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KF #20. Interpersonal Savvy

379: The Four Steps to Creating Chemistry with Others with Barney Feinberg

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Veteran life coach Barney Feinberg shares how appreciating your many values can help you better connect with others and facilitate chemistry for smooth working relationships.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to identify your values from your life’s peak moments
  2. Approaches for discovering the values of others from what they say
  3. How we end up settling in our relationships

About Barney:

Barney Feinberg began his career as a CPA learning the language of business. At the age of twenty-five, his career journey took him to live in Asia for seven years, where he was COO for a large clothing conglomerate. There he learned how to assimilate into a multitude of cultures, always with the purpose of building strong relationships at work. His career in executive placement began in 1994 and in 2002, he became a certified coach with the Coaches Training Institute. Over the past 25 years he has worked with thousands of executives, coaching them on how to strengthen their chemistry factor for greater success.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Barney Feinberg Interview Transcript

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

Barney Feinberg
Thank you for inviting me Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into some of your perspectives when it comes to chemistry, but I want to maybe go back in time first. You at one point worked as a tennis instructor. What’s the story behind this?

Barney Feinberg
Wow. Well, tennis ran in my family. Since I was a little kid a tennis racket was put in my hand. Everyone in my family played. And it’s interesting that you bring up tennis because it happens to be something that really when looking back and writing my book, there was a peak moment that really exemplifies what I’m sharing with people. If you’d like me to share that story, I’d be happy to.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I can’t resist. Let’s hear about a peak moment.

Barney Feinberg
Okay. Well, as I mentioned, tennis was everything. I mean I was in high school playing on the tennis team. My big ambition outside of that when I went to college was to make the team at college.

It’s my freshman year, first week at school and we’re having tryouts. What I find myself doing is I’m playing not to lose, which inevitably, last day of practice the coach came to me and said, “I’m sorry, you didn’t make the team,” which frankly was really embarrassing and devastating. I was like, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I had all this free time on my hands, so I joined a concert committee, grew my hair down to my shoulders, got a beard and a moustache, digging on groups that came to college, which were like Springsteen, some really good groups, Arlo Guthrie. Anyway, here I am overcoming this major defeat.

Sophomore year rolls around and I show up for practice to try out again and the coach looks at me and says, “You’re late. You can’t try out this year.” Again, a blow. But I’m having a good time. I never had so much time on my hands to really enjoy myself and get into the music.

When my junior year came around, it was my last chance. I wasn’t really nervous about it. I started playing my game. I was playing really, really well, fully expecting to make the team.

The last day of practice the coach comes up to me and one of the other players that had been on the team for two years, he was also a junior, looks at both of us and says, “You’re going to play one set. The winner is going to make the team and the loser is not going to make the team.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow.

Barney Feinberg
Yeah. Here I was suddenly wondering what happened because I had played this guy earlier and beat him. It’s beginning to dawn on me as we’re walking to the court, the coach says to him, “Go out and beat him.” I’m like, “Oh man, this guy doesn’t want me on the team.” Then it dawns on me, well, he’s ex-Navy. He’s got a crew cut. I’m wearing long hair and a moustache at this point.

I walk on the court again playing not to lose. Inevitably it’s 5 – 3. He’s leading. Triple match point on his serve. This is a big guy. He’s ex-football player. As I’m going to the Ad court expecting to lose, suddenly out of nowhere, across the quad, one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs comes on, China Cat Sunflower, which has this real upbeat rhythm.

As I’m walking to the Ad court, I transform. Suddenly, I’m relaxed. Suddenly, I’m smiling and I’m having fun. He hits his first serve and I bang it down the line. I get a winner. He hits the next first serve and I do it again. Next one he double faults. He starts playing not to lose and I make the team.

Here’s the interesting thing, what happened was, the circumstance changed. The song shifted who I was in the moment from being disconnected from confidence to being totally connected to it because I shifted to having fun.

Now that happened by just pure luck. I swear I think it was angels above looking over me, but when I looked at it again as I was writing this book, I realized that I value shifted. I shifted from what was disconnecting me to something that purely connected me. The results were inevitable. Obviously it worked. By the way, good news, the guy I played against, he stayed on the team.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I was wondering.

Barney Feinberg
Yeah, he stayed on the team.

Pete Mockaitis
After two years it’s kind of intense to say, “Yeah, you’re out if this one match doesn’t go your way.” Well, that’s really intriguing on many dimensions. I want to kind of dig into your phrase; you said you were playing not to lose.

Barney Feinberg
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Then later you said you were having fun. What do you mean by playing not to lose versus playing to have fun? What are the alternatives along that spectrum?

Barney Feinberg
Here’s the deal. Playing not to lose is living in the expectation of winning. Some famous person once said that expectations are the mother of frustration. When you look at work, how many times are we working with expectations in our mind?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Got you. As opposed to-

Barney Feinberg
As opposed to actually empowering your values. Expectations take us off the game. Expectations put us in the finish line before we start the race.

My daughter’s a runner. If she’s thinking about the finish line before the gun goes off, she’s not going to run very well. It’s going to seem like it’s taking her forever to get there. But if she’s thinking of the moment, if she’s empowering say the value of confidence and she’s not looking at the future or the past, but in the moment, she’s going to run a much better race.

It’s kind of like do you ever get directions to go someplace and it seems like it’s taking you longer than it should?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Barney Feinberg
Yeah. When you go back the same way, it seems to go a little shorter because now you know how to get there. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm. Okay. Then-

Barney Feinberg
Go ahead.

Pete Mockaitis
So playing not to lose mean you’re thinking about the outcome, the end, the finish line, the expectation as opposed to the moment, the having fun, the what’s immediately in front of you right now.

Barney Feinberg
Whatever value you choose to empower. It just so happened that fun came up when I was playing that tennis match with that song. It just brought me into that jovial place, which took away anything about winning or losing away and just playing the game.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, you’ve used the phrase a couple of times, ‘the value that you empower,’ what do you mean by that?

Barney Feinberg
Well, it’s a practice. Most of the time we have a lot of values and what I call DNA values. DNA values are values that are ingrained in us that we’re brought up with, that create our success formulas. They more likely control us than we control them. When circumstances come about that disconnect us from a value that we find is important, life becomes hard, difficult. However, we have the ability to empower.

What is empower? It’s the difference between being in love and thinking of being in love. It’s story. That’s really what I focus on. When you look back in time, the communications that were most important in the tribe before there was the written word was from the storyteller. The storyteller would tell us stories that would empower or emphasize values that were important to us.

You watch movies now. I can watch a movie and there’s a scene that just catches me. It’s empowering a value. We have our own stories in life that empower values that are important to us. Imagine instead of allowing the circumstances dictate who we are, we get to choose who we want to be by allowing that story to take us to that value in that moment. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
So you say that we’re choosing it as opposed to hey, the song comes on and there you go. Maybe could you walk us through a couple of examples in practice in terms of you’re kind of living and experiencing one thing and you make a choice to empower a value through story and then things are transformed?

Barney Feinberg
Okay, I can give you a story of someone that I coached. Does that work?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure, yeah.

Barney Feinberg
Okay, good. I have two professions, really three, but we’ll talk two: coaching and recruiting. I’ve been in executive placement for 25 years. As an executive recruiter I was talking to one of my clients who was looking for a new job.

She’d only been with the company that she was with for six months. I said, “What happened? What makes you want to leave?” She said, “Well, I took this job. I was really excited. Then I got this new boss three months into the job. This boss is just a micromanager, driving me crazy.” I’m like, “Wow, yeah.”

We talked about it. I started coaching her for a while. What was showing up were certain values that were just disconnecting her. This happens to us all the time at work. We just get numb to it. We just think that’s just the way work is.

But values such as independence, she didn’t have any. She felt, “Oh my God, this woman is not giving me any independence.” Very, very frustrating. She felt she wasn’t trusted. She felt efficiency wasn’t being honored. All of these things were really making it difficult for her to be effective and productive.

We talked about trust. She came up with a story after some coaching about where trust was everything for her. It happened to be with her husband down a ski slope going down a black and how much she trusted him to help her get down. It all worked brilliantly. Every time she thought about that moment, trust was empowered.

I challenged her. I said, “Start empowering the value of trust with your manager.” It wasn’t easy. It took her some time, but it took her some time because you can’t just do it on a dime sometimes. It takes practice. She got better and better at it. Suddenly, the manager was trusting her because she was authentically trusting him and that made a world of difference.

Micromanagers drive themselves crazy more than anybody else. They overextend themselves because they have to check everything twice. When they can trust somebody to do the work, boy, it takes a lot of relief. Suddenly life became a lot better for her. She got promoted rather quickly because not everybody was able to deal with this person as she was.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so then the key then was, she reconnected to an experience, which sort of trust became all the more real and felt and lived and experienced, kind of like when you said thinking about being in love versus actually being in love.

Barney Feinberg
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So she got there. Then as a result she was able to bring that kind of an attitude to the manager and treat her in a way as though she trusted the manager even though she wasn’t maybe as naturally inclined to do so. She kind of summoned that up from within her to-

Barney Feinberg
When you empower a value, that is your rule of conduct. Values are our rules of conduct. They characterize your sense of self and are elemental in the actions you take. You can’t fake it.

But here’s the deal. What was happening before she did that was she was making the manager wrong. Even if she wasn’t saying it outwardly, inwardly it is felt. The circumstance was dictating who she was.

She was having these values that are on automatic pilot with her, which I said before, control her more than they control – she controls them. They were coming up and saying, “Warning, warning.” Frustration, anger, misunderstanding, boredom, whatever it may be, they were putting her off the game and the manager will feel that.

But when you’re truly authentically connecting with somebody, the world changes. It changes 100%. By the way, I became really good friends with the guy that I played against. He knew what was going on too. But it’s something that is just permeates.

Thank God it’s Friday was invented because we get disconnected from our values throughout the course of the week. We don’t even realize it’s happening. We’re numb to it. We’re so used to it. But when we start learning how to empower our values consciously, the world changes. Suddenly, we can start looking at the values we have in common with people and choose to connect to those rather than the ones that disconnect us.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. We use the example of trust, so then can we dig into some more in terms of-

Barney Feinberg
I’d be happy to dig into one with you. How do you like that?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing.

Barney Feinberg
Oh good. Okay, great. Talking to you, I would imagine that collaboration is a good value for you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. I do enjoy a good collaboration. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s energizing.

Barney Feinberg
Great. I want you to imagine that that’s the value that you’re holding important right now. That’s the one that you are connecting to.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Barney Feinberg
Now, I want you to imagine that I’m connecting to independence. I want nothing to do with collaboration. How do you feel?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s just a little sad. It’s sort of like, “Oh, Barney, we were going to have a fun time creating this thing together, but I guess we’re not. Okay.” It’s disappointing.

Barney Feinberg
Right. That’s what happens. We get frustrated, angry, disappointed. Whenever you’re honoring a value that’s not being honored in return – we put up a brave face. I’ve seen a lot of people who will smile on the outside and turn on the inside. In fact they get so used to it, they don’t even realize they’re doing it. But then they wonder why they’re so tired and they need the weekend to recover. It’s because of that.

But it begins with knowing yourself. Imagine now you’re collaborating. That’s what it’s all about. I am too. I love collaboration in case you didn’t realize it. How do you feel now?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, it’s a lot of fun I guess. But what I’m thinking about though is, how do we make the leap? How do we bridge the gap?

Barney Feinberg
Well, it’s really a four-step process the way I show it in my book.

Pete Mockaitis
Do tell.

Barney Feinberg
The first step is to better know yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Barney Feinberg
How many values do you think you have?

Pete Mockaitis
Brene Brown says two.

Barney Feinberg
God bless her.

Pete Mockaitis
I mean I don’t know. In a way you could – I don’t know. We’ll say two to nine in that range.

Barney Feinberg
All right, I’m going to say this to you, most people will tell me two or three. Those that are really self-aware maybe will be able to tell me ten. But those that are self-aware when they say ten, how long do you think it takes for them to actually be able to articulate that?

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe a lifetime.

Barney Feinberg
It takes a while. Trust me. It takes a while. We are very clueless to the values that we have. I’m going to tell you, you have tens, you have hundreds of values. But what we tend to do for convenience sake, is we mesh them into a giant value, like the value of integrity.

You look at most companies that have these are our values, many of them will say integrity. I’ll applaud. I’ll say integrity is a great value. Then I’ll ask how many values do you believe there are in integrity.

Pete Mockaitis
I mean we can subdivide it infinite ways.

Barney Feinberg
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It covers everything from not stealing to not being late.

Barney Feinberg
Well, yes, exactly. Exactly. You’re 100% right. Yet, here’s the thing, there may be, let’s just use an arbitrary number, 30 values in integrity. Maybe 29 of them you have in common with the person you’re working with, but you’re connecting to the one that disconnects you. Crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Now you say I’m connecting with. What does that phrase mean?

Barney Feinberg
You are noticing the timeliness, as an example, is not being honored.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’m connecting with – as I’m noticing it isn’t there and it’s ticking me off.

Barney Feinberg
Yeah, …. Yeah. Then you go to other values that affect it, like my efficiency is being drawn down or I’m bored because I’m not getting anything done. All of these things show up, but it’s all about timeliness.

What happens? We get into a rut. Suddenly, say you’re working – look I work with advertising, public relations, media services. Those are my forte industries. Say you’re working with a creative who consistently is late. Well, if every time you set up an appointment that’s in the back of your mind, you’re already disconnecting from that value.

You may be smiling, “Oh, you’ll be there on time, won’t you?” but in the back of your mind, you’re like, “They’re going to be late again.” Because of it, they’re going to be late again.

Pete Mockaitis
You say, because of it, they’re going to be late again. Can you say more about that?

Barney Feinberg
Sure. You’re making them wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. As a result of me making them wrong, they respond in a-

Barney Feinberg
… by either being late again or they’ll do something else because nobody likes to be made wrong. Nobody. That’s probably the biggest disease we have in business, is being made wrong. People were taught to do that. That’s how we were brought up.

We were brought up in what I call a test society. I think they’ll look back a thousand years from now and say, “Oh my God, these people were giving and taking tests every day of their life.” Hey, not only were we taking tests, but we were taught to learn what we got wrong, so we wouldn’t repeat it, so we’re always looking for what’s wrong.

A lot of us are really like that, not all of us, but a lot of people are always looking for what we could do better and what someone else could do better. It creates a lot of wrong and people don’t like being wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re saying that if someone’s late, I value timeliness and I make them wrong, whether I verbally express it or not, they are picking up that I’m not too pleased with something about them and then they react in way that is unfavorable, kind of like a vicious cycle.

Barney Feinberg
Well, it gets to be. Einstein gave the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That’s kind of what we are on automatic pilot. We’re on automatic pilot with people.

Some people we just don’t trust. There may have been something that happened years ago that they did that made us lose trust in them. Ever since then we always question trust. Maybe we’ll get over it. Maybe we don’t. Trust is important, but it ain’t everything. Sometimes because we’re not trusting somebody, they’re not trusting us. It just happens that way.

If you can connect with someone with a value authentically – you can’t fake empowering a value – but if you’re authentically connecting to someone with a value that you’re empowering and they are empowering it at the same time, believe it or not, suddenly you start trusting each other again.

Pete Mockaitis
In the realm of the timeliness example, what would we do there?

Barney Feinberg
With timeliness?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so someone’s late-

Barney Feinberg
It all depends on where …. Connect with that person. You could go to sense of humor. You could go to so many different values. We have so many to choose from. Maybe they appreciate honesty. Maybe there’s something about the situation that calls for empathy. I don’t know.

But the point is there are four steps. We’re jumping the gun. First step is to know yourself better. I challenge people to have at least 20 or 30 values that they can empower consciously.

Because if the person is late and you’re thrown to them being late and making them wrong, you’re allowing the circumstance to dictate who you are just like when I was told you have one set and the winner take all, I sensed he didn’t want me to make the team, I went automatically to playing not to lose, being upset, all of that. We do that all the time. We do that all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve got your 20 values that you can empower. It’s sort of like, let’s say gratitude. I’ve got a-

Barney Feinberg
I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
-a story, an experience of gratitude raring to go. It’s sort of like it’s in my repertoire to summon it. Then if I can pick up on – I guess we’re jumping the gun again – if I can pick up on the notion that this annoying late person also values gratitude, then I can kind of change the focus such that we’re vibing on this shared gratitude value thing and thusly have more of a positive rapport and less of an I’m irritated with this tardy person.

Barney Feinberg
There’s no such thing as perfection. We’ll all have values that disconnect us from each other. We’ll all have values that connect us. We’re just really good at noticing what’s missing. Business teaches us to be that way. We do that in relationships.

I’m a believer that the biggest asset any company has are the people they have in it and the talent. If you know how to help people connect with each other, you’re going to have much better productivity, much more satisfaction, much more innovation. When people disconnect with each other, we tend to listen more to ourselves than to the people we’re talking to.

You ever notice that when you’re angry or upset? Imagine you’re in a meeting. You’re in a meeting and the value of I call it full expression, you have something to say in this meeting, but you’re basically being told to keep quiet. You want to say it. How do you feel?

Pete Mockaitis
I hear what you’re saying there with regard to talking to yourself. You’re sort of muttering, like, “Oh, this is bull crap. They never appreciate anything I have to offer.” All that kind of stuff.

Barney Feinberg
Yeah, but we’re so numb to that. We hear those voices, we don’t even realize we’re talking to ourselves. We just think we’re hearing the truth. I lost my train of thought there. You got me off a bit.

Pete Mockaitis
We had four steps.

Barney Feinberg
All right, the second step, once you have say listed 20 values, the second step is to learn how to empower them. That takes step-by-step process.

What I do is I have people free write. I tell them to free write a peak moment in their life. If you looked at my book, you’d see what I did with it. You free write a couple of paragraphs of a peak moment and I can promise you you’ll learn at least 20 or 30 values from that one story if you go through it a number of times. You’ll see so many different values that pop up.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Barney Feinberg
Once you list the number of stories – I actually break it down. I mentioned DNA values; they’re values that are on automatic pilot, that just show up all the time. Then there are other values we never even bring to work that could be brilliant if we realized that we could actually use them, but we don’t. We just go with what’s on automatic pilot usually.

The next step is to find the story that empowers that value. It’s your story. If you can’t find it, you can find a story that you’ve read about or a scene in a movie, something that every time you think about it, it just lifts your soul.

I’ll tell you, once I realized songs helped me out in tennis, I was listening to the Rocky theme song a lot when we were going to matches. It really pumped you up. You know what that’s like. That’s what people – song is great. I use song as a trigger to empower values.

Once I have the value defined as to what my definition is, and it’s mine, it’s nobody else’s. I could have a definition of a value that’s different from your definition and we could disconnect or your value of A and my value of B are the same, but we have different names for it. It’s really to get to know who you are. Once you have a better sense of who you are, ah, now it’s easier to understand where you connect with others because now you understand it better.

It’s like if I go to Alaska and I look at the snow, which you were just talking about, I’d see three kinds. I’d see wet, dry and icy because that’s what I shovel. But if I spoke to an Alaskan, they’d say 50 kinds that you can drink from, that you can walk on, that you can camp on, that you’re going to fall through. They have names for them.

Once you start being able to better articulate your values, it’s much easier to understand the ones that are connecting with you. I mean, “Oh, he’s out of integrity.” Okay, maybe you’ll call it late. Maybe it’s something else, but we generalize. We generalize. I think it’s much more powerful to let them free, to really get to understand them better so that you know exactly where you’re disconnecting and where you’re not.

I’ll say this, in every sentence there are multiple values, multiple. If you listen for them, you’ll hear them. You’re not going to get them all in the beginning. It takes time, but all you have to do is find a couple. …-

Pete Mockaitis
So I’m listening for them-

Barney Feinberg
-really works with him and I or with her and her whoever. I mean, wow. Suddenly, you’ve got the ability not to allow that circumstance to dictate who you are.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess with the listening am I looking out for strong emotion, like, “Whoa, that person is mad about that,” or “Oh, that person is passionate about this thing,” or “That person really seems to be quite disappointed by this.” What am I listening for to zero in the values?

Barney Feinberg
I’ll give you – one of the things I help people do is learn how to listen for values in the interview process. I say the most important factor in taking a job or hiring is the chemistry you’re going to have with people. I have them listen for values. I’m going to give you one sentence that I use. I use a number, but I’ll use this just one to give you as an example.

I have people ask what makes you and your company successful. Usually when I’m talking to people about that, they’ve already listed 20 or 30 values in the conversation we’ve had. I say just look at the values you have in front of you. Aren’t they what make you a success? Generally speaking they will agree. Absolutely.

With that in front of them, I give them a couple of sentences to understand how many values can be in one. I’ll give you one. What makes me and my company successful? “Gee, that’s a good question. What makes us successful? Well, we’re always looking for better ways to accomplish the job and we do a brilliant job.” Now, I’m going to ask you, what values did you hear in that?

Pete Mockaitis
I’d say innovation, execution, maybe praise or celebration.

Barney Feinberg
Awesome. Okay. Let me tell you what was intended. “Gee, that’s a good question.” I just acknowledged you. Acknowledgement is a value some people really appreciate.

Pete Mockaitis
… a good time to think.

Barney Feinberg
Well, no, no, no, no, no, but you’re not going to get – look, I don’t want to be unfair. It’s four steps. The first step is to know yourself better. It doesn’t happen that quickly. It takes time, but if you do it step-by-step, it’s a practice. It’s not a one and done situation. But it’s for people that really want to have a better way of connecting with each other. I think the better you connect, the more successful you’re going to be.

But just to go through that sentence quickly, I’ll just throw a couple out there. Acknowledgement, full expression. I said, “That’s a good question.” I’m maybe someone who encourages other questions. “What makes us successful?” I find reflective thinking an important value. I just repeated the question, so maybe I’m a reflective thinker.

Then “We’re always looking for better ways,” strategic thinking, efficiency. “We do a brilliant job,” dedication to excellence. Then what’s peppered in there are three us and we’s, which could indicate collaboration, team play, whatever the value is you choose to name it, but you can see, oh my goodness, how many values ….

What usually happens in a good conversation is people have a gut feeling. Gut feelings are great, but they’re coming from your stomach. They’re not coming from your head. When you can actually understand what’s causing it and it’s these values that are actually being – showing up in the conversation, it gives you a lot more wisdom to make decisions and a lot more wisdom to know how to connect with people.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting how you said maybe there a couple times. It’s sort of like you are generating hypotheses and then sort of finding further reinforcement with subsequent sentences. It’s like, “Oh, well, you know what? That collaborative thing only showed up once, but then the other showed up again, and again, and again, and again. Maybe the collaboration was more of a fluke or a lesser value from that one sentence.

Barney Feinberg
Maybe I misheard it. Maybe I was listening for what I wanted to hear and it wasn’t there because a lot of times we go in on what I term a test mentality. If it’s an interview, we’re trying to pass the test. When we’re testing, we’re absolutely listening more to ourselves than the people we’re talking to. It’s when we’re – I shifted.

To listen for values, you want to be using what I term a field trip mentality. When you’re on a field trip, there’s much better chance you’re in curiosity, open mind, and discovery, three values that I find really important. What I do with everyone that I talk to and you can do this right now, think of a moment when you were on a field trip or a vacation that was just amazing. Tell me when you get it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, got it.

Barney Feinberg
Yeah. How did that feel?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it was-

Barney Feinberg
Thinking about that vacation.

Pete Mockaitis
It was cozy. There was just great people just enjoying each other. We didn’t actually do a whole lot. We mostly stayed inside. It was very snowy out and it was a pretty remote location, but it was just great times together, whether we were talking or playing video games or cooking or eating. It was just great fun.

Barney Feinberg
Imagine going into an RFP feeling that way rather than trying to pass a test. Imagine going on a blind date that way rather than that test mentality that generally shows up in a blind date conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I see there. So we use the vacation prompt to get us to a place of hey, feeling good and enjoying in a relaxed way.

Barney Feinberg
Yes, here’s the deal. If you’re talking to someone and you’re in that mentality and you’re not feeling that way, I suggest it’s probably disconnection from the person you’re talking to. What is it that’s disconnecting?

If it’s an interview, it’s a good chance maybe that’s not a person you want to work with every day. But if it’s someone you’re working with every day, what is it that’s throwing us off? What are the values that are disconnecting us and what are the values I’m hearing that would?

Pete Mockaitis
Once you’ve sort of identified, “Okay, I think this person values this and I’ve got that within me as well, so I’m going to try to bring it forth,” I guess that’s with either the music or the story or the memory. Then you’re just kind of showing up and interacting with that person with that kind of in the background of what’s going on for you.

Barney Feinberg
But …. You’re being that. If you’re truly empowering a value, it is dictating who you are. It clarifies your voice. It focuses your mind. It aligns your visions. It’s who you are. Some people will say to me, “Gee Barney, how come I have to change? Why should I be the one that changes?”

Pete Mockaitis
I just think that’s so funny because we just talked about making other people wrong. It’s like-

Barney Feinberg
Yeah, but people do this. They say, “Well, I’m right. They’re wrong.” A lot of people like being right. Being right is fine, but when you’re making others wrong because of it, it doesn’t help you that much. It doesn’t. It certainly is not going to build a relationship.

What I say to people that say this to me is you’re being yourself. You’re just choosing to connect rather than disconnect. I’m not asking you to be a value that doesn’t – isn’t who you are. I’m suggesting you try something that really will connect you and build bridges of connection to knock down the walls of disconnection that might have been there for a long time.

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

Barney Feinberg
Well, I would say one other thing we didn’t get to discuss. There are three types of relationships. One is dysfunctional, one is stagnant, and one is on the rise. Dysfunctional we know. We’ve probably had them. But on the rise is what I call out for everyone.

However, unfortunately, most of us settle for stagnant, which means, yeah, we are connecting. We are connecting. We have values that work, Barney, and we’ve been using them for years and years and years. I’m like, yeah, so if you were a business and you just kept doing it the same way over and over again for years and years and years, chances are you’re not going to be as successful.

I challenge people to look for new values that can connect them to people even the ones that they’re connected to because it can create a whole new opportunity for innovation and satisfaction. I use a quote from Michelangelo, who said “The greater danger for most of us is not that we aim to high and miss, but we aim to low and succeed.”

Pete Mockaitis
Got it. Thank you.

Barney Feinberg
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now could you share with us a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Barney Feinberg
A favorite – well, there was something that came out for 2017, SHRM, Society for Human Resource Management. They looked at the satisfaction levels of people in 2017 at work. They made an announcement that it was the best they’ve seen in five years. They said people that were very satisfied equaled 38% of the population.

I was like, 38%, very satisfied. That means the rest of us are either simply satisfied or not satisfied. I never – people that are looking to succeed are not looking just for satisfaction. I think that’s an optimistic thing because that means there’s a lot of opportunity to rise up.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Barney Feinberg
Well, then I’m going to go way back. This is a book that really captured me when I was in high school, Siddhartha. Are you familiar with it?

Pete Mockaitis
I think I read it a while ago. Hermann Hesse?

Barney Feinberg
Hermann Hesse.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Barney Feinberg
Yeah. We’re all on a journey for self-discovery. I just look at life that way. Had a big impact on me.

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

Barney Feinberg
Every morning before I start officially working, I practice empowering my values. Then I get to choose which one I want to start my day with.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate and folks repeat it back to you often?

Barney Feinberg
Well, one that really is a nugget that people really can relate to and appreciate, the better you know yourself, the easier it is to know what you want. The better you know what you want, the easier it is to achieve.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that sounds true. Yeah. And yet overlooked in terms of taking the time to get to know yourself better and then getting to know what you want better because what I like about that is it connects some very practical kind of results-generating utility effectiveness type thinking to maybe more fuzzy kind of feel good introspection thinking and say, no, no, in fact one is a pathway to more of the other.

Barney Feinberg
Buddha said this, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” When your thoughts are empowered by your values, the world becomes a brilliant place to be. By the way, that was my ending. That was me at the end.

There’s one other – if you were asking me quotes, I could quote you all day. There’s so many quotes I love. Do you know the Gandhi quote about values?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m not sure.

Barney Feinberg
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, and your habits become your values. Your values are your destiny.” Then I paraphrase. When you’re empowering your values, reaching your destiny is easy and you can go beyond it. But when you’re disconnected from your values, it is a hard road and you’ll never reach it to the point you want to.

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

Barney Feinberg
Discover the wealth of values you have, rea  lly. Know them. They’re tools that you can use that you haven’t been using consciously most likely. Empower them and it will give you greater opportunity to authentically connect with people at work and in life. This works for everything, but I’m focusing it on business.

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

Barney Feinberg
Barney@TheChemistryFactor.com, www.TheChemistryFactor.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Barney, it’s been a whole lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck with The Chemistry Factor and all you’re doing.

Barney Feinberg
Pete, it’s been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for your time.

349: The Case for Kindness at Work with Dr. Richard Shuster

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Dr. Richard Shuster shows how being kind to others just because can help make you even more awesome at your job.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The implications of being kind to others at work
  2. The two kinds of kindness and which one is better for your health
  3. The number one pro tip for being kind to your colleagues

About Richard

Dr. Richard Shuster is a licensed clinical psychologist and the host of The Daily Helping with Dr. Richard Shuster: Food for the Brain, Knowledge from the experts, Tools to Win at Life® which is regularly downloaded in over 70 countries. On his podcast, Dr. Shuster’s guests educate and inspire listeners through their stories, expertise, and passion for helping make a difference in the lives of others. His mission is to make the world a better place. His show’s growing movement strives to get a million people each day to commit acts of kindness for others and post it on their social media using #mydailyhelping®. A sought after media expert, Dr. Shuster’s clinical expertise and podcast have been featured in such publications as The Huffington Post, Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Inc., Real Simple, NBCNews.com, Cosmopolitan, Glassdoor.com, Reader’s Digest, and others.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dr. Richard Shuster Interview Transcript

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

Dr. Richard Shuster
Pete, it is awesome to be at the Awesome At Your Job podcast. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, yeah, I’m really glad that we got to do this. I enjoyed meeting you at Podcast Movement. We spent about half an hour talking about barbeque, and then we got into the weightier things of life.

Dr. Richard Shuster

Yes, I think most conversations should start with some mentioning of barbeque, to be sure.

Pete Mockaitis

So, let’s go right for some heavy stuff. You have a wild story, in which you had a car accident, but you say it changed your life for the better. What’s the scoop here?

Dr. Richard Shuster

Sure. So, ironically enough, had you met me prior to this accident I would have been the anti-candidate to come on your show, because I wasn’t overly happy with what I was doing. I was doing it in a large part because of expectations that I thought that others had of me. I was in the midst of creating and IT consulting company, I had just bid on a government contract through the military and won, which was pretty wild for somebody in their early 20s.
And one day, while driving, and it was just a normal Saturday, I was in a horrific car accident, in which I broke my spine. A car went careening through a light as I was making a left turn, slammed into me, which sent me into oncoming traffic after my bags deployed. And then it was a telephone pole which ultimately stopped my forward momentum.
And prior to that car accident, prior to that day, I was very, very selfish, I was very materialistic. I would refer to my business as “The Schuster Empire”. I really felt that way, that I’m superior. If anyone’s ever seen that movie Family Man with Nicolas Cage, I wanted to be him before he had the kids – the fast cars and the money and all of these things.
And so, what’s really interesting is that there’s been a lot of research done on what happens to people when they’re in near-death experiences. You always hear the cliché, “My life flashes before my eyes”, that sort of thing. That’s not what happens to a lot of people. What happens to a lot of people is when they’re about to die, time slows down quite significantly. And a lot of soldiers have reported this, going back to many, many wars. We have letters from soldiers who have talked about this historically.
So, in this moment from when car one hits me, and then the airbag goes off and I’m careening – that whole accident scene that I described to you was maybe three seconds in total. But for me in real time, it felt like it was significantly longer. I’m sitting there, watching the center console crush into my ribs like it’s somebody’s crushing a can of Coke in their hand, and I’m thinking to myself, “I’m about to die.” It wasn’t one of these Ebenezer Scrooge kind of moments, like, “Dear God, let me live and I’ll be a good person.” I was dead. I knew I was going to die.
And my thoughts then shifted to my parents, my mom in particular. I was young and I wasn’t married, and I was like, “My mom’s about to get this call that her son is dead.” And I was so guilty. What a senseless way to die. And then the next thought that I had, which kind of came out of that guilt about my parents was, “What do I have to show? What have I really accomplished in my life? What am I proud of? What are people going to be proud of me for?” And the answer was, “Not much.” And then obviously I didn’t die. It took me quite a long time to recover, but for me, Pete, nothing was ever the same after that.
Now, I went back to work after some time, and was miserable. And I stuck it out far longer than I should have, in large part because of fear. I didn’t know what I would do. That was the thing that I thought I was supposed to do. I didn’t want to let people down. But I was just miserable, and I knew I wanted to do something more and something that helped society, helped the world. And so, one day I walked away from that. I just said, “I’m done” and I walked out. And the reactions that I got from my circle were as expected – when people do things that don’t make sense to them, people tell you you’re crazy – “What? You’re doing what? How could you possibly do that? You’ve invested all this time and money”, and blah, blah, blah.
But I went from 80 hours a week to 0, and was going through this period of time where I’m finding who I am. I know that’s also very cliché, but I’m just kind of sitting around, and even though I had left, I was scared out of my mind. I had no clue what I was going to be doing next, and thinking that all this time I spent in technology was kind of wasted.
And then something really funny happened – I went to the local grocery store in the city where I was living at the time, and I heard these women talking. This was maybe circa 2003-ish, so Facebook didn’t exist; Myspace was the thing then. Well, I think Facebook did exist but it was only for college students. And so I heard these women talking about their teens doing questionable behavior on the Internet.
And so I butted in, which is something I don’t usually do, but I interjected into their conversation. I had some background in network security and technology, and so all of a sudden now they’re inviting me to speak at their PTA and I’m volunteering my time. And somebody in the audience was in the cyber-crime unit of their local police department – no idea why they didn’t ask him, but they asked me. And that guy came up to me after and he was really excited. He said, “You’re a civilian but you’ve got this knowledge. You want to come and start doing the tour with us?”
And now I’m speaking in front of large groups of people, and all of a sudden that statement that I had made to myself about the wasted time in technology, not doing things meaningful to help society – that all went away. And just doing that speaking reframed that for me. And so that led to other experiences, which pushed me towards graduate school. In getting my first master’s degree I was privileged to work with evacuees from New Orleans who lost everything during Hurricane Katrina. That was really powerful to see that. And then I went on to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology, where I then got advanced training in forensic and neuropsychology.
So, that’s what my, quote unquote “day job” became, and while I was privileged and grateful for the opportunity to work with patients directly, the thing that was really still kind of biting at me was, “How do I do something more? How do I do something grander?” And so, that’s when I came up with The Daily Helping podcast, and the show’s mission is to help people become the best versions of themselves. And of course there are a lot of shows with similar themes, and that’s aspirational. Right, Pete? You’re not going to get a certificate three weeks from now in the mail from me, your wife or anybody else that says, “Congratulations, Pete! You’re now the best version of who you are.”

Pete Mockaitis

Even if I sign up for your Elite Double Platinum Diamond program?

Dr. Richard Shuster

Unfortunately no, we just can’t make that kind of a guarantee.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh man.

Dr. Richard Shuster

I know, I know. It’s a bummer. But in all seriousness, that’s an aspirational statement. We of course strive to learn and become better than we were the day before, but applying what I learned in graduate school about neuroscience is that the research indicates – it’s very interesting – that we as a society… I’ll take a step back because my doctoral dissertation was on the impact of personality functioning from technology, and in particular social media.
So, social media really has turned us into this society where we are often presenting this idealized version of ourselves, and often a false version of ourselves to the world, because when we log on to Facebook or Instagram and whatnot, and we see our neighbor always on an amazing vacation, doing something crazy – we want to do the same thing and we want to show how wonderful we are.
So what I wanted to do with the podcast was tie the show’s movement into something that has been researched, and that is when we help people, the same structures of our brains, the same neurotransmitters, the same things fire as when we receive assistance. And a lot of people don’t know that, and a lot of people don’t think about that. So, part of my show’s movement is I encourage my listeners every episode in our call to action to go and commit an act of kindness and post it in their social media feeds using the hashtag #mydailyhelping, because I know that if I can get people…
And the goal is to get a million people every day doing this, by the way. That if we can get that many people committing acts of kindness, they’re going to feel better about themselves, they’re going to like who they are. And when we’re all liking who we are and liking what we’re doing, that’s going to make the world a better place.

Pete Mockaitis

That is cool, and a beautiful vision, and I’m so glad that you’re alive and that you took good inspirations.

Dr. Richard Shuster

Me too, me too.

Pete Mockaitis

From that scary experience. And so, you’re helping and you’ve got all kinds of neuroscience insights into helping. So, making the world a better place – yes, I am about that, and even more precisely we’re about that in the context of people being awesome at their jobs and experiencing the joys that come with that, in terms of being able to better serve others and just experience the joy of excellence in doing your thing and how that enriches everybody all the more, as opposed to being lame at your job. So, I want to get your take then on, how does helping others help us become awesome at our jobs?

Dr. Richard Shuster

So there is a lot of research done by I/O psychologists about what happens to us when we like what we do and when we’re good at what we do. And so, particularly those that have high degrees of employment satisfaction are demonstrated to have higher levels of oxytocin present in their blood. And oxytocin is a hormone that’s released by the hypothalamus, it flows out into our blood stream, and it’s really been demonstrated to do a lot of things, including promote feelings of trust.
So if you’re good at your job, you’re likely going to be more prone to connect meaningfully with your coworkers, to value your team, to be helpful to others who are in your workplace. And what the research has also shown is that people who are in that space – who like what they do, who are all about the camaraderie, who have a high degree of competence and satisfaction in their job – they also experience – how about this – less stress, less anxiety. They report having an overall brighter and better mood than those that don’t, and their relationship satisfaction is higher. And for those people who are employers – you’ll like this too – fewer sick days have been demonstrated consistently in the research by those who excel at what they do professionally.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s compelling stuff, so good news there. And oxytocin – that whole molecule is fascinating. We had Dr. Paul Zak discuss oxytocin in a previous episode.

Dr. Richard Shuster

He was actually my first guest on my show. He’s phenomenal.

Pete Mockaitis

Good choice.

Dr. Richard Shuster

Yes.

Pete Mockaitis

So, good stuff. I’m with you there. So, being awesome at your job has benefits that extend beyond just a good review and maybe a pay raise or a promotion. That’s cool. And so, I’m curious, in the realm of helping – when you’re helping other folks, I guess I’m thinking about the Adam Grant Give and Take stuff. How do you think about that, with, sort of, your mission about changing the world and making it a better place, with more helping and becoming the best version of yourselves, and then doing these acts of kindness? How do you think about in the grand scheme of, you’ve got your resources, your time, your energy, your attention, how you spend your day. And how do you think about the allocation of, “Am I giving or am I taking? And am I giving to just anybody or am I giving strategically? Or is giving strategically really self-serving and not truly giving, and thus I don’t get the cool brain benefits?” I just want to enter this messy tangle with you.

Dr. Richard Shuster

It’s the most controversial non-controversial subject ever. It’s interesting, because there’s research on both sides of this. There are those that pose it that if you are strategically giving, i.e. giving from a self-serving perspective, that’s not truly generosity. Whereas there are others who say that any kind of altruistic act, even if it is self-serving or has some intentionality behind it, the end result is that it helps others. So, the textbook definition of altruism is “an act which helps another person, where one is expecting nothing in return”.
And what I would say is that I think both sides can be right. And I’m not saying that to pass the buck, but if you think about it, let’s use the example of strategically self-serving. So there might be a charity or an organization or something – a fundraiser for your kid’s school – and you have X number of hours in your day. You talked about the allotment of time – you have X amount of time, X amount of resources or money, and so you choose strategically to give that to something which is important to you.
To me that is just as altruistic as the person who wants to help a little old lady cross the street. It’s still an altruistic motive, you’re intending to help somebody. Even though example A – that helping is more directed, it’s still helping. There are the other proponents who say if I give somebody $5 because I think the universe is going to pay it forward to me and give me $10 back – is that really altruism? So there’s where the research gets interesting.
There have been some studies which show our brains react the same, whether we’re giving with intentionality, hoping to get something back, or whether we are in fact just giving to give. And yet, there’s also research on the other side. What we do know definitively is that if I were to take two people and hook up real-time diagnostic imaging of their brains – units that could do that; we live in this wonderful age where we have the technology to do these sorts of things – and person A gave somebody $1,000 and person B received $1,000, the same parts of the brain light up.
My take on all of the research is that I believe that you can’t help but have a sense of satisfaction when you help somebody for the purposes of just helping. When you’re just trying to do something nice for somebody else and you do it, it feels intrinsically better than it does if you’re kind of coerced into it – if it’s a fundraiser or a Girl Scout cookie drive or something. There’s just a difference there.
Whereas this reward system that I’m talking about, that I’ve referenced, which is called the mesolimbic pathway in our brain – that’s a pretty old biological system. And so what really separates us from lower animals is because of our frontal lobes, the prefrontal cortex, we have the higher reasoning abilities and we have the capabilities of applying experiences and emotions to things in a different way than, say, a dog, right? So, to me, because of the evolution of our brain and these other capabilities we have, it seems intrinsically reasonable to say that if you’re doing something that is truly altruistic, you’re going to get that extra kick of feeling good that you might not get if you’re doing it for an ulterior motive, if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, I hear you. And it’s funny, as you mentioned the $1,000 and the same parts of the brain lighting up, I think that in a way that’s surprising, but in another way if I really put myself in those shoes, it is similar. If I were to receive $1,000 I’d be like, “What?!” It’s like, “What a delight! This is crazy, and wild and surprising and wonderful.” At the same time, if you were to give that just for kicks, it also feels that way. I remember I’ve had a couple of experiences – not to toot my own horn, but we’ll just use the examples here to illustrate.
But I heard some gals chatting behind me in the line at Chipotle, and it was clear they were in college and pretty broke. And I was like, “Man, I remember those days – having $300 total and hoping that I could not spend all of it until the summer, where I could work and do some more, an internship or something.” And so, I heard them talking about being broke, college woes. And so I just decided to pay for their Chipotle.
And it was kind of a delight, in the sense of, “Hehehehehe.” It’s almost like I’m getting away with something. [laugh] And then they were very appreciative and whatever. But yeah, that feels awesome. And likewise, a couple of times I’ve paid the toll for the person behind me. I think I heard a motivational speaker suggest that once. It was like, “Let’s give that a shot.” And it was really fun, because then you look through your rearview mirror and they’re like, “What? Really? Huh? Awesome!” [laugh]

Dr. Richard Shuster

It’s so funny, and what you described, I do similar things. I will sometimes buy the grocery cart for somebody else when I’m in line, and the reaction you described is exactly right. They kind of freak out; they start looking around for hidden cameras, they wonder what the angle is. But I’m sure you saw in these college students the same thing that most people would experience when they do that – once somebody realizes that this is a genuine legit thing, their mind is so blown that you can see their entire perspective change. They go from suspiciousness to “What’s going on?” to disbelief to “Really?” to “Oh my God, this is so amazing.” And it’s that feeling of, “This is so wonderful.” And that’s why I’m really trying to help people get out there and do that, because the more we feel that, as I said, the better our lives are, the better everybody’s lives are.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, totally. That’s cool. In the workplace then, it’s intriguing. So in giving, you are not only just being helpful, and maybe a listening reciprocation, although I guess it’s a little bit debated whether if you fixate on that, that you may be shooting yourself in the foot, in terms of the biochemical benefits flow into you. But when you do so, you’re feeling awesome, and so that has all kinds of cool follow-on effects in terms of being able to be happy, more productive and cheerful and energetic and creative, and all that sort of stuff. I’m thinking about Shawn Achor’s Happiness Advantage stuff here. So that’s cool. Then how else do you think about giving in the realm of relationships and networks and colleagues and collaboration? What are some of your other favorite perspectives or pro tips there?

Dr. Richard Shuster

So, one of the things that’s been very helpful for me is, I remember – I’m sure the audience remembers when those bracelets came out that everybody started wearing – WWJD, I think they were called. And it was like a reminder, kind of like this string around your finger to act in a certain way. And for me the thing that I kind of asked myself, which is my ONE thing – to talk about Geoff Woods here a little bit – I try and act in a way that all of my actions in some way can help other people, even if it’s of no benefit to me directly.
So, in terms of networking, in terms of colleagues – and not just in a work setting; this can certainly apply to your spouse, to your children, to your neighbors – it’s, “What can I do?” That’s the question: “What can I do to add value to you? How can I help you?” The quickest way to put people off is just to start talking about yourself. Nobody wants to hear that. But if we’re genuinely interested… And I’m not talking just paying lip service to Dale Carnegie. These are not secrets; these are things that have been out there for a very long time.
But when we genuinely show interest in others and say, “Oh, you do this. You’re new to our department. Well, here’s the ropes” – that person’s going to be appreciative of you. And that’s the first place I’d start is, connect with people by finding out more about them and finding out how you can leverage the things that you’re intrinsically good at to help them make their jobs easier.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, right on. That’s good. So that’s the scoop when it comes to the helping in the workplace. I’d also love to hear some of your research-based insights. Your subtitle is awesome: “Food for the brain, knowledge from the experts, tools to win at life”. So, could you give us some of the greatest hits, in terms of tips and takeaways for how one does transform to become the best version of themselves?

Dr. Richard Shuster

I think you have to be very clear on what matters to you, and that starts with your values. If you don’t know what you stand for and you don’t know what’s important to you, then it’s really going to be difficult for you to define with any degree of certainty who you are as a person. I tell everybody the first thing to do is get extremely granular about that, and then the next thing is to once you know your values, find out what specific things fire you.
So, people hear me talk, and I’ve had people come up to me at conventions and say, “What you’re saying is great and all, but I’m in my job and it’s a good job. I’m looking for fulfillment, but I’ve got two kids and I don’t want to start my own business”, or something like that. And so what I would say to people who are thinking that, listening to us talk, Pete, is that there are a lot of different ways to find fulfillment. And that’s why knowing what you’re passionate about matters. You can keep your day job and you don’t have to, at the age of 40, quit and go back to graduate school to become a counsellor. You can volunteer at boys’ and girls’ club or something like that. So, if animals are important to you, you can dedicate some time at a shelter or foster animals, or what have you.
So, the whole point is that it’s not such a black and white thing, and just because you like something doesn’t mean that it has to be what you love to do. We talked about barbecue; we spent a significant amount of time talking about the awesomeness of smoking meat. And yet, neither you nor I are going to be quitting our jobs to open up a barbecue restaurant, right? So, there is some common sense to this, but I will say this – if for those of us who are able to find something we’re passionate about, that it’s something that we feel good about doing, ergo makes the world a better place, helps society, and that we’re able to generate income from that – that is the tops. That is absolutely the tops.

Pete Mockaitis

I dig it, I dig it. Now, could you share with us, for you in interviewing all of your different podcast guests, are there a couple of those guests who have really made a lasting impact on how you think and operate in your daily work and life?

Dr. Richard Shuster

One for sure was Sean Swarner, who was episode 31 on my show. And Sean, for those of you who aren’t familiar with him, was voted as one of the eight most inspirational people alive. I think he won the ESPN award for courage as well. And Sean’s story was so powerful, because basically he did at two different points in his life contract two extraordinarily rare cancers. I don’t remember the number he gave on the show of the odds of getting both of these different types of terminal cancers, but the odds were like winning the lottery, a gazillion times. It was a ridiculous, an impossible number.
And yet, despite having these two fatal diseases, he overcame that. And not only did he overcome that – and one of the cancers cost him a lung – he then on to climb Mount Everest with one lung, and continued to scale Mount Kilimanjaro. He’s climbed all of the top mountains in the world, and he plants a flag for people with cancer. And hearing his story was so incredibly powerful, and it’s one of those things where if you hear it and you think about any obstacle in your life, no matter what it is – how could you not believe that you can overcome it after hearing a story like that? So I think that’s probably the most powerful episode that I’ve ever heard.
I had another episode that I recently recorded. I’m not sure if it will air before this does, but with John O’Leary, who had a similar story, where he miraculously overcame medical odds, which were like 99% chance that he was going to die as well. And shared his story about how he inspires others.
Others that have really resonated with me – episode 48, David Osborn, the New York Times bestselling author of Wealth Can’t Wait was on my program. And what was so powerful about David, and for those of you who know and meet him, he’s the most down-to-earth guy in the world. And he’s got a net worth of well over $100 million that he created himself. And his whole mission in life is to give it all away. So, what an awesome reminder for those of us driving for success about what it’s really all about. Those are a couple. There are others, but those are two top of mind that are really special episodes for me.

Pete Mockaitis

Awesome, thank you. And finally, you have started a non-profit recently and you’re doing some helping through that vehicle. What’s the scoop here?

Dr. Richard Shuster

So, I talk about miracles in my life, and surviving my accident was the first. My son being born was the second. And before I turn people off and you think I’m rambling off a Hallmark card, my son who is now five and a half years old, and perfect and wonderful, nearly died in utero. And the miracle that I spoke of was that at 31 weeks into my wife’s pregnancy, she collapses at work and has to go to the hospital right away, of course, and we’re fearing the worst, thinking something’s horribly wrong with the baby.
And the doctor who comes out gives the “good news and bad news” speech, which I think is actually worse than just getting bad news. You just kind of want to know what it is. And so, the good news was that the reason why my wife was in debilitating pain was because my little guy was kicking her sciatic nerve, which is extraordinarily painful, and yet not really dangerous to the child, and certainly wasn’t dangerous to my wife.
So, in a way he was letting the world know that we need to get my wife into a hospital, because what the doctor told us was that she had a very insidiously slow leak of her amniotic fluid – so slow that it was imperceptible. And yet, had we not come in when we came in, my son would have suffocated to death in her womb 12 hours later. That’s what they told us. So, we’re freaking out.
And I’ll very much abridge the story for you, but my wife was on bed rest for the rest of the pregnancy, cooking until 37 weeks, but when he was born because of the lack of fluid, he had fluid to live but not fluid to move, and so he was born with a tremendous amount of developmental difficulties, yet he was smart.
And so, as he got a little bit older and we tried to get him some help, his high cognitive scores really brought up his overall scoring and we couldn’t get him all of the help that he needed for some of these other delayed areas. And we struggled. So, where we had been reasonably financially responsible up until that time, we did what any parent would do – we got our kid the help any way we could, which was we put stuff on credit cards, and financially nearly – this was in 2012-2013 – almost destroyed ourselves at the time. But I would do it, of course, as would any parent, over and over again to save my kid, help my kid.
And so, he struggled so mightily, but because we got him the help, because his teacher was so amazing and his preschool was so amazing, now as I said, I have a very happy ending. I have a very wonderful kid who can do everything that any other child can do. And what I really wanted to be able to create was this entity that helps those kids like my son that just need a little bit of a push to reach their true potential.
There are a lot of organizations in place, and God bless them and I wish we had more that are going to help those kids with severe issues. And the schools are federally mandated as well for those children that meet a certain criteria, that are beyond a certain threshold clinically or academically, in terms of impairment, that they have to give them some degree of assistance.
But the vast majority of kids with problems are not the ones that are acting out behaviorally. They’re silent, and they sit in their classroom and they wonder why their classmates are so much better at the things that they can’t do. And they are the ones who are at increased risk for things like depression and low self-esteem. And there’s nobody in this space, Pete.
Our charity’s called Every Kid Rocks, and so what we are as a … we collect money, and schools apply to be a part of our organization. Participating schools are trained by us, and they are taught how to identify these children that might need just a little push, a little bit of speech, physical or occupational therapy, so that they may reach their true potential.
It’s the most exciting thing that I’ve ever been a part of. I feel really honored and grateful that so many people have come out in support of it, and we’re just actually getting ready to launch. I don’t know when this is going to air, but we finally received our 501(c)(3) status from the IRS in July, and so now we’re just putting the final back end infrastructure in place, technology in particular. And we are going to be turning the lights on in October, so we’re very excited. And our goal is to help 10,000 children a year in this country.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s awesome, thank you.

Dr. Richard Shuster

Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool. So now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Dr. Richard Shuster

So, I don’t know if there’s a favorite quote I have per se. I would say the Jim Rohn quote is one that always resonates strongly with me, and it’s, “You’re the average of the five people that you hang around with.” And I know that’s been overused in this space, but I want to qualify as to why, in that one of the things that we’ve discovered in recent years are these little guys up in our brains called “mirror neurons”.
And so, a number of months ago – it was actually during the last football season – NBC.com asked me to collaborate with them on what happens to our brain when we watch football. And the example there was, if you think about this scenario – why would a total stranger go up and hug another total stranger, high-five another total stranger? It’s just not something that we often do. And it’s because we have these things in our brains that are all throughout our brain, called mirror neurons. And what mirror neurons do is they wire us essentially to connect with people who evidence similar emotions or characteristics to things that we find intrinsically reasonable or valuable.
So, Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Jim Rohn – all of these guys have been talking about this forever. And the “birds of a feather” – it’s another spin on the same thing. But the science behind the mirror neurons is our brains adapt to become more like people that we associate with. So, if you want to be really happy and successful, there’s a reason why being around really happy and successful people push you into that space as well. And the mirror neurons are the hardwired science behind that. So I guess I backed into that response, but I’m going to own that, Pete, and say that’s my favorite quote.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. And how about a favorite tool?

Dr. Richard Shuster

Oh God. My big green egg. No, I’m just kidding. The things that I use the most are Slack, Trello, and Upwork.com, which isn’t a tool but it’s a place. Basically my position is, any way that I can leverage technology or resources to automate processes within my organizations, or take time off my hands, which allows me to spend more time and be more present with my wife and children, is important to me.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. And how about a favorite habit?

Dr. Richard Shuster

Favorite habit is getting up at 5:00 a.m. every day and starting the day by writing three things that I’m really grateful for, every day.

Pete Mockaitis

And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with listeners and folks that you’re engaging with?

Dr. Richard Shuster

What I tell everybody is, do something for someone else, even if it’s of no benefit to you. Do something nice for somebody else. And when you do that, your days are going to feel better. And if you can start stringing days together, weeks together, months together – you’re going to feel good every day.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Dr. Richard Shuster

I think I just did it.

Pete Mockaitis

It sounds like it.

Dr. Richard Shuster

I think I just did, yeah. I would encourage you, and this can be an act of kindness within your workplace, this can be an act of kindness within your community, this can be an act of kindness with your significant other. Do something unexpected, do something nice. And I’ll go even a step further – that if there is somebody who you have historically butted heads with in your organization, I challenge you especially to start doing nice things for them, and watch what happens.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Dr. Richard Shuster

So, I would point everybody to TheDailyHelping.com, and that’s the mothership of everything related to the show. And you can check out all the latest episodes of the podcast and happenings right there.

Dr. Richard Shuster

And we have something called Personal Helping and I’d like to offer that to your audience, if you’re okay with that.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, sure, thank you. And what’s Personal Helping and how does that work?

Dr. Richard Shuster

So Personal Helping is our coaching system that I developed with a number of behavior science experts. So, there’s a little bit of neuroscience, there’s some research into strengths. And essentially, Personal Helping is going to help you do some of those things that I talked about earlier – really find out what your core values and beliefs are, what are the things that power you, how to implement some of those things into your life. And using the neuroscience of habit formation, we help you build out a schedule and a routine to where those things become a part of what you do every day, which overall makes you happier, perform better, and more on top of your game. And so, if you’re interested, we give away 10 coaching sessions a month through the platform. Go to TheDailyHelping.com/Contest and sign up, and hope that you win.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool, thanks. Well, Dr. Richard, this has been a blast. Thanks so much for taking this time and doing all you do with the helping!

Dr. Richard Shuster

It’s been great being here, Pete. Thanks so much.

323: The Surprising Power of Seeing People as People with Kimberly White

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Kimberly White breaks down why seeing people as people dramatically increases productivity at work and in life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What you miss when you see people as objects
  2. How seeing people as people turbocharges problem-solving
  3. Three ways to change the way you perceive people

About Kimberly

Kimberly White is the perpetually amused mother of some very theatrical children, and the lucky wife of the funniest person she’s ever known. Her nine months of research for The Shift included dozens of hours working alongside nursing home employees in offices, showers, vans, patient rooms, kitchens, and one very creepy basement.

Kimberly earned a degree in philosophy, studying under C. Terry Warner and serving as his longtime research assistant. She was editor of her department’s undergraduate philosophy journal and copy editor for Epoche: A Journal for the History of Philosophy. She has also worked for the Arbinger Institute as a group instructor and as a first-draft editor of Leadership and Self-Deception.

Kimberly’s family recently moved from Harlem to the village of Pawnee, Illinois, where they have gloried in mid-western sunsets and accumulated pets at an alarming rate.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

 

 

Kimberly White Interview Transcript

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

Kimberly White
Thank you Pete. I am so glad to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well I think this is going to be a fascinating conversation on all sorts of levels. But first and foremost, I want to hear about your synesthesia. My wife also has it. Tell me how that works for you.

Kimberly White
For me it means that numbers and letters of the alphabet have colors in my mind. It’s consistent over time. But I also have concepts, so like days of the week and places that I’m familiar with and certain holidays appear in my mind in color and also located in space around me that they always appear whenever I think about the concept or the letter or the number. It’s kind of fun. It’s kind of interesting.

The only thing about it that’s proven to be a drawback in my life is that somehow I don’t know how these things develop, but I must have been young when I learned about east and west because the color I have in my head for west is the same color I have in my head for right, as in the right side of my body.

When I’m trying to get directions and people talking about east and west, I always confuse them because the color for west is the same as the color for right, when of course, when you’re reading a map that should be on the left. But I’ve learned that if I’m getting east and west directions, I have to stop and write it down because my brain is going to confuse that. There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
That is fascinating. With my wife, numbers seem to have a color and a gender to them.

Kimberly White
I’ve heard of that.

Pete Mockaitis
As a result, they’re so much more meaningful to her and she’s able to memorize numbers rapidly, whereas I rely on this old school technique of turning each of the numbers into a letter, turn those letters into a word, link those words. I’m thinking hard for like five minutes to memorize a sequence and she just has it in less than one minute.

Kimberly White
Yeah, because it brings in more of the brain. Yeah, mine has not really proven to be helpful, just interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s also interesting to me is you recently made a move to central Illinois, right?

Kimberly White
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s Pawnee, Illinois, not to be confused with Pawnee, Indiana, the fictitious home of Leslie Knope in Parks and Rec.

Kimberly White
No and that’s what everybody asks me. All I can say is a) I wish and b) my Pawnee is much, much smaller.

Now, what’s crazy is we moved here from Manhattan.

Pete Mockaitis
That is crazy.

Kimberly White
We actually lived in Harlem. It was the biggest city. It’s all very cosmopolitan. And everybody’s a doctor or an artist or an opera singer. Everybody has tiny, little tiny places to live, but sort of big jobs and big dreams. We moved out here to farm country and it’s like being in a different country, but it’s great. It’s a great different country. We’ve been very, very happy here.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. The motivation for the move was just to have just less distraction and to be able to do more writing?

Kimberly White
Partially that and the money.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Kimberly White
I love New York, but it is so expensive to live there. Rents just go up and up and up. We just we got priced out.

Pete Mockaitis
I think beyond just the sheer income versus outgo, it would just irritate me. Writing checks that large ore paying this much for a drink or for milk or whatever you’re buying, like, “This is ridiculous,” grumble, grumble.

Kimberly White
It’s really true. I would be happy – if I saw a gallon of milk for five dollars, I’d say, “Hurray, it’s only five dollars.” This was two years ago. I’m sure milk is seven dollars now. It really did wear on you after a while, but there were lots of great things about the city too. Wonderful people.

New Yorkers get a really bad rap. It’s mostly deserved, but there are really, really good things about New Yorkers. They’re very loyal.

I’m always telling people who wanted to go visit, they always want advice from somebody who’s lived there, I tell them, “Do not be afraid to ask somebody on the street for directions. New Yorkers are really friendly that way. But don’t stop in the middle of the street and block them from walking. Then they’ll be really mad.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh right, walking too slow. That’s the cardinal sin.

Kimberly White
Don’t walk too slow. Don’t do that. Just don’t. Don’t do it. Don’t stop at the top of the subway stairs. Don’t do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy. Well, that’s a lot of fun. That’s the backdrop.

Kimberly White
There we are.

Pete Mockaitis
Then I’m going to get some more backdrop. You have a good bit of experience collaborating with the Arbinger Institute. Can you orient those who are not yet familiar? What’s this organization all about?

Kimberly White
The Arbinger Institute is a management consulting company. They’re a philosophy. They’re management consulting approach is based on the work of a philosopher named Terry Warner, who founded the company decades ago before I was involved with them.

Their approach is to teach leaders and managers how to see the people that they’re responsible for, and the people that they work with, and the people that report to them as real people not just as sort of cogs in the corporate machine.

They have found over the years that you can do a lot to improve productivity and avoid infighting and the sort of battles that develop between different departments and so on just by taking this approach.
I worked with them in college. They have a very popular book called Leadership and Self-Deception that was written about that time. I was involved. I didn’t write the book but I looked at the first draft, edited it. I was involved with the first couple of drafts of that book. It’s still worth reading today. Your listeners should check it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh absolutely. It is worth reading. I heard several guests cite this as one of their top, top books. It’s like; I’ve got to check this thing out. I actually listened to the audio version. I still hear that guy’s voice in my head sometimes, like, “You’re in the box. … going to get out of the box.”

Kimberly White
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s really powerful stuff. I was intrigued just because it’s one of the few books that I know of that doesn’t have an author listed as the person, but it’s like the entire organization.

I always try to figure out this is a great book. Who should I get to talk about it on the show? Well, it’s like I don’t know because there’s not an author I can snag. You’re sort of like behind the veil of mystery as an editor.

Kimberly White
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s something special.

Kimberly White
I know. Yes. It’s very interesting. They did that on purpose. They were very considered about that. They have a few other books out now. Usually they are primarily written by one person in the company, but they all sort of collaborate together and work on it together.

They made the decision – and this is a very Arbinger thing to do. They made the decision to have all of their books be authored by the Institute and not by the individuals so that the credit for the ideas would be shared. There wouldn’t be one person, for example, who’s doing all the podcasts. That was their point.

You’ll notice in my book that I’ve written we had the same sort of issue. It’s primarily a profile of one company and they didn’t want their name to be primary. They wanted the stories and the insights to be sort of more universal. More important, they didn’t want to feel uncomfortable offering the book to their competitors and other people in the same industry. They just wanted the ideas to stand for themselves.

That’s why there’s this veil of mystery, as you call it, is to keep it even and to keep the focus on the ideas and the work and to make it as accessible for any one person as for anybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool and that’s interesting. It just really feels like it’s really based upon true values. I think it just makes it, well, I guess from a marketing perspective, all the more intriguing. It’s like I’ve got to see what this is about.

Kimberly White
You can tell that they’re really living what they preach. They have the kind of collaborative relationship that they teach other people how to have.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. You’re telling me that the name of the organization is not the real name of the organization?

Kimberly White
It is not. That just stands for Healthcare Group.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got it. The mystery continues. Cool.

Kimberly White
Yeah, such a mystery.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s sort of the backstory. Then can you orient us a little bit. We talked about the main principle or concept is people as people. Can you give us a little bit more background on just sort of the conceptual piece and then I want to hear how it came alive for HG. I said the box a couple of times, could you maybe unpack just a couple of those foundational concepts?

Kimberly White
Yeah, let’s clarify all of those. Especially because the subtitle of my book is How Seeing People as People Changes Everything. The question I get all the time is how else am I going to see them. Obviously they’re people. It does bear talking about.

The point isn’t that Arbinger or I, anybody thinks that anyone really doesn’t know that people are people and thinks of them as subhuman or anything like that. That’s not what we’re talking about.

But the point is this, when I am focused and kind of obsessed with my own interests and my goals and the things I’m trying to accomplish and my fears and my dreams, when that’s the only thing that I’m caring about and thinking about, then the people around me only enter my thoughts in so far as they have an impact on the things I’m trying to accomplish. I don’t think about them beyond that.

If I’m trying to get a promotion at work, then my coworkers, I only even see them as far as they impact that. She might be a competitor, someone else who’s trying to get that promotion. That’s all I see. This is a person I’m competing with. How do I drag her down? How do I make myself look good in comparison to her?

He might not be in the running for the promotion. He kind of likes me and maybe he’ll say something good about me to the higher ups, so I only see him in so far as I can use him for that purpose. Now, the reason we say that seeing people like that is like seeing them as objects is because it reduces them to functional.

Pete Mockaitis
Only if you’re there.

Kimberly White
Yeah. Objects, they come from the factory. They’re supposed to perform something. If I’ve got a pen, it came from the factory. It only exists for me to be able to write with it. If I can write with it, then I’m happy with it. If my friend at work will praise me to the higher ups, then I’m happy with him. I don’t think any further about it.

If my pen is broken, then I’m mad and I’m frustrated and maybe I’ll throw it away. I might lick it, shake it, whatever, because it’s just an object. What I don’t do with a pen is think “I wonder what happened to make the pen feel bad. I wonder if I can talk it into providing-“ no, because it’s not a person. It doesn’t have feelings. It doesn’t have thoughts. It’s just an object.

But I find myself treating other people that way too because-

Pete Mockaitis
You lick them. You shake them.

Kimberly White
Yeah, you lick them, you shake them, try to get them to do it and see how – and if they don’t do what I want, then I’m just mad and I get rid of them.

But the person who’s a competitor for the promotion for me in the office, that is not why she exists. She doesn’t exist to compete with me. She has her own life. She grew up somewhere. She has perspective. She has a culture she came from. She had hurts when she was young and triumphs and all of these things have made her the person she is. She has her own goals and her own reasons.

There are just thousands of things inside her mind and in her life having her act the way she does and bringing her to this point. But when I’m only thinking about myself, I don’t see any of that in her. All I see is “I want a promotion, she might get in my way,” just like she was a pen that wasn’t producing ink.

When we see people as objects like that, the problem is obviously, that’s not fair to her. She doesn’t exist for me. He doesn’t exist for me. It’s not fair to people. They don’t like that feeling of being seen like an object, but it’s also false. When I see somebody, just a thin sliver of what they’re … me and that’s all I care about, then I’m missing a lot.

She might have a very good reason for wanting this promotion. She might … fit for the promotion than I am or maybe not, but I don’t know. As long as all I can see is that she’s a competitor, like an object competitor, I can’t see anything else and there are bound to be important things that I’m missing.

That’s why in the Arbinger materials, you’ll find them talking about being in the box because when we see other people as though they were just objects, our perspective is so limited that it’s like being locked in a box where we can only see a few things. I can only see the stuff that matters to my goals. I can’t see anything else. It’s a way of being blinkered.

In my book I talk about it as being kind of blind because we miss so many important and crucial things and it leaves us unable to solve problems and build relationships when we’re seeing others in that shallow object-like way.

Pete Mockaitis
When you talk about being blinkered and blind, what this is reminding me of is some study that I think it looked at brain scans associated with people who are looking at pornography.

What was sort of troubling there is that sort of the same parts of the brain associated with using an object or tool like a hammer or a saw or something were being activated and lit up sort of in that context when they were looking at images of people, which is really spooky that there’s some sort of physical or biochemical stuff happening just inside of us that’s there.

Blindness really does seem like an apt terminology because it’s kind of like a physical dysfunction or disability.

Kimberly White
Yes, there’s just so much we miss. Nobody has ever studied the Arbinger term specifically, but they have done studies and they’ve shown similar things when you’re part of an in group and there’s an out group that you have a conflict with, like racial groups or gang members from different affiliations that you find, again, the same thing.

You find different regions of the brain activated for the people that you’re seeing as objects and as enemies than for the ones that are part of your in group and that you care about.

Like I said, this specifically hasn’t been studied, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it would show up in a brain scan because we do, we get so blinded and so blinkered when we are self-absorbed and not seeing the people around us as people.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m right with you there that it doesn’t sound like a pleasant way to live and experience collaboration and interaction with people. But if that were enough for the hardcore achievers, what are some of the results or performance impacts associated with making this mental shift?

Kimberly White
Oh gosh, it’s so crazy because I think it’s easy to hear something like this and think, “Hm, yeah, but having to get to know people, that takes time and I’ve got to earn money and I’ve got a deadline,” as though seeing people as people is going to take more time and it yields uncertain benefits.

But it is absolutely the opposite. I have seen so many cases where seeing people as objects has led to all kinds of conflict and wasted time. In my book, it’s primarily focused on the healthcare industry.

One thing that’s very, very common in health care environments is the management – it being responsible management – will sort of look at their budget and all the things that are going in and out and notice that they spent a lot on supplies, gloves and adult briefs, and wipes and things like that and will say, “Hey, I think we’re using too many. Let’s try to restrict this a little bit and try to save money on our supplies.”

The problem is that the nurses and the nursing assistants who have to deal with the patients face-to-face, one-on-one, that’s a horrifying idea to them because what are they going to do if somebody needs  a change or they need their wound looked at or they need to be rolled over and the nurse has run out of gloves. You can’t even touch a patient without gloves. There’s so many things they wouldn’t be able to do.

The nurses become panicked and the first thing they do – and this is so common – they’ll sort of sneak the supplies out of the closet and go hide them around the patient rooms. They’ll hide them in places so that each individual nurse knows that she has enough supplies for her patients. But they all do this because they’ve all been told we’re cutting back on supplies.

Then management comes and they look at it and they go, “Wait, we’re still overusing our supplies,” and they yell at the nurses and they give them lectures. They have a big in service meeting to talk about how important it is. The nurses go, “Oh my gosh,” and they hide more stuff because they’re afraid of losing their supplies and not being able to care for their patients.

This happens so frequently and things like this happen in every business as departments feud for resources and as reports try to sneak things from their boss if they feel like budgets are being constrained.

This problem only arises because the management isn’t trusting the nurses to be responsible with the supplies and the nurses aren’t trusting the management to purchase the amount of supplies they truly need, so they’re back and forth and everybody is upset and angry.

You end up spending a lot of time, and meetings, and a lot of emotional energy trying to solve this supply problem that should be going toward your actual product, which is taking care of the patients, taking care of their rooms.

When you get leaders who are willing to back out of that conflict and say, “We’re on the same side here. Let’s work together to talk about things where we can save money. How many supplies do you realistically need? I’ll make sure you have them,” then you don’t have those problems. That hording issue completely disappears when the people trust each other.

Now, no nurse, no janitor, nobody who’s on the housekeeping staff, none of these people are going to trust leadership that doesn’t value them. If I know that my boss basically just sees me as an object, I am not going to trust him. I’m not going to trust her. I’m going to feel like those nurses and I’m going to feel like I need to hoard my resources and hoard my stuff.

When you can really see people as people as a leader, you get so much more productivity, so much more cooperation, so much more openness from the people that you’re working with because people can tell that the difference. They know. They know when you’re seeing them as an object. They know when you don’t matter to them.

You can save all kinds of energy and money, frankly, because you don’t need to spend that much on supplies if everybody is being honest about where they’re going.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. You talked about resources in different environments. I’m aware of an employee who it’s kind of challenging to type all day at a laptop, so this person wants to use speech software.

They have speech software, but the laptop is underpowered in terms of RAM or hard drive space or whatever is necessary to run the thing and making the request to get the computer you need to do the work is just nightmarish in terms of the policies and the standards.

Kimberly White
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
You can have me operating at sort of half-power, which is going to amount to 30 – 40 – 50 K a year of lost productivity.

Kimberly White
Of loss, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Or you can pay 500 bucks to get me a RAM and a hard drive update and I’ll be a happy camper.

Kimberly White
Right. I’ll be happy. I’ll be pleased. I’ll get my work done instead of gripping about my computer. I think so many, especially business leaders and managers, underestimate how much time is lost in complaining and in gripping and in just sort of being unhappy.

Here’s a little experiment for you. If you think about somebody that you don’t like, somebody that’s irritating and drives you crazy. Just think about how much time you’ve spent in your life just basically sitting and thinking how annoying that person is or complaining to somebody else about how annoying they are. Calling your mom, “Oh, did I tell you what so and so did today.”

We actually spend a lot of time on that and not nearly as much when we trust and value people. That doesn’t take away from our work. We don’t devote the same kind of energy to it. We tend to devote that kind of energy into working together.

I was in a building – this is in my book too – where I met two nurses. They’re both male. They were just so happy in their job. They were so happy where they worked. They were so happy with the way they were treated by management and they created this entire environment where all of the employees were supportive and helpful.

One of these guys actually had a second job in another facility that actually paid him more per hour, but he wouldn’t give up this job because it was so pleasant. He enjoyed it so much. Talk about productivity increase, talk about engagement, talk about motivation.

We spend so much time and energy trying to get employees to feel engaged, to be motivated, to be committed, to reduce turnover, all of these things. People will stay where they’re happy, where they feel valued, and where they know their feelings and their hopes, and their dreams, and their perspective matter, especially when they feel like they matter to the management.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. I’m thinking of another instance in which an employee shared all sorts of input on sort of the process and the use of contractors and how they could do a better job executing a certain area of work.

Then one or two days later, they started up doing the exact same old process with the exact same problematic contractors, threw this person into a meeting and is absorbing this with not a word of acknowledgement about the exchange.

Like, “Hey, I know what you said about the contractors and we’re really working on that, but it’s … right now, so we’re going to have to go with who we’ve got because we can’t get someone else quick enough,” just 20 seconds.

Kimberly White
That’s all it would take.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, “Hey, I heard you.”

Kimberly White
Right. But here’s the thing and here’s why the Arbinger approach and the stuff I talk about in my book I think are so important, it’s because that kind of thing, just being willing to take the time to explain what’s going on kind of arises naturally when you really see the people around you as people.

When you care about your coworkers, when you care about their feelings, you would always make those clarifications. You would never just ignore them. That’s how we treat the people that we care about. That’s how we treat our friends.

It’s in this environment where we just see our coworkers as objects, as other cogs in the machine that you end up kind of either feeling awkward about it or not knowing how to bring it up, all these sort of things that people end up doing that stops them from saying what they really should say. Those sorts of things arise in an environment where we see people as objects.

When we care about people, when we know them – this is one of the things that this company HG in the shift did so well – is they trained their leaders not in some process that made employees feel valued, not in some procedure that would make people think that they mattered, but they would literally tell them.

When a manager went into a new building for the …, he or she was instructed for the first 30 days or thereabouts they weren’t allowed to do anything except get to know the staff and the people. They weren’t allowed to change processes. They weren’t allowed to make new plans. They weren’t allowed to change their suppliers. They just spent all of their time getting to know people.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny. I’m imagining myself as that manager, like, “What an awesome month. This is just going to be fun.”

Kimberly White
Right?

Pete Mockaitis
“I can just get to know people. I cannot stress about lots of stuff.” It’s almost like having an extended vacation, hanging out with cool people.

Kimberly White
Right. Although, I’ll tell you. They continually had a problem that these managers couldn’t stand not to be solving problems because they’re managers. They wanted to go in and fix problems, so they had to make it so that they’d have to report on who they met that day and report on what they learned about people.

They’d also have to report on problems that they saw but didn’t fix because otherwise they’d go around fixing problems, which is I think just sort of a manager thing. But they would do this. They would legitimately do this.

Thirty days later – I mean just imagine. If you worked for a bad company – a lot of the time there would be these bad healthcare facilities that were losing money and they failed health inspections and they were not pleasant places to be in.

Then HG would come in, buy the facility, bring in a new manager and turn them around. That’s how they grow. That’s how they earn their money.

Now if somebody comes in, which is typical in the industry and in most industries, if a new boss comes in and just says, “You’re doing this wrong and that wrong, and this process is bad, and this person is bad. I’m going to fire a bunch of people, bring in all my own guys, tell you guys that you’re all doing it wrong.” The employees that stay just feel so insulted by that.

You might as well come in and say, “Everything you’re doing is wrong. You’re stupid,” because that’s how it feels. We got a new boss and he hates everything I’m doing. He thinks everything I’m doing is wrong. He’s firing my friends. It’s really demoralizing. It’s really, really difficult. It’s hard enough to get a new boss even if he’s great.

They would send these people in and they would spend 30 days just getting to know people. At the end of 30 days, you’ve got a staff that isn’t thinking, “He thinks I’m dumb. He hates me. He’s got all these new processes. We tried that last year. We already know it didn’t work.” They don’t disdain him. They are fond of him.

They know that he knows them. He can greet them by name because he spent all month getting to know people. He knows who has kids. He knows who works a second job. He knows who’s going back to school to get a nursing degree.

When you’re in an environment like that where people know each other and you know the boss cares about your job. When I say everybody, I mean everybody: the kitchen, the housekeeping staff, everybody. If you wash dishes in one of these facilities, the boss knows you.

Thirty days later, the boss would say – and this is the second important piece to the HG approach – the boss would gather all of his department heads and the leaders of the facility and ask them what they thought they needed to work on in the building.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Kimberly White
Now, instead of this new guy coming in and telling them all of the things they’re doing wrong and giving them a new process, he’s saying, “What do you think we can do better?” You know what? They always know. The people who are in this building, they know why it’s not making money. They know why it’s failed the health inspection.

They can feel perfectly free just to say, “I think our billing is inefficient. I think this process is too slow,” because they don’t have to feel defensive about it because nobody is attacking them.

I couldn’t find anybody who said there was a big problem that the leader had identified that the staff didn’t identify. They always get it.

Then the leader too. Now he’s a guy or she’s a girl who not only knows everybody on her staff, top to bottom, but also she has proven to herself that they know what they’re doing, that they know what the problems are, that they’re smart about identifying problems and solutions.

When she goes forward as a boss over the next years, she’s doing it with people that she trusts, that she values, that she knows, and people that she knows she can count on.

That kind of a work environment, where the boss isn’t pretending, doesn’t have an initiative, doesn’t have a binder that he’s looking at to try to make you feel good, but where the boss genuinely values you and can go into the kitchen and speak to the dishwasher by name and tell him he’s doing a great job.

The amount of dedication and hard work that these people put into their buildings is incredible. They work longer hours. They do more. They go out of their way. They do things that aren’t in their job description. They cover for each other when they’re on vacation.

I saw business behavior I would not have believed and I saw it all the time because people want to be friendly, people want to be helpful when they feel safe, when they feel like they matter, and when they know that they’re a real person to everyone around them. Then they treat each other that way. It kind of spreads.

That it’s not just – you bring in one boss who’s willing to make that 30-day effort to get to know people and treat them like they’re intelligent and like their input is good input, then everybody else becomes more willing to treat their coworkers that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a beautiful picture that you’re painting. It’s inspiring. It’s a beautiful thing. This just sparks so many things.

When we talk about sort of efficiency, many things came up. One, people are going to work at a lower wage when they’re just feeling great about the environment around them. Two, you’re coming up with all of these solutions and I’m thinking about my management consulting days. One month of a manager’s compensation is less than one month of Bain & Company fees.

Kimberly White
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
To come up with a bunch of solutions.

Kimberly White
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
In a way it’s massively efficient if it’s like we’re looking for leveraged approaches to getting solutions, we can hire the consultants or we can hire a manger who does nothing but get to know people for a month. It sounds like odds are strong you may come away with a bigger ROI on that month there than you would with a consultant or other solution finding approach.

Kimberly White
Yeah, HG is convinced that their financial success is largely due to this willingness to invest initially.

Like I said, so many people want to come in, snap their fingers, make a bunch of changes in the first 30 days, first 100 days.

In fact, I met a woman who had worked for a different company doing exactly that, going into facilities. She had 100 days to turn them around and make them profitable. She was a powerhouse. She was so fierce. She did that and made a ton of money. But she heard about HG and their way of doing things and got hired with them. When I … that she doesn’t make as much money … fixer.

But the reason she made the switch because she would go to these big meetings with the executives at the previous company and she had made them millions of dollars. She is so good. She had made them tons of money. Not one of them knew her name, not one of them. Over at HG, they all did. Even the executives made sure to get to know people and meet them. It’s a top down all the way thing.

There you go. She was making tons of money, more money than they could afford to pay her at this other … company. She left and they got her skills because she would rather be in an environment where she was valued.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. What you’re painting really does sound like a paradise, but you’ve got a chapter called The Paradise Delusion, so what’s the other side of this coin?

Kimberly White
Yup, yup. Oh my goodness, so yeah, we’re talking here about all of the good stuff and it behooves me to say none of this means that they didn’t have problems at HG. They still had turnover. You just always are going to have turnover in healthcare. They would still have government restrictions coming.

They dealt with things. None of this means that you’re not going to have problems, but you’re never going to have different departments needing or wanting different things. It just means that when those things happen, when you have people who really value each other, they can work it out in a way you can’t if everybody’s just an object to each other. You beat heads.

But as paradise delusion is concerned, the thing is very often when we are seeing people around us as objects and we’re unhappy and I would suggest that if we’re seeing the people around us as objects, we’re invariably going to be unhappy because objects are so stifling.

I found in my personal life as I went into HG and … these people and saw these friendly, familial work environments where people cared about each other and so on, it made me feel so much worse about my home life, which was very unhappy at the time.

I began to think, “Oh, I wish my husband would be like this person at this facility. I wish that my kids were as well-behaved as these people at this facility. I wish that my neighbors and coworkers were as … as these people.”

I called it a paradise delusion because I became convinced that what I needed to become happy in my life was to be surrounded by people who were going to be kind to …. I think that’s not at all uncommon when we’re unhappy, to feel like what I need is different people, different, nicer people who are going to value me again.

The reason that’s a delusion is because for one thing it’s never, ever, ever, ever going to happen, that there’s anybody on earth who’s completely surrounded by people who are always nice to him or her all of the time. Can’t be done. We are human beings. Nobody is nice all of the time. No group of people are all going to be nice all at the same time. It’s just never going to happen.

The second thing is when I think that paradise means everyone is going to be kind to me; I’m only thinking about myself. I’m thinking about what I want. I’m thinking about how I wish my husband would treat me, but in all of that – and maybe he is doing things that are unkind – but in thinking that way, I’m not sparing any mental energy to wonder what my husband wants.

What does he want from a spouse? What would he like for me to be doing? Does he want a nicer spouse? See that never crossed my mind. All I was thinking about is how I want other people around me to be different. I never thought about how they might want me to be different.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. Well, so let’s get zoomed in shall we in terms of an individual professional in the heat of battle, if you will, in their workplace. What are some of the real keys to making the shift?

Kimberly White
Okay, first of all you have to be present with people. You have to be around them, especially if you’re a leader. You can’t get to know people if they’re always in their offices and you’re always in your office. You have to get to know people and take effort.

Usually that will mean asking questions. Where did you go to school? How do you like your job? What are you interested in? What do you do for your spare time? You can ask questions of people and get to know them.

There’s no way a person can be a real person for you if you don’t know anything about them. You have to start there. You have to start with finding out about them so that you know what’s relevant and what bothers them in their life.

At HG, you’ll see this in the book, they train their leaders to ask people

Kimberly White
“What makes your job hard for you?” because it validates them in the fact that there are things that are going to be hard, but then as a leader you know what the difficulties are. Instead of sitting back frustrated that people aren’t getting things in on time, you can just find out why is it hard to get things in on time. Then you know. Very often you can do something about it.

This works in personal life too. Why do you always forget to bring the milk home? Instead of just being mad and yelling at the person who isn’t doing what they’re asked, “Why is that hard?” You might find out there’s something you can do about it. You might find out there’s something you didn’t know that was going on in the background.

Asking questions is absolutely the first step. You get to know people and particularly find out if there’s something that’s irritating to you or something that’s a problem from your perspective, find out from them why it’s difficult. It’s a very, very humbling thing to do.

The second thing is to pay attention. You can’t fake caring about somebody. You can’t fake that they’re valuable to you. You can try and people see through it. It’s a waste of time, so don’t bother.

Ask the questions and pay attention. Watch people. Is this a cheerful person? Is this a grumpy person? See what’s going on. Then if there’s a change, you’ll notice it. If there’s a change, you’ll see it.

None of us want to be that person who … ten years later they suddenly woke up one day and said, “Oh my goodness, I never noticed how much he changed. I never noticed how much she had changed.” We need to pay attention as we go and notice the changes as they happen.

The third thing I would say is to always be willing to consider whether I am the problem because I don’t know what the problem is, you see. It’s quite possible that it’s me.

Talking about the paradise delusion with our coworkers or spouses or neighbors, we can be very irritated by something that they’re doing and wish that they would change and wish that they would be better, but we can never solve these problems and improve these relationships until we’re willing to recognize what we are doing that’s irritating to them.

When I am willing and able to say, “What am I doing that’s a problem for you?” that opens up the possibility of truly being able to fix these relationships that can’t be fixed as long as the only problem I’m willing to recognize is the one that they’re causing me.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, there’s just a lot of profundity here to sit with. I think I’ll be listening to this episode multiple times and I recommend listeners do the same.

Kimberly White
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s a few more pieces I want to get if you have some time.

Kimberly White
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
You say it’s possible that our worst employees can actually be the best. How does that work?

Kimberly White
Well, it goes back to the blindness we were talking about. When we see somebody as an object, we don’t really know what they’re capable of.

Some of the time, my experience has shown, that a person who is being a bad employee, who is acting out, who is resistant to instruction, all these things that make an employee difficult to deal with, very often those are people who react very … against being treated like an object. Very often these are people who are just very resistant to that feeling and can’t … that feeling.

Then when they’re treated well, when you begin to get to know them, and understand them and see where they’re coming from, there isn’t anything wrong with them as an employee. Their devotion to the work is great. Their knowledge is great. Their skills are wonderful. They just were so troubled by being treated like an object.

This is a funny story in my book. The founders of HG, their company, it became a running joke for them. When they would purchase a new facility and go in, they told me that invariably, invariably, the previous owners would tell them, “Well, watch out for so-and-so and so-and-so and so-and-so because they’re such trouble.” They’d give them like five names.

He said invariably when they went in and stated doing things this way, seeing people as people and started off by getting to know them and doing all that that most of those people on the watch-out-for list turned into their best employees.

We can’t make judgments about people while we’re seeing them as objects because there’s no way of knowing how much of their behavior is just a reaction to the very fact that I’m seeing them as an object.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s powerful. I have to ask, even though it feels a little too silly from the heavy, powerful stuff we’ve had, but you’ve got a chapter that has poop in the title.

Kimberly White
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I can’t just walk away from that. What’s the story here?

Kimberly White
No, you can’t. It’s the poop chapter. I couldn’t believe my publisher let me do that. I’ll tell you why. It’s stilly, but it’s also profound I think.

This story is in the book too, but I was in a facility early, early on, the very beginning of this research, before I understood a lot these things that we’d been talking about. I learned it from these people. But I was in this facility and I was talking to a nursing assistant who didn’t speak very good English. I remember her so clearly.

Now, nursing assistants are the ones who change beds and for people who are incontinent, they change the briefs. They’ll help people to the toilet – somebody who needs to be rolled over or helped out of bed, they do all that sort of very close and physical work.

I had developed a habit of asking everybody that I met what was the best part of their job and what was the worst part of their job. I was asking this woman, “What’s the worst part of your job?” She paused for a minute and she told me that the worst part was when her patients pass away, which was just astonishing to me. I didn’t know that the people who worked in these places cared that deeply for one thing.

But the second thing was I knew what nursing assistants did, so I knew for a fact, we all know, that it’s got to be like changing the diapers and doing the poop and the diarrhea and stuff. That’s got to be the worst part. I asked her, like maybe she’d forgotten, “What about the diapers and stuff?” She looked at me like I was crazy. She said, “No, no, that’s for their dignity.”

I realized that for me poop was just this gross thing that I didn’t want to touch and that made me not want to work in healthcare because you might have to see some of that stuff and that’s yucky.

But that’s not what it was for her. Because the people that she cared for were real people to her, she didn’t see it as yucky, gross poop. To her it was well, these people, their bodies are failing them. I can help keep them dignified if I assist them with the toilet, if I keep them clean. I’m making them clean and safe and happy.

It wasn’t remotely the worst part of the job to her because it was what real people, people that she cared for, it was what real people needed.

The point of that chapter and the point of talking about poop at all is just to show how different everything, everything about other people looks when we can see them as they really are.

An object person, yes, their diapers are gross, but a real person with a life history who chats with me about their kids and tells me stories of the past and maybe tells me jokes, with that person if their body is aging and doesn’t function for them, it’s not the same thing at all. It becomes a sense of I want to help clean them up, make sure they don’t feel embarrassed.

It’s even the feces is different when we see people as people.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. This is just so good.

Kimberly White
Thank you. Thank you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you share a little bit when you’re in the midst of things, I think that many of us want to, we aspire to care about people regularly and then we get caught up in our own stuff and we get defensive and such. Do you have any tactical tips for when you’re in the moment, in the heat of it, what are some great ways that you can kind of quickly bring yourself back to a caring position?

Kimberly White
Oh my gosh. You’re asking the wrong person. I am so bad. But there’s a chapter about this too. It was one of the most disappointing things – one of the hardest things, but it turned out to be wonderful about learning all this stuff and this shift and seeing people as people.

It turns out I’m still just kind of me. I’m still just kind of a jerk. I can still fight. I can still see people as objects. I didn’t just magically turn into a fairy princess who scatters flowers around. It was very disappointing. I thought I was going to be better.

I actually think the first thing to do is just to remember human beings have faults. The other people around us are going to have faults. We shouldn’t condemn them for that and neither should we condemn ourselves. We can always fix the situation later. You can always apologize. There’s no sense in getting depressed when we find ourselves doing the jerky thing that we know we’re prone to do.

The second thing is when it’s a relationship that’s pivotal in your life, a spouse or a coworker or something that’s likely to come up a lot, then I would really, really recommend spending time –

We were talking before about the amount of time we spend griping about people that annoy us, try to spend an equal amount of time or even any amount of time thinking about the person that annoys you the most and what in their life, what pains and sorrows, and frustrations might be leading them to behave in a way that you find so difficult.

Then you have that place to go to. In the moment when you find yourself frustrated, you’ve already thought about that person as a person and instead of trying to generate that when you’re already upset, which I can tell you I don’t do very well, I don’t think most of us do.

But if I’ve already thought about it and already found a way to see that person as a person, and even please, taken some steps to show them, steps of kindness, to demonstrate the caring that I have, then when I find myself irritated, frustrated, grumpy, I have that mindset present to me. I can go there.

I can remind myself, “Okay, take a deep breath. Remember that she just got over being ill and she takes a medication.” “He was really disappointed last week at his performance, no wonder he’s stressed right now.” You can remind yourself of the things you know about the person that will make them seem human to you.

We do not have to just fall back into that, “He’s so annoying.” “She’s such a brat,” kind of way of thinking. We have the power because we run our own minds, we have the power to remind ourselves of the things we know about the person that are real, that are true, and that are human.

Then if you can’t do much in the moment, don’t be afraid to apologize. People love to get apologies and to make an acknowledgement of what I’ve done wrong. Nobody ever minds, ever, ever, ever will mind hearing, “I’m sorry. I messed that up.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Kimberly White
You’re quite welcome.

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

Kimberly White
Oh, we’ve had such a great conversation, Pete. I think we’ve covered everything. I just want to emphasize again how much power we have over our own lives and our own relationships.  The seeing people as people stuff, that’s not only for people who were born cheerful. It’s not only for people who were born calm. That is a decision we get to make in every moment of our lives.

Am I just going to sit back and think about myself and everybody around me gets to be an object or am I going to say, “Wait. What’s he thinking? What’s she thinking?” It doesn’t take any skills. It doesn’t take a degree. It doesn’t take a particular upbringing. That is just a choice we get to make. It’s a choice that will change everything in our lives if we’re willing to make it.

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

Kimberly White
Well, it was just so powerful to me. One of the founders of this company was talking to me about motivating employees. He said that he’s against trying to motivate employees. He said this, “Leadership is like a fire.  A good leader doesn’t come in and blow on the flame and take credit. He sees the flame that’s already there and clears away debris to let it grow.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful, thank you.

Kimberly White
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Now how about a favorite book?

Kimberly White
The Remains of the Day. Are you familiar with that one?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know a lot about it, but I know the title. It’s ringing a bell.

Kimberly White
Yeah, and they made a movie of it. No, it is a story about a man who devoted his whole life and made tremendous and painful personal sacrifices thinking he was on the right side of history and it turned out he was not and sort of had to confront that in his old age.

I just am so moved by the human experience and just the disappointments we all have just because we’re flawed human beings. We don’t have to have lived the perfect life. Humanity isn’t about getting it right. It’s just about being human.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Kimberly White
I like to eat a chocolate smoothie in my bed and read with my door locked. I will read anything. Mostly I read non-fiction. But the chocolate smoothie just puts that over the edge, I’m telling you. It’s like ice cream without the guilt.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with people when you share it?

Kimberly White
You asked great questions and brought out all the good stuff.

One thing that resonates a lot with people is this little tidbit. Before I started working on this book, I was headed for divorce. I was so unhappy. I thought this was going to be the way to make the money I needed to be independent and split. Now, I am happily married to the same man.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Thank you.

Kimberly White
In case you’re wondering, does this really work? Yeah, it does actually. It really, really, really does. It’s not just pie in the sky. It’s not just quotable quotes. Life can be different. Life can be better than we tend to think. Humans are awesome. Ordinary people have so much capacity and so much greatness inside them. We’re surrounded by it. We can produce it and we can see it in others and it’s just miraculous.

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

Kimberly White
I would point them to my website, KimberlyWhiteBooks.com. That’s books plural. My book, The Shift: How Seeing People as People Changes Everything is available at all major book sellers. For leaders, I recommend 800-CEO-Read. For everybody else, go to Amazon and you probably will anyway.

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

Kimberly White
Yes. If you want to be awesome at your job, start by finding out where you’re not awesome. If you’re not willing to … and fix them, you can never be awesome at your job. Find what it is, fix it, and ask somebody at work. They’ll be able to tell you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Kimberly, thank you so much for taking this time and sharing the goods. It’s powerful stuff and I’m excited to see what transformations emerge from it. Please keep doing the great work that you’re doing.

Kimberly White
Thank you so much. It’s been just delightful to be with you.

297: Encouraging Insight Through More Coach-like Conversations with Michael Bungay Stanier

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Michael Bungay Stanier returns to talk about become more coach-like by staying curious longer and giving advice a bit more slowly.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we more naturally give advice rather than ask questions
  2. The questions effective coaches ask
  3. How to deal with the uncoachable

About Michael

Michael Bungay Stanier is the founder of Box of Crayons, a company best known for teaching 10-minute coaching so that busy managers can build stronger teams and get better results. On the way to founding Box of Crayons in 2002, Michael lived in Australia, England, the United States and Canada, his current home. He has written a number of books. His latest, the Wall Street Journal bestseller The Coaching Habit, has sold over 350,000 copies. It has been praised as one of the few business books that actually makes people laugh out loud. He was the first Canadian Coach of the Year, is a Rhodes Scholar, and was recently recognized as the #3 Global Guru in coaching. Balancing out these moments of success, Michael was banned from his high school graduation for “the balloon incident,” was sued by one of his law school lecturers for defamation, and his first published piece of writing was a Harlequin romance short story called “The Male Delivery.”

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Michael Bungay Stanier Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Michael, welcome back to the How to Be Awesome at Your Job Podcast.

Michael Bungay Stanier
It is lovely to be back. This is will be fun. I can just feel it in my bones that this is going to be a great conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
I feel it too. The last one was so fun and you’re too kind for coming back. I was but a newbie, only 55 episodes in back then. I misspelled your name. I kind of had some facts about you wrong. And you came back for more, what a sport.

Michael Bungay Stanier
It all made me sound much more interesting than I am, calling me Nigel Bungay Stanier is odd, but I flew with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Nigel, it’s among the most sophisticated and intellectual of options. I realized last time we never talked about the balloon incident in your high school. I think that’s important to get on the record over here.

Michael Bungay Stanier
You’re right. In my bio it says ‘was banned from his high school graduation for the balloon incident.’ Here’s my decision on this. I’m never going to tell what that is actually about. But I’ll tell you what, Pete. The truth is the story itself is actually less exciting and enticing than that awesome one-liner sounds.

It is true that I was banned from my high school graduation for the balloon incident, but I want to leave it up to people’s imagination, just what can one man do with some balloons that is significant that he is not allowed to then graduate from his high school, where, by the way, I won prized and I did this and I did that and they still wouldn’t let me participate in the ceremony. I’m just going to tantalize people with that.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so intrigued and I am tantalized. In a way I can kind of relate. You’re a Rhodes Scholar, yes?

Michael Bungay Stanier
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
An impressive intellect. You’d think they’d want to honor one of their best and brightest during the big day. I’m going to just imagine that the balloon ended up destroying an expensive piece of equipment. That’s what I have in my imagination.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I can neither confirm nor deny that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, well I’m going to roll with that for now.

We talked way back in episode 55 and we kind of got the basics of what your book The Coaching Habit is all about. It’s since become much more of a smash hit now than it was before.

Michael Bungay Stanier
It’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Tell us a little bit about living that life. When you hit 1,000 Amazon reviews does Jeff Bezos come by your house or-?

Michael Bungay Stanier
He does, yeah. Exactly. In fact Jeff got my name tattooed on to his arm in celebration of the book. No, that didn’t happen.

The book is a little over two years old now. It launched February the 29th 2016 because February the 29th, why wouldn’t I choose that date. It has gone from strength to strength. It’s about 400,000 copies sold. It’s constantly in the top 1,000 books sold on Amazon, which is exciting.

In fact last week it got up to the number six book overall on Kindle books on Amazon. Number one in the business category. To all of your audience, they don’t care about this, but I was geeking out about this.

As you said, we’ve got over 1,000 reviews on Amazon. In fact, we’ve now got over 1,000 five-star reviews. It’s just a well-received book that we worked really hard to write and publicize and all of that. But somewhere along the lines someone sprinkled fairy dust into the mix and so it’s just going gangbusters. It’s very exciting.

Pete Mockaitis
That is so good. I’d like to maybe first get your take when it comes to –you say the word coaching, could you get us oriented a little bit in terms of what you mean, what you don’t mean and any kind of preconceptions you want to make it clear that you are not that?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, it’s a great question and I’m going to just tweak it a little bit and frame it up.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so coach-like of you.

Michael Bungay Stanier
That is right. The purpose of this book, even though coaches love it, is actually not to make people into coaches. It’s to help people be more coach-like.

Because actually the person that I had in mind when I wrote this book, and I will say the people more broadly than this, but the person I desperately had in mind was you are a busy, engaged manager. You are doing the best you can, but you are a bit overwhelmed. You are a bit stuck. You’re not …. The one who got the next leap forward is for you to have more impact and find more meaning in the work that you do.

This is the person who I imagine, she goes up to the airport book store, she sees the book there, she picks it up, she goes, “I could read this”. It’s a short, interesting looking book and she finds a tool to help her be more coach-like.

What do I mean by more coach-like? Here’s the thing. I boil it down to a very simple behavior and it is this, can you stay curious a little bit longer, can you rush to action and advice giving just a little bit more slowly.

Now you can talk about coaching in different ways. In the book I talk about a coaching cycle and that’s a new insight typically generated by good question, an insight about yourself or about the situation leads to a positive behavior change. In other words you do something differently.

Positive behavior change leads to increased impact, hopefully positive increased impact, which in turn leads back around to new insight about yourself and about the situation. That’s kind of the dynamic of what coaching is.

I like John Whitmore’s definition of coaching more broadly which is helping people learn rather than teaching them, helping them to unlock their own potential. I think that’s really nice.

But all of that stuff is a bit abstract, a bit theoretical. I just love keeping it at a behavior change level, which is can you stay curious a little bit longer, can you rush action and advice giving a little bit more slowly because I think most people are advice giving maniacs. They love it.

They’re trigger wired to actually leap in with ideas, suggestions, solutions, ways you should do it even when they have no idea what’s actually going on. We’re just trying to shift that behavior just a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s very handy. Then you lay out some excellent questions that are powerful and flexible. That’s where we spent most of our time in the last conversation. How about I take a crack at doing maybe a two-minute summary and you can tell me all the ways that I’ve grossly mischaracterized your opus.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’m quietly confident you’re totally going to nail this, so take it away. The seven questions from the coaching heaven. Drumroll please.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, it’s on.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Pete, number one is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, the opening question, what’s on your mind that enables you to focus the conversation and position your partner to do the thinking?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Perfect, and get into the juicy stuff fast. Sometimes it’s like… it’s like trying to chat somebody up at a bar. You know once you get into it, it’s going to be fine, but what’s the question that gets you into it.

We call this the quick start question, which is how do you accelerate into a more interesting conversation more quickly. That’s perfect.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Then there’s the AWE question, which is actually a mini-acronym. It stands for And What Else. That helps you get into further depth and seeing really where they’re coming from with that.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Perfect. We call it the best coaching question in the world in part because it gives juice to every other question and you’ve got to know that their first answer is never their only answer and it’s rarely their best answer, but secondly, it is a self-management tool to help you stay curious a little bit longer because if you’re asking anyone else, you’re not giving advice.

Pete Mockaitis
Then there’s the lazy question, how can I help. Well, it’s lazy because you don’t have to figure out how you can help. You can just give up and let them figure that out for you. But that actually helps eliminate redundancy and make your contributions all the more on point anyway.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, I love that. The insight that people tend to leap in and start fixing things before they really know what’s going on, the lazy question is a great anecdote to that. Now I think the lazy question in the book is number five or number six. Can you remember what number three is?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, maybe I’m out of order.

Michael Bungay Stanier
The focus question.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
The focus question is what’s the real challenge here.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Perfect.

Pete Mockaitis
Kind of focusing in on the main thing.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, and if you want to make that really powerful, you don’t just ask what’s the challenge here, you don’t just ask what’s the real challenge here, you ask what’s the real challenge here for you. That ‘for you’ on the end of it is a way of spinning the spotlight from the problem to the person solving the problem. It becomes a deeper, more powerful, more useful conversation right away.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Then – well, now my numbers, I don’t even know.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Number four, which is the foundation question.

Pete Mockaitis
What do you want?

Michael Bungay Stanier
You got it.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like I’m in school. Praise me, Michael.

Michael Bungay Stanier
You nailed it. It’s classic. You’re amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. That’s sort of that get after the primary goal and focusing your energy there. A lot of people don’t even know what they want.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Perfect. The next question is the strategic question.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s just sort of like an opportunity cost. If I say yes to this, what do I say no to?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Exactly. Where are you powerful? It connects actually to a previous book I wrote called Do More Brave Work, which basically says three types of work in this world. Everything you do falls into one of these three buckets.

It’s either bad work  mind-numbing, soul-sucking, life-crushing work. It’s either good work, your job description in short  productive, efficient, effective, getting things done, but also keeps you stuck in a bit of comfortable rut. Or it’s great work, work that has more impact, work that has more meaning.

When it comes down to it, the coaching question, the strategic question, what am I going to say yes to, if I’m saying yes to that, what must I say no to, is actually the core question that lies behind helping you and everyone do more great work.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Then the final one is the learning question. What did I take away from this conversation?

Michael Bungay Stanier
You got it, exactly. There’s variations on that. The variation I use most often was what is most useful and most valuable here for you. Not only forces them to get … from the conversation and a … that they may well otherwise miss, but also beneficiary, it gets you feedback as to what went well in that conversation, so the next conversation is going to be even more effective.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s good. There we are, we’re all on the same page in terms of what are the questions. Now I really want to know having lived it, worked with many, many clients, many, many readers, what are you noticing in terms of in practice what is really working well and what is not working so well when folks are trying to adopt a coaching habit?

Michael Bungay Stanier We picked seven questions. You can guess that I think they’re the best seven questions. I spent a lot of time adding questions, subtracting questions, putting more questions in, trying to do fewer questions. But I think these are seven really powerful, useful questions.

But in the end it matters less which question you pick and more about can you commit to staying curious a little bit longer. It’s worth looking at the things people struggle with, which is actually that behavior change. Why do people, when they’re rushing and give solutions, give answers, give ideas so quickly into the conversation?

Well, there’s an obvious answer, which is it’s habit. This is the thing that for your entire career basically your entire life because in high school and university as well, you’ve been praised and rewarded for having the answer. You have a pretty deep habit here of the way I add value, the way I get an A, the way I get a star, the way I get a pat on the back is by being the person with the answer.

It’s fair to say that on that kind of top level, the reason why being more coach-like is so hard is just that we’ve been practicing other stuff for years and years and years now.

But there’s a deeper level, Pete. I think that’s interesting to uncover. It’s where your question takes me is there’s a more subtle reason why people don’t want to become more coach-like, in other words, stay curious a little bit longer, rush to action and advice giving a little bit more slowly, is that it’s about power and control. Those two things that typically just below the surface in most relationships at work and at home as well.

Because when you’re giving the answer, it’s a pretty nice place to be. You feel like you’re the smart person. You feel like you have high status in the conversation. You’re the one with the answer; they’re the one with the question. You know what’s happening; they don’t know what’s happening. You feel in control of the conversation. You know how it’s playing out. You know how it’s going to end. You really go, I love giving advice.

Here’s the thing, even if your advice isn’t nearly as good as you think it is, which almost always is the case, even if you’re giving advice about the wrong thing, it still feels pretty good to give advice. However, when you ask a question – and questions are the portals toward staying curious a little bit longer – when you ask a question, it’s a much less comfortable experience.

First of all you hand control of the conversation to that other person. They’re going to take it some place that you don’t quite know where. By the way, this is what’s called empowerment. Nobody makes a strong case about I’m anti-empowerment. But the subtlety of empowerment is actually giving up power to the other person. That’s what’s happening when you ask a question.

When you ask a question, you actually move from a place of certainty to uncertainty. You step into this place of going, was that a good question, did that land, did they understand it, what answer are they going to give me, how do I handle that answer, what’s going to happen next. There’s all these uncertainties.

Part of our brain wiring is avoid uncertainty. Uncertainty is how you get eaten by a dinosaur or saber tooth tiger or wooly mammoth or something.

It takes practice and kind of overcoming some of your wiring to say, I’m going to ask a question, I’m going to give up control, I’m give up certainty, I’m going to stay in ambiguity for the longer game, the longer game of empowering those around you, increasing focus and productivity, and self-sufficiency, and accountability, and all of those good things.

It’s actually going to help me work less hard, but have more impact because I’m going to have a smarter, braver, more courageous, more focused team around me. But in the moment, it’s just really tempting to resort back to the advice giving.

When you ask kind of what’s worked, what’s not worked, the questions work. We’ve done this with 70 – 80,000 managers now plus the 400,000 people who bought the book. We know these are good questions but the struggle is the behavior change. That’s the thing for people to work on.

But actually, I’m just going to say one other thing, just one other things about, don’t tell anybody else, but we’ve just released kind of on stealth mode an app onto iTunes. It’s called Ask More. It’s only available for the iPhone.

Pete Mockaitis
We won’t tell.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Don’t tell anybody. But it’s a Tinder meets coaching. It’s a way of tracking your own commitment to being more coach-like. Swipe left, I gave advice. Swipe right, I stayed curious. You actually get to track your own practice like that.

We haven’t really made a big deal about that, but if people want to go and check it out, they’re welcome to kind of test it a bit for us and give us some feedback.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. Thank you. We’ll definitely link to that in the show notes. I’m intrigued. It’s about the behavior change and part of the behavior I guess is just doing it in the first place, like just choosing to ask the question instead of giving advice.

Then I’m also thinking about when you spoke to that notion of power, I guess I’m thinking about how you ask the question too. Because as you described it, it’s true, there are times I’ve asked questions and I was entering that vulnerable place of “Okay, what’s going to happen. I don’t quite know.”

There are other times I’ve asked a question and I’ve still felt very much confident and empowered. It’s just like, “I’m just segmenting you. You’re going to give me one of four answers and based upon that I will proceed to give you the appropriate advice.” They’re very different experiences.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I think you’re right. The thing that I think is the subtlety here and the thing to bear in mind is to go for who’s sake am I asking this particular question.

It’s one of the reasons why in general we encourage people to stay away from the idea of asking why questions. Obviously why questions have their place. If people … you start with why. It’s all about being a purpose-driven company. Fantastic. Some of you may know the ladder of inference. You ask why five times to get a root cause of a situation. Perfect.

But in terms of every day interactions with people, asking why doesn’t work so well. Here’s why. The first is it’s actually quite tricky to ask the question why without it sounding a bit accusatory, a bit judgmental. “Why did you do that?” will typically be heard as, “Why the hell did you do that?” You’ve got that.

But the second thing and this feed to that more subtle reason about for whose sake are you asking this question. If you’re asking why, what you’re really doing is explain your motives, explain your thinking, explain what was going on for you. What you’re typically doing is you’re trying to gather data so that you are better able to then provide advice as to what the person should do.

Our approach in our corporate training programs is basically we’ve got three principles  be lazy, be curious, be often.

Being curious, of course, managing the advice monster, that tendency we have to leap to advice. Being often, understanding that every interaction can be a little more curious, a little less rush to action and advice.

But being lazy, is this piece about going how do I stop talking responsibility for that other person’s life. In that asking why, you’ve got somebody working out how do I figure out what’s going on, so I can give the better answer. I can jump in and fix you for you. As opposed to saying, “Hey Pete, big challenge ahead of you, but this is your challenge, so let me help you figure it out.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. I’d also love to get your take then when folks are having troubles with the implementation or making the shift. Have you encountered any other surprises like, “Huh, how about that? When people are doing this, this sort of thing keeps popping up.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
It’s a good question. I would say that one of the points of resistance to coaching is the fear that you will inverted commas ‘go too far,’ like I’m going to ask a question that will make this person reveal their dark, and terrible, and sad, and horrible past, and I won’t know how to handle that.

What happens in kind of subtle ways people go, “I’m not going to ask Pete this question because he probably can’t handle it.” But what they’re often saying is, “I’m not going to ask Pete this question because I probably can’t handle it. I don’t know where it’s going, I don’t know what this is going to reveal, I don’t know what this is about.”

We kind of make up this, “Oh, look how nice I am to protect this person from themselves,” when in fact it’s really just a justification to step away from having the courageous conversation.

It was a bit of a rambling answer, but I do think there’s something to say for people … who like, “I’d like to give this a go, I just don’t know,” is it’s an art, not a science. What you’re doing is you’re practicing staying curious.

What you’ll find is you can ask more questions than you thought and that will make more progress then you thought possible if you can just follow the discipline and ask a good question, be genuinely interested in what the answer is, and shut up and actually listen to that answer.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And courage, I think yeah, that’s the word. I guess depending on your state of mind as you talk about some of these stakes that show up and what can unfold. I guess sometimes I’m thinking, “Oh, how exciting. Let’s see where this goes,” other times I’m like, “Oh, how terrifying. I don’t know where this is going to go.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
Exactly. Right. You’re pointing to it perfectly which is, “Oh my goodness, where is this going? Ah.” Okay, but if you’re in service to the person you’re having conversation with, I think of this as a classic example of servant leadership. If you’re in true service to this person, you’re going to go, “Right, how do I help? How can I be of service? How do I put my discomfort aside so that other person can find something valuable here?”

Pete Mockaitis
I heard you on Todd Henry show, The Accidental Creative. He was on our show recently. I’m using the past tense. I’m assuming it will air before this one airs. Awesome guy. I love the definition you shared about what is it to be an adult or to have an adult conversation.

Michael Bungay Stanier
This caters nicely to that fourth question, the foundation question  what do you want. You could say that Box of Crayons, we have this focus of teaching 10-minute coaching, so busy managers can build stronger teams and get better results.

But behind that is a commitment to help people build adult-to-adult relationships in the work place. How do you show up as a grownup in your own life knowing that institutions work really hard to overturn that dynamic? They much prefer a feel like a parent-child relationship rather than an adult-to-adult relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that because folks will just do what they’re told and cause less headaches for everybody?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah. I think they think it means about it’s about being compliant so we get forced into – do we get forced – the culture encourages us to sometimes be the parent, sometimes be the child.

But it’s harder to show up as an adult because with an adult – and I take this from Peter Bock, who taught me about this. He’s saying, “Look, when you’re an adult, you take responsibility for your own freedom.” You take responsibility for the choices you have in front of you and you take those choices.

When you make those choices, … experience of an adult is you have the liberation of owning your own life, but when you make choices it comes with both guilt and anxiety. Guilt about, “What about those other options that I turned down? What’s going to happen to them?” Anxiety about “Is this the right choice? What if this choice doesn’t play out?”

For me, talking about your question, a nice way I heard of defining an adult-to-adult relationship is can you ask for what you want knowing that the answer may be no.

I would say that for many of us, we often don’t know what we want. We haven’t done that thinking, that work, that kind of connecting to heart, mind, soul. We’re not good at asking for what we want even if we know it. We’re not good at hearing other people’s requests and knowing that we can say yes or no to those requests.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s potent stuff there. I’m wondering about maybe the why and it’s I guess just fear. It’s like if you do know what you want and you don’t ask for it, what’s underneath that is probably the sensation of if I hear a no then this dream has been murdered. There’s no hope for it.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Right, yeah. I think that’s absolutely right. Then you find yourself trading away your life for the temporary comfort of not pushing for what you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this got deep.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Exactly. It suddenly got deep. Come on everybody, lighten up for goodness sake.

Pete Mockaitis
I also want to get your take here to shift gears a bit, I’ve heard the term often when I was in consulting about how one should be coachable. It’s great to be coachable and “Oh, you know, she’s not so coachable. Oh, be coachable.” This is a word I hear a lot of.

What’s your take having done a lot of coaching, helped a lot of people be more coach-like? Are some people uncoachable? How does one become more coachable? What is to be done with this?

Michael Bungay Stanier
That is a good question. I’ve been wrestling with this myself. I think people are – there are some people who are in that moment uncoachable.

Pete Mockaitis
In the moment, okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’m sure I’ve been uncoachable in moments myself.

What does that mean? I think it means that you’re – if you think of the outcome of coaching being new insights leading to new actions, leading to increased impact, it means that you’re unwilling to let in new insights. It means that you’re unwilling to try something new and try a different behavior; therefore that increasing impact isn’t going to be available to you, certainly not in a more mindful, deliberate way.

Yeah, I think it’s probably easy enough to be uncoachable.

You can frame it in another way, which is like if you think about the bell curve. In the one end you’ve got people who are the keeners, who are like, “Oh man, I love this coaching stuff. I’m all over it.” You’ve got people in the middle who are like, “I’m open to it, but I’m not sure.”

Then you’ve got people on the other end who you could call them the cynics. I think there’s some sort of Greek – the translation of what a cynic is. Is this right? It’s something along the lines of – and this is probably not suitable for work – but it’s like doglike, meaning like a dog you lift your leg and you pee on things.

The cynics tend to have already made up their minds about what’s going to happen and nothing’s going to convince them otherwise.

Skeptics on the other hand, I quite like. Skeptics are people who are like, “You know what? I’ve had my heart broken too many times, but secretly I would love this to work because if it works, I’m going to be a great champion for it. I’m just suspicious because I’ve heard the promises before.” But cynics like you’ve already decided this is going to be bad and it’s hard to work with cynics.

That answers part of your question which is are people uncoachable. I think some people are some of the time. I don’t think that means you’re uncoachable for the rest of your life.

Then what does it take to be coach-like. Well, if you come back to that definition of insight, action, impact, I think, in general, it’s a willingness to allow insights to show up and it’s a willingness to move to action and try something new.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. I’d love to hear, when you’re sharing this with folks, because I imagine listeners are all excited like, “Oh yeah, we’re to do this in our group. It’s going to be great.” Then if they do encounter a cynic or a wet blanket or those who say that is very – “That coaching stuff, that feels very touchy feely. That feels very California. You know what? We’ve got a lot of tasks we’ve got to knock out now, now, now. There’s urgency.”

I’m sure you’ve heard all the resistance points as your team is selling the good stuff How do you – if folks are feeling like they’re not feeling it, sort of entice them with a little bit of curiosity and openness, so we can take a little bit of a step?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Part of it is a bigger approach to coaching, which is we rarely try and push coaching on people because people are too busy, people are skeptical, people have baggage around coaching which I totally get.

The metaphor I offer up is it’s a little bit like trying to feed a two-year-old spinach. One of the options is you put a lump of spinach on the two-year-olds plate and go, “Hey, eat the green, slimy vegetable.” For some reason the two-year-old is going to go, “You know what? I’m just not eating your spinach. Sorry about that.”

I’m not a parent, but I’ve heard it said that smart parents take the spinach and they blend it into the spaghetti sauce and they actually eat, so the kid doesn’t even know that they’re actually eating the spinach.

I think my approach to being more coach-like, which I’m differentiating from coaching. Different to stay curious than it is to say, “Alright Pete, come into my office. I’m going to coach you now,” which is slightly terrifying for everybody.

Being more coach like means staying curious a little bit longer. Really it’s just another way of having a conversation. If you can just slow down that rush to action and advice, stay curious a bit longer, you’re going to have a coaching experience whether you want to particularly label it being more coach-like.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, got it. Cool. Anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your latest favorite things?

Michael Bungay Stanier
No, I think we – I mean we’ve gone to some interesting places already.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Can you share with us then a favorite quote, something that’s been inspiring you lately?

Michael Bungay Stanier
My quotes all tend to circulate around the giving a strong yes or making a no. The – oh, I’ve forgotten his name. The guy who created CD Baby. He says, “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.” In terms of thinking about commitment, I think that can be great.

I’ve got a quote on my desk from Charles Bukowski, who’s a poet, something similar it says, “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start.” I’m like exactly that. That’s a quote that’s … in Box of Crayons we’re writing strategic planning moments, so we’re thinking what are big gambles are for the next couple of years.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, can you share a favorite study, something that you find quite insightful?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, I’ve just had the luxury of coming back from the TED conference in Vancouver. Part of what TED is about is to both in kind of equal parts inspire you and terrify you as to what’s happening in the world. One of the studies that could be see business leaders and educators talking, but sometimes it’s scientists and engineers as well.

One of the guys who got up and talked, and I’m sure this will be released eventually as a TED talk, was basically saying, “I’ve just –” you know how DNA has four letters to it  G, T, C, and A and that’s the alphabet that makes up our entire life. What he’s done is found two additional letters to add to that so that there are now six letters rather than four letters.

Very engaged and he’s all sorts of and this is how it gets contained, but he’s actually showing us slides of synthetic life that he’s made in this tweaked DNA. I have to say that’s a pretty amazing thing to reflect on. How’s that going to work?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That just sort of stretches the brain into whole new places it’s never been before.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, it totally does.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
I am going back to a book that I read some years ago, but I’ve just pulled it out again recently. I’m just reaching over to my bookshelf there. It’s by Carl Honore and it’s called In Praise of Slow.

It kind of talks about the slow travel movement and the slow food movement and just a reflection that so much of our life and our pace and the complexity of everything is only ratcheting up. Somebody said to me today, your life will never be less complex than it is today. I’m like, “Oh, that’s depressing.” It feels pretty complicated already. That book, In Praise of Slow, I think is an interesting read.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’m not sure if you’d call this a tool or not, but it’s my attempts to shut down my technology, so it’s like an anti-tool. I don’t have the discipline I would love to have to not check my phone as much and not check my laptop as much.

On my phone, I’ve recently removed a lot of the key apps. I have removed my email app and I’ve removed the Facebook app, and I’ve removed my Asana to-do app. It just means that my phone is now useful for a few things and useless for much of things. I’m trying to remove all the areas where I get easily seduced into behavior that is I feel less useful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, any other favorite habits to speak to?

Michael Bungay Stanier
The only habit that I can consistently maintain is making myself an espresso coffee every morning. All sorts of like meditation and journaling and stuff, it ebbs and it flows a little bit, but my main habit  drink two good espressos early on in the morning. Not very useful to most people I’m afraid.

Pete Mockaitis
It had its purpose. It has its place, its value. Is there a particular nugget that you’ve been sharing that’s really been connecting, resonating, getting note taken, retweeted, etcetera?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, the conversation within Box of Crayons, I’m not sure of this is echoing beyond that. Most of the stuff that tends to be repeated and resaid around social media tends to be around The Coaching Habit book at the moment. People have heard about that.

This comes a part of being in TED again and watching Peter Diamandes who created the X Prize, the thing about trying to get a private company to land a machine on the moon. He is very much about the bold scalability of things. It’s like what’s the 10x version of that.

The thing that is kind of echoing around Box of Crayons at the moment is how do we imagine what 10x’ing some of the projects that we have on the go might be. We don’t really have good answers to any of that, but it’s making us think really hard.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
If you’re interested in the book, The Coaching Habit book, TheCoachingHabit.com is the place for that. You can download the first two or three chapters and get podcasts and tools and other kind of stuff to pillage from the website, so you’re welcome to go there. Obviously the book is available in Amazon and elsewhere.

If you’re interested in our program for your organization, need to do corporate training, so that’s BoxOfCrayons.com.

If you’re interested in just a little bit more about me and what I’m up to and some tools outside practical coaching skills, my full name MichaelBungayStanier, my surname is Bungay-Stanier, .com is the place to go for there.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yes. What’s the bottom 10% that you’re going to eliminate?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Now 10% of I guess, of what?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Percent of people, of activities, of-

Michael Bungay Stanier
People can go any way they want with that, but there’s a bottom 10% in some area you could pick which is limiting you and the courageous act is to eliminate that bottom 10%, so what do you want to do?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about the bottom 10% in my refrigerator.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
That would be a courageous act to get in there.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Exactly. That thing that was formerly known as lettuce probably isn’t anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Michael, this has been a great deal of fun yet again.

Michael Bungay Stanier
It has.

Pete Mockaitis
Please keep doing the great work you’re doing for the world.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Thanks man, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

295: The Value of Awkwardness with Melissa Dahl

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Melissa Dahl discusses embracing awkward moments and turning them into valuable learning experiences.

You’ll Learn:

  1. When self-consciousness can be helpful
  2. A quick exercise to instantly make you feel less self-conscious
  3. How to effectively navigate an awkward conversation

About Melissa

Melissa Dahl is a senior editor at New York Magazine’s The Cut, where she leads the health and psychology coverage. In 2014, she helped launch Science of Us, NYMag’s popular social science website. Her writing interests include personality, emotions, and mental health. Outside of New York Magazine, Melissa’s byline has appeared in Elle, Parents, and the New York Times.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Melissa Dahl Interview Transcript

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

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’re going to have a whole lot of fun in this conversation. I think we both had our fair share of awkward moments. Could you tell us a little bit about a time you once ran into a light pole?

Melissa Dahl
Oh my gosh, you heard about that too. Yeah, okay.

This happened a few years ago. I am very much not a morning person, but sometimes I kind of like to pretend to be one. I was meeting my friend, Marie, for like a 6 AM jog on the East River. We had just started and I do not know how it happened, but I like ran straight into a pole, like a light pole. To this day I have no idea how it happened.

I write about this in the book and how you’re instinct when these sorts of things happen is to just play it off and say, “Oh, I’m fine. I’m fine. It was fine,” even if you’re like really, really hurt.

The funny – we can kind of get into this later I guess, but the funny thing about that was I didn’t tell my friend Marie I was putting that in the book. When she got to it because I gave her an early copy, she was like, “Oh, I mean I kind of remember that, but I don’t remember it in this much detail,” so yeah, it didn’t have as much of an impact on her as it did on me.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I guess emotionally in the memory and physically.

Melissa Dahl
Physically. Oh my gosh.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh mercy. Yes, that is an illustration of an important principle that we’re going to get to. But maybe you can orient us first and foremost, so your book, Cringe Worthy, what’s it all about?

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, so the book is about – so I am a senior editor at The Cut, where I cover – which is a New York magazine website. I cover health and psychology there. I’ve written about psychology for a long time. I’m really interested in emotions, kind of relationships, how we understand ourselves, how we understand each other.

This book is sort of an outgrowth of that I wanted to understand the feeling of awkwardness, which is something that, I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot.

What I’ve always really liked about my job is it’s like almost like highbrow self-help. I’m reading these academic studies and there’s some kind of just nugget in there of “Oh, I could apply this to my life and it’s going to make me better at this or it’s going to make relationships go more smoothly,” or something like that.  I just kind of couldn’t find anything that applied to awkwardness.

That’s what the book kind of is, just me trying to understand this feeling and what the purpose of it might be. I actually have to tell you, it started as a book about how to avoid awkwardness, how to kind of overcome it and protect from ever feeling this way. By the end, I kind of came to really like this weird little emotion.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. First of all, for those who are curious or intrigued, what’s there to like about it Melissa?

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, a few things l think. One of the things is – the subtitle of the book is A Theory of Awkwardness. My sort of major theory is I think that awkward moments happen when the version of yourself you’re trying to present to the world is shown to be incompatible with reality in some way.

I would like to present to the world that I am not the kind of person who runs into lamp poles and then I do. Or a good recent example of this is at the Winter Olympics a couple of months ago, there was this picture that went around of a – I think she was a Russian athlete – wearing a shirt that said something like, ‘I don’t do doping,’ or something like that. Then it turned out she failed a drug test.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, bugger.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah. I remember someone at my job put that into the chat and just wrote ‘awkward’ on it.

I think it kind of shows you that there’s a gap sometimes between the version of yourself you’re trying to present to the world and the version of yourself the world is actually kind of seeing.

If that’s true, then I think one good thing about these kinds of moments is that it kind of maybe shows us some places where we need improvement if we’re open to it. It’s going to show us some places where we can grow. That’s sort of my main theory of awkwardness.

But the other aspect of it is that I came to really love is these moments feel isolating, it feels like you’re the only one who just feels like an embarrassing idiot, but of course we all feel this way. If we are a little more open about it, it’s a way to kind of connect with people.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh that is good. Well, I want to follow up on a couple of those points there. First you say that the awkwardness happens when there’s a mismatch between sort of your self-perception or the version of yourself that you have in mind versus what is picked up by others.

Would you say that this is a mismatch in sort of the net disappointing direction, like, “I think of myself as someone who doesn’t dope and yet, here I am being found out as someone as dopes,” but can it happen in the opposite as well, like, “I think of myself as just sort of like a normal guy, but then people are telling me that I’m a genius.” Does that also feel awkward?

Melissa Dahl
I actually sort of think – I think we certainly think of it more in the negative direction. If you think you were having a pretty good hair day and then you see a picture of yourself and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, actually my hair was super greasy or something like that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and no one told me. That’s happened before. It’s like, “We were talking for more than an hour, you didn’t think that this worth a mention?”

Melissa Dahl
Exactly. I think it’s typically in that direction. I don’t know.

I sometimes think it might be – I think we feel weird whenever – I think we feel unsettled a little bit whenever we realize the self you’re trying to present to the world is not the way other people are seeing you.

There’s a story I read about in a book. It’s anthropologist story from the late ‘60s. He went to this tribe in Papua New Guinea. He had reason to believe that these folks had never seen their reflections, that they’d never seen a photographic image of themselves. They’ve never seen themselves in a mirror.

He kind of came and his arrival changed all that. He brought mirrors, he brought Polaroid cameras, he brought tape recorders. As he writes it – he wrote this report about it later – they all just kind of cowered and kind of just like clenched their stomachs, and kind of gritted their teeth. I think you could say they cringed. They cringed at the way they looked, at the way they sounded.

I’m not sure we can say they all thought like, “Oh, I’m uglier than I thought,” but just like oh, there’s just something existentially weird about thinking there is the you that exists in your own head and there’s the you running around out there who other people actually see and that those are often the same, but sometimes they’re not. Yeah, I think that’s kind of a part of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s true I guess. It would be unusual if all of those villagers were disappointed.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Because I guess some of them would probably be surprised like, “Oh, I’ve got some good muscles.”

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s paying off all that work I’ve been doing.

Melissa Dahl
Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, I just think there’s something strange about the fact – confronting the fact that – I don’t know, you don’t just exist in your head that other people see you maybe a little differently than you see yourself. It’s just a little strange to reckon with even if it is in a positive direction.

Pete Mockaitis
It is strange to reckon with. One thing I find strange to have a hard time reckoning with is when you’re in the midst of a situation and someone actually explicitly says the word, “Awkward.”

Melissa Dahl
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s up with that? Any research insights on that one?

Melissa Dahl
Oh my gosh, I know. That was such a thing when I was in college. Oh my gosh.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m glad it’s died down a little bit. I don’t hear it as much anymore.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, I know. I feel like it’s kind of migrated to people like my mother now says it a lot, although she might just say it because I wrote this book.

I think that term kind of has become kind of a cliché and almost kind of annoying. But I think that it’s – what it was supposed to be, what it was intended for actually helped a lot. I think there’s something about calling attention to the awkwardness of a situation, but if you do it right, it can kind of diffuse it.

Your listeners want to be awesome at work, there’s a lot of awkward situations at work. You maybe have to give someone feedback and you don’t know how to say it or maybe you have to tell someone they didn’t get this promotion they put in for.

I think sometimes it can help kind of cushion the blow a little bit or make it a little bit less uncomfortable if you just kind of acknowledge this is going to be a little hard to hear, this is going to be a little uncomfortable, maybe even this is going to be a little awkward. I think that’s where it came from a good place, but the awkward thing worked into something very annoying, so don’t do that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. I like that because I think if you just sort of declare in advance, “Hey, this is what’s going on,” that really can be helpful as opposed to just saying, “Awkward.” It’s like, “Ah, shut up.”

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, don’t do that. That’s annoying, but the impulse makes sense. I think the impulse is a good one, so kind of digging that out of the annoying

Pete Mockaitis
That is good. Thank you. I also want to hear a little bit about the awkwardness vortex turn of a phrase. What does this mean?

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, so this is something I discovered in the research. There is all this psychological research linking nervousness and self-consciousness. Basically if you are nervous, you become more self-conscious. If you are self-conscious, you become nervous. The two kind of exacerbate each other and it goes round and round and round. I called this the awkwardness vortex.

It’s the kind of thing where if you’re going in for a job interview and you sit down and suddenly you can’t remember like, “Wait, what am I supposed to do with my legs? Should I cross my legs? Should I cross them to the side? Should I go to the other side? Should I just not cross them? What should I do?”

You’re nervous, so you’re kind of like zeroing in on your body, like “What am I doing? What is my arm doing?” Then focusing in on yourself makes you more nervous and it just goes around and around and around. Yeah, that is the awkwardness vortex.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. That’s intriguing. Can you give us a couple more examples of how that can play out and sort of if you find yourself emerging or beginning to enter that, how do you escape?

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, well another example because it’s kind of a pop culture example, but – it’s like a silly example – but it’s in one of the Austin Powers’ movies. I think it’s like the third one, which is not a good movie. But there’s a part where there’s like a spy or a character or something who has a really big mole on his face.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yes.

Melissa Dahl
And Austin is trying to say anything but calling attention to the mole. Then it just kind of comes out, like, “Oh mole, mole.” It’s a funny scene.

But I think that sort of could be applicable here. If you’re trying so hard not to offend somebody, but then all you can think about is what you’re saying, what you’re doing, and how that might offending them, and then that’s making you nervous you’re going to offend them. It’s just that link between nervousness and self-consciousness is a really established thing in the literature.

The good thing is because it’s so established, the folks who study this say that there is a pretty clear way out, which is if self-consciousness is part of the thing that triggers this, the way out of the awkwardness vortex is to focus on anything but yourself. Just focus on trying to get to know the person in front of you.

To go back to the job interview example, maybe do some work beforehand and think like, “Okay, these are the three things about myself I’m going to get across in this interview.” Just focusing on anything but yourself, calling attention to the weather, calling attention to, I don’t know, some third party thing, that should help.

Pete Mockaitis
That is good. That notion of fixating on what not to say causing problems just reminds me of a scene in The Simpsons where Principal Skinner is addressing the student body. He doesn’t know what to say regarding girls and math. He’s just trying so hard not to say the wrong thing and he just breaks down and says, “Tell me what you want me to say.”

Melissa Dahl
Oh my gosh, yeah. I think that – this is kind of a lot what I was writing about. The book is kind of aimed at people who are acting in good faith, who don’t – that chapter about the awkwardness vortex is people who don’t want to offend someone, not in a politically correct way, but just don’t want to be offensive. They’re people who want to be kind and make other people feel respected and welcome.

Sometimes I think focusing so hard on that, it just causes us to clam up and get more nervous and get more self-conscious. Part of this is kind of just taking a few steps back and not doing in so hard on yourself. It really helps.

Pete Mockaitis
You say we have good reason to feel less self-conscious. Can you unpack that a little bit, if you’ve got a handy exercise?

Melissa Dahl
Well, a really interesting thing about self-consciousness that the psychologists who study this say that it doesn’t exist to torture you. The point of self-consciousness is to help you learn.

A baseball player or something who is working on his swing he has to be – or someone who’s learning to play a sport like tennis or something like that. That’s maybe a better analogy. You are being pretty self-consciousness. You’re zeroing in on your actions, on your body, and that’s a good thing. That’s what you have to do to learn.

That’s actually helped me too to talk about kind of why we feel self-conscious. It’s there to torture me. It’s there for a purpose.

But that said, ways to not let it completely run your life, one of them is the focusing on other people. Then the other thing is just realizing that nobody else is as self-conscious of yourself as you are.

No one else is as focused on you as you are, which I know we all know in our heads, but you forget that when you’ve done something really silly. You think everyone’s looking, everyone’s – like the example with the lamp post. My friend didn’t even really remember that. She kind of did, but not really.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Now you suggest an exercise right in terms of really kind of checking that out with a best friend with regard to your awkward or embarrassing memories.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So can you unpack that a bit?

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, it’s kind of the same thing. It’s the opposite version of my friend Marie not remembering me crashing into a lamp post.

We’ve been friends for a long time and I kind of can’t – I’m trying to call to mind something embarrassing she’s done. She’s someone I see all the time. I know I’ve seen her do something or say something embarrassing, but I really can’t remember anything. Now I’m trying to think of my college best friend, like I’m sure I’ve seen her do a million dumb things. We’ve been friends for a really long time.

To me that’s a good exercise. Your brain will come up with some things if they’re funny stories or if you’ve repeated them a lot, but I think for the most part it’s pretty hard to remember something that – I don’t know, something dumb your coworker said last week that she might be still really punishing herself over, like, “Oh, I can’t believe I made that stupid joke in the meeting. I’m such an idiot.” I can’t remember any of that.

Yeah, trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and trying to call to mind an embarrassing thing someone else has done is a pretty good exercise.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Thank you. Now I’m curious, if we are going to enter into some territory that sounds like it could be awkward, you mentioned one pro tip is just sort of kind of setting the stage of the context and admitting what’s there, calling a spade a spade. Do you have any other perspectives on what is the optimal way to go forward into a conversation you perceive as likely to be awkward?

Melissa Dahl
Okay, so I have a chapter in my book about awkwardness at work. One kind of like underrated awkward thing at work is friendships. We work with people but we’re also friends with them. We’re kind of playing these two roles with them.

I don’t about you, but I’ve certainly been in plenty of situations where I’m friends with my co-worker but also she is not pulling her weight. I don’t know what to do. I feel like I need to – I don’t know how to have that conversation.

Or something like – this is a real thing that happened to a friend of mine. Her coworker just disappears to go to the gym for a couple hours in the afternoon and she has to cover for the coworker and it’s really starting to make her mad. I think work friendships is a place where it can be pretty awkward.

Talking about how to deal with it. I think one thing that helps – I think sometimes awkwardness can come from a feeling of uncertainty. I don’t know what to say next. I don’t know what to do next. That’s such a common thing when you’re feeling awkward.

To use this example of a problem with a friend at work, the best thing you can do to cut through that discomfort I think is just to be as direct as possible, just as straightforward as possible, which can feel uncomfortable, but it’s actually I think the kindest thing to do. You can say it in a kind way, but it’s better to just say it to your friend that “You’re doing this. It makes me feel this way and you’ve got to knock it off.”

I think that straightforwardness and directness can help cut through some of the awkwardness actually. I think we think that the answer is to kind of dance around a subject and like, “Oh, I can’t say that. I can’t say that directly. I can’t bring up this problem,” but I think it would be better if we all got up the guts to be a little bit more straightforward.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny. I think you’re dead on and it makes it more awkward when you’re dancing around it.

I remember one time I was coordinating this youth leadership seminar. It so happened that there was another group in the same facilities that I was familiar with. There was this dude who was like a hero to me that I had heard of from afar. I read his book. It was like, “Oh my gosh, that is Curtis Martin,” which means nothing to most people, but for me it was like well that guy is a big deal.

He’s in the room. Actually, me and my staff we all need to get in this room and sort of set things up because we’re going to have a bunch of students coming through here soon. I was like, “Oh my gosh, how do I boot almighty Curtis Martin out of this room.”

I remember I went in there. I felt super awkward. I was like, “Oh hi, so we – hi, I’m Pete and I’m a big fan. We have also a need-“ He was like, “Oh, you need the room?” I was like, “Yes, please.”

Melissa Dahl
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It was merciful that he directly said what was there. I think that’s a good move. I guess there’s a fear associated with going there like they’ll be offended or they’ll lash back, or sort of terribly negative things will unfold if we say what we really think.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, but I think there’s a way to do it with kindness and I think that sometimes the simplest way is the best way to do it. Yeah, I think you kind of have to either – you either have to have the awkward conversation, you have to kind of be straightforward with the person or you just have to live with the thing that’s bothering if it’s a work situation especially, but probably in any situation.

Pete Mockaitis
That will do it. I’d love to hear what’s your verbiage that you settled upon for the gym situation or the friend/coworker not pulling the weight situation. Can we hear it? Flashback, you’re back there in the scene, what were the words you said?

Melissa Dahl
Yeah. Well the gym situation is a friend of mine.

The other person not pulling their weight, this was years ago before I went through my exercise in studying awkwardness. I didn’t say anything. I never said anything. Actually the resentment grew, and grew, and grew and I don’t consider this person a friend anymore, which I guess that sometimes happens with coworkers.

Looking back I have a really negative feeling about it. I think that I could have stopped that and we could have had a much better working relationship. That’s kind of an example of I just was afraid to have the conversation. I would tell everybody else, like, “I can’t believe I’m doing all the work,” but I never said it to this person. I’m sorry that I didn’t.

I write in the book about I kind of had a spotty track record of rising to the moment of awkwardness. There was a time I was a brand new manager and some folks had kind of complained to me about one of my direct reports. He’s kind of rude. He’s making more work for others. We’re having our weekly one-on-one and I literally had written down in my notes ‘address attitude’ and I didn’t do it. I didn’t know how to bring it up, so I didn’t do it.

I have fallen. I have not stood up in moments of awkwardness. It’s hard. It can be really hard. However, I think since kind of studying the heck out of this feeling I have kind of become less afraid of it.

This is pretty awkward at work I guess. We went through a reorg here last summer as I was kind of finishing up the book. All the sudden I didn’t know who my boss was, which is like a really embarrassing thing to have to admit because I kind of let it go on for a couple of weeks. It was like, “Um, like who is-?” like that Dr. Seuss book like, “Are you my mommy?”

But I just asked directly. I just went into my old boss’s office and I was like, “Hey, this is kind of weird, but are you still my boss? Is this other person my boss?” He was like, “Oh, yeah you should know that. Okay, here let me,” going through ….

I am just so a fan of being direct. The things you do that you think are saving you from awkwardness kind of just dig you in further sometimes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s kind of what’s connected for me in terms of we fear these negative outcomes if you go there directly, but there are other negative outcomes if you don’t with regard to one, you may have the resentment that resulted in the disruption of the relationship or two for the rude coworker with the bad attitude, if you never address that for him, I don’t know where he ended up, but-

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, I’m not doing him a favor in the long run.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, he could get fired.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And he’s broke because you didn’t go there. Not to heap the guilt on you Melissa.

Melissa Dahl
Right, right.

Pete Mockaitis
But yeah, negative outcomes can happen for not going on there that far exceed the negative outcomes that you fear for going there.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah. I also sometimes think we think we’re avoiding an awkward conversation because we’re trying to protect the other person’s feelings, but I think it’s more often we’re protecting ourselves. We don’t want to come off as a critical negative person.

If it’s a boss situation, you want to be the cool boss or whatever or you want to be the cool coworker, like, “I’m chill. It’s fine. Do whatever you want,” but I think it kinder in the long run to have those conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say cool boss I don’t know why I’m thinking about, what was it A.C. Slater or Will Riker, always backwards chair. “What’s up?”

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. That’s how I have my meetings, take a chair, turn it around backwards, “Hey, …”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you’re so cool.

Melissa Dahl
You want a cigarette?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh that is cool.

But that’s a great perspective when it comes to you’re protecting yourself as opposed to their feelings. In a way if you think about what we’d call a hero or a person who is really loving or generous, it’s a person who takes a personal risk for the benefit of another.

It’s like, you’re scared of what’s to come but you know that they’ll be enriched by you sharing it potentially if they receive it. They might just reject it. But there’s a chance of them really being enriched and there’s a risk of you suffering some kind of a consequence. It might be just an awkward feeling. It might be a damaged relationship or …. So in a way you going there makes you a hero.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah. I should say, it’s not like it’s guaranteed that these conversations will always go well. The person might not react well, but I think that you can only control what you can control.

But the other thing I kind of wanted to say is sometimes you’re on the receiving end of the awkwardness, someone is pointing out something about you won’t want to hear, someone is saying to you like, “Hey, I’ve been doing all your work for you the last three weeks or something.” You’re like, “Wait, that’s because I was – that’s because of this, that’s because of that.”

I think when we’re in that situation our natural reaction is to be pretty defensive. I think if, as I kind of think awkwardness comes from, in part at least, from that gap between how you see yourself and how others see you, this is an example of that that someone is showing you, like “I see you in this pretty unflattering light.”

It’s our natural reaction to kind of push that out, but I think it’s really useful sometimes to kind of sit there in the awkwardness and hear what the other person has to say about you. It’s not always necessarily true, but sometimes it is. Sometimes other people’s perspectives about you are worth hearing because other people can see parts of us that we can’t really see. That’s the other side of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. Do you have any pro tips if you’re feeling defensive, you’re hearing something, you don’t like it, you’re getting those defensive vibes bubbling up inside, what’s the best practice?

Melissa Dahl
All I can think is – something that helps is maybe kind of to take a third person perspective almost of the situation or just kind of distance yourself from the situation a little bit it helps, just think, “Okay, this is what this person thinks of me. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. It doesn’t even mean it’s necessarily true, but this is one opinion of me. This is one viewpoint on me. Let me see if I can look at this, step outside of myself and look at this from their perspective and kind of try to evaluate it subjectively.”

Trying to kind of tap into a cooler mindset rather than the kind of heated response I think helps. Then just to me kind of having a mindset of, “This could help me grow. This could help me become a better person. If what this person is telling me is true and if it is something I can improve on then thank God they told me.”

Like the direct report I had who was pretty rude to people around the office, he was a nice guy. I’m sure he wasn’t doing it on purpose.

If I had had that conversation with him, I would hope he could have just let that in and let that perspective of himself in and let it clash with how he sees himself, I don’t know, and maybe use that perspective and use that feedback to maybe become a little closer towards that person he thinks he is or you think you are to turn it back to you. Anyway, I hope that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is good. Certainly to focus in on like, “I don’t like this. I think this is bullcrap,” etcetera to, “There might be something worthwhile within this to facilitate my growth and so I will receive it.”

That third-person perspective sounds handy. Then maybe even just spending some time with it after the fact in terms of, “I thought that was outrageous. They don’t have the right context for it, but this huh. I’ve never heard that before.”

Melissa Dahl
Yeah. It’s sort of back to the analogy of having a picture taken of you where you look really unfamiliar to yourself. It’s true that maybe it did catch you at a bad angle or it’s just a weird look on your face or something, but it shows you a side of yourself you couldn’t see.

You don’t have to take it and be like, “Oh that’s me. I always have that weird look on my face,” or, “My hair’s always doing something weird.” But sometimes I think it’s good to see those unflattering aspects of yourself that you can’t really see on your own.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. Tell me, Melissa, anything else you really want to make sure to cover before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things.

Melissa Dahl
Let’s see. I guess maybe just kind of going back to the part about how these moments can help us connect with each other. I did Jordan Harbinger’s podcast. He also had a story about running into a lamp post, which was like, “Wait, what?” I was so surprised to hear that.

What I have come to really love about these moments is if we look at it in the right light, it’s like these little moments where a very real, vulnerable part of you can connect with a very real vulnerable part of somebody else.

As I’ve done interviews and stuff, people have kind of broken in with their own stories like, “Oh my gosh, that reminds me of this time. That reminds me of that time.” There is something very cool about this little feeling and these little moments that just – they have the power to kind of connect us in a way that I didn’t really appreciate before I started working on this.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Melissa Dahl
I don’t know if this qualifies as a favorite quote, but something I keep returning too lately is ‘constant vigilance’ from Harry Potter, which is the Mad-Eye Moody says this. It’s about keeping on guard against the Death Eaters or something like that.

But I’ve just been thinking about that in terms of I’m trying to get back into shape. The only way to do it is – I think the way I’m interpreting that quote is the only way to do something really is the hard way if you want to do it well.

I’m trying to get back into shape and I’ve just kind of been halfheartedly doing some workouts. I’ve had this quote in mind. It’s kind of helped – this is so stupid, but it’s kind of helped me stick to – yeah, I have to stick to this workout plan. I said I was going to run three miles today; I’m going to run three miles today.

Just the idea of – I think it says to me that little efforts made every single day add up to something. It’s the constant work that adds up to big results, which is not what it means in the book, but that’s what it means in my head right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Well great. Thank you. But how about a favorite study or experiment or piece of research?

Melissa Dahl
Oh my gosh, I have so many of these.

One of them, this is a good one to really what we’ve been talking about. In my work I have covered, I don’t know, hundreds of studies or something like that. Most of them just kind of leave my brain the second the story is done, but this one has stayed with me.

There’s this cool study by a Harvard Business School professor. You might have heard about this. People talk about this one.

Basically, you can do this very cool magic trick if you’re feeling nervous. Basically if you tell yourself you’re actually feeling excited, that is supposed to help you perform better because the theory kind of goes that to your body nervousness feels the same as excitement.

Your blood is pumping. Your heart is racing. That’s just your body knowing that you’ve got something big you’ve got to do. Your body’s like, “Here we go. Here. Here’s all this extra energy. We’re ready. We’re ready.”

If you interpret it as nervousness, it can make you kind of screw up on the thing you’re about to do, but if you interpret it as excitement, it’s supposed to help. I have thought about that so many times since I read that study five years ago. I find it so helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Think you. How about a favorite book?

Melissa Dahl
There’s so many books. Let’s see. Okay, I don’t know if this is a favorite book – I don’t even know if I have a one singular favorite book right now, but maybe it’s this. I don’t know. Something I return to again and again is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It’s a classic. It’s the kind of thing I’ve just pressed on all my writer friends over the years. That’s how I found it. An older writer friend at a newspaper I worked at was like, “Here you go. Read this.”

It’s writing advice, but it’s also just kind of wisdom and advice for life. Just reading that book – I’ve reread it so many times. It has such … advice for writing. She has the idea of the shitty first draft, which is just like letting yourself write the bad version of the thing and you have to do that before you get to the good version of it. It’s just a wonderful, wonderful book, especially if you’re a writer.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. How about a favorite tool?

Melissa Dahl
I guess maybe we could say Slack. We use that at my work. A lot of people are using it now. There’s ups and downs, but I think it’s helped make work feel a little more fun. It’s helped make my team feel more like a community or something. We’re just chatting all day and it’s helped us get to know each other better. Yeah, I guess I’ll say Slack, although sometimes it’s annoying too, but for the most part it’s good.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. How about a favorite habit.

Melissa Dahl
I think that there really is something to the making your bed everyday thing. I’d actually love to do some kind of psychological analysis of that of maybe it’s sort of easy to do, but it’s something that you do in the morning and it really does just kind of set your day. It just kind of organizes things right away.

That one and writing my to-do list for tomorrow at the end of the previous day. I love doing that. That’s probably better than the make your bed thing because I don’t even do that every day. I want to switch my answer to that.

Writing your to-do list for the next day at the end of the previous day is so helpful because then you wake up and you just are like, “Oh yeah, these are my priorities today.” You can just jump right into that. That’s really helped.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you do that at the end of the workday or at the end of the ‘I’m about to fall asleep’ day?

Melissa Dahl
I do it at the end of the work day, but I recently read about some study. It was a pretty small study, but interesting though. It claimed that it helped people fall asleep faster if you write your to-do list right before you go to sleep.

I don’t know. I feel like there probably is some truth to that. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to sleep and my mind is just going over like, “Oh, I have to do this. I have to do this. I have to do that. Don’t forget that.” Right now I do it at the end of the workday, but maybe I should try moving that back a few hours.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m intrigued because in some ways – I can see if you’re ruminating, that’s great to stop that and relax. But I think for me, if I brought my attention to that which tomorrow holds, I would start getting excited and fired up and the opposite of sleepy. I’d be like, “Oh yeah, these are the things I get to do tomorrow.” I don’t know.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, I can see that too. I can see that too.

I’ve tried it a couple times and I don’t know. Maybe it’s only applicable if you like me are constantly going through your to-do list in your head when you’re falling asleep. The times I’ve tried it there is something nice to just being like, “Oh, you know what? I’ve already got that. I don’t have to worry about that. I’ve already got it. Calm down.” Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, they quote you back to yourself frequently?

Melissa Dahl
There’s a couple lines in the book people seem to like. There’s one – it’s just a throwaway line my editor actually wanted to cut, but it’s, “Being human is exhausting and embarrassing.” People have quoted that back to me.

Then there’s a line people seem to like that I also really like. It’s also from the book, which is, “The ridiculous in me honors the ridiculous in you,” which is kind of how I feel about these embarrassing moments.

Now when I see someone – I don’t know. Yesterday I saw someone fall over on the subway. She mistimed her getting up and I just felt this kind of sense of connection to this stranger, like, “Oh, you’re a dummy too just trying to make your way through the world.” People seem to like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. It’s funny, “The ridiculous in me,” acknowledges or greets, what is it?

Melissa Dahl
I think it said honors.

Pete Mockaitis
Honors. Yes. “Honors the ridiculousness in you.” I guess that – isn’t that what Namaste means? The light in me honors the light in you.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Sometimes I just end up saying Namaste for no reason. I think it’s because people have wet hands and they can’t shake my hand. I end up bowing and saying Namaste. I don’t know if that’s offensive to any hard core yoga lovers. Apologies.

Melissa Dahl
I’m sure it’s a nice sense of it.

Pete Mockaitis
It feels good and I mean it. Hey, I’m honoring them. We have a laugh because it is a little ridiculous. “No, I just have wet hands. There’s no need to revert to these practices.” Cool.

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

Melissa Dahl
Probably Twitter is the place I am at way too often. They can also buy my book. It’s called Cringe Worthy: A Theory of Awkwardness available on Amazon.com or wherever you buy books, had to put that in there. But, yeah, Twitter, I’m on it way too much, so if you say hello, I will definitely see you and say hello back.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool. Do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeing to be awesome at their jobs?

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, I think that fear of awkwardness at work is something that holds people back from, “Oh, I can’t have that conversation with my coworker. It’s going to be too weird.” “I can’t ask my boss this thing that I should have figured out three weeks ago. It’s going to be too weird.”

Maybe your challenge is to think about the problem you’re having or a few problems you’re having at work and if the thing holding you back from solving it is just you’re afraid of it being a little awkward, push through that. You can do it. You can get through that.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Melissa, this has been a whole lot of fun.

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, it’s been great.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you for taking time and-

Melissa Dahl
Yeah, thank you so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well good luck with the book and all you’re up to.

Melissa Dahl
Thank you. Thanks a lot.