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Influence Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

650: Boosting Happiness at Work: Ten Tips from Chris Croft

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Chris Croft says: "Try to evolve the job, evolve it towards what you like."

The Happiness Tips author himself, Chris Croft, distills and shares his top ten tips for more happiness at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The myths about happiness at work 
  2. How to rewire your brain to choose happiness 
  3. The affirmation to add to your morning routine 

About Chris

Chris is one of the top authors on Linkedin Learning, with 34 video courses recorded during 11 visits to Los Angeles, on subjects including Project Management, Time Management, Process Improvement, Assertiveness, Surviving Organisational Change, and Happiness, with 25,000 views a day and over eleven million views in total. His Happiness course is one of the most viewed happiness courses in the world, with nearly a million views on lynda.com and linkedin – its 52 practical things you can do to increase your happiness. 

He has published 15 books including The Big Book of Happiness, and he has produced a number of free apps including JobsToDo and Daily Happiness Tips. His free monthly email tips are sent to 20,000 people (www.free-management-tips.co.uk). 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors! 

  • Monday.comExperience a 14-day free trial of the Work OS that boosts the ownership, joy, and efficiency of work.
  • Blinkist. Read or listen to summarized wisdom from thousands of nonfiction books! Free trial available at blinkist.com/awesome 

Chris Croft Interview Transcript

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

Chris Croft
Yeah, thanks for having me back. I, obviously, got away with it the last time. So, that’s great to know, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m excited to dig in again. And to kick it off, I want to hear about you are a saxophone lover. I’ve played the saxophone back in the day. What’s the story?

Chris Croft
Yeah, somebody said to me once, “The definition of a gentleman is someone who knows how to play the saxophone but doesn’t.” And I think that’s probably pretty good. I do, I like listening to it, to people like John Coltrane and Bruce Springsteen’s fantastic sax player who died recently, Clarence Clemons. So, I love listening to it but I do play it as well in rock and jazz bands. But I don’t claim to be very good.

But I find it very therapeutic. It makes me happy to play very loudly, just to blast away. I tell people I’m the Jimi Hendrix of the sax but, of course, I’m no way near as good as him. But playing any instrument, I think, is a source of happiness. It’s creative and you get to show off. So, yeah, what’s not to like?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, happiness that’s exactly what we’re talking about. Well done. Happiness at work, you know a thing or two about it. Can you maybe, first, give us the lay of the land? To what extent are professionals, in general, happy at work? Can you illustrate the state of affairs there?

Chris Croft
Yeah, most people are not very happy at work. When they’re asked the biggest source of unhappiness, it’s usually their boss or their job. And happiness at work is not really treated very seriously by most organizations. They think it’s a bit of luxury. They understand motivation which is sort of linked a bit to happiness. And, in fact, when Maslow was creating his hierarchy of needs, he was actually studying happiness, not motivation.

So, he found that happiness required things like security and social links and being valued and all those sorts of things. And that was sort of twisted into motivation, just how to get people to work harder. But there is a link between happiness and how people work. And I saw some research that said that unhappy people tend to be about 50% engaged with their jobs, whereas happy people are 80% engaged. So, they spend more time working and they work harder if they’re happy.

But it’s hard to untangle cause and effect because it could be if you loved your job, then you’re happier, and then you work harder. But it could be if you work harder, that makes you happier, and it’s hard to un-pick the whole thing. But, certainly, if there are things you can do to make your employees happier, you’ll get more out of them and you’ll make more profit. So, why don’t organizations think more about happiness at work?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so happiness at work, I think we’d like some more of it just in and of itself and for the performance and productivity boost that it generates. Are there any sort of misconceptions associated with people think this makes them happy or unhappy at work but, really, that’s not the case?

Chris Croft
Well, the big one is money.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Chris Croft
The huge one is money, and there’s been a lot of research done into happiness related to money. And, certainly, below a certain point, money is related to happiness. If you’re so short of money that you’re worrying about where your next meal is going to come from or whatever, then clearly happiness is reduced by not enough money.

But when you get to a certain point, it really starts to level out and eventually you get to a point where more money doesn’t make you any happier. And it’s interesting because we put so much effort into earning more money. We do jobs that we don’t like because they’re better paid and we sort of sacrifice lots of time, personal life, even relationships and marriages and things get sacrificed in order to make more money. And all the research says more money isn’t going to make you happy.

And I know everyone’s listening to this thinking, “Yeah. Well, it would make me happy.” But, actually, if you look back over the jobs you’ve done in the past, if you’ve had a steadily increasing income as your career has gone on, then it’s hard to know whether it’s made you happier. But if you’ve had a career like mine where the money has gone up and down, you’ve done all kinds of different things, looking back, so times I’ve been happiest when I was earning very little money. And some of the jobs where I’ve earned quite a lot were really stressful and I wasn’t that happy.

And my theory about why this is true is I do think money makes you a little bit happier. If you earned twice as much, and you spent twice as much on your car and the wine you drink and things, I think you would be 10% happier. But the problem is that you pay a 20% price to earn that money, to earn more money. Why will somebody pay you more money? And there’s got to be something wrong with the job that they’re paying you to do. They have to pay you more in order to get you to do it, and it’s usually stress, or working longer hours, or a lot of travel.

And so, yes, the money makes you slightly happier, but the price you pay to earn that money outweighs the gain that you get.

But there’s good news because it means we don’t have to search after money at work. We can think about doing a job that we’re going to enjoy. You could start thinking about work that’s going to be satisfying and make a difference, and all of those things. And that’s good news, I think, in the end.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious, you mentioned that after a point, the incremental happiness for extra money levels off. I’ve seen some studies on that. Do you have a sense for what that point is, like, dollar terms?

Chris Croft
Yeah, I saw one and it said $60,000. And I remember being a bit disappointed because it hoped it would level off at like 20 or 30 because then I could say to pretty much everybody, “Don’t look for more money,” but, of course, a lot of people don’t earn 60,000 and, of course, it’s personal, so for some people it may level off at $40,000 or $50,000, and a lot of people are at that kind of point there.

And even at 30,000 or 40,000, it’s levelling off fast. So, if you can earn a whole load more, it won’t make much difference to your happiness. It’s completely leveled above 60, that’s the numbers I saw. But I think it varies depending on the country and your personality, and there’s a lot of factors going on in there.

Pete Mockaitis
And maybe your zip code and size of family and such.

Chris Croft
Yeah, but certainly it’s not millions. It’s not your second million doesn’t make you happier, although I’m sure that’s true. It levels off a lot sooner than that so don’t chase after the money. That’s not going to make you happy. But lots of things can, and that’s what I’ve got some tips for you in this podcast. I’ve got some practical things people really can do to get more happiness at work.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, lay it on us. What do you think are sort of really the big levers, the things that make all the difference?

Chris Croft
Yeah, so I’ve got a list of ten here and I’m planning we can zoom through them. They’re not really in any particular order and I think different ones will work for different people. My first one is a really quick one which is projects. And all the people who know me will laugh when I say projects because I am quite obsessed with Gantt charts and project management and things.

But it’s not project management that makes you happy but it’s having a project. It’s a feeling of moving towards a worthwhile objective.

And any project that you’re working towards gives you a nice feeling of progress and that your life isn’t being wasted. And we probably all had the feeling of driving home at the end of a day and thinking, “Where has that day gone? I’ve achieved nothing today.” But if you’re working on a project, you have that feeling of moving forward and you have that feeling of a worthwhile objective.

So, the first thing you can do at work is make sure you’re involved in a project, not just processes which is the same every day but a project, something that’s going to take a few months or a year where you’re working on something big. And I think it probably has an extra spinoff because you’re in a team, you’re working with people on a team, and that’s always good as well. That’s sort of a secondary benefit.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, it sounds like when you say projects, some will say, “Hey, I’ve got too many projects and it isn’t doing it for me.” It sounds like it’s something you can own and observe your efforts are creating improvement, advancement, like a house you can see or, maybe, I don’t know if sales numbers…

Chris Croft
It could be a website. It could be an exhibition that’s going to happen. Yeah, it could be a piece of software. It could be an app that you’re working on but something where you’re going to get closure in the end and you’re going to think, “I did that,” or, “I was involved in that, and there it is.” That’s the thing.

And, yeah, you don’t want to have too many projects. Stress is bad. But a lot of people are really stressed out by the processes. For example, I used to run factories for a living before I escaped. That’s quite a tough job to do. We were just churning out stuff and we were trying to churn out 1% more stuff every month. And it was just stressful and you just felt like you were running to stand still.

But every now and then there’d be a project and we would get a new machine installed or extend the factory or start making a new product. And that was great because we could get our teeth into something new. And then after possibly a few months, there it would be working, done. And it was the projects that I used to enjoy. And the projects were a little bit stressful because there was often a deadline but it felt good when you finished them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a great distinction with the manufacturing world because it’s sort of like, in a way, at the end of each day, like, “Hey, there’s a warehouse full of stuff that I contributed to,” but it’s sort of like, “But that was happening before I got here and will happen after I got here and I see it every day, so it’s not distinctive in terms of that’s mine.”

Chris Croft
That’s right. Yeah, I really think ownership is important. And that’s actually part of my second one I’ve got here actually, but to have ownership of something, even ownership of part of a process would be fine, even if you were just sweeping the streets, let’s say. If it was your street and you always swept the same street and you could take pride in it, then that would increase your happiness.

So, I think ownership of anything is good but, you’re right, ownership of projects is the best thing to have because you don’t have that futile feeling of doing it over and over again, Groundhog Day.

But my second tip, with ownership as part of it, is to work hard. And I know this sounds like an old thing and people may think I’ve been put up to saying this by some sinister boss behind the scene somewhere. But, actually, if you work hard, you’ll be happier. And I know people whose job it is all day just to skive and do the minimum. They’ve set themselves the challenge of doing the minimum amount of work. And I can still remember I’ve got my daughter a work placement at a garden center when she was about 18, and at lunchtime she said, everyone at the garden center, when they had their half-hour for lunch, they went into the mirror room and they just sat there and either fell asleep, which is sort of stared at the wall and just did nothing for half an hour. And she said, “I was totally bored so I went out and volunteered where I could help on the till, and was there anything, some plants that needed repotting or something.”

And they all thought she was mad to volunteer to work. But she said, “What’s the point of just sitting there? It’s not going to make you happy in the end because you’re just not achieving anything. And deep down, part of you knows you’re wasting your life.” So, I actually think having decided to do a particular job for a particular wage, having decided to do that job, you might as well work as hard as you can and absolutely do the best you can.

And people have said to me, “Oh, it’s different for you, Chris, because you’re self-employed. You’re working for yourself.” But everybody is self-employed in a way, and you’ve decided to turn up to work today and sell your time for money, and you might as well do a job that you can be proud of. And I think that that, then, means you’ve got to find a job that you believe in because it’s much easier to work hard at something you do believe is making a difference.

Pete Mockaitis
And before we dig into that one, in terms of hard work, it sounds like part of it is that it’s, I don’t know, you do honest work in terms of like you’re really doing some stuff as opposed to just showing out or trying to dodge or staring at a wall. So, it sounds like it’s a matter of focus or kind of really plugging into it as opposed to sheer number of hours. Like, it’s hard work.

Chris Croft
Yeah. It’s not the hours at all, no. In fact, don’t work long hours because that’ll make you less happy. And, in fact, there’s been research that shows that every half hour that you commute takes 10% off your happiness. So, half an hour each way that is.

And if you take an hour to get to work, an hour to get home, that’s two half an hours, that’s 20% off your happiness your whole life. So, working longer hours is a really bad idea. But when you’re at work, you should absolutely do the best you can, best quality, but also put maximum effort in. And the time will go quicker, you’ll feel happier, the customers will be happier, and they’ll give you a better response back to you.

And a sort of little subset of that is to try to evolve the job, evolve it towards what you like. So, if there’s 10% of your job you really love and 10% that you just don’t like at all, say to your boss when you get your appraisal, or if you don’t have appraisals, just say anyway to your boss, “I’d like to do more of this. I’d like to spend more time directly with customers,” or, “I’d like to spend more time coding,” or whatever. And they’ll go, “Yeah. Well, that’s great. I was looking for somebody who wanted to do that.” And you can move your job towards the stuff you like and away from the stuff you don’t like.

And even if you only move a 10%, after three or four years, you’d kind of really transformed what your job is like, and you can actively influence what your job consists of. And most managers are delighted when their employees say, “I’d like to do more of this and less of this.” Sometimes there’s unpleasant work that has to be done by somebody, and they say, “Well, look, sorry, you’ve got to do that.” But quite often, there’s some other crazy person who wants to do the bit you don’t like. So, you say, “I don’t want to do the filing.” There’s somebody else who’d probably love to do filings, so win-win.

So, it’s to think about what your ideal job would be like and influence your boss, to just slowly edge it towards that, and then it’ll be easier to work with your heart and soul into whatever it is you’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, just as simple as asking. Just like that.

Chris Croft
I think so. If your boss isn’t interested in your happiness, then you can start to think about whether you want to do something else and vote with your feet, but it’s definitely worth a try. And I think most bosses are pretty amenable to being asked about that kind of thing. We’re not asking for everything to be totally different. We just want to do a bit more of that instead of a bit of this, and just evolve it towards in that direction.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Chris Croft
So, that’s my second of my, gosh, ten sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Although some of these are shorter. Shall I go on to number three?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Chris Croft
Creativity. So, we get happiness from creativity. And we were talking about the saxophone earlier, and one of the great things about music is it’s a challenge to be creative. And actually, funny enough, in the band I’m in, sometimes they give me a fixed line they want me to play, “Can you play this rift all the way through the chorus?” And I’m thinking, “Well, yes, I can play that but it’s boring. And even if it’s a really good rift and it’s better than anything I could think of, I still want to play my own. I like my own better and I want to vary it.”

And so, there’s something in us that makes us want to be creative. And I would say even if you’re not very good at something, do it anyway. Even if you’re not very good at playing an instrument, play it. Or if you write poetry, even if it’s not very good poetry, or art, just do some paintings.

But once you get into management, then creativity becomes really important. I think it’s probably the most important thing a manager can do actually is to be creative. Because if you’ve got a process you follow as a manager, then what’s the point of you because anybody could follow that process? You could just get anybody, any old person in, and they could just, you know, “If this problem happens, do that. If a customer is unhappy, give them a refund, or whatever.” So, the purpose of management is to think about how to improve things, and that’s creative.

So, you need to find a job that’s creative and find creative parts within your job, and do as much of that as you can because creativity is a big source of happiness. And we talked about projects earlier, and I think projects have a creative element always, don’t they, because they’re always to do with doing something new. So, creativity, that’s the next thing to think about.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. And I hear you that it’s not purely about sort of art and music. Creativity, I guess, the core of it is you are inventing or putting something into existence out of you.

Chris Croft
Yeah. And where does creativity come from? I mean, there’s a question.
And, by the way, never say, “Oh, I’m not creative. I can’t do it,” because everybody is. Everybody can be. So, you must never just give up and think, “I’m not a creative person. I’m just not,” because you can do it. And with practice and with nurturing and a good boss, because you don’t want a boss who just tramples on your ideas, “Oh, that will never work.”

Look at kids. Kids are always really creative, aren’t they? So, we’re all born with creativity, and you can see it in kids. Kids are always inventing stuff, aren’t they, and imagining, “This stick is actually an airplane,” and all that. So, we’ve all got creativity within us and you can rekindle it, and it’ll make you happier if you can use it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. What’s next?

Chris Croft
What’s next is learning. And I like asking people, “How long could you do a job for if you weren’t learning anything new? If it was quite easy and it was quite well-paid and you were good at it, how long could you do that for?” And answers vary from a couple of weeks to a year or whatever. I worked, part of my apprenticeship when I was an engineer, I had to make washers on a lathe.

And you would make 10,000 in a day. And I had to work there for six weeks which is part of my apprenticeship, and it just drove me absolutely mad. I couldn’t stand it. Within a week, I had become quite good at making washers, and I’d made, I don’t know, 50,000 by then. And after two weeks, I was just climbing the walls. It was so boring. And I tried stacking them in pyramids and trying to calculate how many were in the pyramid, and how many seconds till I can have a cup of tea at 10:00 o’clock, just to keep your brain going.

And I think we all have a built-in need to keep learning because that’s going to be a survival quality, isn’t it? Suppose you were making podcasts, for example, but if you get bored with making podcasts, if that day ever came, then you’ve got to do something else. And it won’t be as obvious as the washers but there will be a point where you just think, “I’m just not feeling it anymore, you know. It’s just yet another guest, and I just go, ‘Oh, how interesting’ after each thing he says.” I know you’re not there, Pete, but you know what I mean.

And, funny enough, I’d been doing training courses for years and I wondered at what point would I get bored with training, teaching people project management or something. And I notice I never got bored because the groups are different every time, and, also, I learn stuff every time from the audience. And so, you have to keep learning. And if you get to a point where you’re not learning, then you’ve got to go off a level or go sideways, volunteer to do something different. Just find something else where you’re going to keep on learning.

And I think it’s easy to avoid the effort of learning, and, “Oh, I can’t be bothered to learn something new.” And I have found if you move somebody to a new job, they’d go, “Oh, I don’t want to do that. I’d have to learn new stuff.” But once they start learning it, they love it. And, of course, learning allows you to be creative as well because it just gives you more ideas you can use so there’s a link there, isn’t there, I’m sure between learning new skills and being creative.

So, learning is something that anyone can do. You can volunteer to go on training courses. Your company is bound to have training going on so just volunteer to go on the next course and learn something that you just don’t even think you’d need, like project management or assertiveness or anything, Excel, and just volunteer and go and learn something. And I’ll bet you, you’d feel good when you’re doing it. So, learning is number four on my list of easy ways to increase your happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I’m convinced. And number five?

Chris Croft
Number five is to come out of your comfort zone. And this follows on a bit from learning. But to come out of your comfort zone and push yourself, volunteer for some things that are a bit scary. Maybe they want someone to give a talk at a conference, or maybe they want somebody to open a new office in Cincinnati or something. Just put your hand up and say, “I’ll do that.” And afterwards, you’re thinking, “Oh, why have I volunteered for that?” but just push yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit.

Now, ideally, you’d have a boss who would do that, who would encourage you to gradually move on up and not give you huge scary things but just things that are a little bit beyond what you normally do. So, you just keep expanding your comfort zone. And the reason this increases our happiness, of course, is because we get achievement, because we get a bit of an adrenaline rush at the time, “Oh, I’ve got to give a talk to a conference.” And afterwards, it’s like, “Yeah, I did it. I feel good,” and you’ve increased your skills, you’ve learned some things as well.

So, volunteer. It’s a bit counterintuitive because we don’t think it’s going to make us happy but actually it does. And there’s that great sort of quote which says, “We only regret the things that we didn’t do.” So, if you do come out of your comfort zone, you won’t regret it. It’ll lead to something or other, and even if it ends up being a bit different to how you thought and it turns out to being tougher, you’ll look back and think, “I’m glad I did that.”

So, I don’t think you should do things that are really stupid at work but things that are just a little bit beyond what you would normally do. And, obviously, you can do that conference talk. Of course, you can.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m with you. And so, I guess I wonder, do you have any pro tips with regard to what is a risk worth taking versus it’s too risky?

Chris Croft
I don’t know. I don’t think there’s a rule for that because I think everyone is going to be different. I think you want it to be kind of 10% more difficult than what you normally do and not twice as difficult. I guess you can look at the, “How big will the downside be?” When you do risk analysis, you look at the probability of it going wrong and how bad it will be, don’t you? And you can weigh up the upside and how likely that is, and the downside and how likely that is.

But I think I would mainly focus on, “Will you die if it goes wrong?” So, if you’re thinking of giving a talk at a conference, what’s the worst that’s going to happen is your talk is going to be really boring and some people are going to go to sleep because they’re not going to throw things at you, or you’re not going to get fired. So, that absolutely is the risk worth taking.

And so, I think assess how likely it is to go really badly and how bad would it be. And, quite often, when you start thinking about what’s the worst that could happen, it’s actually not that bad. We mostly have fear of looking bad in front of other people, and that’s just not a problem, really. So, I think that’s what I would do. I think that’s probably how I would assess risk.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And what’s next?

Chris Croft
Well, number six, we’re onto the second half now. I’m really interested by this one because this one says that when you’re thinking about what makes you happy, your brain doesn’t know what’s good for you. This is based on some research by somebody called Sonja Lyubomirsky who I’m a big fan of. I think her research is fascinating. I think she’s great.

And they found that our brain doesn’t know what will make us happy. And we’ve already said that we think money will make us happy, and it doesn’t. And how can your brain be wrong? And the reason is because we’re really still stone age people, our brains are stone age.

So, for example, we have certain rules programmed in. Like, for example, eat the maximum amount of food while it’s there because we think that will make us happy because, in the stone age, if there was a dead dinosaur, you had to eat it as quickly as you could or whatever.

And then we have other simpler rules, like laziness is more efficient. And, yet, in real life, laziness doesn’t make you happy. You just underachieve and feel bad. And, yet, we think that if we do nothing all weekend and just read the paper and drink some alcohol at lunchtime and fall asleep in the afternoon in front of the TV, that that will somehow make us happy. But, actually, you look back and you think, “That wasn’t a great weekend really.”

And then our brain tends to focus on problems because if you’re trying to survive in the jungle, you’re always thinking, “Is that a tiger over there? Why is that there? I haven’t seen that before.” So, we tend to be quite negative, and that makes us unhappy in the modern world where in the modern world there aren’t that many things to be frightened of, and, yet, we still focus on the negative things. We watch the news, we want all the bad news that’s happening around the country, and we focus on the bad news. And that is a survival thing that is now out of date.

And the final thing that our brain does that’s bad is that it drifts away from the present. So, it frets about the future, it worries about the future, what’s coming up even though it can’t do anything about it. And it goes back to the past and it sort of thinks, “Oh, if only that hadn’t happened and I wish that wasn’t like that.” And sometimes it thinks the past was great, “If only I could go back to the past.” But, of course, you can’t change the past. So, our brain is obsessed with the past and the future even though that isn’t where happiness lies, because happiness is only in the present. And you can only be happy when you’re living in the present.

And that’s why we’re happiest when we do things that absorb us completely in the present. So, if you’re doing something, it’s called being in the flow. If you’re doing something where you’re really concentrating on doing it, and it might be, say, paddling a canoe or something, and you’re really concentrating on the canoe and the balance and the water, and you do it. And you just forget everything else.

And so, our brain is not our friend. And so, number six, really, is to say don’t trust your brain. Don’t think, “Well, I’m sure I must know best for myself,” but to actively take actions that go against what your inner nature is telling you. And don’t be lazy, don’t think that money will make you happy, don’t think that eating loads of food will make you happy. Don’t take the easiest path.

One of my favorite books is The Road Less Traveled. And the road that’s less traveled is the high road, the hard road. And he says in there that laziness is the biggest problem. He says that’s the root of everything, actually, is laziness. And why would we be lazy? And the answer is, in the stone age when we were short of energy, short of food and warmth, we had to be really economical. But, now, if we’re not careful, we can just lounge around all day, and we mustn’t. So, don’t trust your brain is number six.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think that hard work piece, that’s sort of why that helps is because you’re not able to be thinking about other things at the same time when you’re working hard and, thusly, you are engaged in the thing.

Chris Croft
You’re in the flow.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I dig that. Well, just to accelerate a smidge, could you give us seven, eight, nine, and ten in a sentence or two each, and then maybe we’ll dig into one of them?

Chris Croft
Okay. Well, number seven, it is a biggie but we can dig into it, is you can be happier by getting rid of your negative emotions because your negative emotions, and whether it’s sort of frustration and anger, or sorrow, regret, guilt, worry, you’re actually choosing all of those negative emotions. Your brain is choosing those for you, and you’re choosing it because you think you’ll get a payoff. You think that worry will make you perform better but, actually, it’s a substitute for planning. And you think that getting frustrated will make things go quicker but, actually, you just do things worse and you end up taking longer.

And so, negative emotions are always unhelpful, and you’re choosing them, and you can, therefore, not choose them. And you may think, “Well, I can’t choose my emotions. They just well up from within,” and they do well up, but you can choose whether to give them house room or not. You can choose whether to fan the flames, and think, “Yeah, God, that guy did it, is annoying at that meeting.” Or, you can think, “I’m not going to get annoyed with him. He means well. It doesn’t matter. There’s no point.” So, number seven is you choose your emotions, and you can choose not to have negative emotions.

Number eight is to not be focused completely on achievement but don’t forget enjoyment at work. A lot of people think that enjoyment is for outside work and then achievement is for work, and that’s the split. But, actually, you should enjoy your work as well.

And so, it’s worth thinking about, “What would enjoyable work look like?” Have goals for that. If you think that you would enjoy going out to visit customers, have that as a goal at work, “I want to find a way to get into doing that somehow.” And it might be the 10% evolving of your job but it might be to just go to a whole different department, and say, “I’d like to work here.” I mean, I don’t know. So, think about what you would enjoy at work, and have some goals for enjoyment at work. And linked to that is self-talk, to say to yourself, “I love my work.”

So, as you drive to work, don’t be thinking or even saying out loud, “Oh, not work again. I hate my work. Oh, I bet it’s going to be awful today. It’s the sales meeting, that’s always awful.” But, instead, say, “I love my work. It’s great.” And the first few times you’ll say that you’ll think you’ve gone mad and don’t let anybody else hear you because they’ll think you’ve gone mad. But it becomes true surprisingly quickly because your brain is really quite malleable. And if you say, “I love my work. I really do, I love it.” And, by the way, you have to say it like you mean it. You mustn’t just go, “I love my work.” That won’t work. You have to say, “I really do love my work,” and it will become true.

Number nine is to help other people. And this, again, this is a quick one to explain. But take every chance you get to help other people at work and outside work, of course. Because not only does that make them happier, but it makes you happier as well. For some reason, we are wired to help other people. And you’ll know this if you’ve traveled abroad, if your car is broken down, anywhere people will help. People help, they love helping.

So, if you help other people, you get kind of a triple win because you feel good and they feel good. And then later, they’re more likely to help you as well. So, helping other people is one of those things which a lot of people don’t do but you absolutely should take every chance.

My last one, number ten, is you can choose to set the temperature in every encounter you have with people. You can consciously be nice or not nice. And why would you not be nice with everyone that you deal with? Just be the nicest person.

A very quick story about this. I was doing a customer care call a while ago and there’s a guy, he was actually the carpenter, he’s to fix people’s desks and doors and things. And he said, “Well, I’m only nice if they give me tea. When I’m working on a job in someone’s office and they give me a cup of tea, I’ll be nice, but otherwise, they can get stuffed.” And I said to him, “How often do you get tea?” And he said, “Oh, about one time in ten.”

So, I said, “Okay, so nine times out of ten you’re not nice.” And he said, “Well, no, but they don’t deserve it.” And I said, “But what if you set the temperature and went in really nice every time? You’d be more likely to get tea. You’d probably get tea half the time. You’d probably get five times as much tea, which clearly is your objective in life.”

And he said, “Well, yeah, but if I was nice ten times, and I got tea five times, that means I would’ve wasted half of the times. I’d have wasted being nice half of the time.” And I was like, “Yeah, but it doesn’t cost you anything to be nice, and you’re going to get five times…” He’s going, “Yeah, no, no, I’m not going to do it, not unless I know they’re going to be nice; I’m not going to do it.”

And I’m just thinking, “What can you do with a guy like that?” So, put it out there and be the first one to put it out there. And there’s a little circle called do-get-feel. So, what you do affects what you get, and what you get affects how you feel, and then how you feel affects what you do. So, if you’re a bit lazy and you sort of do the minimum, then what you’ll get is sort of hassle from your boss and hassle from your customers. And then you’ll feel unhappy about your work. And then what you’ll do is even less work.

And you can break that circle by thinking, “No, even if my boss is maybe not treating me that well, I’m going to do the best job I can,” because then you’ll get better results and you’ll feel better about it, and you’ll be in the good circle, and you might even win over your boss. But, in a way, who cares what your boss says? Do it for yourself and do it for your customers to an extent too. But mainly do it for yourself because you’ll enjoy the work more.

If you’re nice to people, you’ll win in the end. So, that’s number ten, set the temperature in every interaction that you have.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I appreciate this rundown, and I guess I’m thinking, you mentioned get rid of negative emotions. Is there anything else that you think we should stop doing? Like, there’s a number of things here that we should make an effort to do and to pursue. What are some things we should just cut out?

Chris Croft
The first thing that springs to mind, actually, for me is comparison and competition which are related because comparing yourself with other people is a road to nowhere. There’s always somebody who’s going to be more successful or richer or a higher achiever than you are. And if you compare yourself with people like that, it’s just going to make you unhappy. And if you try to compete with colleagues it’s the complete opposite of helping them.

So, I really like the idea of the abundance mentality. If you help somebody else, they’ll help you and you’ll both gain. And, funny enough, I visited a friend of mine a while ago, and he’s got this great big house and it’s on the edge of London. It’s beautiful. And I said to him, “So, you’ve done really well in life, haven’t you? You’ve achieved.” And he said, “No, I don’t feel like I’ve proved myself at all.” And I said, “But you’ve got a house that’s worth five strokes six million pounds.” And he said, “Yeah, but my brother has got a house that’s worth 20 million.” His brother is the chief executive at Accenture.

And I said, “Yeah, but why compare yourself with him? Of all the people you could pick, why don’t you compare yourself with me because my house is only worth about half a million?” And he said, “You?” He looked at me and he went, “You? Why would I compare myself with you?” And I said, “To make yourself feel better.” But it was really interesting that he felt it was productive to compare himself with somebody on the level above. And, yeah, that might pull him up, but will it? Or will it just make him feel bad about himself?

So, I think comparing and competing are really unhealthy. And just do it for yourself. If you’re a salesperson, you don’t have to be the number one salesperson. Just feel good about every deal that you get and feel good about the fact you helped a customer and feel good that you’re getting better at selling, and you’ve learned some new techniques. But don’t start thinking, “Oh, that person sold more than me. And, oh, that person earned more bonus than me.” Just feel good about the amount of bonus that you’ve got.

So, I think that’s definitely something to stop doing, is comparing and competing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now, let’s hear some of your favorite things. Can you tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Chris Croft
Yeah, I’ve got two happiness-related quotes I really like. The first one is from Albert Schweitzer, and he said, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.” And so, if you love what you’re doing, you will be successful.

The other quote I like is totally different. And it just says that, “Allowing yourself to feel hate is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Chris Croft
Well, if I was a real egotist, I would say my Big Book of Happiness isn’t a bad place to start.

But there is a book that’s better than mine, and it is The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky. I really think she’s nailed it.

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

Chris Croft
I think it’s probably that you choose your negative emotions. People are always fascinated by that.

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

Chris Croft
ChrisCroft.com. Just go to my website. I’m always putting stuff on my blog. And from my blog, you can get my tip of the month, which is a free email I send out every month. I’m on YouTube as well and things, but ChrisCroft.com would be the starting place.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Not to be confused with Chris Cross.

Chris Croft
Yes, that bass player. I do get address, caught up letters addressed to Mr. Cross, but it doesn’t make me angry because anger is a negative emotion and you don’t think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re not cross about it. Ha ha ha.

Chris Croft
Yeah, it’s not worth it, is it?

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

Chris Croft
I think the easiest call to action is probably start a project. Yeah, what are you going to do? What projects have you got on the go? But if you’ve already got a project, then my sort of fallback call to action would be learning. What have you learned recently? How are you going to improve? Because all you’ve got is what’s between your ears really. What’s in your head is that’s your main tool nowadays, isn’t it, for earning a living, and you’ve got to keep improving your ticket.
They’re easy things you can do and they will lead to other things. So, make a start with a bit of learning and some sort of reasonably ambitious project that give you a sense of achievement.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Chris, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and happiness in your adventures.

Chris Croft
Yeah. Well, thank you for having me again. And I really hope it makes a difference to people listening.

649: How to Persuade through Better Listening and Adapting with Brian Ahearn

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Brian Ahearn says: "The skill of listening starts with a choice, and when you make that choice... it becomes a habit."

Brian Ahearn shares how to improve your influence by listening well and adapting to different personality types.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What every professional can learn from insurance agents
  2. The 5 critical ingredients of listening STARS 
  3. How to DEAL with the four different types of people 

About Brian

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE. A dynamic international keynote speaker, he specializes in applying the science of influence in everyday situations. 

Brian is one of only 20 individuals in the world who currently holds the Cialdini Method Certified Trainer designation. This specialization was earned directly from Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. – the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence. 

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, is an Amazon best-seller and his LinkedIn courses have been viewed by more than 75,000 people. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors! 

  • FSAstore.com. Use your flex spending account funds with the greatest of ease! Save $20 on a $150+ purchase with promo code AWESOME. 

Brian Ahearn Interview Transcript

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

Brian Ahearn
Thank you for having me back on. Third time is a charm, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
It is. Well, you’re in rare company there. That doesn’t happen very often. Maybe like three-ish times. Well, the listeners can’t see this but I’m charmed by your background. You have a screen which has the How to be Awesome at Your Job logo, cover art, and it says, “Hello, Pete.” And then you have a tasteful backdrop. I guess you got an Amazon, which looks pretty realistic. What’s the story here?

Brian Ahearn
So, in the COVID lockdown world that we’re in, I knew that I was going to need to do something to differentiate myself, and I saw a friend who’s a bigtime National Speaker Association speaker and he had put a studio in his house, and he was kind enough to spend about an hour with me one day to walk me through everything that he did, and we converted our daughter’s old bedroom.

And so, I’ve got a beautiful backdrop and a 55-inch TV and I can give standup presentations where I’m walking up to the camera and moving. It’s not just a face-on Zoom, and clients have loved it, and potential clients are blown away when they see their logo and their name up on the screen on a Zoom call.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and it’s different I don’t know why but it is. It’s different than sharing your screen with an image of that with you like in a corner. It just is and I don’t know why or how it matters but it does.

Brian Ahearn
Well, I think clients are going to see me from like the waist up moving back and forth and turning towards, and getting a sense of, “Hey, this is a little bit what life was like prior to the pandemic. I’m seeing this person really interact with us.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it does. It’s more three-dimensional literally because it’s behind you in the third dimension. So, Brian, not that I had any doubts but this just reinforces that this was the right choice to have you on a third time.

So, you’ve got a fresh book. It’s funny, I was a little slow, as you may recall, to reply to your email because your book is called Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents. And I’m like, “Well, you know what, most of my listeners are not insurance agents.” But, nonetheless, I think you’ve really identified some universal skills and principles that benefit all professionals, and so we’re going to zoom into a couple of those.

You’ve got some good acronyms, kind of STARS and the DEAL model, we’re going to talk about. But, first, maybe you could just tee it up broadly, what can and should non-sales professionals learn from insurance agents?

Brian Ahearn
Well, everybody is selling all the time, and so when people say, “Well, this book is for insurance agents.” Well, it’s really for all salespeople because we look at the entire sales cycle and how the psychology of persuasion applies throughout each of the steps. But even somebody who might say, “I’m not in a formal sales role,” they’re still selling themselves, their ideas, and things, especially if they’re working in a large corporation. So, understanding the deal model of how to interact with people is critically important for those folks. So, I feel like anybody who knows that moving forward with getting a yes, selling themselves, their ideas and things, they’re all going to benefit from the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you’ve got some great perspective on listening and a helpful acronym STARS, which is funny because I think of STAR for interviews: situation, tasks, action, result. But you’ve got a different STAR associated with listening and I think it makes a ton of sense. So, can you lay it out for us, when it comes to listening well, why should we do it and how should we do it?

Brian Ahearn
Well, when I worked in the corporate world and I was involved in sales training, a critical component of being a good salesperson is the ability to listen. And, unfortunately, a lot of people haven’t experienced this, but good salespeople only talk 25% to 30% of the time. They ask good questions and then they stop and they listen, and they ask more questions. But you have to be a good listener and you have to be confident in those skills. And while we are taught to read and write and speak, almost nobody goes through a class on how to be a more effective listener.

So, as I was interacting with our field sales team back in the day, I came up with this acronym to make it very easy for people to understand what it takes to be listening stars. And it’s simply this: stop everything you’re doing, that’s the first letter, the S; pay attention to tone of voice, T, because it conveys emotion; A is ask clarifying questions; R is restate your understanding of what you’ve heard; and then S is scribble, take notes.

And I think if everybody could do those five things and just work on doing those things better all the time, you would be blown away by how much more effective you could be as a listener. You’d become listening stars.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, I love this in that it makes a lot of sense. Those seem to be five critical ingredients and often overlooked ingredients. Help us out with some of them in terms of it sounds easy to do but most often people are not doing it. Maybe tell us, how can we do each of these better? Like, how can we stop excellently? What should we really look for in the tone, etc.?

Brian Ahearn
Okay. So, when it comes to stop, you cannot give your attention to more than one thing at a time. You could try to fool yourself, and you could say, “Well, I can finish this email while I’m listening,” but you’re never really giving your attention and, therefore, you’re missing things. And we saw this when we were running little workshops and experiments, and we saw that people who gave their full attention to listening, they weren’t distracted by a second task or taking too many notes. They were catching 75% more of the facts that were being shared as compared to other people.

So, if you think about that, if you are a salesperson, or any position you’re in, if you discipline yourself to stop so that you can fully pay attention, and you’re catching 75% more than your competitor, you have a huge advantage. So, I think anybody who is listening to this podcast will catch themselves doing other things, and that’s okay, that’s a slap on the hand like, “Oh, I shouldn’t have done that.” That’s your first step in awareness. And if you keep that up, eventually you’ll find yourself stopping all those other things for longer and longer periods which is going to certainly help you be more effective in terms of what you’re receiving through your ears.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Brian, I love it when you drop a clear number like that. Boy, I’m thinking about there are just so many opportunities. Like, 75% more facts, I mean, that’s huge because someone might grab 10 facts, and then a listening star, could grab 18 facts, and those incremental 8 facts can make all the difference in terms of I’m thinking of it like in negotiation, like, “Huh, that thing I captured could surface a win-win opportunity that we could totally overlook had we not captured that upfront.”

Or, you can say, “Hmm, that little piece could really help me deepen my relationship with this person down the road.” It’s like, “Oh, hey, I remembered you liked flyfishing,” or whatever they like, and then you’ve got a cool opportunity to engage in subsequent conversations, build connection, camaraderie, etc. wow, 75% more facts from a conversation is just like 75% more opportunity, possibility, impact.

Brian Ahearn
And I would say, too, it’s not just the positive facts that you catch. Sometimes it’s the negative facts that might make you say, “Hmm, this isn’t a deal I want to go through with.” When I worked with an insurance company, a lot of the role of an underwriter is to get as many facts to make a determination, “Do we want to write this account or do we not? And if we do write it, at what price?” Catching those things, even the negative things, impacts the decision-making on behalf of the company, so it was critically important on the positive and the negative what are you going to catch or miss.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, decision-making in terms of making those decisions optimally and the facts are just the top of the funnel, so that’s huge. So, for stopping, you notice that you’re doing something else and then bring it back. And this kind of sounds like any number of mindful practices and exercises, like with your breath or whatnot. How else can we get better at stopping?

Brian Ahearn
Make an intentional effort to do it. Just to tell somebody, like, “Hey, hold me accountable here.” If you’re sitting in a meeting and you tell somebody, “I’m really trying to work on my listening skills and I don’t want to be distracted. If you see me kind of going off or something like that, just give me a nudge.” But that accountability is probably enough at that point just to get you to do something different versus if you never said anything to somebody else. So, it really starts with a commitment.

And what I want to say about this, Pete, every step in the STARS model, it’s a skill but it’s not a skill that people don’t possess and cannot get better at, and I’ll give you an example. I’m 5’9” and I weigh 210 pounds, I was always into weightlifting and things, but I was never able to dunk a basketball. And if somebody came to me tomorrow and said, “Hey, Brian, this contract that you’re looking at, it depends on your ability to dunk a basketball.” I’m like, “I’m out. Never been able to do it. It’s not a skill I ever possessed, and it’s not one I ever will, given my physical characteristics.”

But the skill of listening starts with a choice, and when you make that choice, the more often you make that choice, it becomes habit. And that’s where you, all of a sudden, you’re finding yourself stopping more and more, paying attention to tone more and more, asking those questions, etc.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. And if I may, I’m thinking about what distracts me from listening. It’s often my body in terms of like, “I’m hungry,” “I’m thirsty,” “I need to pee,” “I’ve been sitting for too long.” How do you recommend we address those in particular or is it all the same in terms of redirecting it right back to the person talking?

Brian Ahearn
Well, I think the consciousness of it, like when you start thinking like, “Oh, I want to go to the bathroom,” or, “Oh, I’m getting so hungry,” it’s still like shake your head and say, “Well, wait a minute. There’s going to be time for me to get some food. I need to just bear down here a little bit more.” And give yourself some grace, too, because sheer willpower is like a muscle. It gets tired too. And as we are mentally tired, as we are physically tired, as we are hungry, all of those things will impact our ability to give focus and attention.

So, if you have an opportunity to do something different, like, say, “Hey, Pete, I’m loving this conversation but can I take a short break? I just need to get a little carbohydrate in me. I just need to get like a piece of candy or something.” And that person is probably going to say, “Sure, that’s fine.” They may be feeling the same way, and so that might be license for them to go do that thing too.

And I think that when you’re the person who’s engaging somebody to help them be more effective listeners, I always make sure, like when I’m doing training sessions, every hour, we have at least a 10-minute break. And I know that carves out time but if people can use the restroom, can get a refreshment, can stretch their legs, can clear their mind, that next 50 minutes that I have them, they are so much more focused than if I try to just plow through two hours.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s absolutely true. I’ve seen it many times on both sides of the presentation table there. Okay, so that’s stopping. So, tone, you say that there is a lot in it and we should pay attention to it. Expand on that, please.

Brian Ahearn
Well, I think everybody knows two people can say the same thing. Two people could make an apology, and one person can seem sincere and the other one doesn’t, and it’s not so…

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m sorry.”

Brian Ahearn
Exactly. We hear it all the time when people are caught, media figures are caught, and, all of a sudden, they’re issuing that standardized apology. But I always thought about the example that my wife called me one time, and I was at work, and I could hear the wind blowing, and I said, “Are you playing golf?” And she said, “Yes.” And that three-letter word, yes, just the way she said it, I said, “You’re not playing very well, are you?” And she goes, “No,” and then she started kind of unburdening herself.

But that’s a clear indication. Three letters, one simple word, and just by the tone, I could tell that she wasn’t playing well. You’ve been married now for a little while, I’m sure that you can hear some words like, “Fine.” When you say, “How are you doing?” “Fine.” You realize, “They’re not really doing fine. There’s more behind that. I can tell,” and that’s usually based on tone of voice.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. And so, are there any tone things that people tend to overlook or a great sort of telltale indicators? Because I think that sometimes in my own tone or others, I notice…how do I say it? It’s like they’re energized and excited, and then they’re back into sort of like perfunctory, like, “Uh-oh, duty, responsibility, process, compliance.” I don’t know what words I would use for those tones but sometimes you could see they’re jazzed about this and not so jazzed about that. And so, I can pick up on that and I find that pretty handy. What are some other key dimensions of tone to look out for?

Brian Ahearn
Well, where somebody emphasizes. You can have a sentence, “I didn’t steal that toy.” If you say that to a little kid or somebody, depending on where they put the emphasis, “I didn’t steal that toy,” or, “I DIDN’T steal that toy,” “I didn’t steal THAT toy. I stole another toy.” Right? So, paying attention to where that emphasis is and that tone is coming out, starts to become an indicator too. Because if somebody says, “I didn’t steal THAT toy,” then you might think, “Oh, the way you said that, you might’ve stolen some other toy,” or something like that.

But a lot of times people aren’t aware of it and they’re a leak, so to speak, and we do this with our body, too, and how we verbalize things and how we move. But there are leaks that will really let you know more about what somebody understands. And some of this goes back to the work of Dr. Albert Morabia and in his work on communication.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like the words and the tone and the gestures. It’s the proportion of…

Brian Ahearn
Yeah. And what they say, I think, is 55% body language, 38% tone, yeah, and 7% words. And speakers get up and all the time they tout that and they say, and I was guilty of this at one point, they’ll say, “People are going to remember your tie more than what you said.” That is not what his work was looking at. His work was looking at when the message and the messenger seem to be incongruent, people will focus a lot more on how somebody looks, their body language, and their tone of voice. Because, going back to that apology, two people can say the very same words. And if somebody says it in a way that doesn’t seem sincere, you start focusing on the body language and the tone. That’s what he was talking about in his research. Not a blanket, “People aren’t really listening to your words.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Thank you for setting the record straight there. And that sounds a lot more true, certainly, in terms of if they said, “Ah, ah, ah, I didn’t steal anything.” It’s like, “Well, your words say that you didn’t but there’s something. You’re very nervous for some reason, and that’s what I want to be keying in on.” Okay, so tone. And then how about some asking clarifying questions? What are some of your favorite clarifying questions?

Brian Ahearn
Well, let me say this about questions. First is I’m never an advocate of interrupting somebody when they’re speaking, but when you don’t understand and you recognize in the moment, “I don’t really understand something,” it shows that you’re engaged in the conversation. So, if you’re telling me a lot of stuff, and I say, “Hey, Pete, can you hang on a second? When you said this, did you mean that? I’m not really sure.” It gives you an opportunity to make sure that I do understand and clarify, but it also shows that I’m engaged in that conversation because if I just button up and don’t say a word, you might start even wondering, like, “Is he even paying attention? I mean, he hasn’t said a word. He hasn’t given me any gesture. I don’t know if he’s engaged in this conversation.”

And it’s even more difficult over the phone because you can’t see the person. So, I think utilizing clarifying questions is a great way to stay engaged in the conversation so your mind doesn’t wander. It lets the other person know that you are in that, and it just helps you clarify what it is that you’re hearing.

And to your question, too, a simple one is when you say what are some of the questions. It’s, “Help me understand,” or, “I’m not really sure. Could you explain it?” But it’s a question. So, you have to say, “Well, I don’t understand something,” “I’m not clear on what you said,” “I don’t think I hear what you’re saying,” “Can you explain?” “Can you expound?” “Can you do something to help me out here?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s grand. And I do like a 90-minute training on clarifying questions alone for like collaborators in terms of what you really need to understand before you embark upon a piece of work such that you don’t end up giving them something that they don’t want, in terms of like the deliverable, the timing, the process, the resources, the audience, and the motive.

Brian Ahearn
Well, I will say this, we talk about STARS in the book in the section on qualifying. So, in the sales process, when you finally have the opportunity to meet with a client, you want to assess, “Do we want to do business together?” Not all business is good business, “Can I do business? Do I have the capacity to fulfill your needs? And do I want to?” And you’re making the same assessment of me as the salesperson, “Do I want to do business with this guy? Can he meet my needs?” Questions are what help us determine that, and that’s why we talk about the STARS model in the qualifying part of the sales process.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, we’ve asked some clarifying questions. And then restating, how should we do that?

Brian Ahearn
So, whatever it is that you understand somebody to say. Pete, I know your listeners can’t see this but if I ask you, for example, about your business. You’re proud of your business and you know all this, and I’m putting my arms out really wide. You have this vast wealth of knowledge. If I’m working, for example, with insurance agents, they don’t need to know all of that. There are certain key things that they want to understand and so they’re going to hone in on those.

And as they do, those are the things that they’re going to probably come back and say, “So, Pete, your business sounds awesome. And if I understand you right…” and then I kind of come through and I lay out a few critical things about what it is that you need in your insurance protection. “If I hear you right, Pete…” and then I clarify that. And you may come back and go, “That’s exactly it, Brian. Thank you.” Or, you might come back and go, “No, you’re missing it. It’s the claim that I had. That’s why I’m upset.” And so, we can circle back and make sure that we’re both on the same page.

But no matter how well I do with listening, I will never know everything going on in your mind and so I don’t want to make that assumption that I do, so I, therefore, am going to try to restate to the best of my ability, “Here’s how it boils down for me.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Excellent. And then note-taking, I mean?

Brian Ahearn
Well, I use S for scribbling because N would’ve been STARN and that would’ve blown the whole model, right? So, I always encourage people to take some notes, but this is not writing the great American novel. It’s not trying to get down every word that people say. And while we can use certain tools like laptops to get a lot of information, that actually can hurt your listening because they say a lot of times students are trying to take down everything the professor is saying and they’re missing context and other things.

I encourage people to just bullet point things that they’re going to need to circle back on. So, I might’ve heard you say you had a car accident. I don’t need to stop you right in the middle of your story to say, “Tell me the details,” because you might. But if you don’t, I‘ve got that little bullet point and I can say, “Hey, Pete, you mentioned you had a car accident. Can you tell me a little bit more?” And I start asking, “When was it?” “What happened,” and all those things but it’s because I have that bullet point to remind me.

It also maybe just a few quick bullet points so there are things that I can fill out after our conversation is over. So, maybe I catch the name of your pet, I catch the name of your wife, or other things that I think will be important for me to remember down the road. And so, I bullet point those and it triggers my mind, and then I start going back, “Oh, yeah,” and I remember the type of dog that you said you had, and how long. Certain other things are triggered by that bullet point. So, that’s what I mean by scribble.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. So, there we got the listening, STARS, cool. And we’ve got another perspective, you called it the DEAL model, and you’re thinking specifically about four personality types. Well, first, lay this on us in terms of what are the types? Where do they come from? And how do we identify them?

Brian Ahearn
Okay. People are probably pretty familiar with DiSC, the DiSC model. And when I was working with the insurance company, and this was probably ten years ago, a training organization came in and used something that was similar to that. I don’t remember exactly what it was but it was similar to that, as a way to try to identify yourself, and it was a little more self-reflective than others.

And a guy I worked with came up and said, “Man, it’d be really cool if we could tie the principles of influence that you teach to the different personality styles. Are there some that are more effective than others?” So, I did a survey with my blog readers, and I took some very generic descriptions and said, “Read these and choose what you think you are,” and then that kind of funneled them in. And then I was asking them all the same questions, but I could look at the results then, and say, “Wow, people in one category seem to be different than people in these other categories.”

So, through the course of that, I came up with driver, expressive, amiable, and logical. And I like that because it’s spells DEAL and we deal with people, and the people I worked with, the salespeople, want to close deals, so it becomes very easy for them to remember. And it’s focused on, not self, not that it’s unimportant. It’s very important to understand ourselves, but it’s other-focused. I wanted to try to determine, Pete, are you a driver, that person who’s more focused on getting things done than relationships, and you like to be in control? Or, are you the expressive, the person who’s really relationship-driven but also really likes being in control?

And then that amiable, which is the relationship-oriented person who is more about self-focus and self-control. And the logical person is a task-driven individual but they’re not focused on controlling others or situations. They’re more focused on themselves, their own thinking, their own self-control. So, that’s a very basic model but it’s good because salespeople don’t always…I mean, I’m not going to go up and say, “What’s your Myers-Briggs, Pete?” And I wouldn’t be able to figure that out.

But this is a pretty simple model to assess people, and once you feel like you’ve got a handle on the type of personality, then we talk about the principles that are most effective in terms of being able to ethically influence them.

Pete Mockaitis 
Okay. So, it sounds like it’s, if I were to stick them in into a two-by-two, the dimensions we’re looking at are their level of task focus and their desire to control others?

Brian Ahearn
And situations, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, with the driver, being high-high; the expressive being, I don’t know, low-high, they care about the relationship.

Brian Ahearn
Well, I just say that, yeah, there’s a demarcation and the bottom of it is the person is very relationship-driven.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Brian Ahearn
And I would say good examples of that that I used in the book, Steve Jobs would’ve been a driver, right? That guy doesn’t care about being your friend. It is just about the work and get the stuff done. Oprah Winfrey, I think, is a great example of an expressive. She wants to know your story. She wants to get to know you and help you, but yet she is completely in control of her media kingdom just like Steve Jobs was in control. So, in the respect, they’re very alike but they’re very different in terms of their interactions with people on an individual level.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. And so, how about examples for amiable and logical then?

Brian Ahearn
Amiable is always a little bit tougher in terms of coming up with examples because they’re not necessarily limelight people, and a lot of the occupations that they tend to move into aren’t ones that are necessarily in the limelight because they’re very relationship-focused and a little bit more self-control, self-focused than other in terms of control. They tend to be things more like counselors and teachers and nurses and social workers, and those aren’t always positions that are in the limelight. Now, that’s not to say that because you’re an amiable you can’t lead a company. You absolutely can. But what we tend to see is people move more into those positions that are not as much in the limelight.

Brian Ahearn
Mother Teresa would be an awesome example.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And logical?

Brian Ahearn
Logical person, again, very, very task-focused but not about controlling others or situations, more on the self-focused. And a great example here would be a Bill Gates or an Albert Einstein. And I would hope that you’d agree and your listeners would agree, if you have five minutes to try to sell an idea to each of these people, I hope you would go about doing it very differently with Steve Jobs versus Oprah Winfrey versus Mother Teresa or an Albert Einstein because they’re going to respond to different things and for different reasons.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. In terms of like Bill Gates doesn’t care much about your story most likely. If you’re talking about he’s trying to save the world in some dimension, I don’t know, climate change or vaccines or something, and then you say, “You know, Bill, let me tell you how I got interested in malaria,” I have a feeling Bill doesn’t want to hear, and maybe he does. I don’t know. But I would imagine he’d be more intrigued by, “Here’s the innovative cool thing that we’ve got going on here and why it’s different than what’s ever been used before, and why it’s way more cost-effective at saving lives than the previously existing technology available,” versus, Oprah would probably not be as into that. She wants to hear the story about how you got into malaria.

Brian Ahearn
Well, here’s a really good example, I think, for the logical versus the driver. According to the research, the survey that I did with blog readers, both of those personalities responded to the principle of consistency. And that principle says that we feel an internal psychological pressure and an external social pressure to be consistent in what we say and what we do.

I would think that somebody like Albert Einstein or Bill Gates, when they say something, they believe they’re right because they trust their intellect, they’ve thought it through, they’ve been methodical, and they’ve come up with a decision, and that’s why they believe what they believe. And if you can tie your request into that, then it makes very logical sense for them to say, “Absolutely.”

You go to the driver who is also driven by that principle of consistency but it’s a lot more ego-based. When Donald Trump was on “The Apprentice,” when he said something, he believed it. Even as president, when he said something, he barred the door on the facts just because he uttered it, he believed it. And I think to a great degree, a lot of people who are in that driver situation, they trust their gut, and so when they say something, they believe they’re right but it’s not for the same reason as the logical. But, nonetheless, if I can tap into what they’ve said, what they’ve done, or what they believe, it becomes easier for them to say yes. So, same principle, but very different reason on why it’s so compelling for each of those personalities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s interesting. I’m reminded of I heard there’s like a legendary story, and I believe it’s true, the person doing the interview wasn’t lying, about Bill Gates, Microsoft, the XBOX, like they’re having a meeting about this thing. And, at first, Bill says, “What you’re proposing is an insult to everything I’ve done in my career in terms of like how it’s going to work and how it didn’t utilize the DOS/Windows, whatever stuff that he built up.”

And so, the meeting wasn’t going well for a long time until someone said, “Well, what about Sony?” He’s like, “Yeah, what about Sony?” And then it sort of totally changed his thinking associated with dominance and market share and influence and being in the living room, and how Microsoft and Sony were both kind of growing on these dimensions, and Sony has got this PlayStation, and they’re like, “Yes, we’ll give you everything you’ve asked for. Go for it and do the XBOX.” And so, that’s interesting in terms of like the set of facts that he’s focused on, logical, sure enough, was the persuasive thing that got it done when those were brought front and center for him.

Brian Ahearn
And I would say, too, that contrast phenomenon, right? He’s being compared to Sony, somebody that he looks at as a peer, a competitor, somebody he doesn’t want to be beaten by. If they had made the wrong comparison, maybe there was a little upstart company that was doing something, and he might’ve looked at it and said, “Who cares?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, or like Nintendo. Like, “Yeah, okay, Nintendo has got Mario. I don’t care.” But Sony, “Oh, that’s a different story.”

Brian Ahearn
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well so then, maybe if you could give us an example of some things that you might hear out of someone’s mouth that would make you go, “Hmm, driver,” “Oh, yeah, expressive.” Just a couple of telltale words, phrases, sentences that kind of cue you in to thinking, “It sounds like this is where you’re landing here.”

Brian Ahearn
Well, I think a lot of times, and I don’t like always making generalities, generalizations, because they’re always exceptions, and I absolutely recognize this. But I think a telltale, a lot of times, for drivers is they don’t stop talking.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Brian Ahearn
You really have a hard time getting a word in, edgewise, because they want to be in control of the situation, they have an opinion on everything, and, therefore, they’re continually going. And so, that can be a clue right there that, “I’m dealing with somebody who’s not giving me any space to step in and share what I need to share.”

If you’re going to try to influence somebody like that, you have to be okay with that. You have to recognize, you have to pick and choose the battles, and then step in where you get that opportunity or ask a question that might make them go, “Hmm, what do you mean? Tell me more.” Now, you’ve kind of got the platform back. But I think that’s the big telltale for a lot of drivers is it becomes kind of hard to get a word in edgewise.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And expressive?

Brian Ahearn
I think expressive is a lot of times people, and these are entertainers and politicians, people who know the importance of having a relationship, they’re probably a lot more of the storyteller, somebody who’s got a, “I met somebody and here’s a story and here’s another story.” So, they may do a lot of talking too. They’re expressive, they’re very outward, but they also allow you that space to ask about you, and you feel a little more connected to them, and some of it may just be because of the stories, but you’re like, “Hey, that’s funny. I like that person.” You don’t feel like you’re necessarily being talked to or talked at as much as maybe you will from that driver, who’s kind of tell you what it’s got to be like.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And amiable?

Brian Ahearn
Amiable is a lot of times are going to be the ones where you have to pull a little bit out of them. I’ve always pictured an amiable, if you’re going to go to the movies and you’ve got six people, and you say, “Hey, what do you guys want to see?” Amiable is probably like, “No, anything is cool with me,” because they’re very laid back, very relational. They’re just happy that they’re hanging out with everybody, and they’re cool doing whatever.

The driver would be the person who might say, “Well, if you guys are going to see that, I’m going to head home. I don’t want to see that movie,” and they’d be okay heading off by themselves. So, I think with the amiable, you’re going to see people who are very relational, very laid back, not looking to be the life of the party. You may have to do a little bit more to draw them out. You’re probably are going to get into much deeper conversations with somebody like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And logical?

Brian Ahearn
Logical person is going to be somebody, obviously, who’s very analytical and they’re thinking they’re going to be very fact-oriented. They’re going to be the people who don’t just share an opinion. They will do some research so that they can speak intelligently on something. Before they open their mouth, they want to really understand what they believe and why they believe it so that they can feel comfortable in terms of sharing it.

And that one, I would say from experience, people will say that I am an expressive just because of what I do, but I am absolutely a logical person. I’m a deep thinker about things, and I always tell my daughter, when she asked me a question, I’m like, “I don’t have an opinion on that because I haven’t really looked into it and I’m not going to just say something.”

Pete Mockaitis
I feel the same way, and particularly, in business-y situations. I remember, talking about insurance, I was buying some insurance once and it had some absurd clause, I was like, “Wait. And this kind of make it sound like you don’t pay any claims ever. So, what’s the deal here?” “Oh, no, one has ever asked that question before.” It’s like, “Well, so can you share with me some evidence that you sometimes pay out claims because this kind of reads like you never have to?”

And so, when I’m in sort of a business conversation, that’s kind of what I want, it’s like, “I want a profoundly compelling evidence that proves that you got the stuff. Like, you’re going to deliver what I’m seeking to be delivered.” And so, I think that often makes people feel very uncomfortable because usually they don’t have the evidence that I want. And so, they need to kind of like try to be compassionate, it’s like, “Well, okay, if you don’t have that set of facts, can you give me some alternative sets of facts that maybe I can plug into my spreadsheet and deal with how I need to deal with to prove it out?” But, still, it’s logical, like got to have it.

Brian Ahearn
Well, this can be a shortcoming when you’re the one trying to persuade. Let’s say you’re really good at building relationships. That’s an awesome skill to have but if you get into that situation with a logical like you, if you make a friend, okay, that’s cool. But if you don’t, that’s cool, too. You just want to buy the insurance.

So, if a person only is able to lean on what their strength is, that strength ends up being a negative, a weakness with certain people. And this is why I try to emphasize in looking at this model. It’s not about you, it’s not about what you’re good at, it’s not about your strengths; it’s about the other person. Learn what the psychology is and then understand what the psychology is that applies to them, and get good at that.

So, in a sense, be a little bit of a chameleon in terms of how you interact with people, not being a false person, but just recognizing that just because you like having these great relationships, you’re going to have some clients, and they could be great clients, but they’re just not into the relationship part. That’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, maybe since insurances is your specialty, maybe I’ll just put you on the spot. Let’s say you’re trying to sell auto insurance to these four different types of people. Can I hear a sentence or two of a custom verbiage that might be very appropriate when you’re making that pitch to a driver versus an expressive versus an amiable versus a logical?

Brian Ahearn
Okay. Well, if you’re talking to a driver, then scarcity is something that comes into play a lot. The mistake that people would make is talking about all the things that somebody might gain or save, but what you really want to talk about is what they might lose.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Brian Ahearn
So, going in and having that conversation and framing something instead of gain, like they don’t care so much about saving as what they may be losing, and framing it that way, “You’re overpaying,” instead of, “Well, I can save you a bunch of money.” That would be a particular approach.

When you move down and you’re talking to somebody who’s an expressive, understanding that they’re going to be more relationship-oriented, you’re going to want to tap a little bit more into like, “You’re going to want to make that connection.” They’re going to want to look at you and say, “That’s a person that I really like and I want to do business with people that I like.”

Another effective principle in terms of interacting with folks like that is consensus. What are other people who are like them doing? And by bringing that in, that becomes a strong decision factor. Whereas, again, the driver, they don’t care what everybody else is doing. They think of themselves as completely different and unique. So, that’s a little bit about how you’d be different with this person who’s the expressive.

When you move over to the amiable, also very big on relationship, so you’re going to want to certainly make sure that you tap into liking because they’re probably not going to want to do business with somebody that they don’t like. So, connecting on what you have in common, talking about those things, being complimentary where genuine compliments are due. But they also surprisingly respond really well to the principle of authority.

And so, by really showing that you know what you’re talking about, that’s not challenging to them; that’s comforting to them. And so, by deferring to something like, I might say, “You know, Pete, I’ve been in this business now for more than 30 years. And something that I found is really important.” That little tidbit about, “I’ve been in business for 30 years,” isn’t coming across like a bragger to them. It’s giving them a sense of comfort that, “Wow, okay, I like this guy and he knows what he’s talking about.” And so, that becomes a little bit more of the tact that I take with that person.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then the logical?

Brian Ahearn
So, the logical, obviously they’re going to be fact-driven so you’re going to need to be able to show authority not only that you have some personal authority that you’re good at what you’re doing but bring in data, bring in information from respected individuals or organizations that would support your claim. If you don’t do that, then you come across to the logical person as just somebody who thinks they know everything. Much better to bring in that support of the information, “Where did you hear that quote?” “What did this particular report say?” That’s what’s going to give somebody, who’s a logical individual, a sense of comfort.

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

Brian Ahearn
As I said at the beginning, I wrote this book for a specific market. I wrote it for insurance agents, and that was because trying to write a sales book can get super generic. When you keep talking about products or services, and people start reading it, “That doesn’t apply to me. Well, that’s…” So, just on the counsel of somebody I really respect, I thought, “You know what, I’m going to tighten this up. I’m going to make it specific to insurance. It’s what I know.”

But then I realized, as I got into it, that every step in the sales cycle, if somebody is in sales, they’re going to benefit from understanding the psychology that applies. And that even people who aren’t selling are going to benefit from learning how to be a listening star, how to deal with different personalities so that they can sell themselves and their ideas. So, I would just encourage anybody, if you see yourself in any capacity as selling, check the book out.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And, now, a favorite quote?

Brian Ahearn
Well, I think the one I find myself referring to more than ever now is something that my high school football coach said, and I attributed it to him for a long time, until somebody said, “No, that was the Roman philosopher Seneca.” But it is, “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.” And ever since I was a sophomore in high school and heard coach say that, and recognized that if I worked really hard, good things would happen.

And even when the good thing that I want doesn’t come about, it’s amazing, Pete, how all that preparation comes in in a different way, and, all of a sudden, I’m like, “Hey, that preparation is helping me now over here.” So, it never goes untapped.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Brian Ahearn
One of my favorites, was Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. And just reading about what he and all those other people in those concentration camps endured was unimaginable. But the takeaway for me was towards the end of the book when he said, something to the effect that, “Every freedom can be taken away from a man except for the last freedom; where to place your thoughts, what you’re going to think about.”

Nobody. And he said, basically, it didn’t matter how much the guards beat them, threaten them, or do anything, they could never ever make them think what they didn’t want to. And that is incredibly powerful.

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

Brian Ahearn
It’s called Voice Dream, and it’s an app that I downloaded on the advice of a friend on my iPhone. And when I write something, I have it up usually in Google Docs, and I just pull it into that app, and then I can listen to it. And it’s amazing what you catch. You write it and you think it’s good, and then you hear it, and you’re like, “Eh, it’s not exactly how I wanted it to come across.” So, it has helped my writing immensely. I’m working on two more books so I use it all the time.

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

Brian Ahearn
First will be LinkedIn. I connect with everybody and I guarantee your listeners, if you reach out to connect and you don’t put a reason, I will come back and say, “How did you find me? I’d like to understand why people are reaching out.” And if you do put in a reason, I will still respond because, as my most recent blogpost said, “Social media is supposed to be social.” And the way that we do that is by having conversations with people. And so, I will absolutely respond to you on LinkedIn.

The other place, Pete, would be my website which is InfluencePeople.biz. Just a tremendous amount of resources out there if they want to learn more about this topic.

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

Brian Ahearn
I think it would be to start dedicating time to understand the influence process. Influence, in some respects, is like listening. Very few people learn how to do it well and yet we use it every single day, I say from womb to tomb. As soon as a baby is born, he or she cries. They’ve got a need they’re trying to get met.

Some of us learn how to do it well and it helps immensely with our professional success and personal happiness. So, I hope people who are listening will say, “You know what, maybe I need to dig into this a little bit more. I could use the ability to have more people saying yes. That would be helpful in my life.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Brian, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in all your influencing.

Brian Ahearn
Thank you. I appreciate it, Pete.

582: The Five Behaviors That Make You an Indispensable “Go-to” Person with Bruce Tulgan

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Bruce Tulgan discusses how to build real influence and become the go-to person in your workplace.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The mindset that makes you indispensable
  2. Why you shouldn’t stick to your speciality
  3. How to stop juggling and start finishing tasks

About Bruce

Bruce Tulgan is the best-selling author of It’s Okay to Be the Boss and the CEO of RainmakerThinking, the management research, consulting and training firm he founded in 1993. All of his work is based on 27 years of intensive workplace interviews and has been featured in thousands of news stories around the world. Bruce’s newest book, The Art of Being Indispensable at Work, is available July 21 from Harvard Business Review Press. You can follow Bruce on Twitter @BruceTulgan or visit his website at rainmakerthinking.com.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Bruce Tulgan Interview Transcript

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

Bruce Tulgan
Thank you so much for having me back on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really excited to dig into your wisdom. And last time we spoke, which is way back in episode 302, I was impressed with just how real a sense you had for the worker and the crisis of under-management, as you called it at the time. Can you tell us, what’s the lay of the land right now in terms of the worker experience amidst remote work and pandemic, and what’s really going on here?

Bruce Tulgan
I think most people right now are feeling a tremendous sense of uncertainty. A lot of people, of course, are afraid for their health and wellbeing, or the health and wellbeing of their colleagues or their family. I think a lot of people are worried about the security of their jobs. I think in the environment where a lot of people have been furloughed or who have been let go, usually as a result of just economic necessity by employers, are leaving fewer people to do as much work, or more work in many cases, trying to reinvent the work in some cases, or trying to figure out what to do the same and what has to change. I think most people are feeling very vulnerable to a lot of forces outside their control.

And, look, even before the pandemic era, I think, like employers were trying to get more and more and more out of every person. Most people were feeling, I think, like they have to deal with more and more people, up, down, sideways, and diagonal, all over the organization chart. People are fielding requests all day long from their colleagues, not just from their boss and their teammates but from people in other teams and other departments.

So, I think people are grappling with a tremendous sense of uncertainty and over-commitment, and that’s where we find ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And you addressed many these questions even before the pandemic came about in your upcoming book The Art of Being Indispensable at Work. Can you tell us, what’s the key thesis here?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, everywhere I go people are saying, “Gosh, I want to be one of those indispensable go-to people but how can I say yes to everyone and everything?” And the result is you get over-committed, and then, all of a sudden, you’re juggling. Pretty soon, if you’re juggling, you start dropping balls. What do you do? You work harder and harder and harder. You try to juggle faster and faster and faster.

So, those, increasingly with the questions that people have been asking me in our seminars, led me to our research. One of the things I’ve been doing for years is studying what I call go-to people. Everywhere I go when I’m doing talent assessments, I ask everybody, “Hey, who are your go-to people?” For years I’ve been trying to figure out, “What is it that these people are doing? Why did they make it to these go-to list over and over and over again, consistently over time? What is it that they have in common? How is it that they don’t get over-committed and don’t suffer from siege mentality, and don’t go from saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ to saying, ‘No, no, no, get away from me, it’s not my job. You’re not my boss.’?” So, it was really an effort to study that data and draw the lessons from it that led to this new book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, do tell, what does make a person a go-to person? And, first of all, what are the benefits of being a go-to person? I imagine job security, feeling good about yourself. But you may have a more research-based answer to that.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. Look, if everybody always wants to go to you, this gives you an incredible source of power that other people want to work with you, other people want you to want to work with them. And so, I wanted to see, “Well, what is it about these folks?”

It didn’t take long to realize that it was a true service mindset. People who they really want to add value in every interaction with others. They really want to add value. They focus on, “Hey, here’s what I can do for you not what I want from you.” And so, it sounds very selfless but, of course, that is exactly what leads to over-commitment syndrome, right?

So, that was the conundrum, right? How do you make yourself a go-to person and serve others consistently without succumbing to over-commitment syndrome? And what I came to realize was what makes it seem like an unsolvable puzzle, is actually the key to the solution, that it was the people who realized that, first and foremost, you have to fight and defeat over-commitment syndrome. You have to resist the over-commitment syndrome because if you say “Yes, yes, yes” to everyone and everything, you end up doing nothing for anyone ultimately because you make lots of unnecessary mistakes. You get into all kinds of trouble.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, this is resonating in terms of that’s what makes an indispensable person is just that they want to add value, they genuinely care. We’ve heard this sort of theme in a number of ways, from a number of guests. They’re not so much motivated by climbing the ladder, being the top dog, looking awesome. They just really do believe in what they’re doing and want to help people and achieve those objectives. So, cool. So, there we have it. That’s the thing that makes them indispensable and, yet, they also have to then play defense against the tendency to overcommit to do everything for everyone at all times. So, how is that done?

Bruce Tulgan
Well, I started calling this the peculiar mathematics of real influence because it’s become conventional wisdom that if you don’t have authority you have to use influence. And I try to figure out, “Well, what do people really mean by that, use influence?” Often, what they really mean is stand-ins for authority. And what is authority? Authority is control over rewards and punishments. Authority is a position, power, whereby you enforce the rules using rewards and punishments. That’s what authority is.

Influence is power you have without position. But this leads a lot of people down the wrong path because, “Are you supposed to badger?” Sometimes people deputize themselves, right? They go over your head, or they go to their boss, or they try to play the quid pro quo, “You do this for me, I’ll do that for you. You don’t do this for me, then maybe I’ll withhold my support for you in the future.” Sometimes they try to flatter and ingratiate themselves. But none of these things build real influence.

The reason I call it the peculiar mathematics of real influence is it’s an asset that you have but it lives in the minds of other people. My influence with you lives in your brain and your heart, right? And so…

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I feel powerful.

Bruce Tulgan
Right. So, that’s why the mathematics are so peculiar because if you try to badger, or bribe, or threaten, or bully, or ingratiate yourself, or go over somebody’s head, you lose real influence. They stop rooting for you, they root against you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. That kind of sucks.

Bruce Tulgan
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like to not think, if possible.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, so you might get your way in the short term but in the long term, you do not build up your influence in other people’s hearts and minds. So, the way you build up your influence in other people’s hearts and minds is by conducting yourself in a certain way. And I call it playing the long game one moment at a time. It’s doing the right thing in the short term so that, in the long run, more good things happen for everyone. That you try really hard in the short term to conduct yourself in a way that makes things go better for everyone over time.

And so, as a result of that, you build a track record of making good decisions. You build a track record. Nobody wants to hear no to their requests. So, so many people they say, “Yes, yes, yes” to please you in the short term.

But a lot of people, they’re saying, “Yes, yes, yes” because they’re trying to please you right now. I always tell over-promisers, “Mark my words, you will be known for whether you deliver on that promise ultimately, so you might make me happy in the moment, but if you over-promise and don’t deliver, that’s what I’m going to remember.”

Whereas, in fact, you don’t have to say yes to everything. What you have to do is take people’s needs seriously, you have to engage with the ask, engage with the request, give it respect and due diligence. And what you want to be doing is trying to do the right thing for the right reasons every step of the way. And this is what builds up your real influence. When you become known as somebody who’s adding value in every interaction sometimes by saying no. You’re adding value in every interaction.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, this just reminds me of my marriage in terms of often what is needed is empathy and listening as much or more so than swooping into action and fixing things, and it also takes less time but more maybe mental effort in terms of remembering, “Ah, yes, this is what I need.” And so, I liked when you said that in terms of respecting the request, you’re sort of you’re taking it seriously, you’re honoring it. And I can kind of just imagine, I’m thinking about my buddy Pat right now. He seems to exemplify a lot of the things that you said here, in terms of you’re really listening, you’re interested, you’re curious, you’re kind of saying, “Oh, so what’s the implications of this? What’s at stake? What makes this hard? What have you tried so far?” I guess having that kind of conversation and then offering, hopefully, something that’s somewhat helpful along the way even if it’s not you, goes a long way.

Bruce Tulgan
That’s exactly right. So, what sets apart the go-to person who’s indispensable? It’s the person who’s most likely to help you get your needs met on time, on spec, in ways that build up the working relationship rather than damage it over time, right? So, the people who are most consistently likely to help you get your needs met, that’s why you keep going back to that person.

You go to somebody who says, “Yes, yes, yes” and doesn’t deliver, you stop going back to that person. You go to somebody who only has no in their repertoire, you stop going back to that person. You go to somebody though who is all about trying to add value. So, let’s say you come to me and say, “Hey, look, I’ll offer that you do this for me and I’ll do that for you.” If I’m a go-to person who’s really trying to build real influence, I’m going to say, “Look, if it’s the right business decision, if it’s aligned with the chain of command and the mission, if I can understand the ask and I’m the right person to do it for you, if I can do it, if I’m allowed to do it, if I should do it, if I’m good at it, if it’s one of my specialties, or it’s something I can get good at, if it’s something I can get done for you, I’m going to do that because it’s my job, not because you’re going to offer me a quid pro quo.”

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Bruce Tulgan
Be the person other people don’t want to disappoint not because of where you are on the org chart but because of how you conduct yourself, how you treat people, and the role you play in the workplace.

So, that’s the peculiar mathematics of real influence. Sometimes you got to take the bullet by saying, “No, I’m not going to do that for you” and making somebody unhappy in the short term, or, “Yes, I can do that but in a month, not right now.” But, over time, you build the reputation. So, that’s why I call it the peculiar mathematics of real influence because the more you really serve others, the more power you have in that they want you to succeed, they want to do things for you, they want to do things with you, they want to make good use of your time.

So, there’s five steps that we identified that sort of come out of that way of thinking. And the first step is, if you don’t have authority, align with authority. So, there’s still somebody in charge, so it’s, “Oh, hey, work it out at your level.” Well, wait a minute, step one, make sure you understand what’s required, what’s allowed, what’s not required, what’s not allowed. So, first, you’ve got to go vertical before you can go sideways or diagonal.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when you say align with authority, in practice that just means something like, “Hey, boss, we’ve got this request coming. It seems helpful.”

Bruce Tulgan
In a way, it does. Because, look, you’ve got three choices if you’re trying to work things out at your own level, right? One, you sort of say, “All right. Hey, let’s proceed until apprehended. Let’s just do this and let’s hope this is the sort of flipside of better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” But, often, if you proceed until apprehended, you have a lot of work to undo because, it turns out, “No, that’s not what we wanted you to do.”

Another possibility is that you escalate every disagreement, right? And then the other possibility is that somehow you try to use some kind of stand-in for authority, like a quid pro quo or some other form. But what makes the most sense is to go over your own head first. And so, yes, it’s, “Okay, boss.” But here’s the thing, sometimes people will say to me, “Well, does that mean that I have to go to my boss before I work out anything at my own level?” And the answer is only if you’re not already aligned with your boss.

So, you want to be that person who already knows what your boss would say. You’re so aligned that you almost could speak for your boss. And if you have people who report to you, should they have to come to you before they work things out at their own level? Only if they’re not exactly sure what you would say. So, that vertical alignment becomes an anchor. But I put it there first not that every single time you are going to work things at your own level you should go over your own head but, remember, you’re not going to be in a position to work things out at your own level unless, first, you have really good vertical alignment.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s excellent. We’ve heard from Mary Abbajay about managing your manager and how that’s so critical to have those conversations up front in advance, what’s important to you, what are the top goals, what are the least priorities, etc. So, are there any other particular key questions or things to cover with boss that go a really long way in terms of getting that vertical alignment?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, here’s what you want to be doing. Number one, you want to be making sure you know mission, priorities right now, ground rules, action steps, so that’s where you want to be getting alignment. And then, today, tomorrow, this week, what are our execution priorities? And, also, you want to be feeding information up and down the chain of command about anything that’s changing in the boardroom, or anything, “Hey, here’s some frontline intelligence,” that can help your boss stay in the loop on the other end of the spectrum.

So, you want to be having regular structured conversations with your boss. If anybody reports to you, you want to be having regular structured conversations with the people who report to you. That’s the vertical anchor, right? Then you’ve got guardrails, and then you got to create structure and alignment sideways and diagonal. And here’s the thing, so much sideways and diagonal communication comes in meetings but a lot of it comes in relatively unstructured informal communication.

Much of what we have to say to each other all day at work is asking. Much of our ongoing dialogues are making requests of each other. And so, sometimes this happens in the middle of a Zoom team meeting with cross-talks, sometimes it’s a text or a call. When we used to work together in offices and other workplaces, it might be stopping by one’s cubicle, or a hallway conversation.

And so, one of the things that we identified that these go-to people do is once they have vertical alignment, and they’ve got their guardrails, they know what’s not up to them, that leaves a lot which is basically everything else. So, then step two is know when to say no and how to say yes. And that’s really not creating a bunch of cumbersome bureaucracy but it means putting some due diligence into how you take an ask or a request and make sure you really understand it. Tune in to other people’s needs, tune in to the ask, and then make sure you really understand it.

If somebody starts to make a request, stop them and visibly take notes. Ask good questions. Make sure you really understand what they’re asking. That’s a great way to respect somebody else’s needs and tune in to their ask. And then, know when to say no, “Can I do this? Am I allowed to do this?” And then, “Should I do this?” which is that’s the tough one, right? “What’s the ROI on this?” And sometimes the answer is, “Not yet,” or sometimes the answer is, “I’m not sure. Go back and fine-tune this ask so I can give it even more due diligence.” Sometimes it’s, “Yes, I could do that in two weeks,” or sometimes it’s, “Oh, you know who could do that for you is this other go-to person I know.”

So, steps one and two are align vertically so that, step two, you can give every ask the due diligence it deserves. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that to be a go-to person you’ve got to say, “Yes, yes, yes, yes.” No, every good no frees you up for a better yes. Now, yes is where all the action is. Yes is where you have an opportunity to add value. But don’t waste your yeses.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, the image that comes to mind for me here is like just a venture capitalist in terms of there are many, many deal opportunities that come across their desk, but the right answer tends to be say no to the vast majority of them to say yes to the ones that are just right. And even then, still, most of the yeses are not fruitful in terms of creating value but, boy, a few of them are plenty fruitful so it works out.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. And, look, it is an investment decision. It’s how you’re going to invest your time and energy. You can’t do everything so it’s a matter of if you’re going to beat over-commitment, you have to get the right things done. You can’t do everything for everybody so you have to do the right things.

So, step three in the process is work smart. And what that means…

Pete Mockaitis
Before you we go from there, working smart, I’d love to hear, do you have any pro tips on how you recommend articulating a no when necessary?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, look, a lot of people say, “The secret is knowing how to say no.” I have racked my brain and I have looked at data from hundreds of thousands of interviews, I cannot find a proper sugarcoating for no that makes it taste good.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Bruce Tulgan
So, I think, yeah, you got to learn how to say no is kind of a red herring. The trick is knowing when to say no. And when to say no is when yes will turn out to be a disappointment, when yes is going to turn out to be the wrong answer. That’s why it’s playing the longer game because your no’s are as valuable as your track record of making the right decision on no. No is a huge favor. No, at the right time, is a huge favor because the ask was half-baked. So, we might say yes and go off in the wrong direction, “No, no, no, let’s fine-tune that ask a little more before we say yes.” Or it might turn out that this was not a priority and it’s going to take up a huge amount of opportunity costs.

No and yes are all about opportunity costs. You want a yes to lead to a productive collaboration where you’re going to make an execution plan and execute on tangible results that end up adding real value. So, every bad yes is a squandered opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s well-said. And I agree that there is no way that you can say no, that I found, that makes everyone say, “You know, thank you so much, Bruce. That’s amazing.” So, maybe if you can’t make it taste good, how do you make it taste the least bad? So, if you had to tell me no right now, Bruce, “Hey, Bruce, could you give a thousand copies of your book for free to our audience? I think that’d just make a huge difference for them and they’ll really appreciate it.”

Bruce Tulgan
Well, see, I’m going to consider that one, but let me take it as one that I would have to say no at the outset. So, what I would say there is, “Oh, hey, I need to know more about that ask. I need to know who are those audience members. How do you anticipate we get it to them? What’s the upside?” You have to ask a bunch of good questions. So, the first part of helping somebody swallow a no is asking lots of questions to understand their ask, not to humor them but to really investigate the opportunity.

Then the next part is you say, “Oh, hey, I can’t do that for the following reasons, right? Gee, I could feed my family tomorrow or I could give you some books. I’d love to give you some books but I got to feed my family.” That’s, “I can’t. I don’t have the resources so I’m not allowed to.” It could be if you’re one of my government clients, I am not allowed to do that because that’s a violation of law.

But let’s say we get past the, “I can do that for you, I’m allowed to do that for you, I’m just not going to because I’ve balanced I evaluate this is not my top priority.” So, I might say, “Hey, I shouldn’t do this because it’s actually a bad idea.” And then I might try to talk you out of it which could end up being a big favor to you, “I don’t think you should pursue this idea.”

It could be I say, “Hey, I might be able to do this in a few weeks or a few months, so if you’d be willing to stay in dialogue with me, I’d be willing to revisit this down the line. Now I’m not stringing you along. If I know the answers, know I’m going to tell you no.” But maybe the answer is, “Gee, if you’re bound and determined to do this, get books and give them to a thousand of your listeners, I’d hate to miss that opportunity, so let me see if there’s some way I can make this happen.”

Another might be, “I’ve developed another go-to person and I could do a huge favor for that person because that person happens to have an extra thousand books, and I bet that person would be thrilled to have this opportunity to give those books. So, I’m going to put the two of you in touch. I’m going to do you a favor by introducing you to that person, I’m going to do that person a favor by introducing that person to you, and you’re going to proceed.”

Worst-case scenario I say, “Hey, let me explain what I do. I sell books not give away books. So, if down the road you want to buy some books, I’m your man. Or what I normally do is seminars, so if you need someone to do a seminar, hey, I’d still love to work with you.” In other words, what you want to do is be authentic. And so, when you’re saying no, you’re explaining why, you’re trying to help the person come up with a solution to their need maybe. At the very least, you’re saying, “Hey, I want to understand what you do. Let me explain what I do. Maybe somewhere looking around the corner, there’s a way that we could be valuable to each other.”

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to hear, what are some of the best clarifying questions to really respect the request and do a great job with this? One of my favorites, as we’re talking through this, is something along the lines of, “What are you hoping to achieve by getting a thousand books out there for free to listeners?” Because that’s sort of like sparks all kinds of potential ideas and opportunities. Do you have any other kind of go-to questions, huh, go-to questions for go-to people, that help you do a great job of clarifying?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah. So, I think it’s useful to come up with the objective because then you might find out that the person hasn’t crystallized the ask very much at all if you can help them meet their objective with a much better ask, right? But I think basically what you’re trying to do an intake memo which is really building a proposal from the inside out. So, what you want to know is exactly what’s the deliverable. So, in a way, that rhymes with the objective, “What’s the deliverables exactly that you want?”

And then, “What’s going to be required of me? What part of this can you do? How can you help me help you? How can you help me help you help me help you?” You can keep going on that track. But, “What’s the timeframe? Let’s estimate the resources that would be needed, the obstacles. Whose authority do we need? Where are we going to get the resources? What’s the time horizon? What are the steps along the way? What would be the sequence of steps and ownership of each step?” You want to build a short proposal inside out, even if it’s on the back of an envelope or on a napkin.

Pete Mockaitis
You know what’s so funny about this, as I imagine how this plays out, even if you ended in no, they’d be like, “Oh, this is kind of a buzzkill because we’re really excited about the progress we’re making, but at the same times, as a result of having spoken with you, I am enriched and en-valued, if that’s word, and better off because now I have some more insight and clarity on what I’m up to and what I should go do, so even though you told me no, I am better off for having asked you.”

Bruce Tulgan
I think so. And even if you already had it crystallized, doesn’t it tell you how I do business? Doesn’t it tell you that I’m serious about trying to help? I’m serious about understanding what you want, and I’m serious about trying to do what I can in the conversation, and maybe following the conversation to operate in such a way that it adds value for you. And so, a big part of this is slowing down so that you make good use of other people’s time, show other people that you’re serious about adding value.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. All right. Well, please, continue. Step three, work smart.

Bruce Tulgan
So, step three is work smart, and sometimes people are like, “Oh, yeah, work smart. Got it. Never heard that one before,” right? But the reality is a lot of people think that to be a go-to person you just gotta keep working and working. What is the go-to person? They’re just the one who can outwork everyone. And, in fact, if that’s your only strategy, you’re going to burn out.

So, then some people will say, “Oh, well, work smart. Well, what does that mean?” Well, on one level it means do the things you’re already really good at, do the things you can do very well, very fast, with a good attitude, you know you can deliver on that. The problem is that most people don’t have the opportunity to only work in their area of passion and strength, right? So, “Oh, not good at that. Sorry. I’d like to but I’m committed to working smart so I won’t be able to help you with that.”

And so, what I tell people is there’s a lot of tasks, responsibilities, and projects you’re going to have to do that might not be something you’re already good at, or that’s in your area of passion and strength. But if that’s true, slow down and get really good at it. Don’t just wing it. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Don’t keep trying to, “Oh, you know, I’m so busy that I don’t have time to stop and get good at it.”

If you’re so busy that you don’t have time to stop and get good at it, you are in a pickle, right? So, you gotta stop and get good at it. Learn best practices, “Oh, this is how I do it.” Is it? Well, is that the best way? Maybe you need to learn, “No, no, I’ll figure it out on my own. I don’t want people to see me learning. They might think I’m not competent.” Well, they’re going to think you’re not competent if you pretend to know how to do it and then make it up as you go along and reinvent the wheel, then you’re going to seem not competent.

One of the ironies is that people who are really good at stuff know that people who learn in plain sight are probably the ones who are going to get good at stuff too. You’re not showing yourself to be less competent by learning in plain sight. Again, you’re showing the kind of person you are. Like, so, look, if you ask to do something, I go, “Oh, that’s my specialty. I can already do that very well, very fast, with a great attitude and deliver for you.” Okay. But if it’s not my specialty, and I say, “Gee, I keep getting asked to do this, let me tell you, that’s not my specialty, but it’s going to be one of my specialties soon. I’m going to learn best practices, I’m going to study, I’m going to master them, I’m going to develop repeatable solutions to the most common problems and issues and needs, I’m going to create job aids to guide me.”

That’s how you professionalize what you do. Find the best practices, create repeatable solutions, get good tools. So, anything you find yourself having to do regularly, professionalize, and then you make it one of your specialties because once something is one of your specialties, then think of any minute or hour you spend on one of your specialties, you’re going to add more value with less likelihood of failure than something that’s not one of your specialties.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Bruce Tulgan
So, there is a kernel of genius in working in your area of passion and strength, there’s a kernel of genius in, “Hey, that’s not my job,” because, really, what somebody is saying is, “Gee, every minute I spend doing that, I’m not going to be adding optimal value.” But everything you professionalize and make one of your specialties is another thing you can do very well, very fast. So, specialize for sure, but when something comes up that’s not your job, you got to kind of put it through the following routine.

First, is it something that really shouldn’t be your job? Like, “This is a wild goose chase,” or something like that, right? Like, “Well, wait just a minute. I’m not even sure if anyone should be doing this.” Or is it something that’s not your job, like the paperwork part of almost anything. Well, I always say to people, “Actually, that is your job so you should professionalize the paperwork part to it.” Or is it like, “Well, it’s not my job to take out the trash.” Well, that’s what I call “Somebody has got to do it, so don’t be a jerk about it.” And, okay, maybe you don’t have to be the goffer, but maybe you’re like, “Okay, I’m the guy. Sure, I’ll be the one to take out the trash,” and you do it really well.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I remember when I was the junior person on the team in consulting, we needed lunch, someone had to get lunch, and the delivery apps were not proliferating at the time the way they are now, and so I did it but I did professionalize it and it was appreciated because I kept disappointing people, they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t want beans in my burrito.” It’s like, “By golly, I’m just worked a full-blown burrito spreadsheet, and you’re just going to circle what kind of rice, what kind of beans, what kind of meat, and then we’re going to pass that little printout around, and then I’m going to Chipotle, and then no one’s disappointed anymore.” And they loved it, like, “Ha, ha, ha. Great.”

Bruce Tulgan
Exactly. And it’s like, “Oh, I’m the lunch guy.” Well, wait, no. What you’re showing people is, “I’m willing to be the guy to get lunch and there’s nothing I do regularly that I just wing it and make it up as I go along. That’s just how I do business, is I professionalize the things I do.” And the funny thing is, also hidden is these other things that are sort of close to your job that, “Hey, maybe that could be another specialty.” Or, okay, it’s far away from your job, but, “Hey, maybe that could be one of my specialties.”

The funny thing is there’s a tension between spending most of your time on your specialties and then paying attention to the things that are not your job because those are your opportunities to actually expand your repertoire.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well-said. And I tell you what, I really appreciate when I talk to someone and they say, “You know, I don’t know how to do that yet but I am excited to learn or to come up again and again. I just need to nail this down.” And so, I appreciate that. And I guess sometimes the answer is, “You know what, actually, we need it perfect and we need it fast, so maybe you’re not the right choice right now but you could be some weeks, some months down the road.” And other times it’s like, “You know what, that’s the best yes I’ve gotten out of everybody I’ve asked. I’ll take it.”

Bruce Tulgan
I’ll take it. Right, exactly. And, by the way, so you’re putting people on notice that, “Let me be clear, I am a professional but this is not one of my specialties, but I’ll take a crack at it. But be on notice that this is my first go around, or whatever it is,” and it’s one of the reasons why job aids, repeatable solutions, and best practices captured in checklist and stuff like that, checklist is a good example, because, “If I haven’t done it in a while, maybe I’m rusty. The job aid is going to help. If I do it all the time, the job aid might keep me from going on autopilot. If I can’t do it, and I need someone else to do it, and they’re like, ‘That’s not my specialty,’ I say, ‘Oh, here’s a job aid,’ that’s going to help you learn a lot faster.”

It also will help me educate my customer and state, “Let me just show you so you can understand.” Job aids come in really handy when it comes to trying to get someone new up to speed faster on something that isn’t their specialty.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, you’ve reference job aids numerous times, and I contextually can glean that this is a document that contains useful information about how to do a job. Can you expand on what are the components or key elements of a great job aid document?

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, a job aid is anything that helps you follow best practices, apply repeatable solutions, or draw from repeatable solutions, to extrapolate for a problem of first impression, or a past work product that gives you a jumpstart on making a new work product.

Pete Mockaitis
So, this could be a checklist, it could be a process map, it could be an instructional video, it could be some example deliverables, just sort of anything that, hey, it’s going to do the job.

Bruce Tulgan
Yeah, a checklist is a classic example, a plan is a classic example. Sometimes surgeons use a job aid which is that somebody uses a magic marker to put an X on the right spot so that they don’t cut on the wrong side. That acts as a job aid and it comes in handy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. All right. So, that’s working smart. What’s the fourth?

Bruce Tulgan
Step four is finish what you start. And people will say, “Oh, I’m always so busy I’m always juggling. I’m double and triple-booked for meetings,” as if that’s a badge of honor. And I tell people, “If you’re double or triple-booked, that means you can’t decide what meeting to go to. And if you think you’re multitasking, there’s no such thing. And juggling is what you’re actually doing because multitasking is a fiction. What you’re actually doing is task-shifting.” And some people do it really fast, that’s why I call it juggling. But if you’re always juggling, you’re bound to drop the ball.

So, one of the things we wanted to look at is the people who were able to have a really busy schedule and an ever-growing to-do list but they still get stuff done. And what we identified was that the people who get the most done are the people who break work into smaller chunks and break their execution time into bigger chunks. So, it’s bigger chunks of time, smaller chunks of work.

And so, the drill is simple. Look at your schedule every day but find the gaps in your schedule, your “Do not disturb” zones for focused execution. And then look at your work and your to-do list, and plug in doable items, doable tasks, doable chunks of work in those scheduled gaps. So, what you’re looking at, so you know there’s 168 hours in a week and nobody is making any more of them. But, in fact, if you create scheduled gaps in which you execute on concrete results, and start with the highest-leveraged concrete results, then you are actually manufacturing time for yourself because what you’re doing is you’re obviating unnecessary problems, you’re obviating problems hiding and getting out of control, you’re obviating squandered resources, you’re obviating work either getting done wrong or not getting done, you’re obviating holding other people up.

So, high-leveraged time is setting someone else up for success. High-leveraged time is avoiding an unnecessary problem. High-leveraged time is planning for optimal use of resources. High-leveraged time is if there’s a set of steps that need to be done in sequence, and one of them takes time up front, so I call it preheating the oven, is a great example, or putting the bread in the oven before you make the salad. It’s sequencing. Those are all high-leveraged execution times, and that’s how you start to create more and more scheduled gaps for yourself in which you can get more and more concrete results done.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like the notion of the oven, or it’s sort of like getting something in motion so that it’s moving while I’m doing other things.

Bruce Tulgan
Exactly. So, it’s giving somebody instructions, it’s cleaning the machine, sharpening the saw, what Covey would say, sharpening the saw. It’s high-leveraged time. But you got to execute, execute, execute. So, people who don’t make time for focused execution, they’re the ones who are always busy but never finishing things.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And the fifth step?

Bruce Tulgan
Is keep getting better and better at working together. And there’s so much finger pointing, and so much politicking in the workplace, and that’s because everyone knows relationships are where it’s at. The problem is, yes, the relationships are key, but if the work goes wrong, the relationships go sour. And if the work keeps getting better and better, the relationships get better and better. So, I always tell people, you know, take time to review and look around the corner together.

Every time you get a task, responsibility, or project done with somebody, stop. Don’t go into a conference room and blame. Don’t whisper behind people’s back and finger-point. What you do is go to your collaboration partner, and say, “Hey, here’s what went well. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And let’s look at how we can work better together going forward, and let’s look around the corner and plan the next collaboration.” So, it’s basically taking a continuous improvement approach to relationship management.

So, when people say, “It’s all about the relationships and networking,” that doesn’t mean making best friends and politicking or undermining the people you don’t like. It means taking continuous improvement to working relationships and things will go better and better and better. And if you do that, if you align up and down the chain of command, and then put structure and substance into your sideways conversations, if you make good decisions about yes and no by really tuning in to the ask, if you professionalize what you do, work smart, finish what you start, and you keep fine-tuning how you work with people, then people notice how you conduct yourself.

The ones that people keep going back to over and over and over again, the ones everyone wants to work with, the one everyone will want you to want to work with them, that’s what they do, that’s what go-to people have in common. And when you do that, sometimes people will say to me, “Well, the problem is I’m the only go-to person here.” Well, are you sure? They say, “Well, if I work in a greater organization, well, that would make it easier to be a go-to person.” Well, sure, if you work for a greater organization it makes it easier. But it turns out, if you conduct yourself this way, you become a magnet for other go-to people. It becomes much easier to find go-to people. And if you can’t find them, build them up. They will remember.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Bruce Tulgan
Stephen Covey says, “Remember, you can’t take a screwdriver to somebody else’s head and tighten the screw or loosen the bolt, but you can control how you respond to other people.” And Covey called that being response-able. So, that’s one of my favorites.

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

Bruce Tulgan
Well, how about Pavlov? Thanks, Pavlov, I’ll do that again. I always tell people, if you reward people in close proximity to the performance in question, then they’ll say, “Thanks, Pavlov. I’ll do that again.”

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

Bruce Tulgan
Well, right now, I guess my only tool is this studio we’ve just created. It is now my portal to the world because if you’re in the business of selling hot air to auditoriums full of people, this is not the best time. And so, we’ve created a production studio so that we can deliver our research services and our training and consulting services right from this portal to the world.

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

Bruce Tulgan
The best place to go is RainMakerThinking.com or I’m told you can link in with me at LinkedIn or @BruceTulgan on Twitter.

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

Bruce Tulgan
Every single interaction you have with people, stop focusing on what you need or you want from them, and focus on what you can do to add value. Focus on what you can do for other people, and you will build up the most valuable asset you possibly can have, which is real influence. You will build that up. And just remember that the bank is the minds and hearts of other people. So, stop focusing on what you need from other people and start focusing on what you can do for them, and you will become very rich in real influence.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Bruce, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all of your adventures and all the ways you’re indispensable.

Bruce Tulgan
Thank you. Well, you’re great at this. You make it so easy and you make it so much fun. And thanks for bringing out the best in me here.

560: How to Resolve Conflict and Boost Productivity through Deep Listening with Oscar Trimboli

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Oscar Trimboli says: "The most important thing to listen to is what's not said."

Oscar Trimboli explains how to increase your impact through sharpening your listening.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The magic phrases powerful listeners use
  2. How to expertly listen for what’s unsaid
  3. One question to ask the people you disagree with

About Oscar:

Oscar Trimboli is an author, host of the Apple award-winning podcast Deep Listening and a sought-after keynote speaker. He is passionate about using the gift of listening to bring positive change in homes, workplaces and cultures around the world. He is a marketing and technology industry veteran with over 30 years’ experience across general management, sales, marketing and operations for Microsoft, PeopleSoft, Polycom, Professional Advantage and Vodafone.

Oscar lives in Sydney with his wife Jennie, where he helps first-time runners and ocean swimmers conquer their fears and contributes to the cure for cancer as part of Can Too, a cancer research charity.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Oscar Trimboli Interview Transcript

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

Oscar Trimboli
Good day, Pete. I’m really looking forward to listening to your questions today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m looking forward to listening to what you have to say. So, we’re talking listening and I want to sort of start off with a real strong why. Could you give us sort of like the case or a study or an example that reveals really what’s at stake when we listen well and what can be possible, and when we don’t listen well and how we’re suffering?

Oscar Trimboli
30th of December, Wuhan, China, Dr. Li has said to a group of his medical professionals, he’s an ophthalmologist, that he’s worried that the patients he’s seeing at the moment have SARS-like symptoms showing but it’s worse. And he publishes that on the local social media app that they use, and that gets seen by the Chinese government. And the next day, he’s visited by the Chinese government officials and told to recount what he said and everything he said is wrong.

And everybody ignored him, nobody was listening to him. And, as a result, we have the coronavirus that’s completely changed the world in 2020. That’s one of the costs of not listening. So, the costs of not listening can be quite significant. And in a lot of workplaces, Peter, people whose opinions are different, who may be seen as far out or different, they’re ignored, whether it was on the Deepwater Horizon’s oil rig in 2012 where a whole bunch of people, 11 got killed because engineers weren’t listened to.

But, also, the global financial crisis. Dr. Rajan was presenting a paper at Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 2005 and actually predicted where the global financial crisis would play out but, again, he was ignored. He wasn’t listened to. Millions of jobs, billions of dollars of savings, and all of that variety. They are some of the big costs of not listening. In our workplaces, it creates confusion, it creates chaos, it creates conflict, it creates projects that go overtime, it creates lost customers, and it creates great employees who leave because their managers don’t pay attention to them. So, they are just a couple of the costs of not listening.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Oscar, you are nailing it. Yeah, those are huge costs. And so, we’re looking at listening then in a pretty broad perspective in terms of not just you and I in a conversation, and me absorbing what you’re saying, but the extent to which I am even accepting, adopting, choosing to acknowledge your views as valid, true, and possible.

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah, listening is the willingness to have your mind changed. Listening is the openness to hear what’s unsaid. Listening is making sure you’re listening with your head as well as your heart. And I think a lot of us think of listening as one-dimensional. We think of it as monochrome. We think of it as a very, very simple thing, but listening has got lots of nuance to it.

And, for many people, one of the exercises we always talk about in our workshops is go and listen to and consume media, it’s a podcast, it’s a TV show, go and read a blogpost from somebody you fiercely disagree with, and notice what’s happening in your mind while you’re fiercely disagreeing with them, because for a lot of us we get blocked by our own assumption filters.

My daughter-in law, when she was 21, she’s a Judo player, and Judo players have this incredibly high tolerance for pain, Peter, in a way I can never understand, that you would literally have to choke them before they would stop fighting on the mat. And Jen got hit by a car while she was riding her bike to training, and she was completely devastated because she had spent a lot of money saving for that bike, and that bike was her means of transport in an Olympic year. And she literally picked up the bike, put it on her shoulder, with a broken ankle, by the way, and went to a local emergency room and was treated by a doctor.

And the doctor was confused why Jen brought the bike into the ER because that bike was more important to her than her ankle at that moment. But what I’m curious about right now, Peter, is in your head, describe the doctor.

Pete Mockaitis
Describe the doctor. Well, I guess I was really visualizing the scene of your daughter with the bike and kind of limping, and so I’ve got very little on the doctor. The doctor, I guess, is inquisitive, it’s like, “Hey, why did you bring your bike?”

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah. But, physically, gender-wise, height, weight, what sort of doctor are you visualizing right now?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, not much. He’s kind of faceless, I saw just more sort of like the white robe. But I guess if I were to kind get more into the picture, well, I kind of see my buddy, shoutout to Johnny, he’s a doctor, and so he looks like my buddy Johnny, who’s in his late 30s. He looks a little bit like the Property Brothers if you’ve ever seen that TV show, so that’s what I’m picturing.

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah. And the doctor that saw Jen was 5’4” and an Indian woman. And, again, so the point of the story is, yeah, the bike and all of that, but a lot of us go into conversations where we have our own assumptions from our own experience base that filter how we listen, and we’re not even conscious of these things that are getting in our way when it comes to listening. And a lot of that is really initially caused by our internal distractions as well as our external distractions. A lot of us have our cellphone going, or a laptop, or some kind of tablet, something like that. So, we got all these external distractions but we’ve also got these internal distractions as well.

And, for a lot of us, we don’t even know it’s happening. We just aren’t even at that point of consciousness because we’re so distracted coming into the conversation. So, for most of you listening right now, it’s happening now. You’re distracted while you’re listening to Peter and myself. You might be commuting. You might be preparing a meal. But your mind is wandering in a completely different direction.

So, I wanted to give a commercial break to the neuroscience of listening, if that’s okay, Peter. Right now, I speak at about 125 words a minute. You’re a little quicker, about 150, and if you’re auctioning cattle, you’re at about 200 words per minute. But you can listen at 400 words per minute so you fill in the gaps because your mind gets bored and your mind is distracted. So, this is the 125/400 rule that says, “I speak at 125 words a minute, you listen at 400.” And if you don’t notice this gap, you’re going to drift away.

Now, it’s okay. I do it myself when I spend all day training people on how to listen, but the big difference between me and anybody else is I know when I’m distracted before you do, so I come back into the conversation much faster. So, it’s really, really important if you understand the neuroscience of listening, that I speak at 125-words a minute, you listen at 400, you’re going to get bored and distracted. It’s okay. You just come back in. And we’ll talk about some tips later on about how to notice and what to do about it when you drift away.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing. And I heard another stat about how we can think even faster than the 400 words per minute. And I guess when we’re thinking, we’re not even thinking in subvocalized words there.

Oscar Trimboli
No. You’re absolutely right.

Pete Mockaitis
Because I’ve tried that in prayer, like I would think the Rosary prayer as fast as I can think the words, and it’s quick. It’s quicker than like a talk, yeah. But it’s still maybe it is around 400. It’s not much beyond that.

Oscar Trimboli
On average, it’s 900 words a minute you can think at. That’s nearly double your listening speed. Some people can do up to 1600 words a minute think, and right down at the other end of the Bell curve is about 600 that, welcome to the speaker’s problem. And this is why it’s critical that everybody understand the most important thing you need to listen to is what’s not said. I know it feels like Yoda just stepped onto the podcast. How do you listen to what’s not said? But it’s really critical.

If you understand the neuroscience of speaking, you speak at 125 to 150 words a minute, you’ve got 900 stuck in your head, that means the likelihood that the first thing that comes out of your mouth is what you mean, that’s 11%. One in nine chance that what you say as a speaker is what you mean. Therefore, if you want to have a powerful conversation with somebody, you want to get the next 125 words out, and the next 125 words out. And if you can get to about 300 words out of their thoughts, you’re probably getting closer to what they mean.

And this is another distinction, Peter, when it comes to listening. As a listener, it’s not your job to make sense of what they say. It’s your job to help them make sense of what they’re trying to say. Now that’s a really big difference, and what that means is most of us, our mind is like a closed washing machine. We’re in wash mode when we’re thinking, and it’s sudsy, and it’s agitated, and it’s like the water is dirty, and we’re moving but we’re not making progress. And the minute the rinse cycle comes on in a washing machine, out flushes all that wonderful clear water, and that’s exactly what it’s like when you speak.

Your mind is wired differently while you speak, while you think, and you make much more sense of what you say by saying it aloud than saying it inside your own head. So, powerful listeners will use these magic phrases. Michael Bungay Stanier did a wonderful job of talking about a couple of these on past two episodes ago for you. And he talked about the phrase “tell me more,” “what else,” and, “use silence.” These are three powerful techniques in that moment where you ask somebody “What else?” Something magic happens to the human mind.

And, Peter, tell me if it’s happened for you. People kind of tilt their head, they’ll breathe out, and they’ll say, “Well, actually, you know what we should talk about?” or, “Peter, you know what’s really important for us right now? Not what we’re talking about. I need to talk about this.” And for a lot of people, they’re out there nodding because it’s a real-life experience. But most of us just talk to the first thing they say rather than trying to understand what they really want to mean.

And if you’re in your role, whether you’re a manager or you’re working with your manager, making sense of what people mean, not what they say, makes work quicker. You work on the important things that have impact, not the transactional things, and listening helps you get to the result in a much quicker way, with a much bigger impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful. And so then, the points you’re making with those numbers associated with the first 125 word in the first minute, there’s 11% chance that that’s what I really want to say, you’re saying it’s so important to not just respond to that and we’re off to the races. “You’ve spoken for a minute therefore I know what we’re talking about and I’m going,” but rather draw it out for a few more minutes, and then we’re going to get at the good stuff. And we save time because instead of spending, I’m just going to make up numbers, instead of spending 15 minutes talking about the thing that’s not the thing, we can spend five minutes listening to get the real thing, and then go from there.

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah. And in a lot of modern workplaces, we’re dealing with issues that are really complex, that don’t have just single or binary responses that are possible. Whether you’re in a creative role, or you’re in software development, or you’re in professional consulting, it doesn’t matter what profession you’re in, if you’re in the medical profession right now, there’s so much complexity and multiple and exponential vectors that you’re dealing with on a topic.

The likelihood that the very first thing that either of you talk about is the result or the possibilities. Whenever you’re stuck in these binaries, if you’re arguing A versus B, or one versus two, or red versus blue, the critical thing to ask yourself the question is, “What’s the third possibility? And what’s the fourth possibility?” And that’s only going to come about by listening.

On the days where we’re just doing tasks that require us to think one step ahead, we have to anticipate many things today in the imagination economy, because we’ve kind of moved from the information economy to the imagination economy, and our imagination can open up so many more possibilities. And that’s why one of my favorite quotes from Peter Drucker is, “The most important part of communication is listening to what’s not said.” And if we spent some more time there, the confusion, the conflict, the chaos in our workplace would go away.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s get after a little bit more how one does that effectively. So, there’s not jumping at the first minute, there’s kind of more encouragement of “tell me more” and “what else.” What are some of the other best practices that can get us to identifying and listening for what’s not said?

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah, I think we have to wind this way back, Peter, and start at the very foundational part of listening. And you can’t listen to anybody else till you listen to yourself. So, the very first part of listening is listening to yourself. Most of us turn up to a conversation with a radio station playing in our head that’s a completely different frequency to the conversation we’re just about to go into. We’re going from a meeting to a meeting, we’re going from a phone call to a phone call, and we’re still processing the last thing that was in our head.

So, getting ready to listen is more important than actually listening. In our database, we do proprietary research ourselves, 1410 people who are listeners, who have put up their hands, and said, “Help! Help! We need help in improving our listening.” We’ve been tracking them for two and a half years. And 86% of them say the thing that gets in the way of listening is not how they’re having a conversation with the speaker. Eighty-six percent of them say what’s getting in the way is the distractions before the conversation commences.

And some of those distractions are a story that they might have in their head about, “Oh, well, the last time I had a conversation with Peter was really wacky and the conversation didn’t go so well. And what’s he going to show up here because he’s a really unpredictable character?” or, “The last time I had a conversation with Peter, it was really, he is really dense and detailed, and I really didn’t make sense of it.” And you’re turning up to that conversation in that posture, and that’s your internal distraction, let alone your external distractions.

Most people walk in with their electronic devices of some sort, whether it’s a phone call, whether it’s a meeting, whether it’s a team meeting, we’re distracted internally and externally. So, I would always encourage people to do three things to get ready, to get that foundation right, when it comes to listening.

Step number one. Remove the electronic devices. And if that sounds like cold turkey, then put them in flight mode, that’s my big request. Just put them in flight mode so you remove the dings, the bings, the buzzes, the beeps, all those notification things that are going to come across your devices. Tip number two, drink water. Most of us turn up to a conversation with a cup of coffee only. I’m not anti-coffee, I’m not pro-coffee. I don’t have a position on coffee. Drink water. A hydrated brain is a listening brain. Or Red Bull, I don’t have a position on Red Bull either, Peter.

A hydrated brain is a listening brain. Now, why does it matter? The brain is only 5% of the body mass, yet it consumes 26% of the blood sugars. The best way to get your brain operating in a place that’s optimal for listening is to drink a glass of water every half an hour. So, a hydrated brain is…

Pete Mockaitis
Is it 8 ounces, 16 ounces, or how big is this glass of water we’re drinking every half hour?

Oscar Trimboli
However big your glass is. Most people don’t even drink water, Peter, so I’m not really worried about the size of the glass.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thinking if you’re awake for 16 hours, are we talking about 32 glasses of water?

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah, so a properly hydrated high-performing corporate athlete should be drinking about two liters of water a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Oscar Trimboli
So, most people go, “Wow, that’s quite a lot of water.” But if you’re exercising effectively and you’re moving through the day, two liters of water is enough. So, a standard can of whatever your favorite soda is about the size of the glass I’d be thinking about right now for anybody there. So, hydration is really critical because a lot of people say when they concentrate during the process of listening, their brain hurts. They walk out of a conversation, they literally hold their head, and that’s got nothing to do with the act of listening. It’s got to do with the fact that they’re dehydrated. So, if we’re hydrated, we’re going to be in a better position.

And the third thing is just it sounds so basic. Take three deep breaths. And I’m not talking yoga pose kind of breaths. I’m just saying, in through your nose, down the back of your throat, all the way down to the bottom of your diaphragm, and then back out through your mouth. And for me, the way I make this practice simple for me, if I’m going to see a client, Peter, when I cross the lobby in a building, I’m going to switch off my phone the minute I cross the lobby, put it in my bag, go into the elevator, put my back against the elevator wall, take three deep breaths. And by the time I come out, I’m going to reception, they offer me a refreshment, so I always ask for a glass of water for me and the guest.

And in that moment, my mind is ready to start to listen. We’re going to get onto the techniques of what happens during the dialogue shortly. But it’s so critical that we all understand you need to be ready to listen. Most of us aren’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, some hydration, some deep breaths, and you’re sort of prepping the…I’m kind of imagining like if you’re painting a wall, it’s like there’s the prep, and then there’s the application of the paint. So, in the prepping, you support or else you’re not going to get a great end result there. All right. So, let’s say we’ve done that. Good news, we’re ahead of the game. What do we go forward with in the actual conversation?

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah, a lot of us spend too much time in the first kind of conversation thinking about what we’re discussing. And one of the things that sets up a great conversation is how.

Pete Mockaitis
How we’re discussing it?

Oscar Trimboli
How we’re discussing it. What would make a great conversation for us today? By the time we’re finished, what would you like to do? Now, all the research we’ve done, Peter, is on the workplace. I always put this by “Beware” announcement, “Please do not try this at home with your loved ones. They’ll see right through it.” It’s really critical. When I speak, most people come up to me or ask me questions from stage, saying, “Oscar, how do I get my wife, my husband, my partner, my loved one, to listen to me?” And men tend to listen to fix, and women tend to listen to feel.

Pete Mockaitis
Fix? I’m going to fix this?

Oscar Trimboli
Yes. So, men are very solution-orientated. So, a “how” question is, if you come home during the day, like this is a thing that transformed my relationship with my wife. In the early days, she’d go, “Oh, this is what happened in my day,” and I’d go, “Oh, yeah. Did you try this?” And she’s like she would get so furious because I was trying to fix it. She just wants to be listened to. And what I do now is I simply say, “Is this a conversation where you want me to listen or is this a conversation where you want some suggestions?” And 99 out of a 100, it’s just to listen, but in the odd case, she goes, “Yeah, I’d like some alternatives.”

And the same is true in the workplace. Most of us don’t agree out front how the conversation should be orientated. Is it a brainstorming conversation? Is it a conversation where we’re looking to make progress? That context is always king. But most of us don’t take the time to create the context at the beginning. What would make this a great meeting for you? What’s an outcome you would like to achieve from this meeting? Then we can actually get into the dialogue and explore the five levels of listening that we can kind of sequence as we go into that conversation, around listening for context, and listening for content, listening for the unsaid, and, ultimately, listening for meaning.

I would say this, there’s a lot of big people out there saying really important things about it’s crucial to understand the why. And when it comes to listening, why can feel judgmental. When you ask a lot of why-based questions at the beginning of a dialogue where you have low trust or low relationship with somebody, please be careful. Whether it’s FBI hostage negotiators I’ve spoken to, or telephone-based suicide counselors, why questions are loaded with judgment where when you ask somebody, “So, why do you do that at your company?”

You can achieve exactly the same result by simply asking them, “How does the approval process work at your organization?” as opposed to, “Oh, why does your company do approvals that way?” Same question, very different orientation. And I think, for a lot of us, what we’re not listening to is the actual way we’re dialoguing ourselves, and we need to be asking more how- and what-based questions, and a lot less why-based questions as well, Peter.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. You know, it’s so funny, as we were talking, my phone is sort of buzzing, and it’s like, “What? I’ve got it on Do Not Disturb,” but it was an emergency notification about fixing clothes with the coronavirus. So, anyway, even when I’ve set it to Do Not Disturb, distractions, interruptions can emerge. But point well-taken with the why question puts you on the defensive, it’s like, “Well,” you feel like you need to justify it, and you’re more likely, you kind of dig into it, so excellent. Well, then, can you bring us deeper, then, into these five levels of listening?

Oscar Trimboli
Well, a lot of us are taught to listen to content level two. So, level one is listen to yourself. Level two is listening to the content, and that’s interesting. Most of us are listening for words and, occasionally, body language, but a lot of time we’re not listening for state, we’re not listening for where people’s energy is at. And I’m not doing that from a woohoo perspective, but I was working with Peter who was…complex merger he was undertaking about two and a half years ago, and he was just going on and on about how frustrating it was, how unfair it was, that he shouldn’t be running the integration. The company being acquired, why are they asking him to do that?

And something just shifted in his head, and his shoulders moved a little bit more upright, and he just kept going on and on and on and on. And I went back, and I said, “You know, Peter, when we’re talking about that, you did this with your body.” And he looked at me, and he went, “Wow, I didn’t think you noticed.” And I said, “Well, when you shifted, your whole body moved.” And he said, “What I did in that moment, Oscar, was I realized I was listening to myself, and I couldn’t stand what I was saying, and I made a decision that I have to take responsibility for the merger.” And I said, “So, what decision have you made?” And he said, “I’m completely responsible for everything going forward.” I said, “But you spent the next seven minutes still complaining.” And he said, “Yeah, I guess I’m habituated into that right now.”

But for most us, our heads are buried in our laptop, or our cellphone, we wouldn’t have noticed that. So, looking at somebody from pretty much from the shoulders up is really critical when it comes to listening to content. When I talk about listening for context, this is really critical. Most of us don’t understand the backstory to any conversation. We turn up like we walked into a movie theater 35 minutes into the movie, and we’re trying to figure out, “Who are these characters? And what’s the plot? And when they’re all laughing, what am I missing out on?” And most of us don’t take the time to simply say, “Can we get back to the beginning? When did this all start?”

And, slowly, by putting those pieces of context into place, it’s not important for you. Yes, you’ll make sense of it, but it’s more important for them. So, one of the powerful questions that you always want to ask is, “When did this start?” But for a lot of people, whether you’re in sales, or professional consulting, and all of that, most of the time you’ll take a brief, but you only take the brief at that point in time, “What we’re looking to do in the future is X, Y, Z.” That’s interesting. But what’s really important is, “How did they get there?” And if you just take one moment to ask that question, that context will create a beautiful landscape for you guys to dialogue on that makes sense for everybody. You know all the actors in the movie now, and you can make sense and laugh at the punchlines like everybody else does.

We spent a bit of time at level four talking about what’s unsaid. And then level five is listening for meaning. What’s the meaning that they’re making from the conversation? I was working with a pharmaceutical company about four years ago. Have you ever walked into a building, Peter, where you feel the tension dripping out of the elevator ducts, out of the air-conditioning ducts? It’s like there’s just this tension in the room. So, that’s the organization I was walking into. I was asked to speak to the people leader community in this organization, and 20 minutes in, I just felt the room. There was this tension. And I turned to the managing director of this manufacturing pharmaceutical plant, and I said, “Look, with your permission, I’d just like to try something different.” And he gave me the most dismissive look, and said, “Well, if you must.”

Pete Mockaitis
If you must.

Oscar Trimboli
Now, I said, “I’d prefer to do it with your permission,” and he said, “Oh, go ahead.” And all of this is going through my head as well, “I’m not getting paid for this.” And I said to the room, “Hey, look, just turn to the person next to you and tell the person next to you what movie is going on in this manufacturing plant right now.” And the room explodes into laughter, and they’re all chatting away, and the tension is completely broken.

And the CEO steps up on stage next to me, puts his hand behind my back and switches off my lapel mic, and basically looks me straight in the eye, and said, “This is not on brief.” And I said, “Mark, can’t you feel what’s going on in this room?” And he says, “I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about.” I said, “Look, just give me five minutes. We’re going to bring the room back and we’ll try to make sense of what’s going on because something is going on here. There’s a lot of tension in this room. And if not, just kick me offstage.” And he goes, “All right. Look, I’ll trust you.” And he went back down and sat down.

Now, what you’re going to imagine, it’s like popcorn in the room, everybody is bouncing off each other. And every time somebody announces what movie is going on, the room explodes into laughter like popcorn in a stove. And the movies they were coming back with was like Die Hard and Titanic and Towering Inferno. You imagine the disaster movie that we’re talking about. And what happened next was amazing. That CEO, who looked at me with disdain and disgust, came up, pointed at me, and told me to go and sit down in the chair in the corner, and I thought, “Oh, wow. This is a bit of a moment. I’ve never been told to get offstage.”

He stood up there in front of the room and did something that completely changed my perspective on leadership. He stood up and said, “I’m really sorry that coming to work feels like a disaster movie for everybody here. We’ve been trying to solve this problem for three weeks. I need your help. I don’t know all the answers. What I’ve learnt today is something that changed my mind. And for the balance of our time together, I’m going to invite Oscar back up on stage to see if he can help us navigate through this issue.”

And I was stunned in the humility, I was amazed in the eloquence, and the invitation for me to come back was exciting, and I simply said to the room, “Who aren’t we listening to right now?” Peter, honestly, I didn’t even know what the issue was. All I knew is they thought it was a disaster. And it was that permission slip to say, “What movie is going on?” that helped the room create meaning for what was going on.

Now what they discovered was there was a pipe that a frontline worker had told the business about six months ago that required maintenance but he was ignored. And in our discussion about “Who aren’t we listening to?” they said, “People in the production line,” because these were all pansy-pants, Six Sigma, chemical engineers, Masters, PhDs, and they were all trying to solve a problem that was seemingly solved within a couple of days, and then it would come back a couple of days later. But it was a 35-year old line veteran who had worked on exactly the same line for 35 years who had pointed out six months ago, “This pipe needed maintenance,” and he got frustrated because he got shot down, and said, “We can’t afford to slow production down for just that pipe.” That was costing them tens of millions of dollars in backed-up stock because they couldn’t go through quality assurance because of impurities there.

So, I think, ultimately, for all of us, every conversation is not going to be a $10-million conversation, Peter, every conversation is not going to be the coronavirus, every conversation is not going to be the global financial crisis. But if we go in with a willingness to have our mind changed, there’ll be less conflict, chaos, and confusion in our personal lives and in our work lives. And that’s something worth fighting for.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, there’s a lot of great stuff there. And I love those particular questions in terms of “Who aren’t we listening to?” and “What movie is playing right here?” because then I think that can, you’re right, that is like a lighthearted way to get after…

Oscar Trimboli
Tell the truth.

Pete Mockaitis
What do you see? Is it a disaster? Is it a romantic comedy? Is it Office Space? Like none of us are really doing anything. Is it Up in the Air? It’s funny because that can spark a lot of things. And so, I’m curious, and I wanted to ask this at the beginning, but I’m glad you brought it up again. When listening is the willingness to have our minds changed, and you’d say read something from someone you completely disagree with and notice what’s happening in your brain. Well, so, let’s say we do conduct that exercise, or we are just talking in real time with a real person saying something we wildly disagree with, what’s the right way to run our brains to manage it in terms of it’s like, “Oscar is full of malarkey. That’s ridiculous. Has he been to my workplace?”

Oscar Trimboli
It’s even simpler. We’ve all got an uncle or an aunt at Thanksgiving table that we know we’re going to disagree with. Every year they say the same things, and we all think they’re crazy, and they all think we’re crazy too. And simply asking them this question, “When did you   form this perspective? When did you first form this opinion? When did you first…?” whatever it is. It will short-circuit their mind because their mind is literally on a rotating play. It’s that list in your music play that just is on repeat over and over and over again, and nothing is going to break that circuitry unless you go, “When was the first time that happened to you?”

So, I was talking to a family officer. So, a family officer works in very large private companies, typically with the founders, and they were very frustrated with the founder around the way they thought about cost control. To say they counted the pennies would be wrong. They want to make sure that we’ve not only counted the pennies, but we’ve stored the pennies. That was the kind of description we’re getting about the founder. And I simply said to the family officer, “Go back and ask them when they first formed this opinion.” And they went back to the story and explained that in the ‘50s there was a rationing in the UK, petrol wasn’t easy to find, there was no fresh fruit, and there was this whole story.

And the founder, in that moment, said, “Times are very different now.” And then he smiled, and he said, “Times are very different now. Maybe it’s time for me to loosen up a bit.” And in that moment, that family officer was able to change his mind by going back and asking him the question, “When did you first form this perspective?” Because in helping people go back in time, they can notice the distance between that event and now, because a lot of those events that create that play track, Peter, they’re very seminal, they’re very foundational, they’re very emotional. They’re in the part of the brain that’s in the primitive part of the brain and they’re stored really deeply.

And us arguing with somebody about why they’re wrong on that topic, you’ve got about as much chance as flying as a human without a plane as convincing somebody who’s got a deep-seated emotional experience that they’re wrong. You have to ask them the question when did they form that opinion, and it will take them back to that moment. And give them permission to pull that memory out and choose. They might choose to keep it, but in a lot of times they’ll throw it away and go, “Hey, time to change,” or, “This situation is different,” or, “Maybe we can explore something a little bit more.”

So, when you get frustrated with someone you deeply, deeply disagree with, and you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to just speak to them, just ask them when did they first form this perspective. That will help change your perspective but, more importantly, theirs.

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

Oscar Trimboli
Look, I just always want to reinforce that if you just focus on removing the electronic devices, if you hydrate and drink a glass of water every 30 minutes, and if you breathe deeply, you’ll be ready to listen. And when you’re ready to listen, you’ll be able to make a big impact, and impact beyond words, because for most us, we’re trying desperately to listen to the other person while there’s a big, big radio station playing on in our head, Peter. So, devices off, drink water, take three deep breaths, and that’ll put you in an awesome position for the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And now, how about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Oscar Trimboli
Consistently, it would be Peter Drucker’s quote around communication is an illusion, and the most important thing we don’t listen to in communication is what’s unsaid. And that kind of triggered a whole bunch of research for me, and started the journey for 1410 people to go, “What am I not hearing?” when it comes to my research around listening. And he passed away about three years ago, but he was a prolific writer, he was a prolific person who led a lot of corporate thought, and he’s somebody who thought about things deeply.

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

Oscar Trimboli
My favorite research was where in 1993 in Ottawa, Canada, they discovered that if you breathed and if you listened, they had 414 students paired off, and they had a little device connected to their fingers to measure their oxygen, their current O2 rate. And what they noticed is that people with a higher O2 rate were having more productive conversations, which was interesting. But what was the most interesting was, the most productive conversations, so they were self-rated by the students, the most productive conversations, the O2 level was synchronized. So, people were literally breathing at the same rate. So, that was something for me.

That’s why I always say to people, in one of our listening exercises, “Hey, how did you go with your breathing?” And they always go, “Oh, yeah, I did the three deep breaths and it was great.” And I said, “Did you notice the breathing of the speaker?” And most times they’ll say no, but those at a high-level of consciousness might say yes, and they go, “I realized I had to slow down the speaker’s breathing.” And I said, “How did you do that?” And most people will say, “Well, I just asked them to slow down.” But the really expert role model, great leaders, literally just slowed their speaking down, which slowed down the heartrate in the body, which got the oxygen up.

So, those kinds of studies where you’re integrating both the physiology of listening with the actual impact of listening from Canada in 1993, that research to me is just amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Oscar Trimboli
I’m a big James Clear fanboy at the moment. I’ve been reading Atomic Habits probably once a month at the moment for the last 14 months.

Pete Mockaitis
A habit itself.

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah. And he’s got a quote in there that you don’t rise to the level of your goals. You’re pulled to the level of your systems. I’d say James’ book is a well-put together book, but it’s also, I’ve read a lot in 35 years, probably one of the best written nonfiction books I’ve read.

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

Oscar Trimboli
It’s really a basic one, it’s one called TextExpander, Peter.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. They’re our first sponsor, and I use it daily.

Oscar Trimboli
Oh, I would say eight to 12 times a day, TextExpander is saving me five to 10 minutes a day. And whether it’s a quick comment or reply to something, or just common phrases that I use, and things like that, it’s just a brilliant tool to kind of automate my brain. I love TextExpander.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Oscar Trimboli
My favorite habit is really simple, and it’s changed dramatically in the last three weeks because of what’s happening. But on a Wednesday night, I swim or I run. I run in winter. I swim in summer. And Saturday morning, I run or I swim. I don’t meditate but I think running and swimming is my meditation. these physical habits are really important keystone habits to everything else that happens in my life.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share, that you’re known for, and people quote back to you often?

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah, but it’s a quote from Yoda, “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” and it’s something that can either set you free or frustrate you because sometimes I work really hard on the wrong things, and I have to realize later on that they weren’t the right things. And sometimes it’s the right thing to do and I just need to try a little harder to break through.

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

Oscar Trimboli
Just go to the ListeningQuiz.com where you can figure out what kind of listening villains get in your way, and a very personalized three-step plan what to do about it as well at ListeningQuiz.com.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Oscar, it’s been a ton of fun. I wish you lots of luck and many enjoyable conversations.

Oscar Trimboli
Thanks for listening.

544: How to Build Exceptional Influence in a Noisy Digital Age with Richard Medcalf

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Richard Medcalf says: "Transaction is the opposite of influence."

Richard Medcalf shares strategies to grow your influence despite the noise and overwhelm of the digital world.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The language that gets people to listen to you
  2. The two ways of effectively relating with anyone
  3. A quick trick to exude charisma and confidence

About Richard:

Richard Medcalf has advised exceptional founders and senior executives in complex, fast-moving industries for over 20 years. After earning a first-class degree at Oxford University, Richard became the youngest-ever partner at tech-sector strategy consultancy Analysys Mason. He then moved to tech giant Cisco, where he held various senior positions over 11 years, most notably being hand-picked for an elite team set up by Cisco’s CEO to lead new board-level business initiatives. Believing that there’s no business transformation without personal transformation, he founded Xquadrant to work at the intersection of leadership, strategy and purpose and help digital-age leaders create extraordinary positive impact.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Richard Medcalf Interview Transcript

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

Richard Medcalf
Hi, Pete. Fantastic to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m excited to have you and I really appreciate you staying up extra late in France to have this conversation with us.

Richard Medcalf    
No, that’s great. It’s 11:00 p.m. here but I’m energized and ready to go, so let’s do this.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I see it and I’m excited. Well, I want to kick it off, you have a very impressive bio but at the same time you also discuss vulnerability in some of your work. So, I want to put you on the spot and ask for you to publicly admit something that you’re terrible at. I’ll start just to break the ice. And that is I’m not good at drawing three-dimensional shapes. I had a new product design class and that was actually a reasonable part of it and I didn’t do so well and it was so embarrassing, they’re like, “What is wrong with you?” So, now, the world knows that. But, meanwhile, I’m looking at your bio, I was like, “Man, this guy looks like he’s amazing at everything he touches.” But that’s never quite true, and it’s always comforting, so lay it on us.

Richard Medcalf
No, yeah, I can give you that. Well, I think my kids would say that I’m just bad at animals, like any animal comes near me, I’m jumping around, freaking out. Really bad. Like, when my daughter was one, we went to Australia to see some family there, and she stroke a baby kangaroo or something, and I was like, “Okay, Richard, come on. You’re 40, whatever it is, years old. Go and stroke that damn kangaroo.” So, that’s probably the funny one. And then probably I think I come from a long line of people in my family who are just not particularly good at sports, and that’s all we’ve been like. I was always the last to be chosen in school teams and all that kind of stuff. So, I think I had a school report that said, “Richard tries hard at a subject to which he’s not naturally gifted.” So, I said, “All right.”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s the kindest possible way that they could articulate that. I, likewise, didn’t do well in most sports. I was good at swimming. Weightlifting, depending on the lift. But, anyway, now we know. Thank you. You’re on the record. But I want to mostly talk about influence today, that’s one of your areas of expertise and so let’s dig in. And maybe if you could tee this up for us with maybe a compelling story that captures just what’s at stake when it comes to professionals being influential or just what is possible when a typical professional upgrades their influence game.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, absolutely. Well, first of all, going to my story a little bit, and, again, be a bit vulnerable about times when I actually didn’t sure I have the influence I needed. So, my story in a nutshell is I studied in Oxford University, I got like a top grade there, ran into consulting, strategy consulting, became a partner very fast in that. I think it was just a lucky fit having to be good at that as a bit of random choice but it worked well. And then I moved into Cisco, it’s obviously a massive global company, a smaller fish in a bigger pond. And I think I didn’t manage that transition actually particularly well. It took me a while because I had a lot of expertise to bring but I hadn’t quite understood quite how much you needed to work that broader organization to really have an impact.

And so, I think if I look back and I’m honest, I think I kind of got a bit pigeonholed into the next big role for a while, and they’re quite high-profile projects, they’re quite having a certain impact but I kind of knew that there was more that I should’ve been doing and there was more of me that I wasn’t bringing to the table. And so, I think there was this gap where I was kind of trying to struggle with, “How do I actually do this?” And nothing was bad but I just knew that there were others perhaps who’d made a much better transition in, and I was seeing I was a bit envious.

So, I started to kind of dig into this and think about it and a bit of self-reflection and I started to realize, actually, as often the case, that all of these answers are actually under our nose, and we have to kind of do the thinking and do the searching and come back to it, and say, “Well, what have I really got to offer and to whom?” a number of other things. And the net of that was my last role in Cisco, before I then left and setup my own company Xquadrant, was actually part of a small group setup by the CEO and global head of sales of Cisco to really have influence, to really capitalize strategic partnerships between Cisco and some of its large customers and partners.

And so, that was a role where it wasn’t a hierarchical power role. It was very much about, “How do we actually get people who are not under my direct control, not even in my own company, to perhaps collaborate in ways that they weren’t used to?” And so, that for me was really where that whole journey was where I got passionate about this idea of, “How do we all take our impact up a game, up a notch, play a bigger game and channel our natural skills in the best possible way to have the impact that we want?”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so that is pretty cool transformation from, okay, you’re kind of hanging out and treading water for a little while in the career because of not having those influence skills, and then you’re selected for a role that is just chock-full of this influencing-type activities and requirements, so that’s pretty cool. So, it seems like you learned a thing or two to get that role and to flourish within that role. So, can you lay it on us, what are some of the foundational principles that can make a professional influential?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, let me give you a few of the models that I’ve been using and I found really helpful. But, perhaps just to go back a second and just to realize that the context that we’re in, whether we lead or whether we’re an individual contributor, the whole world has shifted, as we know, with digital technology and everything else, and so there are these very unique contexts for making things happen. As I said before, most of this is actually in the roles where we can’t just tell our subordinates what to do and get everything done, right? Almost every role, even if you have a big team, is going to involve influencing across those boundaries. But there are some traps that I see.

So, the first one is this always on culture, right? Everyone is always connected, there’s always things going on. I call it managing infinity because it’s an infinity of people to speak to, movies to watch, books to read, emails to address, tasks to write. It’s never finished. It’s always on. But we often find ourselves neither really productive, or neither really present, and more to the point, we often do the wrong thing at the wrong time. So, we’re trying to be productive when we should be present with people, and we’re perhaps getting distracted when we should be being productive.

So, we’ve all been in that situation where it’s a social event and somebody’s on their phone doing emails, it’s just not the right time, an undermine of influence. Or if you’re in a meeting, and the boss is like on his phone and not listening to your presentation, he actually undermines his or her influence at that point with you, you think, “What’s going on? Is something wrong with this work? What’s going on?” And so, the first thing is to realize that always on actually has a bit of a trap because if we’re not in the right mode at the right time, we don’t see it, we see it in others.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly, yeah.

Richard Medcalf
And that undermines it. And I think the other one that I’d speak to is the virtual world. In other words, we have distributed teams, and a lot of times we get onto conference calls for a lot of our work, and the issue is it can become very transactional at that point. We all know that example, anyone who’s been in a distributed team where there’s a conference call, people get on, people are in awkward silence, perhaps the odd comment here and there, the odd bit of banter but it’s pretty quiet, people are doing their emails, typing away, people are joining, it’s a bit awkward, and then suddenly, “Okay, let’s go. Right.” And we start.

And so, if you imagine in the real world, if you’re all in the same office, those five minutes would be spent finding out about each other’s weekend, the family, “What’s going on? You look a bit tired, stressed,” and so forth. And so, relationships can get very transactional because of the digital culture. And I think that is actually something, if you are working in a distributed team, you need to be careful about, because transaction is the opposite of influence, really, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m intrigued then, I think some people worry they might lose influence if they are not responsive and fast enough in replying to whether it’s Slack or email or whatnot. So, how do you think about the, if it’s tradeoff or it’s just a matter of, “Hey, you schedule time to do both, and then you do both, then you engage appropriately based on what you’re doing”? I guess this is all vary organization by organization, and request by request, but how fast do you got to respond to maintain influence?

Richard Medcalf
I think there’s a lot of fear around this topic, fear of missing out, fear of not being seen, and as ever, it’s always the other side of the fear, that you actually get into a safer place, and probably few, a more secure place. And so, think of people that you really admire and respect, they’re not always easy to get in touch with. The people who are available at the drop of a hat, your esteem of them doesn’t necessarily go zooming up just because they’re super responsive. They’re super responsive, it’s useful, it’s nice.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s an excellent distinction. “Yes, I appreciate it, that’s cool of them, it’s convenient, but my esteem doesn’t go up. It’s like, “That is a true professional, rock star, person of influence I respect.” It’s like, “Oh, I appreciate that. Thanks.”

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, exactly. And so, I think there’s a time in my consulting career where I think I pretty got a promotion delayed by that six months because I took on too many projects because they’re all really high-profile projects and I thought, “This is fantastic opportunity,” but I took on like all three of them. Frankly, if I’d done one of them really, really well, I would’ve been promoted. As it was, I did three of them okay but I did not knock the ball out the park. It was fine. It was okay. The client was happy. We got signed up. But I think less can be more, and we forget that, and we think more is more, and it’s not. They don’t actually notice the quantity so much as the quality, right?

So, even if we’re in a job like sales where you got to get through, it’s actually, “Who are those 20% of clients that are really going to make the 80% of your revenues, right?” Yes, so I kind of try to force myself, as there’s barriers in place, and to realize that we’re often playing this game with ourselves and our mind about having to jump in. But when you’re always trying to be super responsive, you don’t create the space for the deep work that actually sets you apart.

In Cisco, one of the things I did do to increase my influence was I remember I actually carved out once, literally it’s just one day, where I took on some work I had done and turned it into a piece of thought leadership, like really said, “Okay, what have I learned? What is cutting edge here?” And I developed this little model and some material with it, and I remembered about 3:00 p.m. on that day, I was like, “What am I doing wasting my day writing this stuff?” I was like writer’s block and all that trying to do this stuff. And that day, I spent the time, I was like, “Well, was that just a waste of time?”

But, no, because suddenly I’ve created something that was valuable, that was unique, and the people had not seen it before. And, suddenly, it was in demand, the customers wanted to see it, I was flown here and there to deliver it. So, this investment of one day where I was not being responsive and much more impact than if I was just doing my emails all day. You know that.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it, yeah. That’s very tactical, practical, tangible, and real, I love it, in terms of if we really look back, we can probably think there were a couple deliverables that changed everything, and they weren’t made with the email box open on the side with being interrupted every 10 minutes.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. So, I say, often when I’m working with executives, I work a lot with senior executives in a kind of coaching capacity, and one thing I’ll say is there’s a slowdown because often we advance in the first part of our career by sheer churning things out, but we get to a stage where it’s like, “Okay, just stop a second. What’s the one phone call that’s going to make all the difference right now? What’s the one partnership to form? What’s the one thing you need to shift, the one conversation you need to have, whatever it is, that’s really slowing it down? What is that number one lever that’s going to have the most impact?” And I think when you do that, then you differentiate yourself, and people’s estimation of you rises.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s excellent. Okay, cool. Well, then you mentioned there’s some traps, and we covered a couple. Are there more?

Richard Medcalf
Well, I’d say there’s a number of traps. I think the other one is around noise, I suppose. We could use that one. So, just the sheer volume of content and information coming our way. So, when we want to create influence, this does matter because what we say can easily get lost in the mass of everything going on, that infinity I talked about.

So, one of the things that I do, I actually have a saying, my saying is, “Do you have a saying?” You see what I just did there? So, what I did is, the point is when you actually say, “I have a saying,” you actually put a context around what you’re about to say next and it becomes a thing.

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Richard Medcalf
Right? So, if I say to you, “I’ve got sayings. Slow down to speed up,” it’s a good saying, right? But it has more impact than if I just say “Slow down, to speed  up,” in the middle of a sentence that I’m rattling through.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. The receiver of that message naturally thinks, as I do, it’s like, “Well, what is it, Richard?” It’s like, “I’m listening. Bring it on.”

Richard Medcalf
And having a saying is important because language, we adopt language really powerfully. It’s a natural human instinct, right? I say language creates culture. So, if you want to change a culture, or a team, or your family, then think of the words that you use, because it’s how we celebrate. It’s how we relate. And so, as you kind of introduce words, and you use phrases, that does have a big impact.

The idea of a thing as a phrase, as a saying, is about context. So, I always say this, “You should never really have content without context.” So, the context is a frame around the content. So, if I’m going to say, “Hey, Pete, I’ve got something that’s really important for you to hear right now, and it’s going to change your life,” then you’re suddenly ready for it, you know what I mean? Whereas, if I just said it, you wouldn’t perhaps appreciate it, the fact that I really believe this was something important for you.

And so, say, if you’re talking to your boss, it might be one important issue you really want to raise and a load of tactical issues you do every with him. So, you might want to say, “Hey, today, there’s three or four things that we need to rattle through as normal, but there’s also one big topic that I think is really going to be important for how we work together in the coming year.” So, suddenly, they’re kind of mentally getting ready for that, and they’re kind of more ready to receive it. Whereas, if you suddenly launched in with whatever it is you want to say, they’re not mentally prepared.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is so powerful. And you said a couple of things that both reminded me of Robert Cialdini’s book Pre-Suasion, which is outstanding. And in terms of language, how that shapes things, he told a story about how he did a presentation for a health, was it hospital or…it was health-oriented, and the presentations, they’re not allowed to call them bullet points, it’s like, “Bullets are weapons that harm people, so we don’t use those words here.” And at first he thought, “That’s kind of ridiculous,” but they’re saying, “Oh, this really does shape things in terms of the culture.” And then the context creating content, or shaping, making more impact, how do you say it? You don’t want content without context.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I say it frames. The context frames the content.

Pete Mockaitis
It frames. And I guess I’m thinking it amplifies in terms of it makes all the difference in terms of like, “What should I be paying attention to?” And I think this is all connecting in terms of, yes, in this digital noisy always-on and managing-infinity world, that becomes extra important to know. It’s like, “I’m looking at this here in a matter.” So, maybe, I would love it if you could just give us some more of your favorite content phrases. So, one is “I have a saying,” the other one is, “Hey, the really important thing is this.” What are some other just tried and true winners?

Richard Medcalf
I think a lot of them, to be honest, are kind of quite natural and would depend on the people, right? So, what I mean by that, you create context whenever you just create that sense of anticipation. And so, it’s as simple as, “Hey, I’ve something important to tell you.” That’s what we’re saying all the time to people. That already sets up a context.

So, as a leader, one of the things you’re trying to do actually is instill the way you think in other people, not to make everyone robots but to help them kind of make the decisions that you would need them to make rather than making all those decisions yourself. And so, for example, I was working with a leader at a global kind of industrial process engineering company, so it might’ve been chemical products and various things, and so safety is very important. And he was complaining that his team were not autonomous and coming to him for all sorts of decisions.

So, I said, “Well, how do you make decisions?” So, he talked about it, and it came down to he looks at the business impact of the decision and he looks at the safety impact, and those two things are so important because this stuff is so dangerous that they’ve got to be both up there equally. So, those were the basic questions. So, I said, “Well, when somebody comes to you with a question, would you say to them, ‘Hey…’”

“Well, first of all, you will tell them, ‘Well, you know, these are my criteria.’ But when they come to you with a question, you say, ‘You know what I’m going to say now, don’t you?’” Once again, it’s a bit of context. “Oh, yeah, you’re going to say, ‘What’s the business impact and what’s the safety impact?’” “You got it. So, please answer the question for me.”

And so, that’s another one. Slightly different framing the content because, first of all, you would have to deliver the content to say, “Hey, this is the way I would think about it, safety and…” Again, he’d probably say, “I have a rule of thumb.” Again, you’re kind of phrasing it, “I have a rule of thumb,” or, “I have a…” how could you put it?

Pete Mockaitis
Mantra, dogma, guideline.

Richard Medcalf
Exactly, yeah. Mantra or guideline, yeah. I always look at the two big factors, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Command.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, exactly. Anything like that. Yeah, exactly. So, “I have a manta.” It has to be positive on the business and positive for safety. So, you say that to them. And then, afterwards, when they come to you, you can then refer to that and they start to embed that way of thinking about the world. So, I think that’s just another way of doing it.

But it can just be as simple as starting a meeting by saying, or starting a conversation by really just explaining the relevance of what you’re going to say to somebody. If you want to have influence, you need them to put their ears up, right? So, you want to say, “Look, we’ve come up with a project proposal that we think is probably one of the most significant things that we can do this year. And, as well, we think we’ve really mitigated the risks, breaking it up.” But, suddenly, your boss is going to be interested in that, right? Whereas, if you just launched straight it, they might be checking their email still.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Richard, my next question will forever transform the way every listener thinks about influence forever. See, I’m practicing.

Richard Medcalf
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if I can deliver. I was just practicing setting up some contexts. But I guess I am curious, so these are really great tools. And so, we’re talking in this context of technology. Can you share, are there some rules or guidelines or principles about influence that used to be true but now are not so much true? Like, “Hey, stop doing this,” given how we’re living today.

Richard Medcalf
It’s a great question. My instinctive reply to that is I think that it’s back to less is more, right? It’s back to everyone has lower attention spans, more solicitations, and so we need to make our interactions count I think even more. So, it’s not that it’s totally changed but I do think mistakes are risen on that because people don’t have time to listen to all of that stuff that you might want to tell them often. So, I’d say it’s more there’s dialed up, those things. It’s always been a good idea to be succinct and to say things and to have high quality when you open your mouth. But I think it’s probably gone up.

I have a little model which, I think, worked in the past but definitely works now, and I think could be helpful for people and certainly it worked with me and I can give you an example of this in a second, of this working out in practice. But it’s really this idea that, I’d say there’s two levels of relationship and influence. There’s the kind of transactional level, which is kind of about basic transactional trust which is important to establish. And then the second level is a deeper level of relational influence where you’re really seen as a trusted mentor or ally or somebody who’s really able to speak into your life.

So, on the transactional level, you might’ve heard of something similar to this, there’s various models around. It’s really these four Cs that’s very simple. So, there’s competency, chemistry, character, and criticality. So, first of all, character. So, character literally is like, “Do I believe the assembly with integrity? They’re not going to stab me in the back.” Who’s basically a good person, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Richard Medcalf
“In fact, are we going to work together with some degree of trust?” Chemistry is, “Well, are we going to basically enjoy working together enough, for that to be not a horrible experience?” Competency is, “Yeah, are you somebody that can actually do this job? Are you actually going to do the work and get it done?” And around that one, there’s often this question of confidence, so, “Are you confident in your own competency?” Often, there’s a whole load of people who are extremely competent but they actually kind of the traffic light goes red, one of the people think of them because they’re just not confident enough in their skills. So, that can be a real…

Pete Mockaitis
Right. There are some who are over-confident in their skills and they say things so assertively, like, “Oh, okay.” And then they’re like, “Wow, you were so wrong. I’m surprised based on how empathically you said that.” And then I think that diminishes influence in a hurry, it’s like, “Hmm, just because that guy seems really forceful and convinced doesn’t mean it’s true as experience has taught me.”

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, so these traffic lights, I kind of imagine these four Cs with the traffic lights, and sometimes they all go green at the start for some people, a rare number, like when you meet them, they all go green. The question is, “Can these people deliver?” Often, those people are great at winning you over but then the delivery doesn’t quite match the elevated expectations.

And the fourth one is criticality. And the criticality, for me, is really essential. It’s about relevance. It’s, “Can you combine all these skills and character and everything else you’ve got and solve one of my top problems, actually do something meaningful? So, you’ve got the skill, but is it what I really need right now or is this a conversation for another day?” And so, here’s the thing, so in order to really get that good level of working together, you need green on all of those, okay? Character, chemistry, competency, and criticality.

The funny thing though is that we all naturally focus on two to start with. We want to unlock all four but we often look for two to start with, and once they’re validated, we move onto the other two. But we also project the thing to ourselves, to other people. So, for example, I know that, for me, whether it’s by birth or by training in consulting through my career, competency and criticality are really important. I’m always like, “Okay, how am I going to show to add my value, show that I know my stuff, show that I can speak into the situation right now?”

So, I tend to probably project that to other people as the first things, and also looking for, “Are these the people? Are they relevant to my strategic plans? Are they competent? Are they the people I’ll be working with?” Once I have that, I’ll then switch into, “Okay, as a person, are they the right fit, the right feel?”

Other people will start the other way. First of all, they want to build that relationship, that feeling, “Oh, yeah, this person, I get that they’re trustworthy, they’re really nice. Oh, yeah, they’re great people. Now, actually, can they do this job or this task that I have in mind?” And they’ll kind of work the other way around. So, they’ll start more in the relational side. And so, of course, what happens is that when somebody is more task-focused and somebody is more relational-focused meet up, they’re kind of projecting the wrong signals for each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. And it’s so funny, I’m often task-focused when I’m evaluating or early stages of evaluating like, “Am I going to buy something, like sign up for service or whatnot?” And so, I think it’s funny because a lot of salespeople have been trained, “Hey, you got to build that rapport and that relationship.” And so, I’m just thinking, “I already have my criteria. You have to check five boxes for us to continue this conversation,” and they’re like, “Yes, so where did you grow up?” It’s like, “I don’t want to talk about that now. Maybe we’ll discuss that if we end up having a longstanding business relationship. What I need to know from you is A, B, C, D, E, F.” So, yeah, that mismatch is annoying.

Richard Medcalf
So, they’re losing influence in that moment because what’s happening is they’re not picking up. You’re actually very task-focused in that moment and some people are probably, “I need a sales advisor. And is this person trustworthy? Do I want to talk to this person?” And so, it’s their reading. So, actually, when I work with sales teams, I talk so much about finding your own personality or be aware of your tendencies. Essentially, it’s about, “Can you read the person opposite and what are they looking for? What mode are they in? Are they trying to relate at this moment? Or are they trying to get down to business?” And you do need both.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s great to identify. Just having that frame of mind, “Hey, is it more A, more B?” as you’re kind of assessing things. This is great. And then what are some of the telltale signs and indicators, “Ooh, this person is in business mode. Okay,” or, “Oh, this person is in relate mode.” What are some of your key…?

Richard Medcalf
I think you can pretty much detect, right? I think it’s kind of leaning forward versus leaning back effectively. Are we leaning forward, getting down, is it, “Okay, are we starting to talk about that always”? Or is it the opposite, actually not so pressed for time? They’re kind of more just interested in you, they haven’t got quite to the topic yet. Even just on their face, right? If they’re kind of smiley, they’d probably be more in relational mode. And if they’re kind of a bit more serious, they’re more in the processing stuff and they want to proceed on their role.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about how I relate to my nanny right now. I’m often in task mode because it’s like, “I’ve got to get this day started. I’ve been with the kids this morning and it’s been fun, but now the time is coming, there’s things to do.” And so, it’s like, “You know, I just changed the diaper and they woke up at this time, and welcome.”

Richard Medcalf
And actually you get from home.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. But then every once in a while, it’s sort of like the exception, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, how is it going? How’s your weekend?” I think that can be your indicator right there in terms of, “How was your weekend?” and they say, “Oh, it’s fine. We fixed our furnace.” Like, “Okay, that’s a quick fact.” As opposed to, “Oh, we just had the loveliest time. My mom came into town and she brought this delicious chili.” And I guess at the same time, and then sometimes I guess there’s a whole continuum as well. Like, some people maybe kind of overshare, it’s like, “Oh, I was just kind of being polite. I didn’t expect this level of detail about what you ate for each meal over the course of your weekend.”

Richard Medcalf
So, the match and lead, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Richard Medcalf
Yes, so match and lead in those situations. So, matching is if they’re being relational, be relational. But then if you don’t want to stay there, then you can move the subject on.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I’ve heard that before, I was like, “Well, boy, I could talk about chili for a couple hours.” But, Richard, I want to make sure that we figure out the key principles of influence, so that’s good.

Richard Medcalf
Yes. So, you’re talking here about environment as well, about presence and productivity. It’s really about, “What environment are we going into and what’s appropriate?” So, for example, if you’re going into basically some social setting, it might be a business social setting, it might be lunch break or whatever, and everyone is kind of chatting about social stuff, or they’re networking, or whatever they’re doing. And, suddenly, you walk up to your colleague and you start giving them all, “Oh, I got to catch up on the project, A, B, and C,” right? It’s just like, “What are you doing that for? Look around you, it’s not the right moment,” and that can create awkward stuff.

But we do it all the time. We get off the phone, we walk into the house, we’re on the phone, our family is happy to see us, and we’re still in task mode and we’re not present. Or the boss who has an open-door policy. I tend to say to a leader, “Don’t have an open-door policy. Be very intentional about when do you need to do your focused-work, when you need to do your task-level work, and actually when do you actually, when are you going to look up and actually be totally present for people?” So, actually have a smaller window but where you’re not secretly a bit annoyed if somebody walked in because you really are halfway through an email you need to finish. Because I think we can have an open-door policy, often you don’t quite focus on your work you’re meant to be doing, you’re not quite focused on the person who wants your attention unless you’re very, very disciplined.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Richard, I’m really liking this. Do you have some slides, diagrams, charts, tables? Because it really seems like I’m seeing two columns and, like, side by side to make this contrast come alive. Do you have that? Can you make that? Can we link to that? I’m putting you on the spot.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, absolutely. Yes, so I’ve actually already got a little thing on influence.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent.

Richard Medcalf
Which is basically a three-step very simple process based on this kind of framework I’ve been explaining, very simple process to figure out. Who, right now, do you need most to exert your influence with? And where are you and where do you need to get to? What is the lever that you really need to focus on to do that? And so, I’ve set it up already. I can add in a couple of extra slides based on this conversation. But if you go to my, for the show notes, my company, Xquadrant.com/awesome and that’ll be there for you and for everybody there.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, I appreciate that. And, boy, we had some fun getting deep into it. Tell me, Richard, anything you wanted to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Richard Medcalf
I think we’ve covered a lot. I think perhaps there’s one little extra thing which is almost another topic in itself, but I think it could really help, which is that sometimes we know there is a moment of truth, as I call it, when we need to step up and have influence. It’s a meeting, it’s a presentation, it’s one of those keys, perhaps it’s a high-stakes situation. And sometimes we can do the four Cs and we can map it out and everything, but, it’s like, “How am I going to show up more powerfully in that moment?”

And what I find is really powerful and is probably along the conversation, but it’s about deciding who do you want to be rather than the techniques. And so, I’ll give you a personal example. I’m a big Queen fan, the rock band Queen, ever since I was a teenager. I got into the band, I played electric guitar because I got inspired by them, everything else. And at one stage, it occurred to me that I really respected Freddie Mercury’s ability to be bold and be flamboyant and really communicate with the back of mass of stadium in an epoch where a lot of rock bands were very kind of like trying to be cool and not really moving around and so forth, and he just went for it and he totally embodied his message.

And so, somebody once said to me, “Hey, Richard, actually, you should be like Freddie Mercury of consulting,” or whatever they said, and I kind of took that away. And, actually, for me, that’s a really powerful kind of alter ego that I can use, which is when I’m about to go into a meeting, a presentation, I kind of think, “Okay, can I release a bit of my inner Freddie Mercury in this moment and be a bit less in my head? I can get very intellectual and a bit kind of in my head. How can I embody this, be totally, powerfully demonstrating the message that I bring, not being afraid, not like doing a half-baked thing, but totally all in in this moment?”

And so, for me, it’s just a really simple shift but it helps me kind of get into that zone. And so, I think sometimes it can be helpful. And it’s not being inauthentic. It’s just another part of my personality. I already have a bit of that slightly extravagant side to me. I don’t mind prancing around. I mean, I don’t prance in front my clients. You know what I mean? I won’t play any guitar in front of another party or whatever. I don’t mind that kind of stuff. So, it’s a bit a part of me but it’s a reminder to bring out this part of me that’s kind of latent or perhaps that I’ve been trained not to use in certain circumstances.

And it has an impact because, actually, I’m fully living my message in that moment where I’m freely delivering what I’m there to say. And so, I think that my influence goes up in that moment because it’s like, “Wow, this guy is really on. He really believes what he’s saying. He’s there.” And I think we all have perhaps those moments where we know, oh, perhaps we’re too hesitant, or perhaps we’re too bold, perhaps we need to be the more smoother relational individual rather than the abrupt decision-making machine, or whatever it is. But if we just identify that a bit of a name to it, again, it kind of creates that context again for that next interaction.

So, perhaps that’s just another thing that we didn’t talk, which I think could be helpful for people because it’s a powerful tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I totally agree. So, “Who do I need to be or who do I need to be like in this moment?” And we’ve had some guests use some phrases like enclothed cognition, alter egos, psychological Halloweenism, that kind of get after this notion, it’s like, “I am stepping into this role,” whether it’s someone that you admire or fiction or non-fiction. Was someone I want to step into a number of times in high school and college. I’m excited that there will be a TV Series in which he comes back to that role.

Well, thank you. That’s a great extra point in terms of to show up and embody and deliver that. That can be a much more direct path to getting it done. So, now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, apart from “Make it so.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, there you go.

Richard Medcalf
One of my favorite quotes is by an author called Kary Oberbrunner, he said, “We don’t get what we want. We get who we are.”

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

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I recently read this book by executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, and he interviewed 80,000 professionals.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that took a long time.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, over his career, he’s been going for many decades, to rate their performance. And he had 98.5% placed themselves in the top half of their peer group, and 70% believe they’re in the top 10%.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Richard Medcalf
I call it the 70/10 fallacy. The point is it’s like I’m thinking, “Oh, my God, yeah, so do I.” He said that just using that to really realize, “Okay, what is it that I need to see in myself that makes part of growth?” And with the CEO, asked them to rate his team from one to ten just how they’re doing, and then we actually looked at their level of self-awareness basically. So, the people actually who were scoring the highest in terms of his evaluation were also the ones who really felt they had to work a lot of stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Richard Medcalf
So, it’s actually the ones who felt they had the biggest problems were actually the least problems. The one who felt they’re pretty much sorted were the ones that he was the most concerned about. So, I just love that, so I call it the 70/10 deception, you know, 70% of people think they’re in the top 10%, which I think we need to be aware of that because that’s actually where we live in.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally. So, thank you for that context. And how about a favorite book?

Richard Medcalf
I think probably 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was a gamechanger for me. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we just had John C. Maxwell, yeah.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. So, I think it’s helpful because it kind of just made me realize how much of our impact starts with us. He has those great phrases, “The leader is the lid,” the leader sets the lid on the whole organization, these kinds of things. It’s just powerful stuff. So, yes, those are probably two. Let’s keep it there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool?

Richard Medcalf
I probably live my life with a mixture of Evernote and Todoist. Those are probably my two kind of structuring apps I guess of my day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Richard Medcalf
My favorite habit, which I’ve learned recently, well, not recently, but I’ve been doing more and more, is breathing out. I’ve just done it and it’s changed already. Breathing out, it just takes you down and it’s also probably a good influence tip, thinking about it. Just by breathing out, you just slow down that a notch, and the gravitas comes a bit more.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a particular nugget you share, I guess a saying, if you will, that you have, and maybe it’s just, “I have a saying”?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, there’s lots of nuggets. I like the one which is “What kind of person has already achieved his goal?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Richard Medcalf
“And then be that person.”

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

Richard Medcalf
So, I guess my website Xquadrant.com. LinkedIn is where I’m happy to connect with people, on LinkedIn. That’s probably where I publish the most, kind of most of my fresh content and videos and things because most of my clients are kind of there in the business world. Of course, you’ll find me on Twitter, too, a little bit there.

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

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, I’d simply say let’s focus on the behaviors. Pick one behavior that you would like to change and don’t actually even worry about changing it but just start to ask yourself every day, “Did I do my best to do that behavior?” and just score it from one to ten, it just raises your awareness, and then just keep scoring it at the end of every day, “Did you do your best?” because that kind of connects to that emotional component. And I think what you’ll find is if you actually stick with it, and if you write down on a piece of paper those numbers from one to ten over a period of time, you’ll find that you just start doing that behavior naturally. It will just start to emerge because you’ve got that little feedback loop.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Richard, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you tons of luck in all the ways you’re influencing.

Richard Medcalf
Pete, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks again for all the great stuff you put out. It’s pretty impressive the amount of material you’ve been able to build up over the years, and it’s such high quality. So, thank you.