bit more context and a little bit more of the why, those organizations are succeeding in terms of having more effective communication.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, when it comes to communication effectiveness, I wanted to chat with you in some real depth about feedback. We touched upon it last time, which was, boy, way back, more than about a couple of years there. And so, I wanted to talk about feedback in particular for this chat and maybe to start us off with in what ways does feedback often sort of just not work in teams and organizations? Sort of what’s the problem that you bump into most often?

Jonathan Raymond
Yes. Well, let’s start by thinking about for anyone who’s married or in a serious relationship. When you try to give feedback to your partner or spouse, how does it go? Usually not well, right? If you have kids and you try to give your kids feedback, including but not limited to teenagers, how does it go? Generally, not well, right? Why? Like, why does feedback not generally go well?

One is because we’ve got a lot of pent-up emotions, typically. We sometimes have more power than the other person, not always. We are often missing context around why they did what they did when they did it. There are so many possible ways that things could go wrong. We have our own bias, we have our own judgments, we have a lot of our own projection and how we feel about ourselves, so it’s a mess. So, when we enter into a thing called a feedback conversation, the likelihood of success is very low given all of those factors.

And so, we have to start thinking beyond feedback. Because that setup, whether it’s in the workplace or in our families—it doesn’t work. We know that it doesn’t work. People get defensive, it’s awkward, we feel uncomfortable, we talk past one another, so we need another way to think about solving the problem of what is the problem that feedback is intending to solve. There’s a real problem there that we’re sort of taking this tool called feedback and saying, “Oh, that’s going to solve it.” And then we found our position is like, “Hmm, not so much. It’s not going to work for that for a lot of different reasons. There’s another way.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I suppose most often, the problem I’m trying to solve with feedback is, “I would like for you to do this thing differently and better as I perceive better.” And so, if feedback is not the mechanism, what is?

Jonathan Raymond
So, for us, the everyday conversations take a different tone. So, exactly as you said, right, “What is the purpose of feedback?” Well, I want someone to behave differently. Now, we could also say we also want to give them feedback around things that they do well. And we’ll get into kind of the different feedback spaces or the different feedback relationships that we all have.

But if we think about approaching that conversation, not by making a statement about something but by asking a question, or making an observation, but doing it from a place of acknowledging our subjectivity, and saying, “Hey, I noticed this,” or, “It seems to me that X,” or, “When I was sitting in the meeting, one of the things that struck me was…”

But we’re approaching those conversations with a spirit of curiosity, with a spirit of dialogue, like, “I don’t have all the information. I don’t know everything about why you did what you did when you did it. I just noticed something and I’m going to bring it up because, as your colleague or as your manager or as your subordinate—whatever the case may be—I see that as part of my role to when I see things that are either problematic or potentially problematic, part of my role as a leader in this organization and in standing for my own values is to say something.”

But the way we go about it changes the whole game. And if we approach it from a place of assumption and conclusion and prescriptive, like, “This is what happened, and this is what you need to do differently.” Well, now we’re doing feedback and we’ll get the results that you would imagine. But if we approach it from a place of, “Hey, I have a question about this. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It seemed like this but I could be…” And so, it’s having that open hand relative to those everyday conversations.

So, in one way you could say, “Oh, that’s another way to do feedback,” and that’s fine, you could call it that. But for us it’s really different. When we train and teach these tools, people feel like, “Oh, so I don’t really have to give feedback in the way that I understood it. All I have to do is talk with people. All I have to do is show up as a human being, find a way to surface what I’m feeling, thinking, sensing, and then we can have a conversation, and that’s right.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m intrigued. So, we start with the curiosity and a statement of, “Hey, I noticed this…” And then maybe how’s the rest of the conversation go or maybe could you do a roleplay or an example?

Jonathan Raymond
Yes, so what we did is we created a tool called the Accountability Dial. And what we found—and this came from my own painful experiences as a people leader—is that I found myself having the same conversations over and over again, whether I was in a management role or when I was more junior, and I would flag something or name something, and I would find myself repeating those conversations.

And so, what we did is we created an architecture, we said, “Hey, what if there’s actually five parts to that conversation?” We called them the mention, the invitation, the conversation, the boundary, and the limit. And if we think about locating ourselves, “Well, where am I in this conversation? Is it the first time that I’m bringing this up? Well, I’m at the mention stage.” “Hey, Jennifer, I was in this standup this morning and you seemed frustrated by where the conversation was going. I’d love to hear more about that if I’m reading that right.” So, that’s the mention, right?

So, I don’t know why Jennifer, maybe there’s a really good reason, maybe there might be 27 things that could be happening, maybe I’m misinterpreting the situation. But my mention is just my first attempt to get in dialogue with Jennifer about that. So, that’s the mention.

Now, let’s say a couple of days goes by, maybe a week goes by, and I’m still sensing she’s frustrated in that meeting, I notice that in some email back and forth, something is not clicking. So, if I was Jennifer’s manager or if I was her peer and I cared about her as another human being, I wouldn’t let it go. I would come back to her and I would say, “Hey, I mentioned something in the hall last week. I’ve noticed a couple of other things. It seems to be something bigger and I care. I want to know. Maybe there’s something, maybe there’s some way that I can help.”

So, that’s the invitation stage, the second step of going into a little bit more deeper dialogue. And every single one of these steps, all five of them, are ways to express care in human ways to say, “Look, there’s something going on, or at least I think there is, and if there’s something that I’m doing, I want to be able to change it. And if there’s something that we need to work out together, well, let’s do that.”

And so, we go through those stages. That’s how we move through the Accountability Dial where we don’t try to tackle the whole thing in one bite. It doesn’t work that way. We’re not geared to be able to solve important things as human beings that touch on all these interpersonal and intrapersonal issues. We can’t solve those in a 30-second conversation so we’re going to come back to it a couple of times over a period of days or weeks or whatever it is.

Pete Mockaitis
And for that second bit there, the invitation, what exactly are we inviting them to?

Jonathan Raymond
So, we’re inviting them to reflect, to say, “Hey, look, it looked like it was maybe a one-off thing but now I’m seeing maybe it isn’t a one-off thing. Maybe there’s a pattern that’s emerging. And it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it doesn’t mean you failed, it doesn’t mean I’m judging you. It just means, hey, I’m here. I’m human, you’re human. There are probably things that you see about me that maybe are patterns. But, in this instance, here’s something that I’m seeing. And if I’m your manager,” and, again, this is a philosophical point of view.

In our work, we say, “Hey, if you’re the manager or the people leader, it’s your responsibility to approach that person, if not in real time, in near time to say, ‘Hey, look, there’s something that seems to be happening here. I’m inviting you to take a reflection on this, to think about, hey, is there something that you’re not saying, or is there a conversation you need to have with someone else, or is there a step that you need to do that you haven’t done?’” Whatever it is, but not from a place of judgment or shaming, but just offering somebody from that coaching mindset, a reflection from the outside.

Because what’s really hard for us as humans is we don’t see when we’re doing that often. Most of us, our powers of self-reflection, especially with the pace of work, are limited. So we want, you know, if you’re hungry for growth you need people around you who are going to say, “Hey, look. Hey, Jonathan, here’s something that I’m noticing. Maybe it’s worth thinking about.” That’s the invitation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s an example we’re running with. So, Jennifer, the first time with the mention, she seemed frustrated by something. And then so how does the conversation unfold during the invitation phase? You say, “It appears that this has happened a couple more times. This might be a pattern. So, I invite you to think about it or…”

Jonathan Raymond
Well, so it depends in the context, right? So, if I’m Jennifer’s manager, that’s going to feel a certain way, if I’m a peer I might approach that conversation a little differently. It depends on how you know the person and what the nature of that relationship is. But the invitation stage, it’s not so much, it’s not a directive. The invitation is more sort of describing the stage. Like, imagine you had like a black light that you could put on the floor of an office, and you could see all of the, what we call, feedback conversations.
Mostly what you would see is a lot of like started but never re-engaged conversations. So, people bring up something, they flag something, they name something, they highlight something, but they never come back around to that person and say, “Hey, remember that conversation we had the other day? There’s something else that I’m noticing that I think might be connected to it.”

And then the whole point of using the Accountability Dial in everyday conversations is you’re engaging your curiosity, right? “Hey, I don’t know. It’s not my job to know the answer, but here’s what I’m seeing,” and building those relationships of trust with a colleague. So, that’s the invitation. And then we move to the next stage, into the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then some time goes by again, and you notice some other things. And then what happens?

Jonathan Raymond
So, the conversation stage of the Accountability Dial is when we try to help somebody, again, whether it’s a colleague, or a direct report, or somebody more senior, shift their awareness from intentions to impacts. So, most of the time, 99% of the time, when something happens in an office that isn’t great, or a factory floor, you know, we do a lot of work in manufacturing and other contexts like that, it’s not intentional. The person is not intentionally trying to create work for other people, or make life more difficult, or they’re not intentionally doing something to harm others or the team or the customer. And yet, behavior has impact.

And the conversation stage of the Accountability Dial is to help somebody shift their awareness, “Hey, so I get that that’s not what you intended. I get that. I understand that. But I’d love to actually have a conversation about what the impact to de-personalize it. It’s not, well, you’re bad a person.” People are likely to get very defensive especially if you’re their manager or any other context like that too. I know many of your listeners are not in a people management role.

But the context of that conversation is, “Let’s step back and let’s talk about, well, if you’re finding yourself frustrated,” if we take Jennifer’s example, “Jennifer, if you’re finding yourself frustrated with the team and maybe the pace of projects, or there’s too many changes, or whatever it is, how might that be impacting your working relationships? How might that be impacting our customers or vendors or stakeholders? How might that be impacting the overall experience that we’re having as a team? How might it be impacting your own development? Like, is there some career goal or something that you’re working on that’s staying in the state of frustration is keeping you from reaching as fast as you may want?”

So, questions like that to help people go like, “Oh, wow, I hadn’t thought about it in that way.” That’s how you know you’re in the conversation stage to help people, again, de-escalate. Like, the whole goal here is we’re trying to have human conversations, things happen, it’s not about jumping on somebody when they make a mistake, or creating a culture of fear is the opposite of what we want to create, but to be in conversation with that person, but to help them see.

Just like if you had a financial advisor, or a relationship coach, or in any domain of life, the reason why you hired that person is you’re trying to have a different outcome, right? So, you wouldn’t go to your relationship coach and say, “Well, I didn’t intend that,” and expect that to be the end of the conversation. “Of course, you didn’t intend that but that’s what happened, so let’s talk about why. Let’s talk about what the impact was and then let’s work our way backwards.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, you’re asking all those questions, “How might that impact…?” So, I’m imagining you have your view of how it’s impacting things. But is your recommendation to keep it more of you are more of a question-asker as opposed to a describer of what’s up or you do both?

Jonathan Raymond
Yes. So, your orientation, in our overall philosophy, we say, “More Yoda, less Superman,” or, “More Yoda, less superhero.” So, your job is you’re trying to help somebody grow. You can’t actually force them to grow, right? You can’t make them change their behavior. So, the orientation, the best orientation to take as a coach is to ask questions.

And it doesn’t mean, just as you said, you may have a theory. Your theory may be bang on. You might have a really good theory as to what’s happening for them. But if you give it to them, they’re far less likely to feel ownership of that thing that they’re changing and they’re far less likely to succeed in their goal. But if you ask questions and you encourage them to think about things differently, that’s what a good coach does, right? That’s the difference between a coach and a consultant, right?

A consultant gets in there and does it for you, doesn’t force you to ask those difficult questions, those self-reflective questions. A coach, or the hallmark of a coach, is someone who’s willing, who takes a different tact, and says, “Look, this isn’t my thing to change, it’s your thing to change. And the best way that I know to support you is to let you do it and let you struggle a little bit, and have some, maybe, ‘Oh, wow, I never really thought about how it impacted our customers.’ Okay, that’s fine. Maybe think about that for a little bit and let’s get back together at the end of the day.”

You don’t have to solve everything in the moment. We become so inured to this, like, solutions, solutions, solutions, solutions. We don’t even know that we’re doing it. When we do inventory discovery, the depth to which we have adopted it, actually a really problematic level of firefighting and going through our inbox and knocking off inconsequential activity in place of strategic, in-depth full and creative thinking, a lot of that comes from how we role-model that. Do we role-model taking a moment to reflect? Or do we role-model like, “Okay, conversation solved. Let’s go. Action. Go, go, go”? That’s what leads to burnout and overwhelm and all of those things that take culture sideways.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess I’m wondering here, if you’re asking, “How might that impact these things?” and they’re drawing a blank, and you know very well, “Yeah, I see the impact that that had on some things,” and they’re not picking it up, how do you play that game?

Jonathan Raymond
So, you can be and should be transparent. You can say, “Look, I have some theories about how it might be but I think it’s more helpful if you arrive at that on your own.” So, I would be transparent, that’s how I do it. And if they’re struggling, then you can give a hint, you say, like, “Well, one thing I noticed was in this interaction between David and Suzanne, I noticed this.” So, that would be an example. So, give them an example, a specific example of where you see that behavior having an impact.

And then you will almost always get, like, “Oh, I see what you’re saying. I never thought about it in that way before. Yeah, I could see three other things.” So, you’ve got to prime the pump a little bit oftentimes, especially if it’s really on the nose. If it’s something that somebody, it’s so second nature to them to do, you might have to give them an example, and then they’re much more likely to open up.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. And so then, we engage in that conversation. And what happens next?

Jonathan Raymond
So, here we’re going to go, we’re going to diverge a little bit into different types of conversations. So, if I’m a more junior person relative to somebody that I work for, let’s say, and I’m having an accountability conversation. I’ve used the mention, I brought up something that I think is problematic that I’d like to see change. Nothing happened.

I went to the invitation stage, I said, “Hey, I think this is a pattern and it seems to be problematic to me.” Nothing happened. We had the conversation, maybe in a one-on-one, and hopefully I work in a culture where I can talk with my manager in a more open way. I know that that’s not always the case. It’s changing these days, not fast enough, but let’s assume that there’s some amount of that. But I have the conversation, we talk about the impact, and I get an acknowledgment from my boss, and they say, “Yeah, you’re right. I can see that is having an impact. I’ll get better at that.” Let’s say that’s the generic response.

Now, what do you do? So, it’s really different if you’re the manager and this person is more junior than you. You have more authority. You have more structure. You have the ability to put a boundary around the situation to say, “Hey, look, this is what needs to change by when, and here’s what it looks like.” And so, that’s what the boundary looks like if you’re in the manager position, or in the more senior position, you have more power.

If you’re in the more junior position, you have less power, the boundary might look different. It might be, “Well, okay, here’s where I’m at. I’ve had the conversation with this person. I’m not really sure where to go next. But maybe I’m not going to step up for volunteering on the next project that this person has, or maybe there’s some other step that I need to take.” Perhaps even going to an extreme position, and this is a very real position for many people, which is, “Look, if this keeps going, I don’t think I can keep working for this person, or I don’t think I can keep working on this team.”

And the reality is that’s the nature of how most people are already feeling. So the boundary is about getting in reality of where things actually are. And when we interview people all the time, thousands and thousands of people managers and frontline employees, and we ask them, like, “Well, how would you feel about setting a boundary for yourself of what do you need to take care of yourself here? And when does this need to change by? And what does change look like?”

Most people will say, like, “It’s got to change like this week,” or, “It’s got to change in the next month.” Like, I understand why they’re struggling with this but people are incredibly frustrated. And I think one of the things that we have to do is we have to take the mystery out of this idea of like employee engagement or employee disengagement. That’s what it looks like. If you’re spending your energy and life units worrying about what the organization is doing and, “Why my manager is behaving this way?” you’re already disengaged on some level, reasonably so, from the mission and the values of that organization because it’s not real to you.

And so, that boundary stage, or that fourth stage, mention, invitation, conversation, boundary, looks really different depending upon how much power you have in the conversation. And then the third version of that is if you’re working with a peer, you have the same amount of authority as they do, well, what does that looks like? So, the first three steps are the same, mention, invitation, conversation, and then at the boundary, we’ve had whether it’s a senior exec or a junior manager, actually make new agreements, “Hey, we have to make a change because this is what’s happening in your group over here, and these are our needs. This is what we need from you.”

And so, that boundary stage is critical. And when I talk with CEOs, every single CEO I’ve ever worked with, at some point in our first conversation, they’ll say something to the effect of, “Well, accountability is one of our core values.” They don’t always use the word exactly accountability but they’ll say, “Accountability is one of our core values.” And I say, “Great. That’s wonderful. Talk to me about that. How does that work in your organization?” And they’ll say, “Well, what does that mean? What do you mean how does it work?” “Well, talk to me about a situation where someone wasn’t accountable and what the consequences were.” And they say, “Well, what do you mean consequences?” To which I reply, “Well, what do you mean accountability?”

And then we can have an interesting conversation. And this is what we see over and over again in organizations from Fortune 100 companies that we work with to tiny little startups that you’ve never heard of. This is what organizations are struggling with right now. We’re too nice to each other. We’re not having honest conversations. We’re way too over-indexed on wanting to be liked and wanting to be nice and we’ve forgotten the value of having people who are courageous in positions of leadership, in positions of management, who say, “Look, that’s not the way we do it here. We need to do better.”

And we’ve lost that in large measure. We’ve lost that foundational accountability. We could talk about the historical narrative of why, but that’s a lot of the phase that we’re in right now, is we went from too much command and control, we said, “We don’t like that.” And then we went to not enough command, not enough direction, and now we’re finding our way as a business culture, we need a hierarchy, we need managers, we need leaders, we need people who have more experience to direct activity. How do we do that in the lightest way possible so we don’t undermine autonomy and creativity and we’re as transparent as we can be? And that’s the moment that I think we’re in right now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. So, if you are the junior person, with regard to the boundary, do you recommend that you sort of share that boundary with the manager, or that’s just sort of internal, it’s like, “Okay, this is what I’ve decided that this behavior will need to change within a month or I’m going to be pursuing new opportunities”? Or, what’s your thought? Is it more something you articulate or more something that’s internal?

Jonathan Raymond
So, the first thing you have to know, you may already know, like, “Is there a fear of retribution?” because that could be very real. It is very real in some cases. But, if possible, I would recommend articulating it. And so, here’s what it sounds like. If I’m setting a boundary with someone more senior, I’m saying, “Look, I really appreciate that we have this conversation. It’s impacting my results and I don’t know what else I can do.” Right? So, that’s my boundary. It’s like, “I’m working within the constraints that I see in front of me and I believe that that’s where I’m at, and I can’t move what I can’t move. I don’t have the authority to change that. I need you to change that. But, in the interim, here’s where I’m at.”

And so, to be able to articulate the impact, again, so we’re pointing the conversation stage forward, so that impact is still there. “And here’s how it’s impacting our results. And I’m doing the best I can. If there’s something that you think that I’m missing, please tell me. I’m happy to hear that. I’m happy to consider that but that’s where I’m at.” That’s the boundary as articulated to somebody more senior.

And, again, you have to know who you’re dealing with. I would say most of the time, and with most of our engagements with most managers, people are willing to hear that conversation as long as it’s not coming in the form of an attack. It’s like, “You’re screwing up and you’re making life bad for me.” And you frame that conversation as, “Look, here’s how it looks to me, is I can’t move this project any faster because these things happen so I’m going to continue to do it based on the constraints that I have.” So, that’s a form of how you would articulate that to somebody more senior.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think sometimes your boundary and the implication is that you’re just not enjoying the experience of work under the circumstances and you would rather be elsewhere.

Jonathan Raymond
Right. And I think that’s, at least in North America, we’re at effectively 0% unemployment, right? So, if you’re talented and you’re resourceful, you can go get another job and employers understand that. So, we do a lot of work in tech. The average tenure in tech is 1.8 years, right? It’s not very long. So, people are moving around a lot. It’s longer in other industries, but people are moving around a lot. People are looking for different experience of work.

And so, from our perspective, it’s like we’re just being reality around that and then make a plan. So, if you know, now there may be opportunities in that organization to move. You may have, hopefully you do have, other outlets for where to go, “Hey, I’ve been trying to have this conversation, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I’m frustrated. I really love this company, this organization, but this isn’t working for me.” If you’re any at all talented or a skilled person, you’re going to find a receptive ear in that other person. So, don’t feel like, my last piece of advice there is, don’t feel like you’re on an island there.

Oftentimes, people will leave an organization prematurely and then they won’t take that other step of like, “Go talk to somebody. What’s the worst that could happen is your feelings fall on deaf ears. Okay, well, you’re already there so no harm done in having that conversation.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then there’s the final step, the limit.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, the final step is the limit, and a lot of people think, “Well, the limit means I quit,” or the limits means you’re fired. It doesn’t mean that. If people read the book Good Authority they’ll get the nuance there is if you think about good leaders, just take a moment, for anyone who’s listening to this, take a moment to reflect on effective coaches, mentors, parents, teachers, people in your life who were there in a moment in your life where something big changed for you, something important, not a minor thing, a major thing.

And if you think back to those situations, in some of those moments, one of the tools that they used was a limit. They said, “This goes no further. I can’t support you behaving in this way even one more time.” And it was in that moment where we went, “Whoa, I have to change. I have to do something different. This person, who I respect, who I value, who I love, who I know, even though I don’t like the way they said it, I know that they care about me. They’re putting up a stop sign and they’re saying no further with this behavior.”

And that is a key feature of how we grow as human beings. And so, the limit is doing that in the workplace. If we want to say, “Hey, we want to bring humanity to the workplace,” we have to bring all of it, and so that includes having a limit which doesn’t mean, “You’re fired.” It means, “Hey, we’ve been having this conversation — mention, invitation, conversation, boundary — I can’t support this behavior any longer.” Now, does that mean you’re fired? No, it means, “I want you to take some time to think about this, and maybe there’s a gear you haven’t found. Maybe, for whatever reason, it didn’t quite click for you until this moment. That’s all fine but I need you to tell me where we go from here.”

That’s the limit from the perspective of a manager and it’s an incredibly effective cultural tool. I’ve seen this happen over and over again where leaders, especially when someone is on the verge of maybe leaving an organization, and maybe for an okay reason, not because there’s animosity, but it’s just time to move on. And by having a boundary and by having a limit, you give the opportunity for that person to really own their exit. How often does that happen where a company can celebrate, or a team can celebrate when somebody leaves and it feels like a great moment instead of a lousy moment where everyone is like, “What happened?” and it creates all these gossip and politics?

If you use accountability conversations in the right way then that person will go, “You know what, actually this isn’t the right place for me anymore and I’m sort of approaching this from so much frustration, but there’s actually nothing wrong here. I need a role where I can do this other thing that I really love and I can’t do that here.” Okay, that’s all right. That doesn’t require any personal animosity. We can shake hands on that, and both from the individual and from the organizational perspective.

There are so many good things that can happen as a result instead of, you know, one of the things I say to managers all the time is, “Remember, when you’re managing somebody, especially if you’re in the process of thinking that they shouldn’t be on your team anymore, you got to worry about that person. But don’t worry all about that person. Worry about the rest of your team. How are they interpreting what’s happening? How are they perceiving how you’re handling this situation? How are they perceiving how this person is being treated and whatever their opinions may be?” People are watching so it’s your opportunity to live and live your values as a leader in how you treat people that may be exiting for a good reason or otherwise.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so now this is a great framework and I’d love to hear it just sort of play out maybe one, or two, or three examples, one from the manager, one from a peer, and one from the report to the manager, and so three different scenarios. I’m really putting you on the spot, Jonathan. Let’s kind of rock and roll kind of through the five steps in three different scenarios.

Jonathan Raymond
Which one do you want to do first?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do the peer-to-peer first.

Jonathan Raymond
Okay. So, let’s say I’m on the marketing team. I’m a junior manager on the marketing team, and I work a lot with operations because a lot of the stuff we do touches on operations. And my peer in the operations department basically says no to everything. Everything I want to do he says no to. So, my mention, let’s call him Dave. So, my mention to Dave is the first time that I see that ideally, I’m going to say, “Hey, so I know this request came through from somebody in our team and it got denied. Can you tell me a little bit more about what happened there? I want to understand.” So, there’s a mention. I’m not saying, “You have to change,” I’m not saying, “Push it.” I’m asking a question, right?

And then maybe I agree with his assessment, or I understand it even if I don’t like it, whatever it is, or I let it go. So, that’s my mention, I’m at the first stage where I’m saying, I’m flagging to some degree, “Hey, there’s a something here where we’re trying to accomplish something and your group said, ‘You can’t do that.’ I want to know a little bit more about that.”

So, then maybe that goes by and then I’m getting from my team, they come to me, they say, “Hey, Jonathan, we’ve pushed through like eight requests to do things in the last week, and like six of them were denied. And we don’t know why. We’re really frustrated. All those ops people, they’re a bunch of whatever.” “Slow down, okay? Let me go talk to Dave and see what’s happening.” So, I’m going to go back to Dave and I’m going to say, “Hey, Dave, so something is happening here. My team put through eight requests and six of them got denied, and I’m not sure what happened there, but there’s some frustration that’s emerging on my team.” So, I’m going to the next level. I’m not going to the CEO and saying, “Dave is a jerk.” I’m going to say, “Hey, let’s have a conversation.”

Now, I may or may not get a good answer from Dave, and I’m going to form my follow-ups based on that. I might even go right to the conversation, he might be like, “Oh, well, I didn’t think those were that big a deal so that’s why we denied them.” “Oh, wait a second. Well, do you have five minutes because I want to talk with you a little bit more?” I’m going to go into the conversation, “So, it’s impacting my team in a bunch of different ways. I don’t know if you’ve seen or folks have come to you with that.” So, we’re going to engage in a conversation shifting. I know he’s not trying to make life miserable for my team, but he’s making life miserable for my team! So we’re going to talk about impacts.

Again, we have the same level of authority in the organization so there’s that. Now, when we get to the boundary, Dave, maybe he tells me what I want to hear in that moment or it turns that he did, and that keeps happening and, basically, they keep behaving the same way and nothing ever changes. Now, I’m going to go back to Dave and say, “Dave, hey, look, we’ve got a problem here. So, we had a bunch of conversations about this, and I have to do something else here because, as I said to you, it’s impacting our goals, it’s impacting our speed and our ability to do things. If you and I can’t come to a resolution here, I’m stuck and obviously I’m going to have to go someplace else with that. I don’t want to do that but can we talk about this?” And we’re going to go deeper, right?

And that conversation might be a little uncomfortable but that’s where we’re going to go because, again, Dave doesn’t control whether I can afford my mortgage next month. He’s a peer in the organization and so we should be able to have healthy conflict. In a healthy organization you’re going to have healthy conflict just like in a healthy relationship, right? And so, that’s going to go through and then if nothing changes there, I say, “Hey, here’s what I need. I need you to go back and take a look at those eight requests and really come back to me. And say, hey, do those really need to be denied, and if so, why? And really help me to understand was it something the way we did it or however.”

And then I’m onto my limit stage where I might have to do something else. I might have to say to Dave, rather than me going to, let’s say we have the same manager, or we have a manager in common. I might say, “Look, I don’t want to go to that person by myself. I don’t want to do that but you and I need some help here. Let’s go talk to Jennifer and see if she can help us with a resolution. So, let’s go together rather than I said, you said, and that kind of thing. How’s that sound?” But I’m not going to let that conversation go. So, that’s what the Accountability Dial looks like, an example of what it looks like in a peer-to-peer situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s good. I understand it and that’s helpful seeing that play out. And it seems like the timeframes here could be short or long, you know.

Jonathan Raymond
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
This might happen over the course of a year or a week.

Jonathan Raymond
Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s really the art of it is like, how important is it? Is it something that needs to be resolved today? Rarely, right? Sometimes, but rarely. Is it something that needs to be resolved in the next week? Hmm, sometimes. Is it something that needs to be resolved in the next 30 days? Almost always. And if you look at most cultures, you have a whole bunch of things that really need to get resolved in the next 30 days that never are, and they go on month after month after month, year after year, and we still haven’t dealt with that and we cycle through people, we cycle through systems, and we cycle through documents and culture initiatives because we’ve skipped over the human conversations to change the very nature of work, the things we work on together day to day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I want to get, let’s do another scenario, and let’s say I am managing somebody remotely and I have a request that I think is simple and that I’d like to see carried on, which is sort of that each day to get sort of a daily email that reveals, “Hey, this is what I worked on, and these are some questions I have for you, and this is what I plan to be working on tomorrow.” So, that’s something that I think is a good practice and I’d sure like to see that but I’m not seeing that. I say, “Day after day after day and maybe I brought it up.” How would you, using this model, kind of roll this out?

Jonathan Raymond
So, I’ll take a step back for a second because you said something that I want to push on a little bit. Is it something that you would like to see or something that you need to see?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I suppose it’s theoretically possible for work to happen without this.

Jonathan Raymond
But you’ve hired this person, right, or you’re managing them. In order to do your job, you need this, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. There are certainly numerous negative implications of not having this.

Jonathan Raymond
So, part of it is what is the expectation? So, when this person came on your team, maybe the conversation was then. If not, maybe the conversation is now, and maybe that’s your mention, right? So, your mention is, “Hey, you know what,” there’s two possible mentions, right? “You know what, I don’t think that I was completely clear with you about what one of my expectations. And one of my expectations in the role, for anybody, irrespective of whether it was you or anyone else in the role, was that I would get this daily email. And the reason why it’s important to me is X, Y, and Z,” right?

“So, there might be a piece of context missing because without that I can’t do X, Y, and Z. Does that make sense? Can you understand why I’m asking you for that? Rather than you need to do this because I need it. To some people it might sound really overly process-y…”

Pete Mockaitis
Controlling or dominating. Okay.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, but it’s a really necessary part for people to understand the why. And, again, when we talk with folks, this is over and over again, “I don’t understand the why. I don’t understand.” And from the perspective of the manager it’s often much more clear to us, “Well, of course, I need that,” but not from their perspective because we don’t understand all the other things that they’re trying to deal with. So, if I put myself in that person’s shoes, I’m going to be like, “Oh, my God, an email at the end of every day. That takes me this and I have to do these other things, and I don’t think Pete understands how busy I am,” and all that kind of stuff.

So, it’s an opportunity for you to get into conversation with them about it. So, we’ll put that to the side. But so let’s assume that the context is there, so let’s say it’s day three of their employment. The first two days, they did the email and the third they didn’t, right? So, ideally, I would say to that person, “Hey, I didn’t get the daily email. What’s up?” And not in a mean way, but it’s like, “Hey, I’m right there. Like, I look at that every single day.”

So, I want to let them know the reality which is that, “I look at that every single day so it’s not a process for the sake of process. Every time you send me that email, I open it, I read it, I digest it, and I notice when it isn’t there.” “Oh, I’m really sorry. I got really busy today. Like, can I send it to you when I get home.” “Sure.” “Can I send it to you in the morning?” Now, you might say, “No, I actually need it right now,” or you might say, as you probably would, you’ll say, “That’s fine. Can you send me the wrap-up so I have it for first thing in the morning? That’s fine,” and this, and whatever.

So, let’s say he did that. And then over the next couple of days you’re seeing, “Wait a second. This is like some days I get it, some days I don’t.” So, clearly the mention didn’t have the intended impact which was a full resolution of this thing, right? So, now you’re going to go to invitation. You’re going to bring it back up. Now, again, we said just before, it could be really the timeline or the timescale of the whole five steps could be really short or it could be really long.

So, in this case, if it’s a core business process and it’s not happening, it’s going to happen really fast, “Hey, so we had this conversation and I thought we were on the same page. Something must’ve got crossed there, but two out of the last five days I haven’t gotten it, for example, I’m getting concerned.” So, it’s your opportunity to say, “Look, I am concerned. I’m concerned that we’re not aligned in terms of this particular thing that’s really important to me.”

And leaving space for them to explain or not to make an excuse but you want to understand why is this thing that, from your perspective, seems basic, but it’s clearly not basic from their perspective. You want to understand why. If, for no other reason, then that person, let’s say that person says, “Pete, you’re a jerk. I’m out of here. I never want to work for such a terrible boss ever again,” you want to know what it is about that tool that maybe you can improve for the next person. Maybe there’s a grain of truth in their otherwise victim mentality that you’re like, “Oh, you know what, they didn’t handle that professionally. But for the next person, I’m going to make it six steps instead of eight because that’ll make it a little bit easier for them to do on a daily basis,” whatever the case may be.

So, are we tracking so far?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. So, you say, “I’m concerned,” and then you sort of let them sort of respond without sort of any follow-up questions just to see if they respond?

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah. And so, if they say, like, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s fine. You don’t need that.” “Okay, now I‘m really concerned,” right? Or if they step back and they go, “Whoa!” If there’s an acknowledgment that you have to work with the person in front of you, the human being in front of you. And different people are going to respond really differently in that moment. And that’s how you find out what your people are made of, not that they never make a mistake. It’s what do they do when they make a mistake? How do they recover? What’s their level of resilience? What’s the level of dialogue? Are they willing to be vulnerable with you? That’s the team that you want. You want a group of people that’ll do that with you and that you can do that with them.

So, all of the cycle is happening in leading the high-performance team. So, that’s your invitation. Now, let’s say you have a one-on-one with that person later this week. You might sit down with them and say, “Hey, look, we’ve had this kind of hallway conversations, we’re not in the same building together so we had them via Zoom or via Slack, or whatever it is. I actually want to drill a little deeper here. It’s really important but I know in the hallway we can kind of lose sight of it. This has a really big impact, like when this doesn’t happen, it has a really big impact. And I understand that that might be harder for you to see from your perspective because you’re not the one asking for it. But can you imagine or let’s play this out for a little bit.”

“Like, from your vantage point, how might this have an impact on me or our team or our organization if we don’t have these daily reports?” I promise you they have never thought of that question, they haven’t thought of the answers to that question. So, that’s the conversation stage, you’re helping them shift. They didn’t intend those outcomes, right? They didn’t intend to make you late on the report that you need that information to, that wasn’t their intention. They were just busy. They were overwhelmed. We’re all overwhelmed, or most of us are.

And so, the conversation is your opportunity to help them go deeper, to take ownership and say, “Wait a second. Oh, I didn’t realize how big of an impact that was.” Now, you could say, “Oh, well, they should’ve gotten that from the initial moment.” Yeah, maybe, but that’s not the world we live in. I was working with an IT director recently, and he said, “Well.” We were talking, and one of his colleagues brought up an example, and he said like, “Well, that would be unacceptable to me.” And his colleague called him out, and said, “Come on, man, really? You’re going to fire a person if they didn’t do that?” “Well, no, not really. I can’t really do that,” right?

There’s a whole bunch of reasons why you can’t. Like, you can’t hold that line for really good reasons, we have controls in place in organizations so you can’t just snap off at a person. There has to be an opportunity for, if you went to your HR leader’s office and said, “Hey, they didn’t fill out that report two days in a row. I want to fire them.” They would say, “Get out of my office, Pete. Don’t want your lawsuit. Go have another conversation with them.” So, how are you going to do that? It’s helping them shift from intention over to impact.

And then, you’re seeing the pattern here, so then you have that conversation, and in that conversation, right, you might start foreshadowing what about, “Hey, what’s your plan? How are you going to make sure that you get that report done at the end of the day? Not what’s my plan for how you’re going to get that done. What’s your plan for how you’re going to get that done because I can’t have you do my plan, that won’t work, right?” So, now we’re going to the boundary step, “What is the…”

People will often say, it’s like, “Okay, Pete, I hear you. I get it. I promise it won’t happen again.” “Not good enough. What is the plan? What are the action steps? What do you need to give up in order to make sure that that stays the priority that we need it to be?” Then you’re in the boundary stage of the Accountability Dial. And then if that doesn’t work, so let’s say, I’ll ask you a question that I often ask of managers. So, if I say to you, Pete, “This person is going to be on your team, this remote employee, they’re going to be on your team, and they’re going to be not sending you the daily report 40% to 60% of the time, and they’re going to be doing that for the next 10 years. How’s that sound?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s not going to work. I mean, we can conceivably have an alternative to email, but there must be some sort of a daily communication that occurs, yeah.

Jonathan Raymond
Okay. So, how about if we went on for five years, are you good with that?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Jonathan Raymond
How about one year?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Jonathan Raymond
How about 90 days?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if there’s some really extenuating circumstances maybe.

Jonathan Raymond
Okay. So, every single time I run that question, it’s at 90 days where it starts to get a little bit like, “Well, maybe, depends.” But somewhere in there, between zero and 90 days, that’s the boundary, right? The only difference is internally to you, you have that boundary. They don’t know that that’s your boundary.

So, the process, the boundary step is getting in reality with them, and say, “Look, maybe there are some extenuating circumstances that make it so that 75 days is a reasonable time when probably not given the scenario we’re working on. It sounds like something that needs to be cured much sooner than that.” But if you think about the boundary phase as like, “Hey, this is something that we’ve talked about. We both acknowledged that it needs to change. What’s a frame within which it needs to change?”

It’s very, very rare where the right answer is going to be more than 90 days. And almost always it’s going to be in the next 30, and we’re going to need very specific milestones where we know that progress is happening. That’s the boundary phase.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we’re having that conversation, we’re establishing and getting to some sort of agreement, like, “Yes, this is what I shall do within this timeframe there.” And so, I guess, that almost sounds like a Performance Improvement Plan. I guess we’re not using that kind of terminology and structure but it’s similar.

Jonathan Raymond
So, there’s an overlap in the way that we approach it. In a lot of the organizations, one of the things that we’ve learned is that what HR wants, which we were hoping would be the case, is that they want the manager to have these types of conversations outside of the Performance Improvement Plan because the Performance Improvement Plan is not a joke, it’s there for a reason but those reasons are legal in compliance. It doesn’t actually improve performance. If you ask any HR leader who’s been around for more than one year, “How many times in your career has a Performance Improvement Plan actually turned somebody around?” And they’ll give you like one example. It never works. Almost never.

So, it is, in this context, when we’re talking about something that needs to change, it definitely is about performance and about improving performance. But the idea is we’re doing that in a humane way, we’re having a conversation, it’s not a writeup, we’re not bringing in HR. Once you bring in HR, once you go outside of that relationship, that bond between you and your employee, mostly only bad things happen. So, it’s, “Hey, this is something that needs to change. Let’s you and I figure this out, right? Like, I know it’s uncomfortable, I don’t like having this conversation, you don’t like having this conversation, but this has got to change. This has got to be our agreement for what needs to change.” So, that’s the boundary phase.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And so then, the limit?

Jonathan Raymond
And then at the limit, let’s say you make that and the person says, “Look, I’m going to, over the next 10 days, I’m not going to miss one, right? Every single day for the next 10 days, that’s our first milestone, I’m going to hit every single day. And then at the end of that 10 days, we’re going to like shake hands, and then we’re going to do the next 30 in a row, and we’re going to build up my reps, so to speak, where I’m not going to miss a day.”

And let’s say you’re good with that, and you say, “Okay, that’s fine. Okay, well, what are the consequences, what are the implications if you don’t send me that in the next 10 days, not what do I think the consequences should be, what do you think the consequences should be?” “Oh, hmm. Well, Pete, that’s a really good question. I think in the next 10 days if I miss one, then I shouldn’t be able to go to this conference that I was really excited about that you said that I could go to. Or I’m not going to be eligible to take on this other part of the work until this part of my…” whatever the thing is, right?

So, let them author the boundary if that’s possible. And if they can’t come up with a boundary, what I found is that most of the time when you ask people to come up with their own boundaries and consequences, they’re tougher on themselves than you will be on them. Not always but oftentimes. And so, that would be a boundary and then there are some clear agreements, “What needs to change by when? What does change look like? What happens if it doesn’t work?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s the boundary.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah. And so, then the limit is, let’s say, it doesn’t happen. They just don’t do it. Let’s say starting on day one they don’t do it, like, “Okay, I’m going to go right to that limit.” Say, like, “Hey, we tried this. I appreciate your earnestness. We made this agreement. You said you were going to do it, there was no constraint that prevented you from being able to do it. I don’t know what else to do now. I feel like I’ve done everything that I can as your manager. I’ve given all of the thoughtfulness and coaching and everything that I could think of but I don’t know what else to do here. So, I feel like I’m out of options.” That’s the spirit of that moment.

Now, in that case, you have to decide, “How important is that task relative to the role? Are there enough other things that that person is doing that outweigh where you would be willing to change that tool for this person? I doubt it but anything is possible in that scenario. But that’s what the limit would be. And what you will find is that here’s the, I don’t know if we will call it ironic, but what will happen if you use the mention, the invitation, the conversation, and the boundary, is that somebody who doesn’t want that level of accountability in their life, they’re going to leave. They’re going to say, “Pete, you know, I’ve been thinking about this and I think you need somebody who’s more detail-oriented than I am or whatever. And I don’t want to let you…” Whatever it is, right?

Okay, fine. That’s good. That’s a good outcome. In a healthy organization people leave and they move on and we shake hands and we say, “Hey, you were right for the role for this period of time. The role has changed, or you want different things, that’s okay. Let’s shake hands.” I love that concept of the tour that I think Netflix pioneered, you know, that tour of duty, “Hey, go on a tour with me. And then when that tour is over, let’s decide should we go on another tour together.” This idea that you’re an employee for life, it’s a fiction. If it was ever true, it’s definitely not true now. It’s a fiction. Let’s be in reality with one another. I’m there for as long as it’s valuable to me as an employee and that my skills are valuable to you as an employer.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you, Jonathan. Anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jonathan Raymond
I will just say that for wherever you are in an organization, whether you’re a first-time employee in the workforce or a senior leader, the thing that you want—to feel seen, to feel heard, to feel valued—get that. Don’t settle for less. You deserve that. As a human being, as a sovereign human being, you deserve to have a world of work that is additive to your life and not subtractive where you go home and you feel dread or feel like you’re being exploited or taken advantage of. And I can tell you because a lot of them are our clients. There are amazing organizations out there that would love to have you so don’t settle for less.

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

Jonathan Raymond
My favorite quote is from Albert Einstein, he says, “I don’t have any special talents but I’m passionately curious.”

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

Jonathan Raymond
I love the Harvard relationship study or I think some people call the Harvard happiness study that they did a couple of years ago. There’s a great TED Talk about it. And, basically, what they found was that your satisfaction in relationships is the best predictor of longevity and long-term health outcomes. So, they said, “If you look at someone when they’re 50, you’re much more likely to know how long they’re going to live based on their level of satisfaction in their relationships than their cholesterol.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jonathan Raymond
I’m still working on it, but I read the first couple hundred pages of Sapiens some years ago. So, it’s still my favorite book because I haven’t finished it. I hope that doesn’t change at the end. But I love Yuval Harari, a wonderful philosopher and I love what he has to say.

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

Jonathan Raymond
I have to say I’m happy to be off the guests list for Superhuman which is a very hyped email interface that goes over Gmail and it makes it really easy to go really fast. So, the hype is earned in my view. Superhuman is a really neat tool.

Pete Mockaitis
I use it. I love it. And I’m not ashamed that I pay $29 a month for email that could be free.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, it’s worth it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jonathan Raymond
My favorite habit is walking often with my dog and listening to an episode of Revisionist History. I’m a big Malcolm Gladwell fan.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you’re known for, something you say that gets re-quoted, re-tweeted?

Jonathan Raymond
A lot of people re-tweet, “You don’t get to grow and look good at the same time.”

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

Jonathan Raymond
You can go to Refound.com and then if you click the Resources tab, there is some quizzes and some downloadable tools. And then, of course, you can pick up the book on Amazon, “Good Authority,” Kindle, print, audio, the whole thing.

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

Jonathan Raymond
Have one conversation, ask one question that you’ve been thinking about asking, you’ve been thinking about approaching this person and asking them a question or making an observation. Commit to doing that in the next 24 hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Jonathan, this has been a delight. Thank you and good luck with all your great conversations.

Jonathan Raymond
Thank you so much. I really enjoyed the conversation.

470: How to Give and Receive Useful Feedback Every Month: Insider Tips on Making Performance Reviews Not Suck with Dr. Craig Dowden

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Craig Dowden says: "If we want to give appreciation, give only appreciation. The most common blunder is that we combine coaching and evaluation."

Craig Dowden exposes gaps in common performance review practices and presents an empowering alternative approach everybody can use–no matter where you work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why the current performance review practice is broken
  2. The key thing NOT to do when giving feedback
  3. A different and better strategy for regular reviews

About Craig:

Craig Dowden (Ph.D.) is an inspiring and thought-provoking executive coach, Forbes author and keynote speaker who partners with leaders and executives to tackle their most important personal and organizational challenges. Craig holds a Doctorate in psychology, with a concentration in business and is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach. In his role as a trusted advisor, he integrates the latest findings in the science of leadership, team, and organizational excellence into his coaching and consulting work. In 2009, Craig was recognized as one of Ottawa’s 40 under 40 business leaders by the Ottawa Business Journal.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, Sponsors!

Craig Dowden Interview Transcript

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

Craig Dowden
Thanks so much for the invitation, Pete. Looking forward to chatting with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m looking forward to it as well. But, first, I want to hear a quick tale about your nickname Egg in high school and how you used that to your advantage.

Craig Dowden
Nice. Well, good background searching and sleuthing there. When I was growing up, I was kind of an awkward gangly tall kid, and so we would have races around the neighborhood. And so, of course, the classic last one to Craig’s house is the rotten egg. And then, I was routinely last, so you can see how they quickly made the link between, “Craig’s the rotten egg, Craig’s the rotten egg, Craig is the egg.” And, thus, the legend of Egg was born.

And so, not to be thwarted by the nickname, I ran for Student Council President, and we actually had a very boisterous group of supporters, and we had a lot of different campaign slogans attached to them, like, “Vote for Egg. He won’t crack under pressure.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, zing.

Craig Dowden
Or, “Vote for Egg, or the yolk is on you.” So, we got a little playful. And, apparently, that worked, branding, won by a landslide, so it was quite the campaign. Very enjoyable.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-done. Well, I’m going to go for an awkward for a segue, and I want to hear about how often people feel like there may be egg on their face on the giving and receiving of performance reviews out there.

Craig Dowden
Exactly, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I was inspired. I enjoyed your incoming pitch and we’re getting more and more selective these days as we’re getting clearer and clearer on what listeners want. But you nailed it, you and your publicist got it going on. Performance reviews, that is a pain point for a lot of people. Can you orient us maybe what’s current practice in most organizations with performance reviews and how well is that working for us?

Craig Dowden
Well, thank you for the feedback. I’m glad the pitch was received well. And, yes, it’s one of those internal pain points. What’s really interesting is if you look at organizational research, in very few circumstances does management and employees agree on certain things. You talk about engagement levels, transparency, you name it, there often tends to be a disconnect between leadership and employees. And, yet, for performance reviews, this is one of those areas that are universally loathed.

Pete Mockaitis
Loathed with a T-H, not a V as in Valentine’s. T-H as in Thermopylae.

Craig Dowden
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
The first T-H word I thought. How about thumb?

Craig Dowden
Exactly. So, yes, they just absolutely, people just dislike them. So, managers really dislike giving the feedback, and employees really hate receiving the feedback. Oftentimes they’ll use a lot of ineffective strategies like the compliment sandwich, which, you know, say something nice and then you follow it up with something really critical, and then, of course, just to make sure they leave on a positive note, you end it with a positive.

And so, all of these tips and tricks just lead to a lot of disappointed participants in this process. There was a study done a couple of years ago where 55% of people said they didn’t feel that their annual performance review was fair or accurate representation of their performance. Two-thirds said there was surprising feedback in the review, which you would think that shouldn’t happen. And then three quarters of employees said there were no specific behavioral examples given to support the feedback.

So, this is a really broken process which many leading organizations are starting to realize and make changes as a result of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I’ll tell you, this just fires me up. I just think feedback is so important.

Craig Dowden
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve heard it said that it’s the breakfast of champions.

Craig Dowden
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s so powerful and useful as a tool for learning, growth, and development which I am big in, big on, and to hear that in some organizations this may be the only or the majority of the feedback they get, which is sad as well, and then to hear that it’s not working for people, and isn’t accurate, doesn’t have specific examples, it makes me sad because it could be a cause for celebration.

I actually enjoyed getting reviews because I viewed them, well, one at Bain, they gave very detailed and thorough reviews and lots of examples, and I like that. But, two, I thought I’m in this job largely for the learning, and a lot of the learning is happening during my performance review, for me. And, thusly, I was like excited to go into them because I thought, “This is part of my compensation. It’s like I’m getting a bonus.”

And I was a little bit odd in most of my college life, like, “Okay, Pete, I kind of liked it a little but you’re weird.” But organizations that are not advanced or in that domain, of which it sounds like they are a majority, leave a pretty crappy experience all the way around.

Craig Dowden
Well, for sure, and I think and I love your personal experience and being a bit of an outlier to say in terms of just loving the process. And when you look at the evidence, people are open to receiving feedback, and I think there’s just a lot of challenges. I think that if it’s constructed well, the conversation can go fantastic because it provides an opportunity for leaders to give some feedback to people in terms of where they are and where they need to be.

It also provides people in the organization an opportunity to learn and grow, which this is one of the keys when you look at the research around engagement, that’s one of the key indicators, “Do people, feel like they’re learning new skills, having an opportunity to challenge themselves and grow?” So, fundamentally, the process is a wonderful one to really drive and facilitate peak performance and learning, yet, unfortunately, the way in which we handle it just ends up leaving invariably to some really challenging circumstances because people either don’t deliver the feedback particularly well.

Doug Stone, out of Harvard, did some fabulous work around the different types of feedback so this is one huge challenge in terms of how some missteps that we make. So, he identified three primary forms of feedback. So, there’s appreciation, which is, “Hey, Pete, great job. Really love what you’re doing. Couldn’t achieve what we’re doing without you.”

Then there’s coaching, which is essentially bidirectional conversation where you’re exploring with someone different ways of approaching a particular challenge or opportunity. And then the last one is evaluation, which is essentially saying, “Hey, Pete, this is where you are based on what we initially projected, or what our end goals were, and so let’s discuss that.”

And so, based on Doug’s research, and I’ve spoken to him extensively around this, the difficulty is it’s almost like the movie “Ghostbusters,” right? Don’t cross the streams. And, unfortunately, we have this terrible habit of crossing the stream. So, according to his work, and he’s been at the Harvard Negotiation Project for well over 30 years, and what he’s found is we’ll combine those.

So, if we want to give appreciation, give appreciation. The most common blunder is, is that we combine coaching and evaluation. And as he shared with me a little while ago, he said, you know, Pete, you can deliver the best coaching advice anyone has ever received or the best coaching conversation anyone has ever experienced, and if you combine it with evaluation, guess what happens? They basically just totally lose all of the coaching and focus on the evaluation, “So, why did I score a three out of five on this?”

And so, he said for the maximum impact to ensure that feedback is received and is actionable, the best thing we can possibly do, focus on evaluation for one conversation, and then have the coaching conversation following up on that. So, don’t mix them. And, sometimes, again, in the interest of efficiency, we mix the two, we’re like, “Hey, we’ll do the evaluation and then spend time coaching so that the person can really put this into practice.” Unfortunately, even though it may intuitively make sense or feel like it makes sense, in practice it has an opposite effect and actually leads to real challenges in the development and adoption of new behaviors.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a very helpful rule of thumb, that I think that could take you far just following that forever. So, you were saying, “Let us not mingle the coaching and evaluation bits of feedback in the same conversation because we’re going to miss out on that coaching goodness.” Now, is it kosher to mingle appreciation and coaching, or are those too helpful to be separated?

Craig Dowden
Again, the safest route, based on the work that he has done, is to separate them. Keep them because, again, it’s going to be around, “Hey, great job. This is wonderful. Really appreciate your efforts on this.” So, it keeps the conversation focused on, “We want you to feel recognized and acknowledged for your contribution.” Once again, as soon as you throw coaching into the mix, the person may forget about the appreciation and then focus on, “What are different strategies I can use around this?”

So, keeping our focus on what kind of feedback do we want to deliver, and then keep or maintain that focus on delivering that message. And then, later, you can talk, again, have a coaching conversation. So, all of those pieces can be much more effective in terms of supporting behavioral change and/or maintenance in someone else by being cognizant of those three different pieces of feedback.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. Well, now, you have a particular approach you recommend when it comes to performance reviews. Tell us about this.

Craig Dowden
Well, I think it’s basically a do-it-yourself employee review, and Daniel Pink, an international bestselling author, talks about this in “Drive” around having do-it-yourself performance reviews. And there’s lots of fundamental reasons as to why this is so effective. So, number one is that so feedback becomes less threatening through familiarity.

So, every month, if you and I are going to sit down, Pete, and have a conversation about performance, then I’m going to basically hand the reins over to you and say, “Okay, tell me how you did. Tell me where you think you thrived. Tell me where there were some challenges.” And so, in that way, what it does is it empowers someone else to be able to deliver their own feedback conversation.

Also, there’s less kind of threat around it because it’s more familiar to them. And it also empowers the other person to highlight some things within their own performance. So, really, it enables someone else to take the lead.

One of the worst things around performance reviews, and how organizations typically do it, is that you’re going to deliver the feedback to me. So, it’s very unidirectional and you’ll essentially stand on high and essentially pronounce judgment on how I’ve done over the past 12 months. By making a do-it-yourself performance review, and do it on a monthly basis, it’s much more common, frequent, routine, and now the individual feels empowered around what they’re going to share with you.

And so, that provides a sense of autonomy. It provides a sense of input. It provides a sense of ownership. And it’s really framed as a learning conversation, which is so essential. And then the benefit to managers, one of the key benefits to leaders and executives and business owners that I worked with, that they’ll talk to me about in terms of their own practices, they’ll have a laundry list of feedback that they want to be able to provide to the person. Well, oftentimes, their employees will tick off the boxes of all the things that they want to share so it takes the pressure off them to deliver that message.

And, secondarily, in some cases, you will volunteer things that I don’t even have on my list. So, it’s a really cool opportunity to be able to get insight that you might not have captured with someone else and, again, without the pressure of trying to figure out, “How can I best frame that conversation?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what’s also really awesome is that if you are the manager, like you’ve reduced so much of your workload as well.

Craig Dowden
Right. I love that, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And the benefits are huge in terms of, okay, so you’re less defensive because you’re the one generating these things about yourself.

So, are there any kind of key particular prompts that you recommend to structure or to latch onto a DIY review, or is it just like, “Hey, how do you think you did? How about it?”

Craig Dowden
Yeah, great question and I think it’s important to explain to people. And this, again, a major gap around just feedback processes in general is that they’re rarely explained, the purpose is rarely explained. So, leaders, executives, business owners, that I’ve worked with, they’ll talk about. So, what we want to do is make feedback an ongoing part of our DNA. Feedback is not something every six months or 12 months. We want to get to a space where we want to have feedback as a regular part of our organization and our organizational DNA because the world moves in such a fast pace these days. We need to have information. We need to have it readily available.

And so, what we’re going to do is have a monthly performance review where you come in and tell me where you’ve done well and what your successes are as well as some of the challenge areas and even what some proposals around what you think you and I can do to be able to address them. And so, it’s a wonderful way within that prompt. And then once you have that discussion in the first month, you can a check in after the first conversation and ask your employee, “How did that go? What did you think about it? Is there anymore specific direction that I can provide and anything I can do differently?” so you really start to have, open up the dialogue around that space.

And I think another really powerful benefit of this is that by employee sharing their feedback with you, then at the end of the conversation you can say, “Hey, do you mind if I share a couple of components or a couple of observations that I have?” So, it really benefits from the reciprocity principle. If you ask someone how they’re doing, well, they’ll generally ask you how you’re doing. So, it’s a wonderful way to create a bidirectional conversation that really kind of lowers the anxiety on both levels because it’s seen as, “Well, this is cooperative. We need each other in order to paint an accurate picture here.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, how do we deal with, I don’t know, numbers, ratings, rankings, competencies, you know, raises, bonuses, like the numbery things of it all?

Craig Dowden
Well, I think this is where some of the performance review processes are really broken because, like a forced ranking system as an example, right? And this is where a lot of them lose credibility, which is, “Well, we’ve got to have a certain number of stars, and a certain number of average performances, and a certain number of low performances.” So, this is where a lot of organizations are just redefining how they do performance reviews.

Some of the larger more progressive organizations are just getting rid of them altogether and moving it to a more kind of check in type of process. Adobe is an example as one organization that just stopped doing them altogether. And so then, I think this is an opportunity for senior leadership in an organization to start talking about.

So, what is the purpose of feedback? Because if the purpose of feedback is going to be around performance metrics, as an example, well, now, what motivation is there for individuals to disclose what’s going on? So, I think the metrics are an important part of it and how do we achieve it. Now, the process is around, “Okay, so how do we have that feedback conversation so we maximally set people up for success so that they can attain the goals that they set out?”

So, again, fundamentally, so let’s go back to that standard kind of Bell curve example that so many organizations use from a metric standpoint, or a financial incentive standpoint, “Hey, if everybody is knocking the ball out of the park through terrific feedback conversations, isn’t that awesome?” So, I think this is where fundamentally we have to rethink how we deliver incentives and how the feedback system is connected to that and be much more thoughtful around its implementation.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’d be great to be more thoughtful around it, and so I’d like to hear then, you mentioned Adobe and some other. Let’s hear some more best practices with regard to is it kind of more separated with regard to how we’re thinking about raises and promotions and compensation things? It’s kind of a different set of conversations than is the performance reviews or how does that go? Because often, you’re right, I think that these things come together and that can be.

Pete Mockaitis
So, Craig, within this model, how do you think about raises and promotions and compensation sorts of things? Are those like completely different set of conversations, kind of separate from the performance review conversations?

Craig Dowden
Yeah, I think that’s a great question, and they are. They’re separate because you can talk about, “Have the objectives, the goals, what are we trying to achieve be it quarterly, monthly, yearly?” And then that’ll be a different discussion around, “So, how well did I do in terms of achieving those objectives?” And then when we talked about the do-it-yourself performance review, essentially, and that’s something that could be readily integrated into that framework, which is, “Okay, for my Q1 goals, if I’m doing this monthly, how do I think I’m doing? Why do I think that I’m doing as well or not as well as I’m doing?” And then be able to provide that as a counterbalance to that discussion. So, they are issues that would be dealt with separately.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Gotcha. And so then, I’m curious, if we have individuals listening who are thinking, “Boy, DIY do sound really cool.” We have a broken review process that you sort of discussed already also operating. Have you seen just sort of like individual professionals and their managers say, “You know what, this is cool. We’re going to go do it even if nobody else in our organization is.” How does that work?

Craig Dowden
For sure, yeah. One of the challenges is that it can feel awkward, almost like doing a new exercise at the gym. It can feel awkward so I think what’s really important is for both the manager as well as their team can talk about, “Okay, this may be awkward and we may have some stops and starts, and so let’s raise our hand and learn through the process.”

And I think when they have done it, what’s another challenge is that the manager, in particular the leader, almost has a scorecard, and what they may feel is the “right answer.” And so, giving control over to the employee can feel daunting and what’s going to happen, so there’s an uneasiness. And it’s really interesting and almost, to me, the parallel is having a difficult conversation.

I do a lot of work with executives and executive teams. And, particularly, if someone is having conflict with another colleague or other members of the team, when they actually sit down and have the discussion, it’s not nearly as painful or as challenging as they thought. And it’s the exact same thing with do-it-yourself performance reviews. When it’s over, a lot of times I’ll hear the executives say, “Wow, you know what, my employee shared things that I didn’t see, I didn’t have on my list, I didn’t feel was as great of an issue,” or, “I found that the conversation was much more constructive and productive.”

Or, “If they didn’t raise something that I had on my list, it seemed like they appreciated that I didn’t have the same level of defensiveness sharing my feedback with them.” So, there are so many benefits from doing it. Once again, kind of acknowledging that awkwardness. And I think it’s interesting because it is a very different way of approaching things.

And I think the other pieces, too, is that I hear is that then feedback becomes more normalized. It’s part of day to day, so it’s less awkward, so you don’t raise your hand when you only have something to complain about or a bad thing. So, it just becomes a natural extension of the discussion that you have each day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And so then, you have seen then those individuals who just decide, “Screw the broken corporate system that we’re in. We’re going to do this on top of it.” And it works just fine once they get past those kind of awkward adjustment bits.

Craig Dowden
Well, I love that you highlight that because, let’s say, you are working in an organization where they want to hold on to the standard performance review. Well, then there’s nothing that prevents a leader from adding that into the toolkit, and say, “You know what, we’re going to apply this within the traditional, or within our mandated performance review system.”

And what’s interesting, the benefits still translate because, “Now, I’m having regular conversations. You and I are having regular conversations, Pete, and so then we can talk about things. And then when the actual performance review comes up, we’ve laid so much of the groundwork that they’re really straightforward. Very little, if anything, is surprising,” which is the way it should be.

And so, fundamentally, whether or not your organization adopts it at large, or whether or not they resist and that you do it yourself, this strategy can be used regardless.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Well, so I’d love it if we can maybe do a roleplay or a demonstration of a DIY performance review in action. I mean, I guess part of it is quiet reflective thought on your own before you engage in the conversation. So, let’s say that I did that.

Craig Dowden
Right. That’s right, assuming that, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ll make this like, okay, let’s just say you are the owner of my whole company, and I’m an employee who is in charge of making the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast, and we’re having a monthly check-in here. How would we start?

Craig Dowden
Well, I would say, “Pete, thank you for taking the time to come in and meet with me today. As you know, we do do-it-yourself performance review on a monthly basis, really, so we can have an open and constructive dialogue around how things are going. And so, I appreciate you taking the time to go through the questions, reflection questions, and fundamentally what I want us to talk about this afternoon are a couple of things.”

“Number one, how do you feel things are going in terms of the goals that you set out this month? How do you feel that you’re performing? Then, also, what are the gaps? What are some areas where you feel there are possibilities to raise your level of performance? And then, also, what’s some feedback that you have for me? So, how can I do a better job of supporting you in terms of where you are and what you’re trying to achieve? And then, lastly, I would love to be able to share my insights, observations with you to close the conversation, and just talk about the next steps.”

Pete Mockaitis
“Okay, cool. Well, thank you, Craig. I really appreciate you investing the time to do this with all of your many direct reports and it could add up perhaps. And I feel that it’s going smashingly well with regard to the podcast having completed a huge listener survey. It gave me a clear idea of what people are into and seeking those folks out to deliver upon that.”

“I think in terms of the gaps, I think it’s that I’ve not yet sort of systematized an approach so that we can sort of take listener requests, write to guests like very quickly in terms of figuring out how to do that over and over again when it’s a lot harder to do that than to just snag an author who sounds relevant, who’s got a book coming out because they said yes immediately to invitations on the podcast.”

“And my feedback for you, Craig, is that we speak very rarely, and I’d love it if you could provide some more input more frequently into my performance there. So, that’s what I’m thinking right now.”

Craig Dowden
“That’s fabulous. Well, a couple of things, and I’ll certainly add that. That’s valuable feedback and I appreciate it and I agree that if we had an opportunity to speak more, have much more constructive conversations, so I definitely will commit to doing that.”

“A couple of things that I think you touched on in terms of what has been going awesomely well. I’m thrilled to hear that, so congratulations and that’s great news and great feedback. I really appreciate that you took your insights from customer feedback and client feedback that you have so that’s really compelling.”

“And so, what steps, what are some lessons that you’ve learned through the positive feedback you received in terms of what you’re going to continue to do, and then also ideas you may have from what they shared on the positive spectrum around how to potentially move the podcast to another level?”

Pete Mockaitis
“Certainly.” Well, I think we got the idea as far as demonstration goes.

Craig Dowden
And then just add to that, too, and back to systematize the approach, and then, on the flipside, then I would ask questions like, “Okay, that’s great. I think it’s really valuable that you looked at that. What are some ideas that you think could assist you in that? And then how might I be able to support you in systematizing? Do you have the resources that you need?”

So, you kind of counterbalance because sometimes, and the reason I started with the positive is sometimes people will kind of focus right in on the negative, you know, like where you would improve. And so, there can be lessons learned on both sides of the docket, and then you want to ask questions on each of those follow-up questions in each of those domains.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And I hear what you’re saying with regard to the reduction and defensiveness because it’s totally like, “Well, hey, I brought it up.”

Craig Dowden
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And even if I didn’t bring it up, it’s like, “I’m already in the zone of having thoughtfully introspected on what are some things I might do better.” And so, it’s not like you’re giving me a jarring sort of state-shifting attack, like, “Here’s how you screwed it up.” “What?”

Craig Dowden
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “No, this is what we’re talking about.” And I’m already in that kind of place so it’s a lot easier.

Craig Dowden
And I love that you said that you brought it up. And I think that’s what’s really important is, well, because let’s say you bring it up, and then I reframe it or I probe a little, and then you get defensive. Then, as a leader, as a business owner, you can come back and say, “Well, Pete, just for a moment, appreciate the response and just I’m following up on something that you raised.” So, sometimes back to dealing with fear or dealing with a trigger, maybe I’m triggered by it. Then this can help raise, bring the discussion back on point, where it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I did raise that, and so I wonder why, what triggered me on that.” So, there’s real richness to that discussion.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. I guess, certainly, if you want to go meta there for a moment with regard to what’s happening and then I don’t think that happen sometimes. It’s probably rare that folks start crying and sharing some deep historical therapy-type elements, but they might. And that might be just the thing for that particular conversation. But it could be just like, “Oh, you know, it’s always been a little bit of a sore spot for me ever since this happened that I’ve been quite conscientious about this sort of thing. It gets me going.” It’s like, “Oh, that’s really good to understand.”

Craig Dowden
For sure. Well, and this is, as an example, I mean, this is what then can bring a conversation back versus if you raise it as the feedback provider versus operating as a feedback facilitator. So, if I get triggered defensively by something I’ve openly shared, that in of itself shows the complexity and complications attached to delivering a feedback, because hearing it from you might trigger me differently than if I’m talking about it myself.

Because if I’m self-anointing and self-identifying, that can feel safer than when you do it. Then it’s like, “Wow, okay, I’m reacting to this.” So, it can be a really powerful moment of self-insight for the individual because they can actually hold up a mirror and say, “Gee, even though this is something that I recognize within myself, if anyone else around here points it out, I can get defensive.”

And then through a conversation with the manager, now they can add that to, “Hey, you may want to be aware of that in terms of how you receive feedback.” So, it can be a really powerful learning mechanism in that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. So, we talked a bit about some of the emotions there with regard to removing some of the defensiveness in there. Do you have any other pro tips when it comes to handling some of the emotional bits if folks are scared to talk about stuff, they’re frustrated to revisit things again and again, they’re disappointed that they’re not, you know, maybe they heard some surprises, like, there’s a whole lot of emotion wrapped up in all of this? Any kind of overarching pro tips for working with that well?

Craig Dowden
For sure. Well, a couple of things that you can have that as almost preparatory. So, when we have these, and that’s what’s beautiful about having this as a systematized approach where it’s monthly. You can say, “Okay, during our monthly do-it-yourself performance reviews, there may be times when you feel fearful, frustrated, disappointed in what we’re talking about. How can I best show up to minimize triggering those emotions within you?”

And so, it has, “And what are some things that may lead you to experience this poorly? So, before we even embark on this journey together, you can start to lay out the ground rules about, ‘Hey, if you say purple unicorn, that can tend to trigger me in a particular direction.’ So, then it’s like, “Okay, now, I can manage that.”

The other piece can be around saying, “Well, there may be times when I have to share constructive feedback, critical feedback, in terms of what I see. How can I best deliver that so it’s perceived with positive intent and so I can make it as constructive a message as possible? And then what are some things that I can do if I sense that you are reacting emotionally to be able to address that?”

And so, once again, same thing, where the person is actually sharing the answers to that exam. Now, when you bring that up, then you will already have a preordained conversation about, “Hey, Pete, we did talk about it, and I sense this happening. So, as we agreed, I’m doing X and now it’s, ‘Oh, okay.’” So, it softens that transition.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. That’s handy.

Craig Dowden
And I think for all of us, I mean, as a lifehack, it’s a wonderful opportunity, personally or professionally, to talk to the people in our lives about, “How do I best perceive feedback? How do I prefer to give feedback? What’s the best context? What’s the safest environment? And how can I best share those feelings?”

So, as another example, you can say, “If there’s anything that’s in my approach or what’s happening that’s provoking fear or frustration or disappointment, please raise your hand because to maximize the impact of this discussion and really leverage the power of what we’re doing here, we want to ensure that those emotions are minimized. They may not be eliminated entirely. Our job, collectively, is to figure out how to minimize those so we can have a safe discussion and really talk about what matters. So, in order for us both to get the most out of it, this is what we need. So, anything I can do to facilitate that, let me know.”

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

Craig Dowden
I’ve really appreciated the questions and the comments and the exploration. And I think, to me, the most important piece is the research shows that the vast majority of us desire feedback. We want to receive feedback. We want to figure out how we can stretch ourselves and grow. And so, for us, as feedback providers and receivers, it’s critical to develop both of those skills. And, again, I think, to me, the research in that is so important, that in order to be effective, we have to excel in both and be really committed to doing that and being curious explorers when we’re fulfilling both roles.

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

Craig Dowden
Favorite quote. I’m not sure if it’s a quote. Maybe it’s a practice. Something that I think is really powerful for me is around, “The answer is always no unless you ask the question.” So, it’s something that, for me, personally, as well as a lot of clients that I work with, sometimes we can put up artificial barriers and assume there’s going to be a negative, like, “No, this isn’t going to happen.”

And I feel like it’s so empowering for us to recognize that just by asking the question, asking someone to be a guest on a podcast, asking someone to interview, asking someone to have a coffee to discuss a business opportunity, if we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to play the game, then the answer is going to be no, and we’re going to have a losing hand. And so, to remind ourselves of the power in asking questions.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, what I like about that is, it’s sort of like there’s a guaranteed zero percent chance if you don’t ask. And even if you’ve upgraded yourself to a 1% chance, you know, divided by zero it’s like an infinite increase.

Craig Dowden
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s not like you’re ten times more likely to get a reply, or infinitely more likely to get a reply, in your favor even if you’re only going to like a half a percent or 1% chance. And I’m impressed. I think one guy, I did a big blogpost, I don’t know, on a different website. But he reached out to just tons of people, and say, “Hey, do you want to talk about consulting over coffee?” And he had a very detailed notebook about who to reach out to and what the results were. I was like, “Whoa! Tell me, how often do people say yes?”

And he had computed, because he reached to like more than a hundred people, it was like 28% of folks said yes to a total stranger to like chat with him about career stuff. And that was mind-blowing to me. Like, on average, if you ask four strangers, you’d expect one of them to say yes. That’s pretty cool.

Craig Dowden
It is. And I think, again, a wonderful piece of reflection for us around, “Okay, how much do I get in my own way of advancing the goals that are most important to me? So, if I’m okay with receiving a no, then that’s okay. Then I think that’s wonderful, and so why not, right?” And so, I would rather, I feel it’s important that we remind ourselves that it’s better for us to put it out there and then be told no, rather than not do it, and then you get zero percent, as you said, and 28% of people like to help. That’s the other really interesting thing.

When you ask people, “Do you like helping other people?” Most people say, “Yeah, it feels good and I try to do that as much as possible.” Yet, we can be really reluctant to ask other people just, again, to talk about consulting, or to talk about how to be an effective leader, or to build a great podcast, and then we’re eliminating particular potential resources for us to learn from and grow relationships with and thrive.

One quote that did come to mind, to be able to circle back to your question, I remember interviewing Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, and so they just finished, I think, the largest acquisition ever, multibillion dollars. And he talked about, during his time, he said, “People have an amazing capacity for forgiveness if you give them the opportunity to do so.” And I thought that was very powerful as well.

Pete Mockaitis
That is good. Thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Craig Dowden
Oh, that’s so challenging. Every piece of research, to me, there’s just golden nuggets. I love the one which showed that empathy is the third strongest predictor of executive excellence. So, that was done by the Management Research Group. So, the third strongest predictor of executive excellence out of 22. And then it was the strongest predictor of ethical leadership out of the 22. And the top two were strategy and communication.

And so, I think what’s really fascinating about their research is not only is empathy the third strongest predictor of executive excellence, you can make a pretty compelling argument as to empathy informs our ability to think strategically as well as communicate effectively. So, I feel like the fact that empathy is either directly or indirectly related to what I call the holy trinity of executive excellence. I think that’s really, really powerful and, especially, considering how empathy is going down.

Our levels of empathy are reducing on a pretty substantial rate, and it’s been identified as a key competitive advantage for organizations and executives, so it’s this really powerful piece of research which I love to cite and talk about.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Do you recall the author, journal, article?

Craig Dowden
So, it was out of the Management Research Group, so they’re in the northeastern U.S., and they had a whitepaper attached to it. So, they sent me some of their individual data as well. So, they have whitepapers on their website. It was over a half a million people contributed to that. I referenced a study in one of the articles I wrote for the Financial Post. So, they have one internal whitepaper, so they have hundreds of thousands of 360 feedbacks of paper on, and that was a really compelling study that they put together.

Pete Mockaitis
Fascinating. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Craig Dowden
Wow! So tough. Anything by Dan Pink, Adam Grant, Marshall Goldsmith, I think is exceptional. One book that I love to refer because it’s relatively unknown is by William Ury who wrote “Getting To Yes.” So, a lot of people know that book. My favorite of the trilogy that he wrote was called “The Power of a Positive No.” And I just found the concept so really compelling in terms of its application and execution.

So, essentially, what his argument is, and he does a lot of the toughest international negotiations and crisis situations, and he talks about how people are generally awful at saying no. And because we’re so afraid of hurting someone else, and so either we do one of two things. We either avoid the other person, or ghost them altogether, or we just say yes to things we’re not prepared to do.

So, in his book, he provides this really awesome methodology to be able to deliver a positive no which basically goes, “Yes. No. Yes. Question mark.” So, essentially, “Hey, Pete, I appreciate that that’s really important to you. The timeline for me is not going to work because of these competing commitments. How about we do X?” So, it’s, affirm the other person, affirm my own position, and then propose a solution with a question mark, say, “Hey, I’m prepared to collaborate,” and it’s just absolutely golden.

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

Craig Dowden
Tool? I love StrengthsFinder. I find doing a StrengthsFinder is really powerful and I love having access, I subscribe to HBR, so I love, I have to say, I really enjoy getting the articles, blogposts that come through there.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Craig Dowden
Wow, a favorite habit. I would say there’s a great book called “The ONE Thing” that was written by Keller Williams, the real estate…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Craig Dowden
And it’s amazing. And so, I strive to, each day, say, “What’s that one thing that if I do it will move the needle more than anything else?” And so, really be focused on the one thing, making sure by the end of each day, I have done my one thing.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks that they say, “Yes, Craig, that’s brilliant”?

Craig Dowden
I think the power of the positive no is really powerful. I think, really, the importance of letting go. So, the power of “I know.” So, when I have discussions with people and they have a conflict with someone, again, personally or professionally, I’ll say, “Okay. Well, have you talked to Pete about this?” “No.” “Well, how come? Like, what was…?” And then they’ll say, “Well, I know how he’s going to respond.” And I’ll say, “Okay. Well, how do you know that?” They’ll say, “Well, I just know, okay?”

And I’ll say, “Okay. Well, have you tried to approach him about this topic and then he shut you down or a similar topic and he reacted this way?” “No.” “Have you ever been in a social setting where you’ve observed him react in that way?” “No.” “Have you heard third hand, like around the watercooler that he’s done this?” “No.” And then it’s, “Hey, you know what, are you sure that he’s going to…how do you know this?” And I think that’s really powerful in terms of challenging our own insights.

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

Craig Dowden
CraigDowden.com is the best way, and also @craigdowden on Twitter, and you can use my name on LinkedIn.

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

Craig Dowden
Well, I would say to think about the impact that you want to have on the world and each day, both in any organization or community that you serve, and be mindful of what your core values are. And at the end of every day, sit back and see the degree to which you’re living your core values. And a lot of my coaching clients, I do it as well, do a quick five-minute take on, “Hey, did I do today what I set out to do? Am I living my values every day?” And a lot of research shows the better we are at accomplishing that, the more effective we are and the more likely we are to achieve our goals.

Pete Mockaitis
And happier, too, I imagine.

Craig Dowden
And much happier, yeah, exactly. An added bonus.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, Craig, this has been fun. Thank you and good luck in all your adventures.

Craig Dowden
Thanks. Well, I look forward to going back to our performance review and staying in touch. So, I’ll commit to that.

454: Embracing Conflict as a Gift with Judy Ringer

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Judy Ringer says: "When we can enter a conversation and think 'What can I learn here?' everything changes. It all works out."

Judy Ringer explains how the techniques and principles of aikido can turn workplace conflicts into valuable experiences.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to master yourself during conflicts
  2. Three effective mindsets for resolving conflicts
  3. How to skillfully inquire, acknowledge, and advocate

About Judy 

Through interactive presentations and individual coaching, Judy Ringer helps you transform conflict by changing your relationship to it. Aikido is the metaphor she uses to become more intentional and less reactive, to communicate directly and respectfully, and to create your life and work on purpose.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Judy Ringer Interview Transcript

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

Judy Ringer
Pete, it’s a delight already. Thank you very much for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, shucks. Well, I’m so glad that everything worked out and we’re making it happen. I want to hear about something you made happen, which was singing the national anthem at a Red Sox game. How did this come about?

Judy Ringer
Yeah. Well, it’s something I love to talk about, so thank you. I had this dream for a very long time to sing the national anthem at a Red Sox game. I’m a Red Sox fan. I live in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which is about an hour north of Boston. We go to the games now and then when we can.

I love to sing. I’m a professional singer in my spare time. I love to sing the national anthem. I just thought, “Wouldn’t it just be cool.” Just one of those crazy dreams you have, so I set about achieving it. I wrote – I went to their website. I wrote them. I found out what you have to do and how many probably thousands of people ask every year to sing for a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.

I sent them – I made a professional CD. I sent them a CD, just like they ask for, of me singing the anthem and also God Bless America. I followed up. I even sent them a couple of videos of me singing at other games that I’ve sung at more locally. Nothing happened. But every year, so I went about this for maybe three – four years and every year I’d just follow up and I found out who I needed to talk to.

Finally, what really made it happen was Dave O’Brien, who’s the announcer for the Red Sox, came to one of our Rotary meetings. I’m a Rotarian here in Portsmouth. After he spoke – and he was just a great speaker, as you might imagine – I went up to him and I said, “You know, Dave, I’ve been trying for years to get noticed by the Red Sox team. I’d love to sing the national anthem.”

I said, “I actually can sing. I would do a good job. I’ve sent them videos and audios of myself.” He said, “Well, I don’t have much control over that, but if you’ll send me an email, here’s my address, I’ll just send it along and see what happens.” That’s exactly what he did. He passed it along.

Somebody got in touch with me and there happened to be a New Hampshire day coming up at Fenway Park in July of 2017. This was in May I think that I got contacted by them. So it happened. It was an amazing event. I got there. I got to be underground with all the team. I got to walk out on Fenway Park. I got to sing for I think it was about 40,000 people that night. It was awesome. It was awesome. I practiced all my skills. Everything I talk about in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so cool and so interesting to me when there is a process and then it doesn’t matter. It’s like actually there’s a guy who knows a guy.

Judy Ringer
I know.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to, “Yes, please follow step A, B, C, D, E, F, G,” and it doesn’t – yeah.

Judy Ringer
I know. And yet I have to say that maybe the fact that they had my audio and my video, they could go to it. They could see that I was really – that I wouldn’t mess up or embarrass anyone and that all of that adds up. Maybe if I hadn’t also done all of that, I wouldn’t have had the courage to go and talk to Dave.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly, right, because it does feel a little bit more audacious like, “So Dave, I like to sing. Hook me up.”

Judy Ringer
Exactly, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. I want to hear about your book Turn Enemies Into Allies and your martial arts work. Could you sort of just tell us the whole story here? What’s the big idea that you’re presenting?

Judy Ringer
That’s a great question too. Well, the big idea is that I have a model that I use when I go into organizations and help people resolve conflict. The model is based on aikido and some of its techniques and principles, like blending and redirecting of energy, for example.

I also have – part of the model is that I work with the people in conflict – usually there are two of them – and they need to be able to work together and they can’t. I work with each person individually first and then I bring them together. As I got used to doing this model and doing it many times in organizations, I would notice that I’m not doing anything that the manager couldn’t do themselves.

I decided to write the model down in a series of blog posts. This was about five years ago that I first started writing about it. Then I began expanding them and they became Turn Enemies Into Allies, the book.

The major point here is that you can do what I’m doing if you’re a manager, a leader of an organization with some skills that I describe in the book and some attitudes that I describe in the book like non-judgment, like curiosity, like appreciating where people are coming from, the ability to listen, the ability to reframe the conflict as a gift of energy that people might be able to use to actually build their relationship and become leaders themselves and apply the skills not only at work, but in life too.

That’s what I decided to write about in the book. The big idea is you can do this. You can do it fairly easily actually if you get over the idea that conflict is negative, that it’s a bad thing, and adopt the attitude and begin to practice it that conflict can be a gift if we decide that it is to get to know each other better and to learn how to solve a problem rather than needing to create a contest over it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s so much there to dig into. Let’s see. Let’s start with that conflict can be a gift.

Judy Ringer
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell us, what’s great about it?

Judy Ringer
What’s great about it? Yeah. Okay, well, the premise – the book starts with the premise that if we can’t manage ourselves, we can’t manage anybody else. The first gift in conflict is that it causes me to look at myself and ask myself “Why is this getting to me?” or “Why is this person, this situation? Is it something that I have any control over and if it is, where is my power and how can I find it? Maybe I’m not expressing myself. Maybe I’ve been avoiding the conflict. How can I decide to take a more active role in the conflict?”

The gift might be first of all I have to manage myself. I have to manage my own emotional mindset. I have to center myself, as I describe in the book, and bring a centered presence into the conflict, so there’s a gift right there, learning to center myself, learning to be mindful about how I decide to be more intentional in the conflict instead of reactive to it. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly, yeah.

Judy Ringer
That’s the first gift. The second gift, let’s say it’s a conflict that involves an issue at work that we’re trying to solve. The gift is how do we solve this in a way that’s sustainable and that meets the interests of all the parties involved. If it’s a team, how do I get the voices of all of my team members involved in solving it? If it’s just one-on-one, same thing, how do I find out what’s important to each of the parties in the conflict and then help them express those needs and help them find a solution that meets the needs.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. Those sound like some good things. So tell us then when it comes to aikido – well, first, could you share what that is for those who are not familiar and then what are its parallels to this process?

Judy Ringer
Right. That’s where this idea for me anyway came from. Aikido is a martial art, first and foremost. It was developed in the 20th century, so it’s a pretty recent evolution of the martial arts. It was developed by a man named Morihei Ueshiba, a Japanese man, who’s now dead, but only died in 1969.

His idea was that you could subtly transform other martial arts through aikido into a martial art that didn’t harm people. The goal is to render the attack harmless without harming the attacker. You do this by first getting out of the way of the attack and moving in to join with this energy and then redirect it.

Let’s say somebody’s coming at me with a punch. Instead of blocking and punching back, I get out of the way really fast. I join the energy by let’s say, grabbing onto the arm that’s punching me, and then I redirect it into a pin or a fall. I’m not trying to harm the opponent. I’m just trying to control and deescalate the conflict.

With that comes a metaphor. In fact, Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, had a philosophy that went along with the development of the art. He said that this is about turning our adversaries into allies. This is about not protecting ourselves from the enemy outside of ourselves, but from the enemy within, that if we could vanquish the source of the conflict within ourselves, then we would have no difficulty with those outside ourselves.

We call it blending and redirecting. We think about the attack as a gift of energy that I can use to redirect and keep the opponent safe while also keeping myself safe on the mat. Off the mat, we’re practicing aikido anytime we listen with an intention to learn with curiosity. That’s the same thing as blending and redirecting.

When I ask question – when you come at me, let’s say, with a – and say, “Judy, that’s a stupid idea,” instead of saying, “No, it isn’t. It’s a great idea” so that would be like blocking and resisting, instead I say, “Well, Pete, why do you think so? What specifically don’t you like?” or “Tell me more.”

That’s me blending, getting off the line. I’m not getting hurt and by asking a question and being curious, I find out more about what’s upsetting you about my idea. Maybe it’s that you just can’t afford the idea. Maybe you like the idea, but the budget doesn’t allow for it. We have a new way to open up the conflict and talk about it. Does that make sense too?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly, yes. Well, so now I’m curious. That particular example, talk about self-management, I think there’s a challenge right there. It’s like if someone says that to you, the knee-jerk reaction is anger, defensiveness, frustration. What do you do right there in that moment, where you’re like, “This jerk. I want to yell at him.”

Judy Ringer
Yeah. I’ve got to say that I still practice this. It’s not – just because I’ve been teaching it for 25 years doesn’t mean I don’t have conflict in my life. Your question goes right to the point, what do I do, what does one do. It helps if you practice, just like anything else. You don’t pick up a flute and learn how to play it in an instant. You have to practice it.

You practice noticing first of all. That’s the first thing. If I don’t notice I’m getting reactive, that I’m starting to react and say, “What do you mean? What a jerk you are,” if I don’t notice that, I can’t stop it. That’s the first thing.

Then you stop and you center yourself. You take a breath. You just don’t say anything. You bite your tongue. You count to ten. You do any of the things that we’ve heard about over the years to center yourself.

I have specific ways. When I ask my groups, “What do you do to center yourself?” everyone says, “I breathe.” Sometimes people say, “Well, I think about a bigger perspective,” but you can tell in that that they stop themselves from reacting and decide what they need to do next.

The amygdala, the brain stem has some very strong reactive patterns programmed into it. The prefrontal cortex is what we use to think with. To make that journey from the back of the brain to the front of the brain maybe takes a half a second, maybe not even that long, if we notice and we take that breath. That’s the first step, center myself. Now I can make a more intentional choice about what I do next.

It may be – if I’m being really reactive, it may just be I say something like, “Let me think about what you just said. Can we talk in about five minutes?” so I give myself more time to be centered and be less reactive.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. I like that. Well, so then you talk about the breath, is there any special way to breathe or what do we think about the breath?

Judy Ringer
Well, it’s basically to breathe. Most of the time, if the audience listening thinks about the last time they were involved in a conflict or something happened to them, surprising, caused them to react, chances are they weren’t breathing. They just held their breath. It often happens.

The more we can just notice that and begin to breathe again – it doesn’t have to be a huge breath. It doesn’t even have to be terribly deep. Just to start breathing again and to focus on the breath is enough. I’m doing that now because I’m a little nervous. I mean here we are a podcast. I want to say it right. I want to do everything right so that induces a sense of stress and anxiety.

It can, so every once in a while I just stop, notice that I’m breathing, and I’m standing both feet on the ground and everything is going to be okay. If I just say that mantra to myself, everything will be okay, pretty much.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so it is okay.

Judy Ringer
Let me give you a couple of other suggestions on this because I know people love to hear ideas. Okay, what can I do in the moment? That’s the question. First, you notice. Then you have a practice. If you have a practice, like I know your last speaker, the one I just listened to this morning, was talking about mindfulness.

If you have a mindfulness practice, if you meditate daily, you’re already getting into the mood of centering so that if something happens later in the day, you’ve got a sense of what it feels like to be centered from your early morning practice so you can go back to it fairly quickly. You can create rituals for yourself.

I have a client who one day she had a really tough meeting with her staff – all of her staff meeting – and she was nervous about it. I said “What are you going to do to center yourself first?” We were doing coaching. She said, “Well, I’m going to maybe look at some of the pictures on the wall.” She said, “I’m not sure what I’m going to do.”

I said, “Well,” and there was a pen on the table and I threw the pen out on the table and I said, “You could just look at this pen. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or special. Just look at the pen once in a while.”

The meeting went really well as you might imagine. She did a great job. At the end I said, “How did you do?” She said, “I looked at that pen a lot.” Every time she looked at it she just kind of took a breath, and she recentered herself and she got physically and mentally and emotionally more stable, more balanced, more calm, and more ready for whatever might come next.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, cool. There we have it in terms of you start to notice yourself in situations all the time and then you stop and center with a breath and planting the feet on the floor, etcetera, so you’re in a good spot there. Let’s talk a little bit about some of these perspectives in terms of non-judgment, and curiosity, and appreciation. Can you share a bit about these mindsets like, what does it mean to really approach things in such a way.

Judy Ringer
Right. These mindsets are the mindsets that I recommend in the book that the manager follow when they’re listening to one of their employees. Let’s say they decide to engage in this intervention in the book that allows them to hear each person’s story first before they bring them together. What this does is that it allows the employee to tell their story in a way that they feel heard. Non-judgment is just that.

It’s impossible, of course, because we’re always making judgments, but once again, we notice we are. Maybe we favor this particular employee because they’re a high producer and we really wish the other employee would change. When we listen to each one, we try to listen without making any judgments ahead of time and just deciding to listen to the story as if it were the first time we’re hearing it.

Appreciation steps in when we think about how to appreciate the more positive intention of each of the parties. Again, I’m meeting with them separately. I’m hearing, even though they’re making mistakes and they’re going about things reactively, that they each probably have a positive intention in there somewhere.

An example might be that one of your employees tends to avoid conflict and so they haven’t said anything to the other person about what’s bothering them. The form that this takes is that they just ignore emails or they ignore requests for information because they’re afraid that they might be reactive and say the wrong thing.

If you can appreciate that the person’s afraid of conflict, that most people are afraid of conflict and the positive intention is not to make things worse, it helps to approach the coaching from this point of view as opposed to deciding that the person just has no skills and can’t do anything and nothing’s ever going to work.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Judy Ringer
Approaching it with an appreciative mindset helps everything. Another way that appreciation works is well, for example, on the aikido mat, we always find that usually one side of the body gets the technique faster than the other side.

For example, in learning how to fall, we have to learn how to roll. On one side of the body, I know how to roll really well and I don’t get hurt. The other side of the body, I crunch my shoulder every time. Instead of focusing on the side that gets hurt, I do it a lot of times on the side that works so that I can figure out what I’m doing and apply it to the side that doesn’t work.

In the workplace, this happens when we see, “Well, where are you and Jane getting – where are areas where you work well together?” in an example that I give in the book. It was with a medical practice and the team was not getting along at all.

I said, “Well, there must be some areas where you are able to work together or you wouldn’t keep working together.” They said, “Yeah, well, when we understand our roles and our goals, everything goes really smoothly.” I said, “Okay, so let’s appreciate that. Let’s figure out how we can apply that to the places in your practice where you don’t have clear roles and goals.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Judy Ringer
Appreciation, non-judgment, curiosity, one of the major tools that helps in conflict of any kind, whether it’s with employees or with people at home. These skills apply everywhere. How can I – well, I’ll give you an example of this.

One of the clients I was working with was quite upset with her colleague because she copied everyone on every single email. I said, “Well, what question would you like to ask your colleague?” She said, “Well, I’d like to ask why she copies everybody on every single email.” I said, “Okay, well, it’s a great question. Can you ask it in a more curious way?”

She said, “Okay,” and she worked on it. She practiced. She got to the point where she said it in a way that probably her colleague could hear it really well. I said, “Okay, so what do you have to do to be able to say it that way because it’s not just what you say; it’s how you say it.” She said, “Well, I’d actually have to be curious.” We laughed about it. It was kind of an aha moment.

The point is if you’re in conflict now, how are you approaching what you say. Even if you’re asking a question, are you really curious about it or are you just stating the question in a way that’s kind of attacking. There’s a big difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then when you said ask it in a curious way, you didn’t so much mean choose different words like, “Why are you doing this?” but rather the sort of tone and vibe you’re putting out there when you ask that question.

Judy Ringer
Yeah, exactly. That’s exactly what I mean.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Judy Ringer
One of my favorite sayings and this comes from one of my mentors, Thomas Crum, that your quality of being is primary. Everything else is secondary.

If I come into a conflict conversation with you and I have a purpose to resolve a conflict, to learn what I can about how you see things, if I come into the conversation thinking, “Well, whatever’s going to happen, I’m going to learn something and I know it’s going to be better after this,” that’s my quality of being, my mindset, my emotional state. If I walk into that same conversation thinking, “This is going to be awful. I wish I didn’t have to do this,” there’s going to be quite a different outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay, that’s handy. I’m curious when it comes to the actual listening, in terms of the bit of the mindset we discussed when you’re listening, but is there any – are there key questions you recommend asking during the course of the listening?

Judy Ringer
Yes, I can. I can recommend some generic questions that will get things started. Then what real listening does is that it continues to ask questions. It doesn’t just stop. It really – a good listener really listens for what’s being said and also what’s maybe not being said. They listen for ways like you’re doing today, Pete, for ways to go deeper into the conversation.

A generic question might be, “Can you tell me how this started?” if a manager, for example, is talking to an employee about a conflict. “Can you tell me how this started? What’s your view about how the resolution would work? If it could be resolved, what would be ideal?” Another question, just a generic question would be, “Can you tell me more about what you’re thinking?”

“I’d like to talk to you about what’s happening between us. I’d like to hear our point of view and I’d like to tell you mine. Would you like to start? Tell me what’s going on? How do I affect you in ways that are not helpful?” Now, you have to be willing to hear the answer, but that’s a great question to just ask someone to tell them how you could be more helpful, for example.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Okay, that’s cool. I suppose that these all sort of flow from that curiosity and they feel nonthreatening as result as I listen to you say them. Maybe to sort of make it all come alive and together, could you maybe walk us through an example of a conflict? You had Person A and Person B that you spoke with individually and then you brought them together and how did it all come together?

Judy Ringer
Well, one of the best things that happened in what I’m thinking of right now is that at the beginning I usually ask people on a scale of one to ten – and we’re in individual sessions now – “On a scale of one to ten, how important is it that you and Sally be able to work together,” for example. Let’s call the other person Lauren. Lauren says, “Well, it’s ten. We have to be able to work together.”

I said, “How likely do you think it is that the conflict’s going to get resolved that we’re working on together?” “Zero.” I said, “Okay. Let’s take a look at how willing are you to put yourself into this fully,” and they’ll say maybe “I’m a ten. I’m willing to do this. I just don’t think there’s any possibility.”

One of the ones that I worked on with a large insurance company, that’s the way it started. They said that they wanted to work on it, that it was important that they resolve it, and yet they didn’t think there was any chance because it had been going on so long. One of the problems is that managers let these conflicts go on too long.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s when they bring in a ringer.

Judy Ringer
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Couldn’t resist, Judy.

Judy Ringer
Good one. I’m glad that came out.

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve probably heard it before. You’ve probably heard it before.

Judy Ringer
Oh, no. Well, once or twice.

Pete Mockaitis
They bring you in and your last name is Ringer, so. Okay, so there we are.

Judy Ringer
So there we are.

Pete Mockaitis
They want it resolved, but they don’t think it’s going to happen and they say they’re willing to work on it.

Judy Ringer
And they say they’re willing to work on it. I set up some sessions and we begin to talk and maybe three or four or five different depending on how polarized things are and how deeply resentful each person is, I listen to each party for three or four hours, like I said in individual hour-long sessions. I hear them. I’m listening.

What happens in this case, Pete, is that – I don’t know if this has ever happened to you or anyone listening today – but when you usually listen to someone and you ask them some questions and you say “Tell me more” and “How did you feel when that happened?” and “I’m really curious, when did this start and how do you see it being resolved? Do you see your contribution? How do you see your contribution in this conflict?”

When you ask questions like that and they really talk, things relax. They lighten up because maybe for the first time someone’s really, really listening to their side and aligning with them. Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. You said so three to four hours for each party.

Judy Ringer
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So six to eight hours total. I think you’re right that probably nobody has ever listened to them about almost anything for that long.

Judy Ringer
Well, thank you for that. I’m not saying I listen for three or four hours. I say I listen maybe in the first session and then I begin to teach some skills. And I begin-

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you.

Judy Ringer
Yeah, so it’s not all just listening for them. But maybe the first hour, most of it is listening. People love to tell how bad the other person is.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Judy Ringer
I just say, “Yeah, I get it. I know from your point of view this is how it looks.” People also get that I’m doing that with the other party too, so they’re starting to think, “Well, if she can do this with the other party, maybe I can too. Or maybe there’s a different way to tell this because this is my story. Maybe there’s another way to tell it.” I begin that way. Then we start to bring people together. Now, when they come together, they’re more relaxed, they’ve got some skills.

One of the best things that happened in this particular situation was after they began to talk to each other and hear the other person’s story and see what they had in common and how it all got started and starting to be able to be more civil with each other and kind with each other actually, one of the women said, “I didn’t realize this is just a set of skills.

I thought I was a bad person because I couldn’t figure this out and I was in a conflict that I couldn’t figure out. It was driving me crazy. This is just a set of skills. Anybody can learn these.” I said, “Yeah. That’s right.” They’re mind-body skills and they’re verbal communication skills. As I said, quality of being is primary. I’ve got to learn how to be centered, curious, nonjudgmental, wanting to learn. I’ve got to have a learning mindset.

Then I’ve got to learn just some key skills like inquiry. How do I ask questions? How do I listen? How do I acknowledge – acknowledgement? How do I acknowledge what I hear? It’s not just I’m listening; I’m also showing you that I heard what you said. Then how do I advocate because I get a turn here too. Here’s how I see it. You don’t see it my way. This is what I see. That’s advocacy.

When everybody gets a chance to be heard, then all the information’s out there on the table. You can begin to sort through it and solve things. Basically, in that book and in my work across the board, I like to help people move from a mindset of how do I be right, how do I look good here, how do I make myself right to a mindset of what can I learn here. From a message delivery to a learning conversation. From a difficult conversation to a learning conversation.

When we can enter a conversation and think “What can I learn here?” everything changes. It all works out.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great stuff. We’ve talked about the being and some listening and some inquiry. Can you share with us a couple thoughts around acknowledgement and advocacy?

Judy Ringer
Yeah, I can. In the book I call acknowledgement the secret sauce because we never do it. We may listen. We may think we’re pretty good listeners and we may be actually. Then we go right to, “Okay. Yeah, but,” “Right. Yeah, but,” and then we want to advocate right away.

There’s some little piece in between that’s called acknowledgement that goes like this, “What I hear you saying is,” “Is this what you’re saying?” “Can I clarify?” “If what you’re saying is true then, it would all work out if-” I just build on what the other person’s saying.

I believe the reason we don’t do this is that we have this notion that if we acknowledge what the other person’s saying, it’s some sort of tacit agreement with what they’re saying, that if I actually hear an opposing point of view, it means that I’m agreeing with it. That’s crazy. Of course it doesn’t mean that. It just means that I’m good enough to listen to you, care about what I’m hearing, and care about solving the problem enough.

Acknowledgement – okay, if you said “That’s a stupid idea, Judy. I don’t think it’s going to work. We can’t afford it.” I would say, “You don’t think we can afford it? Can you tell me more? Why not?” Okay, I’m not only acknowledgment, I’m clarifying. I’m being more curious. Just like you’re doing today, I’m going deeper and deeper and deeper until the person feels heard. Then I can advocate.

If we’re trying to change a piece of software, for example, I’m going to say something like, “So-“ – let’s say I’m for it; they’re against it. I’m going to say something like, “So Jenny, you think that this piece of software would cause more harm than good. Am I hearing it right?” “Yeah, you’re hearing it right.” “And you think that basically what we have isn’t broken, so why fix it. Is that right?” “Yeah, that’s kind of what I’m saying.”

Now they may not have said those exact words, but I’m adding on. “And is there anything else I need to know?” “No, that’s about it.” “Okay. Would you like to hear my view on this?” “Yeah, sure.” See, now they’ve lightened up. They’re maybe ready to hear my point of view.

I have to be really clear about this, Pete. This is not about manipulation. This is not about getting Jenny to hear me – pretending to hear Jenny so she can hear me so I can get my way. This is about sincerely trying to solve the problem. I have to be ready to admit that maybe this piece of software isn’t exactly what we need. However, when I’m there then Jenny’s much more likely to be able to hear what I have to say next.

Advocacy is what comes next. That’s me not selling necessarily, but educating. That’s how I like to think about it. Let’s pretend that we’re both from different planets. In fact, in some ways we are. We all come from different cultures, different upbringings. But let’s pretend that we’re really from other planets. I need to pretend I don’t know anything about what’s going on for Jenny, but I also need to know and not assume that Jenny knows anything about what’s going on for me.

When I’m advocating, I start at the basics. “Here’s what I see, Jenny. Here’s what I see the problem and the productivity that we could increase with the new software. Here’s what looks good to me about it. What do you think?” Then you go back into inquiry and you start to go back and forth now, inquiry, advocacy.

Then if you get to a point where you’ve got some form of agreement, Jenny says something that I agree with, I’m going to try to build on that. Pick something. “Well, I hear what you’re saying about you’re worried that it might cause people stress because it’s something new. What if we started out with a trial period or something like that, where we just took a few early adopters and see what they thought? Could that work?”

I try to build on something and use what I’ve learned from my inquiry to create a solution that would work for the other party.

Pete Mockaitis
You use the phrase ‘until they feel heard.’ How do you know when you’ve got there?

Judy Ringer
I know when the answer to my question “Is there anything else?” is no.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I love it. It sounds like maybe for some the challenge is just bringing in – dedicating the time and the patience upfront that you’re really going to go all the way to the end as opposed to “Well, we have a 25-minute appointment window, Judy, so let’s hurry this along.”

Judy Ringer
Yeah, let’s get these guys together and figure it out. I know a lot of people that I’ve talked to have tried this first and usually emotions run high and things don’t get solved. That’s why I like to work with people individually first. Even just try it for one session.

One sort of fallacy about conflict that I think people have is that especially in this busy work environment that we’re all in right now is that we don’t have time for this kind of an intervention. We don’t have time to separate the parties. I don’t have time to talk with each one. Let’s just get them in the room and tell them to figure it out.” I’ll tell you, you don’t have time not to resolve the conflict.

The one that I mentioned with Sally and Lauren, that went on for two years before anybody decided to try and solve it. That’s two years.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And all the mental energy when they’re fuming quietly in their cubicles instead of doing anything productive. It’s like, “I can’t believe that she said. Oh my gosh, the nerve on her,” whatever’s kind of going on there. It’s not productive value creation. It’s sort of wheel spinning that if you could boy, just imagine if you had half an hour of that over two years mathematically, jeez, it’s like over 50 hours of productivity lost, which could totally happen when things simmer.

Judy Ringer
It’s absolutely correct. That’s not even counting the polarization that could be taking place as they complain to their teammates.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Judy Ringer
And everybody starts to take sides.

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

Judy Ringer
I don’t think so. Some of my favorite things will be in what we’re going to talk about now because you asked me for my favorite quote and things like that.
Pete Mockaitis
All right, well let’s hear a favorite quote.

Judy Ringer
Well, I have a couple. They’re all – well, actually I have three. They’re all in the same vein. One of them is mine, which is “When you change, everything changes.” Another one is Margaret Wheatley. She has said, “We invent our environment by our presence in it.” Now Margaret Wheatley is an organizational consultant and writer. She’s written a lot of wonderful books like Leadership and the New Science.

But that “We invent our environment by our presence in it,” and “When you change, everything changes,” when I decide to walk into a room centered, breathing, positive attitude, appreciative, it’s really hard to fight with me, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Judy Ringer
The other thing – the last one is what my Aunt Mary said, which is “Life is what you make it.” If life isn’t turning out exactly how you planned in the workplace, take a look at your contribution to it and see what you can do differently.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Judy Ringer
You’re welcome.

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

Judy Ringer
I would go to Brene Brown and her work and research on vulnerabilities and the power of that. I think when we’re centered, we’re completely open and completely flexible and completely vulnerable. I think there’s a lot of power in that.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Judy Ringer
Favorite book. That is a tough one. I think – one of my favorite books actually and what got me started in this and it’s quite old now is The Magic of Conflict by Thomas Crum.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Judy Ringer
Yeah.

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

Judy Ringer
Yeah, and I just began to use this tool about maybe six weeks ago because so many people recommended it. I thought I’ve got to check this out.

It’s the Calm app, C-A-L-M, that helps people if you want to develop a centering practice and you don’t have a place to go or don’t have time to go to a class, this is a great app for teaching you how to meditate and for getting you involved in a practice that you can do every day very easily with just your phone and a set of earphones if you need them. You don’t even need those.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit.

Judy Ringer
Yeah. A favorite habit is catching myself uncentered and then recentering.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your readers and listeners?

Judy Ringer
Yes, I think it’s this idea that conflict is a gift if we make it one. Let’s say conflict can be a gift of energy. There’s an article I wrote a number of years ago that’s getting a lot of press right now called How to Turn Your Tormenters Into Teachers. People seem to be resonating with that, that in fact, I have some power here, that I don’t just have to let these things happen to me.

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

Judy Ringer
JudyRinger.com. it’s all there. I’ve got a lot of downloadable resources, articles and I have a great blog. It’s called Ki Moments, K-I Moments about the K-E-Y moments in life. Ki means energy or life force.

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

Judy Ringer
I do. I thought about this one a little bit. I would notice the red flags of blaming and justification because when we’re blaming someone else for something that’s going on or for our feelings for example, for making us angry or reactive or justifying our behavior, it limits our power. We can only change ourselves and the more we try to change other people, the more power we’re giving away.

Pete Mockaitis
Now let’s see, so justifying then is just sort of making our arguments for why you exactly as you are right here and right now are perfect and no change is required.

Judy Ringer
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
What is that song? It drives me nuts. It’s like “I don’t want to be anything other than what I’ve been trying to be lately.” Apologies for the pitch, but I was like what does that even mean and why not? You all need to change and grow. I don’t like this song. But anyway, I overthink lyrics sometimes. I’ve got to recenter when listening to the radio.

Judy Ringer
We can appreciate who we are. I don’t mean that. You know that, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Judy Ringer
We absolutely need to appreciate who we are and our positive intention. The minute we start to blame somebody else or say, “Well, I have to do this because the other person, they made me be this way,” is just sort of like saying, “Well, here’s my center. Take it away. You can go away with it and just take it.” It gives up power.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Well, Judy, thanks so much for sharing this. I wish you lots of fun and luck in aikido and you’re book and all your adventures.

Judy Ringer
Thank you very much, Pete. This was a joy.

398: The Hidden Root of Much Workplace Conflict…And What to Do About It with Dr. Donna Hicks

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Dr. Donna Hicks says: "People actually flourish when they're treated well and they suffer when they're treated badly."

Conflict resolution expert Dr. Donna Hicks outlines the ten elements of dignity to provide a master framework for human treatment and mistreatment. She also reveals how such treatment impacts performance.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How violating another’s dignity is at the root of many conflicts
  2. Four everyday indignities people suffer at work
  3. Business reasons to honor dignity in a work environment

About Donna

Dr. Donna Hicks is an Associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University.  She facilitated dialogues in numerous unofficial diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Colombia, Cuba, Libya and Syria. She was a consultant to the BBC in Northern Ireland where she co-facilitated a television series, Facing the Truth, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.   She has taught courses in conflict resolution at Harvard, Clark, and Columbia Universities and conducts training seminars in the US and abroad on dignity leadership training and on the role dignity plays in resolving conflict.  She consults to corporations, schools, churches, and non-governmental organizations. Her book, Dignity:  It’s Essential Role in Resolving Conflict, was published by Yale University Press in 2011.  Her second book, Leading with Dignity:  How to Create a Culture That Brings Out the Best in People, was published by Yale University Press in August 2018.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dr. Donna Hicks Interview Transcript

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

Donna Hicks
Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. I understand that much of it comes from really the frontlines in terms of conflict resolution in work, where things can be kind of spooky. Can you maybe open us up by sharing a story of maybe when you were close to danger?

Donna Hicks
Well, there’s so many, but there’s a kind of funny one I’d like to share with you. That is that during the height of the conflict in Columbia in South America between the government and the rebel groups, I was asked to facilitate a workshop between – with members of the Columbian Army and different groups within the government.  I – “Yeah, sure. I’ll do this. This sounds really interesting.”

I’d been working in that conflict for quite a few years, but this was kind of special in the sense that it was in Cartagena. We were meeting at the Presidential Palace in Cartagena. I arrived a couple of days early just to kind of adjust and so on. I stayed in this lovely hotel right on the water right in the old city. Actually, it’s a beautiful old 15th century city, so it’s charming.

I’m a runner, so I decided gee, I’m going to get up really early the next day after I run. I’m going to go running along the wall of the old city. I did. I got up. I was really early – 6 o’clock. Out there right as the sun was rising.

All of the sudden, I turned around – I felt like somebody was following me. It sort of felt creepy. I turned around and there were two military guys with machine guns running with me because they didn’t think it was safe for me to be out there running on my own at 6 o’clock in the morning. But it never even occurred to me.

This is how naïve in some ways I was because I thought, “Oh, let’s just go out for a run.” Here I was in this conflict zone. Even though it was a very in some ways very safe city, but I didn’t even know they had assigned me bodyguards. That was the one of the funniest.

Another one I just have to share with you was when we were working – my partner and I were working in Sri Lanka during the time the war was really active there. We decided that we’re trying to bring the parties together for dialogues. We recognized that there was no way that we’re going to have a meaningful dialogue if we couldn’t get to the rebels and get the rebels.

These are people who are considered terrorists. They were on the terrorist list by the US government. My partner and I said, “We’ve just got to do this. We have to in order to do anything that’s going to contribute because if we don’t have the major parties at the table, who are you going to get to make decisions?”

Anyway, very long story short, we got this Catholic priest to take us up to where the rebels were staying in the rebel territory, which nobody could get into. But this Catholic priest got us in there. It was just one of those moments where I was – we were in a boat, in this tiny little boat, going across this lagoon at about 2 o’clock in the morning, so we wouldn’t be discovered.

I’m thinking, “Oh my God, my husband is going to kill me. What am I doing?” Here we had these machine guns surrounding us. But it all worked out in the end, Pete, because we really did – it did help our efforts to try to bring people because they gave their blessings to have certain people sitting at the table with us.

But, again, I don’t know – I guess when my number is up, my number is going to be up because I have been in so many perilous situations without even thinking about it. We were so determined to do the right thing and get the job done. We could spend the whole time talking about this, but I’m sure you want to talk about dignity.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. Well, that is exciting. Well, I think it just sort of lends credibility to everything you say in terms of “I’ve seen this work in situations where folks wanted to kill one another,” so I think that’s handy. Maybe you could I guess make the bridge for us in terms of how does your research on dignity in those kind of conflict environments really port over into the just normal workplace interactions?

Donna Hicks
Well, what happened was that I was working for all those years in different parts of the world on these intractable conflicts. It was really clear to me that there was a psychological dimension to these conflicts because these were people who we would bring together to try to come up with an agreement to have discussions about how to end the violence and end the conflict.

They were smart people. They weren’t people who didn’t understand how to actually sign an agreement. They knew exactly what they had to do, but for some reason something was stopping them. They couldn’t get to an agreement. I always said, “Look, there’s something else going on here. There’s some deep emotional aspects to this resistance to finding a way out of this.”

Again, to make a very long story short, what I finally realized was these people from both sides of the divide were feeling so angry and resentful for being treated the way they were being treated by the other side. If they could put words to it, they’d say something like, “How dare you treat us this way? Don’t you see we’re human beings?”

I thought this is what’s preventing them. They need to have a conversation about this, about how being treated as if they weren’t even human beings. Then I realized that at the end of the day, this was about their dignity. That was a big light bulb went off for me. It was a major insight that led to me thinking about how to have dignity discussions with these parties before we try to sign onto an agreement.

That’s basically what I did. Then I wrote about it. It was online. Somebody from the corporate world read this description of what I felt was really missing in our understanding of how to resolve conflicts and that is how to address these issues of dignity and these deep emotional resentments that they felt before they can go and resolve the conflict.

This one guy, consultant, called me up. He said, “I’ve been reading your stuff online and I think-“ he said, “I’ve been working for a major corporation for many years and we can’t figure out why we can’t come to an agreement with management and the employees.” He said, “Would you mind coming and talking to some of the senior VPs about your dignity approach to conflict resolution?”

Lo and behold, I did that. We discovered that of course some of the underlying root causes of the differences between management and employees that they couldn’t get past were dignity-related.

That’s when the floodgates opened, Pete, because once I stated in that organization – I worked with this organization for about five years – I got calls from health care, from education, from all these different arenas who said “We think you’ve nailed our problem. We think that our people are feeling really upset about the way they’re being treated in the workplace. We think we need you.”

They say, “We think we need you to come and help us try to create a culture where people feel that their dignity is being honored.”

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love it if you could just maybe paint a little bit of a picture in terms of – in the workplace what are some ways that dignity is dishonored. I guess I’m thinking – I have all these ISIS videos playing in my head right now. We’re not doing-

Donna Hicks
You have all the what?

Pete Mockaitis
-dramatic torture or killing-

Donna Hicks
Right, right, right.

Pete Mockaitis
-in the workplace. What are the ways in which folks are feeling dishonored?

Donna Hicks
These are everyday indignities we’re talking about. We’re not talking about things where people break the law or we’re not talking about people out there fist fighting or anything like that.

We’re talking about ways in which people, especially employees in management-employee relationships where the people in positions of power – just first of all, let me just say we’re not talking about bad people here committing these acts of indignities towards their workers. That’s not the case whatsoever.

It’s just that people who don’t understand the sensitivity and the volatility around the way people are being treated – if you don’t get that, if you don’t understand the effect that you have on people – and most people don’t, by the way – you’re going to end up violating people’s dignity.

What would that look like in the workplace? Well, what that looks like – for example, oftentimes people will sort of unconsciously discriminate against one group or the other. For example, some leaders may have favorites in their direct reports. They may not even realize how often they’re choosing these favorites over some other, let’s say minority groups or women.

It’s so easy to have your identity violated and feel like you’re treated as less than simply because you’re a member of some group. This is the first element of dignity around people wanting their identity accepted.

Or you can be left out of a meeting that you feel – let’s say you worked on a project for three months and you aren’t asked to be a part of that meeting. People want a sense of belonging and inclusion especially on projects that they’ve worked on.

Or simply feel like they’re being treated unfairly, where one person gets more time and attention or one person gets paid a little bit more or less. Fairness is a really common violation of dignity.

But the one that’s the most astonishing that you might be surprised to learn, Pete, is that people – when I did my interviews with people – it doesn’t matter which organization it was because it was all the same – I would ask people to tell me ways in which they felt their dignity is being violated the most. The one element of dignity that people reported 80% of the time was the element of safety.

Now you might think, “Safety. What?” Well, it’s not physical safety. I would ask them to explain it to me, “What do you mean by safety?” They said, “Well, we don’t feel safe to speak up when something bad happens to us, especially when something bad happens when our employer/our boss treats us badly because we’re terrified we won’t get a good performance review if we speak up and say something that he or she doesn’t want to hear or feels this is a violation of their dignity.”

This idea of safety, needing to feel that you can’t speak up to your boss when she or he harms you in some way – I don’t know about you, but that one surprised me that that was the most violated element of dignity in every organization that I went into.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. This has really come up again and again on the show. I think about Google’s work with psychological safety as well. It’s a big one. I’d love to spend some more time on it. Let’s hear it. They think it’s not safe to speak up because there may be a retaliation. One format of that retaliation is a bad performance review. Can you share-

Donna Hicks
That’s one.

Pete Mockaitis
What are some of the others? Because I think there may be many managers who have got their hands in the air like, “What? What’s not safe about speaking up? I need your ideas. What’s going on?”

Donna Hicks
Sure. Sure. Well, but you know speaking up requires an openness on the part of the person that you’re speaking up to.

One of the things that I’ve discovered also in my research is that people don’t like getting feedback. People interpret it as criticism. Look, we all know this. None of us likes to get feedback saying what we’ve done wrong. It’s just an unpleasant experience.

But because many of the managers and people in positions of authority and leadership with whom I’ve worked, they’ve never had any experience with asking for feedback in a way that isn’t criticism, but feedback that is helpful because the person has a blind spot.

All of us have blind spots. Everybody has blind spots. The people work the closest to us and who are in our environment most of the time, they know what our blind spots are. We might not know, but you ask any of them and they’ll tell you what your blind spots are.

Being able to speak up and to say “Gee,” to your boss, “In that staff meeting the other day when you were making jokes about me and I was the only one who wasn’t laughing, that was a really embarrassing experience for me. You probably didn’t mean it. You probably didn’t understand the impact that it had on me, but the fact is it was really hurtful.” Can you imagine giving your boss that kind of feedback? It would be wonderful to be able to do that.

The safety, and the resistance to feedback, and the lack of openness to understanding what our blind spots are, all these things are psychological skills that really do have to be developed. Because, again, we don’t want to use feedback as a weapon; we want to use it as a helpful way to show someone the unintended consequences of his or her behavior. That’s a growth experience.

But I’m telling you, every time I went into an organization, very few managers and leaders were open to having this face-to-face feedback with their direct reports.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. This Harvard Business Review study has come up a few times that the majority of managers are just uncomfortable interacting with their workers on anything, which is striking. I’d love to hear a little bit more detail in terms of painting a picture for how does one exhibit openness versus closeness.

Donna Hicks
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Resistance to feedback versus a welcoming-ness to feedback. Because in a way you said, indeed, people don’t like getting feedback in which they’re learning what they’ve done wrong, but nonetheless we need it and we want to convey an openness and a non-resistance to it. How do you play that game?

Donna Hicks
I say, “Look, here’s the research. It’s clear that dignity is something really important to people.” Then I have some neuroscience research to show that when people’s dignity is violated, it actually shows up in the brain in the same area as a physical wound.

This isn’t just some touchy feely of how we’ve got to be nice to people. No, this is something where the harm that’s done with the dignity violation is, in the brain anyway, equivalent to the harm that people experience when they have a physical wound. This is really serious stuff.

Once people get that, once people recognize, “Oh my gosh, this is serious stuff. You’re right, Donna, I have not been thinking about the effect that I have on other people.”

It’s not, as I said, because they’re bad people. It’s because they just simply have not been exposed to this kind of education. My first job is to educate, just give people what I know about dignity. Then once they have that awareness and they have that knowledge – then people say to me, “Oh Donna, this is common sense. Of course this is all true.” I say to them, “Yes, it’s common sense, but it’s not common knowledge.” We do have to learn this.

Once they develop that sensitivity about how people actually flourish when they’re treated well and they suffer when they’re treated badly. This is a real simple truth we’re talking about here. This isn’t something you have to get a PhD from Harvard in order to understand. Little kids understand this.

Once we get that and they understand, “Gee, maybe it is important for me to get feedback from my people.” It’s not important because I want to treat my people well. That is important. But the other personal – for personal development, it’s important because you don’t want to walk around the world violating people’s dignity unknowingly, because the fact is, you’re probably violating the dignity of people in your family and people who are close to you.

This just doesn’t begin and end in the workplace. This is a life skill that we’re trying to help people with. Just being open to some feedback to say, “Gee,” Again, it’s the way it’s delivered. We want people to also learn how to deliver that feedback in addition to how to accept it.

On the other hand, on the other side of this, I work with the employees and help them figure out how to give this feedback in a way where people don’t feel threatened, don’t feel criticized, and don’t feel that this is something that they want to avoid.

Pete Mockaitis
A few things there. When it comes to the particular behaviors associated with conveying the openness and nonresistance, what does that look like?

Donna Hicks
First of all, the hope is when you want to create a culture of dignity, the hope is that your people know. You announce to them when you hire  them and when you work with them that you really want to know if there are times when he – let’s say it’s a he in this case – that when your boss says something that’s hurtful, you have to tell them, “I want to know this. This is for my own growth and development. I certainly don’t want to be treating you badly.”

There are ways of saying this to your people. You have to be explicit about it. You have to say, “I want this feedback. I certainly don’t want you to be afraid of me or not feel safe in my environment.” It goes something like that.

Then you also have to be willing to actually carry through and do it. It’s all about making yourself vulnerable, Pete, as a leader. It’s about making yourself vulnerable so that you’re not trying to cover up your mistakes or you’re not trying to push people away when they are approaching you with some feedback. It looks like what vulnerability feels like. Let’s put it that way.

You have to create that sense of safety for them to say, “Yeah, I know this is going to be hard for you,” because you’re fighting resistance. Because one of the other things that we have that’s sort of a biological reality inside us is we resist confrontation. We don’t like going to somebody with feedback.

We’ve got a double resistance, a sort of double blind problem here because there’s blindness and there’s resistance on both sides. It’s hard.

It’s hard, but I’ll tell you what, with practice I have seen people do this in such a way that by the end of a session where, let’s just say there’s one employee and a manager having a problem, what I have seen many times once they become skilled in asking for feedback and they become skilled in giving feedback, that the people end up feeling really closer to each other than they did before, even before there was a problem.

When you make that vulnerable, the intimacy that gets created in that space is just lovely.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious then, when folks share the things and they’re not fun to hear and you think the other person is mistaken, shall we say, in what they’re sharing, kind of emotionally internally how do you kind of deal with your own resistance to vulnerability or tendency toward defensiveness? How do you manage yourself?

Donna Hicks
Well, this is where a good coach comes into the picture or what I call a dignity buddy. One of the things that I ask people to do is to get someone with them – to invite someone to become your dignity partner as it were. Let’s just say it’s somebody at work whom you really trust – say you and I are both managers and we have made a commitment to try to be more open and be more vulnerable with our people and ask for feedback.

If I feel that resistance coming up – because we all know what it feels like – and if I’m not being as open as I’m sort of aspiring to be with this dignity training, then I turn to my dignity partner and I say, “Help me with this. I’m fighting this. Is there any truth?” Because you can always check out what the feedback is with your trusted partner.

It takes some brave people to corroborate that evidence, but this is what we need. This is what we need to be doing for each other. It is hard to do this on our own and to walk away from that and feeling so embarrassed and feeling like, “Oh my gosh, did I really make that person feel that way? Did she really – was I that insulting?” All of that is really hard until you get used to it. It’s like developing a muscle really. You try to normalize this process.

These resistances, we have so many of these resistances. Resistance to feedback is just one. We have to fight these things if we want to lead with dignity. That’s just the way it is. This isn’t easy.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to zoom out a little bit. When you talk about the education in terms of there’s a lot of ignorance and we’ve got a lot of sensitivity to the ways that we are having our dignity violated, could you share a couple of those gems in terms of the research that is particularly striking and shocking for folks?

We heard that the neuroscience shows that when folks have their dignity violated, it’s experienced in the brain like a physical wound. That’s kind of wild. Do you have any other little gems like that as well as the proof points that point to, “Hey, folks really do flourish when treated well and suffer when treated badly?”

Donna Hicks
Yeah. There’s lot of research out there in terms of how people respond. One of the pretty amazing pieces of research that I came across was, you probably already know it, but when – this is largely done by business ethicists, this research. I’m connected with several different groups of business ethicists around these issues of dignity in the workplace.

What they discovered is that when people feel that their dignity is honored in the work environment, several things happen. Number one people are much more willing to give discretionary energy. Their loyalty increases, their productivity increases, employee engagement increases, all of these factors that are always so volatile within the workplace.

Lo and behold, at the end of the day – and I don’t even like to use this as the first bit of evidence, but profits actually increase when people feel treated well. To me this is the most cost-effective way of doing business.

Yes, you have to learn it. You have to make a commitment to how to lead with dignity, but if you’re in a work environment and that work environment is toxic and your people are breathing that toxic energy, they’re not going to give discretionary energy. They’re not going to be loyal. They’re going to be dreading coming into the workplace. It seems to me a no-brainer, just let’s figure this out as leaders of our organizations.

If we can figure out how to create these cultures where people are feeling like they’re being seen, they’re being heard, they’re being recognized, they’re being responded to, they’re feeling valued, why not? There’s just so much evidence that this works. I don’t know. I don’t know what the argument would be against it.

Pete Mockaitis
I think most of the arguments against it as I hear them, they seem not so rigorous like, “Oh come on, it’s called work for a reason. Toughen up.”

Donna Hicks
Right, right. Get a thick skin ….

Pete Mockaitis
“Life isn’t going to hand it to you on a silver platter, so get tougher.” I’m intrigued. You mentioned that there are many ways that we can unknowingly violate others’ dignity. I’d love it if you can give us kind of a checklist of what not to do.

Donna Hicks
Well, let me just share with you about what my research has uncovered about how people want to be treated. I’ve got something called the Ten Elements of Dignity because the flip side of them is what you don’t want to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Donna Hicks
Let me just run through this really quickly, the central elements of dignity. This research I did with people all over the world. I asked them questions about times when their dignity was violated, when their dignity was honored.

The interesting thing that happened in this research was that no matter where I was in the world, even though the context of the stories that they told were different, but at the end of the day, the emotional impact of what happened was exactly the same. I created these ten patterns that came out of this, these ten elements rather, that came out of these patterns of responses from all over, all over the world.

First of all, people want to have their identity accepted no matter who they are. No matter their race, their religion, their ethnicity, sexual orientation, people just want to be accepted.

The other thing is they want recognition. When they’ve done a really good job, when they’ve done something well, people want to be, I guess praised for that, is a good word to use, but they want recognition for what they’ve contributed.

Acknowledgement is another fundamental element of dignity. That simply is that people want to be acknowledged for the suffering that they’ve endured. People want to have somebody say to them, “Oh gosh, Pete, you went through that. That’s terrible. It’s just no human being should have had to go through that.” We all want that. We want acknowledgement of the suffering that we’ve endured.

We want a sense of belonging and inclusion. I mean there are programs all over the world around diversity and inclusion. Is it any wonder? Everybody wants to be included.

Safety, we talked about that element. Again, I’m not so much talking about physical safety, but it’s certainly a part of it, but more like psychological safety.

Fairness, we talked about that one.

Independence. What I found is that people don’t like to be micromanaged. They want to feel empowered to act on their own behalf. Especially in the workplace, they just don’t want somebody breathing down their necks. They want to be in control of their jobs and in a large sense in control of their lives.

People want to be understood. This element of understanding is really important because if you think about how quickly we rush to judgment about people with so little data. We do this automatically. People want to have an opportunity to talk about what’s going on with them from their perspective instead of being judged and stereotyped.

Benefit of the doubt, people want to be treated as if they were trustworthy. Finally, the last element of dignity is accountability. When something bad happens to somebody, they want an apology. They want the person who did the wrong to come to them and say, “Look, I’m really sorry. I’m really sorry.”

These ten things, those are the positive ways of doing it, but if you want to turn them over to the other side, well, if you want to violate somebody’s dignity, don’t apologize, don’t treat them as if they are – don’t treat them fairly or don’t include them in something or don’t give them recognition. You see how these you flip them over and this is what you want to avoid. You want to avoid all these things.

But I like to say them more in the positive because that really – it’s the way that we can actually put these into practice. Accept people’s identity. Don’t judge them because of their race, their religion. Treat them fairly, safely. Give them a sense of safety, all these things. Again, once you hear them, Pete, you say, “Oh, these are common sense,” but they are not common knowledge. We just have to put them to work for us.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to dig into just a couple of them. When it comes to accept identity, you mentioned judging for race or gender. It’s not like, “I do not accept that you are a woman,” or, “I do not accept that you’re Black,” but it’s rather I impute some characteristic upon you based upon your identity markers. Is that what you mean by not accepting an identity?

Donna Hicks
Well, I’m talking more about being discriminated against because of something to do with our identity. We never really talked yet about what dignity is. My very simple definition of dignity is that it’s our inherent value and our inherent worth and that we were born with this dignity. This is something that each and every one of us as we come into this world, we are born equal in dignity.

Now, I don’t think we’re born equal in status. That’s for sure. In the workplace, we’re certainly – there’s a hierarchical structure in the workplace. We may not have equal status in some – we have to look up to the people. They’re our bosses and we have to do what they say. But the fact is that we’re all equal in dignity.

When people feel like they’re not treated as if they’re equal in dignity because they’re this, that or the other thing or because of their religion, that’s when they feel violated, that they’re being singled out simply because they’re a man or a woman or Black or they’re from an ethnic group that is different from yours. It’s more that, Pete, that people just don’t want to be treated as less than because of something about their identity.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Donna Hicks
That they can do nothing about.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said, well said, not treated less than. I’m with you. When it comes to being understood, could you share a little bit more about some of the best practices for doing that well with regard to listening or whatever is there?

Donna Hicks
Yeah, well, being understood, it seems like it’s a simple thing, but the fact is especially when we get into a little tiff with somebody, a little conflict – because all these things I’ve discovered in that context – larger conflict context – and what happens is that the minute you start getting into an argument with someone or you don’t agree with them, whatever, what goes first is your curiosity about why that person feels the way she does.

Being understood means that if you want to practice this element of dignity, you want to seek deeper understanding, especially under those circumstances where you’re feeling riled up by this person. But, you see, it’s all going against our biology. It’s going against our instincts because our instincts want us to fight.

But when we feel those impulses coming up inside us, the most important thing is to try to push the pause button and try to figure out what’s going on with this person, develop some curiosity about why she’s so upset, and say, “Look, I don’t really understand what’s happening here. I have a feeling something more is going on with you. Can you explain to me what you’re experiencing right now,” or something like that.

But it’s not our first impulse to do that. Our first impulse is to just not listen and not care about what’s going on and to seek deeper understanding.

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

Donna Hicks
Well, I think what I really want to impart and I do this every time I give a talk is for people to just be open to learning about this because it’s something that each and every human being wants. We all want to be treated with dignity. In fact, I think it’s our highest common denominator as human beings.

If we can make a commitment to trying to understand what the dignity narrative is of this person I’m interacting with, find out a little bit more about how this person has been treated in the past. Especially if you’re in a leadership position, you want to know what some of their sensitivities are. This stuff is all so helpful.

Just learning about our own sensitivities, probably more important, Pete, because if we’re going to be in leadership positions and we’re going to get triggered every second by someone of our employees, that’s not good either. We want to understand our own dignity past and how we got where we are.

Like you said, there’s so many people that just say, “Oh, the heck with this. Just toughen up. You can – anybody can do this. You just have to get tough.” You know this mentality. But the fact is you get so much farther with people, you bring about the best in people when you treat them well. Learning how to do that, it doesn’t take that much. It really doesn’t. But it does take a commitment.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Donna Hicks
This one quote I found – I can’t even remember, it was so long ago – but I use it every single time I give a talk about dignity, every single time. It’s my opening slide. It says “The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st century will not occur because of technology but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.” This is John Naisbitt, by the way.

The reason why this struck me so is because dignity is at the core of what it means to be human. As I told you earlier, the ignorance around it is encyclopedic. The gap in our understanding of this part of our humanity is so enormous that I think he nailed this whole idea.

I connected it with dignity because if we don’t understand this basic fundamental aspect of our shared humanity, you’re going to continue to see all the conflicts that are raging around the world, not to mention in our own country and in our families, in our communities, in our workplace. This is a core component of what it means to be human.

I just think John Naisbitt just said it beautifully. Technology is not going to get us there, but a deeper understanding of what our own humanity is and the humanity that we share with others. Love that one.

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

Donna Hicks
Well, honestly, the best research that I came across was this neuroscience research, the social neuroscience by the people out in UCLA, Matt Lieberman and Naomi Eisenberger. They’re doing astonishing research on the emotions that we all share just by virtue of being human and how to be in connecting, loving connections with other people.

I think their neuroscience research is so important because it’s giving us some hard data to show – things in the past used to be just kind of psychological. People would call them, as I said earlier, touchy feely. But now we have this evidence that it really does matter how we connect with other people and it does matter how we treat people. This launched much of my whole development of my methodology was that research.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Donna Hicks
Well, actually I’m thinking of a novel. I’m thinking of Doctor Zhivago. I just loved that book.
Yeah, yeah. I just loved that story.
Most recently there’s a book by George Vaillant. It’s a book about spirituality and human development and how at the end of the day, we are deeply spiritual beings and we really need connections with other people.

Because he did this lifelong research. He’s a doctor here at the Harvard Medical School. He did this lifelong research to show what people need in order to feel fulfilled. He has a combination of a very deep spiritual sense and he has the science to back it up. Triumph of Experience I think was what that book was called, the recent one. He’s written several, but I think it’s called The Triumph of Experience.

My other favorite author of course is E O. Wilson. He’s written several books. The latest one that he wrote that I really love is called The Meaning of Life. He is an evolutionary biologist. Any book of his that you all can get your hands on, that stuff is great. It’s a great read, if you want to understand what it means to be human, by the way. That’s the core concern.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Donna Hicks
All right, I’ll tell you what my favorite tool is. Story telling because I realized that when I started writing about dignity, I realized I had to put my Harvard academic hat away and talk to people about how I discovered this issue and why I felt it was so important.

Just like you opened with a story asking me a question about my conflict resolution work, I always use examples, stories to illustrate the most important points that I want to impart to people because people respond to stories much more than boring research, the data and the graphs and the this and that. If I tell them a compelling story, that really gets my point across.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Donna Hicks
Habit. Well, I love to exercise. I’m a sort of fitness – well, I just love everything related to health and wellbeing. I’m really trying. I was sick for a while. I had a very serious illness of cancer. I got through that I think by just continuing all my exercise regime and eating well. I think it’s just my favorite habit is trying to live a good, fulfilled life.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, and we’re glad you’re still here, so congrats.

Donna Hicks
Thank you. Me too.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a particular nugget, something you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your audience or listeners or readers?

Donna Hicks
Yeah. I mentioned this in a different context earlier, but I always share what I call the most simple truth that I’ve discovered with my dignity research. The simple truth is that when we’re treated badly, we suffer and when we’re treated well, we flourish. That simple truth – that was Tweeted out the other day. You can’t imagine how many retweets and likes I got. I didn’t even do it. Someone was quoting me.

That just simply touches a nerve with people. Treat people well and they’ll flourish; treat people badly and they’ll suffer. What do you want to do? How do you want to live your life? You want to live your life treating people well or badly, making them suffer or making them flourish? I just think that’s pretty basic.

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

Donna Hicks
Yeah, my website is lowercase dr – D – R – DrDonnaHicks.com. I am on Twitter. What else? I think that’s about it.

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

Donna Hicks
Oh, just I think, again, it’s really try to understand how powerful this concept of dignity is. Try to make it work for you, try to make it work for your relationships because I have to say, it’s one of those things that once you get it into your head and you understand it and you use it as a lens to look through things that are complicated in your life and problems in your life, if you look at it through a dignity lens, I think you’re going to see the solution really quickly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Donna, thank you. This has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you all the best as you spread the good word about dignity and all that you’re up to.

Donna Hicks
Thank you. And you too, thank you for this opportunity.

375: How and Why to Communicate Mindfully with Oren Jay Sofer

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Oren Jay Sofer says: "The single most powerful and transformative ingredient in dialogue is the intention to understand."

Meditation practitioner and author Oren Jay Sofer hashes out the tenets of mindful and non-violent communication to help get ot the heart of every interaction.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Key steps for getting what you want without causing defensiveness in others
  2. Two points of subtext to listen for when someone speaks
  3. How to gain emotional agility

About Oren

Oren Jay Sofer leads retreats and workshops on mindful communication throughout the United States. A member of the Spirit Rock Teachers Council, he holds a degree in comparative religion from columbia University and is a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner and a Certified Trainer of Nonviolent Communication. Oren also creates mindfulness training programs for apps and organizations. He lives in Richmond, California.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Oren Jay Sofer Interview Transcript

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

Oren Jay Sofer
Great to be back, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into it. We heard a little bit more about your backstory and fun facts in a previous episode, which wasn’t too long ago. I want to dig right away into the goods of you’ve got a book, Say What You Mean, coming out. What’s it all about?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, so the subtitle of the book is How to Find Your Voice, Speak Your Truth & Listen Deeply. It’s about understanding ourselves more clearly so that we can have more meaningful relationships and more effective conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
That sounds helpful. So you’re using the term in the mix, “non-violent communication.” What does that phrase mean, precisely?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, that’s right. The full title, Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Non-Violent Communication. What’s unique about this book and about what I do is that I bring together a few different worlds.

We’ve talked already about the power of mindfulness and the benefits of bringing more awareness and balance and groundedness into our life, into our work, and the kind of clarity and sustainability that comes from that. What’s neat is that mindfulness isn’t just an internal practice, but it actually has all kinds of benefits for our relationships and conversations.

Non-violent communication is a process of not only communicating, but also being aware of our thoughts and emotions, desires, and impulses in a way that lets us work with others more smoothly. The process of NVC, which is the shorthand for non-violent communication, is about using words in a way to create enough connection and understanding in our relationships to collaborate, to meet whatever needs are happening more easily.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe would you give an example of non-violent communication versus violent communication? Because when I think about violent communication, I think “I’ll kill you,” but I’m imagining there’s a whole range of subtle ways that we’re kind of aggressive in our communications.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, yeah. Thanks, Pete. Maybe just a word or two of history to contextualize this and then I’ll give an example or two.

Non-violent communication was founded by a man named Marshall B. Rosenberg. He grew up in Detroit in the 40’s. He lived through the race riots there. There were about 40 people killed within a couple blocks of his house as a kid. This had a deep impact on him. It was a very powerful education into our world recognizing that people might want to kill you for the color of your skin.

Then when he went to school, he found out that people might want to do violence to you because of your last name. He was Jewish and experienced a lot of anti-Semitism. This had a very strong effect on him. But he also was exposed to people in his family, like his uncle—who would care for their grandmother, who was paralyzed—with so much joy and devotion and happiness.

He had this question that was burning in him from a young age of “what makes the difference between some people who are able to take a lot of joy in contributing to the well-being of others, whereas other folks, when they’re challenged, will resort to violence to meet their needs?”

What he found through his research and his work and his studies was that how we think and how we speak plays a big role in whether or not we see violence as a viable strategy when things aren’t working. As you recognized, violence isn’t just physical violence. One definition of violence is any avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs. When we think about that—

Pete Mockaitis
I’ll chew on that for a while.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, yeah, so there’s a lot of violence in our world today, when you think about the level of human needs that aren’t being met.

How does this apply in our lives? Well, so if you and I are having a conflict, we’re having some kind of difference and I say, “Pete, you’re being really unprofessional and irresponsible.” In some way there’s a little bit of violence or aggression in my communication because I’m expressing what’s going on for me by blaming you.

In other words, one of the ways we’ve been conditioned to think about things, and this is so relevant for the workplace, is that when we don’t like what’s happening, when our needs aren’t being met, or some objective or goal that we have isn’t happening the way we would like it to, instead of being able to own that, to be conscious of it and say, “This is what I’m valuing. This is the objective I have and what I’d like to see happening. Here’s how what’s going on isn’t really matching with that. I’d like to talk about this.”

We make it about the other person being wrong or bad or somehow irresponsible or unprofessional or uncourteous, so we project our own unmet needs out on to others and blame them.

If we just kind of pause and step back and think about it for a moment, if I want somebody to do something differently, if I want somebody to help me out with something, change their behavior in some way that’s going to contribute to my life or my work in a better way, how useful of a strategy is it to blame them and tell them what’s wrong with them?

Has that ever worked? Does that ever inspire joyful giving and spontaneous change. “Oh sure you’re right. Let me do this differently.”

Non-violent is about understanding – part of it is about understanding this conditioning and learning not only to speak, the words are actually the last thing. What’s most important is where we’re coming from inside and learning to see situations differently so that we can communicate in ways that other people can hear and understand without getting defensive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, excellent. Well, so then, that’s a handy sort of backdrop there in terms of digging into the contents of your book. I’d like to get your view on first of all, with the title, Say What You Mean, what are some kind of key ways or categories that we fall short of saying what you mean and how is that detrimental?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah. I think a lot of the time we don’t know what we really mean to say. One of the things I talk about in the book in terms of the relevance of mindfulness is that to say what we mean, we have to know first what we mean and to know what we mean, we have to be able to look inside a little bit and be clear.

Instead of asking yourself, “What do I want to say?” you can recognize that whenever we speak, pretty much all of the time – most of the time if not all of the time, we’re speaking because we want somebody else to listen, we want somebody else to understand something. We’re trying to get some message across.

Instead of just focusing on what I want to say, it’s more useful to think about, “Okay, what do I want this person to understand? What do I want them to know or hear?”

When we only focus on what it is that I want to say or I want to blow off steam or I want to tell you this, without really placing our attention on, “Yeah, but what’s the effect I’m trying to have?” and “What is the information that I want you to really take in?” we end up wasting our energy.

When we fail to actually be aware of our purpose in communication and what we’re trying to really transmit to the other person, not only do we waste our energy and time and the other person, but we end up getting entangled often in things that don’t really matter.

How many times have you had an argument with somebody where you say something and then they get reactive and start responding to something that you don’t even mean? You’re like, “No, no, no, that’s not what I meant.” Now we’ve got to take ten minutes to kind of unravel this whole thing that is, isn’t even relevant.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. That definitely happens. I’d love it if you can maybe bring this to life a little bit in terms of making that switch from “what do I want to say?” toward “what do I want them to know or understand or to pick up from that message can make all the difference? Can you bring that to life for us?”

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, absolutely. Let’s take an example of something at work. Let’s say that your first impulse is to say, “You’re micromanaging me.” That’s not exactly saying what we mean. That’s just moving out of habit.

If we pause for a moment and think, “Okay, what’s the effect of this going to be?” Okay the other person is probably going to get defensive. “I’m not micromanaging me. You’re not a team player. You don’t know how to work with others.” Now we’re wasting our time arguing.

“You’re micromanaging me,” what do I really mean by that? We can use the steps that I lay out in the book to understand more clearly what’s happening.

First, we want to say, okay, what am I referring to? What’s actually happened? I’m not just making this up. This person has done or said something, perhaps several things that didn’t work for me.

We try to make some sort of a clear observation that the other person will recognize without getting defensive or arguing, like, “I noticed that last week you asked me to take care of this task by Friday and then on Wednesday you emailed me again asking if I had finished it,” so that’s what happened.

“You told me the deadline of Friday, but then on Wednesday, they were asking me if I had it done,” so there’s nothing to argue about there. It’s just like, “Hey, you emailed me, asked me to do this, and then you did that.”

Then the next thing we want to be clear about is what’s the impact this has on me? What’s the impact it has and why? What matters to me? What is it that I’m actually valuing in this situation? We can say, “I felt a little confused and slightly frustrated.” That’s different from saying I felt pressured. I felt blamed, which is again about putting the focus on the other person.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s them.

Oren Jay Sofer
Right, I’m taking responsibility for my part. I’m saying, “Look, I felt a little bit confused and slightly frustrated.” What is it I want? “Well, I really want to be able to work together in a way that we’re each doing our own piece and really supporting each other’s work with a lot of trust and collaboration.” That’s really clear. Those are values that we can get – that we can both agree on.

Then the last part is now I want to know, if I just stop there, the other person is like, “Well, okay. What do you want me to do about that?” or “Oh, I’m sorry, I guess.” We want to give the other person some kind of suggestion about what would be helpful. This is what we call a request, which is a suggestion or a proposal or some kind of indication of the direction we can go from here.

We might just want more information. We might just want to ask, “Could you tell me a little bit more about what your flow was? What was your process here because in my mind I was just expecting that I would email the report on Friday? I want to understand more where you’re coming from.”

Then when we find out, then we might start a move to making some agreements about, “Great, well next time I wonder if you ask me for something on Friday, but you actually need it sooner, could you tell me that so that I can kind of plan accordingly and we can work it out?”

Pete Mockaitis
So then the request phase seemed like you were kind of collecting more information and then sort of the agreement phase comes after the request phase?

Oren Jay Sofer
That’s right. Yeah. The more understanding we can establish between one another, the easier it is to make agreements and the more robust and reliable they’re going to be.

One of the things that we tend to get tripped up with in conversations and negotiations, particularly at work, is that we want the answer. We want to cut to the chase and get to the solution, but what that means is that we often don’t take enough time to really build the criteria for the solution.

What’s actually important here? What are we trying to accomplish and why? What are the goals the solution needs to meet and what are all of the concerns and considerations on the table? Let’s really suss that out and make sure that we all understand the full landscape as much as possible.

Whether it’s kind of a team decision, a project decision or an interpersonal situation, if we’ve established a really solid base of mutual understanding, it’s a lot easier to come up with an agreement because we both can see things from one another’s point of view. Then there’s more buy in for any agreement or solution we come up with.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s really cool. The first step is to sort of state that clear observation. The second is – well, the impact that that observation has on me.

Oren Jay Sofer
Mm-hm.

Pete Mockaitis
The third is declaring what you want for us in the collaboration. The fourth is kind of getting request or suggestion for some more information, understanding and then leading to ultimately an agreement in terms of how we’re going to operate a bit differently going forward. That sounds like it makes great sense in terms of being low probability of triggering hostility and defensiveness.

Oren Jay Sofer
That’s right. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, do you have any other thoughts when it comes to communicating to minimize the risk of the other person feeling like you’re attacking them or that you’re offensive in some way?

Oren Jay Sofer
You know, it’s a great question, Pete. I think that one of the things I emphasize over and over and over again when I teach is that communication is not about what we say. So much of our communication, so much of our relationships is in our body language, our tone of voice. It’s about where we’re coming from inside.

There’s a whole section on my book devoted to this, to the intention behind where we’re coming from because we can say things in really nice, pretty ways, we can use fancy words and whatever kind of communication technique you want to lay on top of it.

But if inside we’re actually saying in our mind, “You’re such a jerk and you’ve got to get your act together and I can’t stand working with you,” if that’s what we’re actually feeling and thinking and believing, they’re going to know that. They’re going to pick up on it.

The work in terms of taking that bite out and reducing the risk of getting embroiled in that kind of situation or just adding more tension to a workplace conflict that’s already uncomfortable is actually doing the work internally of transforming our own way of viewing the situation. This is why mindfulness is so essential for communication because you can’t do that.

You can’t really take apart your own emotions and perceptions and blame without some kind of tool to get in there and really say, “Okay, what’s going on here? Why am I getting so upset over this? Where is this getting me?” and start to actually understand more like, “Oh, okay, I see. I was wanting to be consulted in this decision and it feels like I’m not being valued enough,” or “I want clearer definitions of roles at work and it feels like this other person keeps doing my job. Oh, that’s what I need.”

Then it’s much easier to talk about. It’s not like you’re out to get me, it’s like, “Listen, I really want to make sure that we’re not stepping on each other’s feet here. Can we sit down and talk a little bit about what both of our roles are so that we’re both working toward the same end and not getting into these situations where we find ourselves locking heads?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, excellent. That’s good. Then when it comes to the intention, you talk about the work and the internal nature of it. I guess what that consists of is just really kind of thinking through clearly what do I want and I guess – I guess sometimes that can take a few loops or iterations to get yourself past “I want you to stop being such a jerk.”

Oren Jay Sofer
Exactly. Well, there’s a great tool we can use here. A couple of things. First, the single most powerful and transformative ingredient in dialogue is the intention to understand. When in doubt, just try to understand because that’s what communication is about. Even when we’re trying to just get something done, we rely upon mutual understanding. We need to be able to hear one another.

When in doubt, we can always come back to just the baseline intention of wanting to understand. “Let me see if I can understand you.” Just that phrase, just that phrase, ‘let me see if I’m understanding you,’ that in and of itself can start to change the tone of a whole relationship because the other person starts to feel our interest like, “Oh wow, you’re actually making an effort. You’re not just interested in getting your way.” Then they can stop trying to defend themselves and get about working together.

I said there were two things. Let’s see if I remember if I remember what the second one was. Intention. Okay, so the second one, so there’s a tool we can use to help us transform those knee jerk reactions and intentions to just blast the person or “Just stop being a jerk,” or “Get off my back.”

This comes from Marshall Rosenberg, who was as I said, the founder of non-violent communication. He suggested that when we want somebody to do something, that we ask ourselves two questions.

The first question most of ask, which is ‘what would I like this person to do?’ Now, if we stop there, if that’s the only question we ask, then we might go about all kinds of strategies to get them to do it. We might coerce them. We might threaten them. We might be passive-aggressive. We might manipulate them.

Now, some of those strategies can produce results, but they come at a cost. When I use my power to force someone to do something, I lose some of their trust and goodwill. This is huge, particularly for managers. Every time we get somebody to do something because we have more power than they do, we lose their goodwill. We lose that energy, that creative willingness to really engage in work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so true. I’ve been on the receiving end. It’s like, “All right, well, I’m just going to give you what you asked for and—“

Oren Jay Sofer
And nothing more.

Pete Mockaitis
“—keep all my brilliant creativity to myself since you don’t seem to care for it.”

Oren Jay Sofer
Exactly, yeah. We take away one of the things that’s the most meaningful, which is our opportunity to contribute and give. We don’t just start by asking “What do I want this person to do?”

We need to ask the second question, which is “What do I want their reasons to be for doing it? Why? Why would I like this person to do this? Not just because they fear me or they want to keep their job. No, I want them to do this because they understand its value, because they see how this is going to contribute to the project, to the company, to the bottom line.”

When we ask that second question, now we’re going to approach the whole situation differently because now we’re not just trying to get the person to get to point B, we’re actually trying to change their mind. We’re actually trying to help them to see things in a different way.

That’s where that intention to understand comes from is saying, “Look, I think I’m seeing things in a different way than you are and I want to see if we can learn from each other here. Tell me how you’re seeing this because maybe you’re seeing something that I’m not aware of that’s important. And there might be something that I’m seeing that you’re not aware of,” so now we’re actually having a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is a handy question in terms of what you’re seeing and then it covers a multitude of issues in which you’re just like, “What’s this idiot’s problem?” It’s like, “Oh, well, they may very well know something I don’t.” Then all of the sudden all sorts of things make a whole lot more sense when you go there.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, yeah. The other thing, all of us have to work with people who it’s just like, “What’s your problem? Why-“ just people are grumpy or they’re short. There I think what’s helpful with these communication tools and the mindfulness tools is learning how to genuinely have that feeling inside of we’re all just doing the best we can.

You know what? Maybe they had a fight with their wife or their husband. Maybe their kids got a really rough diagnosis. We just don’t know where people are coming from.

When someone is really rubbing us the wrong way, even if it’s not around a work-related issue, when we can shift out of that perception and that way of thinking in terms of blaming the other person and what’s wrong with them and why are they such a jerk, we can say, “Wow, maybe they’re having a really hard time. Maybe they’re really lonely. Maybe they’re really angry. Maybe they’ve been carrying anger around for years. God, that must be so hard.”

Two things happen there that are really important. The first is one, we release ourselves from the burden of resentment and pettiness and judgment, which is just not a pleasant state of mind to be in. The other thing that happens is we start relating to the other person in a more humane way.

What I’ve seen again and again in my own life is when I relate to people with respect and kindness and patience, it has an effect. It might not be instantaneous, but over time if I consistently come from that place, they come around.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really cool. Then I’d to get your take then in terms of, since we touched on that a little bit, where sort of in the other side of the equation, where we’re doing the listening, how can we do that and even if someone is kind of short or accusatory, how can we do the job of listening without feeling that feeling of being attacked, offended, getting defensive, bubbling up in ourselves?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, that’s the other side of it. It’s such an important skill. This is – actually this is one of the most powerful tools that we can develop is the ability to listen to what someone really means regardless of what they’re actually saying. Yeah.

I’m finding myself talking about Marshall a lot on this – on our call today, but that’s for a good reason. He was a very wise man. One of the other things that he said that I love is he said, “I suggest you never listen to what people think about you. You’ll live longer and enjoy your life more.”

What he means by that is don’t listen to the blame and the judgments and the criticism that are coming out of people’s minds. Try to hear what’s in their heart.

We can actually train our attention to listen beneath the words to two things. One, how someone’s feeling. In the workplace, that’s generally going to be more of a silent awareness. We’re just like, “Oh wow, this person seems” – whether they’re pissed or frustrated or hurt or upset or confused or irritated or annoyed or stressed.

We can kind of pick up on okay, what’s going on for this person on the emotional level. Then that creates a little bit of a sense of empathy. We can feel where they’re at as a human being. Okay.

Then the next part, which is where the real transformation occurs is, “what matters?” What’s important to this person underneath what they’re saying, whether they’re blaming me or complaining about someone else, what do they really value here, what are they needing. That’s where we can start to listen to somebody and deescalate a situation without taking it personally.

For example, someone says, “God, you’re so critical. Why are you so critical all the time? All that comes out of you is just judgment and negative stuff?”

I can hear that. I can hear that. It’s probably going to take me a moment because I’ve got to do this little aikido move, where I don’t absorb that energy, I just kind of sidestep it, let it go past me and say, “All right, what’s going on for this person. Maybe they’re wanting a little bit more recognition, a little more appreciation for what they’re bringing forward.

I might ask, I might say, “I’m hearing that some of the ways that I relate or express myself don’t really work for you. Thank you, I’m glad you’re telling me that. It’s not my intention. I want to check. It sounds like you’re wanting some more appreciation or acknowledgement for how hard you’ve worked on this and the contributions that you’re making or is there something else that – is it something else?”

I’m actually trying to understand you. I’m not taking on that story. I’m just really listening for what’s important for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, interesting. Well said, sidestepping and not taking on that story. It really kind of sparks a visual in terms of there’s a whole lot of – I don’t know. I’m always … to think someone’s got a bucket of tar and they’re just sort of going to shove it such that it flies out of the bucket and in your direction.

You’re saying, no, no rather than get the tar and say, “How dare you? I’m a mess.” We’re just going to sidestep it and say, “how interesting that this person thought that that was something that they needed to do.” Let’s kind of – I don’t want to call it fun, but let’s – or enjoyment, but it’s sort of like – it’s a bit of a puzzle.

That’s kind of how I’m relating to it is you can get interested and engaged in that thing on a different level of “Oh, I’m trying to kind of get to the bottom of this,” as opposed to “I’m trying to conquer and overcome and win and be right within in this.”

Oren Jay Sofer
Right, yeah, yeah. There are two levels to this. One is understanding that when people are blaming and judging us, they have some unmet need. That blame and judgment is just a tragic and counterproductive expression of our own unmet needs.

When we really understand that we we don’t have to take on the blame or the story. We can just, “Oh, what’s going on for you? Something’s not working. Let me see if I can understand it.” That’s one level.

There’s another level here, which is kind of a meta level on the conversation, which is how are we talking to each other and what kind of workplace culture do we have? That’s something that we can address, but that it’s better to address outside of the actual moment.

We have the conversation. We deescalate things. We hear what’s important for them. We offer some understanding. Maybe we make some agreements or if we contributed in some way, we apologize, say, “Hey, I’m sorry, wasn’t where I meant to come from, but I can see how that had that impact on you.”

But then we can also have a conversation saying, “Listen I wanted to just – I wanted to just talk a little bit about how things came out when you said that I’m so critical and judgmental and I’m always nitpicking and I never care about or appreciate anyone else. That was kind of hard to hear. I’d just love to find a way that we can both express ourselves with a sense of care and respect for one another.”

We can actually address the way we’re talking to one another, but it’s best to do that outside of the moment. We’ve got to handle the situation that’s happening first.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that’s well said. I did want to dig into your take on sort of the best practices for how does one ask for what you need in an optimal kind of a fashion? It seems like we’ve already got a few kind of principles and processes to work through, but do you have any extra things to point out when you’re making a request?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, absolutely. Requests are tricky because a lot of us have been conditioned to think it’s selfish to ask for things from other people. Some of this falls around gender lines and how we’ve been conditioned or what our social location is, so based on our conditioning, we may feel more or less comfortable or willing to speak up and ask for what we need. A certain part of it is some of that internal work of just checking, “do I feel okay asking others to do things or help out or contribute to me?”

One of the keys there, because a lot of us have stories that, “I should be able to do it on my own. I’m selfish if I ask for something. I don’t want to be needy or dependent,” all of these kinds of junk that we pick up along the way in life.

But if we turn the tables around for a minute and we just think about if a friend or a coworker came to me and said, “Hey, I could really use some help. Do you have a few minutes?” If someone’s sincere and we have the time, we’re more than happy to help. We’re like, “Yeah, totally. What’s up?” That feels good. It feels good to lend a hand to someone when we can.

If we contemplate that, then we can recognize if I can ask in a way that’s inviting, I’m actually giving the other person something beautiful. I’m giving them an opportunity to contribute in a way that feels good.

That’s kind of the key behind making requests. It’s one, finding that place inside where we’re not demanding that somebody do something, which takes all the joy out of giving and helping, but we’re inviting them. It’s an open door.

One of the things that makes that the most possible is letting them know how it’s going to contribute to us. We need to let someone know why we’re asking. How will this actually help me? What’s the reason behind my asking? Then that gives the person a reason to want to help.

The other part is really making sure that we’re clear that there’s no obligation or demand here. This is a suggestion. I’m just saying, “How about this? If this doesn’t work for you, I’d love to see if we can find another way that this could happen.” Then, again, it becomes a dialogue. It becomes a collaboration.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. You’ve got another term I want to hear and touch about because it sounds like something I want. What is emotional agility and how can we get some more of that?

Oren Jay Sofer
Oh, grasshopper. Yes, emotional agility is essential in life. Emotional agility is that ability to be aware of what we’re feeling and have the strength and the capacity to manage it without it dictating our actions or our words. This takes practice, but it’s completely feasible. There are a few steps to it.

The first step is learning to be aware of our emotions, just using mindfulness to identify how we’re feeling and finding a way to experience our emotions with some degree of balance, so we don’t get swept away in the tide of thinking and reacting and sinking in the emotion or lashing out or the other extreme, which is suppressing and avoiding our emotions.

We find that middle ground, where we can just feel the way we feel and stay balanced with it. That’s a lot of the work of mindfulness.

Then the next kind of phase is starting to actually understand our emotions and the function that they play in our life, in our relationships. Emotions are there for a reason. If we feel something, it’s because there’s something that matters to us. We don’t feel emotions if there’s nothing that matters to us in a situation.

Emotions are sending signals. They’re sending signals either that our needs were met. Pleasant feelings: things are going well, my values and needs are being confirmed or met in some way. Unpleasant emotions: it’s a message, it’s a signal that there’s something not working for me here, there’s some need I have that isn’t being met.

What’s essential in understanding emotions is connecting them back to what actually matters to us and being able to identify, “What am I actually wanting here? What’s important to me?” When we can understand that, when we can really see it clearly, there’s a settling that happens inside because the message has been received. The emotion has actually served its purpose. Now we can go about figuring out how to meet that need. What action is necessary here?

Then the last aspect of emotional agility – so we’ve got being aware of our emotions and staying balanced. Then we’ve got understanding our emotions, “What message is this sending? What’s actually important to me here?”

The last part is learning how to communicate them constructively, how to hear other’s emotions and how to express our own emotions in a way that’s helpful. This is really where that training and non-violent communication comes in where we’re able to be aware of how we feel on the inside instead of those stories of blame, “I feel ignored. I feel attacked. I feel judged,” which are all pointing the finger at you.

Instead, being able to talk about, “You know? I felt a little bit sad when I heard that I wasn’t invited.” To be able to own how we actually feel instead of “I feel dismissed,” which is again, telling you what you’re doing to me. Being able to state our emotions in a way that’s about us and then connect them to our needs, to why.

“I really wanted to be included,” or “I really value being a part of the team,” or “I really enjoy your company and want to be able to build our relationship,” so linking our emotions and feelings back to our needs. That’s the kind of overview, the snapshot of developing emotional agility. I go into that a lot more in Say What You Mean, in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, one of the things when I heard the term emotional agility that I got to thinking about is how often I am in one emotional state, let’s just call it irritated. There’s a distracting noise that a laundry machine keeps making a bunch of noise and vibration that is drawing my attention away and I don’t like it.

But then the emotion that would be most kind of constructive might be in a conversation could be, maybe curiosity or interest or compassion. Do you have any thoughts for how can we – I know we’re not robots that can sort of flip a switch and execute new emotion instantly, but—do you have some pro tips for when we kind of need to access a different side of ourselves to rise to an occasion? How do we do that quickly?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, how do we do it quickly? I think it takes practice. It’s not something that happens overnight. If we want to be able to come from that place of curiosity or more genuine care or compassion, we need to actually practice it. We need to cultivate those kinds of emotions and intentions in our self.

Then when we do, when we’ve actually trained our heart or our mind to know how to find goodwill, how to find curiosity, then in the heat of the moment, it’s there for us and then we can come back to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly.

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, I think one other key there – I appreciate the question – one other key there is one of the central perspectives to non-violent communication, which we’ve been dancing around, but I haven’t stated explicitly, which is a particular view or perspective on human behavior, which is at the heart of humanistic psychology going all the way back to Abraham Maslow and Mendel and Carl Rogers, which is that all human behavior can be seen as an attempt to meet some kind of basic needs.

When we view things in that way, we can always ask our self the question, ‘What does this person need? What matters to this person?’ That’s a way to get curious even if we’re reactive, to remember that sense of “Okay, human beings do stuff because there’s something that matters to them. What matters to this person?”

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Any final things you care to share before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Oren Jay Sofer
No, it’s been great talking. I’m really happy to share all these tools with you and your audience. I just hope they’re helpful for folks in their life and at their work.

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

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, absolutely. I’ve given a few already on the show, but I’ll share one more. This really points to an essential communication tool. “The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like that. Thank you.

Oren Jay Sofer
It’s that simple skill that a lot of times we do over email. We’ll say, “Let me know that you got this,” but we can do that during conversation too.

We can actually check, especially when we say something important or meaningful to us or it feels like someone else is saying something important or meaningful, we can check. We say, “I want to make sure I’m still with you. Let me just tell you back what I’m hearing and you tell me if I got it right.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, thank you. How about a favorite book?

Oren Jay Sofer
Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild is phenomenal take on culture, society and nature. It’s just a beautiful collection of essays that bring together a lot of wonderful ideas.

Pete Mockaitis
A favorite tool?

Oren Jay Sofer
A favorite tool, say more my friend. Do you mean a physical tool or a-?

Pete Mockaitis
It could by physical tool, it could be a piece of software, it could be a framework of thought.

Oren Jay Sofer
Great, yeah. Piece of software. I have a screen app that I use called Time Out that I can set it to different intervals and it reminds me to take a pause while I’m working at my computer for my physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Is there a particular nugget you’ve been sharing from the book that really seems to connect and resonate and get folks nodding their heads?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, one of the main steps that I encourage people to do in communication practice is to focus on what matters. That’s skill we can develop to keep coming back to that question of what really matters here in myself, in another person, in a situation and to get underneath the layers of the stories, and the judgments, and the what-if’s, and the who-did, and when, and why into okay, what really matters here. Focus on what matters.

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

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, there’s a great way to get in touch, which is through my website, www.orenjaysofer.com.

If folks want to learn more from me, I have a free gift to give away six guided meditations when you join my newsletter. The way to sign up for that is to text the word ‘guided’ G-U-I-D-E-D, like guided meditation, to 44222. You’ll get six guided meditations and then every month I send a free guided meditation or an article or a link to a free online event that I’m doing, so it’s a great way to stay in touch and also get some more teaching and tools.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Oren Jay Sofer
Yeah, absolutely. Take this on as a practice. Communication is a learnable skill. It’s not just something that some people are good at and other people aren’t. You can improve your communication if you set an intention to work with it. Bring more awareness and presence into your communication and focus on what matters. If you want to learn more, you can check out my book, Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Non-Violent Communication.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Oren, this has been a treat once again. Thank you. I wish you tons of luck with the book, Say What You Mean, and all you’re up to.

Oren Jay Sofer
Thanks so much, Pete. It’s been great being back on the show.