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Difficult Conversations

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

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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.

360: Five Principles for Accelerating Your Career with G2 Crowd’s Ryan Bonnici

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G2 Crowd Chief Marketing Officer Ryan Bonnici shares his five steps for figuring out and advancing along your career path.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two core principles for mastering your craft
  2. How to get good at giving and receiving feedback
  3. Two LinkedIn tricks that make all the difference

About Ryan

Ryan Bonnici is the Chief Marketing Officer of G2 Crowd, where he’s driving growth of the world’s leading B2B technology review platform that’s helping more than 1.5 million business professionals make informed purchasing decisions every single month. Prior to G2 Crowd, Ryan held several leadership roles in some of the most well-recognized companies in the tech industry. He served as the senior director of global marketing at HubSpot, where his efforts led to triple-digit growth for the company’s marketing related sales.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ryan Bonnici Interview Transcript

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

Ryan Bonnici
Thanks so much for having me, Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m looking forward to getting into both your story and your tactics. Maybe you could orient us a little bit to your career journey as it started as a flight attendant and then how that kind of progressed to a really cool trajectory.

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, absolutely. Look, I was kind of one of those kids going through school that was just always told that “He has real potential. He just needs to work harder.” For some reason, I’m not sure what it was exactly, but in kind of year nine, back in Australia, something just flicked in my head and so years ten, eleven and twelve I worked really, really hard, got a really good GPA, a 4.0, worked my ass off.

Then I started doing university in Sydney, Australia and I was just super not interested in it. I, over the holidays, applied for a job at Qantas Airways because they were taking on international flight attendants. There’s huge interviews. It’s a really long process. Long story short, I got the job.

I did that for a couple years. It was always a short term thing for me because I ultimately just wanted to travel. I wanted to save up money, which allowed me to buy my first investment property when I was like 19. I was kind of really focused on traveling and just starting to make savings.

Always knew I’d get back to university and get back to my marketing degree. I had always kind of known weirdly from the age of maybe 18 that I wanted to be a CMO before the age of 30. Just after my 29th birthday, I actually joined G2 Crowd as the CMO, so it was really timely. I’ve been really lucky. Everything has gone to plan fortunately.

But, yeah, that’s kind of the background really on the flight attendant thing, bit of an odd job. Then I then went back to university and did flying on the weekends and did university throughout the week. It was kind of hard to juggle it, but it was fun. I learnt a lot. I’m someone that gets bored easily, so I need to be doing lots of different things, so it worked well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. While working as a flight attendant, did you form some connections or some skills or some insights that helped lay some good ground work for your future success?

Ryan Bonnici
I think I did. Qantas – for anyone listening – Qantas is actually the world’s oldest and most experienced airline. They had the first kind of commercial airline up and running. It was set in Queensland in the Northern Territory, which is what Qantas stands for.

I think one thing I learned that Qantas does incredibly well is customer service and just how your customers are the life blood of your business. Qantas did a really amazing job at training their staff and their flight attendants because at the end of the day, they’re really the main people that the consumers are interacting with.

I think I learned a lot about customer services and I learned a lot about word-of-mouth marketing and just the importance of having a cohesive message. That was one thing I think I learned from that early experience.

But then I also was able to eventually start to move and work more in our business class and first class cabins. I just started having fascinating conversations with different executives that were travelling different places for work. I had the CEO of Qantas on at one point in time. I had different celebrities on. I just had different executives and learned a lot from them.

Actually, I moved then from Qantas to Microsoft into my first kind of marketing role offer, kind of the insight from a marketing executive at Microsoft that mentioned to me that they were hiring. I learnt about that and then went through the hiring process and stuff and started my marketing career at Microsoft. It all worked out really, really well.

I’m just one of those business geeks that just loves to chat with executives and business people and learn ultimately about what gets them up in the morning, what they love about their business, what are they doing. I’m just innately fascinated by it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really cool. I’m imagining when you say you picked up some insights from these executives, during the course of those interviews, you probably had some real smart things to say, like, “Whoa, we weren’t expecting that level of strategic insight from this kid.”

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, maybe. I’ve kind of always been one of those kids that I’m an only child. I think I was always around adults from a really young age. I’m not afraid kind of I guess to share my opinion. I have lots of opinions on different things and I’m really passionate about those opinions and those thoughts. I equally love to discourse and learn about other people’s opinions and kind of argue about our opinions.

I think that’s a little bit of an Australian cultural paradigm. That’s just something that’s kind of been in me from the get go. I think that’s probably helped me throughout my career, but definitely back then I was quite a bit younger and as I was getting to know these people.

I think it kind of made me a little bit more memorable and also it allowed me to stand out from everyone else because most other maybe flight attendants that were speaking to these executives probably felt like it was too personal maybe to ask them about their work or what they were doing for business, whereas I was just genuinely interested.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. That’s cool. Well, so one of your other passions beyond business and strategy and marketing is helping young professionals figure out their path and move forward and progress. You did a real nice job as I reviewed your slides of crystallizing some key principles and perspectives on that at the Drift HYPERGROWTH 2018 event.

I’d love it if you could kind of just walk us through some of the greatest hits with regard to the five steps you shared there.

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, sure thing Pete. The five kind of I guess high-level things that I talked through at Drift conference – I’ll just run you through them quickly first. The first one was mastering your craft. The second was solving big problems. The third was building your brand. The fourth was getting good at feedback. The fifth was just some advance hacks that I have kind of learned throughout the years that I wanted to kind of give folks as takeaways.

I think it’s worth maybe mentioning that I’m a big believer and I think you and your audience are fans of this too, but I’m just a big believer in really practical advice, so things that are really tactical that someone can immediately go and do themselves straight after listening to this.

That’s how I guess I built out my presentation for Drift conference, that’s how I build out all my presentations regardless of what the topic is because I think there’s so many people that can talk about the fluffy strategy. I really like to kind of marry that with really tactical things that anyone can do right now.

If we get to jump into a few of those, I think some of the things that I try and teach my team at G2 Crowd, and I have a team of about 30 marketers at G2, is that every single person on my team really needs to own a number and it needs to be an important number for the business.

It’s really my job and my leadership team’s job to help those team members actually know what their numbers are and to help them understand how those numbers actually roll out to the bigger business.

An example here might be if you’re a social media marketer and you might have been given a number of “Grow our followers from 10,000 followers to 20,000 followers a year.” A lot of social media marketers will be given a target like that.

It’s a pretty normal kind of thing, “Grow your followers,” and they will never ask for understanding of “Okay, cool. Yeah, I can grow my followers from 10,000 to 20,000, but how is this going to help the business?” A lot of people just do what they’re told and they never kind of stop and question why.

In an ideal world if they asked their boss, their boss would say, “Hey, look, we find for every 10 followers we have, every time we post that increases the number of likes that we get on those posts by 10% and that increases the number of people clicking through then to our site, which helps us drive more leads and MQL. By doubling the followers, we’re doubling the amount of traffic we’re going to get from social referral traffic over the course of the year, which will help us.”

Now, that’s just an example. But that’s, again, helping that social media marketer understand how their follower count ties into traffic count and that traffic count ties into leads and leads ties into MQLs and MQLs ties into sales revenue. I think it’s just really, really crystal important that everyone actually be able to know what their number is and how it rolls out.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give us some examples of some additional numbers? I’m thinking maybe outside the marketing function, particularly I think a lot of time we think about “Oh man, owning a number, that’s for directors and vice presidents,” in order to sort of own that sort of thing.

But I like it sort of the social media follower count is an example of a number that someone maybe in the first few years of their career might have ownership of. Can you give us some other examples of numbers that aren’t too senior and are different functions?

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Everyone in every role can have these numbers. I think that’s the key is to work out what they are.

You might be a junior recruiter and you just joined a company as a recruiting associate and it’s your job to run into these for example, right? Or to maybe source candidates for roles that you’re hiring, whether you’re an intern or whatnot.

The company’s role or the recruiting team might have a goal of say, “We have 50 open roles that we need to get filled by the end of this quarter.” Then they might divvy out all of those jobs across say their recruiters. Regardless of how senior you are or how junior you are, you kind of need to chat with your boss and work out “Okay of that big team number, what portion am I responsible for.”

If you’re really junior maybe you’re not responsible for that high level number, but you might be responsible for a leading metric that ties into that. An example might be-

Pete Mockaitis
Number of applications.

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, exactly. Number of applications or the number of calls that you run with people or the number of kind of approved candidates that you hand through to the recruiting manager or anything like that. If you’re a BDR, so business development rep, your numbers might be the number of calls you do a day, the number of meetings you set for sales.

I’m just trying to think on the fly what different roles are in our team. If you’re in accounting and you’re a junior in the team, the accounting team’s metric might be, “Hey, we need to close out all of our invoices by the end of the month and get payment on 90% of them.”

You might have a metric of “Okay, I’m going to send three emails over the course of four weeks before the accounting payments are due so that we increase the number of people that pay us.” I would be monitoring “Okay, last month 80% of people paid us on time. Let’s change it and do a few more activities to try and get 85% this month and then 90%.”

It doesn’t really matter. There’s a number that you can apply and connect to everything. I think that really connects in with kind of the second big kind of core thing that I talked about with regard to mastering their craft and that was reverse engineering your funnel.

We just talked through some funnels then, like the number of people that apply for a job, the number of people that then do interviews, the number of those interviews that make it through to stage one, two, and three, and then other people you hire. Everyone has a funnel in every element of the business.

What I think most people don’t do a good job of is actually knowing what are the average conversion rates for my funnel and then working backwards. Let’s say your boss says, “For next month, hey little Jesse who does recruiting or is our recruiting intern, next month you need to generate five times as many people into jobs.”

Then when you would say, “Okay, well if I need to generate five times as many job fillings, then I probably need to run through five times as many different LinkedIn profiles at the top of the funnel.”

I kind of gave a lot of different examples of how you can think about reverse engineering your funnel, whether you’re an email marketer or a PR person or a sales rep. Everything can be reverse engineered. That’s just one of those tactics that not enough people in business do.

It sets them up for failure by not doing that because you might be trying to achieve something, like that 50 different heads to fill in a month might be really unrealistic, but you’ll just accept it and go after it and then you’ll fail.

But if you would have reversed engineered from the get go, you might able to then say to your boss, “Hey, I just ran the numbers for this and if we want to hit that number, we’re going to do 5X the number of applications. How are we going to get that? We might need help.” Does that kind of make sense Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, yes. What’s really nifty is – I’m taking a look at your funnels right now, and, I’m curious, you’ve sort of laid them out in the world of the email and PR and social media. How would you recommend – what would be some good sources that we might go to in order to identify what are some appropriate benchmark ratios in other fields?

Ryan Bonnici
I’m a big believer in there’s no such thing accurate benchmarks

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Ryan Bonnici
Just because I think every single business is different. Every single role is different. If you’re a recruiter and you’re trying to recruit C-level executives, that’s going to take a lot longer. The funnel is going to be very different to if you’re trying to recruit junior entry level positions. If we change industries and look at a finance executive versus a marketing exec, it might be different again.

Those funnels in my deck that I ran through are more so kind of the methodology for how someone should think about … this for their own business. They would need to input their own metrics and then look at what their conversion rates are for themselves because I think you really just can’t apply standards here because a lot of these funnels, they’re purpose built for very specific things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess it’s interesting if we’re talking about solving big problems here, one big problem could be “Wait a second, we’re converting at half of the rate somewhere that we should. This is broken and it needs to get fixed.”

I’m wondering if you have any intuition on how you might get a sense for if – you can know the way sort of that the ratios have unfolded historically. That’s very helpful in terms of kind of planning out, “All right, well then just how much activity do we need at each of these phases to get our end goal,” so that’s really cool. But I’m wondering further, any pro tips for zeroing in on, “Hm, this part is broken and needs to get fixed.”

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, I definitely think you can zero in once you’ve laid out the numbers for your funnel for whatever it is, whether it’s a recruiting funnel or an email marketing campaign funnel or it’s an anything funnel ultimately. It could even be literally a simple funnel of generating employees completing the monthly net promoter score.

Every month I send out a survey to my team. It asks them a really simple question from one to ten, how happy are you at work? I know if I send four reminder emails to them versus two, I’ll get probably double the amount of people that fill it out at the end of the month.

Regardless of whatever the funnel is that you’re building, I think you need to just map out what are the different activities throughout it and what are the conversion rates. Then you need to start to look at some of the drop-offs.

If it’s that employee net promoter score survey and you’re sending lots of emails and only five percent of people are opening, but then of those people struggling that open you have like 50% of people completing it, then you’d probably say, “Okay, well the message in the email obviously is engaging people because anyone that opens is completing it, but we’re to get people to open it in the first place.”

Then we have to look at is it the time of day that we’re sending it, is it the subject line? What factors could be affecting that? Are we sending it on a busy day when they’re doing other things? That’s really how you then start to work out “Okay, where is my funnel leaking?” is how I would think about it. Where is water falling out of the funnel?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. It’s just sort of the absolute number ratios can give you some hints. Then in some ways I guess you might think for like a cold email, you can be like, “Well, hey, we don’t really expect a whole lot of opens on a totally cold email to strangers.”

Ryan Bonnici
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
But, in the context you presented there, it is internal and that might get you thinking about having some sort of benchmark ratio in terms of “Well, hey, when you look at the other emails that get sent around our company, the open rates are triple this. What’s wrong?” It’s like, “Oh.” I think that’s where things get interesting.

Ryan Bonnici
100%, 100%. I think whenever you’re comparing funnels to marketing funnels, which there’s been lots of research done into them and you have a high volume of data that you can look at. Emails is a really easy example. Web traffic conversions is an easy example. Yes, you can definitely find some benchmarks. Again, I don’t know how important I would be leaning on those. I’d still be looking at your own data.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Ryan Bonnici
But once you start to get – most people aren’t marketers. That’s just one role in a company. Once you get out of those roles, the methodology and what I’m trying to help teach people to understand is you should just be reverse engineering whatever it is that you’ve been asked to do to work out how you can most successfully do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I think that within your own data, you can grab some good stuff. It’s like, “Hey, the other emails we sent internally, how do those compare here?” I think that gets really exciting when you discover, “Oh wait, this tiny little thing we’re doing is dumb. Let’s fix it. It turns out we’re using a tiny font that is really hard and obnoxious to look through. Let’s cut that out right away,” and boom, there you have it. It’s pretty thrilling, at least for me.

Ryan Bonnici
Absolutely. I think it’s when you actually stop and actually start to analyze the impact of the different things that you’re doing in a business that things get really interesting.

I find so often that businesses and employees never actually stop and properly analyze their activities to look at the impact. Everyone is running around. Everyone says they’re busy. No doubt they are, but being busy and working on unimportant things is very different than being busy and working on important, critical projects.

An example that I can think of that comes to mind from when I joined G2 Crowd is I noticed when I first joined that the company placed a lot of emphasis on having every employee do social sharing of content that we were creating as a company. Let’s say there was a news article about G2 Crowd or we created our own content, a lot of people would post it to Slack and everyone – every manager would say, “Hey, John, Jesse, everyone, please share this to your social channels. We want to get this news out there.”

I was doing some analysis when I joined and I basically was seeing that there was all of this activity being done. Everyone was taking out people’s time on their team to have them just share content on social. I understood why. Naturally you want to share happy news about your business. That makes your employees feel good. It’s an exciting thing.

But because most people at a company don’t really have many followers on Twitter or on LinkedIn, we were getting a very insignificant amount of net new traffic and engagement on this content purely because most employees are junior, most employees don’t have big networks. No one is clicking on their content.

It was just an interesting thing that I saw when I came in and I noticed wow, we spend so much time getting everyone to do this and no one has actually stopped and looked at how much traffic does it actually drive for us and it’s driving nothing, so let’s stop wasting everyone’s time. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. That’s great. All right, so you mastered the craft, solving big problems. How does one build a brand?

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah. I think this is a really interesting one that a lot of people sort of don’t really think enough about. I think to build your own personal brand at work is really, really key because that personal brand that you build, it doesn’t just help you today and in the future, it helps the company that you’re working for.

I always try and preface this hack or this tip with people on the basis of there’s no point trying to build a strong personal brand if you don’t actually have a unique point of view because if you don’t have a unique point of view, you’re not going to develop a strong brand. You’re just going to be sharing your opinion.

If your opinion isn’t unique or different or interesting or complex or has something unique about it, you’re just adding to the noise. No reason why you maybe shouldn’t do that if you want to and get that out there, but it’s probably not going to give you the effect that you’re hoping for.

I’d say that’s the key thing is to work out what is it that’s a unique angle that you have a unique perspective or insight into that you can share content of authentically. Once you know what that is, I think for people that are junior in their career or even more senior, the easiest place to start is with your company blog.

Most companies are doing content marketing or inbound marketing today, most of those content and inbound marketing teams don’t have enough time to create enough content, so they always welcome someone willing to create some content for the company blog.

My step one recommendation is reach out to your content team or your blogging team or your marketing team, if it’s a team of one, and literally say, “Hey, what’s a topic that you’ve been wanting to write content for on the blog that I maybe could create for you.”

Go ahead, do that, write it really well, have them edit it, and start to get some content up and live on the internet from your company because that’s automatically then starting to help you build your reputation and build a bit of an online footprint for who you are.

Then what I recommend people do is after they’ve done that a little bit, I’d suggest they start to reach out to maybe very kind of junior or small tier, low tier kind of press and media outlets in their city or in their industry and write a guest post for them.

In my slides – which if you head over to my Twitter account, it’s Twitter.com/RyanBonnici, just my name, you can download the slides that I’m running through because I have some templates … emails that I recommend sending to the editor of the different publications and what my follow-up emails look like.

But basically once you get a piece mentioned in one of those publications, then you reference that. Then you reach out to a tier two publication. Then once you get a few of those published, you mention those and then you reach out to a tier one publication.

I have done this myself over the last few years and worked my way up from small industry press in Sydney that no one in the US would probably know about to then being a regular contributor for Entrepreneur and now more recently I’m writing for The Telegraph and for Harvard Business Review and I think I have a post coming up for MIT’s journal tomorrow.

I’ve only done that through just working my way up and creating content. I wouldn’t have been able to work my way up if a) I didn’t start small, but b) most importantly, I had a unique opinion on different things. I think building your brand is key.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give us a bit of an example in terms of what does it look, sound, feel like to have a unique point of view versus just to be everything else. Could you give us a couple examples of “Hey, not unique sounds like this, whereas unique sounds like that?”

Ryan Bonnici
Sure. I mean, look, I did an interview recently for The Telegraph. Basically it was all about how I kind of network on planes. An example of a boring article that The Telegraph wouldn’t have written is if I wrote them a piece of content that said “Here’s what you should do on a plane: go to sleep and watch a movie.” Everyone does that.

Instead I said to them, “Hey, I do something that’s different that no one else does on planes. I have a set of questions that I like to ask my neighbor. I’m good at gauging if they’re interested or not. I work out who they are. I research them on LinkedIn if I can see their name from their boarding pass,” blah, blah, blah, a little bit stalky. That’s different. That’s unique. Naturally now they want to write about that.

That was a flight example with regard to networking, but similarly I write a lot about marketing. A boring article that is not unique and no one would write would be an article for me saying digital marketing is important. No marketing industry press is going to publish that because obviously everyone that follows them knows that.

But if I wrote an article about how digital marketing is dying and here are some data points to back that up or digital marketing is transforming and here’s why, etcetera. Now we’re talking about something a little bit more interesting.

A unique angle really comes down to just building out what is the interest with the story and are you sharing something that’s new that people don’t know or is a different take on something.

If you look at the way Trump does media, he’s obviously very good at trying to have a unique angles for things that are very different, very I guess confrontational. That’s kind of a big part of what hooks press and gets them interested. You need to try and adapt that in the same way if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. I think in many ways it’s almost like you know it when you see it at the onset. It’s almost sort of just refusing to write something just because you should, like, “Oh, I write a blog post every month,” as opposed to, “Oh, now that’s something. Okay.”

Ryan Bonnici
Totally. Exactly. I take – throughout – I didn’t have a regular cadence because just to exactly your point, these ideas come up throughout the day, throughout the week. I find the best way to start for people that are new to this that are still trying to get their heads around what’s their unique angle is I always say the best place to start is think about what frustrates you the most at work.

You might do a regular meeting – you might be in a meeting and you might just be frustrated because meetings are always unproductive. That could be a unique angle, like saying, “Hey, most meetings are horribly unproductive and these are the five reasons why they’re unproductive. Here are the three easiest things that you can do right now to make your meetings at work more productive and to help you be better at your job.

Those things are a) require that there’s always an agenda written into the meeting invite, 2) if it doesn’t need to be a brainstorm and they’re just sharing content, it doesn’t need to be a meeting, and 3) blah.” That could be one example of the way you kind of find an idea through that frustration at work.

Or you might just have a regular meeting where you’re told in that meeting, “Oh, that’s a really good idea. You have a good viewpoint on this topic.” Whatever that topic might be, you then need to kind of quantify and kind of build out what that view is outside of just an opinion and formalize it and share it with people.

If we use just my presentation form HYPERGROWTH last week, I’ve been told by lots of people that I’ve moved up in my career pretty quickly to become a CMO by 30. I just thought about what has made me successful. That was what I got to kind of these five kind of key things that work for me.

A lot of that came from me just reflecting and working out what actually was it. What are some things that I do that most people don’t do? I think everyone can do that for their own domain, their own part of the business or their own skillset.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that that that when it comes to the frustration, it means it’s resonating for you in the sense that your frustration kind of equals something is happening and it’s wrong.

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, exactly. If you’re getting frustrated, then other people probably are too in those similar situations. You know you’ve got a hook, an interesting topic that’s going to be relevant most likely.

Then I think the next step is – this actually ties funnily enough really nicely into my fourth tip that is like get good at feedback is one thing that I always try and teach my team is it’s one thing to get frustrated with something, but if you’re just getting frustrated and you’re complaining, you’re not doing your job. You’re failing and you should be fired.

Great employees and people that get good at their career and move up is they give very good constructive feedback.

Instead of someone being frustrated because the meeting is unproductive, a really amazing employee would say – they might send an email around to everyone after the meeting and say, “Hey gang, I’ve been thinking about the agenda for our regular weekly meetings and I wanted to put together a potential draft agenda that we can use moving forward that I used maybe with a previous team that worked really, really well. Here is the agenda that I was thinking. What do people thing? Should we try this? Would it be worth doing or not?”

I’ve been in those meetings before where someone on my team has stepped up and been a leader and actually created a new agenda. It’s been brilliant.

A) that’s kind of a little bit of a meta example, but being able to kind of pull yourself out of the frustration and work out what could be done to fix it and then to drive that change is really key to moving up in your career and being a leader and just key for life really.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so that’s part of the feedback equation is delivering it, stepping up, finding some actionable improvement nuggets and courageously putting it forth in a kind of an appropriate, diplomatic way. How about on the receiving feedback side of things?

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, I’d say this is probably where most people struggle. Everyone says they want feedback, but it’s like until they get it about something that they weren’t expecting it for that they really struggle to accept it and then they push back and then it defeats the purpose because the person giving you feedback now can see that you’re defensive and just breaks the relationship down.

The first thing that I like to try and help my team kind of be more aware of is that when someone’s giving you feedback, you need to remember that they’re taking a risk in giving you feedback because people typically don’t like to receive feedback, but feedback is the only way we grow. We need to kind of a) remember that, but b) just like stop the first reaction that you have.

The first reaction that 99.9% of people have is to disagree or to give an example for why you did that or just to start to rationalize what happened. I think what people don’t realize is whoever is often giving the feedback doesn’t really care for why you’re doing it. They probably already know why themselves, but they’re giving it to you just so that you can be clear that this is something that needs to be improved on.

Let’s say as an example you give someone – someone gives you feedback that “Hey, you talked to fast in that meeting and that made it hard for people to follow, which meant that people left the meeting without really understanding what the goal of the meeting was.” A typical person might say, “Well, I had to rush because we had limited time.”

That’s not the point. The point isn’t that you had limited time. The point is that “Well, because you rushed because there was limited time, now the message was lost. The people don’t know what it is.”

Instead of refuting the feedback and arguing with it, the lesson there is “Oh, great. Thanks so much for that feedback, boss. What I might do next time is that if I see that we’re running out of time, I might just say ‘Hey guys, let’s take the 20 minutes back in your day and I’m going to schedule a new meeting to run through what I was going to run you through because we need more time.’” That’s how you respond in a proactive way and you learn from something.

Anyway, back on track, first thing to do I guess is stop that reaction. The second thing I recommend people do is remember that you asked for feedback. Feedback is something that you want. Third or fourth thing is just to say thank you. Thank the person for the feedback.

If it’s complex feedback that you really need time to deconstruct, then I always recommend my team just say to the person, “Hey, I really appreciate your feedback. I’ve taken down notes,” and actually write them down, say, “Hey, if it’s okay with you, I’m going to get back to you maybe tomorrow because I would love to really digest this info and get back to you with a full response. I hope that’s okay.”

No one’s going to say to you, “No, it’s not okay. You need to respond to my feedback immediately right now.” That will give you time to cool down, to think about it more properly and to realize that actually this is helpful, this is good.

Once you start to get into the good habit of doing that, a few ways I recommend people get better at this and get better at getting more feedback so they grow faster in their careers is just telling them that they need to ask for feedback regularly.

Some of my best employees, after every single one of our one-on-ones, they’ll just say to me, “Hey Ryan, thanks for this. This is really helpful today. What’s one more thing that you would like to see me doing more or less of?” Notice the open ended question there.

I’d say, “I can’t think of anything this week. You’ve done a really good job.” Or I might say, “Hey, yeah, you did this thing really well this week, although I felt like when you did this thing it kind of slowed you down and maybe next time you can do this.” Just teaching team members to not be afraid to ask for feedback is key.

Even if you’re meeting with like an executive or you’re in the elevator with the boss or someone more senior, maybe don’t ask them for feedback on yourself because they probably don’t know who you are or they probably haven’t been working really closely with you and so they can’t give you really helpful feedback.

But for those sorts of people what I would recommend asking is saying something to them like, “Hey, you obviously have an amazing leadership team. I’m curious when you’re building that leadership team, what qualities do you look for in those leaders or what are your best direct reports, what do they differently than everyone else?” At least that way now you can get insight from an executive that maybe can’t give you specific feedback. Does that make sense Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that. What you said about that – just note that the person who is give you feedback is taking a risk is excellent in terms of reframing the whole thing because your first reaction indeed can be like, “That jerk. Oh, spare me. Does this guy have a clue,” whatever, insert the defensive reaction or whatever as opposed to note that – unless of course, there’s a few sociopaths out there.

But for the most part, for the most part, when someone shares an observation about how you could improve, that is a kind act. I went to a leadership conference, it was called LeaderShape. They said feedback is love. I thought that was well said.

It’s a kind gesture. It does require risk because the person on the other end may very well think less of you for having provided it. If you start there, that just kind of puts you in I think a much more receptive place like, “This person cares enough about me to take the risk that I’m going to be mad at them. That’s pretty cool even if I don’t really like or agree with what they’re saying to me right now. I’m going to chew on it a little more.”

Ryan Bonnici
Exactly. Trying to think I think about the intentions behind the feedback is key. If it’s feedback that’s coming from your direct boss, out of everyone that gives you feedback, that’s the one person that you just shouldn’t push back on most likely because they know you intimately, they probably work with you very closely. If they’re giving you feedback, they’re only giving you feedback to try and help you, otherwise what’s the point?

But I’d say if you get feedback from someone else in the business and you disagree with it or something like that, maybe you chat with your boss about it. But also at the same time, I still don’t think you change the way you respond to it. I think the response is still, “Hey, thanks so much for that feedback. I really appreciate it. I’ll be sure to think about that and think about how I can respond differently next time.”

Whether or not you actually do it or not if you think it’s a load of crap, doesn’t matter. The way you respond is key. If you respond in a defensive way, you’re basically kind of voiding that relationship growth opportunity with that person.

If you respond in a really good way, regardless of whether you actually implement the feedback or not, you kind of by doing so showing and telling the person that you’re benefiting from the feedback and it was helpful. That will only help you in terms of your relationship with them and what’s the point in calling out to them that their feedback sucks or it’s inaccurate. Is it going to really help you? Sometimes you have to think about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And just that notion that if you make it really difficult, they’re like, “All right, not worth it. I’ll just keep my mouth shut and not share any useful tips in the future.”

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, yeah, Exactly. Then that person might also think that you disagree with them or now you don’t like them because they took that risk and gave you that feedback or a bunch of different things. Yeah, I’d say that’s kind of how I think about that.

Then I think to wrap it up, I guess, Pete, with my presentation where I then went to kind of towards the end was really I wanted people to better understand what are some really small hacks that you can do really quickly. One of the things that I mentioned was helping people grow their network.

Something that I always do on LinkedIn and some people will probably disagree and don’t think this is the best strategy, but it works for me and I’m a big fan is whenever someone kind of looks at my profile on LinkedIn, I always add them to my network.

I just basically on my commute home or if I’m on the boss or if I’m doing – I’m bored and I’m somewhere, I’ll open up LinkedIn and I’ll just look at who has looked at my profile. Every single person that looked at my profile that I’m not connected with, I just tap the Connect button on them. All of those people always connect with you because they’re looked at you first.

Pete Mockaitis
They started it.

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, exactly. They started it and they were interested in you.

The reason why that’s important is it helps you grow your network so the next time you change jobs or you share an article about yourself on LinkedIn or share anything, there’s more eyeballs that can potentially see your posts to then help like it and help perpetuate more people seeing it. That’s one thing I always recommend.

That’s worked well for me to the point where now I think I have something like 33,000 followers and connections on LinkedIn. …

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a particular message that you send them when you click, like “Hey, saw you looking at me,” or what is it?

Ryan Bonnici
I don’t send anything.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Ryan Bonnici
I don’t have time for that to be honest. Also, if that – yeah, some people do that and I think if you have the time to send a message, awesome, more power to you. I just haven’t gone down that path.

That would be the one thing I recommend. The other thing with regard to LinkedIn is what I’ve always done in my career is I always kind of work out what’s the company that I want to work for next. What I’ll do is I will basically do a search on the LinkedIn app and I’ll search maybe recruiter and then I’ll tag the companies that I want to work for.

Let’s say if you want to work at Facebook and Amazon and Snapchat, you would search for recruiter. Then you would search those companies in LinkedIn. Then I would then tap on the plus to all those people.

Now, what that’s doing is a) recruiters never say no to people that add them on LinkedIn because naturally their network is what makes them good at their job. The bigger the network, the better they are typically. They’ll always accept.

But the other great thing is not only have they accepted and you’ll probably get their email address and potentially their phone number through their LinkedIn profile, but they will now also be seeing your content.

As you do that tactic I mentioned about building your personal brand, where you’re creating that unique content for your company blog and for other articles, when you start to share that on LinkedIn, you’ll start to become more known as a thought-leader in whatever your space is.

Now recruiters that might in the future see you and recruit you for a job will start to recognize your name and know that you’re good at marketing or accounting or recruiting or whatever it is that you do. That’s just a very easy way to build your network.

That’s helped me now get to the point where I probably receive three to five different in-mails a day maybe on a good day from recruiters offering me board roles or interesting CMO roles at different companies. I don’t need to engage with them if I don’t want to, but it’s nice knowing that there’s options available if the time should ever arise where I need that.

There, yeah, I think it would be kind of broad set of really – some of those lessons that I think I’ve learned, Pete, over the last decade or so of my career. As you kind of mentioned as we’ve been talking about, I just think there’s so many things that you can do in your career to help you move faster and by doing so it helps your company move faster.

I think those two can always be aligned. That’s really the sweet spot. You shouldn’t be doing stuff that’s just good for your company and not good for you, like try and do stuff that’s good for both sides.

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

Ryan Bonnici
Gosh, no, I think that’s good background. For anyone that wants to connect with me obviously, my details I’m sure are listed in the podcast. Feel free to just search my name online. I’m very accessible via any social network really.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Now can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Ryan Bonnici
I think something that I find really inspiring is just leaders that aren’t afraid to fill leadership voids. I don’t know if this is necessarily like a quote, but it could be.

I think of businesses as just being these organizations with holes within them kind of like Swiss cheese. I think a really strong leader starts to see those different deficits in a business and isn’t afraid sometimes to actually fill the gap and maybe step on someone’s toes that wasn’t filling the gap, which would have been filling the gap.

I think that’s been something that’s been an important thing that’s helped me grow in my career. It’s not easy to always do, but it’s worked for me. I’d say filling the leadership voids within the business is the fastest way to move up in a business and drive impact in the business would maybe by my self-created quote right now on the fly.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure thing. How about a favorite book?

Ryan Bonnici
The first one that I’d say probably, let’s focus on business, but I think there’s impacts that to me from a business perspective is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Absolutely love it. I think it’s a really good book. I try and reread it at least once a year if not more than that.

But it just kind of helps you really focus on what you can do right now and what’s important in the moment. Really good book I think for folks that sometimes suffer with feelings of depression or feelings of anxiety or feelings of trying to always achieve more and need more and not have enough. Really amazing book. Big fan of mindfulness and all of Eckhart Tolle’s work.

Maybe the other book that’s a bit more business focused is a book called Radical Candor by Kim Scott that I absolutely love. Kim published the book I want to say last year, maybe early 2017. It’s all about basically how to give you feedback to your employees so that you challenge them really directly, but while at the same time they know that you really care about them personally. That’s helped me I think become a better leader, but I’m always trying to improve.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. We had Kim on the show. It’s definitely powerful stuff.

Ryan Bonnici
Oh, fantastic.

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

Ryan Bonnici
Favorite tool. There’s a ton. I’m a massive fan of HubSpot as a marketer, so HubSpot would probably be my favorite marketing tool. Then Asana would probably be my favorite productivity tool, like my whole team, our whole company actually at G2 Crowd, runs HubSpot for marketing and Asana for productivity and task management, so massive fan of Asana. Yeah, love that.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Ryan Bonnici
Favorite habit. It’s kind of this is like a semi-tool slash habit, but I’m a big fan of light therapy actually. I’m a geek when it comes to bio-hacking and neuro-hacking.

For anyone that’s interested in trying to have more energy in the daytime or to work better throughout the nighttime or better attention, I tell them – I use a device called the Joovv, J-O-O-V-V.com. It’s basically kind of like this wall unit that hangs from a door. It’s got red lights and infrared lights on it. I will literally every morning and every night stand in front of it for ten minutes.

It’s good for resetting circadian rhythms. It’s really good for your skin. It’s good for kind of inflammation in your bones. I’m obsessed with it. Red light therapy/infrared light therapy is my biggest favorite habit knack.

The technical term for what it is for anyone that really wants to geek out, it’s called photo-bio-modulation. There’s a lot of research now coming out of Harvard and MIT that shows the benefits of what near infrared light and red light therapy can do for your brain and for your cells and your mitochondria. That’s probably my big habit and favorite fun thing.

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

Ryan Bonnici
I would say, gosh, the one thing I never see enough of in business is people just really owning their outcomes and committing to their growth. I think I’ve always had to throughout my career, I’ve never been given a promotion just because.

I’ve always – I earned it, but be like earned it and then told my boss that I’ve earned it and said, “Hey, this is what I need. If you want to hold on to me and you want me to keep driving impact in this company, this is what I want.”

I think more people can do that because there’s so many amazing people in business that are driving impact. It’s not that their bosses or their businesses are trying to intentionally overlook them and not give them that raise or that promotion or that new business opportunity. A lot of the time it’s just everyone’s busy and no one sometimes realizes it.

I think my one big thing in addition to kind of what we’ve been talking about all about this is just speak up and if you’re unhappy, tell your boss. If you want a new challenge, tell your boss. If you think that you’re undervalued, tell your boss and frame it in a way in which that it’s not a complaint, but that it’s a constructive thing.

Explain to them how much you love the business and how you want to drive more impact, but you don’t feel like you’re valued. Here’s why and here’s what you need to change. That would be my one big challenge and … for people.

In addition to just follow me on Instagram, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Snapchat, and all the channels. Feel free to connect with me and share your challenges or your thoughts and feelings with me on this. If you agree/disagree or anything, I really am super sociable and I respond to everyone that messages me assuming they message me with nice messages that are constructive.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Well, Ryan, thank you so much. This has been a lot of fun. I wish you tons of luck at G Crowd and all you’re up to.

Ryan Bonnici
Thanks so much Pete, really appreciate your time. Thanks everyone for listening.

329: Asking Courageous Questions with Dusty Staub

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Dusty Staub shares seven acts of courage and how to apply them wisely to your work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three biggest lacks of courage in the workplace
  2. The problem with being nice
  3. Finding and liberating others’ purpose, passion, and power

 

About Dusty

Robert “Dusty” Staub has worked for over 30 years with executives, families, and communities as well as with private and public companies. He has trained and coached executives and teams in creating high performance outcomes. Dusty has been a pioneer in the process of creating systemic accountability by aligning leadership and group behaviors with strategy to produce bottom-line results.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dusty Staub Interview Transcript

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

Dusty Staub
Pete, it’s my pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you give us first and foremost orientation to this Dusty nickname? Where did it come from and how has it stuck?

Dusty Staub
Well, my father was Robert Earl Staub. He was a – had a full scholarship to Notre Dame playing football in 1942 out of Canton High School. He didn’t go. He went and fought in World War II. His nickname in high school was Blood and Guts Staub. Working as a paratrooper for 26 years in the military, he became even tougher.

When I was born, there was only one Bob Staub and that was him, but I was named Robert Earl Staub II. Staub is a German word that means dust, so when I was one day old, my dad didn’t want me to be called Little Bobby, so he nicknamed me Dusty.

I’ve been known by Dusty, except by the nuns in parochial school who refused because there’s no saint Dusty. When they called me Robert I wouldn’t respond, so I had more than one ruler cracked across my knuckles over the years.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh gracious. I’m wondering, surely there’s a saint somewhere that – of the dusty roads or travels or hospitality for cleaning people’s feet. I don’t know. Somewhere I wonder, but who knows, they may or may not have been receptive to your counteroffer at the time.

Well that’s cool. I’m also curious, did your dad want you to have the family name, but also differentiation in the household is that he’s trying to have his cake and eat it too?

Dusty Staub
Yes, he did. He named me after himself. He didn’t like junior either, so he made it the second because he didn’t like junior. He wanted me to be different than he was and unfortunately, for both of us, I was very different. He and I had – like two rams crashing heads with each other for the first 28 years of my life until I had an awakening and transformed the relationship by changing the way I dealt with him.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing. Does this have to do with courage or is this a whole other area of expertise of yours?

Dusty Staub
Well, no, that’s actually where – I was working at the VA hospital. I did a TEDx talk on this called Developing the Cardiovascular System of Your Soul. I was working with a veteran and his family as this veteran was declining. I worked with him for about six weeks. I was at his bedside when he took his last breath. I was providing a psychological consult.

When he died, I realized that if that was my father in that bed, because he was the same age, that I could not have said to that man what the daughter said to her father. I realized that at some point my dad was going to die or I was going to die and we were in a hellish position for each other.

That’s where the acts of courage were born, the courage to look in the mirror and see the way I was acting, the courage to dream of a different way of being, the courage to be confronted by my father, and the courage to confront myself, and the courage to be more vulnerable and open, etcetera.

Seven different acts of courage were required for me to transform myself. In the nine months of work I was free. Then two years later my father changed. He became the dad I always wanted. Somehow in changing myself and my way of relating to him, it changed his way of responding and relating to me. It’s not funny when you think about system dynamics, but it was a revelation to me at the time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful and powerful and so we’re hearing courage being transformational in personal relationships. I’d also like to hear how this is powerful in the work environment.

Dusty Staub
Well, yeah, because most of my work in the past 35 years has been in corporations, for profit, not for profit, across all segments of US industry. I keep seeing in organizations where a lack of courage at senior leadership levels, as well as down through the ranks, but speaking of senior leaders where it leads to problems.

Two of the biggest lacks of courage occurs most often in corporate America is a lack of the courage to be confronted, number one, so people get antsy, they shut people down.

When somebody comes to give you bad feedback or give you criticism, Pete, in your organization, they’re inviting you to join a conversation that’s been going on for a while. If you shut them down, they just go back underground behind your back and it redoubles and then you get blindsided, which is never good.

Then the second lack of courage is the courage to confront to tell truth to power, to a colleague, to a powerful subordinate, to a superior. People don’t tell their truths. People don’t understand what’s going on because they lack the courage to be confronted and there’s a lot of issues there. Those are the two big ones.

I guess the third one I see is often a lack of the courage to be vulnerable, to be open, to admit I don’t know, to raise my hand and say I need help. Those three acts of courage are really critical if you want to be a good leader and if you want to have a sustainable performance in your organization.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, yeah, that’s clear. That’s big. I love that perspective in terms of it’s the conversations going on underground and then you’re sort of being invited to participate in it is what’s really going on there, which is a beautiful reframe in terms of instead of being defensive, to embrace it.

We had Kim Scott, who wrote the book Radical Candor, on the show earlier talk about how she sort of had an ah-ha moment when she had to fire somebody and he was like, “How come nobody ever told me this?” She’s like, “Oh yeah, we weren’t doing him any favors at all, were we, by trying to be too nice and polite and dancing around the issue at hand that needed to be addressed.”

Dusty Staub
Yeah, what I would say is people get addicted to being nice and being pleasant. They’re not protecting the other person; they’re protecting themselves from the emotional reaction, from feeling like a bad guy or a bad gal. When we don’t give people honest, direct feedback, corrective feedback, as well as encouragement, we really failed them. Being nice is definitely not nice.

I live in the South and down in the South – in New York if someone doesn’t like you, it’s a nice big FU. Down in the South it’s bless your little heart. Add the little into the heart and that’s an FU in the South.

It’s a – I do a lot of work internationally and my German clients tell me, they say, “Americans, you can’t trust them.” They said, “They’re not reliable.” I said, “What do you mean?” “Well, they say what they think you want to hear and they will say yes when they haven’t really committed and then they don’t follow through.”

I think that’s, again, we want to be pleasant, we want to be liked, we’re saying yes, but we’re not really thinking it through. We’re not saying, “You know? I can’t say yes to that. Here’s why. Let’s talk it through further.” Instead of going deeper or being more honest in our dialogue and conversations, we are polite and nice and we therefore fail the individual, the team, the organization, and it really damages careers. It really damages performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we’re talking about courage a lot. I’d love it if maybe you could share some of the disguises or packaging or lies or excuses or rationalizations we use when we’re really just frankly, not courageous and that’s really what’s going on. It like we’re really scared, but it gets dressed up or rationalized in some prettier terms that we use to ourselves.

Dusty Staub
One of the biggest rationalizations – but the way, rationalize is a rational lie.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Tweet it.

Dusty Staub
When we rationally lie to ourselves – and there are psychological mechanisms. I talk about this in my second book, The Seven Acts of Courage. I talk about the defensive mechanisms of denial, of projection, of blame, of rationalization.

We rationalize, “I don’t want to hurt Dusty’s feelings.” “I don’t want to rock the boat. Things are okay.” “I can work around this. We can just work around this person. This person has been with me a long time. Yeah, it’s in over their head, but we can carry them.” There’s all kinds of rational lies that people tell themselves. They’ll even say, “You know what? Well, that person’s just mad at me. That’s not really true.”

We do 360 feedback. We gather data from multiple sources, 8, 9, 10, 12 people around an individual. People are shocked sometimes at the themes around the critical things they need to change. It’s because they’ve been hearing it from one or two people, but when they see it as a theme from five or six people all at once, it’s inescapable and then it hurts their feelings.

One of the things, Pete, I believe is that – my father said this to me. I came home from graduate school and my dad had left the military and started his own business. He said, “Son, these damn civilians.” I said, “Dad, what did the damn civilians do now?”

He said, “Son, if they were in the military, we’d shoot them. They don’t tell you the truth. They talk behind your back. When you give them a chance to tell you what’s going on, they won’t tell you. When you try to tell them, they get defensive.” He said, “They let their emotions run them.”

I said, “Well, dad, that’s – you’re calling that amateur. What’s a professional?” He says, “Son, a professional is somebody who does what’s required and necessary, not what’s most comfortable, habitual or routine.”

Pete, what I see in so many of the clients we work with and so much when I read the news is people do what’s habitual, what’s routine. They do the personality. Integrity, doing the right thing when things are easy, is not integrity. Doing the right thing when it’s hard, when it’s painful, that’s integrity.

We talk about a lack of integrity in corporate America, lack of integrity in politics right now, well, until people start showing the courage to be confronted, until people start having the courage to tell the truth without laying down judgments. I mean I can tell the truth to somebody in a way where they thank me or I can tell the truth in a way where the person feels judged, belittled and put down.

When I say the courage to confront, it’s the courage to confront with respect and compassion. When you get angry and you think you’re telling your truth, you’re vomiting on somebody, you’re dumping on somebody. That’s not respectful. That’s not respectful confrontation. That’s not the courage to confront.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got it. Well, so you lay out seven acts of courage progressively, could you walk us through a little bit of sort of each one and how it looks in practice.

Dusty Staub
Sure and interrupt me if I get going too long here. The first act of courage, which I discovered, was the courage to dream and to put forth a dream.

I had a dream that I could have a better relationship with my father, that when I stood at his graveside, there would be no guilt, there would be no shame, there would be no resentment and anger, that I would be at peace with my dad. That was a dream and that was not where we were.

It takes courage to put that dream out there because the world is full of cynics. We have internet trolls. You put a dream out there on the internet, you’re going to have all kinds of people telling you can’t do it, and why you can’t do it, and what’s wrong with you. But there’s never been a statue or a tribute created for a critic. It’s for the creators of the world.

The courage to dream and put the dream out there is the courage to say, “I’d like this.” You might fall flat on your face. I had the dream – I’ve had many dreams and until I put it out there, until I begin to express it and tell other people what I want to create, it doesn’t really become real. I can’t keep it a secret. That’s a big one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so when it comes to the courage to dream, in a way, dreaming seems easy. It’s like, “Hey, you’re just sort of thinking about something.” But what kind of stops that from happening in the first place?

Dusty Staub
Well, there are many people who tell themselves they can’t have it. There’s a wonderful book by Robert Fritz called The Path of Least Resistance. He talks about the creative mindset. In there he lays out stuff that I found to be very true, which is we want something, but we tell ourselves we can’t have it. We listen to that voice and we give up on the dream. The dream is just a pipedream.

But when I say – so I’ll give you an example. When I decided I wanted to change my relationship with my father, I’d always dreamed of a better relationship. I realized that I needed to tell my mom. I needed to tell my friends. I needed to tell my dad I wanted to have a different kind of relationship with him.

I knew my dad was going to laugh at me and be critical. I knew that my mom would be sympathetic. I knew some of my friends were mad at their dads, would think I was just caving in and some of them would be supportive.

But when I put it together and said, “I believe I can create a better relationship. I don’t expect him to change. He won’t change one bit. What I will do is change how I respond and what I do. I’m going to stop being critical. I’m going to stop finding fault. I’m going to stop complaining about him. I’m going to stop yelling at him when he yells at me. I’m going to start working on showing some appreciation for what he’s been through.”

He went through two wars, World War II, Korea. He grew up in the Depression, etcetera, etcetera. By beginning to express that dream and put it out there and make it concrete, until you make it more concrete and you give some scope to it, and you begin to express it, it’s just a pipedream. But that’s – and it takes courage to do that because there’s a big part of us that says, we can never do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. Then the second act is to – the courage to see current reality. How does that play out?

Dusty Staub
Yeah, and the reason I have that as the second act is you first need to know where you want to go and start to claim it. Then the second is you have to have the courage to see what’s working for you and working against you.

Again, using my dad and I as an example, just sticking with that image, I had to look in the mirror and see the nasty way I had of reacting to him. I totally justified my behavior based on his behavior.

There’s no justification for bad behavior. I don’t care. The other person can engage in egregious behavior, my behavior is not tied to that. Otherwise I say that I’m just a reactive machine. They push this button, I react. They push that button, I react.  … my father was going to do what he was going to do and I could choose how I was going to respond.

Seeing the current reality is claiming my strengths, claiming my weaknesses, what’s working for me, what’s working against me. Not having a pipedream, somehow my dad is going to be different, but seeing the way it is and seeing how I’m interacting and what’s problematic in the way I interact and seeing that current reality and claiming it.

Some people, Pete, will not claim their strengths because then they’d have to do something with them. Some people lack the courage to claim their weaknesses. They gloss over them because then they would have to own up that there’s something they’re responsible for and they have to do different.

The courage to see current reality is sometimes the courage to see our strengths, but for some people it’s the courage to admit and see weaknesses or gaps.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Okay. Next up, the courage to confront. How does that go?

Dusty Staub
I’ll put it this way. Imagine you have the courage to dream. That’s your guiding star. That’s what you’re going after. The courage to create reality is the ground you stand on. If you don’t know the ground you stand on, you’re not going to be able to move. But to go from current reality to the dream, requires five different acts of courage.

The first act is the courage to confront, the courage to speak your truth, to tell other people what you see, to tell other people what you like and don’t like. It’s finding your voice and finding the power to express your voice without being judgmental or critical or negative. Just saying, “Hey, this is what I see. This is the reality I have. What do you see?” We engage in a dialogue rather than a one-way conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Then likewise, there’s the courage to be confronted by the other.

Dusty Staub
Yeah. That’s the fourth act of courage is the courage to be confronted. Some people will dish it out. There are people who have the courage to confront.

Right now I think of our president of the United States. He will put it out there. He doesn’t do it nicely, but he puts it out there. But he lacks the courage to be confronted. If you’re not willing to hear confrontation or differences of opinion, it means you’re going to create extra resistance, you’re going to create more negativity, and you’re going to guarantee you’re going to get blindsided because people will just go underground with it if you have a lot of power or they lack the courage to continue to tell their truth.

The courage to be confronted means I don’t want to be blindsided. It’s like going – crossing the street, a big highway, busy highway, a thoroughfare in New York City, by putting blinders on that are about three feet out. You’re going to get hurt, maybe killed. You want to take the blinders off.

You want to have the courage to be confronted. You want to have the courage to let people tell you things, maybe not always in the nicest way, but from that at least you have more perspective and more information with which to work.

Pete Mockaitis
In this kind of conversational dynamic, you talked about not unloading with anger and what are some other sort of pro tips for engaging in a way that is positive and constructive when you’re going to the difficult territory?

Dusty Staub
Yeah, one of the major tools – we teach two major tools of the ten we teach. One is what we call power questions. Power questions are questions that are Pareto based, the 80/20 rule. Twenty percent of the information gives you eighty percent of the value.

They’re also designed to go for root cause. To be most effective in your work, to add value, to grow in your position, to grow in your power as a leader, you want to be able to do root cause analysis and you want to ask value-added questions that are powerful.

For example, you’d say this is an example of “Do you like working here?” Terrible question. Yes or no? “What do you like about working here?” Better question, but still not very valuable. A power question, “What’s the one thing you like most about working here?”

If I’m an employee I go to my boss and I say, “Hey boss, what’s the one thing I’m doing you most appreciate, want to make sure I keep on doing? Now what’s the one thing I could change that would make the biggest positive difference in my performance in this team?” Then a bonus power question, “Boss, what’s the one thing I can do to either take something off your plate or to help you and this team be more successful?”

By asking those three powerful questions, you gather information from your supervisor, from your peers, from your … – if you’re really brave, go home and ask your spouse, “Hey sweetheart, what’s the one thing I’m doing you most appreciate in our marriage that you want me to make sure I keep on doing? What’s the one thing I could change that would make the biggest difference? What could I do to help you feel more loved and supported in this relationship?”

Then ask follow up questions to uncover and go for a root cause. You hit a root cause, you take care of a dozen symptoms. Poor employee morale, dropping profits, angry customers, poor quality, lack of performance, slow decision making, those are symptoms, they’re not root cause. Poor teamwork, those are symptoms. What’s the root cause? Being able to ask powerful questions.

Then the second tool that goes with that is highly interactive listening, where you follow up on what you’ve heard. You ask follow-up questions. You reflect to show that the person – that you’ve heard them. You check to make sure you really heard them well.

There’s a wonderful quote. I can’t remember who it’s from but I love it. It’s like, “The biggest problem with communication is the perception that it has occurred,” because we all hear what we want to hear.

That courage to be confronted is the courage to listen very carefully, interactively and ask powerful questions. Those two skills alone can transform your perception of you in the workplace because many people are not open to feedback, especially corrective feedback. Many people don’t ask for it.

When you show that you’re willing to ask for the good as well as the not so good, you’re willing to ask for how you can step up and be better and you show that you’re listening and you get into an interactive conversation, your value added, the perception of you as a value added employee, as a value added leader, just really goes up tremendously.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, you talked about the power questions that sort of really hit the 80/20 goodness and surface it, then what do some of those follow ups sound like to get to root cause?

Dusty Staub
Yeah. Let’s say I say to you, “Pete, what’s the one thing I could do to make the biggest positive difference in our working relationship?”

You say, “Well, Dusty, if you would start being more proactive. Instead of waiting for me to give you an assignment, look and see what you think needs to happen with our key customers and come to me with some ideas. Don’t wait for me to tell you.”

I’d say, “Okay. Can you give me an example of a time you saw me waiting to be told when you think I could have been proactive?”

You go, “Yeah, two weeks ago with Mr. Jones. When he called in and there was an issue. You’d gotten an email three weeks before that, but I got on the call and I talked to him and as I talked to him I realized there were some things we could do to solve it. When I came to you to ask about it, you had several good ideas. Why didn’t you get on the phone and call him three weeks before after that email to have the conversation with him and come up with the ideas.”

I go, “Oh yeah, okay. That’s great. What would be a question that I could ask of him if I get another email or I see emails like that, what would be some of the questions that you’d want to see me ask? If I could ask only two questions, what would be the best questions from your perspective, from a strategic perspective, Pete?”

“The one question I want you to ask is ‘What’s the one thing we’re doing that makes us most value added to you and what’s the one thing we could add or do different that would make us even more value added, dear customer?’” “Those are great questions. Yeah.”

“I’d like you to start asking those of all of our key customers. I’d like you to start asking that of your teammates. I’d like you to start recording that and about once every four or five weeks, Dusty, I’d really like it if you come in and you give me a down-low on what you’re hearing and what the themes are. That’s where you start being more strategic and proactive.” I go, “Oh, that’s great, Pete. Thank you.”

Right there, you did some coaching and guidance, but I initiated it by asking the follow up questions and being willing to listen and ask for more guidance.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent, thank you.

Dusty Staub
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Well next up you’ve got the courage to learn and grow. How does this go?

Dusty Staub
Well, that’s a big one. Chris Argyris, a Yale University psychologist, wrote a little book, which talked why is that really smart, successful people start to fail. It’s because they become blinded by their past success. They become – they begin to suffer from something my old boss, Dr. James Noble Farr, called hardening of the categories. The categories get harder as they experience success and they get blinded by that success and they stop learning and growing.

The courage to learn and grow is the willingness to step into ambiguity and the unknown. Most people don’t like ambiguity. They don’t like uncertainty. Yet, when you start something new, when you’re really going down into new territory, it’s going to be uncertain, it’s going to be ambiguous. There’s going to be a lot of fog. You have to be willing to navigate through the fog. That’s one part.

The second piece is – and this is true for a lot of very successful people who start to limit themselves – is you have to give up the addiction to being right. There are two pieces to the courage to learn and grow. The one is to step into ambiguity, the unknown, move through the fear. The second is to give up any addiction or need to be right.

I would rather win. I’d rather find a better way than insist on being right because being right means I’m locked into a cognitive trap. I’m trapped in my old ways and patterns of thinking. It’s what my dad would call being an amateur leader as opposed to a real pro.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. Then next up we’ve got the courage to be vulnerable.

Dusty Staub
Yup. And I actually add the words to love. I got the courage to put that in there my – the publisher of the book, the hardback cover of Seven Acts of Courage, was Executive Excellence. My publisher wanted me to take out the courage to be vulnerable. He said, “Executives won’t want that. That’s not good.” But I insisted.

In 1998 the hardcover of Seven Acts came out and … I had the courage to be vulnerable to love. It’s turned out to be one of the most powerful concepts.

In fact Brene Brown did a TED talk that’s gone viral and has millions of views now. She’s talking about vulnerability and the power of vulnerability. Well, I’ve been talking about it since 1998.

For me, the courage to be vulnerable is the willingness to be open. I actually got that term from Max Depree. He wrote a little book called Leadership is An Art. He was the chairman and CEO of the Herman Miller Corporation for 20 years. There were 456th in total sales in the Fortune 500, but number 12 in total return to investors.

In his book he said, “First and foremost the leader must be willing to be vulnerable to the strengths, talents and wild ideas of the people around him.” I was so inspired by that and I realized that that’s exactly what I had to do with my dad to transform myself.

It’s one of the few things that we Americans are really taught. We’re taught to be tough and strong and independent and being vulnerable is weak. Well, being vulnerable takes real strength. It means being open, to raise my hand and say, “I don’t know,” to ask for help, to be willing to be open to new ideas and inputs.

In fact, there can be no real innovation and true passion and creativity until there is the courage to be vulnerable in the corporate ranks and the C-suites, and in the teams and organizations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, all right. When you say to love, what does that really mean in that context?

Dusty Staub
In a business context it means the courage to really care, the courage to really care.

I worked for a boss who was very opinionated, very stubborn. He was the first founder of the Center for Creative Leadership, Dr. James Noble Farr. He was the head of graduate studies at Columbia University. Brilliant man. A pioneer in leadership thinking.

He was always right, meant all of us were always wrong. Had – being vulnerable and open to him was to admit that I really cared about him. I didn’t like him sometimes, but I really did care about him. I cared very much about our customers. I would call that love, but in business I think it’s showing that you care, that you respect, that you really value other people.

The funny thing is, Pete, I find that – I was … in family therapist many, many years ago. In private practice I found that many, many, men and more than a few women have a fear of being vulnerable, of being hurt and so they block the love. They create the very thing they fear most, which is feeling lonely, isolated and ultimately leaving or being left.

The courage to be vulnerable, to love is vitally important in a relationship. It’s vitally important in business. It’s around that respect, that caring, that sense of letting people know “I need you. I can’t get it done without you.”

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious to hear, how did that story evolve with you – what was his name, the founder of the Center for Creative Leadership?

Dusty Staub
That was James Noble Farr, Dr. Farr. Well, after being there for two years, he made me Director of Leadership Development. I worked as Director of Leadership Development for three years, created all kinds of programs, and finally I realized I wanted to go off and create my own business.

I want to Jim and I said, “Jim, you and I struggle all the time. Every time a client wants something new and I’m creating something new, you and I fight and argue. I’m actually tired. I think I can go out and do my own thing. I want to give you plenty of notice to leave.”

He appreciated that. I was also the top biller and the top creator of product at the time. He said, “All right, give me two months.” I said, “All right.” Then a week later he came and said, “No, no, go ahead and go, go ahead and go,” because he was afraid other people might want to leave with me I guess.

But I had a three year non-compete, so I couldn’t work with any of the clients, but fortunately AT&T picked us up and a few other clients came in very quickly. It was a real risk. It was really scary, but I tripled my income within the first 15 months and was able to create things the way our clients were asking us rather than trying to always filter it through the thinking of a 70-year-old guy who had things his way.

But Jim and I – I brought him out here to the farm. We did a Christmas party and we gave him a plaque and thanked him because he helped launch this business. I couldn’t be where I am or couldn’t have had all the success without him and his teaching.

He said something really nice to me. He said, “You know Dusty?” He said, “Of all the consultants I’ve worked with over the years, you’ve done more and taken my work further than anybody else and I really appreciate that.” He and I were planning to do some things and then he died from heat stroke at the age of – he was in his early 80s.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh man.

Dusty Staub
But it was always that sense of respect and caring even when I needed to leave to start my own business. You can do things like that if you treat others with respect and dignity and you have that willingness to be vulnerable and open.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s huge. Thank you.

Dusty Staub
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
The final piece there is the courage to act. What’s behind this?

Dusty Staub
The courage to act is where it all comes together. It’s the seventh act for a reason.

One of the things that I think that you do in this podcast is you help people to really be awesome in their jobs, to really step up and play their game at a higher level.

For me, wisdom and acting, there are people who have the courage to act, but they do it without really thinking. They don’t do good critical thinking. They’re not strategic, so they’re very tactical. There’s lots of activities and they’re acting on lots of activities, but not their highest and best use.

The courage to act without the dream, seeing current reality, confronting and being confronted, learning and growing, and being vulnerable is not going to have as much wisdom or guidance to it. If I act informed by those prior six acts of courage, then I can act with greater wisdom and greater strategic guidance. I might be doing less, but I’m having a far greater impact.

There is a book out now called Essentialism.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we had Greg on the show.

Dusty Staub
Yeah. I love Essentialism. Greg’s brilliant. I love it because he – I like him and Daniel Pink, Drive because – and Brene Brown and Simon Sinek because these guys are all talking about stuff I’ve been doing since 1998 in business. They just keep validating me, which is wonderful.

What I love about that is I was asking ‘what’s my highest and best use.’ Looking at all of the things on your plate, all of the things you can say yes to, all of the things you’re being asked to do, the vast majority of them offer minimal value. There’s some that offer tremendous value.

Being able to act informed by those prior six acts of courage, allows you to act in more of an essentialist way saying, “What’s my highest and best use? What’s tied to my dream, tied to my strengths, tied to what I’m willing to address, tied to the information I’m getting from listening to other people carefully and to criticism, to be being vulnerable and open, to learning and growing and stepping into the unknown? What are the things I can do?”

Then reorder your priorities. Reorder your goals and let some of the goals go.” What is it I should stop doing?” is a great question. “What is it I need to start saying no to?” because every no is a strategic yes to something else and every yes is a strategic no to something important like time with my spouse, time with my kids, time to recharge my batteries, time to write my book that I’ve been talking about for 15 years, etcetera, etcetera.

Greg’s concept and his way of looking at things I think is a great gift. It’s a key question. How can I be more strategic and offer greater value. Instead of being hypnotized by activity and being a good guy and always saying yes, I need to be able to say no politely, respectfully because I’m saying yes to something more important.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have any thoughts when it comes to – this courage stuff, it’s inspiring. It gets you going, like, “Yeah, bring it on.” At least that’s how I feel, so thank you. It’s fun. Do you have any tips for bringing in wisdom and prudence to ensure that you are applying this well and not in a way that could be overzealous or problematic.

Dusty Staub
Oh yeah. That’s a great question, by the way. It’s possible somebody could take one or more of the acts of courage and go rushing off thinking, “Oh, this is great,” but they haven’t really thought through the implications. Again, it’s like pick your battle.

The courage to confront means being able to tell your truth, but it doesn’t mean you tell your truth all the time to all people in every situation. You need to say, “All right, is this the right situation?”

An employee who confronts the senior leader in a town hall in front of other people is never going to get a good response. Even if the guy or gal is a great leader, they’re going to feel some defensiveness. The better confrontation or conversation is a one-on-one and done politely and respectfully. Yet some people don’t get the courage up until they can attack somebody in a public setting.

I think being prudently aware of timing, of what am I trying to accomplish. Because you can win a battle, but lose the war. I want to think long-term, what do I want to create, how I want to be seen as value added, what are the ways I need to begin to offer my truth.

And let me stage it because I might not be able to tell all my truth all at once, but what’s the first phase, what’s the next phase, how do I see if people are willing to really hear me, how can I position this. Then also in listening.

People might have three or four things they’re critical of. I might – I’d say, “Pete, of these three or four things that you’re talking about, what’s the one thing – if I could only do one of these – what would make the biggest positive difference?” You’d say, “Well, this one,” because you know. Then I know what I need to work on.

Then I can ask follow-up questions about that one and why it matters and what difference it would make, how we would know, how you would know, how I would know that was actually making a difference. That then unpacks it. That’s that interactive listening with power questions built in.

That means I’m being prudent, I’m doing it with wisdom and information. Because to act without information, to act without guidance, to act without a plan, to act without asking for input and insight and corrective feedback is usually a recipe for disaster.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Thank you.

Dusty Staub
You’re welcome.

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

Dusty Staub
Gosh, I would just say this that I love the idea of helping people be really terrific in their work place, being awesome at their jobs, which really drew me to you, Pete.

What I would say is that I think the essence of it is how do we help liberate the purpose, the passion, and the power of those around us. If I can help people focus on their fundamental why, going to Simon Sinek’s talk, we can focus on the purpose here, the why. If we then then look at how the why informs what we do and how we do it, we’re going to be much more effective.

Now, we focus on purpose. What is it that really turns you on? What is it that really is going to excite you? What’s really going to make a difference? Where are you most passionate? Now, together, focus in a purposeful way on our why or what in doing that which gives us a greatest lift, we’re going to really liberate our power collectively.

There’s a term that I coined a number of years ago. I call it the effective intelligence of an organization. One of the things we focus on is multiplying the effective intelligence of an organization by getting people to focus on these fundamentals and then giving them tools to help them move forward in a more powerful way.

I would say wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, if you can focus on the purpose, if you can then find where the passion lies and how to begin to liberate that – my dad had a great quote, he said, “Son, any damn fool can tell you you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. The trick is to get the horse thirsty, then you can’t stop it from drinking.”

What makes someone thirsty? Do you know? What kind of questions do you need to ask to figure that out? Then how can we work together in the most powerful way? Liberating purpose, passion, and power I think is a key.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you.

Dusty Staub
You’re welcome.

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

Dusty Staub
Oh, my favorite quote right now is one by Einstein, Albert Einstein. It goes like this, he says, “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who believe everything is a miracle and those who believe nothing is.”

I’m the kind of person, Pete, who believes everything is a miracle: the fact that we exist, that we’re alive, the fact that we can see and we can hear, the fact that I can have this conversation with you in this mysterious technology, my children, the love of my life, my family, beautiful trees here in the forest around me. Everything is a miracle.

I think that when we believe everything is a miracle, we’re open to possibility, we’re open to finding our best self. We’re able to find more and more and continue to grow and discover. If I believe nothing is a miracle, it’s all transactional. It’s all just a series of transactions. You live, you work, you die. I think it’s – the real issue is how deeply have you loved, how fully have you lived, how completely have you been your best self?

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful, thank you.

Dusty Staub
Oh, you’re welcome.

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

Dusty Staub
Oh gosh, well, Google just released its research on teams. Google hired really smart, bright people. They put these teams together. They had some teams that were outperforming other teams consistently and they were trying to figure out what the difference was. They looked at over 200 factors.

Finally, – this is on the Google site. It’s been listed in several other sites too. Apple News had it. But basically they discovered that when they started looking at the research there were five factors that make for great teams, but the number one factor that outweighed everything else was a sense of psychological safety.

If you think about it in Good to Great they’re talking about the organizations that went from good to great engaged in vigorous intellectual debate that was not personalized, where you have the type five leader, who’s not egotistical, but really looks out at the world in terms of what he or she can contribute to the world and how he or she can engage others as opposed to how everything can make him or her look better.

Vigorous intellectual debate requires a sense of psychological safety. If I feel that I’m going to be ridiculed, made fun of, punished for offering a crazy idea or offering a criticism or putting an idea out there or putting something half-baked or exploring something I’m not so sure of, I’m not going to do it.

You have people holding back, not sharing ideas, people not engaging in vigorous intellectual debate, so you don’t come up what the best answers. You don’t come up – that sense of psychological safety and then structure, and then a sense of effectiveness and feeling valued, those all come in, but the number one factor is psychological safety. I really love that study.

Years ago Becky Langford, who worked at AT&T in PR, told me, she said, “Dusty, you should let everybody know that you create a sense of safe space for people.” I said, “Eh, it’s too touchy feely. It’s going to scare people.” This was back in 1990 but actually I think if I’d done that, the business would probably be ten times bigger because that’s really the key.

When we walk in to do a training, when we walk in to do consulting or coaching, if we can’t create psychological safety, we’re wasting our time. If you don’t have psychological safety on your team, in your organization, you’re never going to be great. You might be good, but you’ll never be great.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Dusty Staub
Oh, well, I love – I would say Daniel Pink’s Drive. Daniel Pink really when I was reading his book, I had tears in my eyes because he was talking about all the research. He did – looking at the last 30 years of research.

He said, “Look, most managers and leaders in corporations are still using understanding of the 1940s and 1950s. They haven’t caught up to modern research. They’re still using extrinsic motivators, the carrot and the stick. Do this, you get this reward. Don’t do this, you get punished.” That only works if you’re making widgets. But when you need complex intellectual task and innovation, you need to have intrinsic motivators.

He identified the three big intrinsic motivators in the first half of the book. The second half is how to actually use them, which is a sense of purpose, being part of something greater which I get to contribute to, that’s intrinsically motivating; a sense of autonomy, some say so in my work week, in my work month, my work years, so I have some say so and some … in there; and a sense of personal mastery that working here I get to grow and develop.

I love that. It just gave more intellectual fire power to the work we do. It also just made sense in terms of what I felt and known since 1990 in writing my own books and my own material.

Then the other book I really like is The Heart’s Code by Dr. Paul Pearsall. Pearsall is a psychologist who works with heart transplant surgeons and cardiologists.

He said that in all of his research, in all of his work, what he’s come to realize that the heart actually carries memories. In heart transplant cases, people’s personalities change. Some of the characteristics of the heart giver, the donor, shows up in the recipient. He tells about five or six amazing stories in the book.

I was in tears throughout that book because I’ve always said look, the essence of being a great leader is that it comes from the tone and quality of your heart. He just really brought that to bear when he talked about that from his own experience and from his own work as a – working with physicians in heart transplants, heart transplant recipients.

Those are two books I really recommend: The Heart’s Code, Dr. Paul Pearsall and Drive by Daniel Pink.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Dusty Staub
Oh, put first things first. Steven Covey’s 7 Habits. I love put first things first. Know what matters most and make sure you do that first, make sure you put that first. What I see so many people do is we will put first things last. We let the trivial few overwhelm us – the trivial many overwhelm us and the important few get lost.

That goes back to Greg’s book on essentialism. Let’s focus on what really matters most, put first things first. Let’s focus on the essentials.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate and get quoted back to you frequently?

Dusty Staub
Yeah. When I was a young psychotherapist I came to a realization after about three years of private practice that have really carried over into the consulting work in our organization. It’s simply this, no one can do it for you and you can’t do it alone.

No one can do it for you. You’ve got to have the courage to step up and have the dream. See the current reality and confront or be confronted. Learn and grown and be vulnerable and open and to then take action.

No one can do that for you and you can’t do it by yourself. You can’t go off in a cave and make everything right. It’s through interaction. It’s through learning. It’s through listening. It’s through help. It’s through conflict and confrontation, through criticism, through appreciation, through recognition. It’s the interactive nature of us human beings with each other at our best and knowing that the intent is to help us be our best. That really helps.

I would say this, Pete, no one can do it for you and you can’t do it by yourself.

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

Dusty Staub
We actually have two websites. The business-to-business website for corporations and senior leaders and so forth is StaubLeadership.com, www.Staub – S-T-A-U-BLeadership.com. That links to a YouTube channel. There are like 30 YouTube videos of me. There is a – there’s a list of the books and materials, and also the team that works with me is listed all there.

The new website we started last year is for the general public. It’s for teachers, students. It’s for everybody. It’s called www.TheActsOfCourage.com. TheActsOfCourage.com. There are short videos explaining each act of courage with a story about each act. There are interviews with executives and psychologists and business leaders, and entrepreneurs. There are many articles on there. I’ve written articles, interviews I’ve had with people.

I’d recommend people take a look at both of those websites. Then of course I have a TED talk, a TEDx talk, Developing Cardiovascular System of the Soul, which there’s – also people can pick up.

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

Dusty Staub
Yeah. I would say the final challenge I would say is do you have the courage to be your best self, to claim your deepest dream and to face the thing you least want to face because it’s the act of courage that you’ve least developed that will be your Achilles heel, that will keep you limping through life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Dusty, thank you so much for going deep into this good stuff. It’s been inspiring and a lot of fun. I just wish you all the best in all you’re up to.

Dusty Staub
Thank you Pete and thank you for the great work you’re doing. If I can ever be of any help as you work on helping people be awesome at work, just let me know.

Pete Mockaitis
Thanks a lot.

Dusty Staub
It was a great interview. Thank you.

325: Managing Difficult Conversations (with yourself and others) with Lauren Zander

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Unabashed life coach Lauren Zander explains why you should have difficult conversations and how you can take charge of them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to separate yourself from your recurring mental patterns
  2. The best communication approach during a worst-case scenario
  3. The ways you lie and what they cost you

About Lauren

Lauren Handel Zander is the Co-Founder and Chairwoman of Handel Group®, an international corporate consulting and life coaching company. Her coaching methodology, The Handel Method®, is taught in over 35 universities and institutes of learning around the world, including MIT, Stanford Graduate School of Business, NYU, and the New York City Public School System. Lauren is also the author of Maybe It’s You: Cut the Crap, Face Your Fears, Love Your Life (Published by Hachette Book Group, April 2017), a no-nonsense, practical manual that helps readers figure out not just what they want out of life, but how to actually get there. She has spent over 20 years coaching thousands of private and corporate clients, including executives at Vogue, BASF, and AOL. Lauren has been a featured expert in The New York Times, BBC, Forbes, Women’s Health, Dr. Oz, and Marie Claire and she is a regular contributor to Businessweek and the Huffington Post.

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Lauren Zander Interview Transcript

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

Lauren Zander
Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’re going to have a lot of fun in this conversation. I wanted to get started, you unabashedly refer to yourself as a life coach in your bios. Sometimes that has a bad rap or a jab associated with it.

I’d love it if maybe you can orient us, you’ve probably heard it all. What are some jokes or stereotypes or razzes you’ve gotten and how do you think about it and how do you break the stereotype?

Lauren Zander
First of all, I have been offered or recommended many, many times to bail from the name life coach.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh right.

Lauren Zander
Completely. The amount of companies over the 15 years that have been like, “Leave.” Right, so …. I … I decided I was still going to lead the way. I feel like I help lead the way. Sometimes the lines start to roll out. Something has to be hard. It’s okay that there’s a lot of different quality of everything. Everything is not created equal. Neither is this field.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Lauren Zander
You wouldn’t go to all chiropractors. Once upon the time there were the ones that were remarkable that made people understand it was a worthy way to deal with your body. It’s pioneering. It’s a pain in the butt.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. I’m with you. I’ll tell you, even when I was looking at your publicity piece, I was like, “Oh, oh, but there’s really a lot of substance here,” not that I should be surprised.

You’re right. It’s a mixed bag. I’ve had coaches and done coaching. It’s been extraordinarily transformationally wonderful. There have been other instances where it’s just sort of like, “Really? What?”

Lauren Zander
Right, right.

Pete Mockaitis
I think it’s sort of like lawyers I guess can have a reputation, there are so many lawyer jokes out there.

Lauren Zander
Yes.

[3:00]

Pete Mockaitis
Like what do you call 10,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start. Ha ha ha. Are there life coach jokes? I don’t know if I’ve heard any explicitly articulated.

Lauren Zander
No, there’s digs, like, “Oh yes, they did a weekend and now they’re a life coach. Yeah, she’s 24. She’s a life coach.” Can someone explain how that age could have a life enough to coach one? I don’t think anyone’s trying to be funny.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I hear you. It’s all hard elbows.

Lauren Zander
It’s sharp and potentially accurate.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Anyway, you bring the goods. One really cool thing about you is so you have the Handel method.

Lauren Zander
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And you even from that emerge a ‘Design Your Life’ course that has been smashingly popular and effective over at MIT. Could you just share a little bit of that story for what is the Handel method and how did this story unfold?

Lauren Zander
I’ve been a coach since I was 28 – 29. Now I’m 48, so it’s been a really long time. I started having many client and then repeat, perform – like what am I doing? And then I needed to understand what I was doing, and then I wanted to be able to teach it to someone else, like if I really had something. I wasn’t just this unicorn, if that makes sense, like some weird animal that was a one hit – like I could do it, but nobody else could.

It was very important to me to figure out how to turn it into material that anyone could understand and tools and conversations and philosophy. It had to have all of that in order for it to be something that could exist

It needs to be able to be reproduced and it has to be engaging and great and work. It has to be amazing.

Because I had a relationship with a professor who I coached and I coached him to get into MIT, I’m like, “Let me prove I exist. Let me show you what I do.” Then can I do it there and I really want to turn it into a methodology.

It’s even true that I developed it at MIT and they own … percent because I did all the development of the actual content there even though I had been doing it for years already before I started there.

Pete Mockaitis
What percent do they own?

Lauren Zander
One percent. They already signed it back. It’s like on some level they – it’s one percent.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you.

Lauren Zander
It’s adorable.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s adorable.

Lauren Zander
And I’m very proud to be in business.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good language for a contract term. It’s adorable.

Lauren Zander
it was like one of my very early wins, like someone wants to own what I’m doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well that’s cool.

Lauren Zander
Yes, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m imagining it’s a whole course, so there’s a lot behind it, but could you give us a little bit of sort of the high points for the foundational elements. I’ve got a sheet of paper with everything I want out of life. If I’m designing my life, I imagine that’s a step in it. What else do I do there?

Lauren Zander
Basically I am changing the framework of how to think about life and answer questions or figure out your answers, what you really want in your life, along with a variety of other things. It’s not just that.

The first section of the homework and then … a whole philosophy off of each of the three main sections is I break life out into 12 different areas and I teach you and tell you to write a dream in each of the 12. MIT was hysterical because they’re like, “I never thought of these other areas of life. There’s only three in my life.” It was like-

Pete Mockaitis
There’s research and-

Lauren Zander
Right. They eat, they get laid, and they work, and they have a family. That was kind of it. That was it.

The concept that you should have a vision and an understanding of your whole life or desires for your whole life through … area of your life, like if you haven’t sat down and really thought about it and really figured out what you want, how are you at all anywhere near getting it? I can’t even coach you until you really start to deal with what you want.

What I have people do is I have them rate their life against that dream currently. Then explain why they gave it that rating. Then explain what they think is between them and fulfilling on that dream like it was a nine or a ten.

it’s profound because I lay it out that way, a person then is writing all their drama out of their head, like, “I can’t have it because,” “This has to happen first,” all of their logic, … their drama, all the stories that they tell themselves, I swear to bejesus ends a brilliant laid out like a map you can fix.

That’s just the first section. The second section – do you want to hear all these?

Pete Mockaitis
No, no, that’s good. That’s good. The 12 areas are self, body, love, spirituality, career, money, time, home, family, friends, fun and adventure, and community contribution.

Lauren Zander
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that feels pretty thorough in terms of covering the gamut of life. You map it out. You get a score and then what comes next?

Lauren Zander
There’s two more sections to just kind of pull up everything. But if you were just working on that section, the next thing you would do is I would teach you some concepts, like some important concepts.

One, most people never write good dreams. Most dreams are, “I finally meet a man I can trust.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Lauren Zander
You can hear in every sentence their cavities.

Pete Mockaitis
Cavities.

Lauren Zander
I’ll do a little sidebar. When I explain what I do for a living in a funny, kind of my sort of way, I say, “Oh, I’m a spiritual accountant. I’m coming to do your ….” After I’m a spiritual accountant, I’m then a spiritual lawyer. I will put you in the right contracts so that you really fulfill on the life you want.

Then from time to time I need to be a spiritual dentist. You … cavities. Or “Oh my God, you need a root canal on that thing.”

Pete Mockaitis
And nobody’s flossing.

Lauren Zander
No, everyone’s just building up more of whatever is the same, that they do that in that area. Other areas, great. Then other areas not so great.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Lauren Zander
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
You dream and you dream well.

Lauren Zander
You dream, yes and you rate yourself. Then you start to say everything that you think is between you and your success. What you will find riddled in all of your language are theories that you have, “I can’t have this until I have that.” “I can’t-“ “ the reason the relationship I have with my father is this way is because-“ All of the problems are laid out really well there.

Then … a whole bunch of process work to do, step-by-step on how to figure out where you’re either being … about something, where you’re absolutely a coward. You made it up in your head. You’re scared of them. You won’t tell them the truth, blah, blah. There’s a reason that it is that way and it’s fear-based.

Especially when I was teaching at MIT, everyone … up to their …. Everyone was – they were so behind. They didn’t know what – there were people that were too scared to have any conversations … truth about what was going on.

Fear and then you live in your head and then you turn the other person into a bully. That’s a lot of what’s happening in people’s – there’s a chicken running loose.

The other one is a brat. You think you know yourself and you can’t top eating junk food at night. You can’t go to bed early or you can’t go to the gym. All of the ways you go, you can’t. You’ve always been this way. You’ve never been good at. That pretty much is the voice of the brat in your head.

If I made you stop, which I do in the book or in the method, and actually write down your inner dialogue and really start to hear it like it’s not you, it’s the voice in your head, it’s the brat, it’s the chicken, you start to separate from your patterns.

You start to hear them and see them and see how you fall for them and see how they get you a cookie and … bed, and don’t go for that job or don’t come home and really meditate. This is all how you break into your mind.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Lauren Zander
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Then your book, Maybe It’s You, you are sort of unpacking this. Tell us what’s behind the title here.

Lauren Zander
What happened is … client is every time I had a revelation right before I had the revelation, I had … point happen, “Maybe it’s me.”

The tagline ‘Maybe It’s Me’ changes everything. It changed everything for me. It’s been my joke for when something good happens that I take credit for, “Maybe it’s me,” or when something terrible is happening, “Maybe it’s me.” Then the joke is, “Maybe.” Then, “It’s me.” Then from that moment forward you can do something about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’m with you. I’d love to dig in precisely in the zone of career and work. What do you think are some of the tools or takeaways from the book that are most helpful and applicable for folks who want to be awesome at their jobs?

Lauren Zander
I do it an incredible amount in my career in executive coaching and being in company, so I know plenty, but what I – most people will – so many people are … difficult conversations.

They don’t know how to frame them, they don’t know how to address upsets, they don’t know how to really move through a conversation in a way that doesn’t scare the poopy out of them, so they avoid doing it, like whoever is above them or even being able to have a difficult conversation with someone you’re managing.

If you go where’s my secret sauce in the book for people in corporations or in a business setting, you really need to figure out how to step-by-step go through having very difficult conversations. I show examples. I think that’s incredibly helpful because people get stuck in their lives and their relationships and they really think they just … do workarounds.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Lauren Zander
“I’ll just get over that.” “I just won’t talk to them about that.” “I just can’t-“ “Oh I have this-“

Pete Mockaitis
“I’ll just leave this job.”

Lauren Zander
“Or I’ll-“ yes … the job. No one bets on – no one understands that having a great conversation is really like changes the odds of your doomed theory. It instantly goes – I can convince a person it’s 50/50, it could go either way. They were going it was 100% a disaster. Just even recognizing that it goes to 50/50.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Lauren Zander
Then you start to think about how important are you? What is really the matter? What are you trying to fix? Is this in the best interest of the business? Is anyone …. that’s all the chicken, all the reasons we won’t have a conversation because we think we know what the other person’s going to do or say.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. That’s great. Bumping your odds up from, “I’m certain this will be terrible,” to “Eh, flip a coin. It might be terrible.” That’s a huge upgrade right there in moments.

Lauren Zander
Right. Then starting to build the courage to have any conversation is leadership, where you’re – then if you see how I teach you how to frame it. You don’t come accusing. You come in saying what your thoughts are and where you’re stuck.

It’s so easy to change a dynamic and leave someone else happy to tell you what they think versus mortified you said that. There’s dynamics as you … in the book, you’ll  read all the real conversations, scary ones, that I made people have. They really had them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Let’s talk about the framing and the step-by-step for how one engages in this and builds the courage/capacity to do it repeatedly.

Lauren Zander
Yes. So what happens is there’s usually true skinny, like

“I don’t want to – I don’t want to tell my boss that when he’s late for these things and then he still expects me to hand them in on time it really screws me up. He never apologizes. He never says anything about it. He doesn’t even seem like he notices and then I have to work on the weekend. He’s done this to me three times. He never says thank you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Lauren Zander
Okay. That’s a good one. The issue … “I don’t feel acknowledged or appreciated and he takes advantage of my time and doesn’t even realize he’s doing it.” Okay?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Lauren Zander
Okay, that’s-

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. It’s funny, the fear always … – well, not always, it’s already popping up.

I imagine myself in that scenario, experiencing that, imagining the prospect of having this conversation and then all the terrible ways it can go in terms of, “Hey Pete, it’s called work for a reason. Everyone’s working hard. Sometimes there are things outside our control. I need you to put on your big boy pants and deal with it and be a team player here.”

Lauren Zander
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Sort of like, “I will be changing nothing. Thank you very much.”

Lauren Zander
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Is sort of what I initially fear is going to be how it’s received on the other side.

Lauren Zander
Yes, everyone thinks – one of the things I have people really confront in the book is how much they’re running a puppet show, where you’re in your head, you’re running conversations and you don’t even realize you’re answering their answers and then you keep strategizing with as like – and you never understand that that’s insane.

That’s actually not true. It’s Barbies. You’re playing Barbies in your head and you think you know other people. How could you possibly have a real experience with that person if you really are always running a Barbie relationship with them in your head? You leave them and you start quarterbacking. You call your two friends. You have a discussion about … thought the discussion was.

We are running puppet shows. It’s so much better to actually have a real relationship with someone, where you are authentic and actually share what’s going on in that head of yours.

As long as you’re not combative and act accusatory, where it puts the other person on defense, you’d be amazed that that’s the beginning of actually … personalities, different needs, different work relationships. Most people really want good working relationships.

Or to go, “That’s not happening. Let’s create a workaround. I am that person. You’re right. I’m sorry. It’s going to be that way. Okay, what do you need then?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah.

Lauren Zander
Everything can get resolved because everybody’s already living with the worst case scenario. It’s only getting better from here.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s nice. There you go.

Lauren Zander
Right. That’s the ultimate truth is it’s only going to get better. Okay, what this – what I would have this person do is figure out that.
“I have to talk about something. I – I’m scared to tell you.” You admit your feelings. You would admit – like, “I’m scared to tell you and I really want this to go well. I just wanted to say that. I’m a little nervous to tell you this.

Okay, and the reason I’m nervous is because I’ve been a bit upset about something and I haven’t mentioned it to you. One, I’m sorry I didn’t bring it up when it first happened, so you didn’t have a chance at all to fix it with me and/or to even know. I’m really telling on myself that I was … about something and it’s a few happened a few times and now I’m having the courage to come clean.”

Pete Mockaitis
What’s really cool about that is that already if I’m on the receiving end of that I’m like, “Uh oh, what have I done. I really did something terrible.” and there’s suspense, so then when you release it, it’s like, “Oh, okay, well we can work with that.”

Lauren Zander
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s not so terrifying.

Lauren Zander
Yes and you also want to be a good guy, like I set you up to want to take care of me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Lauren Zander
See that. Like oh – I’m already calling myself a jerk, not you, but me. “I didn’t tell you, so you couldn’t have done anything about it. I should have said something.” The issue is not that it happened. It’s that I didn’t say something or address it when it happened and I’m putting all responsibility on me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like it.

Lauren Zander
Then the next part is, “So there’s this thing that’s happened a couple times, which is you know that report I own on Mondays? It’s due on Thursdays and you get it to me usually around 3:30 on Friday so that I don’t get to work on it until the weekend or – so it ends up putting me – because I totally want to hand it into you at 9 AM on Mondays, but because you get it to me late, it’s messing my time up.

I never said anything. I just want … you happy and I still want to keep you happy. … solutions if you want.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Lauren Zander
“Here’s the thing, if you want to hand it – if you’re giving it to me on 3:30 on Friday, I would like to be able to get it to you by 1:00 on Monday or 4 o’clock on Monday,” whatever is actually the right answer, whatever based on that.

“… we switch the timeline? Or if you want it on that time can I get it no later than 3. I need it on Thursday. How can I help you get …? What should we do? This is everything I haven’t been saying. This is why I haven’t said it, but I have to do something about it, so what do you think?” Then just flip the ball back to the boss and the boss will fix it and take care of you and is set up to take care of you.

Every conversations – there’s … what you need to take …, like what could I have done differently. I’m not a victim of this person. I’m having a full-blown relationship with them. I can do anything in this relationship. There’s no power where I’m not allowed to talk or ask or say something or bring up a deadline or wonder about something.

People are really cowards when it comes to power. Then they’ll have that one example where someone yelled at them or that someone got mad. Then they’ll use that to always remind them … the full truth.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Lauren Zander
There’s a lot of ways to learn how to communicate better that we teach. It’s … awesome. It’s a Wild West.

Pete Mockaitis
If you do get the worst case scenario, what then?

Lauren Zander
You eat crow. You take it. If the worst case scenario is, “I cannot believe you’re coming in here and discussing what you do on the weekend and what it takes for you to get your job done. You’re not going to talk to me about when I get you that report. Are you kidding? You’ll do your job and you’ll have it to me Monday at 9. I don’t want to hear about this again.”

“Okay. All right. That will never happen again. I got it. I am to work and whenever you … to me, I will get it done. I’m sorry if this offended you. It seems like I offended you in some way. I got it. Thank you.” You always address if someone’s angry or off too. It – not to go, “Are you … at me?” Like, “Oh, I’m sorry. I guess this upset you.”

That you’re like – you just always take – you absorb what’s going on in the room. You always acknowledge it. “Is somebody unhappy in here?” When you call out the space, the space can shift. All of these things are dynamics amongst people, learning how to interact better with understanding what’s going on and how to use the truth and your personality well.

Pete Mockaitis
With that understanding, you’re now actually in a better place even though you may feel like, “Uh oh, I’ve lost some status or respect,” or whatever with the boss. You’re in a better place because you now have some wisdom.

It’s like, “Okay, well this is where it stands. Now I can make an informed decision in terms of all right, weekends. Just how critical are they to me and is this the right role for me – it’s pretty clearly defined what this expectation is and now I’m going to think through if that’s optimal and workable for me given all my options.”

Lauren Zander
Exactly, what a person should always be doing. Then whatever values you have about work. It has to be fun. It has to give me my lifestyle. People need to also figure out their serious criteria for an experience at work just like you would want in your love life. People are always compromising in ways that are really soul crushing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Lauren Zander
Soul crushing and then they don’t believe they can change, like really make a plan and get out. That’s another thing … famous for is it helps you make a real plan, so you’re designing your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, okay. In your book you had a few other concepts that were intriguing. Can you share with us, what do you mean by our emotional DNA?

Lauren Zander
I study lineage. In science they’ve been calling it epigenetics. The way I make you get it is you don’t just have your father’s blue eyes; you have his wandering blue eyes, so your father was a cheater of some sort.

Your emotional DNA is just as built in as your physical DNA, which is a radical thing to – because we would … to go, “Oh, my dad was an addict. No wonder I have an addict tendency.” It kind of just explains some things.

Genetics explain physical. The only emotional … they’re starting – they do go … bipolar, maybe that’s why you are.

But the world of all – that’s the only places they look, like mental illness a little. But what if all of your behaviors are … not just – they’re genetically and behaviorally impacting you because of how you were raised and because of your parents and because of your lineage and because of the two divorces your mom had and because of your father’s money issues.

The more you understand your parents, the more you understand the lineage, the depth and the culture, like male/female, all those dynamics are … shaping you. What happens in the method is you literally start … your parents and see yourself through … of all … parents …. Does that make ….

Pete Mockaitis
Mm hm. Got you.

Lauren Zander
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
So knowing that, what do you do?

Lauren Zander
When you figure out, so for example, my father was a – he still is a lawyer. But he’s a high-powered, … law firm, 30-year-old running a big law firm in Manhattan kind of a guy. Really young …. I think I sound like my father.

Then if you go in a little deeper, my father could be incredibly stubborn because … his better lines. Then you get a kiddo at the end. One of my … my way, my way …. I’m not allowed to do that. … married to that person? Do you want to be married to that person? My husband does not.

For example, …. I have promises about – that I’m just not allowed to do that at all. I could – I teach promise … very funny consequences around my whole family about rules I need so that I’m not bossy mommy at all. I’m not.

It’s so much fun when we don’t want to be that trait, like your father’s or your mother’s or any of those things, you can liberate yourself by knowing it or making fun of it. A sense of humor is … and coming up with a promise that really does counteract it.

Pete Mockaitis
You talk a lot about keeping promises to yourself. What are some of the best practices to do that with great consistency?

Lauren Zander
People can keep … to people much easier because … in it if you don’t … promise, the authority inherent in the relationship. But when it comes to keeping promises … self, we suck because … blew off the gym, the … it just doesn’t influence you the same way. … picking up … as you would blow off going to the gym.

Pete Mockaitis
Now Lauren, in the book you also mention how we often don’t keep our promises to ourselves. How does that work and how can we do it better?

Lauren Zander
We’re good at keeping promises to others or much better usually. Then the places where you’re having any difficulty, you’re not great. Most people are not good at keeping promises to themselves. For a variety of reasons.

But so you want to break out and what you’re really developing is what I call personal integrity, an ability to keep a promise to yourself that you want to keep. But if you’re already not keeping it that’s hard to keep, you will need, what I put right in, is a promise plus a consequence and not in your little head. It has to be public, someone knows about it, so you even have a buddy or someone’s holding you accountable.

How this works, for example, is I wanted to take on a meditation practice. There is no way I was going to – unless I had a consequence, me meditating twice a day was just never going to happen. It almost was comical.

But the minute I go – before I get my coffee in the morning, I have to meditate and before I get any screens at night, I have to meditate, or no screens or no coffee. Very simple. Will I die if I don’t get coffee? I might get a headache, but I will not die. Will I die if I don’t get screens at night? Not even a little.

A consequence is actually going after one of your vices. You’re – it’s literally making your dark work for good. Then if I really want to keep a promise, I need a consequence. I need a timeline and I need someone who benefits, like will follow up with me and make sure I’m really keeping my promise.

I owe them money. I always do money. I never like to part with 20 bucks to someone, so if I want to make sure I do something, I’m like I’ll give you 20 bucks if I don’t go by Tuesday because I – I’m not taking my shoes to get fixed except I really want my shoes fixed. But I will blow that off. I’ll closer throw out the shoes than just go take them and get them fixed. I need promises from my lazy behaviors.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That seems like a simple way to do it. Cool.

Lauren Zander
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Furthermore, you say that we lie to ourselves or to others in many different shades even if we don’t think we do. How does that work?

Lauren Zander
One of the most important things that happens throughout the homework through the method is really sorting out how we lie, ways we lie, why we lie, what we’re lying about, who we’re lying to, why we’re lying to them, why we think we have to keep lying. Then of course, do you think other people are always telling you the truth.

If you start to go deeply into trusting people and being honest and what that gets you, what happens is that people think it’s very scary territory because the truth can be ugly, yours or theirs. Makes sense?

Starting to face the people and types and brands of how you lie, and why you lie, and what that’s costing you because most people don’t really understand what it’s costing them. Science even backs how much it’s costing people …, happiness, it creates …, it makes health issues. It’s so serious to lie and to live an imposter syndrome in your own life with your kids, with your own husband, with your own job.

There’s seven different ways we lie that I pull out and make people do lists on.

One of the most popular one, what’s the worst one no one wants to deal with? Is they explain they’re bad at confrontation. “I’m very bad at confrontation. I really am just this person who needs to keep everybody happy. I’m a people pleaser. I know that’s my problem. I’m a people pleaser.”

I go, “Oh people pleaser, you. You understand what a people pleaser sounds like to me?” “What?” “A really serious liar.” If you’re keeping everybody happy, that doesn’t mean you’re telling the truth, does it? Everything you’re not allowed to say to someone because you’re pleasing them and want to avoid confrontation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, what you’re saying that withholding itself is a form of dishonesty.

Lauren Zander
Yeah, I make a whole case for all different types of lying. Withholding information that someone thinks they should know, but I didn’t figure out to ask, does that mean you’re not lying?

If I go, “Oh, I hope you had a great day at work,” and you didn’t really go to work and I just walked out of the room, I didn’t say …. I just was like you didn’t bring it up again. I never said no. But that would be weird because it’s misrepresenting it. You know that the person thinks you went to work, but you’re not telling, but that’s – I explain how all these ways are – these are ways to lie.

It’s really important to understand because that’s how – remember that puppet show I was talking about? This is how the puppets work. This is how you never be authentic in your life, never find your voice, never deal with yourself, never get relationships to work.

Leave, leave. This will have you never leave and stay really sedated in your happiness, like, “Oh I accepted this.” You call it acceptance, but it’s not acceptance. It’s resignation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got it.

Lauren Zander
Charming, right?

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

Lauren Zander
My method is not for the light-hearted, for someone who wants to not go deep. This goes deep and it means to go deep. I keep you laughing and doing very scary things that will change your life forever and they don’t revert, if you actually learn them.

When you need it, it’s right there. Hard core.

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

Lauren Zander
One of my favorite quotes is “You’re never too old to have a good childhood.” Tom Robbins.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Lauren Zander
Yeah.

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

Lauren Zander
The epigenetics one is my favorite, all about how – it’s a whole story on – it’s too long – on the rats. There’s a whole rat story of – around that prove epigenetics in the – right in the babies, next generation, right there, they can prove it exists and that evolution is happening right like that. It’s profound.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How about a favorite book?

Lauren Zander
I would say Tom Robbins wins, which it’s Still Life with Woodpecker.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. How about a favorite tool?

Lauren Zander
A favorite tool. I am a painter. I make dots actually. I dot and I have this perfect little – I have all different sizes, but a dotter. That’s my favorite tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How about a favorite habit?

Lauren Zander
Painting.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect or resonate with folks when you’re coaching or speaking?

Lauren Zander
That they’ve never taken over managing their mind. That those thoughts in there – that whatever that mind of yours is doing, you just don’t leave things to just see how they grow. You save your legs.

If you edit things, you’re like – the amount of no work people are doing on the inside of that mind of theirs, you’ve got to break in. It’s so easy to get a person to go, “I have no idea what my mind is really, really doing for a living. I know I’m its bitch, but boy oh boy, it would be nice to not be.”

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

Lauren Zander
To my website, the Handel Group. Maybe It’s You, you can find anywhere, Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I’m sure they would appreciate you buy a copy.

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

Lauren Zander
I dare you to have one difficult conversation and figure out how to be a leader about that. One day or one conversation, one thing you’re avoiding, that you’re upset about that you should fix and really come clean and clear it up with the person. One – come on you. The odds that you don’t have one are impossible. You do. Unless you work alone and then you should do it with yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Lauren, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks so much for sharing the goods. I wish you lots of luck with the book and all you’re up to here.

Lauren Zander
Thank you. Thank you for everything you’re doing. I really, really, really appreciate the network and team that’s forming of people really supporting each other and being great.

256: Science-based Solutions for Delivering Tough Truth at Work with Mark Murphy

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Author & trainer Mark Murphy explores the intersections of diplomacy, truthfulness, and difficult conversations at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Top reasons why people don’t tell the truth at work
  2. Common phrases that create defensiveness
  3. Why having a difficult conversation is better than just fixing the problem yourself

About Mark 

Mark Murphy is a New York Times bestselling author, weekly contributor to Forbes, ranked as a Top 30 Leadership Guru and the Founder of Leadership IQ. He’s trained leaders at the United Nations, Harvard Business School, the Clinton Foundation, Microsoft, MasterCard, SHRM, and hundreds more organizations. He has written several award-winning books on leadership and been featured in many premiere media outlets.

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Mark Murphy Interview Transcript

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

Mark Murphy
Oh, Pete, thanks so much for having me. I’m excited.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Well, I am intrigued by so much of what you have to say here, so I think this will be a great one. And I wanted to start, though, I learned a bit about you that you once addressed the United Nations. What’s that story?

Mark Murphy
Well, yeah, that was a pretty cool experience. So, for several years, I was a faculty at the UN. They essentially developed an academy to develop leaders within the UN, and so their focus is on really teaching all the people that are working in diplomacy how to, (a) lead more effectively, but, (b) how to communicate, how to be diplomatic, how to deal with difficult conversations, tough situations. And it was part of a program that they have put together to really develop the leaders within the United Nations.

And so, it’s a pretty exceptional program they had going, and they would bring in experts, like myself, to come in and talk about particular aspects. So, I talked to them about different kinds of tough conversations and why people resist tough messages. And you can imagine, given the kinds of situations we face across the globe, that, yeah, the United Nations has a little bit of experience in dealing with tough conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s awesome. Yeah. Well, I was a loyal Model United Nations Secretary General when I was in college so I keep a little bit of an eye as to what’s going on with the real one. And so, I guess, now I’m thinking, if you are teaching diplomats how to be more diplomatic, well, you must be quite a master diplomacy yourself.

Mark Murphy
Well, you know one of the things I have discovered that it’s not always perfect, right?  We can go into conversations with the best of intentions, and that’s part of handling tough conversations and difficult situations is, (a) knowing what to do but then, (b) making sure that you have some handy reminders in place that you can pull on it any moment, because the reality is that most difficult conversations don’t take place on your schedule.

Most of the time, whey they happen, you get blindsided and that’s it’s so important, no matter how sophisticated your methods are, to have something that you can fall back on quickly. And that’s really one of the essential lessons, is distill it down, get something you can fall back on because that difficult conversation is not going to come most of the time when you’re fresh and you’ve just had a nice cup of coffee. It’s usually going to come at the end of a long day when you’re wiped out and this is the last conversation you want to have.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Okay. Cool. Well, I’m excited to dig into some of these. And it’s so funny that we talk about diplomacy and difficult conversations, I have this weirdest temptation just to be super rude to you to see how you’ll respond, but I’m going to reel it in because that’s not how I am. It’s just a kind of a silly cartoon-like fantasy of mine which I’m going to put it aside for now. You jerk. Okay, that’s it. That’s it.

Okay. So, then, now you lay out some of these things to fall back on in your book Truth at Work. So, tell us, what’s that about? And kind of what’s the alternative? Are we all just lying at work?

Mark Murphy
So, one of the things that I found in doing research for this and some of my own studies is that it’s not so much that we lie in that we walk in every day and are telling blatant falsehoods, but rather we’re avoiding telling the truth. When I ask leaders or employees, “Do you avoid having difficult conversations with people?” And somewhere between eight out of ten, or nine out of ten, depending on who you ask, of people, say, “Yeah, I avoid telling my boss tough things. I avoid telling my colleagues tough things. I avoid telling my employees because I’m just afraid of how they’re going to react.”

And that’s the real reason we avoid difficult conversations. It’s not so much that we are afraid of letting the words come out of our mouths, rather we’re afraid what’s going to happen when this person hears what it is we have to say. And that’s the coming up with techniques for mitigating some of those bad reactions and calming people down, and creating conversations rather than confrontations is ultimately what we’re after in this.

And that’s really what the book is about, how to tone down some of those negative reactions and deliver messages that would, otherwise, be tough to hear in a way that the recipient will actually engage with you and talk to you about this stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so I want to dig into these tactics and your great acronyms and such to those ends. But, first, I’m thinking, when it comes to that fear, we’re concerned about how the other person is going to react and what will become of it, I’d love if we could sort of take a bull’s eye aim at that one right up front. And, say, when it comes to the fear what are some perspectives that folks should bear in mind in terms of managing that right before we even begin to say a word?

Mark Murphy
So, there’s a number of things. So, one of the things we discovered is that there’s these things we call truth killers, and they’re really the reasons why people resist the truth. And there are four big ones that we really identified in this and there’s a thousand reasons why people won’t listen to tough messages. But if you kind of clump them all together – the big four. Number one, there’s what I call confident unawareness. Sometimes it’s known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

And what this means is, essentially, people think they’re right, they think they know what they’re doing, they think they know what they’re talking about, but in reality they’re absolutely clueless. So, I think about it like this, if I grew up on an island with no other humans around me, I might think that I’m a fast runner. I might run across the beach on this little deserted desert island and think, “Wow, I’m really fast,” because I’ve never seen another fast runner.

But that’s not my life, and I’m married to a woman who is a significantly better runner than me, I’m incredibly slow. And so, I watch her run and now I don’t have confident unawareness. I watch her run, and I say, “Oh, yeah, that’s what fast looks like. Oh, I’m really slow.” But there are lots of people walking around the planet who think that they’re really fast, or think that they’re really smart, or think that they have high emotional intelligence.

And if you’ve ever seen somebody that talks with great confidence that they know exactly what they’re doing, and in reality they’re an idiot, that would be confident unawareness. And that’s a tough one to overcome. And sometimes when you give somebody feedback, like, “Listen, you’re not doing such a great job with our customers over there. You’re not doing such a great job advancing your career.” They’re like, “I’m awesome. I’m fantastic.” “Well, okay, we’ve got to…” That’s a tough one to overcome.

Another reason that people resist hearing tough messages is what we call psychological resistance. And this one of the things that happens when you have a tough conversation with somebody whether it’s a friend, a spouse, a colleague, a boss, whoever. Oftentimes you’re telling them something that is at odds with their self-image, with how they view themselves.

If you came to me, Pete, and said, “You know, Mark, I think you’re kind of dumb and I think you’re not a very nice person,” well, that’s at odds with my self-image and so I’m likely to turn around and attack you, or attack your message, “Well, Pete doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Pete, how does he know that? He didn’t hear that last conversation I had before I hopped on the phone with him. What does he know? He’s a jerk. I’ll bet you he’s real nasty in his life.”

And it’s this, whenever somebody tells us something that is at odds with our self-image, it is just by human nature it’s going to engender what’s either psychological resistance or cognitive dissonance. It causes us to attack the message and the messenger.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s powerful. And so, you zeroed in on it there. It’s like, what is it that’s likely to trip a wire or an explosion versus not, and I think that’s interesting when it comes to the running. It’s like I think folks could criticize any number of things about me, like, “Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, I don’t know anything about that. Yeah, you’re true, true, true, true, true.” And then there are a few things, it’s like, “Hold up right there, sir.” And so, it’ll spark a different reaction.

So, I loved it when you talked about, you have zeroed in, in fact, on seven key phrases that are sort of actual scripts or verbiage that create defensiveness within people. So, could you lay those out for us in terms of what are some of those phrases that we should not say? And what do we say instead of those?

Mark Murphy
So, one of the things that was interesting is that when we talk about having difficult conversations is that oftentimes having a tough conversation is as much about listening as it is talking. And a lot of conversations go off the rails before we ever say anything, we issue a command, a directive or anything like that. It begins with how we listen or rather don’t listen.

So, a friend of ours comes up and says, “Oh, I’m having such a tough time at work. My boss is such a jerk and I think there might be layoffs at the company.” And when they say that, what we’re trying to do, if we do it correctly in that moment, is build some empathy. Take their perspective so that we can give them some guidance, we can just listen, we can be empathic, we can do whatever we need to do.

But there’s seven things that humans generally say to each other that basically tell this other person, “No, I don’t really want to help you out here.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Perfect.

Mark Murphy
So, things like, “Well, you know, listen, griping about it is not going to make it any better.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Mark Murphy
Or, “You know, you just need to suck it up,” or one of my favorites, “Well, life is unfair. You know, sometimes crap happens. It’s just bad stuff,” or one that we’ve been seeing a lot more lately is, “Well, you know what, maybe this is a blessing in disguise. Maybe this is all for the best. There’s a reason for everything and you don’t worry about it. It’s just that all those concerns, they’re not important. This is all going to work out just great.”

Then there are the classics, “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll get over it,” or, “Well, you think you’ve got problems. Let me stop listening to you and tell you about what’s going on in my life because mine is a lot worse than yours is,” and it becomes a competition of who’s got it worse. And then, of course, there’s the classic, “Well, yeah, but.”

And it’s funny because the word “but” gets used constantly but – there it is – it’s an absolute conversation killer when it’s used in this kind of a scenario, in a difficult situation where somebody is opening up, they either want a sounding board, they want somebody to listen to them, maybe, down the road, want somebody to give them some guidance.

But these are all phrases – and you can come up with a hundred variations on these – that people say that just tell, whoever you’re talking to, “I don’t want to hear any more. What you said is stupid. I’m not really paying attention to you and, you know what, I don’t want to listen to you. I want to talk. I just want to tell you stuff.” And that’s a quick way to end any conversation, let alone a difficult one.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I like that. Okay. So, quit griping, suck it up, life is not fair, stuff happens, maybe it’s a blessing in disguise, don’t worry, you’ll get over it, you think you got problems, well, yeah, but. And so that is the theme, it’s like any of these is just sort of like dismissive, like, “Okay. Well, yeah, no need to really hear any more of what you have to say. We’re moving on.” And it sort of conveys, “What you’ve said is not really consequential or does not really matter to me. I don’t take it all that seriously or it doesn’t have much weight or importance to me.”

So, I could see that theme coming clear. And it’s funny, I’m thinking about my wife right now. I’ve said a couple of times what I thought was reassuring, that’s really what my intention was in my heart, it’s like, “Oh, honey, we’re going to make it through this just fine.” And so, she interpreted it in that kind of a way which is, “I don’t care to talk more about this. I am sort of not proactively encouraging you to tell me more about what you think and feel with regard to this scenario in so far as I’m trying to kind of move on.”

And I wasn’t trying to move on, I’m in big belief that we were going to get through it just fine, and I thought a show of confidence and support would be the thing, but it wasn’t the thing in that moment.

Mark Murphy
It happens a lot. And there are kind of two things I think go on with this a lot whether it’s at home or at work, is that, one, we’re taught to be solution-oriented, so, “Just solve it. I don’t want problem-bringers around me. I want problem-solvers. Just solve it. Just get right to it.” And, too often, what happens is, in trying to skip to the solving stage, we basically kill off the empathy stage which is a problem.

The other thing that happens, and this is a fairly recent phenomenon, is that you think about social media, and what social media is training us to do; social media is not encouraging us to respond with additional questions, it does not encourage us to respond with empathy. It basically says, whenever somebody shares an issue, what does Facebook want? What does Twitter want? They want reactions. They want you to jump in.

And if somebody says they give a little soliloquy, they want you to match that with a soliloquy, and they want it emotional, intense, and everything else. They don’t want dialogue because that’s calming and that takes longer. What they want is quick reactions because that’s what gets eyeballs. And it’s interesting that social media has essentially trained us to respond the exact wrong way to difficult conversations.

And the next time one of your friends post something a little sketchy on Facebook, and you’re tempted to jump in with what I would call reciprocated diatribe, that is one person makes a speech and you make a speech back. Instead, try just asking a question, “Well, tell me more about that. I’m interested as to how you came to that conclusion. Tell me what data backs that up. I’m just looking. Or are there any facts that underlie your assertion here?” Something that engages them in more conversation rather than shutting down the debate instantly.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. Reciprocated diatribe is a great turn of a phrase. Is this a Mark Murphy original?

Mark Murphy
It’s one that I came up with and then as I was doing research, I discovered that it had actually been coined about 30 years ago, and so I actually can’t take ownership. Yeah, there were some sociologists actually talking about it about 30 years ago, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, those sociologists had no idea the amount of reciprocated diatribe that was to be unleashed in the decades to come.

Mark Murphy
Oh, yeah, they had no idea what was headed our way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so now, I’m thinking a little bit now and talk about don’t do reciprocated diatribe, and you have a couple other kind of tools or techniques. One is called de-layering a conversation into multiple parts. Can you walk us through what’s that about, what’s the value of doing so, and how is it done?

Mark Murphy
So, this I think is actually probably the most important part of having difficult conversations. So, if you think about it, most conversations have really four components to them, there are four layers to them. There are facts, that’s sort of the initial objective reality; somebody said something or somebody did something. You could videotape it, you could audiotape it, that’s a fact, it’s verifiable.

But that’s not what gets us into trouble. What gets us into trouble is that based on that fact we, then, make an interpretation. The human brain is very much an interpretation engine. We do not look outside our window, and say, “My, isn’t that interesting? Today the weather is 39 degrees and 60% cloudy.” No, we look outside the window and say, “Ugh, I’m so sick of it being gray. Oh, my gosh, it’s so cold outside.”

And we’re making a judgment about it. We’re interpreting it. The fact is it’s 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Our interpretation though is, “That’s cold,” or, “That’s hot,” or, “That’s better than I thought,” or, “That’s worse than I thought.” Based on that interpretation we then have an emotional reaction, “I’m happy to go outside,” “I’m disappointed,” “I’m feeling depressed now because I haven’t seen the sun in a few days.” And then based on that emotional reaction we have this desired end. We want something to happen, “I want to move to Hawaii. That’ll be so much better.”

And so, I think of this as this four-part model. I call it the FIRE model; it’s facts, interpretations, reactions, and ends. Now, here’s the thing, when we’re having a difficult conversation, it is the first step, before we do anything else, the first thing we want to do is strip away anything that is not a fact. So, let’s say, for example, that one of my colleagues, I asked them to work on part of a report, and they bring me the report, and I noticed there’s a couple of typos and a mis-formatted chart.

And so, if I’m dealing just with the facts, I might look at this and say, “Hmm, isn’t that interesting? There’s three typos on the first page, and there’s a chart that’s incorrectly formatted.” Now, my natural human reaction is to say, is to interpret that, and say, “You know what, it’s like they didn’t listen to anything I asked them to do.” Now, my emotional reaction is, “You know, that’s just so irritating. Like, I can’t trust you.”

And now my desired end is, “You know what, I’m not going to ask you to do anything in the future. I’m just going to avoid you entirely. I’m going to ask Bob or Sally instead because you clearly can’t do this correctly.” So, that’s my normal kind of human reaction. So, what I want to do is, as soon as I feel myself starting to head down that path, what I like to do is literally write a little “T” on a piece of paper. Just make myself a little grid, and basically four boxes, right? So, put an “F” in one, an “I” and an “R” and an “E”, and I write down everything I want to say.

What I want to say is, “There’s two typos in the memo,” or, “Three typos in this thing and the chart is not formatted.” Now, my interpretation is that, “You didn’t listen to anything I asked you to do.” My emotional reaction is, “I’m irritated and angry.” And my desired end is, “I don’t want to give you any more work to do.”

What I’m going to do is, after I write these all down and put everything into its respective little box, I then want to draw a big “X” through the “I”, the “R”, and the “E” because essentially, if I go into a conversation and I start out with, “You know, Pete, I just have to say I’m pretty disappointed in the work I got back from you because it’s like you didn’t listen to anything I said. And when you don’t pay attention to my request, it makes me feel like you’re disrespecting me, and that makes me feel like I don’t want to work with you anymore.”

That’s the worst conversation we can have because two things have happened.

Pete Mockaitis
I was hoping that was the bad example because, I don’t know, he’s using a lot of “I” statements and emotions, so I felt it was bad because it feels very bad to me. Okay. Good. We’re on the same page.

Mark Murphy
Yeah, exactly. And two things, two big things happened. One is we are now going to have a conversation about hurt feelings and judgments, and judgments that could easily be wrong, and so we’re completely into this ugly emotional hard-to-manage territory. But the other thing that happens is that we’re no longer talking about the typos. I mean, honestly, all we want to get fixed here is we just want a memo without typos and a good-looking chart. That’s it. There’s nothing else we really need to discuss at the moment.

And that’s the very first thing that I encourage people to think about when they’re going into a difficult conversation, is before you open your mouth, strip out all of this stuff that is going to cause you problems in this conversation. And that stuff is the interpretations, reactions, and ends. You want to talk about the facts; those are safe. We can problem-solve like grownup adults and without ever having a raised voice if we talk about the facts.

But the whole “I” statement and “making me feel like this,” oh, there’s two bad “F” words in tough conversations. One is the obvious one, but the other bad “F” word is feel. If you’re saying the word “feel” in a difficult conversation, we’ve probably gotten off track because now we’re not talking about stuff that we can easily fix. Now we’re into a deep emotional ripping off some scabs, and that’s just not going to help us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Thank you. And so, now I’m thinking a little bit about, okay, the fact, interpretation, reaction, and ends, I just want to make sure I get this dead on in terms of distinctions amongst them. So, fact is the thing that happened, we could all agree, we can see this; interpretation is the meaning I affix to it, like, “You are lazy”; and then reaction is my emotion about it, like, “I am enraged at this person who’s ignoring me,”; and then ends is the desired outcome or decisions, like, “Therefore, I plan to no longer assign any important work to him.”

Mark Murphy
Yes, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, I got that clear. And so, then, all right, noted. So, if that’s the wrong way to go in terms of just laying it out there, in terms of your feelings and what you think all of this means, what is the model pathway to engage in that conversation well?

Mark Murphy
So, once we’ve stripped away all the other stuff and we’re left with the facts, so now I want to go talk to you about these three typos, let’s say. So, I have essentially two approaches. If, let’s say we worked together for 20 years and we have a good relationship, I could walk up to you and go, “Hey, Pete, two typos.” And then you’d go, “Okay. Oh, dang it, all right. All right, man. I missed those but let me go fix those.” And that’s, honestly, all we need to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Facts alone. That does it.

Mark Murphy
Exactly. It’s there, pretty easy to take. Now, that’s not always the case, right? That’s not always the case, you’re having this conversation with a buddy, and you can just go up and say the facts and call it a day. So, when we need to do a little bit more, we created what’s called, what we call the idea script. And it’s essentially five parts that it takes about 12 seconds to do and it’s essentially a preamble to having a tough conversation.

And it goes like this. Step one, just invite them to partner, so basically that means just say, “Hey, Pete, would you be willing to have a conversation with me about that memo you wrote the other day?” That’s step one.

Pete Mockaitis
“No, Mark. You’re not my real dad.” I don’t know. How can you say no? Okay.

Mark Murphy
Exactly. That’s the thing, you know, people will say, “Well, what happens if somebody says no?” If, in once in a blue moon, somebody will, when they say no you just say, “Well, do you mind if I ask why?” And now we’re going to get to the heart of why they don’t want to talk to us but most of the time people will go, “Okay, fine.”

And then, step two, I’m just going to disarm myself, I’m just going to throw the guns down, raise my hands and say, “Listen, I just want to review this situation, make sure I’m on the same page as you.” Step three, I’m going to say, “And if we have different perspectives, well, we can talk about those and figure out a plan for moving forward.” Step four, I’m going to say, “Does that sound okay?” And then, step five, “Do you want to talk now or do you want to talk this afternoon?”

So, in essence, what I’m doing is a couple of things. Number one, I’m coming to them in a gentler way. I’m opening the door to talk about whatever these facts are, but what I’m communicating to this person is that I want an honest-to-goodness conversation. And, here’s the thing, most conversations have a mix of statements and questions.

And so, just in this little quick script, “Would you be willing to have a conversation with me about that memo you wrote yesterday? I’d just like to review the situation, make sure I’m on the same page as you. And, listen, if we have different perspectives, we can talk about those and figure out a plan for moving forward. Does that sound okay?”

Essentially, I’ve got two questions, two statements, so I got a good 50-50 mix, and in doing that, what I’m communicating to them, is, “This is not a me talking to you like you’re a child. I’m not coming to yell at you. I’m not looking for a fight because they only way we’re ultimately going to solve this is if we come to this as equals and hash this out, and both get to some level of agreement about how we’re going to move forward and fix this issue.”

Because if all I do is say to you, “You know, Pete, the memo stunk. Fix it.” Well, you may go fix it but our relationship, even if it’s subtle, has just taken a little bit of a hit because, now, you’re buy-in isn’t all that high. You’re walking away at some level thinking, “Ah, boy, he’s kind of a jerk. He could’ve said that nicer, and disrespected me a little bit. I have taken away some of your agency.”

But if, instead, I come to you, one adult to another, and I say, “Hey, would you be willing to talk with me about this?” Well, now, you’re going to have to ante up and actually participate in this. And that’s what I’m after.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. I like it. And so, then, thinking through the framework again, I was following with, okay, we invite, that’s the “I”; we discern, or disarm the self, “D”; and the last one, I guess, is schedule, “S.” But the “E” and the “A” what are the words you’re using for those?

Mark Murphy
So, it’s invite them to partner, eliminate blame is the “E” and is, “I just want to review,” and then affirming their choices. So, that’s basically the, “Does that sound okay to you?” And, again, some of this is incredibly subtle in that I want them, because even if they begrudgingly say, “Yeah, okay,” I’ve at least gotten them to say, “Yeah, okay.”

I’ve gotten them at some level to agree to participate in this with me. And, one of the models I think about it is if you have a, let’s take a football example, if you have a superstar coach and a superstar quarterback. If the quarterback makes a bad throw, throws an intersection, comes over to the sideline, the coach and the quarterback, the coach does not come over to the superstar quarterback and say, “Hey, that was a really stupid throw,” because the quarterback is going to go, “Yeah, I know. I saw it.” “Well, no, I mean, I need to make sure you know that was a stupid throw.” “No, I get it. That was a stupid throw.”

Instead, what they do is, it may be a little terse, but they’re going into a conversation of the form, “All right, how do we fix this? How do we not do that again? What needs to change?” And they’re actually having a dialogue because the thing that they’ve each realized is they can’t solve the problem without the other person. The coach cannot win the game without the quarterback, and the quarterback cannot win the game without the coach.

And, in this case, if we apply this to work case, or a relationship with our spouses, I can’t fix this issue if, let’s say, you know, one of our kids is doing something, I can’t do this without my wife. We have to, even if we have different perspectives on this at first, it’s going to take both of us to figure out what to do next. If I have a problem with that memo you wrote, I can’t fix the memo without you.

And one of the big kind of a-ha moments about difficult conversations is that it’s not something you can fix by yelling at people. These are not issues where one person can fix it. It takes both parties to actually have a dialogue come together and hash it out to come up with a workable solution. Otherwise, I’m just yelling at you, and that’s not going to get us anywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I want to address, if any listener is challenging that in his or her own mind, like, “Well, I could just fix their mistake for them, and just do it myself.” What’s your reply to that?

Mark Murphy
You can. And the problem is you haven’t actually resolved the issue. You’ve just taken their issue over and put it on yourself. And, listen, if you do that, ultimately what’s going to end up happening is you’re going to bear the weight of the world on your shoulders, and that’s problem one. Problem two is that the people around you aren’t growing and developing.

So, imagine if every time your kid has an issue, you jump in and solve it for them. Okay, well, that may get them through this week’s problem. But what happens – not to get morbid here – when you’re dead? Now, all of a sudden, we have a kid who is ill-equipped to live on their own, to go out and survive the world.

We’ve taught them nothing because every time this happens, even if it’s an employee, if every time one of my employees has an issue, say, and I jump in and I do it for them, I’ve pretty much guaranteed that they will never grow and develop beyond where they’re at. And whether it’s my role as a parent, or my role as a leader, or just in my role as a friend, I haven’t helped this person. And so, it’s not until they own 50% of this issue, and partner with me on it, it’s not until they do that have I actually given them some real tools to do better out in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. Appreciated. That makes sense. You talked a lot about how to say things but you said a huge part of this game is the listening so I want to make sure we give a little bit of airtime to that. Tell us about your take on structured listening.

Mark Murphy
So, the first part of, of course, structured listening is basically not to say all those things we talked about earlier, the “suck it up” “life is unfair.” That’s the what-not-to-do. The what-to-do, structured listening, think of it as a step beyond what we were all taught years ago as active listening. And active listening sort of became a bit of a cliché where you nod your head and go, “Mm-hmm,” and, “Oh,” “Yes,” “Oh, wow,” “Mm-hmm, interesting.” You know, we grunt a little bit and we furrow our brow, and that’s supposed to mean we’re there.

And what we found is that that’s just insufficient. So, structured listening really involves, e-listening, so encouraging this person to talk so saying something to them like, “Well, I’d really like to understand your perspective here. Can we just review this and I’d like to learn more so I can get on the same page as you?”

And so, when I talk about Facebook, when one of your friends says something a little bit provocative, going back to them and say, “Well, I’d like to understand your perspective a bit more. I’m not sure I totally get it. Would you share a little bit more about them?” Get them to reveal where their head is at, that’s step one of listening.

Step two of listening is to actually just listen. Now, one of the things that we have found is when people sit there and they furrow their brow, that’s usually insufficient to make them truly present. And while it is a dying art, honest to goodness, especially, and it sounds weird. I know this sounds hokey, but when you’re having a tough conversation, even with your spouse, saying something to them, like, “Listen, do you mind if I just jot some notes down? Because I want to make sure I actually get everything you’re saying.”

And what’s interesting about this is not only does jotting some notes down, and again I know it sounds weird if you’re like talking to your wife about X, Y, Z, “Like, do you mind if I take some notes?” It sounds weird. But it puts you in the moment, because when you take notes it forces you to pay more attention than just sitting there does.

The second thing that happens, though, is, even though it’s weird, it communicates to the other person, “I, honest to goodness, want to understand your perspective here because I’m paying attention. I’m paying so much attention that I actually want to write this stuff down. That’s how important what you have to say to me is.”

And then the third step is to confirm. And confirming means we want to spit back to them what they said. Now, this is a little bit different than the old paraphrasing that we used to be taught, “So, what you’re really saying is…” No, no, I don’t want to do that. Because if I do that I run the risk that I’ve completely miss the point.

So, I want to go back to my little FIRE model, and what I want to say to them is, “Okay, I just want to make sure I got this. The facts as you saw them are this. You, then, interpreted that to mean blah, blah, blah. Based on that you had the following emotional reaction, and because of that you now want this outcome, this desired end. Did I get that right?”

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s so good. It’s like even as you’re saying this, I imagine if someone says something just like outrageous, and you like play it back for them, they may very well say, “You know, I’m sorry, Mark. Never mind, it’s fine.”

Mark Murphy
And, honestly, Pete, that is a huge part of it, and that’s where structure comes from. Because when you spit this back to somebody, and you force them to listen, so many people do not listen to the words that come out of their mouth. When you spit it back to them, and you’re not passing any judgment, you’re just restating it with a little bit of structure, half the time they look and they go, “Ugh, that doesn’t sound good. That’s, yeah, no. As you say, I’m sorry. No, let me retract. Just forget I said anything.”

And, it’s funny, so much of these difficult conversations are about holding a mirror up to the person who sparked this in the first place. Now, if we have a legit disagreement maybe about the typos, we disagree on phrasing, whatever, okay, well, let’s just, like adults, come together and hash that out. But if something does something where it’s nasty or it was emotional, and in the heat of anger they said something bad, when we hold up the mirror we’re essentially saying, “This is what you just said. Is this what you want to go with?”

And quite oftentimes when they look at it, they go, “Ah, no. Nope, I would rather not have that on the record because I can see that that was just bad.” And just the repeating back solves half the issues with this.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Now, Mark, tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Mark Murphy
The one other thing that I would just share in the context of difficult conversations is whenever you’re going into it, it is always a good idea to pause for a second and ask yourself one simple question, “What do I really want to accomplish with this?” And I tell you that a lot of people go into difficult conversations, and what they want to have happen is they want people to apologize, they want people to feel bad for what they said.

And I can tell you that in looking at these conversations, all the research I’ve done on this, that that almost never ends well. That the real goal of a difficult conversation, of a true talk, is to create some change, to come to some resolution so we can both move forward into a better place. And if my goal is to just make you feel terrible for that thing you said, all of it is going to end up as hurt feelings on both sides. Whereas, I don’t care if you apologize or don’t apologize. What I do care is that we’re able to move together, move forward together better.

And if we can do that, eh, I don’t want to make anybody lose face by having to give an apology because that’s just going to make them angry and drag this thing out. Let’s just fix it and life gets better.

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

Mark Murphy
You know, there are a number of things that I have found incredibly helpful as going through this. And I should back up for a second because one of the things, one of the books that was an influence on me early on was Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive, and this is an old, old book, this is 40 years. And one of the things that came out of this book is that some of the simplest things are the things that make us most successful.

Things like, “Where does my time go?” and, “How am I spending my life?” and, “What am I doing?” and, “Who should I be talking to?” And when I think about this, sometimes there is a tendency to overcomplicate everything. And, honestly, that is a big a problem in difficult conversations as it is anywhere else.

And one of the things that we’re trying to help people do is essentially simplify it, is just say, “Listen, you know what, this doesn’t have to be super complicated. If we just focus on some basic issues, if we focus on some simple things, let’s talk about facts. Let’s not muddle this up.” One of the things that I found is that a lot of people seem to make their career off of making things more complicated than they need to be.

And, you know what, honestly, if we can avoid doing that, we’re going to be in much better shape. So, in terms of where some of the inspiration for this, Peter Drucker died years ago, but that was one of the great things he did for anybody that we’re essentially we’re trying to have any kind of conversation or be a better person, be a better leader, whatever, is just focus on some of the simple things. So, that’s a very long answer to your question.

But given all of that, one of my favorite quotes is actually not even a leadership quote. So, Peter Drucker has a million and one great concepts, but there’s another one that actually comes from Kurt Vonnegut, and he said – I’m trying to get this right – he said, “We are what we pretend to be, so you need to be careful about what you pretend to be.”

And I may have missed that slightly, but, in essence, it’s, listen, you turn into what you’re pretending, so be careful about what you’re pretending. So, going back to the Peter Drucker concept for a second, where you put your time, how you talk to people, all of it ultimately informs who you really are. So, if you have jerky conversations, it’s not just a jerky conversation, that’s actually turning you into a jerk. If you’re spending your time all day not actually helping people become better, well, you’re turning into somebody who’s not helping other people become better.

And this idea that the words that come out of your mouth, they turn you into who you are. The actions you take on a daily basis, they turn you into what you are. I think the Vonnegut quote is sort of a cautionary message for all of us that, at the end of the day, and I’d mentioned this with having difficult conversations, if I’m somebody that goes into a tough conversation and I just want to make you feel bad, well, I’m becoming somebody who just makes other people feel bad.

If I’m somebody who goes into a conversation to try and make the world better for both of us, well, then I start to turn into that. And these words, these actions, where we spend our time, how we have conversations, all of this ultimately turns us into what we are, and they’re not separate things. The words you say and who you are, they’re not separate. They ultimately become the same thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Awesome. Thank you. Now, could you share with us a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Mark Murphy
So, there’s a number, but it’d probably be the one that is the single most effective, the one that I do no matter what day of the week it is. It’s, one, I don’t check my email before I do this. So, technology stays off until I’ve done this one thing. And the one thing is I ask myself the question, every morning, “What do I need to accomplish today for this to be a successful day?”

And the reason I ask that question is my to-do list can become a mess, but my to-do list is not necessarily a barometer of what drives my success. My success is going to be driven by one or two things. At any given day there’s one or two areas where I can really make a difference. Now, I may do 30 other things, but those are, eh, they’re not giant inflection points, they’re not bending the curve, they’re not making me more or less successful; they’re just kind of checking things off a list.

But asking that one question, not only does it help me focus my energy for the day but, I will tell you, if you’ve ever had that experience of waking up in the morning and the first thought you have is all the work you didn’t get done yesterday, and you know how awful that feeling is, I hate that feeling. By asking myself, “What’s the thing I need to do today for this to be a successful day?” I do that one thing and, even if I didn’t kill off the rest of my to-do list, I can still go to bed with a feeling of accomplishment that, “You know what, I did that one thing today. That, I got that done.”

And that allows me to sleep better at night and wake up in the morning, and my first thought is not, “Ugh, I didn’t get so many things done yesterday. Yesterday was such a waste.” I don’t have that feeling because I know that, yeah, I may have 30 other things I still got to do today, but I did the big one. I did that one thing and so yesterday was a successful day because of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Thank you. And is there a particular nugget that you share that you tend to hear back often as being super helpful and transformational for folks?

Mark Murphy
One of the big ones actually is the FIRE model, the idea that just strip out the interpretations, reactions, and ends, write it all down. That’s fine. Get it out on paper. Make yourself feel better. But then draw a big giant “X” through it and say, “I am not allowed to say that stuff because it is going to cause me problems.” It forces us to dial down our conversations, to de-layer them so that anytime you speak, you’re speaking factually.

And not only does it reduce angst, and anger, and vitriol in conversations but, from a career perspective, man, it makes you look smart because you’re somebody that isn’t walking around making hairbrained interpretations and saying stupid things because you’re forcing yourself to be calmer and more rational and more factual.

It ends up building up your expert power, and you become more of a person that people turn to simply because not only do you sound more intelligent but you end up becoming more intelligent because you’re forcing yourself to stay away from all of the stupid rush to judgments that humans generally make.

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

Mark Murphy
Our website is one big place at LeadershipIQ.com. And there’s a section on our website called Quizzes and Research, and there are a whole bunch of free tests and quizzes on this and other leadership topics, and a whole bunch of research, over a hundred articles there. It’s a good source where we’ve stuffed a lot of tools and expansion on all of these topics we’ve discussed today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, perfect. Thank you. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Mark Murphy
The one big challenge would be to identify a conversation that you’ve been putting off, and map it out for yourself. Think of what we talked about today, take that FIRE model, write down what you want to say to this person, and challenge yourself. Listen, I’m not saying you have to do it the day before a major holiday, but force yourself, within the next week or two, to actually sit down and have that conversation.

Pretty much every one of us has a conversation that we’ve been postponing because we don’t feel comfortable that we can pull it off successfully, but we need to. Make yourself have that conversation and simplify it. As I said, keep it simple, just focus on the facts and see if you can’t start a dialogue with this person. It doesn’t have to be a confrontation, just a conversation about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Mark, thank you so much for taking the time and sharing this wisdom. I wish you tons of luck with all your conversations, tough and fun, and anything in between.

Mark Murphy
Pete, thank you so much. This was a blast.