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KF #20. Interpersonal Savvy Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

667: How to Cultivate Your Influence and Build Powerful Connections with Jon Levy

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Jon Levy provides foundational principles for connecting better and building your influence.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why relationships are the #1 predictor of your success 
  2. How to make networking feel more natural
  3. How to build trust quickly with vulnerability loops

 

About Jon

Jon Levy is a behavioral scientist best known for his work in influence, human connection, and decision making. Jon specializes in applying the latest research to transform the ways companies approach marketing, sales, consumer engagement, and culture. His clients range from Fortune 500 brands, like Microsoft, Google, AB-InBev, and Samsung, to startups.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Jon Levy Interview Transcript

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

Jon Levy
Thank you. I’m super excited. I also want to learn how to be awesome-r at my job. I’m looking through like osmosis and hanging out with you I could enjoy my work more.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, I’d love it if you could kick us off by sharing a story. We’re talking about influence here. Could you tell us a cool story about a professional who really transformed their career by cultivating influence?

Jon Levy
So, one of the people that I think is super interesting is a woman named Jean Nidetch. And Jean was, kind of in her eyes, an overweight housewife. And one day, while going to the supermarket to pick up some food, she was going through the aisles and an old acquaintance of hers says, “Hi, you look great,” and she was feeling very beautiful. And the acquaintance said, “When are you due?” And Jean was mortified, the woman thought she was pregnant.

And she said to herself, “I’m going to change my life. I’m going to finally lose this weight.” And what she did was she signed up for a weight-loss course provided by the city of New York. And she had lost some weight but she realized she was really lonely. So, she invited a bunch of women to her home to play mahjong, some game like that, but really it was an opportunity for her to talk about weight loss and her struggling with it.

And the group bonded so much that they kept meeting, and then, eventually, that turned into Weight Watchers and became an international sensation of a company. She became a multimillionaire, a celebrity. And the way that she fundamentally did it was by gathering people and creating an intimate and safe space and, over time, that grew into her influence. And I just loved the story especially because, at the time, she couldn’t even have a credit card with her name on it, it said Ms. Marty Nidetch because women couldn’t really have businesses back then.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, then the magic happened when she did some inviting, and said, “Hey, come on over.”

Jon Levy
Yeah, it’s pretty incredible. So, in my personal view, our influence is a byproduct of who we’re connected to, how much they trust us, and the experience of belonging that we share. And what she was able to do was find something to connect with people that they cared about, which is their health and wellness.

She created an incredibly safe space of trust, and then the people who participated in the program had this incredible sense of community because it was that one place where they could speak openly about the trials and tribulations that they went through, the shame that they experience, the struggle from day to day to not eat some cake. And I think that that’s pretty incredible that she was able to do that, and then figure out how to make that scale so that people around the world could really have that experience and belonging.

Pete Mockaitis
And your book You’re Invited: The Art and Science of Cultivating Influence, you’ve got a number of principles and stories along these lines. Can you share with us kind of what is the big idea here?

Jon Levy
So, here’s what’s kind of funny, in my 20s, I kept trying to change my life by like reading every self-help book and setting my alarm for 6:00 a.m. to go work out and then I’d beat myself up for not going to the gym or hitting snooze ten times. I was overweight, I was broke, and I was single, and I couldn’t seem to figure out how to get my break.

And I was sitting in a seminar, and the seminar leader said, “The fundamental element that defines the quality of our lives are the people we surround ourselves with and the conversations that we have with them.” And I said, “Well, if that’s true, then maybe, instead of beating myself up for not going to the gym, what I should do is make friends with a whole bunch of athletes and then it’ll be part of my social circle to exercise. It’ll just be a part of my habits.”

Well, it turns out, these two guys Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, researchers, were curious about the obesity epidemic, and what they found was kind of startling. They found that if you have a friend who’s obese, your probability of obesity increases by 45%. Your friends who don’t know that person have a 20% increase chance, and their friends have a 5% increase chance, which means that everything flows through our communities or our social networks, and that’s true for happiness, marriage and divorce rates, smoking habits, voting habits.

And so, the basic premise of the book is that if we can curate the people who can have the biggest impact on our lives around us, and create deep and meaningful relationships, that’ll have a profound impact on everybody’s life in a positive way. And that’s true whether it’s business or it’s longevity. The greatest predictor of human longevity is not exercise or eating healthy. The greatest predictors are, number two, strong social ties, and, number one, social integration, you’re part of the community.

On the business front, you can measure employee sick days, profitability, and stock value to the level of oxytocin, that cuddle chemical, in employees’ bloodstreams. So, the basic premise is, “How do we connect? How do we build trust? And how do we give people a sense of belonging so we can really have an impact on our lives?”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And so, when you’re talking about cultivating influence, you’re not so much, well, you tell me, talking about how to be super persuasive so much as cultivating the influences around you, to you, and for you.

Jon Levy
Yeah, I’d agree. So, it’s interesting, right now, the word influence has kind of shifted because of people taking photos of avocado toast on Instagram. And, don’t get me wrong, I really respect people who can cultivate a large audience. It’s like a skillset that I fundamentally do not have. But when we really look at the kind of influence we care about, it’s less about that, it’s less about like marketing a product or getting people to sign up for something. It’s really like, “Do I know the right person to get my kid into the high school I want to get them into?” “I’m not feeling well, do I have a friend who’s a medical expert who can answer a question?”

And so, it’s mostly things that are a byproduct of relationships, “Do I have enough trust built up with that client for them to close the deal?” Like, that’s the kind of influence we want, I’d actually argue in general. Now, proxy for a lot of people is follower count but my guess is that that’s probably generally less satisfying than having a close friend.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly.

Jon Levy
And, like, I don’t know. I don’t have a really large following but I do have a lot of close friends and I really love having them, so.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so lay it on us, that sounds like a great thing to have, influence and this view of it, and we’ve got a bit of a key prongs there to pursue in terms of making friends and having great conversations with them. So, how, in practice, can one do that well?

Jon Levy
Great question. So, let’s split it up into three topics, is that okay?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Jon Levy
There’s, “How do we get people to want to connect with us? How do we build trust quickly? And how do we really develop an experience of belonging?” So, it turns out that what we’ve been touting in our society is that people who are great at connecting go and network. Now, I don’t know about you, I hate networking.

It is anxiety-ridden, it’s uncomfortable, you’re never really talking to the person you want to talk to. It feels really transactional. And, in fact, research by Francesca Gino from Harvard Business School found that people feel, in an unconscious way, dirty. They feel the need to wash, the implicit association. Nobody wants to network.

Now, what’s interesting is we do not feel that way when we’re making friends. And so, let’s forget networking and let’s ask the question, “What will have somebody want to be our friend?” And so, what we have somebody to want to be our friend is kind of like basic things. If there’s something interesting or novel. Meaning, what you’re up to or doing, does it stand out in some way that would make me curious or interested? Are you in a curated group? Are the people that you spend time with really interesting and maybe from diverse backgrounds so that if I engage with that group or community, I’d get a lot of value?

For some people, it’s around skills, and opportunities, and access, and resources. So, what value do you provide? So, if we want to get people’s attention, the context is, “What will attract them?” And I would say that our best bet is to actually just invite people to do something with us. And the reason I say that is very specific, it has to do with that second characteristic, which is trust.

And I’ll give you an example. Do you have any kids?

Pete Mockaitis
I do. Two toddlers.

Jon Levy
Okay. Two toddlers, perfect. So, let me ask you a question. You know, how in life, traditionally, if you want to win some deals where people will take you in the business world to a business dinner?

Pete Mockaitis
All right, yeah.

Jon Levy
And do you find those particularly enjoyable?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s hit or miss.

Jon Levy
Yeah, but that’s exactly the point, is that if the person is really dynamic and fun – great. Otherwise, you’re stuck there and locked in for like an hour and a half and it’s miserable. So, giving somebody or paying for something for somebody doesn’t necessarily get them to like you more or trust you more. If you go to a party and they give you a swag bag, what do you intend to do with that swag bag?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s so funny, I’ve had the experience many times where I have a rental car and I am driving into the rental car lot where I’m returning it, then I have the bag and I’m looking at it over the trash can and deciding which items I’m going to go and take versus pitch.

Jon Levy
Yeah, yeah, because then you have to travel back home on a flight and you’re like, “Oh, my God, I’m not going to carry a, I don’t know, a Powerade onto a flight.” Like, “I don’t want 14 postcards from these brands with their stickers on them.” It’s just not anything I care about. And that’s the point, is that we don’t win people over with gifts. You can. There are very specific situations.

So, let’s say I found out you have two toddlers, if I get you like the most amazing, I don’t know, Baby Bjorn or something like that, in the world, like a toddler holder, you’d be like, “Oh, my God, Jon, you’re a lifesaver. You totally get the situation in my life.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. So much more for targeted, specific, applicable.

Jon Levy
Exactly. But that doesn’t scale very well. Like, I can do that a few times. I can’t do that with a thousand people. So, the question is, “What actually does work?” And it turns out, the exact opposite of gifting works, which is it’s called the IKEA effect. It states that we disproportionately care about our IKEA furniture because we had to assemble it.

So, if I can figure out a way for you to invest effort into our relationship, you’ll care more about it. So, you know how a lot of people are like, “Oh, I don’t like asking for favors”? Terrible idea. Ask for favors. People, generally, feel flattered that you asked, and by them fulfilling on the favor, they will actually like you more. So, the first thing is that. Let’s apply the IKEA effect.

A second is let’s find an activity or an opportunity to apply the IKEA effect. So, rather than take somebody for a drink or a dinner, go workout together. This will cause the two of you to invest effort into one another and care more about each other in the process. So, when I was 28, I was trying to figure out how to connect with really influential people. I developed these models and I end up launching a secret dining experience.

Twelve people are invited, they’re not allowed to talk about what they do or even give their last name. They cooked dinner together, and when they sit down to eat, they get to guess what everybody does and, of course, eat a terrible meal. I mean, 12 people who don’t know how to cook really don’t make a great meal.

Pete Mockaitis
Also, I think you’re going to need a big kitchen with 12 people actively doing stuff.

Jon Levy
I live in New York. I actually don’t have a huge kitchen. I actually kind of like the fact that they’re stuck rubbing elbows up against each other because it creates more intimacy. But you’ll notice the IKEA effect is in full force. They are working together towards a joint goal with a time that’s time-locked so either they get the work done and we eat, or the meat is undercooked.

So, this leads to a lot of effort being put and a lot of fast bonding. And, in general, human beings don’t bond well when they’re just like interviewing one another. We’ve developed, as a species, that works well together. And so, by having a shared activity, it takes the social pressure off of conversation, and then conversation flows more naturally.

And so, it turns out that if we want to connect and build trust quickly, the best bet is to find an activity that we actually enjoy, and then invite people to participate with us in that activity. Now, let me emphasize, I might a bit more extroverted so I might do something for 12 people. You might be more introverted and just invite two people to come with you on a hunt, or for an art class, or for some kind of activity that you really enjoy, maybe playing basketball. I don’t know.

Whatever it is, it just needs to be something you enjoy because, otherwise, it’s going to feel like a real chore to keep doing it to meet people.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I guess I’m curious, like if you’re inviting someone, is there a minimum level of something that needs to be in place before you issue an invitation? So, like, let’s just say, I bumped into you, you are someone who knows somebody I’m having coffee with, you say hey to that someone, and then I say, “Hey, Jon, do you want to go on a hike on Saturday?”

Jon Levy
That’d be super weird.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, how do we think about the pre-invitation relationship?

Jon Levy
So, there are two or three things that we want to look at. One is I’d encourage for it not just to be a hike. That doesn’t possess novelty.
Human beings are driven by novelty. When something is new or different, they want to engage. And so, in general, rather than just have a hike, add an additional layer of novelty. Have it be like, “Oh, each person brings one problem they’re struggling with, and by the end of the hike, the entire group coaches them through it.” So, now it’s an idea exploration hike and it has direct value to the people participating, especially if we add this additional factor, which is it’s not just novel, but if it’s well-curated.

So, if I say, “Hey, we’ve never met. You’re friends with Tim’s? Great. We both know Tim. Pete, I run an idea hike and I run it with a group of people who are all entrepreneurs who have companies that do over a million dollars in business. Five of us go at a time, each of us brings one idea that we’re struggling with, all of us are experts in different areas. So, one is an internet marketer, the other is an author, and another one is TV show writer, whatever it is. I think it would be super fun if you joined this great group of people. We’re going on a hike on Tuesday. Can you make the time?”

Now, suddenly, you see something novel, something that has shared effort, something that is very well-curated, all these successful people that you get to connect with, and you have a direct value, it’s a very generous experience. You see, “Oh, wow, maybe I’ll finally find the solution to this issue that I’m struggling with.”

And so, you see, you can take a simple idea. I’ve never, listen, I literally made this up with you right now. I’ve never heard of a hike like this. But the fact that it has all this value in there, and it’s a really simple design. Pete, how much would it cost to go on a hike like that?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I mean, if you try to package it and have a fancy landing page and all that, it could be thousands of dollars.

Jon Levy
Yeah, but I mean like if I just say, “Hey, this is something that I do,” it wouldn’t cost anything in the sense that people can get themselves to the bottom of the trail, and, let’s say, Hollywood right there is all the Runyon Canyons and all that, like it doesn’t matter how much money you have. You can absolutely gather people or connect with them and create deep connections with them without spending a fortune, is kind of what I’m pointing to.

There’s this misconception that in order to connect with people, especially the people that we want to do business with, it’s going to cost a lot of money. But it turns out that, since human beings are wired for connection and wired for developing relationships, it’s the people who have the least amount of money who are often very good at it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. Well, I want to make sure we covered that piece then. So, what are we thinking about with regard to the pre-invitation? So, you’ve boosted the value proposition, if you will, of your invitation, like, “That thing you’re talking about sounds real cool.” So, how do we think about sort of like the minimum level of pre-connection to issue that invitation?

Jon Levy
Oh, I think that you actually need none if the event is novel enough and has some proof of concept. So, if you’re allowed to mention some of the names of the people, I think it was the book Made to Stick or something like that, talked about the Sinatra role, this idea that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. All you need is like one example that, “Oh, the founder of Allbirds. It’ll be like the last time we had the founder of Allbirds and the author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a… whatever.” Then, suddenly, you have proof of concept. Those are the types of people who come.

So, in that case, I can say, “Oh, I saw you on the Forbes 30, under 30, or whatever it is, list. You seem to be doing really interesting things. This is the activity I host. Would you like to join sometime? Here are the upcoming dates.” And you could literally, whatever your thing is to meet people and connect with them, you could go on two hikes a week and so that there’s always something to connect with people, and always an opportunity to have really healthy pro-social behavior and activities.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m intrigued. So, the novel dimension is, I get it, that’s really cool in terms of dopamine and excitement and…

Jon Levy
Creates curiosity, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I get that that’s awesome. But now I’m thinking about sort of the big five personalities and how, you know, I’m thinking of folks who are low on extraversion and openness to new experiences. It’s like the things we’re talking about, they sound really cool to me, but other personalities would be like, “Oh, that seems like a bit much in terms of it’s, I don’t know, risky, scary. I’m not that adventurous.” So, Jon, do you have any, I don’t know if the word is boring, but…?

Jon Levy
Safer. Let’s put on the safer suit. So, I’m going to lean on another book and thought leader on this. There’s something called The Creative Curve, it was a book by Allen Gannett. And in it he suggests that something is created when it’s familiar enough that it feels safe but new enough that it’s exciting. If it’s too safe, it’s boring. If it’s too novel, it’s esoteric. It’s like Bjork’s music.

So, I think you’re absolutely right that there are personality types that may feel uncomfortable with going hiking, and I respect that. That’s totally fine. So, there’s two or three different ways to look at it. One is, maybe, invite a few friends that write for Outlet to come or make friends with people who write for Outlet, and get a story done about it so that you have additional proof that you’re not like inviting people to steal their kidneys. That’s one angle. But that happens over time. It’s not going to happen your second time. It’ll happen your 10th time, 20th time, whatever it is.

The second is you can also do like a board game or a dinner party, and use formats that are more familiar to the people than hiking. The issue is that you’re not necessarily looking to connect with everybody. You’re not trying to boil the ocean and make friends with the entire world. What you’re doing is trying to find people in certain industries that have values that you care about, and sometimes that means that you won’t meet specific people, but that’s okay.

Like, frankly, if people are so introverted, they’re probably not going to networking events anyway, or conferences. And in those cases, you’re probably better off with just a direct introduction and hoping that you get to meet them for something more quiet. That’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. So, there we have it. So, you have an activity and it’s sort of a clear offer that is somewhat novel and fun and valuable, and gives an opportunity for people to meet and connect and connect better than just chatting because they’re doing something together, so all that’s excellent. So, then let’s say you’re in it. So, here we are, we’re cooking, we’re hiking, we’re doing the board game, and we’re doing the thing, any particular do’s and don’ts for connecting well in the moment?
Jon Levy
Sure. So, here’s something I only learned while researching this new book. We tend to think that trust precedes vulnerability. Like, if I trust you, I’ll be willing to risk more. But it turns out that it actually doesn’t work that way. It turns out that it’s a process called a vulnerability loop. So, let’s say I started working for you, Pete, and I’m sitting in a cubicle or whatever not far from you. And you hear me say, “Oh, my God, I’m so overwhelmed.” I’ve just signaled vulnerability. I said, “I don’t know how I’m going to handle something.” Now, if you ignore that or make fun of it, trust will be reduced.

Pete Mockaitis
“Ah, Jon, you loser. Buckle down. You can handle it.”

Jon Levy
Now, in certain environments, you might be like in the Navy Seals, it’s probably like the culture but in most offices, people are going to feel really insecure and then not put themselves out there again. But if you acknowledge it, and say, “Jon, my first week I was totally overwhelmed. What are you dealing with?” Then you’ve just signaled vulnerability and now we can trust each other at this higher level. And it’s these vulnerability loops that actually develop trust. That’s why trust, generally, develops over time through small actions.

Now, the IKEA effect, one of the reasons I think it exists is because, as you’re investing effort in a joint activity, it creates a bunch of these vulnerability loops, like, “Oh, my God, pass me the…” then you throw me like whatever I need. And, suddenly, we’ve opened and closed a bunch of loops. Now, this also means that when we meet people, we want to be aware of when they’re putting out loops which we sometimes we don’t notice.

So, if you’re saying, “Oh, how’s your week?” “Oh, my God, it was so stressful.” That is the opening of a loop and that’s your opportunity to increase trust. Now, watch out, there are some people who will verbally vomit all over you but, for the most part, being aware of them and acknowledging them and giving people a space for that means that you can increase trust faster.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s a really interesting framework right there in terms of, “Can you pass me the salt?” I mean, that is like the tiniest bit of vulnerability but, at the same time, it’s like, “Look, I’ve got some stuff sizzling on this pan. This is the perfect moment I need the salt and, yet, there’s 12 people in the kitchen, I can’t reach it right now, so hook me up.” So, that is a little something and I see how that takes you there.

So, let’s zoom way in on these bits. So, some says, “I’m so stressed, I’m so overwhelmed, I’m tired. I’m worried about this thing. My toddler has been screaming all afternoon. He’s driving me nuts.” So, someone puts one of those out there, let’s hear some best-practice responses.

Jon Levy
And I also want to add something that, for some people, saying, “I got a promotion” is a vulnerability loop.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Jon Levy
It has to do with the level of comfort that somebody feels.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s true. Like, if someone disclosed a financial item to me and I’m trying to keep it as vague as possible and respectful, and I can tell, it’s like, “Whoa, that is vulnerable” in that I know that something about your situation that is surprising and could cause me to look at you in a different light, better or worse, like, “Holy crap, I didn’t know you were so loaded,” or, “Oh, dang, government assistance, I didn’t know you were really struggling.” Either way, it’s vulnerable and it could be vulnerable in a positive way.

Jon Levy
Yeah, it’s super interesting. And the issue is that, in general, we don’t flex the vulnerability muscle in a great way. Part of it is that we can accomplish a vulnerability loop both by paying attention when other people are opening them or by us opening it in a way that gives them an opportunity to close it. So, if I said, “You know, Pete, I am so impressed with what you’ve accomplished with this podcast. I tried to launch a podcast a while back and it was, I did a bunch of episodes and I just didn’t have the energy to keep it going. I’m beyond impressed.” That in itself is a vulnerability loop. I just called one out on myself.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re right. And it’s easy to let them just blow right past you, it’s like, “Hey, man, you’re not that lucky. You just got to keep on hustling and grinding and get a good team.” It’s like, okay, that actually did accomplish nothing in terms of like relationship-building.

Jon Levy
It blew it off. It said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m whatever,” on your opinion of me. And so, we aren’t really good with that kind of stuff, and the issue is that when we mess up or think we’ve messed up, which is more common than actually messing up, like an overshare, then we get scared to do it again, and understandably which is uncomfortable. Vulnerability in its core is the willingness to be open to injury of some kind.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Literally, vulneo, Latin, to wound. You’re right. And, in a way, boy, this is really a skill and you kind of got to slow it down at first, like, “Okay, okay. Oh, Jon is opening up a vulnerability loop here.” And so, sometimes, boy, I can overthink it so, let’s hear some best-practice responses. I guess it’s something along the lines of validation, like, “Yeah, man, it’s freaking tough. It takes hours and hours and hours, and then you feel like you got to deliver for an audience, like, “Where is my next episode?” and you don’t want to disappoint them, and so you feel that pressure. And then that pressure can get you all the more tired and overwhelmed. Okay, so that’s where like connecting to the emotion.

Jon Levy
That’s one possible sign. So, the other is, “Wow, thank you so much for noticing that. Most people just see the success and think it comes easy. And, I’ll be honest, I’ve clocked in sleepless nights trying to figure out how to make it better, and I really appreciate that you noticed.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Jon Levy
So, there isn’t a one way to do it. I think the more important is to acknowledge it and give like a real answer or response. Here’s another kind of fun thing about trust that most people are unaware of. When you say, like, “Oh, what’s the most important aspect of a relationship.” Everybody always says trust.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Jon Levy
“Great. What is trust made out of?” And when you ask that question, people are like, “Like, being vulnerable? I don’t know.” And I didn’t know either until I researched this book. It turns out that trust is essentially made of, most researchers agree, three things, some say four. I like the three model. And it would be competence, your ability to do something; honesty or integrity, your truthfulness; and the third is benevolence.

Now, here’s what’s interesting. Not all of the three pillars are equally weighted or important. So, for example, let’s say you have an episode and it bombs. Do your listeners go, “Oh, I can’t trust him to deliver anymore,” or do they seem like, “Oh, that one was just okay, whatever, and he’ll be back to normal. He probably got his second COVID shot and had an off day”?

So, you can see that you can breach competence and it’s not a big deal. But if you were to breach honesty, like somebody lied to you, you would probably doubt everything that they say moving forward, but there’s kind of like this funny loophole. So, let’s say the two of us were walking down the street and it’s like a year from now and we can congregate in large groups at this point. And as we’re walking, I say, “Hey, Pete, do you mind if we stopped by a friend’s house? I need to pick something up.” And you’re like, “Yeah, sure.”

When we walk in, 40 of your closest friends jumped out and screamed, “Surprise!” Now, it would be super strange if you turned to me and go, “Jon, you just lied to me. We can’t be friends anymore.” Like, I clearly breached honesty, I did not tell the truth, but you were okay with it because I did for benevolent reasons.

Now, if you’ve found out that your doctor was getting kickbacks for giving you prescriptions, that’s a lack of benevolence. You’d be like, “That’s really messed up. I need a new doctor.” So, we can see that we value benevolence above honesty, and honesty above competence. And here’s what’s really interesting when I was doing all this research, I discovered that, apparently, and I’m very clearly not a Navy Seal as you can tell just by looking at me, that when the Navy Seals are reviewing potential candidates, apparently, they ranked them on their skill, their competence, and their team orientation, their kind of benevolence.

And if you scored very high on competence but very low on benevolence, or team orientation, then you’re a terrible candidate because it means that you’ll be very arrogant. But if you are very team-oriented and less skilled, they’d much rather have you because you can always upskill a person, you can train them, but what’s really hard is teaching somebody to be benevolent.

And so, I think when the important thing, and you see this to some degree with these vulnerability loops, is that human beings tend to trust when they feel that somebody has their best interest at heart and when they’re being honest, and competence can increase over time. And if you look at misinformation right now, and I know this is kind of a random side topic, but a lot of the misinformation that’s believed seems to be about, like, very wealthy elite people. And my hunch is that it becomes so believable because, although whoever is very competent at doing things, my hunch is the people that believed these things, like they’re trying to microchip us or whatever it is, don’t necessarily feel like that they’re benevolent.

And so, I think that that’s a lot of the issues that we’re facing, is that when the narrative around our relationships are non-benevolent, it’s really hard to trust. In competence, we can kind of get over.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, yeah. You know, that’s interesting because I remember when I fired somebody, there was some incompetence going on for a while and I was like, “Okay, we got to work on it. We got to work on it.” And then I remember there was some hourly reporting going on, and in a conversation I had with her about what seemed like over-hour reporting, she over-reported the hours she spent having that conversation with me.

Jon Levy
Oh, my God, that’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
I was like, “You could see the timestamp on the Skype and we’re talking about the thing right now.” It’s just sort of like, “I just don’t have any hope that this can be turned around. I guess we’re done here, you know.”

Jon Levy
Oh, my God, that’s so awkward. Oh, but I think that that’s a perfect example of hourly reporting is a vulnerability loop, right? You are literally saying, “I trust that you are going to be respectful of my business, my work, my livelihood, my ability to support my family, and I’m going to trust you to accurately assess your work.”

And what’s interesting about this one is that it’s not up to debate. You either, like an hour is a length of time that you can measure. Like, sure, maybe you got up to go to the bathroom, whatever, like you’re allowed bathroom breaks so I’m not like measuring that. But she breached that vulnerability loop, like trust was fundamentally reduced to the point that it’s not acceptable to keep working together.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, right. So, I mean, that just rings true in terms of benevolence trumping honesty, trumping competence, because competence, you know, I was being lenient for a good while there. So, insightful stuff, Jon. Well, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jon Levy
This has been super interesting exploring the idea and I loved that you brought up an example. And the book is, like I mentioned, super fun. It explores how human connection, trust, and belonging are really the greatest predictors and kind of breaks down the signs and stories of how to bring it to life.

And I think one of the interesting things is that we did a deep dive into how to actually accomplish it digitally because, right now, teams are really having a tough time at distance, maintaining culture, of feeling of belonging, and so that was super interesting on how to actually accomplish it.

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

Jon Levy
“If you wish to improve, be willing to be thought as stupid and foolish.” Epictetus. So, I cannot count the number of times I felt like an idiot. I’ve embarrassed myself more times than I can count. I have opened more vulnerability loops that were never closed. I have put myself out there, leaned in for the kiss in my early days, before I was married, and was rejected. Like, you put yourself out there like some romantic trope and then you’re like, “Oh, no, we’re best as friends.”

So, the fact is, that human beings function in like an anti-fragile process, meaning, “I dropped a glass, it breaks. It’s fragile.” But human beings are anti-fragile, which means that when we apply pressure to ourselves, we get stronger. We lift weights, we get stronger. We try and learn to interact socially, it’s embarrassing at times but we get stronger. And so, I love that quote by Epictetus.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study?

Jon Levy
There’s two that are kind of fun. One is by Gilbert. I think he’s at Harvard. He’s kind of like the leading happiness researcher. And what he did was he had people take a, I think it was a series of Monet prints, I think it’s like six of them or 20 of them, whichever number it was. And he said, “Oh, please organize these from most appealing to least appealing.” And then he, essentially said, “Oh, I have number three and number four. You can pick one of them to take home with you.”

A week later, they came back and they had them reorganized, the print order, or put it in order again from most to least, and number three, which is what most of them took home, became number two. And number four became number five. So, essentially, making the decision or commitment actually changed people’s preferences.

Now, people argued, “Oh, that’s because they have the print and they remember it.” So, he repeated the experiment in one of these centers for people who can’t form new memories, like 50 First Dates or Memento. And so, he comes in, does the experiment, walks out of the room, walks back in, the person doesn’t remember them anymore, doesn’t remember the experiment, and then has them order the pictures again. And somehow number three becomes number two, and number four becomes number five.

That means that our decisions and our preferences can actually be rewired based on our actions independent of our memory, which means that our preferences are malleable and it’s kind of silly because we view ourselves as the person who likes this drink, and likes this activity. But maybe if we just made a slightly different decision one time, we could learn to like anything. And I think that that’s totally wild.

Another study I kind of like is called the Pratfall Effect. So, for the listeners, you know how like in romcoms, people love the hapless fool that falls over themselves, like one we want to cheer for? A study was done that looked at people going into job interviews and had some people spill a bit of coffee on themselves, and it turns out that they were rated as better and more preferable because they were human. It’s kind of like that vulnerability loop that I was talking about.

So, it turns out that being a little silly, or falling on yourself a bit, or having these moments that humanize us, actually get people to like us more. So, the things that you’re probably embarrassed about are probably working in your favor.

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

Jon Levy
So, my name is Jon Levy, and I’m pretty easy to find on all the social platforms. I’m jonlevytlb across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Clubhouse, if that’s still a thing. Who knows? It could be gone in a week or whenever. And my website is JonLevyTLB.com, and the book is called You’re Invited: The Art and Science of Cultivating Influence. So, feel free to reach out. There’s also a bunch of games on my website for people who want to connect better digitally, and they’re a ton of fun.

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

Jon Levy
Yes. So, people tend to be most engaged when they’re doing something just outside their skillset, like that point of slight discomfort. So, my encouragement is for you to look at the different aspects of your job and ask yourself “What would make you just slightly uncomfortable? What would be exciting for you to try and do?” Maybe that’s go to your boss and say, “Hey, I would like to do a presentation in front of the team.”

Even if it’s not a necessary presentation, just building up that skill because it’s exciting for you is super beneficial. And having like a playground to do it in and that’s safe is essential. And so, whatever that area that makes you a little bit nervous and excited, find that and go and pursue it just so you can develop better skills.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jon, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun in all the ways you’re cultivating influence.

Jon Levy
Thank you. And this is an absolute blast. Thanks for having me on and for sharing your stories with me. It’s a pleasure.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Richard:

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Richard Medcalf Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Mantra, dogma, guideline.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Command.

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

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

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

Richard Medcalf
There you go.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Medcalf
And actually you get from home.

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

Richard Medcalf
So, the match and lead, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, there you go.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that took a long time.

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

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool?

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Richard Medcalf
“And then be that person.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode 538: How to Size People Up and Predict Behavior to Build Better Relationships with Robin Dreeke

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Robin Dreeke says: "It's not how you make people feel about you. It's how you make them feel about themselves."

Former FBI agent Robin Dreeke shares how sizing people up can help you build trusting, strong relationships at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The overlooked activities that build healthy work relationships
  2. The six fundamental principles of trust
  3. The code of trust that builds relationships

About Robin:

Robin Dreeke is a best-selling author, professional speaker, trainer, facilitator and retired FBI Special Agent and Chief of the Counterintelligence Behavioral Analysis Program. He is the founder of People Formula, an organization that offers Advanced Rapport Building Training and Consultation. Robin has taken his life’s work of recruiting spies and broken down the art of leadership, communication, and relationship into FIVE Steps to TRUST and Six Signs of who you can TRUST.

Since 2010, Robin has been working with large corporations as well small companies in every aspect of their business. He graduated from the US Naval Academy and served in the US Marine Corps. Robin lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

About Robin Dreeke

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Robin Dreeke Interview Transcript

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

Robin Dreeke
Thanks for having me. What could be a better podcast than that? That’s awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Yeah, I like it. It’s just clear. Like, “Okay, I know what we’re getting here.”

Robin Dreeke
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you, boy, I’m sure you have a lot of stories. So, maybe, could you kick us off, to get things rolling, with an exciting story coming from your time as the chief of counterintelligence behavioral analysis at the FBI? Feel free to omit any classified details but, yeah, what can you share with us?

Robin Dreeke
I think it’s probably easier just to say, in broad spectrum, what my job actually was, and I can go into different stories but they’re all roughly the same. My job was to recruit spies.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Robin Dreeke
And I always called it the toughest sales job on the face of the planet because, in a nutshell, I’m selling a product, and my product was US patriotism. And so that, these days, can be a tough challenge as it is anyway. Anyway, my client, and all my clients, were foreign intelligence officer that worked for other countries to get our intelligence on behalf of their countries, and so that’s my client. So, the first challenge in my life was I’m selling a product of American patriotism to people that generally do not want to buy that product.

Pete Mockaitis
From their perspective, they might call it treason, if you will.

Robin Dreeke
Absolutely, it would be. See, I always call it just buying a product. I like to soften it. And then the second challenge is, so who are these intelligence officers? Ninety-nine percent of the time, intelligence officers are foreign diplomats under diplomatic cover at establishments across the country. Most of them are at the embassies in Washington, D.C. or the consulates of the mission to the United Nations in New York, or any of the consulates around the country, so they’re diplomats.

And so, as diplomats, they’re actually, they have rights and privileges that no one can mess with them, especially, by law and treaty, it was illegal for me to initiate contact with them. So, the first challenge is I’m selling a product that they probably don’t want to buy. Second challenge is it’s illegal for me to actually approach them and try to sell the product. So, that was the great challenge especially if you have a type A personality, you know, a hard charger like myself where you think you have to convince people of things, you’re going to really fail majestically at this.

And so, it really comes down to selling the toughest product, and really selling any product in the world, it’s the simplest thing, all you have to do is figure out the priorities of the other individual, of the things that they need, the resources that they’re looking for. And if I offer resources in terms of those priorities, they’re willing to buy them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that is intriguing. And, wow, boy, there’s so much to go on there.

Robin Dreeke
Anything you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Were there particular angles or offers you made that seemed to work frequently?

Robin Dreeke
So, I would say the most common priorities, because I always talk in terms of priorities of others, because here’s a truth of life, human beings are exceptionally predictable, and they’re predictable because all human beings are always going to act in their own best interests, which is safety, security, and prosperity for themselves and their families. My job, and the job of anyone, is just to figure out what they see from their perspective as success and prosperity, and then you see if you have resources in terms of that. That’s all we do when you work in sales. You’re trying to understand the priorities of someone else and offer them resources whether it’s goods, commodities, or services in terms of those priorities and see if you can come to an agreement.

So, the same thing with selling my product. I’d say, by and large, the most predominant thing that foreign spies were looking for was safety, security, and prosperity for their children. You know, it might’ve been a dying wish of a father or a grandfather that their grandchildren wouldn’t grow up under the regime that they grew up under, that it was not a safe place to live, that it was biased or unfair. Whatever it was, that was a priority for theirs, was that their children would not grow up in that kind of environment.

And so, that’s something that I have resources that I can offer in terms of those things if they wanted to immigrate here or to some other country. And now my priorities, where I wanted to understand what their goals, objectives, and the things that they’re trying to take from our country, and so that’s where you come to an agreement, or not, that, “Hey, you have priorities and resources, I have priorities and resources, can we have an accommodation?” That’s pretty simple.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. Well, now, I want to spend most of our time talking about sizing people up. You’ve done a lot of thinking, writing, and research on this topic. And maybe, first, I want to just address, is that even a fair and appropriate thing for a human being to do, to size someone up? Isn’t that like judge-y, you’re judging them, and that should be not done? Or what do you mean by that term and how would you distinguish it?

Robin Dreeke
Yeah, it’s a catchy term because it catches your eye, but the first thing you find out when you dive into this book, or anything else I’ve written or done, is that it has absolutely nothing to do with judging.
And part of that is, as human beings, we’re also genetically, and biologically, and socially coded to want to belong to meaningful groups and organizations and to be valued by those same organizations. And so, I always tell the story about years ago when I was in the Marine Corps, I was a horrible…I am not a natural-born leader. I am a natural-born narcissist, you know, it’s that type A personality. I thought being successful in life was, “How do I make myself look good and get ahead?”

And I remember the first time I was ranked against the other second lieutenants of my first squadron I was in, I was ranked last. I believed everyone’s born with at least one gift. At least, at that time of my life, I was at least born with enough humility to say, “All right, I’m doing something wrong.” And I went to my major and asked him, I said, “What am I doing wrong?” And he says, “You just need to be a better leader.”

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, thanks.”

Robin Dreeke
“That’s easy. All right.” I said, “Great. How do I do that?” And he goes, “Well, just make it about everyone else but yourself. Be selfless.” And I’m like, “And I wasn’t doing that? All right. Specifically, how do I do that?” And he couldn’t tell me because he was a natural-born leader, he’s just being who he was. And so, all these years I’ve tried to figure this out, and I have. So, how do you make a conversation about everyone else but yourself? How do you demonstrate value and affiliation to others? It’s simple. If you build into your language one of these four things in everything you say and everything you write, the entire conversation becomes about them and they’re genetically and biologically being rewarded chemically in the brain for it.

Pete Mockaitis
Bring it on.

Robin Dreeke
Yeah, you seek the thoughts and opinions of others. Because we only see the thoughts and opinions of others that we value and we want to affiliate with. Second, you talk in terms of their priorities. And we’ve already been talking about the importance of priorities. You talk in terms of their priorities, of what’s important to them, because if you’re not talking in terms of their priorities, they’re being polite at best. They’re not paying attention.

Third, you validate them non-judgmentally. And validation just means that you’re seeking to understand them at a deeper level, and not necessarily agreeing with them but seeking to understand them without judging them. And, fourth, if appropriate, you empower them with choices. Again, you only give people choices if you value them and you want to affiliate with them.

So, when you build one of those four things into everything you say, write, and do, the other person’s brain is chemically rewarded for engaging with you because you’re demonstrating that value and affiliation. So, that’s where it all started, is that very granular look at it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is helpful. And I love your vantage point where you’re coming at it from in terms of, “No, really, how do you do that?” So, you had to break it down and to arrive in that. So, I think that is really connecting, resonating, making sense in terms of, “Yes, I do like it when people do that. And when I do those things with others, they respond well.” Let’s hear about the third one – validating non-judgmentally. What are some of the best ways you go about doing that?

Robin Dreeke
So, the best ways about doing that is you ask them challenging questions. Like, not challenge like challenging, but what kind of challenges they’re having in their lives, discover their priorities. Try to get deeper about understanding how they think the way they think, the experiences they’ve had, the background they have, how they grew up, I mean, if they’re at liberty to share all these things with you. But seeking to understand how the other person seeks to build affiliations with you and others, and how they see the world through their particular optic.

It’s basically building a curiosity into yourself about others. Because when you build that curiosity in, instead of judging, ask yourself why. Why did they think the way they think? Why do they believe the things they believe? Why do they perform the way they perform? Without taking a side on it, just seek to understand it. Because when you have congruence between the word you’re saying and the emotion you have, that makes it genuine and sincere. So, it’s building in that curiosity because that’s what validation ultimately needs in order for it to be effective.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. So, that’s how that’s done. And then I’d love to get your view. So, the subtitle of your book “Sizing People Up” is “A Veteran FBI Agent’s User Manual for Behavior Prediction.”

Robin Dreeke
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
So, boy, there’s so much there associated with behavior prediction. Could you maybe kick us off there by talking about what’s perhaps the most counterintuitive thing about behavior prediction that you’ve discovered in your years of work?

Robin Dreeke
So, when we look at the title “Sizing People Up,” hey, it’s about to be judge-y. No, the whole purpose is so I can reasonably predict what you’re going to do in every situation so that I don’t get emotionally hijacked, and I don’t have negative thoughts, feelings, or emotions towards you because I had an expectation that was unreasonable based on what you’re reasonably going to do.

Because, again, it’s about building trust and building relationships, because without relationships, you’re not going anywhere. There’s not one person in this world that achieves anything without at least one other person being part of that team or being that inspiration or coming up with that idea and helps you move forward. So, this is all about building healthy relationships.

And so, from there, I think probably not the aha moment in this. But what happened was, when I started really focusing on others and trying to build trust by making sure my behavior was aligned with was good for building trust, I started realizing that, “Wow, I’m focusing on this other person and I’m starting to be able to predict what they’re going to do because I’m so focused on what their needs, wants, dreams and aspirations, priorities are, I know that they’re always going to take actions in terms of those things, which makes them start to become very predictable in what they do.”

And we’ve all heard this too. We’ve all heard the expression, I believe, there was a definition of crazy, doing the same thing, expecting different results. Well, when you reverse it, when you see someone else doing the same things two, three or four times, you can reasonably expect they’re probably going to do it five or six times the same way.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Robin Dreeke
So, that’s part of this whole equation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Intriguing. Well, so then that adds up in terms of in immersing yourself and understanding their perspectives, needs, wants, priorities, values, you in turn are able to predict kind of where things are going. So, then can you share with us, how do you come to gain that understanding? What are the kinds of things you’re watching for, listening for, asking in order to develop that profile?

Robin Dreeke
Sure. So, I came up with these six signs that a lot of human beings, we’re all intuitively doing this, but when you can place a label and meaning on it, it actually allows you to do it quicker and more accurately and more cognitively without subjective observation. And so, I call that new car effect. By placing on labels on anything, you start recognizing it quicker. So, the same thing when you buy a new car. All of a sudden, as soon as you buy that car, you start recognizing that same make and model going down the road or in a parking lot without even trying to because it has a meaning and value to you.

And so, the first one, the first sign for the six signs for this, the first sign is a sign of vesting. In other words, are the use and language and behaviors that demonstrates that they’re actually as much vested in your success as they are on their own? Because if they’re demonstrating that, well, that’s pretty predictable that, “All right, I can probably reasonably predict that they’re going to continue to do that.”

The second sign is longevity. Are they using language and behaviors that’s demonstrating that they actually are seeing the relationship as long term versus short term? The third one is reliability. Are they demonstrating both competence and diligence in the task at hand or what they’re assigned to do? Competence is do they have the skills appropriate for what it is they’re doing? And diligence, do they have the energy and tenacity to follow through on it?

Actions, sign four. And we’ve already talked about this, actions, these past patterns of key behaviors. Have you observed them multiple times doing something a certain way so you can reasonably predict they’re probably going to continue to do it that way if not better? Five is language. Are they using language that’s demonstrating that they’re valuing you as much as yourself? And so, this is where we reverse it. I said before, when you include one of those four things in everything you say and do by seeking thoughts and opinions, talking in terms of their priorities, validating without judging them, and giving them choices, are they likewise doing that to you or are they using that language when talking and discussing with you?

And the sixth sign is stability, emotional stability. During times of stress and discontent and whatever comes along, do they have the ability to maintain emotional stability and thoughtfulness, or do they over-emotionally react to things? Now, each one of these six things, you don’t have to have all six to predict behavior. But what you do is you’re pretty much trying to key in on, because everyone has got strengths and everyone has things that are working well for them, so you’re just kind of keying in.

And what you’re doing is you’re establishing a baseline of what you can reasonably expect in all these areas from people and see what the results are. And then, all of a sudden, and so you’re setting that expectation at a reasonable level. The analogy I love to use is, because this takes the place of that intuitive “I like someone so I can trust them,” because liking and trust and predictability are vastly different because just because you like someone doesn’t mean you can predict what they’re going to do or trust them.

So, the analogy I use is flying. I’m a small pilot, I do angel flights. I volunteer for that stuff, and I have a great friend. I have a great friend that I trust with my life because he’s a great guy but he’s not a pilot. And because I trust him, it’s not like I can throw him the keys of the plane and say, “All right, I trust you to fly this plane.” No, because you don’t have competence in that area or reliability, so they’d kill us. So, I like making this very predictable behavior so you can reasonably manage expectations of others. So, again, you don’t set the bar too high so they don’t meet it and then you get angry or discontent toward them.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, essentially, when you say predictable, it’s sort of like reliability. I guess there’s some distinctions here. So, it’s predictable in the sense of I might not know, be able to predict the exact sentence out of their mouth, or the exact choice that they’re going to make amongst the sea of options they might not be even familiar with yet, but they can be predictably, I guess, relied upon if they have these things going on to follow through and not disappoint, or backstab, or betray, etc. Is that kind of where you’re going at?

Robin Dreeke
Absolutely. And in certain lanes as well because one thing I love to try to do is just because I can’t count on you or trust you/predict you in one area, I don’t want to hold that against them in another area I don’t allow one thing to ruin a relationship. Because I can’t trust you to fly a plane doesn’t mean I’m going to not like you or distrust you in all these other areas because you have displayed massive trustworthy and predictability in these other areas. So, I’ll definitely engage you in those lanes. So, this is just helping you manage your expectations in specific areas so that, again, the purpose of it is to maintain those good, healthy, strong professional relationships so that everyone can move forward together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. Well, so those are the indicators that I’m watching out for, and if I have those things then we’re likely to feel good that things are going to be followed through upon reliably in a predictable way, so that’s great. And so then, I’d like to get your take on when we’re trying to go about building that trust and rapport and relationship with folks, how do we make that happen?

Robin Dreeke
We do it the same way. First, we demonstrate it to them. So, I have my process called the code of trust which is my behaviors that I’m trying to do and exude to inspire them to want to align with me as well. So, the first step in that is you need to understand what their goals and priorities because that’s what makes this a leadership kind of thing because I always believe everyone is a leader. Because any time you have a goal and objective you’re trying to achieve, and you have a methodology in which to get there, which is about, “How do I get people to align with me and come along?” that’s leadership.

And so, the first one is to understand what it is you’re trying to achieve. And part two of that is, “How can I inspire someone to want to do that to be part of this?” So, step two of it is understand the priorities of others so that I’m making sure I understand what those priorities are, so I’m giving labels and meaning to mine, I’m giving labels and meaning to theirs, so their brain automatically starts aligning these things together.

Step three is understand their context, how they see their world through their particular optic. And when we’re understanding context, we’re discovering their demographic, their orientation, their thoughts, their beliefs, their gender, all these things. We’re understanding how they see the world through their point of view. And this is also where we’re starting to understand to build affiliations with others because we have commonalities in these different areas because, again, we’re trying to demonstrate value and demonstrate affiliation.

And then, step four, we want to make sure we’re using, that I’m using the language they’re looking for, that’s the same thing as the language in sign five of “Sizing People Up” and that is, “Am I seeking thoughts and opinions, talk in terms of their priorities, validating them, and giving them choices?” And, finally, I put this all together and I’m crafting, “How do I demonstrate to them that I see who they are, I see their priorities, and I want to be a resource for them.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Certainly. Well, that is a lot going on there. Could you perhaps tie it together for us in terms of a whole scenario and story with regard to, “All right. I was trying to pull this off with this person, and here’s what I observed and said, and how it unfolded”?

Robin Dreeke
Sure. So, right from the book, I remember when I was first a newer agent in New York, this was like right after 9/11 in New York City when I’m serving there. One of my potential confidential human sources, the people that are helping giving us information, he was brand-new to me, he’d been cooperating with the FBI for about 25 years, he had 16 guys like me before me come along, and he was really known as pretty cantankerous guy, kind of an alcoholic, but he had some great access and some great information.

And so, he had come to me and said, “Hey, I have someone that might be, that I think is going to be a good use for you in the FBI and for national security because associated, he’s a relative of a foreign leader in the Middle East.” And so, at this point, I had to quickly assess, “Does this guy…can I trust him? Because this is urgent information potentially and normally it takes time.” And vetting of information, over a period of time, and once you do this, but when you don’t have time, I had to really zero in. And, luckily, though I had a good mentor and a guide, and his name is Jessie, and we went through this process where we’re asking ourselves, “All right. What kind of language? Why is he doing this?”

And one of the things that he was actually doing was he had immediately taken a liking to me just because he liked teaching, mentoring, and guiding others, and so he actually literally started tying and using language of tying, wanted me to be successful because he enjoyed helping the United States. And so, the only way he knew he could help and serve the United States was if I was successful. So, he was actually using language by saying, “Hey, Robin, if we do this and we can solve this problem, we can hopefully identify some foreign actors that can help us, then you’re going to be successful because your success is my success.” So, that was the first thing he did was demonstrating that vesting sign.

And the second one that really struck me right away was the longevity because he was actually talking in terms of not what we’re going to accomplish just today or tomorrow. We actually, when you work in the world of counterintelligence, some of these operations take years and years and years. I mean, heck, the day I retired after 21 years, there was some operations I had started in the first couple of years of my career that are still going. And so, he used that language. He talked about things that would go on much longer than just when you hunt a bank robbery or something, and you solve the crime and you move on. He was talking in terms of how we can come up in lots of things over long periods of time.

And the other thing I thought was really good with him was he was emotionally stable. Every time a new situation would pop up, he immediately went into what I call science experiment mode. He immediately came up with cognitively thinking about, “All right. So, here’s where the situation is. What’s the cause and effect if we do this? What’s the cause and effect if we do this?” I mean, one way he demonstrated that to me is, I remember, every time, especially in this very scenario, we’re going to introduce me to this contact of his that was going to help us on a major problem, and we role-played it. He was big on role-playing things out because he was very cognitively thinking, “All right. If we say this, what’s going to be the reaction? He said this, what’s going to be his reaction.”

So, that’s where I first started to get exposed to, I mean, we’re doing this intuitively because he’s teaching and training as I’m teaching and training him, but when I took that step back years later, and looked at, “What were we actually doing? Why did I trust him?” Because he was demonstrating these signs.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s great. And so then, I’d love your view, if you think about sort of typical workplaces, maybe they have a little bit less life or death, or, you know, nation versus nation impacts, but what are some of the best simple actions you think people can take at work day in, day out that demonstrate these things well?

Robin Dreeke
Sure. I can give you some positives and negatives on this because I think we’ve all experienced this in workplaces. So, if you’re looking in the work environment, is your boss, how is he regarding you? When he or she is communicating with you, are they demonstrating that they’re vested in your success with the company? Are they actually giving you opportunities to learn, to grow, to take on new challenges, or are they keeping you shunned away? Are they not engaging you? Are they keeping you out of group meetings? Are they keeping you out of discussions because you’re not part of it? So, are they vested in you? That’s a great sign whether things are going sideways or they’re going well.

Longevity. Are they using language and they’re using behaviors and taking actions that demonstrate, and they see you here for the long haul? Are they putting you in those long-term training or managing programs? Are they putting you in for advanced placement things? Are they giving you opportunities to grow and expand because they see you here for the long haul?

Their actions. Are their actions towards you consistent or are they erratic? Again, go back to the language again. Are they engaging you and valuing you by seeking your thoughts and opinions, talking in terms of what’s important to you, and validating you without judging you, and then giving you choices along the way? So, those are just a few of them but it’s very easy to see these things in the workplace, and I think we all have.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. Well, so then I’d love to get your view in terms of you mentioned some of those behaviors that are not desirable. When folks are actually making an effort to do these kinds of things, do you see any sorts of mistakes or roadblocks are popping up that make it hard for folks?

Robin Dreeke
Hard for folks to…?

Pete Mockaitis
Hard for folks to invest and build these relationships and demonstrate these things for others.

Robin Dreeke
I think the underlying thing that undermines all of us in many situations is our own ego, vanity, and sense of superiority.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Robin Dreeke
Yeah, so I have these three core anchors I believe very firmly in, and that will enable us to accomplish anything that we’re seeking to do and achieve in life. Now, number one is I’m always asking myself before I open my mouth, or send an email off, is, “What I’m about to say or do going to help or hinder that healthy professional relationship?”

Number two, “Am I open, honest, and transparent with my communication because I can’t have that healthy relationship without open, honest, and transparency in communication?” And my third is, “I’m an available resource for the success and prosperity of others without expectation or reciprocity.” And so, that’s where that ego check comes in place, “Am I doing this for self-gain, at the cost of other people, or am I actually doing it to be a resource for others?” Because if I do that, and I have no expectation or reciprocity, that’s because we’re suspending our ego, we’re suspending our vanity, and we’re being a resource for others.

Now, when you do this, what’s the likelihood of reciprocity? Very high because, again, we’re genetically coded to want to reciprocate things given. But if you do it with the intent of that, then our own priorities start leaking out of our language. Remember, if we’re talking in terms of our priorities and they go and overlap with someone else’s, their mind shuts down.

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

Robin Dreeke
No, I think that covers it pretty good. You know, healthy, strong, professional relationships are absolutely the key to everything. And this is exactly how you do it. And the purpose of “Sizing People Up,” which is really predicting people’s behavior, at the core, is, “How can I make sure that you’ll never let me down?”

Now, here’s a great thing. If you fall short of that bar I set because I took all the time to understand what I can reasonably predict you’re going to do, then something happened in their lives, something went sideways. And so, now you can be a resource again to discover what priorities shifted and, again, you’re managing their expectations and you’re being there for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Can you give us an example of that shift? Like, a life thing happened which caused a shift, and then you’re responding. How might that play out?

Robin Dreeke
Oh, probably the most common ones I’ve seen where you got colleagues at work and you know exactly what to expect they’re going to do in every day in every kind of situation. And, all of a sudden, their performance falls off and you’re like, “That’s weird.” And instead of getting angry at them, you figure something went wrong, or something is going on, whether it’s a sick child, someone in the family, kids are failing out of school, their own health, there’s something going on with their own health that they’re not sharing. So, it’s just understanding that, “All right. It’s not them. There’s an outside influence that is coming into and impact them.” And so, instead of getting angry at them, you automatically go into the mode of, “All right. What’s causing this?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s just sort of a beautiful way to live in terms of if something undesirable is coming forth from a colleague, to not just assume that they’re no good but that there’s something up and how can you help.

Robin Dreeke
It keeps life very common, very simple. There is no doubt. That’s why I love doing this because my frustrations that I had at work and things not going my way or people not doing the things the way I want them doing, when I started really living this and understand this and practice, then it’s all that evaporated. It just went away because you understand, you just understand people and why they do what they do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I liked it how you zeroed in on your frustrations evaporated away. And so, can we get another example perhaps of, all right, there’s some behavior transpiring, it’s frustrating you, how you took a step back and came to understand some things, and then how did frustrations disappear?

Robin Dreeke
Sure.Basically, I was trying to sell my product to someone that didn’t want to buy this product. I wasn’t even allowed to go talk to the individual as I couldn’t get my boss’s bosses to approve us doing this.

And so, in those situations where you’re trying to do something and get something done but you’re being roadblocked by an individual, what people generally do is they start pounding on that individual or pounding on that situation, and that’s where all that frustration, anger, and resentment starts building in, and I think we’ve all experienced this. Sometimes you get so frustrated that the last minute you say, “Screw it,” and you let go. “I’m done. I’m not doing this.”

[30:04]

And when you do that, all of a sudden you see the answer in a different area, “Oh, wow, it’s easy if I just went over here, here’s where the answer is. Here’s how I can do it.” And where did that come from? It came from another relationship, they moved you to the area or the thing you wanted to do. So, the thing I do now is as soon as I feel a roadblock someplace, I always give a little push, I call it. Let’s say if a door comes up in front of me, or the thing I’m trying to do, or the thing I’m trying to accomplish, and if a roadblock comes up in front of me and a door slams, I’d give a little push on the door with the way the direction I’m trying to go, but that door is closed.

The first thing I now do, instead of starting to beat my head against the door, I take a step back, I talk to the healthy people in my life, all the other relationships, and I say to them, I state to them my purpose, “Hey, folks, here’s where I’m trying to go, here’s what I’m trying to accomplish. Does anyone else have any ideas about how to get over there?” And that’s where the magic happens because, inevitably, someone else comes in with a great idea I never thought of in a million years, and you’re through that door, all because I wasn’t trying to beat it down by myself in a direction that wasn’t meant to be. You take that step back, you maintain good cognitive thought, and you think about the relationships you have, the strong healthy ones, to how to get through.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Robin Dreeke
The favorite quote is probably “The Man in the Arena” by Theodore Roosevelt but I’m going to keep it even simpler than a long one. So, years and years ago, when I was still in the Marine Corps, everyone in life gets these little profound things dripped on them without even realizing it. I worked for this colonel, and he once said to me, he said, “Captain, never tell me no, only tell me yes. But tell me what it’ll cost me.”

And what he was saying was very profound. He goes, “I don’t want to hear no. I just want to hear yes. But what I want is choices. Tell me the cause and effect, the cost benefit analysis of every choice you’re offering me.” And so, that is a great way I thought of framing, “How do you communicate with someone?” Don’t start with a negative. You start with a positive, “Yes, we can do this. If we do it this way, it’ll cost us this. if we do it this way, it’ll cost us this. If we do it this way, it’ll cost us this. Which way do you want to proceed?” And the great thing about this is if we only give people choices that we actually like as well also.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, lovely. Thank you. And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Robin Dreeke
Probably the study that Harvard University did in the spring of 2012 where a lot of the scientific basis in neurology came where a lot of things I’m talking about. And that is what they did is they wired up people’s brains, and what they found is when they wired up their brains, and they found that people on average share their own thoughts and opinions and talk about themselves roughly 40% of every single day.

And when they’re sharing their own thoughts and opinions, basically testing the world around them for, “Do you accept me for what I am not judgmentally?” When they’re sharing their thoughts and opinions about themselves, dopamine was being released in their brain. Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, blood stream. In other words, pleasure centers in the brain are firing when we’re sharing our thoughts and opinions with others because we’re testing, “Do you accept me?”

So, now, if you can take your 40% and give it over to someone else so they can share their thoughts and opinions more, and then you add those four things we talked about, especially validating those thoughts and opinions, their brain is chemically rewarding them for the engagement with you because you are demonstrating to them their value, their affiliation, and it’s good for their survival.

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

Robin Dreeke
I’m a lover of history, and David McCullough is my favorite author. And so, I love every single book he put out, but the first one that got me hooked on him was “1776.”

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve just read excerpts, I was like, “Oh, my God, this is thrilling.” Like, I kind of know how the story goes and yet I’m riveted. I should just hunker down and read the whole thing.

Robin Dreeke
And, also, the last book I read by him, I love to death. I’m going to actually read a couple more times, and that’s “The Wright Brothers.”

Pete Mockaitis
That keeps coming up, actually, on the show.

Robin Dreeke
Does it? Good. The story of powered aviation. It’s riveting. What amazing human beings. All the people I’ve read about, just amazing human beings overcoming odds.

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

Robin Dreeke
All the books around me of all the great people, I try to emulate. My tool is my mouth and sometimes it really gets in my way.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Robin Dreeke
Oh, probably going to CrossFit. I’m getting older and trying to keep everything healthy, that’s it. Also, because it’s a very nice social group I hang out with there.

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

Robin Dreeke
Probably it’s not how you make people feel about you. It’s how you make them feel about themselves.

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

Robin Dreeke
To my website, it’s probably the hub of where to go and start from, and that’s www.PeopleFormula.com. Lots of videos on there of me doing keynote speeches, other great podcasts like yours, and lots of videos on YouTube, and I also have a free online course on there. Others will be coming out. Don’t worry, I won’t try to upsell people too much. And you can also have links to all my books on there as well.

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

Robin Dreeke
If you want to start down the path of really making these stronger connections, identify three people personally, and three people professionally in your life that is tied to the things you do as you’re trying to achieve. And with each one of these people, make sure you identify at least one strength in each of them, and start identifying top three priorities of each one of these individuals.

Because when you start identifying strengths and you’re seeking to understand what their priorities are, your brain is going to naturally start aligning how you can be a resource for them. And when you start doing those things, they’re going to start noticing, “Wow, this person is actually here for my success and prosperity,” and it’s going to start changing your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Robin, thank you for taking the time, and keep up the great work you’re doing what you’re doing.

Robin Dreeke
Hey, thanks, Pete. I can’t thank you enough as well. Thanks for sharing.

524: How to Build Rapport Quickly with John DiJulius

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John DiJulius: "The greatest gift we can give others is the gift of attention."

John DiJulius shares his expert tips for quickly building lasting emotional ties.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Four touchpoints that effectively build rapport
  2. The subtle ways you’re killing the conversation
  3. How to go from indifferent to curious

About John:

John is the authority on World-Class customer experience. He is an international consultant, keynote speaker, and best-selling author of five customer service books. His newest book, The Relationship Economy: Building Stronger Customer Connections in The Digital Age could not be timelier in the world we are living in. John has worked with companies such as The Ritz-Carlton, Lexus, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Nestlé, Marriott Hotels, PwC, Celebrity Cruises, Anytime Fitness, Progressive Insurance, Harley-Davidson, Chick-fil-A, and many more.

Items mentioned in the show:

Thank You, Sponsor!

  • Honeybook. Save time on the admin of your business so you can do more of what you love. Get 50% off your first year at HoneyBook.com/awesome

John DiJulius Interview Transcript

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

John DiJulius
My pleasure. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear, first of all, what’s the backstory behind you failing gym class in high school?

John DiJulius
You know, I was a very small, have not developed yet, and went to a high school that produced a lot of NFL athletes, and I was like 4’11”, maybe 85 pounds, and so I just decided I didn’t want to go in the locker room and change every day. And what I didn’t know was when I didn’t change into my gym uniform, I didn’t get credit for the class, so at the end of the year I flunk it and had to go to summer school for gym.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I imagine there were many days which you were wearing the wrong outfit.

John DiJulius
I would just wear my dress clothes every day and I didn’t realize I was getting like a not-attended, like absent.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s wild and no one would give you a hand-up, “Hey, John, so you know, I see you physically present but you don’t get credit for today because of what you’re wearing,” but rather they just fail you at the end. Boy, I think that is like I’m thinking about Kim Scott of Radical Candor now, who we had on the show, talking about how when people get fired because they never got goof feedback along the way to improve their shortcomings and blind spots. Boy, here that is a very dramatic instance. But you bounced back, I’m glad to hear.

John DiJulius
I did okay. I did okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, so I want to hear, you are talking a lot these days about building stronger customer connections in the digital age. Could you lay it on us, what are some of the benefits associated with face-to-face connections and this old-school stuff when technology is running the show it seems most of our communications?

John DiJulius
Well, yeah, it’s back to the future today. It’s ironic that the disruptor today in business is good old-fashioned relationships. And there’s a seismic shift happening in the world today with all the benefits technology is bringing us, it’s coming at a significant cost, and that cost is human relationship, which is vital to customer loyalty, employee satisfaction, and just overall happiness personally and professionally. And today’s illiterates are those who have an inability to make a meaningful connection.

And so, the best companies are competing in the relationship economy where the primary currency is the emotional connections made with customers, employees, and vendors that make your brand the brand that people can’t live without and, ultimately, help make you price irrelevant.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds great. So, could you share with us some of the most, I guess, hard-hitting research data studies associated with the observation of this phenomenon?

John DiJulius
Yeah. Well, first, by year 2025, there’ll be more machines in the workforce, and robots and artificial intelligence will be capable of doing every job that we’re currently doing from lawyers to judges to driving to construction, from doctors to nurses, to something that, I just got an email last week. It was a little unsettling that there’s artificial-intelligent brothels. I’m not endorsing, I’m not recommending…

Pete Mockaitis
Well, the oldest professions taking over there.

John DiJulius
Right, right. I’m not judging, I’m just reporting. So, it literally is doing everything and you’ll never have to see another human being, I guess, if you choose as long as you live.

Pete Mockaitis
So, the prediction is by 2025 machines will be doing every job that humans are doing, although I imagine they’ll be doing many of them poorly based on what I’m seeing these days.

John DiJulius
Yeah, and not every job, but capable of doing every job and that more machines will be in the workforce than human beings.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about that? So, tell us, how does the human connection help in that context?

John DiJulius
Well, as a result of living in the touchscreen age, and the touchscreen age is not generational specific, we have grandparents using devices and we have five-year olds on iPads, but as a result, our social skills, our people skills are an all-time low and this is causing many negative side effects.

They’ve also said that there’s a term called digital dementia where doctors have done brain scans of heavy users of digital devices and they look similar to patients who’ve sustained brain injuries. So, we’re relationship disadvantaged today, and the leaders out there of businesses need to understand that it’s our problem to fix. We can’t skip this generation.

And so, the companies that the pendulum has swung so far over the high-tech low-touch or no touch, people, consumers, you, me, we’re starving to be recognized as a person with a name, and technology is not the enemy. Using it to eliminate human experience is. So, companies, the best companies are finding ways to marry the digital with the human interaction that allows technology you use to do the most basic necessities, freeing up your employees to do what’s most important: that’s building the customer loyalty, that is long-term sustainability for the business.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then, I’d love to get your take, in particular, when it comes to if we’re looking to build some rapport, whether that’s with sort of new colleagues around the given workplace, or with prospects, or customers, or potential partners, just about anybody, what do you recommend for folks who are looking to more conscientiously build more human connection?

John DiJulius
Yes. So, there’s five key characteristics to the art of building relationship, and they may sound, to older generations, like common sense, but we all have gotten away from it and it’s not common sense to younger generations. So, I’ll rattle off the five first. You must be authentic, right? You must have insatiable curiosity. You must have credible empathy. You must love people and must be a great listener. So, all those five. Four of them can definitely be taught and trained.

Now, if you find people that have those, that’s great. But the one that can’t be taught, no amount of training can ever change someone, if they don’t love people. You can’t train someone to love people. So, let’s look at insatiable curiosity. Being an investigative reporter is the best, people dying to learn about others, not only about subjects that interests them but subjects that are unfamiliar.

So, I did a TED Talk called “Meet as Strangers, Leave as Friends.” I don’t think there’s a greater skill that we can work on ourselves or teach at any level from kindergarten to the business world, at home, than the ability to build instant rapport with others, whether that be an acquaintance, stranger, co-worker, customer, you name it.

And so, in doing that, there’s two things we got to remember that everyone we come in contact with has an invisible sign above their head that says, “Make me feel important.” And the greatest gift we can give others is the gift of attention. Now, it’s hard to do that because we’re all genetically coded to be preoccupied, “It’s my flight that got delayed.” “It’s my client that’s upset with us.” “It’s my son that may have gotten in trouble,” right? So, that’s a hard thing to turn off when you speak to other people.

So, we have this great technique that so many of our clients have incorporated and I incorporate in personal and professional. It’s anytime you have a conversation with someone, be it 3 minutes or 30 minutes, you need to focus on the other person’s FORD, F-O-R-D, like the car. And if you can focus on the other person’s FORD, you not only built the relationship, you own the relationship.

So, F, family. Are they married? Do they have kids? How old are their kids? The O, occupation. What do they do? What’s their title? Who are they doing it for? R, recreation, that’s some of the hottest buttons that people have. What do they do with their free time? Are they runners? Do they go to hot yoga? Do they coach little league? Whatever that may be. And then D stands for dreams. What’s on their bucket list? What’s their dream vacation? What is their encore career?

So, all of our clients have incorporated FORD into their daily interactions. They collect this in a non-soliciting way and they have it in their CRM system, they have pads that remind it, and it’s just a great way to build that emotional connection of what’s really important to people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you mentioned 3 minutes, so maybe we can run some demos here. And I’d like to hear both in terms of you’re just meeting someone for the first time and, I guess, you’re reconnecting, like, oh, you bumped into someone, it’s been a few months since you’ve seen them, and we’re having a chat. So, can you show us how it’s done, John?

John DiJulius
Yeah. So, Pete, where are you at today?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m in Chicago.

John DiJulius
In Chicago? Okay. So, we’re having a similar weather. I’m from Cleveland so we’re both from the Midwest and it’s cold out, it’s snowing here. But are you originally from Chicago?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I grew up in Danville, Illinois about three hours away, but I’ve spent almost my whole life in Illinois.

John DiJulius
Good. Good. You have family? Kids?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. We got two kids under two right now.

John DiJulius
Under two, both of them?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

John DiJulius
Oh, so you’re sleep-deprived.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, my wife more so than I am as a saint as she is, but, yes, I’m feeling it a bit as well.

John DiJulius
Congratulations. How long have you been married?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, in fact, today is our three-year anniversary.

John DiJulius
No way. And that’s why we had this call to celebrate.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s December 3rd at 3:00 p.m. Central in this moment that we’re recording. That’s kind of wild, John.

John DiJulius
December 3rd, 2016 you got married.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

John DiJulius
That’s awesome. So, usually, whenever you start off with anyone, you just kind of catch up, you find some common ground, but it’s important to focus on them and find out what their hot buttons are and, obviously, where they come from, their family. If we had more time while we’re doing this, we’d get in to how you got into what you’re doing now, and that’s a great story.

So, listening is great and doing research for this book was painful because I realized how many things I was doing wrong. So, I have some conversation nevers and always. So, some listening is, if you have some questions and you don’t ask two to three follow-up questions, odds are you aren’t really paying attention, right? You should have a four-to-one ratio of questions asked versus answered.

There’s a myth that being a good listener is like being a sponge, and they say that’s the farthest thing from the truth. Being a sponge is you’re just talking away and once in a while just saying “Uh-huh, uh-huh.” They say that’s not being a good listener. Being a good listener is being a trampoline. And so, a trampoline is asking more clarifying questions and helping and heightening the energy of what the person speaking is doing.

So, there’s a lot of really cool things. I’ve got some really painful things I stumbled on was don’t ask a question because you’re dying to answer it, right? So, it’s like, “Pete, tell me what you did this week. Oh, good, good. You know what I did?”

Pete Mockaitis
“I was skiing. It was awesome.” Yeah, I hear you.

John DiJulius
Right. Don’t finish the other person’s sentence. And I’m that I’m really guilty of that I never thought it was a bad thing until I read about it is stealing someone’s thunder. And so, the example I read about really made me realize I do this all the time, but I did it with good intentions. So, you might have an employee that was off last week and they’re like, “Peter Jr., what did you do on vacation?” And young Peter says he took his wife and their two little ones to Disney, and he’s so excited he wants to tell you about it, and you interrupt him by saying, “Oh, my God, I love Disney. We actually have a house there in Orlando.”

And originally thinking that would show some commonality but you just stole his thunder because what could someone possibly tell someone about Disney who has property there, right? So, just being more attentive to not one-upping or grandstanding and just letting the other person have their moment.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a really nice thought. I’m thinking almost like a game of chess, not that we’re trying to dominate the other, but you want to think about what that does open up in terms of moves after your move. So, you might mention, “Oh, hey, it’s common. I’ve got a home in Orlando.” But if you think about that for a moment, it’s like, “What options does that leave this person? Very few.”

So, yeah, I dig that. Thinking back to the demonstration there, so it seems like we’ve gotten into the family side of things. But I’d love to hear us unpack the full demo of we’ve got occupation, the recreation, and the dreams.

John DiJulius
And so, dependent on the scope, the dynamic of why we’re meeting, why we’re talking, right? If it’s a social thing, then you have at it with the FORD. But if it’s maybe a sales call, or a business call, you obviously want to hit one or two of those. You typically don’t have time to hit on four unless it really gets off, and it also depends on how well we know each other.

So, if we’re brand-new and you just started, you just kind of want to, again, start off, that’s how I start up most calls first time is, “Where are you calling from? Oh, Chicago. Tell me how your year is spent.” I find out something that you like, and your kids, then why you got into the position, whatever that position is. And then I use that information later on.

Now, there’s also times when you go out with your significant other, and her husband, and that’s a completely different, you know, you got two hours. I will just drill that person for two hours and just learn as much as I can about them. And, again, another painful thing. Thirty years that I learned from the research in my book, 30 years ago if you couldn’t talk to me about my two subjects, and that was all I was interested in, which was basically baseball or customer service, then I don’t want anything to do with you, right?

My wife said, “Hey, we’re going to go out with Joann and her husband,” I’d be like, “Oh, God, no. Oh, I can’t sit through another night with them.” And that was solely my fault because I was only interested in my thing. But I’ve learned, through what’s called insatiable curiosity, to become an investigative reporter, and just really pick someone’s brain. And you might find out obscure things that you might not be interested in, he might be interested in fly-fishing, and you dig deep why, like, “How did you get into fly-fishing? And, to me, that seems a little boring.”

And at the end of the conversation, three things always come away. One, I really see why that person likes, let’s say, fly-fishing. It doesn’t mean I have to go out and do it tomorrow, but from his passion, or the way he talked about it, the benefits, now I can see it. Number two, which probably most is important, he really liked talking to me, which means I win points at home with my significant other, right?

But here’s the strangest thing. This always happens. I’m sure it’s happened in your life, six months later I’ll be in CEO’s office trying to close a sale or something, and there’ll be a picture of him fly-fishing on his wall. And because of that conversation, I can have a more educated conversation and make a connection easier than if I never had that connection.

So, I mean, there’s so many benefits but there’s things like we find out from our clients or acquaintances that they’re running their first marathon this weekend, or they’re going to Maui, and you could do so many things with that. If it’s a good client, we’ll have a bottle of wine and cheese waiting for them when they get into their room. So, there’s just so much. We’re just circling back two weeks and finding out how their trip to Maui was.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. And so, I’m curious, when it comes to – huh, curious about curiosity – so now, I guess, I think where the rubber really meets the road is you’re chatting with someone, they say something, you have no interest in that thing whatsoever. What do you do with your brain to stir up some of this interesting curiosity when you’re not feeling it in the moment?

John DiJulius
I train myself because you just got to be, called, investigative reporter. You want to find what makes them tick. So, if it’s important to the other person, find out why, and that’s where the beauty, that’s where the magic happens because, again, when you first tell me…so, I’m being transparent here. But what’s your recreation? What do you like to do with your time off, when you’re not changing diapers?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, why don’t we say tabletop games, shall we? I’m thinking about Monopoly at the moment.

John DiJulius
Okay. And so, that’s not something I personally, I wouldn’t say this, I personally don’t play games and so I would just explore, “How did you get into this? Is it something that started as a kid?” And I would just ask four or five questions to try to get you to explain that is. Again, depending on the situation, if we have a 15-minute call then that wouldn’t be something. But something that I can feasibly do.

Everything has an angle because what would get someone to love tabletop games? There’s a story there. And, usually, if it’s something they’re passionate about, they like telling that story. Most people don’t ask them about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I think this might be a great example, and you can very candidly tell me what’s going on in your brain because you’re not going to hurt my feelings. It’s okay if you walk away still not giving a hoot about tabletop games or Monopoly but I think that’s a cool start. So, here we are, I’ve shared something that isn’t that interesting to you, but let’s say we have the time. So, where would you go from there?

John DiJulius
So, yeah, what tabletop games? And you said, like, “Monopoly.”

Pete Mockaitis
Sure, let’s say Monopoly.

John DiJulius
Yeah, is this something you do, like, regularly? Is it something like you get people around? How often do you do this and with whom?

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, you know, it’s been a while. I remember the peak Monopoly occurred in the winter breaks of high school and college where my crew – shout out to Ronnie, Kevin, Brent, and Kate – for the most part, we would be the ones who’d come together and maybe just play three, four games in a night, so no joke, five, six, seven hours of Monopoly.

John DiJulius
That’s what I was going to ask you, how many hours. So, that’s like equivalent to what people are doing today with binge-watching an episode or something.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Oh, yeah, absolutely.

John DiJulius
But I gotta believe that was like some of your best memories and bonding and hilarious stories that came from that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, it’s funny. Indeed, we had all kinds of dorkiness came out because we play pretty strictly in terms of official tournament rules, 32 hours, 12 hotels, none of this silliness.

John DiJulius
You guys were serious.

Pete Mockaitis
We want to keep to roll the dice briskly so we could finish the games, most of them we finish under 90 minutes because we were kind of moving with it, and all kinds of little, I guess, subcultural things emerge like when all 32 houses were bought up and then someone landed on another property, had to have a big payday, then we’d start chanting, “Sell houses! Sell houses!” because we were all excited, “Now, we got a chance to buy some houses because this guy has been hogging them, and he just got a painful rent payment that will force him to liquidate some of his houses,” and so there’s like blood in the water and we all got fired up over it.

John DiJulius
So, do you ever have reunions with Ronnie and the gang?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it happens here and there, but it’s a little bit tricky in terms of us being located all over the place.

John DiJulius
Can you play virtually?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve looked into this and the answer is kind of. I haven’t found like the ideal platform that is reliable and honors true tournament rules, but there’s some stuff out there, yeah.

John DiJulius
You know, one thing I’m curious about, again, I’ve never had the patience to sit through a full game of Monopoly. But my son did buy me a Monopoly board, or they made me, or something, last year, a Monopoly board, like around our family so the houses would be different vacations. It’s really cute. It was all personalized. But I gotta believe that doing something that much, what was the lesson, the life lessons that you applied to business or whatever? I mean, there had to be.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny. Someone wrote a whole book called Everything I Need to Know from Life I Learned from Playing Monopoly or something like that. And Brent bought me a copy, so that was nice of him and so there’s all sorts of bits there. And perhaps the biggest one, I think for me, is that there are times in Monopoly and times in life where the value of something really changes in terms of in the early game, we have lots of cash and no properties, so the value of property is high relative to the cash. And so, I would be willing to buy almost any property from someone at 20%, 30%, 50% markup in the early game.

But then, later on, when people have their monopolies and they’ve got sort of excess property, they very much want to liquidate that into cash so they can acquire houses to turn it into a deadly zone. So, I find that interesting, is how sometimes the value of something really does shift based on your context and how sort of abundant versus scarce something is relative to the other stuff. So, sometimes I think, in life, you might have an abundance of time, or you might have an abundance of money, and you have one and not the other.

College, plenty of time, not so much money. In certain jobs, I’m thinking about Wall Street bankers right now, plenty of money, not so much time. And then it changes what you’re willing to pay for something, whether in terms of hours or dollars.

John DiJulius
Yeah, I got to believe it also maybe add a cautionary to, “Do I really want this? Will this really be that important to me in 18 months or however long that is because things change so rapidly?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally.

John DiJulius
Very cool. Very cool. Well, I still got to believe the best thing that came were just the memories, the conversations, the digging at each other that close groups of friends do when you get together, that all comes back.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, absolutely. Perhaps the most legendary one was we hosted a Monopoly tournament at the high school just because we had various student leadership positions and said, “Well, we like Monopoly, and this is what we feel like doing.” And I was helping at another table with a rules dispute and my buddy, Kevin, whispered to this, like, 10-year old girl who’s at our table, “He’s winning. You should trade that to me.” And when I turned my back, the trade had been done, I was like, “What happened?” And Kevin went on to win the whole tournament, and he’s featured in the yearbook and I consider it stolen.

John DiJulius
That’s so funny. That’s funny. Well, very good. Now, I’m intrigued to play Monopoly the next time someone pulls it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. All right. Well, thank you for indulging me with that extended demo. Well, you’re right in terms of the rapport in that the more you get people, I guess, I’m not looking at your face, but I’m hearing your voice, but I guess it’s just very natural that as you steer me towards positive experiences, and I am sharing them with you in a current experience of conversation, I naturally associate you, John, with pleasantness and, thusly, I like you more.

John DiJulius
Exactly. Who came out of the original Bible, the How to Win Friends and Influence People, whatever the order is, by Dale Carnegie, and he, in there, says, “You could talk to someone for an hour about them, and they won’t ask you one question about you, but they’ll walk away saying you are the greatest person ever even though they couldn’t tell someone why.” But, exactly what you just said, they’ll just associate you with that fondness, and they were able to talk about, you know, there are certain things in my world that you don’t want to ask me unless you have two hours because I’m going to tell you, I’m going to get all worked up, and my voice will start cracking, and you’ll be like, “Whoa, whoa,” right? So, finding people’s hot buttons is the single best way to create an emotional connection.

And then doing something with that. Taking three minutes on Google later and seeing if there’s any digital Monopoly things, and you send that email to Peter, saying, “Peter, have you seen this?” It literally takes three minutes, and whether he has seen them or he hasn’t, he’s going to be shocked at the time and thoughtfulness that that person, who he barely has a relationship, thought of, and it’s not just about making a sale.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true, yes. And if you did find it, I’d be really tickled. If you say, “Hey, Pete, it turns out like the 1996 PC version enables you to host something on a something, so you can get your friends together, and it will work just the way you want it.” Like, “I never would’ve guessed that that 1996 whatever would do the trick.” And then I’d be thinking about you forever. So, that’s cool.

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

John DiJulius
No, no, no, that’s it. Just love the relationship economy and, like I said, it’s back to the future. It’s what is missing from our society today, and people are starving to be recognized as a human being with needs, and fears, and things to celebrate, and achievements, and all those things. And the ones that are giving it to them are building that customer and employee loyalty.

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

John DiJulius
Something that pops up in my phone every morning at 6:00 a.m. is “Act as if today is the day you’ll be remembered for how you treat others.” I love that. That’s very important to me.

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

John DiJulius
You know, I’m just coming from writing this book. There were just so much research. One of my favorite aha moments was a scientist studied the human brain and found out that it took the human brain a minimum of 0.6 seconds to formulate a response to something said to it. And then they studied hundreds and thousands of conversations and found the average gap between people talking was 0.2 seconds, one-third the time the human brain will allow. And so, really, don’t have that answer, don’t be just waiting for him to come up for air, listen to what he’s saying, pause, process it, and then move on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, that is so reassuring in many ways for me because sometimes it’s like there is that first half second, I guess, before the 0.6 seconds has fully come online then you have a thought, where there’s silence and they almost sort of expect you to say something, but you don’t yet have that thing. And just to know that, “Hey, it’s okay. It takes about 0.6 seconds on average.” And, really, I think it takes about, in my experience, four or five seconds before people say, like, on the phone, “Hey, Pete, are you still there?” so you have time to pause and think.

John DiJulius
Oh, I have a hard time with that, when people do pause too much. I always check my phone, I think I dropped the call, and I’m like, “Something is wrong,” because I’m not used to a pause.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And something else, you can just inhale for a while. Yeah. Well, that’s a great stat. Thank you. How about a favorite book that you love?

John DiJulius
I’ll go with the most recent one that I just read, and that was From the Ground Up by Howard Schultz, the former CEO Chairman of Starbucks. It’s his third book. I love every book he’s written, and each better than the previous, and just a great story of his life, and why he created one of the most social-conscious companies in the world, and it’s really inspiring to me.

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

John DiJulius
You reminded me in one of your emails–Evernote. I love Evernote. I am a to-do crazy person so I like how that works. In all my devices–iPads, phones, computers–it’s always synced. And then what I like about it is my own to-do list in there, the way I sort it. I sort my to-do that I can only have three urgent, that’s all I’ll put on there. I can never have more than three, and that means I can’t go home today, go to bed, whatever that may be, unless I get those three done.

And then I have six important, maximum six, and then the rest are want-to-do, need-to-do, and that can be unlimited. But I’m always working from that urgent three and then the six important. It just keeps clarity that I’m always joined with what I need to do before what I want to do.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite habit?

John DiJulius
Just trying to build a relationship with myself. MSA is a thing that’s a real thing – mental stimulation addiction. And that just means that we’re so used to using our devices, and I’ve gone to the doctor’s office and be waiting to be taken, and I’ll check my phone and all the apps and news and ESPN and social media, all that stuff, and I’ll put it down, and within 15 seconds, without thinking, I do it again, and like, “What could it change in that 15 seconds?”

And so, they say because we’re outsourcing our brains to devices, our brains are extra thin and we have a creativity crisis. We aren’t innovative like we were generations ago. So, I’m trying to build in boredom into my life where that’s when your brain sits idle. We all say we get the best ideas when we take showers. Well, I don’t take enough showers so it might be even like when I’m getting a run or exercise in the morning, instead of listening to a podcast or ESPN like I like to a couple of days a week, I’ll listen to nothing. And it’s strange at first, but I’ll tell you what, when I get back home, I have to find paper and pen because I had so many ideas that came to my head.

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

John DiJulius
I think probably the one, the quote I said earlier. A lot of people like that, the “Act as if today is the day you’ll be remembered for how you treat others.”

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

John DiJulius
TheDijuliusGroup.com or they could email me at John@dijuliusgroup.com.

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

John DiJulius
Yeah. Just go out and build relationships and the rest will follow. I don’t believe in networking. I’m not a good networker. I never have business cards on me but I do believe in building social capital. And stop networking in a traditional sense and just meet and build relationships where the relationship itself is its own reward, and the rest will take care of itself.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, John, thanks so much for sharing the good word, and good luck in all your relationship-building.

John DiJulius
Thank you and good luck to you with your bride and your two young ones.

495: How to Network When You Hate Networking with Devora Zack

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Devora Zack says: "Remember to value connecting over collecting."

Devora Zack explains why you don’t need to work the room to build great connections.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to smoothly start, sustain, and end conversations
  2. How to ease your pre-networking anxiety
  3. Best practices for writing amazing follow-ups

About Devora:

Devora Zack is CEO of Only Connect Consulting, a Washington Post bestselling author and global speaker with books in 45 language translations. Her clients include Deloitte, Smithsonian, Delta Airlines, the FDA, Johns Hopkins, and the National Institutes of Health. She has been featured by the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, US News & World Report, Forbes, Cosmo, Self, Redbook, Fast Company, and many others. She is the author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking, Managing for People Who Hate Managing and Singletasking.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Devora Zack Interview Transcript

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

Devora Zack
My pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, Devora, I understand that you identify as a strong introvert and, yet, you are now doing all sorts of speeches and writing about networking. What is the story here?

Devora Zack
Networking is not exclusively for extroverts, I’ve discovered. So, it started off when I was teaching a lot of seminars, and building connections, and creating new relationships, and sustaining businesses. And I suddenly realized that all those so-called excellent networking advice didn’t work for me, and I started doing the opposite. And who would’ve ever guessed, it’s a whole new method of networking that works for many people. As a matter of fact, the majority of people, traditional networking advice does not resonate with them, and they do far better, myself included, by honoring who they are and accepting their natural temperament.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then that’s intriguing. And so, what would be an example of honoring your natural temperament versus violating it?

Devora Zack
So, traditional advice says get out there as much as possible, constant contact, never eat a meal alone, and that kind of advice makes most of us want to run and hide, crash and burn, and proclaim ourselves to hate networking and be terrible at it. So, instead, if you work with understand who you are and then create a system that honors how you get energy, for example, introverts get energy alone whereas extroverts get energy with others.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so then could we hear some cool cases stories associated with folks who tackled some of those approaches and saw fantastic results?

Devora Zack
Sure. I’ll give one about myself when I wanted to get my first book published for the first time. So, I was at a conference and there were about 40 different publishers there, and so traditional wisdom would say meet all of them because that’ll maximize the possibility that you’ll hit it off with one of them. But I knew as an introvert that that would drain me and that it would also feel really inauthentic so I wouldn’t be bringing my best foot forward.

So, instead, I did research in advanced, which I always recommend people do, found and identified one publisher that I thought would be a really perfect fit, had one meeting at the conference, and I was the only person they signed out of 16,000 people, and we’re working together 12 years later. So, it really shows, it’s one little example that instead of saying, “I should do something,” like, “I should go out there and meet with everyone, I should try and spend as much time with as many different publishers as possible,” instead to say, “I’m going to follow what feels authentic and seek out where I think there’s a real connection.”
Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting, this notion. Let’s unpack that a bit when it comes to the “should.” Under what circumstances do you think we should violate our “shoulds” or ignore or overrule the should voice versus kind of run with them?

Devora Zack
Right. In my book I say, “You should never say should.” So, it’s hard to kind of get around that sometimes. So, there’s really three differences between introverts and extroverts, and my system of networking is really focused on this dimension.

So, introverts think to talk and extroverts talk to think. Introverts energize alone and extroverts energize with others. And introverts go deep, like deeper into fewer relationships, fewer interests, less activity around them. That does not mean less active. It just means less competing action for the brain. And extroverts are the opposite. They talk to think, they energize with others, and they go wide. They like a lot of people, a lot of action, a lot going on.

So, if I know that I think to talk, what I have to do is to prepare in advance some good questions, to practice what I’m going to say, to get familiar with typical topics people might raise at this event, and be prepared with answers.

Also, introverts tend to be more private and they don’t want to talk about themselves as much, they can spend more time thinking of great questions to ask other people. And, by the way, if you don’t like talking about how wonderful you are, you can show people instead by demonstrating an authentic interest in other people.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And when it comes to some of these great questions, have you found some go-to winners that you love and are great again and again?

Devora Zack
Yeah. One is that you want to make them interesting, the questions that people want to answer, and that you’re actually interested in hearing their response to. So, avoid the kind of old questions, they’re a little dull, like, “What do you do?” Like, that’s really basic. So, with a slight twist you can say, “What’s your favorite part of your work?” And suddenly the person comes alive, they’re talking about something that they’re passionate about, it’s more interesting to listen to, so that’s an example of a good, well-formed question.

You want to be cautious with your questions, also, about making them initially not too personal because introverts, especially if they have a strong, what’s called, strength of preference, a strong identification with introversion, they tend to find more things private. So, something an extrovert might ask would seem perfectly an innocent question, and an introvert might feel on the spot. So, start with the general questions, and then let the other person, who you’re talking to, decide how specific to get, and they might get more specific and more comfortable, both of you are, in the conversation.

A corollary to that is people often ask me, when we’re in the context of conversations and questions, “How do you end a conversation? So, I maybe find a way to be really engaging, some people want to talk to me, but what if it’s time for me to move on in the event, or in the evening, or the daytime?”

So, it’s really quite simple to end a conversation in a networking event because there is an expectation that people are there to meet people. So, non-verbal certainly makes a big difference, tone, pleasant facial expressions, smile, say, “Well, it’s been really interesting talking to you. I promise myself I’d circulate.” Or, almost the reverse of that, “Well, I’m sure you want to meet other people. Here’s my card.”

So, it’s really very simple to end a conversation, but the key is when you’re in the conversation, to be entirely focused on that other person. A lot of times people are looking for the “right person” to communicate with and they’re not making good eye contact and they’re distracted. Instead, I encourage people to decide that whenever they’re in a conversation with someone, that’s the right person for that period of time, and your job is to find out why. Why is this person in front of you out of everyone at the event, or, indeed, everyone in the world?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve made that point there before with regard to not trying to work the room and talk to absolutely everybody but instead make some of those deeper, more authentic relationships. And you’ve made reference, I understand, in your book to a couple of other old rules of networking advice. What are some of those and what makes things different now?

Devora Zack
Did you have any in particular that you wanted me to pound to pieces or…?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I would love for you to pound to pieces the one that is the most prevalent and the most wrong?

Devora Zack
There’s so many. I’ll start with one, it’s a popular saying which is to never eat a meal alone, that every meal is a networking opportunity. And, again, it’s about how you’re…

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’re saying, “Keith Ferrazzi, you’re dead wrong.”

Devora Zack
That’s right. That’s right. I really do disagree with that. Well, I should say that works for about 15% of the general population. That’s good advice for really strong extroverts, people that identify strong with extroversion. It doesn’t work for the rest of us and it allows us to not have time to reenergize. So, what I recommend is that if you need time alone to prepare for a program, before a presentation, when you’re on a business trip, to allow yourself to have a meal alone if that energizes you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’m also curious to hear your take on the “Networking Survival Kit.” It seems like we’ve got some things in terms of advance preparation internally with thought. Are there some physical items here too?

Devora Zack
Yes, as a matter of fact. So, the networking events, I believe you’re referring in particular to, there’s a chapter in the book called that, and I have a three-piece strategy that helps us network more effectively. One is to prepare, the next is to percolate, that means to engage, and then to pace yourself. However, you asked an interesting question, “Are there any physical pieces in the survival kit?” And I would say yes.

And that is the first thing that’s important to have in your survival kit is a small mirror. When you get to networking events, take a moment and check yourself out. Make sure that you’re not disheveled, that you’re cleaned up. A lot of times we’re like rushing from one place to another and we’re like in a hurry and we might be a little bit late, so we just jump on in. It’s always worth the time to take a moment to focus yourself internally and externally.

So, it might mean that there’s a powder room or a bathroom nearby to get centered in or if you just have a slide, again, a small mirror with you. Take a moment, make sure you’re put together. Also, physically put together. So, take a couple of breaths and get centered. I also recommend, for your survival kit, an energy bar or a snack, something to have before the event so you don’t arrive starving. A lot of networking events involve food, often open buffet or pass-around food.

And so, one of two situations, it’s usually the case, it’s either you bought a ticket and you’re like, “I’m going to eat my money’s worth,” or someone else is covering it, and then you’re like, “Hey, it’s a free meal.” And I encourage you to not think of it as either one. Don’t arrive starting. It’s okay to eat a little bit, but there’s been many, many networking mishaps that I’ve been privy to, not necessarily always involved in, but sometimes involved in, that include food and being too eager to start eating.

Pete Mockaitis
Please, please regale us with a tale or two of some eager eating mishaps.

Devora Zack
You know, my memory feels faulty today. But, for example, having a mouthful of food when you’re introduced to somebody that you’ve been wanting to meet, spilling on yourself. Also, big types of food that you eat at networking matters too. If you love those everything bagels, that’s for Sunday mornings with your family but, otherwise, eat plain items such as crackers or bread without a lot of nuts and seeds that can get stuck in your teeth.

When I’m helping organize a networking event, I always forbid spinach dips even though it tastes good because that causes a lot of trouble as well. I do have a little saying, which nobody likes including myself, but it is a good rule of thumb for the most part, and it is, “Eat before, drink after.” That means eat something before the event, and then maybe a couple of simple things at the event, like carrots or things that are less likely to cause a mess. And then drink after the event in terms of alcohol. If you’re in an event and you like to drink alcohol, maybe one or two drinks is okay, but to put a lid on it at that. I hear a lot of people telling me, “But, Devora, I’m a better networker when I’ve had some drinks.” And to this I reply, “Says who? Should we poll the room?” Because we often think we’re better at networking after a few drinks.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you might feel you’re a better networker because you’re having more fun but you might…

Devora Zack
Exactly. All of a sudden, I’m brilliant and hilarious and a real genius. So, you just want to be aware of that when you’re at an event, that it might feel like a party but it’s still a business experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And when we talk about physical items in the survival kit, I’m thinking a little bit about I really dig those little, I guess, they’re Listerine, it’s one of the brands, of pocket packs in terms of…

Devora Zack
Oh, great one. I love turning this around physical, like a real bag. I think we should definitely throw that in there. That’s a great one. And also, comfortable shoes if the bag is big enough. I really think, in any networking situation, comfort over flash. So, if you’re comfortable in walking shoes, pick that over your really fashionable but uncomfortable shoes. That’s my opinion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, then I want to get your take, if you’re in the midst of things and you’re feeling anxious right then and there in the moment, how do you recommend overcoming that?

Devora Zack
So, it’d be okay with giving yourself a little time to yourself. Also, reframe your mind. Everyone is not focused on you. Like, we sometimes have delusions of grandeur that when I’m standing there, I’m not talking with anyone, the entire room is focused on me standing there not talking to anyone. Also, make yourself available to others.

So, for example, if I’ve got myself a very modest plate of some plain carrots and red peppers or something, again, that’s not going to make a disaster like handheld tacos or that kind of thing. Then if you have these little cocktail high-top tables to kind of just make yourself comfortable standing at one of them and have a friendly expression to allow other people who are wandering out to maybe come over and talk to you, that’s one thing you can do.

Also, to be looking around with a pleasant expression on your face, and you’ll have those questions prepared, and to keep an eye on people’s nametags. Often nametags have interesting information, you know, what someone does or where they’re from. If you’re there, I always recommend that if you’re uncomfortable at networking events to do something counterintuitive, and that is to get to the event early instead of late because early on, it’s fewer crowds, less noisy, easier to get into conversation, and it’s a little calmer.

So, if you get there on the earlier side, you have another benefit of looking at usually there’s a nametag table setup somewhere, to see who’s coming. If there’s someone you want to meet or someone you haven’t seen in a while that you didn’t know was coming, that’s something to get you centered and occupy yourself for the first few minutes when you arrive.

I also recommend, before the event, if you have the opportunity to see if you could be helpful in some way, either volunteer formally or informally. That not only positions you as a helpful person, but it also gives you something to do and something to talk about at the event as a volunteer.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what would be some examples of informal volunteer roles that are handy?

Devora Zack
So, I arrive, and I’m a regular participant, and I might know the person who’s organizing the event, and maybe she’s running around like crazy, or he’s running, so I can over and say, “Hey, what can I do to help? I’d love to be of assistance. Do you need these flyers put on all the tables?” Like, make some suggestions. And then also remember to thank them for all their hard work and you’ll be surprised at how often people will give you something to do. It’s helping you as much as it’s helping them because suddenly you have a purpose.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. That’s true. It makes sense that you’re naturally shifting your attention away from yourself and that subconsciousness and onto completing something, and so then you’re more in the groove right there and it just feels a little bit like the expression, “Act like you own the place.” In a way, you kind of do. You own that piece of the experience in that moment, and there’s just sort of a power that comes with that.

Devora Zack
Yeah.

And, also, something to be cautious about is when someone who’s more introverted meet someone that they feel a connection to, a potential hazard is that then they’ll want to stick with that person the rest of the program because it feels such a relief, like, “Oh, my gosh, here’s someone I can connect to because I’m going to connect to so many people,” then it’s like, “Oh, well, Pete, let’s walk around the rest of the evening at the program.” And so, I have a special advice for those introverts, and it’s if you love someone, set them free. Even though it’s been lovely, end the conversation before everyone has gotten run out of topics, or has gotten weary of each other.

A little side advice for extroverts when you’re in conversation, and actually I got this advice from a client who’s an extrovert so it comes a real-live extrovert. He said something he thinks in his brain when he’s concerned, maybe there’s an imbalance of conversation when he’s meeting people, is he says to himself, “Wait. W-A-I-T.” And it stands for, “Why am I talking?” So, he asks himself that to make sure. to serve as a reality check like, “Maybe it’s time for me to stop talking.” So, different advice for different folks.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yes. Well, let’s talk a bit more about when you’re in the thick of it, that conversation. So, we’ve had some openers, and we’re sort of in the mix, and you’re watching out for dominating, if you’re preferring extroversion and have a lot of fun. And what are some other pro tips with regard to keeping the conversation going in some cool and interesting ways?

Devora Zack
So, I would always favor asking questions and, given the opportunity, open-ended question as oppose to close-ended questions. Also, to make sure that what you’re saying is in the positive. It’s really astonishing how often people attempt to bond over what’s wrong, like it’s incredibly prevalent. So, just take note of it the next time you’re out and about. And, unfortunately, I think you’ll probably find that to be the case, “Oh, my gosh, the weather is terrible. The parking was bad. There’s so much traffic. They downscaled this year. It looks like the cheese has been sitting out too long. I think they skimped. Some people didn’t show up that were supposed to show up.” I can go on and on and on because there’s so many examples.

So, it’s really trying to take a moment before you speak and think, “Is this positive?” Like, not to be fake, but, “What’s something positive I can say? How can I be positive and helpful and be someone that people want to be around as oppose to someone who’s looking at what’s wrong all the time?” so, be careful about that in conversation.

And, also, when you are meeting with people, it might be easy at the end of the conversation to just delve into another conversation. If you just spoke to someone you really do want to keep in touch with, then get their card if they have one, and take a moment to just jot down a couple of notes to yourself on the front of the card about where you met them, what you talked about, what you might be able to follow up on. It’s a great gift to give yourself because we forget about half of what we hear within two days.

So, I may think, “Oh, Pete was so great. It was wonderful talking with him. I’m definitely going to follow up and see if he wants to get a copy.” And like a few days later, I have a bunch of cards and I don’t know which one was that person that I intended to follow up with. So, give yourself a little time out to focus your brain.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s hear some of the other perspectives on the follow-up. So, one is making sure that it doesn’t go too long because it can be forgotten. And what are some of the other, I’d say, common mistakes and best practices there?

Devora Zack
So, be specific and remember to value connecting over collecting. So, it’s not about how many cards you collect, it’s about who you connect with and how deep these connections are. To that end, I think that people will sometimes, at the end of a conference, send out a like a Blind CC or a group list to everyone saying, “Hey, it was great meeting you at that industry conference. Let’s stay in touch.” And that reads as phony, it’s not specific, it’s going to get deleted.

So, instead of reaching out to everyone who you touched base with in the conference, pick a couple of people, authentic individuals, specific follow-up, and in the follow-up, make it short. I think email is a good way to follow up also with different personality styles. And to see right away what you can do to offer the other person, maybe an article you think they’d be interested in based on the conversation, maybe a connection you can make for them in their work, as opposed to right away thinking, “What can they do for me? What am I asking for?” Try and offer something in your follow-up.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your take there. What are some of the great ways that are broadly applicable that we can be generous and proactive givers there?

Devora Zack
Make sure it really is something that the other person might want. So, again, it all goes back to what happens at the event. Listen closely to what they’re saying, pick up on what they’re interested in. Because you’ve asked questions and because afterwards you’ve jotted something down on their card before you left, you’ll have specific offers to make. It doesn’t have to be something professional. It could be, “Oh, you said you were coaching your son’s soccer team. I read this hilarious article that I think you’ll find funny about parents coaching their kids or whatever.” Maybe it’s offering them a laugh.

But one thing to be careful about is to not think you’re offering someone something when it’s, really, you’re asking for something. Like, some of these people will say to me after meeting me, it’s superficially, “Hey, I’d love to treat you to lunch and pick your brain.” Like, that, all of a sudden, it sounds like I’m getting something but it’s really that you want to pick their brain. So, you want to make sure that it’s really focused on what the other person is interested in.

Also, to that end, you say, if you want to follow up with someone and maybe have more time with them, make it easy for the person to say yes. So, if someone says to me or I assume maybe to you, “We’ll have lunch,” that’s a hard thing to say yes to because we’re super busy professionals and have a lot of demands. However, if someone wants some advice and it’s really concrete, and they say, “I’d love 10 minutes of your time to ask you some questions. I could come to your office or we could do it by video conferencing. Would that be possible?” Then that’s pretty easy for me to say yes to. So, make it easy for people to, when it does come time to ask something, to say yes to you.

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

Devora Zack
Well, there’s a couple new sections in the second edition of Networking for People Who Hate Networking, one we’ve been talking about a little bit, which is follow up a new chapter in that because so many people are interested in that. There’s also a new section on interviewing skills. But the one I want to mention in particular is cultivating connections in non-professional environments.

So, I think it’s important for us, in our lives, many of us are a little bit isolated in between our work and our home life, to find what I call, and other people call as well, the third space, like a community outside of work. So, I have a lot of tips which you can read about but also, just in general, to be on the lookout for, ways to connect with people in a socializing way to enrich your life beyond work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Any of those leaping to mind with regard to those other social-connecting ways?

Devora Zack
Well, it’s to find hobbies or interests that are already inherently interesting to you. So, pursue maybe there’s something when you were in college or in your younger years when you had more time that you did. Look at those old interests you had and see if you can find ways to revive them as you get older and busier. So, to reawaken things that you enjoy doing. So, it’s not just about, “I’m going to meet people,” which is lovely, but it’s also about cultivating an interest that you authentically have and would like to learn more about or become more proficient in.

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

Devora Zack
Really, my favorite quote is by a philosopher named Philo of Alexandria, and it is, “Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a great battle.” And I love it because we might see someone who seems like they have it all going on but we can’t really know. And to assume everyone is fighting their own battles, we’ll be extra kind to each other.

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

Devora Zack
So, actually, I think my favorite quote of a scientist, a neuroscientist who did research, is actually from a different one of my books, Singletasking, about how to be more focused in your interactions. And there’s a neuroscientist named Douglas Merrill, and he says, “Everyone knows kids are better at multitasking. The problem – everyone is wrong.” And he did studies to show that no matter what age you are, you’re always more effective and efficient and productive by focusing on one thing at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Devora Zack
My favorite book of all is The Phantom Tollbooth. It’s a children’s book but it’s really for all ages.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember that one, yes. And a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Devora Zack
A really nice pen. As a writer, I write every day for hours a day and I also do speaking, of course, but in between I’m writing, and I love a great pen so I have a little collection.

Pete Mockaitis
And what are you loving these days in the pens?

Devora Zack
A variety. Just some are fountain pens, some are ballpoints, some are different sizes, different styles. I guess it’s like if a musician has as favorite instrument, I go through different phases with different pens. And it’s nothing like handwriting. I do a lot of writing on computer too but I still handwrite as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you share with us a couple favorite ballpoint brands and models?

Devora Zack
Let’s see. What am I using right now? It’s Visconti, it’s an Italian pen. They have a lot of beautiful versions. I don’t want to favor one over the other because I’ll change my mind next week and then feel guilty that I said a different brand on your show.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Devora Zack
Getting up really early. This is going to make everybody hate me but it’s true. Getting up really early in the morning to exercise. I’m a morning person and I love to wake up and move around. So, that’s my favorite habit, exercising early in the morning.

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

Devora Zack
My website MyOnlyConnect.com. My company is called Only Connect Consulting, so MyOnlyConnect.com. You can find all, also, any of my three books Networking for People Who Hate Networking, Managing for People Who Hate Managing, and Singletasking through the website or through bookstores

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

Devora Zack
Well, my final call to action in this context of networking is this, is to absolutely, everything else gets pushed aside, you must follow up. You can be a brilliant networker, you can talk to anyone about anything, if you’re not following up, you’re not networking. It doesn’t matter if you’re great at speaking off the cuff. What matters is what happens the next day. Are you in touch afterwards? Did you build a meaningful relationship with that person? Is it mutually beneficial? So, nothing can happen if you’re just having a good time at the event or maybe dreading the event, and then it just vanishes into a black hole. So, it’s the key. There’s a lot of other tips but the key to anything happening is follow up.

And one other thing, being gracious. Also being gracious to people. So, I’ll demonstrate. Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been such a treat talking with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thanks, Devora. It’s been fun.