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792: How to Handle Negotiations and Difficult Conversations Like an Expert Hostage Negotiator with Scott Tillema

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Scott Tillema shares powerful wisdom on handling emotional and tense conversations with ease and finesse.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two powerful skills to help you connect with anyone 
  2. A handy strategy to get people to listen in closely
  3. What people want to hear during emotional conversations 

About Scott

Scott Tillema is a top communication keynote speaker, FBI trained hostage negotiator, and senior associate with The Negotiations Collective.  

He is a nationally recognized leader in the field of crisis and hostage negotiations, training thousands of negotiators across the country. Scott has developed a model for hostage negotiation, which is now being adapted by those in the private sector for use in sales, marketing, communication, and leadership.

Resources Mentioned

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Scott Tillema Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Scott, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Scott Tillema
Hi, Pete. Thanks for having me today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, my pleasure. I’m so excited to hear some of your negotiation wisdom. But I think, first, we have to hear a thrilling tale of crisis and/or hostage negotiation. Bring it home for us, Scott. No pressure.

Scott Tillema
Yeah, there’s all kinds of thrilling tales. And I think all of us are engaged in difficult conversations. And although not many of us will rise to the level of doing a hostage or crisis negotiations, we’re all having difficult conversations where we want influence. And one of the ones that sticks out in my mind, I was having a conversation with a man, who is holding a gun to his head, and saying that he wanted to kill himself.

And in these moments, you realize how critical this dialogue is going to be, and the words that you say and how you say them really, really are impactful. And I learned a big lesson in this conversation with him because I was trying to persuade him, I was trying to be influential in getting him to do what I wanted him to do, and that is put the gun down so we could have a very safe resolution to this incident.

And, unfortunately, after many hours of conversation, this man chose to pull the trigger, and that was probably one of the most impactful moments in my negotiations career where I really had to reflect upon the outcome of that incident, and say, “What could I have done better so during my conversation with him, he would’ve put that gun down and reached a safe outcome?”

And moments like this really drive me to be excellent at what I do and to be a great negotiator. So, that’s the moment that sticks out, to say, I can do better, I need to do better. And the challenge to everybody I work with and everybody I teach and train, to say, “If this is the level of consequence in my conversations, what’s the hesitation for you? Why not go out and be a great leader and be a courageous person in sales and marketing, and do these things and take these chances, and find the influence and be great at what you do?” because the outcome probably is not going to be as consequential as something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, or certainly it’s highly unlikely most of our conversations will be as immediately consequential as in a person dies. Although, I think it’s quite possible that the conversations that we have, and the extent at which we are effectively engaged in them, can, over years or generations, reshape history for thousands, and not necessarily for like super CEOs but just like our children, our children’s children, or our colleagues and those they, in turn, touch. It might be a lower amount of change for one person, but with the ripples and multiplications, it may be quite substantial.

Scott Tillema
Very substantial. And I don’t want to diminish the work that people do in any field because you’re in a leadership role, you need to be having difficult conversations with the people that you work with and the people that you coach and develop. Because if they don’t succeed at their job, they’re going to be without a job.

And think about how impactful that is to that person, and the people that they support and their family. So, we know that the power of influence in conversations is really a life-impacting piece here that all of us, who work in the field of influence, and that’s many of us, I think that everybody out there wants to be more influential.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you reflected on that encounter, and you said, “What could I have done differently?” I’m intrigued, did you have a lot of training and experience? What did you conclude and that you could’ve done differently?

Scott Tillema
That’s a great question. And in 2007, I was trained by the FBI, and one of the cornerstones of FBI crisis negotiation training is active listening, being a great listener, and they teach the eight skills of active listening, and this is foundational. Most people in negotiations know or should know these eight skills, and this isn’t classified stuff. There are books written out there about this. This is stuff that anybody can learn.

But what I kind of took away from this is we have to be a little bit more broad in communication than just being great listeners because the reality is what we see is what we believe, and sometimes we have this side bias that we believe what we see and we can disregard the conversation if we see something to the contrary.

So, in my trainings, we do exercises that show that we believe what we see. So, as communication has evolved, we’re getting away from just this telephone conversation. And now, in 2022, moving forward, it’s very commonplace for us to engage in Zoom conversations or Skype or any type of conversations where we can see each other and experience each other, so it’s more than just being a great listener that we communicate through gestures and facial expressions and body language, and how we’re dressed, and what people can see in the backgrounds of our virtual conversations, and this all matters.

This is all very impactful to what people think and what people believe, and, ultimately, what they choose to move forward on. So, in addition to being a great listener, I really press people that we have to understand body language, we have to understand the expressions, and we’re putting on a show, essentially, to allow people to experience us through the visual in addition to being great listeners and having a great conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, can you share some of the eight skills of listening, some tidbits that can be advantageous to your everyday professional?

Scott Tillema
Sure. The acronym to remember this is MORE PIES, and we could probably go into a five-day class on these eight skills of active listening, but just to touch on a couple that I think are really the most impactful – asking open-ended questions. And this seems so simple and so basic but when I tell people, “I want you to ask questions and engage,” we almost default to closed-ended questions because we’re interested in gathering factual information.

And our goal in these critical conversations needs to be dialogue. And I challenge people, “I want you to do this in three or four sentences, and then pass the baton back to your negotiation partner, and allow them to speak, and allow them to be heard. And we do that by asking great questions. And that’s a great one.

And when you couple that with emotion labeling, which I think is another really, really important step of active listening, now we don’t have to default to saying, “Pete, I understand.” The reality is I don’t understand. I haven’t lived your life, I haven’t done your work, I haven’t had your experiences, so, for me to say to you, “You know what, I understand,” that’s almost dismissive, and I would say it’s a bit disrespectful because how can I possibly understand you when we’ve only been having a conversation for a short period of time?

So, instead, let’s maybe go to an emotional label, and say, “You sound frustrated.” So, we label what I’m hearing with an emotion, “You sound really excited,” and then we couple that with an open-ended question, “Tell me more,” and allow you to continue that conversation so, now, not only am I connecting with the content of what you’re saying but I’m connecting with the emotion of how you’re saying it.

And that’s when people start to sense that, “Hey, I really get you. I really have an appreciation for what you’re saying, and the emotions that are generated by your situation.” So, that’s, I think, two of the most important pieces of active listening, but there are other great ones. Reflecting or mirroring back the actual words that somebody says. Somebody says whatever they say and they get to the end of whatever they’re saying, and we just repeat back the last two or three words, and that’s reflecting.

Pete Mockaitis
The last two or three words.

Scott Tillema
You got it. You’re a pro. Perfect. And what the amateur is going to do is going to say, “Yes, that’s exactly that.” And, if you do it with an upward inflection, we’re asking a question with a downward inflection, we’re affirming that statement, and then we’re going to go to silence, which is another skill of active listening, which I think is probably the hardest for people to master because we’re uncomfortable in silence.

So, I’m just going to let it be silent for a moment, and allow you to take in that moment and keep speaking, and give you the floor because negotiation is not about being right. It’s not about ego. It’s about reaching an agreement. That doesn’t mean I have to like you. It doesn’t mean that I have to trust you. It’s we’re going to reach an agreement that’s satisfactory for both of us, and that’s how we’d go about doing it, by being great listeners and engaging in some excellent dialogue.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, there’s some tidbits about listening. And then how do we become more influential? You talked about verbal influence. How do we develop that?

Scott Tillema
Yeah. So, understanding the first step, I see this as having four steps in being a great negotiator. And, for me, I see our goal is to create a bond with somebody. And so often, we have a goal, “I want to sell them this,” “I want them to do this,” “I want them to drop the gun,” and I challenge people, I say, “Your goal needs to be to build a bond with this person. And once you start thinking about connection, now we can start having a mental map of how to get there.”

And I see that through four principles working together in a circle. And some people see negotiations as a stairway that we’re working our way up, and I don’t see it like that. I see it as a circle that we’re going around and around, and these four principles are the influence and the bond that we are creating. And the first one is understanding, and we do that through listening, and we do that through studying body language and gestures, and make sure I have an understanding of what’s going on.

And so often, we get stuck on that, especially as high performers and the work that we do, we say, “Okay, I think I get it so now I’m going to go right into solving the problem.” And I think that’s the step that most people skip, especially if you’re really good at what you do, is, “I skip the understanding piece,” not that you don’t know how to be a good listener. It’s just that, “I think I know what the problem is. I think I know what the issue is, so I’m going to move on quickly.”

So, the second principle that I use is timing, knowing when to deliver your message. And I found this to be the strategy piece in these conversations and these negotiations, to say, “Okay, I have an understanding of what’s going on, but I want to quickly say whatever I need to say and give my pitch,” and sometimes we get this wrong.

And by getting your timing wrong, we can really miss an opportunity or, worse, put ourselves in a more difficult situation if we try to jump the gun and start selling too soon, or try to persuade somebody too soon. So, the second step is having great timing to what it is we’re going to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And next?

Scott Tillema
Next is delivery. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Most people should be preparing for their negotiations, for their difficult conversation. And if you’re not preparing, let’s start there. But the people who do prepare, spend a lot of time focusing on the content of what they’re going to say, “So, I’m so worried. Here’s my talking points, bullets A, B, C, D, and I’m going to get through this, and this is what I’m going to say.”

But how often does somebody going into a really consequential conversation take time to practice their delivery, not what they’re going to say but how they are going to say it? And I’m convinced that this is much more important than the words we actually say. Now, I don’t want anyone to listen to this, and say, “Hey, I was just listening to a podcast with Scott Tillema who said I can say anything I want as long as I say it nicely, it’s cool.” And that’s not the case at all because words matter.

Words are how we frame the conversation so I don’t want to dismiss that piece at all. Words are really critical, but how we deliver them, and I’m talking about the rate, the rhythm, the pressure, the volume, the tone, all these different ways that we can manipulate our verbal delivery. This is really, really important on how people experience us. So, that’s a third big piece, is delivery. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

Pete Mockaitis
Scott, I love the way you listed several key variables there. Can you share with us some demonstrations and the impact of saying the rate, fast versus slow, or different rhythm patterns, and what kind of influence that makes on the listener?

Scott Tillema
Of course. When we get nervous, when we get excited, our rate starts to notch up and we start speaking quickly. And it’s been shown that people who speak really quickly are perceived as less trustworthy than people who slow down that rate. Now, we don’t want to speak too slowly because we’re going to lose people’s attention. And we have found that the attention span has shrunk significantly over many, many years, as we’re surrounded and bombarded with distractions and social media and everything else that we’re attending to.

So, when I do a negotiation in a crisis or a hostage negotiation context, I have a coach that’s working with me in real time, so they can sit here and analyze what I’m saying and tell me, “Hey, let’s slow it down a little bit,” and kind of give me that hand signal, “Let’s slow that down and allow the person some time to process what we’re saying.” And if we can slow down just a little bit, we’re going to be a little bit more trustworthy and maybe even a little bit more likable. So, that’s the rate.

Pete Mockaitis
Okie-dokie. And then, so next step, we talk about rhythm. What are the key rhythm patterns that we can look to and what are the impacts of them?

Scott Tillema
Yeah, everything I say feels the same way. You get into the groove, it’s going to feel really smooth, you don’t have to rhyme, but we want everything to be right here. So, when you are engaging with me, you have an expectation that you’re not going to get yelled at, that I’m not going to be getting excited, and now we’re going really, really…Everything is kind of right in this groove, and it’s not too loud, it’s not too soft, it’s paced just right, so you can feel comfortable opening up to me.

And I think that this is the same reason that there is a couch in the therapist’s office so you get comfortable. We’re creating a bit of psychological safety for you to say, “Let’s really discuss the important issues here,” because sometimes we disguise the important stuff with other nonsense, and we’re willing to talk about the things that are easy to discuss.

But, really, sometimes we need to get into the more difficult conversations, and I’m really not going to open up with somebody if there’s a chance I’m going to get yelled at, or if a chance that they’re going to just quickly dismiss me and move on. Everything is right in this zone here and I want you to get comfortable having this conversation that’s going to open up pieces of information, which goes back to our first principle of understanding.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we talked about rhythm and volume, we mentioned not shouting. Any other volume insights?

Scott Tillema
I think that if you’ve listened to Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk, she talks about how we can use the body to influence the mind. So, taking this to the volume of what we say, if I become a little bit more quiet in what I say, it is going to force you to physically work harder to hear me. And it’s not very often that we find ourselves physically working really hard to hear someone. It’s only at the times that we’re listening intently, and those are the times that something is very important.

So, sometimes I’ll take the volume down a little bit, and that doesn’t mean speaking weakly or speaking without power. It’s going to force someone to listen very hard to what you’re saying. And now their brain may be convinced that this is something important, and now we’re getting into influence pieces because now they’re intently listening to what I have to say.

And we think the opposite when we want to be heard. We get loud, we scream, we get the bullhorn and we make sure that everybody can hear us, but this is intimate conversations. We’re one-on-one with people, trying to get them to go in the direction that we want them to go. So, I challenge people in coaching sessions, “Let’s take the volume down. Let’s come a little bit closer and see if we can engage them in a soft, intimate, intense conversation.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so we talked about a few components of delivery and we’ve got that four-part building of a bond with the understanding, the timing, the delivery. And what’s next?

Scott Tillema
The last one is respect, that I think you can do everything right. But if we don’t come in with respect, none of the other pieces work. So, you can’t get an agreement on respect alone. On respect alone, you can learn to be really nice, and you can get walked on. You’re going to lose a lot of negotiations, lose some opportunities. But without this respect piece, you are not going to have this influence and this bond that you need.

And I think that this makes sense to most people, and say, “Yeah, I get that. I was raised to be respectful, the ‘Yes, sir,’ ‘No, Ma’am,’ ‘Yes, please,’ ‘No, thank you,’” and that’s all really good, and that’s something that I want. But I think that respect is about emotion and connecting with people’s emotion and their emotional triggers.

And we see such the opposite of this. If you check on Twitter or a lot of social media where people are just disrespectful of each other, and that’s emotional triggers for people. So, I talk about, within respect, I talk about pieces like fairness and autonomy. Are we being treated fairly? How do they see this? How do they see this conversation? What is the issue that they see? Because I know that I see it one way, but can I see it the way they see it? Are they being treated fairly? And that’s a huge trigger for people.

And I’ve had a lot of conversations with folks, to say, “You know, I may not be able to get you what you want but I can assure you that you’re going to be treated fairly,” and people really like to hear that. And sometimes there can be a sticking point because how I see fairness might be a little bit different from how you see fairness, and we can have that discussion.

But the second piece of this is the autonomy, “Are you giving me the opportunity to choose the outcome here?” And I think that I could probably pressure people into making the decision I want them to make, but, ultimately, I want them to carry out that commitment. It’s not just getting me to say yes, to get me to say yes. I need you to do whatever happens next.

And I’m going to try to guide them toward making the right conversation, but, ultimately, I want them to choose, “This is what I want, this is the outcome, this is the agreement that I’m going to enter into.” And if we can be respectful of fairness and autonomy, and have sprinkle in some empathy in here, we’re really going to be someone, who this, your negotiation partner, your conversation partner is going to look to, and say, “Yes, this is someone I want to agree with. This is someone I like. This is someone who I believe in. This is someone who I’m going to enter into an agreement with.”

And that’s the piece of negotiation where we find success, to say, “We’re going through understanding, timing, delivery, respect,” and this is how we build the bond. We’re going around the circle. We’re making this connection. We don’t listen to strangers. We don’t care what strangers have to say. But now that we’ve formed this relationship and this connection, maybe I can have a little bit of influence and nudge you in the direction that we need you to go.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so zooming out across the broad expanse of this topic domain, could you share with us some of your top do’s and don’ts that are particularly applicable for professionals? Are there any key words or phrases? Is there any way we could accidentally threaten someone’s autonomy or trigger them there, even though we didn’t mean to?

Scott Tillema
Of course. And when we do that, if we do that, again, we’re watching for changes in behavior. Are they pulling away? Are we seeing things outside of the baseline? Are we losing that dialogue? And let’s not be afraid to go back to that, to say, “Hey, I’m doing my best here. I sense that there’s a little bit of disengagement here. Is there something I said or didn’t say that maybe doesn’t sit quite right with you?”

And this is an important piece, especially with these high performers, to say, “What if I’m wrong? What if you see it differently from the way I see it?” And I think this is the importance of having diverse teams and diversity and all kinds of different ways because I want a lot of different pieces of input from people who think differently from me, to say, “Hey, maybe we have to take a different approach. Maybe this approach is wrong.”

And to approach someone and say, “If I did something wrong, let me apologize for how I just presented this. I sense that this was really unsettling to you or upsetting to you.” Or just inquire, “Is there something that happened that we need to go back and address?” That’s a great, great piece. And so often, we have this ego that gets in the way, to say, “Well, I’m not going to apologize to anybody,” “Well, I’m not going to be the one who’s wrong here.” That’s not what this conversation is about.

This conversation is about reaching an agreement with somebody, so let’s set the ego aside. It’s not about ego. Be willing to be curious. What another big takeaway, that so often we are so worried about talking about us, “And what I know and what I can do.” People aren’t impressed by that. They just aren’t. People are more happy to tell you about themselves and their work and their product, so be much more willing to listen than being eager to talk. Another important takeaway to be influential and do great things.

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

Scott Tillema
I think that negotiation is probably one of the most important skills that people need to have to be successful in life because negotiation, really, it’s an umbrella for other skills like communication and influence persuasion, and all these things. And we have an inflated sense that we are really good at this because we communicate with people all the time, and we can point to examples in our life where we have found success.

But the people who are really good at this are humble to say, “I need to learn more, I need to be willing to examine myself and do better at this.”

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

Scott Tillema
So, I don’t know if this is a quote verbatim, but one of the professors at Harvard, Michael Wheeler, he’s a long-time negotiation trainer, he talks about flexibility and adaptability. That we can’t say, “This is the way. This is the only way.”

So, be willing to step out of our comfort zone, be willing to take on styles that are uncomfortable to us, and learn things outside of what we already know because you might need that technique, you might need that tactic, so I really find the work of Michael Wheeler to be very impactful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Scott Tillema
I’ve got a number of books that I like on negotiation and influence. I think one of the older ones, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini outlines six principles of influence, and that is a cornerstone for anybody who’s in the business of influence or persuasion. We need to understand that. But another one is Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate by Dan Shapiro. He talks about five core concerns that trigger our emotions, and that we can use to trigger other people’s emotions.

Beyond Reason is a great book to pick up, cheap, easy read but really foundational for people who are engaging in meaningful conversations with others that really want to take the next step and understand the impact that emotions have in driving our thinking and decision-making.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Scott Tillema
Favorite habit is probably practicing my active listening skills. And I’ve been doing this for a long time, and that doesn’t mean that I’m good at it forever. It’s something that we can forget, and something that we can lose. And people ask me all the time in training, “Hey, Scott, how can I practice the eight skills of active listening?”

And the next time that you get a spam call, one of these people that’s trying to get you to do whatever, give them money and steal your credit card, I want you to practice the eight skills of active listening. Write down what these eight skills are, have them handy, and in three or four minutes, you should be able to get through each one.

And if you’re doing it with purpose and true intent, like you aren’t just going through a checklist, this person is going to engage you and you’ll get through the eight skills of active listening, give yourself a pat on the back, and then you can hang up the call and wait for the next spam caller in a few minutes, and do it all over again.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with listeners; they tweet it out and quote it back to you?

Scott Tillema
“It’s not about trying to get somebody to do something. It’s about creating a bond.” And that’s what I hear back from people the most because that’s not what we’ve ever been taught before. We’ve been taught to sell them this thing, or convince them of this thing, or get them to do what I’m telling them to do, and it just reframes the mind. It reshapes the mind to say our goal, our focus is on creating a bond.

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

Scott Tillema
Excellent. If they would like to hear a little bit more on these principles, I invite your listeners to check out my TED Talk, it’s “The Secrets of Hostage Negotiators.” You type in hostage negotiator on YouTube, it’ll be one of the first talks that come up. It’s 18 more minutes of what we’ve been talking about here today, with a few more stories and a few more examples. They can visit my website at ScottTillema.com or my business site at NegotiationsCollective.com to learn about me and what I do and the services that we offer.

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

Scott Tillema
I would say that it’s important for us to realize that this is a difficult time for many people, that all of us have experienced anxiety, and loss, and trauma over the last two years. And I’m not sure that that’s going to change immediately. So, being mindful that there are people around us who are struggling, use these principles, use this approach and try to connect with somebody today.

And it’s not maybe in a professional level where you’re trying to sell something or try to make money. It’s being a thoughtful connecting human being with somebody else, and you’ll be surprised how impactful this approach can be, and that with all the struggles with mental health and suicide in the world, that being a great connector, being a great negotiator, being a great communicator, this can go a long way, and you are going to connect with somebody who will later reflect to you how impactful you were at a really critical moment in their life.

So, let’s be mindful that there are people out there who are struggling and we can use these techniques to connect with them and really lighten up what can be a difficult time in a lot of people’s lives.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Scott, thank you. I wish you much luck in all your negotiations.

Scott Tillema
Thanks, Pete, for having me on. A pleasure chatting with you today.

786: How to (Really) Strengthen Your Relationships with Eric Barker

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Eric Barker shares science-based wisdom on how to make your relationships flourish.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two critical elements of trust-building 
  2. The secret to dealing with difficult people
  3. How to navigate difficult conversation

About Eric

Eric Barker is the author of The Wall Street Journal bestseller Barking Up the Wrong Tree, which has sold over half a million copies and been translated into 19 languages. It was even the subject of a question on “Jeopardy!” Over 500,000 people have subscribed to his weekly newsletter. His work has been covered by The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Financial Times, and others. Eric is also a sought-after speaker, having given talks at MIT, Yale, Google, the United States Military Central Command (CENTCOM), and the Olympic Training Center. His new book, Plays Well with Others, will be released by HarperCollins in May of 2022. 

Resources Mentioned

Eric Barker Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Eric, welcome back to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Eric Barker
It’s great to be here, man.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your book Plays Well with Others: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Relationships Is (Mostly) Wrong. And I got a kick out of your dedication page, it is “To the relationships that you’ve screwed up.” Can you tell us a key story there about a screwup and some principles learned?

Eric Barker
It’s never been my specialty at all. One of the five factors that psychologists use to determine someone’s personality, one of them is agreeableness, and out of a possible score of a hundred, I scored a four. So, disagreeable, probably not helping there. One of the things that led me to write the book was that I’m not a specialist with relationships but then, actually, two weeks after I closed the deal to write the book, California lockdown for the pandemic, and I realized, “Maybe I wasn’t the only one who was going to be needing a little relationship-defibrillator after all this was over.”

Pete Mockaitis
I see. Okay. So, low on agreeableness, and so can you tell us a tale of how that got you into some trouble once?

Eric Barker
Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a specific time, but, it’s funny, the same trait that has harmed me in my relationships actually helps me in my writing because I tend to always challenge things, debate things, to not easily go with the flow, I want to test things, play myth-busters, and that’s basically how my book is structured. Like, taking the maxims that we all kind of assume are true about relationships, and wanting to say, “Wait a second. Is that really true? Shall I look up the evidence here?” So, there is a silver lining.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, as I’m thinking about my relationships, I’ve got a friend, I’m thinking of my buddy Avon, in particular. He seems to love to take the other view every time, and I don’t even know if he really believes what he’s saying or if he’s just trying to rass me or he finds it fun. And it’s interesting, it’s like some people love that and some people hate that, like, “Oh, what an interesting thing we’re exploring. Hmm, we’ll do a little bit of banter, a little back and forth, volley, exploring.” And I was like, “Oh, my gosh, like, just can it, Eric.” Is that your experience as well, some love it, some hate it?

Eric Barker
Oh, no, absolutely. That’s the kind of thing where, like I said, after a day of working hard writing the book, I kind of have to tell myself, “Okay, turn it off, turn it off. Don’t need to test and question everything anymore. It works out really well with the writing, not so much as well with other people.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, could you kick us off with a particularly surprising or fascinating discovery you’ve made about relationships while you’re researching and writing this book?

Eric Barker
Yeah, one thing that really blew me away was the research on loneliness. Like, Faye Alberti is a historian at the University of York, and she basically found that before the 19th century, loneliness pretty much didn’t exist. It sounds crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Eric Barker
But basically, we were all embedded in religions, nations, tribes, groups. We always felt like we were connected to other people. And what’s really interesting is that aligns with some of the scientific psychological research on loneliness, which is that lonely people don’t spend any less time with others than non-lonely people do.

Again, it sounds crazy but we’ve all had that feeling of being lonely in a crowd. Just because you’re on the subway or in the middle of Times Square, you can be surrounded by people and that doesn’t mean you feel connected to them. What John Cacioppo, the leading researcher on loneliness, found is that loneliness is how you feel about your relationships.

If you have good relationships, strong connections, and you go on a business trip, you don’t feel desperately lonely. You know that there are people who care about you, they’re just not near you or by you. But if you don’t feel strong connections to people, you can be surrounded by others. You could be at a sporting event and you’re not going to feel that great. Loneliness is, again, how you feel about your relationships.

So, in the past, we had these deep kinds of near-tribal connections to others. We were always part of a group. And these days, we saw, basically post-19th century, the rise of individualism, and so we don’t feel those strong connections. Loneliness is an issue of perception. When we aren’t near others but we feel we have strong connections, that solitude, that’s a positive, that’s me time. It’s like, that feels good. You know that people are there but you get a little time to yourself.

Well, when we don’t feel those strong connections, neuroscience actually shows that our brain scans for threats twice as fast, which, from our ancestral environment, makes sense. If you don’t think help is coming, you need to be on the lookout for danger, but that’s not terribly conducive to happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I guess we’re getting into it. Tell us, Eric, what is to be done if we are feeling not so great about our relationships and we got some loneliness cooking?

Eric Barker
It’s really an issue of deepening our relationships. The first thing I did when I…in the section of the book on friendships, the first thing I did was look at Dale Carnegie because that’s the book everybody knows, How to Win Friends & Influence People, and that book was written before the advent of social science research, it’s all anecdotal.

But the crazy thing is that the primary pillars of Carnegie’s book all proved true. They’ve all been verified, except for one, and that is he says to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. And research shows we’re actually pretty bad at that. But everything else, finding similarity, paying people compliments, listening, these are all positives. The thing is Carnegie’s book is written mostly for developing business contacts, so it’s kind of at the more shallow end of the pool.

But for deepening relationships, what I found is that the research seems to point towards two things, and that is time and vulnerability. Time is really critical. It is the thing that research shows friends fight about the most. And time is a powerful costly signal. You spend time with people, we only got 24 hours in a day. You keep spending time with somebody, it shows you care.

And vulnerability is opening up. That’s telling people what’s on your mind, your stresses, your challenges. We’re usually afraid to do this but this is what really creates trust. By talking about the things we’re afraid of, we tell the other person that we trust them, otherwise we wouldn’t say it, and that leads people to reciprocate, and that’s how you build trust.

So, it’s really critical for us to go past the small talk, and very often we can feel stuck in the small talk, and it’s time and vulnerability that will deepen relationships, make us feel closer to others, and help us beat loneliness.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny, I moved about a year ago from Chicago to the Nashville area, and I am more distant from many of my close friends than I used to be. And so, I’ve been thinking a bit about how one forms great friendships, particularly as it’s a little bit of a different ballgame being 38 with two kids and a wife than being 24 and “Woo,” just out and about for many nights in a given week. So, tell me, is there a…I guess it’d be hard to precisely quantify this with all the variability in humanity. But, like, what kind of time are we talking about here, Eric?

Eric Barker
What’s really interesting is Jeff Hall did some research on how much time it takes to go from just meeting someone to being like a good friend or a best friend, and it’s some pretty depressing research. It could take hundreds of hours to get to, like, closer best friend. But on the flipside, it is a matter of how we handle it and what we do.

Arthur Aron did research, and by giving people a series of questions to get them, like, opening up and talking, he managed to get people, in a laboratory setting, to feel like lifelong friends in only 45 minutes. In fact, two of his research assistants who were working on the project with him, actually fell in love and got married because of working on this.

So, it’s really that issue of vulnerability, of opening up. Usually, when we first meet somebody, we’re often tempted to try to impress them but the literature shows that signaling high status, while it might impress people and it might be good in maybe a sales or a business context, on a personal level, it tends to distance people. They don’t feel related to you. They feel like you’re above them or something.

Meanwhile, expressing yourself as a peer or actually showing human-relatable flaws, that’s the thing that makes us understand, relate, connect with people because we all have those insecurities. And when you express them, it’s like we get that, “Whew” feeling where we can relax, where we can relate. So, that’s the thing we really need to keep in mind.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, when it comes to vulnerability, that sounds like sharing the stresses, the problems, the worries. To what extent is there also connected value in sharing the joys?

Eric Barker
Sharing joys is really positive, there’s no doubt about that. The literature points to this, something called capitalization, and that is when your friends or your spouse talk about something positive that happened to them, it’s really important to ask questions, it’s really important to be happy for them. In fact, it was Shelly Gable that did research at UCSB, and she found that actually celebrating those positive moments, how you handle the positive moments was actually more predictive of romantic relationship success than how you handle the difficult moments.

It sounds crazy because we’re always so focused on fixing things, on trying to resolve the problems in a romantic relationship but John Gottman found that 69% of the ongoing problems in a romantic relationship never get resolved. It’s like you’re not going to fix all of these things. You’re not going to fix most of these things. It’s about the regulation of conflict, not the resolution of conflict.

But on the flipside, you want to be a supporter, you want to be a cheerleader, you want to share your positives, you want them to feel good for you, to be curious about it, and you want to do the same for them. This is a positive relationship tip you can use anywhere, especially in a romantic relationship, is to really look for those positive things, be supportive, be the cheerleader. This is a huge thing that we often forget about because we’re usually trying to bring the bottom up rather than trying to raise the roof. And it’s really important to celebrate those positive moments.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Any pro tips on how that’s done in practice? I just watched the show Devs, and somebody kept mentioning if they wanted a champagne bath. So, I guess that’s one tactic, is to bring a bottle of champagne with you to splatter people when they’re excited, though they might not receive that so well in real life, like, “I’m all wet now and sticky.” So, any other more practical recommendations for celebrations? I guess what we don’t want to do is say, “Okay, that’s nice,” and just, boom, brush aside. But, yeah, like what that sounds like in practice?

Eric Barker
What some of the advices that they give romantic couples is pretty straightforward. At the end of every day, you say the best thing that happened to you that day, and your spouse says the best thing that happened to them that day. And again, like you said, you don’t want to be dismissive, you don’t want to just nod your head and acknowledge it. It’s, like, you want to be happy for them. You want to ask questions. You want to be just listening and be supportive and be excited. It’s about that emotional back and forth, so it’s just consistently.

It almost sounds weird but even with your friends, it’s like, “Hey, what good things have happened lately?” It’s not something we usually do but it’s not too crazy a question, and I think most people are pretty happy to talk about the positives that are going on. You’re basically letting them brag. That feels good and if they’re somebody you care about, it’s going to feel good for you, too, and it can have very positive effects for the relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember a motivational speaker once mentioned that he had someone, I think it was at work, and that was just sort of like their go-to line when they started talking, and say, “Tell me something good,” and everyone liked that person. It’s like, “Oh, that’s what Marty says, and I like Marty,” because, go figure, people are telling him something good all the time, and he’s getting the goods and celebrating with them.

Eric Barker
Well, it’s a funny thing because, like I said, very often, especially in romantic relationships, we’re usually focused on fixing the negative, but it’s like if you feel step back for a second and think about that, if all you’re doing is fixing the negative then, really, ceteris paribus, that means you’re going to get to neutral. Even if everything worked, if the 69% of long-term issues could be resolved, you just get to neutral, and, “I have a not negative relationship with every stranger on this planet.” It’s, like, that’s not love. It’s, like, you don’t want to get to neutral. You want to be beyond that. You want to be supportive.

That’s why one of the other things I talk about, at least specific for romantic relationships, is doing exciting stuff together because the thing is that there’s a psychological principle called emotional contagion. And basically, what that means is we tend to associate the feeling that we’re having in any context, we associate it with the people we’re with.

So, if you’re doing fun stuff, you associate that with your partner, and that keeps the relationship alive. It keeps things exciting. And so, we need to do more of that. Too much Netflix and pizza on the couch, we actually need to get out more and do more exciting fun things so we can keep those positive feelings flowing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, we went deep on loneliness and friendship and forming bonds. Maybe we can zoom out a bit. And could you share with us what’s sort of like the main big idea or thesis behind the book Plays Well with Others?

Eric Barker
Well, one theme that I found throughout all the aspects that I was looking at is that relationships really do come down to stories, stories in your head. The first section of the book, I talk about the issue, like, they say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and I kind of tested that. I went and looked at the research on body language and communication and reading people.

And what happens is, as soon as we meet somebody for the first time, or even if we’re seeing somebody we’ve known for a while, our brains are immediately telling us a story about who this person is, and we kind of can’t help it. We start making assumptions in milliseconds. And it’s an issue of revising that story but that story is going to be there.

And in a romantic relationship, John Gottman, I mentioned earlier, he’s the leading researcher on love and marriage, and his claim to fame is that he can predict whether a couple would be divorced in five years just by talking to them for a few minutes. And he can do this with about 90 plus percent accuracy. And how he does that is simply asking the couple, each member of the couple, “Tell me your story.”

And when he listens to that story, if it’s this story of overcoming challenges and that’s really something, celebrating those difficulties and getting past it, that’s a really positive sign but it’s not about the facts and details because we forget most of the facts and details. We kind of congeal them into this story, and if that story is positive, things are really good.

And past that, the final section, I talk about, I test “No man is an island. Is that true?” And it’s this issue of communities, have a story, a story they tell about who the members are, “’What is important to us? What do we value?” And that story is what draws us together. So, it’s this really critical element of understanding the stories of how we perceive others, how we’re connected to others, the community that we’re a part of. This is kind of the subtext, the element that undergirds everything that goes on between human relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s interesting about that is you could just change your story about a relationship you have with somebody without interacting with them in any subsequent way. So, you could just choose to reinterpret and reformulate your story about your relationship with them in your head, could you not?

Eric Barker
Oh, absolutely. And that can be a positive thing and that can be a negative thing. We can reflect on it and we can look at different aspects, and we can say, “You know what, I’ve been judging them too harshly. Like, I forgot there were those few times where that person really went out of their way to help me, and I kind of dismissed that.” Or, on the flipside, something that’s common with long-term relationships and marriages is that people sometimes they don’t want to fight, they don’t want to argue, so they don’t raise issues. And when you don’t raise issues, they can’t get resolved.

And so, instead of people having a conversation about their spouse about an issue, they start having conversations with themselves, and that doesn’t always go so well because you start making assumptions about what they believe, where they stand, why they did what they did, and this can be really problematic because now we’re not actually getting insight from them; we’re making it up ourselves and that can quickly turn negative because what a lot of people don’t realize is that, yes, you don’t want to fight but the truth is, yelling and screaming, only 40% of the time does that result in divorce.

What is more likely to result in divorce is when a couple stops talking. You yell and scream because you care. When you stop caring, you stop interacting. And that’s what more often precedes divorce is when couples start living parallel lives where they’re not communicating, they’re not connecting, they’re not arguing, they’re not resolving problems. They’re just going, “It’s not worth it,” and kind of living their own life. That’s what usually precedes divorce.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And if we sort of shift the focus into the workplace and professionals and those looking to be awesome at their job, what are some of the best takeaways for folks looking to have strong relationships with their boss, their peers, their clients, their suppliers, etc.?

Eric Barker
Well, like I said, in terms of friendship, those are some of the really key things, is trying to deepen those relationships. Like I said, time, vulnerability, but another thing we deal with in the workplace is that, with our friendships, the interesting thing about friendships in our personal lives is that you can leave whenever you want.

In the workplace, you’re going to deal with some people that maybe you don’t like so much. That’s the tricky part about it because of the role. And what the research has shown is that the people who cause us the most stress aren’t actually our enemies, because enemies, like we know where we stand, we don’t like them, they don’t like us. The people that drive us most crazy are those ambivalent relationships. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. It’s that unpredictability. And Julianne Holt-Lunstad at BYU has found that that’s what drives our blood pressure up, it’s these people who we don’t know how they’re going to behave, whether they’re going to be nice or difficult this time.

So, in terms of dealing with difficult people, what we need to keep in mind is emphasizing three things: emphasizing similarity, emphasizing vulnerability, and emphasizing community, because these are the things that can sort of activate the empathy muscles in someone else. Maybe if they’re a little narcissistic, maybe if they’re difficult, when we express our similarity to them, when we talk about a vulnerability, weaknesses, when we express community, that we’re a part of something, that can trigger those empathy muscles that can help us deal with them a little bit better, help them understand us a little bit better. That’s truly key to dealing with those difficult people in the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, what does that sound like in practice to convey similarity, like, “Boy, Eric, you and I, we both love a good microphone, don’t we?”

Eric Barker
Again, we take those things for granted but that’s usually how many relationships start, is you’re both into a particular sport, a particular sports team, you’re both Star Wars fans, you’ve got something you relate to. And with those people that we haven’t taken the time to find something that we can both relate to and care about, that kind of acts like a medium for us to work through.

So, finding out a little bit more about somebody and finding that connection, research shows this is really powerful in terms of us feeling like we are connected, we’re part of the same group. In that way, community-wise, again, feeling like we’re a part of something, we’re both working toward similar goals. The research shows that a great way to get people who don’t like each other very much to cooperate and feel connected is to have them work on a project together, it’s when they have to rely on one another.

So, it’s really critical, it sounds a little silly in the abstract, but finding those similar things, asking them enough questions to realize, like, “Hey, we’re both into this,” it can make a surprising difference.

Pete Mockaitis
That is good. And I’m also thinking about some research. I read about it in Bob Cialdini’s books about moving and/or singing or dancing or marching in unison has a powerful effect there.

Eric Barker
Anything like that, again, builds that kind of similarity, like that’s in the physical realm is that we’re doing the same things, we’re coordinated, we’re working together. That means you’re a part of something. You’re connected. What’s really powerful, I think, from Cialdini’s, he has Influence which is like he’s masterwork, but his other books are excellent as well, Pre-Suasion where he talks about how so much of what helps negotiations and conflict resolution isn’t the tactics that you huse in the middle of it. It’s those things that you set up beforehand.

And that’s where similarity falls in. Once you feel, like, “Hey, we’re connected in this way. We both care about this same thing,” you’re more disposed to want to help someone. It’s like if a stranger asks you for a favor, that’s very different than when a friend asks you for a favor. You have something that connects you beforehand.

One of the researchers at Harvard Business School talked about salary negotiations, and, again, it wasn’t necessarily the specific tactics used during the negotiation. The number one thing that he said was they have to like you, was beforehand making sure that they like you, they appreciate you, they feel connected to you, because, again, it’s one thing dealing with a stranger, to another thing dealing with a friend. You’re much more disposed to give them the benefit of the doubt, to say, “Hey, sure, we don’t mind covering that expense. We don’t mind doing this.”

We think about these kinds of like really nuanced tactics in the middle, but if you can think about the beginning ahead of time, and say, “How can I really connect with this person emotionally so that they’re disposed to want to help me?” that’s much more powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, with that connection now, those principles then of the similarity, vulnerability and community there?

Eric Barker
Yeah, first and foremost, like I said, that similarity, that’s something that we’ve all had that moment where we’re trying to connect with somebody, trying to go from acquaintance to friend, and similarity can really help. It gives you something to talk about. It gives you something that you connect on. And then that vulnerability aspect, where it’s like we all have our little jerk radar where we don’t want to be dealing with somebody who’s a pain.

And when somebody opens up and says, “Hey, you know what, I actually struggle with this. I’m not that great at it,” or, “Hey, this actually scares me,” that makes…humanizes somebody. They’re not trying to act like they’re above you or better than you. In community, it’s like we’re connected. It’s like, sometimes we don’t always love our in-laws but we still behave, we still do favors for them, we still do things because we recognize that we’re connected, we’re a part of something, and that shifts our perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
It sure does. And I also want to talk a bit about the digital side of things. Social media, how do we use that well such that we don’t create more bitterness, division, self-esteem problems, jealousy? Any pro tips there?

Eric Barker
Absolutely. You see research back and forth that social media is the devil, social media is not the devil, and there are some stuff back and forth, but the key thing we want to be thinking about when it comes to social media is time. And that is that you only have 24 hours in a day. Some of that is going to be sleep, some of that is going to be work. You only have so much of a budget for social time. And if too much of that is being used for social media, then it’s not being used for deeper richer connections, like face to face.

We just want to make sure that social media is not cannibalizing it. You don’t want to be replacing kind of the rich sumptuous meal of face-to-face contact for the junk food of social media. If you’re using social media to reach out to somebody who’s far away, hey, that could be really positive. If you’re using it to communicate with somebody who’s nearby and you’re using it to plan a face-to-face get-together, hey, it’s an alley of positive.

But if we end up, consciously or unconsciously, using it to replace real relationships, that’s when it gets problematic. And when it’s eating up too much of the buddy budget, the social time, just on Instagram, that’s really where it’s quite clear that we’re not treating our relationships as well as we could.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear that. And I’m also thinking about sort of the nature of what you choose to post on social media. And I found, for me, what makes me more favorably disposed to someone is they share something and it seems like it really is a means of spreading delight and goodness and positivity, as oppose to a post which says, “Look how awesome I am,” like, “Oh, just getting some sushi in Tokyo at the top sushi place ever.” It’s like, “Okay. Well, good for you, guy. That’s fun. I guess I’m supposed to think that your life is awesome.”

As opposed to, I’m thinking about my buddy Patrick, he once posted, “When my wife and I are cooking together and sharing instructions or collaborating, we respond to each other by saying, ‘Yes, chef,’ and it makes cooking so much more fun.” And I think of that because that is awesome and I do that now, too, and it really is fun and it spreads joy. And in both contexts, we’re talking about doing some food stuff and yet one post, I think, well, it makes me think more of Patrick, like, “This guy is awesome,” and not because he’s high status but that he’s just putting out joy into the world.

Eric Barker
Absolutely. I totally agree. This is something we’re kind of touching on earlier, where it’s like often when we first meet somebody, people often try to brag, they often try to signal high status, and it’s exactly what you said. When you see social media posts where clearly the person is bragging, and saying, “Look how awesome I am,” that doesn’t make us like them more, that doesn’t make us feel more warmly connected to them, so that’s probably not conducive to positive long-term relationships.

But when somebody posts a funny anecdote or if somebody is kind of like poking fun but it’s at themselves, then we do feel positively disposed to them. If somebody puts a warm positive moment, we react better to that. And these are the kind of things we definitely need to be thinking about because I think we’ve turned a lot of things. I think, by its very nature, social media often tends towards turning things into this kind of social competition because we’ve got quantification of likes.

You have a direct quantification of how much people like this post. That has this kind of almost competitive element to it. And I think, to your point, we need to resist the urge to kind of one-up people in that status competition, and another way is to rely on being a little bit more human.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Eric, tell me, any other top do’s and don’ts for us looking to improve our relationships?

Eric Barker
Yeah, one thing from the romantic relationship research, but I think it’s applicable in pretty much any relationship context, is John Gottman, that relationship researcher, he found that just by listening to the first three minutes of a conflict discussion between a couple, he could predict the ending 94% of the time.

And the takeaway from that is if it starts negative, it’s going to end negative. If you have to bring up a difficult topic with your spouse, or frankly with anybody, if we go in there firing both barrels, the research is pretty clear, if it starts negative, it’s going to end negative. So, if we present it in a more constructive way, we take a deep breath, we step back, we don’t launch into it in this very kind of antagonistic attacking mode, it can be a lot more productive.

Even though we feel like we deserve this, “I’ve been victimized. I need to…” that’s not going to get you the end result you want 94% percent of the time. That’s a very high number, so take a deep breath, think constructively, don’t point fingers, don’t personalize it. Anytime you have to have a conflict discussion, whether it’s at home or in the office, don’t discuss the other person’s character. Talk about the specific issue you had and stick to the facts.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Now, Eric, I’d love to hear some of your favorite things. How about a favorite quote?

Eric Barker
Oh, yeah. Well, this is a quote that meant a lot to me when I was writing both my books because I was thinking about, like, testing these maxims and all these issues we have around both success and relationships. It’s from William Gibson, he said, “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.”

And that really resonated with me because I looked at the research and there’s a lot of answers to the questions we already have. It’s just tied up in all this ivory tower academic research. And so, my focus was trying to take that and make it accessible to people because the answers are already here, to many of our problems. It’s just not evenly distributed.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. That’s why I love doing interview podcasts, it’s like, “Hey, I don’t have to figure all this out. I’d just get Eric to share the goods.” Cool. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Eric Barker
This isn’t necessarily practical. It might make people feel a little bit better but one of my favorite pieces of research is there was one study done on ethics professors and ethicists, and it found that they weren’t any more moral than the average person.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Eric Barker
So, if you feel like, maybe you haven’t been behaving that well, even experts in the field, hey, they’re not necessarily all that better, so don’t beat yourself up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Eric Barker
Favorite book, oh, God, there’s so, so, so many. I have to say one of my favorite books recently is my David Epstein wrote a book called Range, which is not only really useful, really smart. It also made me feel much better because it talks about how generalists can thrive, and how generalists often do very well because I’ve always been a generalist. And anything that helps me rationalize my decisions is amazing and wonderful.

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

Eric Barker
I have got to say that I remember many years ago, my friend Drew got these Bose noise-cancelling headphones. They were pretty pricey, and I was like, “Why?” And I’m not a big music guy. I listen to podcasts, but I got to tell you, noise-cancelling headphones literally changed my life. It’s like when you’re on planes, when you’re trying to block out noise, you got loud neighbors, it’s something silly, I didn’t think it was going to be that big a deal, but, man, I can’t live without them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I love them and sometimes I will put in earplugs and then put on noise-cancelling headphones. I’m just really into that cone of silence.

Eric Barker
Okay, you’re playing on serious mode now.

Pete Mockaitis
I am. And it does send a message. It’s sort of like a ritual. It’s like, “All right. No messing around. We’re seriously dialing into this.”

Eric Barker
Oh, yeah. You’re putting on the Batman costume. Like, “This is it. We’re going to war.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I need a montage I need to play during this.

Eric Barker
Yeah, with some John Williams music. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. And a favorite habit?

Eric Barker
Favorite habit is reading. There’s no doubt, my first instinct when I have extra time is to fire up the old Kindle app. And, typically, you think, “That person is going to call me back in five minutes,” or, “Oh, this is only going to take this long,” or, “The internet will fix itself and work,” “My Wi-Fi will be working again.” You know what, sometimes it takes longer than you think. Often, it takes longer than you think. So, I get myself reading and the time flies by.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they highlight it in the Kindle book version of your works, or they re-tweet it a lot?

Eric Barker
I think the key thing was, in the new book as well as with others, there’s the Grant study which has been going on for nearly a century at Harvard. They’ve been following a group of men, basically, their entire lives. I think most of the men are in their 80s or 90s, and so it’s interesting, rather than some two-week study or six-week study to see what happens across a person’s entire life.

And, as you can imagine, multiple people have led this study because it’s taken nearly a century. And when they asked George Vaillant, who was probably the guy who led the study for the longest time, they said, “Look, what have you learned?” and, as you can imagine, the amount of information they’ve collected could fill a warehouse, but he replied with only one sentence. And he said that your relationships to other people are the only thing that matters.

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

Eric Barker
They can go to my blog at EricBarker.org, E-R-I-C-B-A-R-K-E-R.O-R-G. And the best thing to follow the insights and tips that I’m finding from the research is to sign up for my weekly newsletter.

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

Eric Barker
Yeah, the key thing I would say is, and I talked about this in my first book, was sit down with your boss and ask them what you can do to make their life easier. Ask them what you could be doing, point blank, to be better at your job and to be a better contributor. There are two benefits here. Number one, you are basically getting the answers to the test. They are going to tell you what you need to be doing.

And, number two, just in terms of signaling and relationship, how would you feel if you were boss if an employee came to you, and said, “How can I make your life easier? What do I need to be doing to be a better contributor?” That is a very, very positive signal, and it is going to tell you what you need to be focusing on. It’s a simple little thing and it can be a gamechanger.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that absolutely can be. And we had Mary Abbajay on the podcast talking about how to manage your manager, and that was one of her very top tips. And she said that she frequently will ask audiences, like, “Who’s done this?” and it’s generally less than 1% of professionals have done that. But, yeah, it’s powerful on both sides.

Eric Barker
And then for advanced mode, every week, sum up what you’ve been up, what you’ve accomplished, and send a quick bullet point email to your boss, and make sure to be focused on that thing that they told you, that you are making progress towards what they said was most important. This is extremely valuable. Your boss is busy. They’re not watching everything you’re doing.

So, to be telling them, “Hey, here’s what I’ve been up to,” makes them relaxed, makes them like and appreciate you. You’re basically doing a highlight reel. And if things don’t work out at that job, you can go back to every Friday email you’ve sent through all the weeks, and you know how to update your resume because you basically have a long list of all the things you’ve accomplished while you were there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. Eric, thank you. It’s been a lot of fun. I wish you much luck with the book Plays Well with Others and all your adventures and relationships.

Eric Barker
Thank you so much. It was fantastic to be here.

768: How to Embrace Generational Differences and Resolve Conflict with Chris De Santis

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Chris De Santis shares helpful insights about each generation and how to work more effectively across ages.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to turn generational friction into an opportunity 
  2. How to give feedback that works for every generation
  3. How to motivate people from every generation 

About Chris

Chris De Santis is a speaker, author, consultant, and most recently podcaster specializing in Management and Organizational Development issues and interventions. He specializes in assisting individuals or groups in identifying and overcoming obstacles to effectiveness. He brings with him thirty-eight years of experience in training and development. He has an undergraduate degree in business from the University of Notre Dame, a graduate degree in Organizational Development from Loyola University in Chicago, an MBA from the University of Denver, and previous work experience in manufacturing, professional services, and not-for-profit environments.  

His book, Why I Find you Irritating: Navigating Generational Friction at Work, will be available in May 2022 but until then you can listen to his advice podcast, “Cubicle Confidential” along with his co-host, Mary Abbajay. He resides in a quiet corner of Lincoln Park in Chicago. 

Resources Mentioned

Chris De Santis Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Chris, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Chris De Santis
Thanks, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, first, I think we need to understand you and your history with improv classes. What’s the story here?

Chris De Santis
Yes, yes, yes. I moved to Chicago probably…I live in Chicago, if anybody’s interested, and I moved into an area called Old Town about, oh, 30 some years ago, and I had some friends in the city. And Old Town is the heartland of Second City, and so I was told, actually, a good way to make friends was to take improv classes.

And the other reason was I’m a little bit of a…I have a bit of stage fright issue, and so I was told this might help me with that. I ended up taking improv classes from Paul Sills. And if anybody’s listening, Paul Sills is the son of Viola Spolin. And if anybody knows who that is, Viola Spolin wrote improv in the theater, and that’s sort of the basis for Second City.

So, I had access to one of the gurus of the time, although I never quite leveraged it to the degree he did, but I ended up teaching a while at a local theater here, too, so it was a very fun experience. I recommend it to anyone who’s introverted.

Pete Mockaitis
That is fun. I did a Second City five-day intensive improv class once, and it was a lot of fun. And I remember saying, telling my friends, “Oh, it’s nice. I feel like it loosened me up.” And my friends said, “Did you need to be loosened?” Well, compared to my…

Chris De Santis
Did you do a show? Did you do a show afterwards?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, well, not like with a big old audience but it was just sort of I think, the dozen of us doing our thing.

Chris De Santis
The games.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Chris De Santis
I love the games. Really fun.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s fun. Well, now, I want to hear a bit about your book Why I Find You Irritating: Navigating Generational Friction at Work. What’s the big idea here?

Chris De Santis
Well, the whole point of this book is really to understand the differences between us. And so, in that sense, in fact, the title’s curious because I had submitted 37 titles to the publisher.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow. I love it. That’s what we do.

Chris De Santis
And this is the one they liked.

Pete Mockaitis
We get tons of title options and they choose the best one every time. Thank you.

Chris De Santis
And so, they liked this because I think it really makes the point that we are, in some way, irritated with others across one difference that we recognize, this is one of those difference that we readily recognize, and we ascribe it to them as if they’re at fault and we, of course, are not, meaning that we’re the objective view of reality. And so, what my book goes on to talk about where this comes from and the repercussions of this, and then what to do about it in the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Well, so we’re talking about generational friction, and this is always a delicate matter because I think, Chris, there’s probably no way around it. We’re going to be making some generalizations here. Is that fair to say?

Chris De Santis
Yes. Well, that’s part of what I talk about in the book, but humans do that, humans generalize.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I guess, first of all, how do we define the generations? And are we coming at it from a US-centric base here or is it kind of global in applicability?

Chris De Santis
Now, you’re making some very good points because when I speak to this topic, I have to go through a whole series of caveats, to your point. The first one being you generalize or I generalize, and I’m not describing humanity. I’m describing some actions of a normative group in the middle class in the United States of America who conform to certain experiences at certain times that sort of shape a perception.

So, in that sense, it is a smaller subset. It is not global even though, it’s interesting, I’ve spoken around the world on this, oddly enough. I’m always amazed I’m invited anywhere but I had talked about it. And so, when you talk about it globally, you have to say some of these things but, still, even having done that, they still see differences that correspond to the American experience, which I think is interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, Chris, so we’re going to do some generalizing. First, we need to define some terms. Generations, how do we name them these days and what is roughly the median age of a person representing each generation, say, in summer 2022 as we record this?

Chris De Santis
Yes. So, if we go with Boomers, you know where that came from “baby boom,” so everyone knows that one. There was a great number of us born in that window of time after the war, and that would be that 65 or 67-year-old today in the median group, and we’re retiring out, about half of us are retired. Gen X got its name from the book. There was simply just one book written about them. They fly below the radar quite a bit, and, of course, their median age, according to what we’re playing here, is around 45 to 47.

Then the next crowd, Millennials, had a different name. They were originally in the literature for a while. They were Gen Y because Gen X, Gen Y but that never caught on. And I think that they responded much better to, or it was foisted upon them, the idea of a Millennial simply because of the turning of the century, the millennium.

And now, we have Gen Z, which were called Zoomers or the Zoom generation, but I think that fizzled as well by virtue of the fact of Zoom. And so now they’ve gotten the Gen Z moniker, again, because they’re going in sequence. And the next generation, interestingly, these new kids, they’re calling Gen Alpha because they’re starting it again, but I don’t think they’ll have a name until they define who they are, and then we’ll lay a label on them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, Gen Z would be about 18-ish to 22.

Chris De Santis
18-ish, right.

Pete Mockaitis
Your fresh recruits.

Chris De Santis
Exactly right. They are in the workplace right now. They’ve just entered.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, there we go, four generations. And so, you say…well, I guess, we’ll go into particulars in terms of frictions but maybe just to cue us up with some intrigue, is there a particularly surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made as you dug into all this stuff associated with generational friction?

Chris De Santis
Well, what I came to, not necessarily conclusion, but one of the things I did notice that I thought was really a shaping aspect of this is, it’s not just the flashbulb memories that you have that sort of shape you, it’s also the parenting model. It’s how you were parented affects how you interact with others. So, I’m a product, as a Boomer, I’m a product of sort of a permissive authoritarian parent so I sort of had to get in line with things.

And so, if we think about of a Gen Xer, these are those latchkey kids. And so, they had more of a permissive sort of a sensibility about how they interacted because they basically are far more independent on their own. Millennials are part of what would be concerted cultivation in terms of how they were raised, and I will call that an engaged-discuss model. They’re always engaged in discussions as to what they should or need to do.

Gen Z has a variation of that model called co-piloting. The point being here is that those needs or the expectation of dialogue is what they bring into the office. Yet, in the office, they are not necessarily expected to engage in dialogue but, rather, to be subject to the authority of the people that are in charge. And the people in charge often view this as a challenge when they say, “Well, what about this?” and you’re going, “Whoa, I just told you what to do.”

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So, there we go, we’re getting into the meat of it – an expectation of dialogue. Sometimes the younger generations may expect some more and the older generations think that’s not necessary, “I’ve already told you that,” and so that can create some friction on both sides.

Chris De Santis
That’s exactly right because the other thing about the young is interesting, to a great degree, and if you’re around parents, and I try to observe parents sort of surreptitiously when I’m with people, is that they negotiate more with their children as opposed to demand they do something. So, there’s a discussion, of course, that’s inherent in the negotiation.

And I think the young now are excellent negotiators and they bring that to any conversation they have, and we, in management, or if you’re in a management position, you’re not open to a negotiation when you’re telling somebody to do something but it comes off very strangely in terms of my expectation. If I’m a young person, my expectation, “Why wouldn’t I have this dialogue?” Conversely, “Why are we having a dialogue?”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And that’s so funny, I think, because I’ve got a three-year-old and a four-year-old right now…

Chris De Santis
You have young children, yes?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I really go…I guess I go both ways in terms of like I don’t like to yell.

Chris De Santis
No, and you won’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Because they get sensitive and really sad really fast, I was like, “Oh, I was just trying to make myself heard because you seem to be sort of in your own world over there. Now, I feel like I’ve overdone it because you’re getting all sniffly.” So, yeah, but at the time it’s sort of like, “There’s no need for us to be discussing. You do what I say.” And other times, at the same time, I want them to be kind of creative and free and expressive.

So, it’s funny, here I am, I guess a Millennial, in this schema, and I am in the midst of it right there in terms of when I say, “Get in the car right now, Johnny,” versus like, “Well, hey, it’s getting to be about that time, you know.”

Chris De Santis
Yes, you are biased towards suggestion than demand. And I’ll tell you another thing that you probably do quite a bit, Pete, that you may not notice that you do is you explain why you do what you do. You explain why you’re doing this. You don’t assume that they’re going to understand that this is a command but rather, “This is why I have to say this to you to do this.” And that’s part and parcel to the expectation that they have in the workplace, too, this whole idea of, what’s his name, Sinek’s book, Start with Why. That’s really what they’re asking, to a great degree, is why.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Chris De Santis
You did this, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s one point of friction is expectation of dialogue. How about another one?

Chris De Santis
Well, again, a lot of this just depends on with whom we are talking about. For instance, this notion of loyalty, which is very interesting. The accusation that we, a Boomer, is far more loyal in our disposition than those who follow. That, of course, I outline in the book, is really about the movement from the company-man experience to a transactional workplace.

And the company-man experience was really one of the assumptions that, “You will work here for the duration. And as a consequence, I will reward you, deferred reward, and that will be rewarded as a pension to some degree.” So, the inference is, “You have this job for life if you do what I want and the way I need it.” Now, what we have done is we’ve moved transactionally, and now it’s a negotiation a minute.

For instance, one of the things that most annoys some Boomers is that when they interview, the young will ask, “Well, what are the benefits? What’s the vacation time here? So, what do I get for this?” And, in my day, that would’ve been seen as “What? Why? I’m offering you a job and you deign to ask me all of these things about the benefits? You’re getting a job.” But they’re saying, “This is a transaction. I’m going to be doing something for you. I expect something in return.” So, it becomes more marketplace-driven.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny because, in some ways, I resist being generalized.

Chris De Santis
No, no, I understand.

Pete Mockaitis
And yet I completely…I, 100%, am down with the transactional vibe. It’s just like, “No, the wealth structures and pensions do not exist, and it is a competitive marketplace, and it’s just economic fact that I have many opportunities available to me, and you have many opportunities of people you can hire. And so, we’re going to see if we have something that works for both of us in terms of this is a role that I think is swell and meaningful and a compensation package that works, and you think I’ve got the skills and knowledge, skills, abilities to deliver the value that you need delivered, and either one of us will walk.”

And so, it’s sort of like, “I don’t think you owe me anything and you don’t seem to…” you being the employer here in this dialogue. I think it’s just a reality we know that an employer will cut us loose at any moment that they feel that it would be more profitable for them to do so and, thusly, I have no…I’ve been self-employed for a long time but I guess that’s sort of…

Chris De Santis
By the way, that’s interesting. I can talk to that as well in a moment, but you’ve said the key here is that this is the new reality. It wasn’t the old reality.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Chris De Santis
Exactly right. So, the new reality has shifted in terms of what you expect in this transaction.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I guess, so my thought is like, I don’t know, when people talk about what’s right or wrong, or sometimes they say, “Oh, we know nothing is right or wrong. It’s just different expectations and generations and how we were brought up.” And I’m thinking, “Well, no, it would be foolish, it would be unwise to operate in a false reality. It’s like one thing doesn’t exists to you so don’t make decisions as though it does or you may get the rug pulled out from under you.”

And I guess I’m a little paranoid about this, Chris, I don’t know. That’s why I went into strategy consulting, I was like, “Develop an amazing skillset so that you can do anything.” And then How to be Awesome at Your Job, it’s like, “Okay, all the listeners, develop an incredible universal skillset so that you’re fine. No matter what the robots do, no matter what your jerk boss does, you are bulletproof because you’re like Liam Neeson with a particular set of skills that make you extremely valuable in any work environment.” You got me on a hot soapbox, Chris.

Chris De Santis
Well, this is the point, one of the points you’re making, the new reality, to your point, Pete, supports this idea of employability, “Look, I have to be employable.” The key. And in defense of the notion of loyalty in the young, they are more likely to be loyal to you, “If you treat me in a way that recognizes how I make the contributions I make, and what I do on your behalf,” and they’re less loyal to the organization which is an abstraction.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay, cool. So, there’s expectation of dialogue, loyalty. Maybe give us one more thing where people differ significantly.

Chris De Santis
Another. Oh, well, I think, actually, as a consequence of the pandemic, one obvious thing where we are differing or we’re furthering apart is where senior management believes everyone should come back, and everyone else believes, “I think I like it at home,” and so we have a huge rift. It’s almost the opposites of each other. When you have senior management, 77% say, “We want them all back,” and the people, basically, young employees in particular who have now experienced this freedom, want to stay free relative to that.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Chris De Santis
You also had said something interesting, Pete, because it’s been bubbling up in each generation, it’s doing a little bit more of this, is that each one is more entrepreneurial than the generation that preceded it. You are creating in your own children the desire to have an independent life. And part of the messaging, you will never say that out loud, you don’t have to say that, but you behave in a way that says, “You can create your own destiny.” And we are really pushing the envelope on individualism and the creation of these independent people. I think we’ll, eventually, all be freelancers.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so here we are, we’ve got some points of friction and that show up across generations. What do we do? What’s the best way to navigate them and work peacefully and effectively across generations then?

Chris De Santis
Yeah. Well, it’s interesting, part of it has to do is be very clear on your expectations. I think that’s one of the things we don’t do. You see, I’m used to a world of ambiguity. I was raised with guessing right. And if you guess right, you move forward. Nobody actually told me the whys and the whats of things, but rather I’ll know it when I see it, which was a common refrain in management at one point in time.

And so, the young, to a great degree, want to know, really, what the rules are to achieve, “How do I navigate this environment?” I think I kind of use the analogy of video games. They want to know how to get to the next level, “How do you get to next level? How do you do this? How do you play the game?” So, I think it’s very important to share the expectations of how you operate with the people who are making you successful.

So, if I’m a manager, I should be telling you, “This is how I manage. This is what I would expect from you. What do you need from me to achieve here? How do we stay in touch?” those kinds of things. If I may give you a point of contention that’s very trivial but it’s one that comes up is that, “How do we stay in touch?”

I have a person I work with who I’ve used to make videos, and he will only contact me through a text. He will never pick up his phone, and I like it when people talk to me. In fact, I like it when they sort of see me. But, in this case, his mode of connection is a text. It’s not that he’s not willing to talk to me. It’s just how he’s more comfortable connecting with me. So, I think part of this is we have to get aligned who we are to each other, and how do we stay connected.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s say we’ve got a younger person, say a Millennial, who is the manager of a Boomer. So, that happens. Any pro tips when it’s sort of moving in a direction which might be different than what we’re imagining?

Chris De Santis
I think one of the challenges with that is it’s not just the Millennial-Boomer difference, it’s a stage of life difference, meaning that, “Look, I have 35 years of experience under my belt,” let’s say. “You, young whipper-snapper, have only been doing this for three years, and you’re managing me.” I think there’s an ego that steps in here that says, “Oh, my gosh, is this affecting my ego?” through the lens of the Boomer.

I think it’s prudent for the Millennial to draw from the more experienced person’s experiences as much as they can to say, “Here’s what I’d like to do. What do you think on how to do that?” It doesn’t mean that they’re foregoing the decision that they own, but rather they’re drawing from the other person some level of commitment by allowing them to tell them what they do know about this area that could be useful, and then I will fold that in. You see, it’s almost being some kind of combination between deferential and respectful.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, gotcha. Okay. Well, bring it on some more, Chris. Any more tips and tricks, do’s and don’ts in this new generational world? Yeah, we’re collaborating, like watchouts and best practices, I dig it, being clear on expectations. What else?

Chris De Santis
Well, this idea of how we connect. Our methodology of connection, I think, is interesting. One of those is, I’m a Boomer so my methodology of connection is I like seeing you, I’d like to meet you, we’ll meet. This is our idea of networking. Let’s go meet people. Let’s join things. Now, we know that from bowling alone that people aren’t joining anymore. So, in that sense, the methodology of connection for a Gen Xer is not so much that I know you as the person, but I know that you are competent in what you do.

You see, when you’re dealing with somebody in that category, who is I will call a little more private in their revealing of who they are, they reveal more slowly over time. They’re sort of like unfold over time, and they will reveal themselves as the competency of the relationship becomes more solidified, meaning that, “You show me you’re good at something, I’ll show who I am.”

And so, as it relates to that, the young are more open again. The Millennial is, you’ve heard this expression, they share too much?

Pete Mockaitis
Uh-huh, I’ve heard this.

Chris De Santis
Well, I don’t know if they do share too much. I think what we often hear from them is that…or, actually, so there’s commenting about them, saying they share too much. When, in fact, they’re not oversharing; they’re just in the habit of sharing who they are with others, and their methodology of connection is to self-reveal. For instance, you talk to your kids on a daily basis, I would imagine, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, yeah.

Chris De Santis
Right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Chris De Santis
So, if you do, when you talk to your kids on a daily basis, you probably ask them each day, “What did you do today? What did you today?” Do they share that?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s hit or miss.

Chris De Santis
Well, that’s interesting because, normally, and a lot of times, because I overhear…again, remember I talked about I observe these parents, is that they’ll tell what they did today. And I think that gets in the habit of how they reveal who they are to others, and so they’re not necessarily oversharing. They’re finding a way to connect with another, and then their expectation is implicit reciprocity, “I’ve told you who I am. Tell me a little bit about more of you.” So, they’re open to the discourse between us.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Cool. What else in terms of do’s and don’ts here?

Chris De Santis
Okay. I was thinking, “Should I go uphill or downhill with this?” It’s so interesting. I do think that, again, going back to some of this, how we are different, I think one of the things that’s going to be very important going forward is how we decide to mentor. The young want to be mentored in a more deliberate capacity where it used to be more of an organic experience, meaning that I just discover you, and I say, “Oh, you seem to be a young version of me.”

And if we’re going to live in a world that embraces greater diversity, we have to be more deliberate in how we mentor people. But my problem with that is, and here’s where the friction lies, when you use a term like, “I’m assigning you to be my mentee,” Pete, it infers intimacy that we don’t have. And so, in that sense, we should start more from the backend here, just have an advisor to each other that allows us to open up more slowly because I think intimacy is something that is earned as opposed to assumed.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. I hear you. That checks out, like, “This is your protégé, this is your mentor.” It’s like, “Oh, really?” They do tend to, in my experience….

Chris De Santis
And then, again, the other problem I have with that is that they tend to assume that, “Now that you’re my mentor, you are also my sponsor.” And, again, we don’t define these things very well. And a sponsor is different than a mentor. A sponsor, of course, is somebody who’s going to look out for you and get you promoted. A mentor is really someone who’s going to give you advice on what they’ve learned in certain areas where you might seem to have some issues that you want to share in terms of solving problems.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. And, tell me, if we do find ourselves in maybe a heated exchange, like we got some real tension, intergenerationally, do you have some tips on how we might navigate that smoothly or cool things down a bit?

Chris De Santis
Yeah, because I think a heated exchange is typically in the area, in my view, because one of the myths about the young is, in general, that they’re very sensitive to feedback. I think that people will say, “I’m not convinced that they are sensitive to feedback. I’m convinced that all people are sensitive to feedback.” And so, in that sense, I think sometimes we give feedback as a conclusion as opposed to the behaviors.

And so, I have no problem with somebody saying, “Okay, Pete, hey, you’re not really doing a great job being a team player.” That’s the headline but you can’t stop there. You can’t just expect the young person say, “Okay, I’ll be a better team player.” Well, what does that mean? So, I think what we have to do is we have to be more explanatory. We have to say what are the behaviors.

And then, because, again, these are children of dialogue, as it were, we should be willing to have a discussion about, “Well, what does that look like? And what are the ways to shape that behavior, or change that behavior? And how do I support that effort? And how do I know it happened?” So, again, we have to move away from just a pure tell model to more of a dialogue model because that’s an expectation, and, quite frankly, it has greater stickiness when you’re in dialogue with somebody.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then I’d also like to get your view when it comes to just sort of motivation, in terms of we hear listeners say, “Oh, you know what, my peers,” or direct reports, or others, “are just not motivated. They’re kind of phoning it in.” Do you have any pro tips, in terms of are there different carrots and/or sticks or drivers that tend to be more compelling for each of the generations?

Chris De Santis
Well, I think part of the key here is that this is where we’re moving beyond the generational differences into more the stage of life, “Where are you in your life? And what might you want then?” And so, for instance, the young are still probably, to some degree, deciding, “Who I will become?” And so, what motivates me is, “What do I want to develop in terms of my skillsets? So, where are my skills? And where do I want to hone those skills?”

So, part of the motivation is, again, this goes back to engaging people, is to find out, well, what they’re interested in doing better, or more of, and trying to find circumstances that you can supply that. That becomes the carrot, as it were. So, I think that works very well. Now, some people want promotions, which I am not convinced everyone wants promotions anymore.

I think, going to your point, Pete, they want to be employable, and they want to develop their skills. The only problem with that is, “When I make you more employable and develop your skills,” people fear that, “Oh, then I’ll lose them to the marketplace.” Well, wasn’t that Ford who said, “Well, the only thing worse than not training your people,” or, “training your people and they leave, is not training your people and they stay”? So, I think we have an obligation.

Now, the other thing interesting about in my generation, motivating us, is to say, to some degree, is, “What experiences do we want to have?” because I don’t know if promotions are part of the package anymore at this stage, but rather also I think we’re in a legacy phase, “What can we give back to others?” We should create circumstances where we can teach those who follow.

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

Chris De Santis
At this point, no. I think we’ve covered this. I like what you’re asking about some of these, the differences between us, and I like your point earlier that, look, you cannot generalize about a whole group. You have to say what group we are alluding to. And this notion of, “What are the norms within that group?” What are the norms we observed?

I think part of the trouble with being young is that the headlines about Millennials are negative. They are the Florida Man of generations because anytime you see Florida Man in a headline, it’s some tragedy that, you know, “Florida Man found starving to death in his own refrigerator.” So, you have these tragedies, and then we start to see these Millennial headlines, and we start to associate that with them, and that becomes self-fulfilling in our perception of them, which is not an accurate reflection of who they are.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that resonates in that, I guess, I don’t even like being called a Millennial.

Chris De Santis
No, it’s unfair.

Pete Mockaitis
Even though I guess, technically, that’s where I’d land, and that’s like I don’t care for that.

Chris De Santis
Well, because, again, how they have labeled you. This is interesting, too, because one of the things about each generation, we’re all a disappointment. We’re not just a disappointment at the same time. Gen Xers were slackers, we were hippies, so in that sense, everyone is a disappointment, and then we outgrow it. The only problem that Millennials have is Gen Z hasn’t stepped in to be a disappointment yet so that you can get some space.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, got that to look forward to.

Chris De Santis
Exactly.

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

Chris De Santis
Yeah, one of my favorites is “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are,” and that’s why this is such a perceptual issue. This was, I think, I can’t think of…how do you pronounce her name? Anais Nin, she wrote the Delta of Venus. Lovely book, by the way.

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

Chris De Santis
My favorite bit of research is a book by a man named Hofstede, and he wrote Cultures and Organizations. And what he did, it was from an IBM study, I think, originally in the ‘70s, and he extrapolated that or expanded that into the different dimensions across national cultures. That was super enlightening because now I see why the French are the French, or Mexico is Mexico, and US is US. Very enlightening.

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

Chris De Santis
I like it when I get free notebooks, you know, those ones you can write in, like that swag. They give you a gift. Because I use those, sort of, to take notes and then I just have a stack of these things.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. And a favorite habit?

Chris De Santis
Habit is reading. I’m a reader. I would have to believe you are as well, to some degree, to do so many of these episodes, but I do try to read a book a week.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. And how do you manage that volume? Do you listen? Do you read while doing other things, like exercise? Or how do you…?

Chris De Santis
Well, exercising, actually, I do that while I’m on the bike, but, typically, though I dedicate at least two to three hours a day to read something.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Chris De Santis
I’m okay with that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Chris De Santis
You have little kids. You can’t do that.

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

Chris De Santis
Yeah. When I talk about this, because you said it right at the beginning, is, look, when you generalize, the only real truth in what I say, and in my book, is that what is true about…you said it yourself. The thing that is true about you, personally, is what’s true. Everything else I say is really fodder for the conversation or the discussion or the discovery you can make in an exchange with another.

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

Chris De Santis
They can get in touch with me at my website at CPDeSantis.com.

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

Chris De Santis
Yeah, I think I would say this, that, look, next time you see somebody acting strangely, in a way that you will judge them, imagine for a moment that this person is as rational as you are, and what might they be doing that is rational to them. And so, I would just simply say give people the benefit of the doubt.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Chris, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much fun and peace as you’re navigating generational frictions.

Chris De Santis
Thank you, Pete. And good luck with the kids there.

760: Taking the Fear out of Feedback with Joe Hirsch

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Joe Hirsch reveals why we all struggle with feedback and shares how we can get better at giving and receiving it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The small shift that improves our relationship with feedback
  2. Why to ditch the feedback sandwich and embrace the W.R.A.P.
  3. What to do when you’re not getting the feedback you need

About Joe

Dr. Joe Hirsch helps leaders apply behavioral science to improve the way they listen, lead and learn. He’s a TEDx and international keynote speaker and the author of The Feedback Fix, which has been praised by Fortune 500 executives, NFL coaches and educational reformers for its forward-looking view of human performance.  Joe’s work and research has been featured in Harvard Business ReviewCNBC, Forbes, Inc., The Wall Street Journal and other major outlets. He’s helped more than 10,000 people across three continents communicate with impact and hosts the popular podcast, I Wish They Knew.

Resources Mentioned

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Joe Hirsch Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Joe, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Joe Hirsch
Hey, Pete. Good to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m excited to dig into your wisdom about feedback. But, first, I want to hear about you and pushups. What’s the story here?

Joe Hirsch
You remind me, I have to go do some. Yes, so I enjoy pushups. I’ve been doing them for like 20 years straight, never missed a day, and I have found that to be a low-impact, high-value exercise. I used to use weights and I found that the weights were cumbersome. I couldn’t travel with them, they took up space in my basement, my kids were competing with me for them, and it never seemed to work.

So, I shifted a while ago, even before like this new phase of my life, and I shifted to pushups and I never looked back. And I feel like it’s a great metaphor for feedback, in general, because the things that we do, the small steps and small shifts that we make, sustained over time, they have such a huge impact. So, all about the pushups, it’s good for you, folks. Go out there and do five while you’re listening to this podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, how has it evolved in terms of where did it start and where is it now and what’s the pushup vibe, groove, goal?

Joe Hirsch
So, after about 20 years, I’m up to three pushups.

Pete Mockaitis
Progress.

Joe Hirsch
I’m getting better every day and, yeah, I think it’s a great way to challenge yourself. So, you set a goal for today, you say, “I’m going to 50 pushups today.” Maybe you can do them straight, maybe not, you break them up into short bursts but you start to realize that those small wins begin to happen and you start to incrementally build upon that progress. And I find that very rewarding.

Sometimes you finish a workout, you’re like, “Oh, what did I just do for the last 45 minutes?” or, “Man, I’m sore but I don’t feel like I did anything.” With pushups you really feel like you’re making gains and you can really track that progress. So, I like the workout.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, cool. Well, we’re going to talk about feedback and your book The Feedback Fix. I’d love it if you could just kick us off with kind of a Joe greatest hit. Is there a particularly surprising or fascinating or counterintuitive discovery you’ve made about us humans and feedback over the course of your career?

Joe Hirsch
I think that if people start to think about feedback not in terms of fear but joy, they’ll be surprised by the resonance of their message and the impact of their words. I don’t care if you’re a manager, or you’re an individual contributor, or a parent, or a teacher, or a spouse, feedback is hard and it makes the conversations high stakes, and that’s exactly when we need to be high touch.

And by shifting our message and our mindset, and in the process of looking out towards the future that people can still change, rather than looking back at a past they can’t, we can absolutely make a difference in the tone and the trajectory of these super important conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. You said joy. Intriguing. I guess we’re going to go into a lot of detail about some feedback things. But any quick perspective on how do we get more joy on the receiving end of feedback? Is there a mindset that is optimal for us?

Joe Hirsch
It’s to look at feedback not so much as a gift, which you hear a lot from people and it’s not wrong. It’s not bad advice but I tend to think of it more in terms of a deposit. Because a gift, you can return. The gift doesn’t have to be something you like. It’s more about what the other person thinks you might need. But when it’s a deposit, that’s when we can start to separate that truth signal from the noise and we can start to build interests on that deposit and take it somewhere if we make the right moves and have the right mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. So, it’s a deposit, sort of like, “Okay, I can do something with this. I can invest it. I can get rid of the illicit drug money component of the deposit.” Really stretching this metaphor, Joe.

Joe Hirsch
Yeah, it’s not a drug drop. It’s a deposit. And, ultimately, that’s the thing about feedback. We don’t choose the feedback we get but we absolutely choose where it goes. And I think that’s why deposits make so much sense to people because when they think about feedback as a fear-inducing experience, and I’ve literally asked this question, Pete, to thousands of people across the world, leaders at every level, across industries, “How do you feel when you get feedback?” These are the leaders, “How does it feel?”

And then I asked them a simple follow-up, “How did it feel the moment just before you got that feedback, when you knew it was coming?” And the answers are almost universally, “Well, I felt cautious. I felt uncertain. I felt uncomfortable. I felt in pain,” and that’s because, for a lot of people, we approach these conversations with a focus on deficits and not strengths, with a focus on the unchangeable past and not the unfolding future. And we, ultimately, look at feedback as a sledgehammer to hit people over the head with rather than a shoehorn to sort of open up possibilities and potential.

And when we start to make that small shift, whether that’s on the receiving end or as feedback-givers on the delivery side, that’s the moment when we can start to make a world of difference in the tone, in the trajectory, and, ultimately, in the impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Joe, you’re of master distinction. I love this already. A sledgehammer, no, no. A shoehorn, and the past versus the future. Like, these are the sorts of things that make people go, “Oh, okay.” Tweak, tweak, tweak, tweak. And when you add them up, it’s very actionable and doable and potent, so I dig it. So, tell us then, in your dreamworld, what’s really possible with feedback? Like, what should feedback accomplish and do for us as professionals in the world?

Joe Hirsch
So, in The Feedback Fix I explore feedback through the lens of something called feed forward, a term that was first introduced by Marshall Goldsmith. He gave it sort of common currency. It goes even further back before Marshall to some researchers back in the 1960s. But feed forward, a concept that was originally intended to help people elicit quick feedback in almost like a speed-dating format, that’s how Marshall uses it.

And I began to wonder, like, “Could this possibly have a strong research undercurrent to it? Is there something more to this than just a neat way to grab some quick insights on my current performance with total strangers?” And as I begin to unpack the research in preparation for writing The Feedback Fix, it became clear that, in fact, there was.

And when you start to peel this back a little bit, you begin to notice some trends, that when we start to make these small shifts in the way we look at ourselves as leaders and how we operate, that the moment we start to approach with more inquiry and more curiosity and act more like learn-it-alls than know-it-alls, that’s the moment when we give permission for others to do the same.

And we start to shift these dynamics from power to partnership. And, ultimately, that’s what feed forward is. It’s a strength-centered forward-looking view at who people are becoming, not just who they are. And it’s the moment when leaders start to operationalize this mindset of, “I’m going to be more of a listener and a learner, not a teller and a seller.”

That’s when they start to unlock these great insights that they don’t always have, and give permission to the person on the other side of that conversation to continue to be a partner in that process. In a perfect world, we would do a lot more listening and learning and a lot less telling and selling.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that really unlocks what we can become, and that’s beautiful. So, let’s get into it then. You say right now, in contrast, traditional feedback is, you say, broken. Could you give us the rundown on what’s not working when it comes to feedback in this day and age, 2022? I’m thinking United States-centric, although we have listeners around the world. Hello, guys and gals. What’s not working right now in professional settings feedback?

Joe Hirsch
So, you really have three problems with traditional feedback, which happens infrequently which focuses on a past that people can’t change, and, ultimately, it’s preoccupied with weaknesses rather than strengths. So, the first is bias. There’s some really interesting research out there that shows that when I give you feedback, let’s say you’re my employee, Pete, and I’m talking to you about something that just happened at work. The feedback that I give you is filtered through the important priorities and principles that I have and not focused on the things that matter to you.

So, when I give you feedback about your performance, I’m actually speaking more towards my priorities and principles. It says more about me than it does about you. It’s called the idiosyncratic rater effect. And there’s other cognitive mind traps that slip into this process, focusing on people’s past and holding them to it. Recency effect, the most recent thing that happens takes centerstage.

Or, sort of the opposite of that, spillover, where we chain people to their past performance. We don’t ever let them get out of their past mistakes or missteps. Or pillow or horns, looking at people as either all good or all bad, and filtering that way. So, you have big problems with bias, and that’s even before you get into other biases about people’s backgrounds and who they are and their life experiences they bring, and it’s a messy, messy picture.

The other problem is blindness. And, especially today, we’re talking now in March of 2022, today, work is more complex and less visible than ever before. And that’s one of the great upheavals of the pandemic is people started to leave their offices and go work from home. Work became less visible but it also became more interconnected.

And as work became harder to track, because more people, more hands touching projects, and at the same time became less visible because it’s happening away from the view of managers a lot of the time, so it’s very difficult for managers to have all the insights and all the answers that they might have once had.

It’s like if you go to your favorite pizza joint and you order a pineapple pepper pizza, don’t knock that until you take a try, by the way. It’s quite awesome. So, like, who’s responsible for that awesome pizza? Is it the chef who came up with the recipe? Is it the guy in the back cutting all the vegetables to perfection? Is it the farmer who sourced the vegetables or the pineapples? Is it the delivery man who brought it all together? So, who’s responsible for success?

And that’s the question that managers are really focusing on today, “Who’s responsible for success? I can’t see it, therefore, I can’t track it. And, as a result, I don’t know it.” So, blindness is a big problem for people. And then you have memory. Even if we had all the pieces in front of us, we can’t necessarily remember it. And memory researchers talk about this thing called the forgetting curve, and it sounds exactly as it described. There’s a sudden and steep loss of information just as soon as you begin to learn it. And researchers point that loss somewhere between 30% and 50%.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, minutes after you tell me something.

Joe Hirsch
It’s wild. It’s crazy. So, like, if you learn something on a Monday and then you try to implement it on a Tuesday, you’re already wondering, “Well, what was the password?” or, “What was the website I was supposed to go to?” or, “What was the new policy that my managers just told me about?” and we don’t remember it.

And that memory loss steadies and slows but becomes steeper over the course of a week so that by the time a week goes by, we have forgotten almost 90% of information, which is astounding. So, if you think about the fact that most companies are on a performance management cycle that is either annual, which is – oh, God – like why, or quarterly, which is still not great, the problem is one of memory.

The manager and the employee acting like forensic psychologists or archeologists trying to recreate a past that neither one can truly remember, so you’ve got bias, you’ve got blindness, you’ve got memory, and all these factors combine to produce a picture that isn’t pretty, so it’s no wonder that when you ask the question, “Can I give you some feedback?” We have a physiological response to that question. Our hands become clammy, our knees buckle, we feel like less of ourselves, and that’s why traditional feedback is failing and that’s why feed forward is succeeding.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that makes sense right then and there. Like, even before we talk about how you say it, like just the content in and of itself is going to be inaccurate and incomplete. So, it’s almost like roll the dice. It’s like, “Let’s just see what’s going to happen,” and that naturally makes us pretty uncomfortable, like a huge dose of uncertainty and it’s personal, “Joe, I’m going to tell you something about you. It’s going to have some implications about your future and your prospects. I don’t know what it is and it may or may not, but likely will not be accurate.”

Joe Hirsch
Right. And that’s why we have such an instinctual resistance to this. We look at feedback, as you said, as a judgment and it’s not just about our work, it’s about ourselves. We also don’t take it very seriously because we don’t think it’s accurate. And that’s why if managers were to approach the conversation with greater humility and greater curiosity to act, as I call them, as mirror holders instead of window gazers, as people whose job it is to simply enlarge and expand the view of another person rather than to tell and sell the other person on what they think has happened, then we’re going to have a different conversation.

So, it really starts with this mindset, as you said, even before you get to the message. The way we think about this has to really change.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then how does one be more of a mirror holder?

Joe Hirsch
So, it does start with that shift in thinking about, “What is my role here? If the manager says my job is to solve a problem, my job is to force a change,” then you’re going to be frustrated because, as we said, you don’t have all the answers, and even the data you have may not be good. So, instead of trying to tell and sell, ask the other person for their perspective, and this is where approaching with that learn-it-all mindset, a sense of curiosity and wonder can be super helpful. So, that’s the first step is to start to approach more as a partner and less as a power broker.

Once you do that, though, the message really has to shift from, “I’m trying to fix you” to “I’m trying to frame the problem or frame the issue.” And when we start to act as framers and not fixers, that’s a resonant message for people because rather than tell them what to do, we’re trying to unlock an insight that they already have and hold. And in The Feedback Fix and the work I do with organizations, it becomes very clear that you don’t need to overhaul your whole system. With small shifts and how we shape these conversations, we can actually have a dramatic impact.

And it really starts with operating with a simple belief that, “My job is not to force a change but rather to provoke an insight, and use the person on the other side of this conversation. You have answers that I may not have. You have insights that I may not possess. And if I can do a little more to engage you as a partner, to have more of a dialogue rather than a judgment, and to focus on the things that are really important to you and the moments when you were successful and to build on that, then we can start to have a conversation which is focused more on truth, it’s focused on clear goals, we talk to people as humans, we don’t focus on them as numbers, and, ultimately, we make them feel like more of themselves and not less.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Joe, this is beautiful. I think I’ve got a nice picture for the mindset, the vibe, the feel, the attitude to how we’re kind of centered and pointing at this thing. So, now, I’m curious, in practice, let’s say I love it, I want to feed forward, what are my action steps? What do I go do?

Joe Hirsch
So, one tool that I love sharing with clients is something called a feed forward wrap.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, like a hip. Are we literally talking about rhyming lyrics?

Joe Hirsch
No, this is not Tupac. This is all different. Did I just go to Tupac? Well, I really just dated myself.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s classic.

Joe Hirsch
It’s okay. If you watched the halftime show this year, everyone kind of traveled back in time a little bit at the Super Bowl. So, this is a wrap, as in like the sandwich, or more appropriately the opposite of that praise sandwich, which, oh, God, we have given so many times and probably we’d just like to do without a little bit more.

So, the big problem with the praise sandwich is that it tends to be very meandering, it doesn’t really address the issue, it kind of dodges and disguises information, and we hope that people can kind of decipher our intentions somehow by sandwiching what we want to say in between two pieces of praise to kind of trick them and distract them from what we’re actually trying to get across.

And, look, I have no problem with praise. The issue is the sandwich. Research shows that when you sandwich feedback like this, it ends up going nowhere because people can’t follow your message. They tend to think of the person giving it to them as less reliable or trustworthy because we begin to wonder, like, “Well, if there’s an issue, just tell me, man. What’s going on?” And, ultimately, we don’t know where to go with that feedback.

So, the wrap, as in, “Let’s go get a fajita wrap,” yeah. Anyone hungry? Actually, this reminds me, I need to go eat something. So, when we think about feedback wraps, we’re talking to people more candidly, more caringly, and more collaboratively. And wrap stands for what and where, reason, affect, and prompt. What and where, reason, affect, and prompt.

And when you start to break feedback down this way, then you start to give people more clarity and control over the process, you engage them more collaboratively, you yield higher levels of commitment, and, ultimately, you get impact because you’ve got clarity. So, it’s a super effective tool that anyone can do and it helps you shift the dynamics from the past to the future, and from power to partnership.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s very clever, moving away from the sandwich and toward a wrap. It might be a lower carb as well.

Joe Hirsch
Lower carb and high protein. Yeah, definitely.

Pete Mockaitis
So, could you give us some examples walking us through the what and where, the reason, the affect, and the prompt?

Joe Hirsch
Yeah. So, let’s say I have a tendency to talk over people in meetings and you, as my manager, Pete, have noticed this and you got to bring it to my attention right away because other people on the team, they’re commenting on you offline, and they’re saying, “Joe won’t shut up. I mean, literally, in every meeting, the guy is cutting me off and can’t get my ideas out there.”

So, you pull me aside, and you say, “Joe, could we talk? I want to talk to you about something that happened in the meeting yesterday. A couple people felt like you had cut in when they were sharing their idea for how to engage this client.” So, that’s the what and the where. Now, why is that important? Because if you just say to me, “Joe, can I give you some feedback?” in this vague amorphous way, then my mind starts racing and bracing.

And when you look at brain scans of people who are asked that question, “Can I give you some feedback?” It’s amazing what the brain shows. There’s a spike in cortisol, the stress-inducing hormone, that literally depletes us. We become less creative. We experience a reduction in our executive functioning. We feel like less of ourselves. So, that’s why feedback feels so crappy because we are operating in a suboptimal way.

And so, by giving it a destination, a zip code, I suppose, of what’s happening and where it’s happening, you don’t eliminate the fear factor but you mitigate the fear factor. And so now, I know, “Okay, you want to talk about the meeting. It was yesterday. Here’s what happened and it’s not about my numbers. It’s not about my breath. It’s not about the shirt that I’m wearing. And it’s not about my lack of Zoom etiquette. You just want to talk about something that happened in the meeting yesterday when I cut in. Great.”

You then say, “Okay. Joe, look, the reason I want to tell you about this is because Paige and Sam, they felt really bad when you kind of cut in. And I know that something that you would never intentionally try to do, and I know how important our team dynamics are. You’ve been there a while, you’ve obviously demonstrated commitment to our goals and our values as a company, and I just wanted to bring this to your attention because it hurt them.”

And so, there’s two reasons, Pete, why we want to give the reason. Even if we’re talking to adults who are fully formed and we assume are aware of everything. The first is that people aren’t as aware as we think they are. There’s some great research out there on self-awareness that 90% of us have only 10% self-awareness, which is an astounding gap in perception and reality, and that’s why we have to tell people about this because they might not even be aware of how they’re showing up in the moment.

The other reason you want to give the reason is because of our innate need for certainty. So, I was on a plane recently going to a client event. We’re back on planes now, post-COVID, that’s kind of cool, but everyone was still a little bit anxious. And so, we got on the plane and we did the pre-flight stuff and everyone’s buckled up ready to go, and then nothing.

Like, we were just on the tarmac. We weren’t moving and people were getting fidgety and nervous and they started to look at their watches, and they’re like, “What’s happening?” and there’s no announcement, and everyone was beginning to worry, “What’s happening? What’s going on?” until the pilot finally got on and said, “So, we’re actually just, you know, we experienced a small mechanical issue. One of the members of the crew are coming to check it out. It’s a small warning signal that went on. We’re just looking into that before we take off.”

And so, now I’m thinking, “Oh, a warning signal, a warning light. Great. That’s why we’re here. It’s not because there’s bad weather forecasted, or not because a member of the crew got sick, or someone’s experiencing a medical emergency. It’s just a warning light.” And then you’re like, “Oh, a warning light. Well, maybe that’s a bad thing, but at least I know. At least I know what it is.” And so, certainty and self-awareness, we got to give the reason.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I guess it’s sort of like in that situation, your fears about what could be were brought into a narrow scope in terms of, “The reason I share this, Joe, is because this is one of many signs that I need to fire you.” So, it’s just like, “Oh, okay.” It helps contextualize in terms of, “The reason I share this is because you care about our team and our values and people are feeling good and having a good vibe, and I want to help you accomplish that,” as opposed to, “And the reason I’m sharing this is because, as you know, layoffs are coming and this quadruples the odds that you’re going to be out of here.”

Joe Hirsch
I might not add that part but I love everything you said at first.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess what I’m saying is some people freak out, I think, because we talked about certainty and how spooky it is because it can be anything, “Can I give you some feedback?” It can be anything from “You’re fired” to “You’re the new CEO.” And so, when you give that reason, it situates us quite nicely in terms of, “Okay, this is really what’s at stake here.” It might be big, it might be small but at least I know.

Joe Hirsch
And I care enough about you to tell you what that is and I want you to understand where I’m coming from and I want to make my intentions clear. So, that’s good to start but a lot of feedback operates with those two assumptions in mind. Let’s give a location and let’s talk about the context. Where feed forward really starts to show its magic with this wrap approach is in the final two stages – the affect and the prompt.

So, here’s a universal human truth. People can argue with what we say but they’re less likely to challenge how we feel. And so, when I shift the dynamic of the conversation from blame to emotion, or from judgment to description, that is the moment when you feel a little less assaulted by my feedback.

And so, if I were to say, “Look, the reason why I want to have this conversation with you and the reason why it’s important is because I felt badly for Paige and Sam who, in that moment, kind of just…they looked a little defeated and a little frustrated because when you cut in like that, Joe, it was really hard for them to retrack and recoup, and they had a hard time resuming where they were. So, I felt bad in that moment because that’s where they kind of lost their train of thought and the meeting kind of took a dip.”

Now, that’s a different statement than, “You’re rude. You’re a jerk. And you’re insensitive to the needs and feelings of your colleagues.” So, by moving this away from judgment, you-statements, “You didn’t do this,” or, “You did this and you really shouldn’t have,” we move it into I-statements, “I felt bad. I noticed this and I felt bad for these people who were affected by this.” And, again, here’s where we’re really moving it out of the high-stakes context and we’re shifting ground to a place where people can approach more humanly, and they can say, “Oh, I wasn’t even necessarily aware of that. I’m really sorry. Like, that wasn’t my intention.”

And then, finally, you get to the prompt. After all this has happened, you’ve talked about what’s happening, where it’s happening, the reason, the affect and the impact that was brought about, the emotional toll, here’s where feed forward is so powerful, Pete, because this is where we operationalize that mirror-holding that we talked about before, that listening and learning, and we give the control of the conversation to the other person, and we say, “Okay. So, what are your thoughts on where we go from here? What do you think? What do you think we should do?”

And it’s in that moment when people feel like they have the agency and the opportunity to be a partner, that’s when they’re going to do one of two things. They’re either going to say, “I don’t know. I don’t know what you want me to do. I don’t know.” And that’s okay. Some people will say that, and that’s when you can say, “All right. Well, I want you to think about it. I realize right now, it’s maybe a lot, you’re processing, you’re taking it in. Let’s pick this up in a day, or in a few hours, or whatever your cadence is for this.”

But still with the assumption that, “I want to hear from you. I want to know what your thoughts are.” Or, the more likely scenario that I’ve observed and I’ve workshopped this in real time with teams, and I’ve seen this almost all the time, people will have an answer at the ready because we are closest to the problem which means we’re also closest to the solution. And that’s when we can come up with an idea.

And, by the way, the ideas that others will come up with are very close to, if not the same, as the ones we would’ve proposed ourselves, except now they belong to the person who suggested them, which means they own them, which means they’re going to act on them, which means they’re going to feel a greater sense of responsibility towards them. So, we’ve built commitment where there could’ve been concern. We’ve created partnership where there once was power. We’ve created agency where there might’ve just been accountability. And we’ve shifted the whole dynamic from “I know better than you” to “You can do better for yourself. Let me just try to help you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, that’s some good powerful stuff. And so, I’m curious, with the prompt, you said, “What are your thoughts on where we should go from here?” Is the idea that the prompt should nudge in a future-oriented direction as opposed to, “So, what do you think?” or, “Do you think I’m full of malarkey?” Is it that the prompt is a prompt that is forward-pointing, future-pointing?

Joe Hirsch
I think it’s both. You’re making a great point. It’s very nuanced. When you ask that question, you’re really asking for two things, “Do you accept my premise?” and “Do you have ideas?” So, one really neat thing that has happened a lot is when managers ask this question, a lot of times they’ll skip step one, which is, “Does the person accept my premise?” Usually, the person will because it’s presented in a way that is non-judgmental and very descriptive and it’s focused.

But sometimes people do get stuck on that first point, they’re like, “Well, actually, I want to just push back a little on what you just said.” Or, worse, they get their hands crossed, the ears turn red, and the smokes starts to come out of the ears, and they’re like, “Hell, no, I don’t agree with what you just said,” but that’s useful data because, now, you know that there’s something else going on here. It’s not just, “Joe is talking over other people in the meeting,” there’s a fundamental problem that lies beneath the surface that you’ve now uncovered because you’ve given me the opportunity to weigh in.

So, that’s good data, but, yes, it is about looking towards a future action that, ultimately, that person can control and one that they’re going to set on their own terms and timetable, again, with some nudging from you. It doesn’t mean that you, as a manager, now abandon your responsibilities to help move this person or this project forward.

A lot of managers will ask me, “This is nice but aren’t you actually like taking away my power? Aren’t you actually making me weaker?” And I say, “No. No, no, no. If you do this right, you become more powerful because, ultimately, you’re activating the real job of management, of leadership, and that’s to empower other people.” We have the power, as leaders, every day to empower others to find and to feel their best selves.

And when we start to do that, Pete, with these small shifts and how we shape the conversation, how we allow it to be received more impactfully, we’re increasing our power because we’re sharing it. And that’s the fundamental assumption here that we become more powerful and more impactful, we have more influence as managers when we help others become better practitioners, better contributors, better members of our organization, and that’s the real secret. By giving that control to others, it’s not what we give up. It’s what we give that really matters.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m thinking here, when it comes to the prompt, and they might say, “Oh, I think that’s ridiculous,” and then, you do, you learn some things, you’re like, “Well, Paige has been running her mouth about this ridiculous idea that derails us every meeting and it’s wasting our time,” blah, blah, blah. Okay. Well, now, you’re right. You’ve learned something that, “I didn’t know you felt that way about Paige.”

Well, then there’s something to respond to, it’s like, “Hey, you know what, and now that you mentioned it, Paige really does do that all the time.” It’s like maybe there’s another conversation that needs to be had, or it can be like, “Whoa, this person is so kind of, I don’t know, self-absorbed or focused on the wrong stuff to really…this how this person sees the world. Wow, we’re going to have to do some more work to,” I guess I don’t want to fix people, right? We talked about that earlier. But we have to do some more work to get an understanding of where we need to move forward optimally here given that’s where they’re coming from.

Joe Hirsch
And, really, the job of leaders is to unlock those insights for people. And feed forward is one tool in a leader’s toolkit that allows him or her to set those conditions for positive and lasting change. And one of the things that’s been gratifying to see is that this works regardless of one’s experience levels as a leader, background or training. It works in every industry, and I’ve spoken to, I think, just about every single one, that people can do this with just a few tweaks in how they approach these conversations.

It’s not an overhaul of the system. It’s about making small incrementally positive changes in the way we look at people and performance so that we’re, ultimately, doing the real work of leading others, and that’s to lead them closer to who they actually are and can still become.

Pete Mockaitis
And I suppose we can do this wrap thing not just when we’re “correcting” something but also when we notice something that was awesome, it’s like, “Hey, I noticed in this document, in the questions you prepared for Joe, my Joe interview, that it was very thorough in terms of sub-bullets there, and I bring this up because I love it so much I want to see that every time if possible because it’s filled me with delight knowing that I am not going to look like a fool in having this conversation. I was very well prepared.”

“And so, I’m just curious, what did you think about? Did you do anything different when you were preparing this? Or, is there any way we might be able to go forward so this happens every time?” In all that, we’re saying, “I like the thing you did. Let’s have more of that.” And you could use the same wrap format just fine.

Joe Hirsch
A hundred percent. In fact, there’s a variation of that that I’ve helped leaders use in these formal conversations they’re having around existing cadence of performance management on a quarterly or annual basis. And one of the things that they’ll do is they’ll open the conversation by saying, “Tell me about a time when you felt like you were just at your best, whether it’s over the last quarter or the last project, or even the last year, and you start with strengths.”

And, again, that’s what feed forward is about. It’s about activating people’s best selves, not dwelling on their worst selves, and people will say, “Well, actually, my numbers were great but you know what really was wonderful for me the last quarter? I felt like, as we shifted to a work-from-home environment, I was able to really be connected in a different and more substantial way to my colleagues. It was weird. We weren’t together but I felt more connected to them. I guess we just felt like we were in each other’s lives. And that sense of being right up close and personal to people just made me feel more close to them, and that was a big high for me over the last three months.”

Now, that’s not something you might have expected to hear as the leader but now it’s intel that you have. So, you start with that strength and say, “Oh, wow, I didn’t realize that was so amazing for you. Like, what did you learn in that process?” You start to uncover the conditions or the factors that played a role in that. And as people start to lay the groundwork and talk about that trek towards the summit of their success, that’s the moment when it becomes clear to you but also to them who and what made this possible.

And that activates a sense of collective success, which researchers have shown is a much more powerful driver of scalable success than simply just focusing on individual achievement. So, that when I realize that I did something well or I achieved something great, and it’s with the support of Paige over there, and Sam over there, or Pete over here, and you as my leader, that’s the moment I become encouraged, empowered, and excited about doing this again because I’ve got the support of others, and that’s what leads to the scalable success.

I’ve done it before, I have people by my side who are ready to help me do it again, and now you’ve prompted me by talking about those conditions and then talking about the coordinates of where I can go from here, and you’ve said, “All right, where do you go from this? This is amazing. This is awesome. How can we build upon that? And tell me what your ideas for continuing this and scaling that.” And, again, you’re leaving it with me. You’re leaving the conversation with me for me to suggest the next move.

And rather than just dump and run, I sit and I strategize with you. We talk about it. It’s a dialogue. We’re having a person-to-person conversation. Feed forward is now a more human enterprise and it allows everyone to feel like they’re actually able to be actively involved in their own story of success. And that agency is what makes people feel so empowered, so committed, and so excited to make these positive changes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s beautiful. Well, tell us then, if we’re not the manager but the individual contributor, or even if you are leading people but you want your boss to share some of this good stuff that you’re not getting, how do you recommend we encourage and ask for useful feedback or feed forward so we continue learning, growing, and becoming all we could be?

Joe Hirsch
I think it starts with becoming a feedback magnet, making sure that you are asking for feedback, but more importantly…

Pete Mockaitis
And just like asking feedback, is there some magical way to do that or words or…?

Joe Hirsch
Yeah, I definitely think it starts with knowing what kind of feedback. So, it’s not just, “Can I have feedback?” but knowing the type of feedback that you want. Is it corrective? Do I need guidance from you on how to fix something? Am I doing this right? Is it coaching or developmental in its nature? “I’m having a problem with Paige. Can you give me some advice on how I can navigate that relationship?” Or, sometimes you’re just looking for an atta-boy, like, “Hey, look what I did and I want some praise. And even it is a sandwich, I don’t care.”

So, knowing what kind of feedback you’re after will help the person who’s giving you the feedback know what kind of feedback you want. So, be clear on your expectations and they’ll be clear on what they give you.

I think the other thing is to really be careful about separating the signal from the noise. So, you asked for feedback, and maybe you get the feedback you weren’t expecting. Maybe it’s a little more negative or corrective in nature, and you’re like, “Ooh, that’s a downer. I was coming to Pete for praise and, instead, I got a lecture.” So, what do you do then?

So, that’s the point where you want to put aside the emotion. It’s hard. So, if it can’t happen in the moment, you maybe schedule another time to talk it out, but you say, “Look, I’d like to learn more about this.” Start to ask what I call lightbulb questions, things that give you more insight into what the person was telling you or meaning to tell you when they said it.

So, a good example of a lightbulb question would be like, “How often are you seeing that?” “Have you noticed this before?” “Am I doing this a lot?” Just gather information about that so that the lightbulb starts to go off for you so that you know what’s going on. But then you want to funnel a little bit with these funnel questions. And I love funnel questions because it allows the person who’s giving you the feedback to be more specific about it.

The problem with traditional feedback, we talked about a bunch of issues, but a big issue for a lot of managers is that they either feel it’s an all-or-nothing proposition, “I either have to throw everything at you at once and unleash a torrent of feedback and information or I’m going to be very selective and even a little bit stingy with the feedback that I give you. I don’t want to give too much because I’m worried about rocking the boat or saying something that’s going to upset you.”

So, we have to try to help them size and shape the feedback just right, and that’s where the funnel questions come in. Asking, and this is my favorite one, “Okay, so you’ve kind of told me what’s going on. What’s one thing that I can do to change the situation or to improve, or to get better at this?” Now, by asking that question, “What’s the one thing…?” you’ve made it easier for them to tell you what to do. That takes the chances of them of dumping and running and really reduces that by a major order of magnitude. But, more importantly, it’s given you now just one thing to do.

And we can do one thing. We can act on one suggestion. We can make one shift in how we interact with our colleagues or how we think about our work. And so, asking that funnel question is critical because it allows us to become more aware of what’s happening and what to do with it next. And then, finally, widening that feedback loop, because even when we have clarity, it can still cause a lot of pain. We know what has to be done but we’re still nagged by the problem of, “I don’t like the person who gave me the feedback or trust that person,” and so immediately I’m discounting what that person said.

So, going outside that conversation to a trusted friend, a colleague, a spouse, your mom, whoever it is, is going to help you process this information with more objectivity and less emotion. That’s going to help you separate facts from feelings, tone from truth, and baggage from opportunities, and that’s really where we want to go with that. So, become a feedback magnet and do those things, and it will become a little bit easier to get the feedback you need at a time when you need it.

Pete Mockaitis
And I like some of the wordings you’ve provided. I suppose what I think what I often wanted to know in terms of feedback, but I didn’t quite know how to say it without sounding off. I wanted to know, basically, what do I need to do differently to blow your mind and think I am an exceptionally awesome employee who absolutely deserves to be promoted soon? That’s what I wanted to know. But I didn’t know if I could ask it like that.

Okay, Joe, feedback master, how would you recommend I ask a question like that? Basically, I want to know, hey, this show is called How to be Awesome at Your Job. I want to know, from the manager’s perspective and for progression and promotion, how do I become more awesome?

Joe Hirsch
So, the first thing to do is to bring some good data with you to that conversation and to help your manager see from an objective point of view why you feel this conversation should happen in the first place. So, I’m a big fan of collecting small wins, and it’s not an act of self-congratulation. It’s an act of self-preservation. It’s what we need to do to continue to grow and evolve in our work.

So, keep a little list of wins, maybe some email folder, maybe it’s an app you use, but just track your wins whether that’s a work win, or whether that’s relationship win, something you’ve done to contribute to the values of the organization. Keep those because you’ll want to bring that data.

And you’ll say to your manager, “Look, I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been able to work in this organization with the support of wonderful people who’ve allowed me to be successful but I’m really hungry to grow. I have goals for myself and I want to find ways that I can deepen my connections, and increase my contributions, and build on my competencies. And how can I do that? What are your ideas for me?”

And your manager will be like, “Wow. First of all, I agree with you, those are great wins,” because you’ve now reminded your manager about those things that he or she may have forgotten. Remember, forgetting curves, so it’s good to bring that back to the surface. So, now that you’ve kind of sort of warmed the conversation with that data, that’s when I think you’ll impress your manager by saying, “Look, I’m all about…I’m all in on the contribution. I’m all in on the development. I want more than anything for you to help me reach that next level of success so I can continue to feel like I’m deepening my contributions to our organization and to our team. So, what are your ideas for that?”

Again, you prompt. Don’t tell your manager, “I want a 5% raise.” Now that may be what you want but don’t tell that to your manager because, you want to know something crazy? What if you just bring this out into the open, leave it with your manager, and your manager is like, “You know, Joe actually did a great job this last quarter. Three other people of our team have recently left. I don’t want to lose him. I’m going to offer him 10%.” Why would you already limit yourself by telling your manager what you want when your manager may come back with an offer that exceeds your expectations?

So, start with the data, frame it in the context of collective success, let the manager know that you’re aligned, you’re all in, you’re committed, you want to grow. This is music to every manager’s ears. Like, what does a manager not want to do? Put out fires, worry about retaining high-performing employees, dealing with office drama. And here’s a person who has demonstrated a record of success, is all about the team, has demonstrated some very clear and measurable indicators of his value. So, now, what can we do as an organization?

Maybe it’s offering Joe opportunities for continuous education. Maybe it’s new project assignments. Maybe it’s leading up another project that we’re going to do soon. And, again, that may not be your 5% but over the long term, that could have a return of 20%, 30%, open up opportunities that advance things you wouldn’t even have foreseen.

So, if you’re the employee, don’t limit yourself with your first thought. Have that in the back of your mind and you can always come back to that as a point of negotiation. But as an anchoring principle, don’t limit your potential or your profitability by telling the manager what you want. Let the manager tell you what he or she is ready to give.

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

Joe Hirsch
I think that every leader listening to this, or every employee, or every parent, every teacher, should realize that they have the power to empower other people. And feedback doesn’t have to be a cause for fear. It really can be a cause for joy when we change the mindset, when we shift the message, when we stop looking back on a past that people can’t change and out towards a future they can.

We deliver the promise of feedback which is to help people become the best versions of themselves, the people they could always become but maybe aren’t yet at. And with the small changes, we give them more power, more possibility, more potential. And we shouldn’t play small with people’s potential.

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

Joe Hirsch
So, I should probably have this tattooed somewhere on my body. I quote it all the time. C.S. Lewis said, and it captures everything we talked about today, “You can’t go back and change the beginning but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

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

Joe Hirsch
So, there’s a management professor at the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern by the name of Loran Nordgren, who did some great work on what he calls the Perspective Gap. And what he uncovered with his colleagues is that we tend to underestimate the effect of something on others when we are not going through it ourselves.

So, he brought a bunch of people into a room and have them stick their arms in warm water, and said, “Imagine what it would be like to be in a freezing cold room for five hours. How would it feel?” And they would describe what they thought that intensity of pain might be like, and it was rather low. He brought another group of people in, this time arms soaking in cold water, and said, “What do you think it would be like to be in a freezing cold room?” as they soaked their arms in cold water, and the intensity was greater as you might expect.

But here is what was the surprising part. He then, third group, brought them into the room, had them soak their arms in warm water, take it out, and then describe what it was like. And the intensity of that pain was less than what it was before even for the cold group. Because once we experience something, and then we forget about what that experience is like, we then underestimate the impact of that experience on other people.

And that’s why, when I asked the question, “What’s it like to get feedback?” and they come back with words like caution and anxiety and worry and pain, I then say to them, “Okay. So, how do you think it feels to the other person who’s getting your feedback? Do you think they’re experiencing some of that?” And this Perspective Gap plays an important role in the conversation as we shift our mindset around feedback because it’s not just about approaching with inquiry and humility. It’s also about exercising greater empathy.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Joe Hirsch
I love Team Genius by two authors, Rich Karlgaard and Michael Malone. And the book is great because it talks about the power of teams, and how we can’t really do as much on our own as we can with the support of other people. And I love the message they bring.

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

Joe Hirsch
Yeah, so this actually, somebody tweeted this out the other day, and they attended a talk that I gave. And I never quite know what’s going to land with people so I love Twitter for this. You can see what really resonates. And they said, and I guess I had said this, it makes sense, I say it a lot, “We can’t choose the feedback we get but we always get to choose where it goes.”

And it’s so true. When we give people the opportunity to become agents of change, when we give them the possibility and the power to shape that future that’s still unfolding rather than locking them to a past that they can’t change, that’s the moment when people feel energized, activated, and empowered by our feedback, and it’s more likely it’ll go somewhere, and, ultimately, lead to positive and lasting change.

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

Joe Hirsch
So, I would love to connect with folks on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, that’s kind of like where I live online. You can read more about my work and research at JoeHirsch.me. I’d love to catch you as part of our growing international audience of listeners on I Wish They Knew, Big Ideas, Small Conversations. Get that wherever your podcasts are played. And I look forward to helping you find a little more joy in your feedback because we can.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Joe, this has been a treat. I wish you all the joy in your feedback and elsewhere.

Joe Hirsch
Thanks, Pete. It’s been real.

753: How to Stop Avoiding and Start Resolving Conflict with Ralph Kilmann

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Ralph Kilmann, co-creator of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, reveals the surprising source of all conflict—and shares his best practices for expertly resolving them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The surprising root of almost all conflict  
  2. Why collaboration isn’t your best and only option
  3. Two strategies to overcome the stress and discomfort of conflict

About Ralph

Ralph H. Kilmann, Ph.D., is CEO and Senior Consultant at Kilmann Diagnostics (KD) in Newport Coast, California. In this position, he has created as well as produced all of KD’s online courses and assessment tools on conflict management, change management, and more. Ralph’s online products are used by such high-profile organizations as Amazon, Bank of America, Harvard University, NASA, and more.

Ralph is an internationally recognized authority on systems change. He has consulted for numerous corporations throughout the United States and Europe, including AT&T, General Electric, and the Office of the President of the United States.

Ralph has published more than twenty books and one hundred articles and is the co-author of more than ten assessment tools, including the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), the Kilmann-Saxton Culture-Gap(R) Survey, and the Kilmann Organizational Conflict Instrument (KOCI).

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors!

Ralph Kilmann Interview Transcript

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

Ralph Kilmann
Thank you for having me, Pete. I’m delighted to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat with you. I have heard of the TKI many times, and you’re the K in the TKI.

Ralph Kilmann
Yes, I am.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s pretty cool, and you’ve also got a book we’re talking about Creating a Quantum Organization. So, let’s dig into this fun. Maybe, to kick it off, could you share what’s one of the most surprising and fascinating and maybe counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about conflict over the many years you’ve spent researching, teaching, and exploring it?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, so often, we think about conflict as being out there, between a person and other people, whether in a family or in a work situation, so we’re trying to resolve those interpersonal differences of opinion, what to do, how to proceed, when I have discovered that you have to look inside because the conflicts begin internally.

We all grow up as human beings and we have some kind of trauma. It can’t be helped. It’s just part of being human. I don’t condone, I don’t want people to have trauma, but once they have it, and they will, what do you do with it? And if you just let it sit there and get stuck in your body, and then you become an adult, then you’re projecting all that trauma on everyone around you.

That’s the conflict you’re dealing with, and it’s not just between you and other people, it’s between you and your past. And until you learn to resolve those internal conflicts, you’re going to have a hard time improving how you manage external conflicts. Now, that may not seem too surprising but I have found people tend to stay away from what’s lurking on the inside.

It always seems to be more comfortable to talk about other people, conflicts out there, than, “What I’m struggling with as a person,” and that’s particularly the case when we move into organizations because people in their personal lives, with their friends, they often share traumas they’ve had or how they approach challenges in their emotional life, but in the organization, there are often norms, “Don’t talk about it. You’ll come across as weak. You won’t come across as confident. People don’t want to hear about it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Uh-huh. Well, that’s juicy right off the bat there. And so, it feels like there’s a whole several episodes digging into that. But if you can give us the survey preview version, and how does one look inside and deal with their stuff. It’s so funny, what’s coming to mind right now is a line from the TV series “Succession,” and this character Roman Roy says, “This is what it looks like when you’ve dealt with all your issues. All your issues are resolved.”

And it’s sort of a joke because, hey, we all have some ongoing stuff. It’s never quite fully done. So, what is the process or practice or approach we engage in to deal with our internal conflicts and traumas?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, first, I think it’s useful to think about mind consciousness, body consciousness, and spirit consciousness. Those are three ways of looking at what’s going on inside. Now, first, with mind consciousness, it’s like, “How does our mind make sense of our life?” but it’s all mental, it’s all thoughts. And we can talk to people about it, whether it’s a therapist or reading a book, to uncover those mental assumptions we’ve made from past experiences, and we can clarify our thinking.

But then there’s also body consciousness because it turns out, what’s stuck in the mind is stuck in the body, into tension patterns, and you can talk all you want about these internal issues, in fact I call it talk therapy when you’re talking to a therapist, but it is just talk. It’s not getting into the body where it’s stored.

So, you can talk all you want, you can try to change your belief systems, you can reexamine your childhood, but you have to release it from your body, and that has to do with all kinds of things like yoga, and all kinds of massage methods, or kinds of exercise. You’ve got to move. And as you move, your body opens up and you dispel some of these old stories, but that’s mind and body.

And, finally, with spirit consciousness, and that’s the greatest challenge to the Western world, is to recognize that we are more than just our mind and our body. In fact, there’s this expression, “The skin-encapsulated ego,” as if within our skin, that’s who we are, and it’s all about ego and mind, whereas, we can be much more than that.

So, spirit is saying, “We are all connected.” There’s a human consciousness across the entire planet. People resonate with one another. People feel what’s going on. People can intuit what’s going on far beyond their mind and body. And when you can appreciate that, you say, “Hmm, what does it mean to have transcendent dialogue?” where you get a group of people together, either in a family setting or in a workplace, and they have dialogue that goes far beyond.

They come up with things that neither of them knew beforehand because they stimulate in one another to tap into this universal consciousness, or what C. G. Jung called the collective unconscious. It’s been called many names over the years, but there’s a consciousness that encircles the globe that we can tap into.

Now, what’s interesting, I’ll tell you a survey I took, Pete, is I’d be talking to like a few hundred people in an audience, and I’d ask, “Okay, please raise your hand if, in your personal life, you’ve done things like yoga, meditation, talk therapy, exercise,” and I go down a whole list, and 95% of the audience raises their hands, and says, “Yes, I’ve done that. I’ve done those things.”

And then you say, “Okay. Now, how many of you are willing to talk about this in the workplace?” The hands go down because, as I mentioned, the culture says, “We don’t talk about our personal lives. We keep it to ourselves.” In fact, in the old days, what we bring to the workplace is manual labor, hands for hire. Then, eventually, we developed additional skills we were willing to bring into the workplace. The last remaining area of human capability is bringing consciousness into the workplace, all of you – mind, body, and spirit. That’s where creativity and innovation reside.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, we are off to the races here. So, tell us, your latest book Creating a Quantum Organization, what’s the big idea or thesis here?

Ralph Kilmann
That book, I call my legacy book. I previously wrote about 20 books over a period of 50 years and maybe it was because of the pandemic and I’m trying to figure out what to do with all this downtime, and I said last year, this was about a year ago, I said, “Let me put together a book that integrates everything I’ve done in 50 years. Can I do that? What would that be like?” And that’s exactly what I focused on for the entire year.

So, in the Creating a Quantum Organization, I integrate conflict, change, consciousness, and transformation, everything I’ve done, and I’ve called it a legacy book because, quite honestly, Pete, I don’t know of another book I’m going to write. I think I look at that book and I say, “This is what I came here to do. This was why I did all my work. This is why I was born, to do this book.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, congratulations, that’s a spot many of us don’t feel like we reach, so kudos. That’s so awesome. Well, so we got four zones. I’d like to spend a disproportionate amount of our time talking conflicts just because, well, you’re so famous for it and this is our moment we have together, and then hit a little bit of a flavor for the others.

So, you mentioned in your conflict model five different conflict-handling modes. Can you give us a quick kind of field description for them, what they look like in action, and a sense for is there an ideal time and place for each of them?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, first, the basic TKI model is two dimensions – assertiveness, cooperativeness. Very simply put, assertiveness is the extent to which you try to get your needs met. Cooperativeness is the extent to which you try to get the other person’s needs met. And on that space of the extent to which you’re trying to get your needs and other people’s needs met, there are these five conflict modes.

So, competing is you’re only concerned about your needs. You’re not at all concerned about the other person. You want to win the argument. Period. Accommodating is just the opposite. You want to help the other person get their needs met, and, for the time being, you’re not at all concerned about your needs. Maybe that issue is more important to the other person than it is to you, maybe it’s his turn or her turn to get their needs met, whatever, but you give up your need satisfaction to help the other person.

Then there’s compromising, which is in the middle, we split the difference, we flip a coin. It’s somewhere in between competing and accommodating. So, you get something you want, I get something I want, but we’re both somewhat dissatisfied. It’s like 50% of our needs are met but there’s that other 50% that we haven’t addressed. In fact, compromising is going back and forth between competing and accommodating. The more you get, the less I get; the more I get, the less you get. It goes like a see-saw, and compromising is 50-50 in the middle.

Now, avoiding is no one gets their needs met. We leave the situation. Now, sometimes, there’s good reasons to leave the situation. People are not being nice to one another. People need time to think. People need to collect more information so they stay away from it until they’ve done that. That’s avoiding. But, meanwhile, no one’s getting their needs met because they’ve stayed away from coming up with a resolution.

But the fifth mode which often seems ideal at first is called collaborating, and that is you’re getting all your needs met and I’m getting all my needs met, so we completely satisfy our needs. Now, as it turns out, collaborating can only work under a very unique set of conditions. We have to trust one another. We have to really share what we need and want, and that it won’t be used against us when we share that. We have the time or we take the time to work on the issue. We communicate effectively so we can listen to one another without getting defensive.

In other words, collaborating sounds like the ideal but it’s not easy to bring about. Sometimes you have to change the situation first, like establishing trust, improving communication skills, setting the time aside to have the discussion. You need to establish the conditions first if you ever hope to collaborate. But for each of those modes, there’s a set of conditions where it works best.

Now, with the Thomas Kilmann Instrument, people find out which of those modes they might be using too much or too little. Maybe you approach every situation with competing, you always think you’re right, you always think you’re more important than the other person, and so you’re always trying to assert yourself without any concern of the other, and then you find out, “Huh, maybe there are times I have to let the other person get their needs met because, then, they’re going to be more favorable to me in the long term.”

So, you start thinking about, “How can I work with other people to bring out an effective resolution of the conflict?” And sometimes accommodating, as I mentioned, works best when the issue really isn’t that important to you, it’s more important to the other person, so why not let have the other person have their way. As I mentioned with avoiding, you don’t want to avoid conflicts that are really important to both people in terms of your need satisfaction, but there are times when you need more time to think about it, to talk to other people, to collect information.

So, what you have to understand with conflict management, there are these five approaches, five repertoire of skills you can use, but learning when to use them and how to use them effectively. For example, I can avoid a group meeting by saying, “I’ve had enough of this nonsense. I don’t want to hear this anymore. I’m getting out of here.” I stand up, leave the room, and slam the door. I’m avoiding.

Or, you can avoid by saying, “You know, I’m not ready to make a decision yet. Can I have a few more days to think about it and talk about this with my coworkers?” That’s avoiding too but it’s done in a much more respectful, dignified manner. So, what’s important besides knowing those five modes, when to use each of them in the correct situation, but then also how to enact each mode with care, sensitivity, dignity, and respect.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said. Ralph, I have a feeling you’ve spoken about this before.

Ralph Kilmann
Well, for about 50 plus years. In fact, I just spoke with Ken Thomas, my co-author, yesterday and we kind of reflected that we’ve known each other for 50 years since our days at UCLA, and an amazing journey.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, so then we figure out which one is the most appropriate, and then we use the elegant version of that, ideally, in terms of sort of being optimal with regard to your relationships and needs meeting. And so, I got a good sense, I think, in terms of collaboration seems ideal but a few things have to occur and we have to have that trust and communication and the time to go there. Accommodation is great when it’s really important to them and I don’t care so much. Can you give us a view for when the other approaches are just right?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, compromising would work best when there’s a fair amount of stress, you don’t have a lot of time to discuss the issue, it’s only of moderate importance to both of you, and coming up with an expedient solution allows you then to focus on other more important problems and conflicts. So, compromising is very expedient, it doesn’t take much time to flip a coin or split the difference.

So, you and I want to meet, I want to meet at 4:00 in the afternoon, you want to meet at 2:00, we say, “Why don’t we make it 3:00 o’clock? Instead of spending an hour discussing what time to meet, let’s just split the difference.” That’s compromising.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Sure.

Ralph Kilmann
Now, both of us may only be partly satisfied by that because maybe there are reasons we wanted to meet at 2:00 or 4:00, but let’s talk about the main issues and not get bogged down with something less important, like a couple of minutes here or a couple of minutes there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so there’s compromise. And how about the others?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, as I mentioned with avoiding is when the issue is not important or you’re overwhelmed by stress and there’s not going to be a quality discussion if people are overwhelmed with stress. Save it for another day, save it for another meeting. Or, you need to collect more information, or you don’t want to be pushed to a decision, or a decision doesn’t have to be made till next week or next month, we don’t have to do it now, so let’s focus on things that have to be done this week that have a higher priority.

But, as I mentioned, if something is very important to you and someone else, and you avoid it because you don’t like conflict, you don’t like confrontation, then you’re walking around and your needs are not met, the other person’s needs are not met. And, long term, if you and other people’s needs are not met, your most important needs, you either disengage from the situation or you leave. Or you leave a relationship, a workplace, whatever. People have to get their needs met at some point.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And I really liked how, with the avoiding, you gave us a fine way to avoid and a not-so fine way to avoid. Could you give us those illustrations for the others as well?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, the favorite one is competing, where picture a very autocratic manager slamming his fist on the table, saying, “We’re going to do this. I don’t want to hear any argument,” and he’s shouting, he’s screaming, he’s pounding his fists, and people are almost too afraid to speak or to do anything different.

Whereas, the healthy side of competing is I’m sitting very calmly, and I’m saying, “Let me share with you why this issue is so important to me, and I’m hoping you can see why I want this to come out in the way I’m suggesting. And if you allow me and you indulge me on this one, when something is that important to you, then I’ll concede to you, but please hear me out.”

That’s a completely different approach than putting my fists on the table and shouting at people and talking in people’s faces. Both are competing but they have a completely different impact on others.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Okay. And how about what’s a sloppy cooperation look like?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, a sloppy cooperation would be…it might be said that there is some stress in the situation but, basically, people don’t like conflict. Maybe that’s something we should talk about, why conflict is often viewed in such negative terms as if it’s bad and we simply want to get rid of it. The world would be a better place if there were no conflict. But, as it turns out, conflict is like death and taxes; it’s inevitable. You can’t get away from it. It’s the nature of the universe.

But, essentially, with compromising, it would be, “We don’t like conflict so we don’t want to talk about it. Let’s flip a coin even though these needs are important to us and we’re not getting them satisfied. But I’d rather flip a coin and split the difference than have this  discussion with you that makes me uncomfortable.”

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Ralph Kilmann
So, to move from compromising to collaborating, not only do you have to develop trust, effective communication skills, you have to be comfortable with differences, you have to be comfortable with confrontation, and saying, “I disagree with you. Please hear me out. This is how I view the situation. I know we can figure this out together.” But it’s knowing what to say and how to say it to engage other people in addressing the issue.

And I might say, Pete, if you look at the world today, I think you might well agree, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, there seems to be more conflict now across the globe than ever before in the history of this planet whether you’re talking what happened from the pandemic, from politics, divisiveness, systemic racism, climate change, fiscal issues, job issues, economy issues. We are embraced with conflict like never before.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I guess in terms of…well, I only have the years I’ve been alive on the planet to look at, but it sure feels more verbally divisive.

But, yeah, I hear you there. From some vantage points, it does seem like there’s more conflict than ever before. For no other reason, there’s more humans than ever before and who have more access to ideas and different opinions.

Ralph Kilmann
And the pandemic and the politics have put people globally under stress. And under stress, you’re less likely to use conflict modes effectively. You’re likely to go to the extreme. We’ve seen people have meltdowns when they’re asked to put on masks or to keep their social distance, bad meltdowns, because they’re on overwhelm, and it just takes a little bit to take someone over the edge. You can’t use an effective approach with conflict management with dignity and respect when you’re totally stressed out. In fact, let me suggest what the TKI conflict model looks like under high stress.

Competing becomes fight, avoiding becomes flight, and accommodating becomes freeze. Fight, flight, freeze, which are the three physiological responses to stress for the sympathetic nervous system. So, when we see the sabertoothed tiger, or when we see that we are under a threatening condition where we could lose our life, we go into overwhelm. We fight, flight, or freeze.

And so, the conflict model that is mindful with collaborating and avoiding and compromising, and choosing those behavioral approaches to best match the situation, all collapse into fight, flight, freeze under high stress. So, what we’ve seen in the US and in other countries is some of the conflicts we might’ve been better able to resolve without all that high stress, we see a lot of fight, flight, and freeze. Depression is freeze.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so then, let’s talk a bit about this emotional stuff. When it comes to saying, “You know, I just don’t like conflict,” or when we are feeling like, “I’m under a lot of stress,” how do we tackle some of that emotional stuff so that we’re saying, “Hey, you know what, conflict is alright. Maybe it’s not my favorite thing, but it’s okay. It’s like taxes is not my favorite thing but we get through it. It’s alright”? As well as the stress, like, “I’m freaking out about this thing and I’d be able to resolve it a lot better if I weren’t.” So, what do I do with this stuff?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, first, I have found it’s so important for the reasons I was giving to reduce the amount of stress. If people are under high stress, you cannot have a good conversation. They’re going to get one another defensive. They’re going to use the extreme forms of the conflict modes that get other people defensive, on and on. It’s not going to work. So, how do you remove the stress?

A simple method, and this is from mind, body, spirit modalities, is breathing. You breathe in like for seven seconds, you hold your breath for a certain amount of time, you exhale for seven, eight seconds, and then you take these long deep breaths, and that resets the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system so it relaxes you. It’s called the relaxed response.

So, again, you breathe in. I don’t remember if it’s four or five seconds. Hold your breath for seven seconds. Breathe out for eight, then hold it a little bit more. You do that a few times, you will reset your nervous system. That’s so important.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, four, seven, eight sounds like Andrew Weil, like sleepy breath. Is that the same one?

Ralph Kilmann
Yeah, it’s something like that. Well, you’ll find different people, like they differ.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there are so many different counts, “Do box breathing. Four, four, four, four,” I mean, there are so many.

Ralph Kilmann
There’s conflict over how many seconds to inhale and then exhale and then hold your breath, but the point is, by slowing down the breathing, making it deeper, you reset your nervous system so you can use your cognitive mind as you’re intended to do. So, you got to remove the stress. And then what I found very useful is to get a group of people together who have respect for one another and they share how are they responding in today’s world, how are they dealing with these issues, how are they approaching it.

It’s like creating a conflict support group so we can all say, “Yes, we’re experiencing stress. Let’s try to keep that down at a level so we can use our minds as intended. And let’s discuss how we’re each approaching this so we can support one another. What did you find works when you tried this approach or that approach?” And then they can talk about it.

When this is done in a work setting, it’s a thing of beauty, Pete, because so often they’re talking about getting the work done as opposed to saying, “But how do we work together as a team? How do we resolve our differences? How can we do this more effectively?” There will always be conflict. You cannot get away from it, but the difference is how you manage it. That makes all the difference in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Beautiful. Well, so before we shift gears, anything else you want to say about conflict?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, we certainly should look at internal conflict because that’s where it all begins. So, if we have time, I’d like to…

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it.

Ralph Kilmann
Okay. Well, in my book, I talk about these four foundational inner conflicts that drive all the outer conflicts. The first one, and this is so basic, are you an energy body or a physical body? Now, sometimes people in the Western world say, “Well, I’m a physical body. What are you talking about energy body?” Well, in the Eastern world, we’re more into energy that we radiate, for example, through the seven chakras in the body than we are in the Western world where it’s all about how we think about things.

So, the question becomes, “We’re not just physical, we’re not just energy. We’re both.” In fact, I asked the question, “Are you a physical body or an energy body?” which pits the conflict on that model to say, “Either this or that,” and you can go back and forth arguing which is which. Whereas, in fact, the collaborating approach says, “You’re not either. You’re both.”

And when you walk into a room and talk to people, it’s not just your words that impact people; it’s your energy, it’s your mood. If you are depressed or sad or angry, or you have a lot of pride and arrogance, whatever words you use are going to come out a certain way. As opposed to coming into a room with other people, and saying similar things but the energy is one of love, joy, peace, compassion.

How different does that sound from anger, fear, grief, pride, and arrogance, love, joy, peace, and compassion? That’s the emotional energies. And when people get in touch with their body and their feelings, and then they radiate that energy, they’re not just choosing words. They’re choosing, “What is the energy I use to present these words.” The energy I find, Pete, is more important than the words themselves.

And you can walk into a room and you can feel tension or you can feel joy. It’s not the words; it’s the energy. So, anyone who says, “Oh, we’re just physical bodies,” say, “Walk into a room and tell me what you feel.” You can feel it. And what’s interesting, you can learn to assess those energies. We don’t learn that in the US in our educational programs where everything is about the mind, the head, the intellect.

Physical education, we separate the body from the mind. You go to physical education where you do sports and fitness, but you don’t really get into your feelings and what sensations are in your body. So, we address it by separating it out into physical education, whereas, in reality, you can’t separate out the mind and the body, they’re together. And some day, educational programs will help children express what they’re feeling in their bodies so they’re more aware of what they’re feeling and what they’re all about and who they are.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when you say what they’re feeling in their bodies and the emotions and the energies, kind of like an integration might sound something like, “My neck feels like things are crawling over it. I’m very uncomfortable and worried about this situation we’re in right now.” Like that?

Ralph Kilmann
Exactly. In fact, I would say most of the researchers suggest if something comes to you, it first affects your body and then your mind picks up on it. So, if you can say, “Huh, why is my neck so stiff? Why have I had neck pain for the last two years? What’s going on in my life that gives me that kind of a tension? I have this anxiety in my solar plexus that doesn’t go away. I’ve taken things for it, what is that all about?” Well, that’s some tension.

But one of the modalities for body consciousness is called somatic experiencing. Somatic is of the body, and you actually pay attention to the tingling and the feelings in your solar plexus, and you pay attention to it, and you stay there, and you focus on it. And guess what? It dissipates. But if you think, “Well, it’s my body and that’s separate from my mind, and I can’t do anything about it, and I have to live with this,” you’re missing the opportunity to look at the signals and the messages that your body is giving you even before something gets to the mind where you, then, conceptualize and say, “Oh, I must have tension.” Well, your body already knows that. So, the sooner you pay attention to the body, the quicker you’ll get on top of what you’re experiencing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s energy and body. How about what are the other internal conflicts?

Ralph Kilmann
Well, they’re all fun. The second one is one of my favorites. Actually, they’re all my favorites, but the second one is “Are you governed by your ego or your soul?” Your ego and soul are two different kinds of inner voices you have that suggest how you should be living your life, how you should make decisions, what actions you should take. And ego, just to give you an idea, is focusing on things like self-image, safety, security, survival, success, immortality, fame, glory, being in control, being in power, being more important than anyone else. Those are ego things.

Now, the soul is “Why was I born? What am I here to do? What’s my special calling? What’s my piece in the universe? What will give me the most meaning and satisfaction in life? Why was I put on this planet and given the privilege of life? What does that mean? What am I to do?” Ego and soul, I don’t mean it to be religious, I don’t mean it to be Freudian, it’s simply saying the ego is of the mind, and the soul is of spirit. It’s a beyond the mind-body. And those are two different messages.

So, someone can say, “Well, my ego wants to live forever, and I want to be in control, and I want to have more money than anyone else.” Fine. Soul says, “But what do I want to contribute to society? How can I serve people?” And here’s what’s interesting, some of the Eastern traditions suggest we have to destroy the ego and feed the soul. I don’t believe that at all. Why would you want to destroy or discard any part of you?

The issue, again, think of the TKI conflict model. It’s first, either/or, I’m governed by ego or soul, but then if I create the right conditions, I can have both. When my ego and soul are on the same page, the ego gives me the energy to pursue my soul’s mission. When I’m fighting the two, then I’m at odds with myself. My ego doesn’t want to do this so, therefore, my soul is not going to be satisfied. Or, my soul will want to do this but the ego says, “I’m not participating. You go on your own.” If you can get ego and soul working in the same direction, on the same mission, then you are maximizing your life, your needs, your contribution to society.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful.

Ralph Kilmann
So, that’s the second one. The third one is also kind of fun. You’re ready for this?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it.

Ralph Kilmann
Are your surrounding systems – and I’ll define what I mean by that – separate from you or an integral part of who you are? Notice how we say because we first set it up as that debate on the TKI conflict model, before we resolve it into a more integrated collaborative manner. So, essentially, it’s people generally think of the culture of the organization, the reward system, the strategy, the structure, other people as outside them, they’re outside my ego-encapsulated skin. And, therefore, since they’re outside of me, they’re someone else’s responsibility.

Now, what happens, Pete, if everyone believes that the systems of the organization are someone else’s responsibility? “It’s not me. I’m just what’s inside me, what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking.” But what’s fascinating is when you realize that we’re all in this together, we’re all connected, the systems we create are part of our psyche, we can’t really be separate from anything. And once people say, “You know, I am equally responsible to my surrounding systems, that’s a part of who I am, so I think I have to take some steps to improve those systems so that I can create the conditions that we can resolve our conflicts in the healthiest most successful manner.”

And, yet, what’s interesting with that inner conflict, that third one, of, “Are systems a part of you or outside of you?” is so fundamental because I always come across people who believe those systems are outside, “They’re not a part of me. That’s someone else’s responsibility.” And, yet, again I have to emphasize this, Pete, if everyone thinks the system is someone else’s responsibility, who’s taking care of it?

Pete Mockaitis
Nobody.

Ralph Kilmann
Nobody, yeah. Like all the discussion now about infrastructure, is that a part of who we are or is that a problem in other cities, other nations, other bridges, not my bridge, or do we realize that it’s all together? In fact, to show you the spiritual perspective, someone had asked me once, “Give me an example of that spiritual perspective when we really recognize we’re all in this together and we’re all one.”

And that’s the case when you discover that someone on the other side of the globe, say in Africa, is suffering. That suffering is as important and significant to you as if your own child is suffering. There’s no difference between a stranger in Africa and your own child. I’m not there yet, most people aren’t, maybe the Dalai Lama is, but, essentially, that is the ultimate where we say, “You know, we’re part of this human race, we have this consciousness that we all tap into, and if we can work together across the planet, we can all have a better life and get our most important needs met.”

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And the fourth?

Ralph Kilmann
The fourth is the hardest to resolve, and that’s why it’s listed as number four. And I suggest that if you make significant progress with the first three, you’re then ready to really deal with the fourth one. And the fourth one is “Have you resolved your primal relationships or is your life still being drained by traumas from the past?”

In some work situations, picture a group having a meeting, and those people are triggering one another from previous relationships 30, 40 years ago, when they were kids or teenagers where they got hurt, and these people remind them of those people. And so, they’re talking to one another as if they’re the ones that hurt them 30 years ago. That’s called projection.

Actually, the full psychological dynamic is splitting, “I don’t like this so I’m going to get it away from me”; projecting, “I’ll put it on the other person and then I’ll attack the other person.” So, basically, unless you’ve resolved your primal relationships, it’s hard for you to be present with the people that are right in front of you. You are projecting unresolved stuff from previous caregivers, from people who perpetrated you with one injury or another, a dog you lost, a brother, a friend, whatever, and that’s your life. You’re living that way. You can’t interact with the people in the present and resolve conflict if you’re reacting or the phrases you’re being triggered by unresolved problems in the past.

So, the more we can help people resolve the primal relationships, more of their consciousness will be present in the moment to address the really important issues and get people’s most important needs met. But it’s the hardest because who wants to go back and examine those demons? But if you don’t, you’ll spend the rest of your life, perhaps, running from them. That’s the ultimate avoiding is to say, “I don’t have any issues. I’m done with the traumas. I’m over it,” and, meanwhile, they’re yelling at other people as if they’re yelling at the people who hurt them 30 years ago.

So, if in an organization, we had people who work through those four inner conflicts – energy, physical body, ego versus soul, separate systems versus integral part of me, primal relationships – if people have worked through that, then their consciousness, all their mind, body, spirit, is fully available to contribute to the organization today and tomorrow.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Beautiful.

Ralph Kilmann
Now, whose responsibility is it? You can say, “Well, people should do their own therapy, their own meditation, their own exercises, their own massages, on and on,” or if the human resource objective is to get the most of the human resources talent in the organization working in the same direction, maybe organizations need to take responsibility to help people develop their mind, body, spirit consciousness, and then make sure that’s brought into the organization.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I think that when there’s a great ROI to be had, organizations should just go for it. That’s my take. So, I love it when I hear things like, was it AETNA providing incentives for sleeping enough? It was like, “Right on. Go for it. That’s great. Sleep is important and it makes a huge difference.” So, if it’s a little bit of a nudge or an incentive can improve people’s sleep, which improves their thinking and their creativity, their stress, and collaboration, then I am all for it even if it feels a little weird or different. I think we’re on the same mind there.

Ralph Kilmann
Well, what’s interesting, Pete, is in today’s world, so many people have heard about and experienced meditation, yoga, physical exercise, talk therapy, self-help books, there’s so much out there, and they’re doing it. The problem is often the organizational cultures says, “It’s taboo to talk about that and bring it into the organization.”

And, yet, when I work with organizations and we begin that discussion, and people start sharing their personal journeys, again, they have to trust one another, the culture has to support it, so some preliminary work has to be done, but then, my goodness, does the conversation open up. So, we regularly have these meetings in the organization where we talk about this stuff, and you build bonds and connection and understanding. You develop relationships at a deeper level so that you can solve the most complex problems with your fellow colleagues. It makes a huge difference.

And then you go into an organization where no one’s allowed, based on the culture, to talk about those things. “It’s taboo. We don’t talk about it. The last time someone said they were visiting a therapist, they were laughed at and told that they were crazy. Look, don’t do that again. Take care of yourself. People will hurt you.” People are closed off. Then how can you work together to solve complex problems if you’re so guarded, so defensive, and you don’t know who you are and what brings you bliss?

Pete Mockaitis
Great perspectives, Ralph. Now, can we hear a few of your favorite things, starting with a favorite quote?

Ralph Kilmann
One is by Lao Tzu, and it says, “If you’re depressed, you’re living in the past. If you’re anxious, you’re living in the future. If you’re at peace, you’re living in the present.” And I think it was Oprah who said, “Doing your very best in this moment is the best preparation for the next moment.” So, how do you get present instead of projecting all that junk and unresolved stuff from the past, or being engrossed with fear about what’s likely to happen in the future? Stay present, be conscious, work with people, I think that’s essential.

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

Ralph Kilmann
I guess recently I read a book that really impressed me. It’s a book by Colin Tipping called Radical Forgiveness. Absolutely brilliant. And it’s about the resolution of primal relationships and it’s really saying that even when something bad happens, the spiritual perspective is to look at it and say, “How is this really a gift? What is this showing me that I’ve been unresolved about? Yes, I’m angry. Yes, I’m frustrated. I want to hurt that other person for what he said. But, wait a minute. It’s a gift. What did that person trigger in me that I haven’t yet resolved?”

And then in terms of forgiveness, it’s not even saying, “I forgive you for doing that.” It’s like, “Thank you for doing that. You allowed me to look at something in myself I would’ve never looked at if you hadn’t triggered me. Thank you. It’s a blessing.” And when we can see events in life as spirit giving us an opportunity to further grow and examine, it’s not about being angry; it’s about finding out, “Why did I have that emotional response? It’s a signal that I haven’t developed or resolved something, so let me do that now and become a better person so I can serve others and society more effectively.” That’s radical forgiveness.

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

Ralph Kilmann
A tool? I think of tools in terms of assessment tools.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Ralph Kilmann
And besides the TKI conflict model and the TKI instrument, which measures those five, I’ve developed at least 10 other assessment tools. And what’s fascinating, I find, when people say, “Why do you develop those instruments?” I said, I’ll give you a radical statement, even if they’re not entirely valid and no instrument can be entirely valid, when you give somebody a number and say, “This is how you resolve conflict,” or, “This is the cultural issues that concern you,” or, “Here are your beliefs,” you put a number on it and people say, “What does that mean? What number did you get?” they start talking about it.

The beauty of assessment is you personalize the topic whether it’s culture, or courage, or conflict, and then people start talking about it. They want to say, “How did I come out on this? Why did you get a higher score than I did? What does that mean?” It just opens up the dialogue. So, I find, for me, assessment tools that pinpoint something important about people’s lives, either at home or at work, is an opening to get concrete about a topic so we can learn more.

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

Ralph Kilmann
Best would be my website, which is www.KilmannDiagnostics.com. And that has everything on it, and, of course, my recent legacy book Creating a Quantum Organization. There’s nothing else for me to write. It’s all in there. It’s weird for me to say that, Pete, but it’s like I have nothing else to do. I think I’ve completed it. Now, we’ll see what happens in six months, okay?

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

Ralph Kilmann
Yes. Recognize that even though it sounds difficult, can be a little fearful, is look in the mirror because that is the essence of who you are. Discover yourself, love yourself. If you love yourself, all good things will happen, but you can’t love yourself if you’re running away from yourself and everything that’s happened to you. So, while it’s difficult, the rewards are huge for you and everyone that works with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ralph, thank you. It’s been a real treat. I wish you much luck with your book, Creating a Quantum Organization, and the rest of your fun projects.

Ralph Kilmann
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s always a pleasure to talk about these issues because they drive everything else.