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661: How to Connect Meaningfully with Susan McPherson

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Susan McPherson shares her surefire method for building better connections.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The winning strategy to building connections
  2. Better alternatives to small talk
  3. How to maintain connections efficiently

About Susan

Susan McPherson is a serial connector, seasoned communicator and founder and CEO of McPherson Strategies, a communications consultancy focused on the intersection of brands and social impact. She is the author of The Lost Art of Connecting: The Gather, Ask, Do Method for Building Meaningful Relationships. Susan has 25+ years of experience in marketing, public relations, and sustainability communications, speaking regularly at industry conferences, and contributing to the Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Forbes. 

She has appeared on NPR, CNN, USA Today, The New Yorker, New York Magazine and the Los Angeles Times. Susan is a Vital Voices global corporate ambassador and has received numerous accolades for her voice on social media platforms from Fortune Magazine, Fast Company and Elle Magazine. She resides in Brooklyn.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Susan McPherson Interview Transcript

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

Susan McPherson
I’m very happy to be here, Pete. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom about the lost art of connecting. And I understand you have made a fun connection. You’re pals with Kevin Bacon. How did that come to be? And what’s it like to be buddies with a famous person?

Susan McPherson
Well, first of all, I wouldn’t go so far as say buddies.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Susan McPherson
I don’t want to embellish it. His older sister has been a friend of mine for years and we live in Seattle, and I moved to New York not knowing anyone, and she so graciously introduced me to him, and I spent my first Thanksgiving in New York City at his home with his wonderful wife and kids and extended family.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Kevin Bacon, of all the celebrities you might be connected to for you and what you’re doing, that’s just priceless.

Susan McPherson
Oh, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Six degrees or five degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Susan McPherson
Six degrees, and that means now you’re two degrees.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, you know what, that feels really…I’m having a surge of feeling powerful right now, actually, as you highlight that, so thank you. Well, so tell us, we’re talking about connecting. What would you say is one of the most surprising and fascinating things you’ve discovered about connecting which might be counterintuitive to folks?

Susan McPherson
Well, what has enabled me over the years to be successful is always leading with, “How can I help?” rather than “What can I get?” which is counterintuitive to what we have traditionally thought of when we’ve been networking and meeting others. We tend to go into things, like, “What can I get? What can I learn? Who can I meet?” as opposed to, “What can I give? How can I support? How can I be the one making the introduction for you?” And I have found, by leading with that, it actually has helped me and opened more doors and created a lifelong world of people everywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds great. And so then, let’s talk about the “How can I help?” mindset first and foremost, and I’m thinking also about Keith Ferrazzi. That’s one of his key principles, is generosity there. So, can you share with us just all the kinds of ways that people might need help? And people sometimes don’t really speak up about what they need help with. They’re embarrassed or they’re shy or they open themselves because they haven’t thought through it.

So, how do you think about identifying what people really need? And what are all the different ways that you can help? Because I think sometimes people might say, “Oh, I’m not rich. I’m not powerful. I’m not connected. What do I have to offer?” So, lay it on us, how does one help well?

Susan McPherson
Well, I will tell you just a little bit of about what’s in my book. I lay out a very, very detailed methodology, which I won’t bore all your listeners with in terms of detail but I can certainly give you kind of the high…the 30,000-foot view, and it’s gather, ask, do.

And in the gather section is when you do some meaningful self-reflection to actually determine what it is that you have to offer, what is it that you bring to the table, what is your chief differentiating factors, your secret sauces. And notice I say “sss” because everyone has many. The next is the ask.

And, yes, there is always a time and a place for you to ask for what you need and what you want and what you deserve but, in this case, it is learning the art of asking meaningful questions so you can find out what is important to someone else, what do they need help with.

There’s even a chapter in the book that gives you questions that you can have in your back pocket that actually helps you ask people questions that will lead you to understand what they are hoping and dreaming for.

And, lastly, if you ask the meaningful questions and listen carefully, you can then get to the do, and what you do in the do is actually the place I like to be the most, but that’s when you become helpful, reliable, trustworthy, following through. And I hear your question about, “Well, what about if I’m not a rich heiress or a philanthropist, etc. how do I help?” Well, this goes back to that secret sauce and that chief differentiating factor.

Every single one of us has things to offer one another, and sometimes it might just be an introduction to someone else we know. So, don’t overthink it but it really comes down to asking the right questions and then better understanding what it is that you can be doing to be helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, let’s walk through a bit of that gather, ask, and do then.

Susan McPherson
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when it comes to gather and zeroing in on what it is we have to offer, well, maybe, first, let’s contextualize. It seems like it’s what we have to offer is pretty broad, it’s not just in the work sphere. It’s kind of just like anybody we might bump into. Is that fair to say?

Susan McPherson
Well, my book is a business book, okay, so the context of the book was written very much around how do we do this from a business perspective. But I always joke, “There’s not a work-Susan and a home-Susan,” and I decided about 15 years ago, it was tiring being two people and much easier to be one. And a lot of times, when we are incredibly passionate about the work that we do, it doesn’t feel as much of being work.

So, I have also learned that many of the kind of secret sauces that I bring to the table, literally, cross boundaries of work and home. It doesn’t necessarily fall into. And I run a social impact communications consulting firm, so just the notion of making impact in the world, you could question whether that is work or not work, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. Okay. Well, so then, thinking about it from a professional world, which can, indeed, be broader than we could contextualizes it at times, what are your pro tips for zeroing in on, “Huh, these are some of my secret sauces”?

Susan McPherson
Sure. Well, it really depends on where you are in your kind of career, and I talk to a lot of 20 somethings that are just out of school and tend to think they don’t have a whole lot to offer, but they may speak multiple languages, they may be very technically mindful. I joke sometimes that a 22-year-old may be able to say two things that would really help me out, and that is TikTok, and things like that that could be very helpful to someone like myself that is in the world of communications. So, it’s a very personal thing but I think all of us have to look internally and think about.

I’m going to ask you, Pete, what are your secret sauces?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. Well, the first thing that comes to mind is just, from the StrengthsFinder report, like Ideation lately. I’ve just been getting so many ideas and putting them into action, and Activator is another one of them, so that’s part of it.

Susan McPherson
That’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess the podcast itself is a thing in terms of, well, a lot of people want to be on it and we candidly reject the vast majority of incoming pitches, so great job, Susan and Nina, your publicist.

Susan McPherson
Well, she’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Because most people, frankly, we proactively hunt down based on listener requests these days but sometimes we go, “Ooh, that’s actually spot on so let’s call her.”

Susan McPherson
Oh, I feel special. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
You are special. So, yeah, those are some of the things. And I think I have a knack for researching something with an intensity or vigilance that can almost seem obsessive but, in so doing, discover things that most people don’t because they don’t go past the first page of Google. And so, sometimes, like I can really vibe with investigative journalists, like, “Yeah, totally. I’m in the same mindset as you many times.”

Susan McPherson
Well, that’s a gift and it’s also a secret sauce. I often say leading with curiosity is such an enormous skill, so right there you’ve just named. But you had to do some deep thinking to think about that, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I did it before we talked in terms of just general self-awareness work. And then when you prompted me, I did take a few seconds of thought, so certainly.

Susan McPherson
I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we dig into those things. And so, in my own instance, I’ve thought about, okay, what are some times I’ve relied and impressed people with, “Wow, that’s really great work,” or I’ve looked at some assessments like the StrengthsFinder to surface some stuff. What are some of the other sources that can serve up the secret sauce?

Susan McPherson
Sure. I’m a big believer in asking your close confidants, your brain trust, the people…your family members, your dog, you name it. But it is a type of thing where you can really gather this information to help you do that self-reflection. I have a funny story back in 2007. I went away with eight girlfriends for a weekend. And the goal that weekend was for each of us to come up with our secret sauce, our elevator speech.

And it was during that weekend that I finally coined the term that I am a serial connector. And I’ll be completely honest, when I said it, I almost peed my pants because it sounded so ridiculous. But it took the group to give me the guts and give me the permission and, also, basically state for the record I was amazing at connecting people.

And then, a few years later when I was introduced to come on and speak on a stage, and they introduced me, and said, “We welcome Susan McPherson, serial connector, seasoned communicator,” again, I almost peed my pants. But now I wrote a book about it. So, the point being is that was deep thinking and deep reflection on my part but I also pulled from the crowd. I actually helped gather data from the people closest to me.

Pete Mockaitis
This is maybe the funniest follow-up I’ve ever asked, when you say pee your pants, do you mean you were terrified or thrilled?

Susan McPherson
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Susan McPherson
I was embarrassed. Like it sounded ridiculous. It sounded just, “No one’s going to believe that.”

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s it. I nailed it.” And that’s not what you meant. You meant, “Oh, geez, that seems corny or outrageous.”

Susan McPherson
Yes, it seemed preposterous is probably the word.

Pete Mockaitis
And that could be an insight right there in terms of if you’re feeling some internal resistance or skepticism when you are connected with people that you’re bouncing these things off of, you could get the courage to say, “No, that’s for real,” and own it and work it.

Susan McPherson
Exactly. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Well, let’s talk about the asking. How do we ask? Or are there some particular key questions or tips to be better listeners and get to the heart of things?

Susan McPherson
Well, sure, and they’re both two separate chapters in the book. Actually, there’s one chapter that has, literally, 11 questions that you can carry in your back pocket that will help you ask more meaningful questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please share several of these immediately. We have to know.

Susan McPherson
Well, they are certainly not the questions that are going to lead you to yes or no answers, and they’re also not questions about the weather or what people ate for lunch today, but they’re things like, “Pete, it’s been a tough year. It’s been a really challenging year. How are you doing? And is there anything you could be using my help?” Or, “Pete, if you could go anywhere at the end of this pandemic, anywhere on the planet, where would you go and why?” Or, “Pete, if there was a problem you could solve in the next month, and money wasn’t an issue, what would that problem be?”

Pete Mockaitis
Like, a society or social problem?

Susan McPherson
These questions elicit more meaningful responses and help you get a better data set, a more rich answer that is going to help you then lead to, “Oh, how can I be helpful to this person?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I think those are excellent questions and I guess I’m thinking about the context in terms of “I have many people I know that I’d be totally fine, just go in there right away.” I’m thinking if you have just met someone three minutes ago, you may not want to go there right away.

Susan McPherson
What about those questions seem…?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I suppose, and it could vary by personality, if, let’s say, I just met, we’re talking, it’s like, “Oh, how do you know Jane?” or, “What brings you to the podcast movement conference, Susan?” whatever. So, we’re like just met and then you said, “Hey, it’s been a tough year with the pandemic. How are you doing?” Like, “Well, Susan, I guess I’m okay. I just met you,” you know.

Susan McPherson
I don’t know. Again, in many, many talks, and I run a communications firm, so I will say that this past year has been the great equalizer. Most people have been challenged by it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Susan McPherson
I mean, that’s quite a generalization. I don’t want to say all people. But, to me, it’s almost like the elephant in the room that if we don’t address it, we’re not being human. And I find that it isn’t such a personal question because obviously, if the person is uncomfortable, they’ll say, “I’m fine.”

Pete Mockaitis
Fair enough. You just lead with that.

Susan McPherson
But most people, yeah, most people…

Pete Mockaitis
We just met, “You know, how are you really doing, Susan?” Like, “Hey, take a hint. You’re not my friend, my spouse, my boss, I just met you and I’m giving you a bit of a buff-off so take that cue.” Well, I think that’s powerful right there in terms of, well, one, maybe we can afford to be a little bit more courageous and vulnerable, just go ahead. And, two, it’s not the biggest deal in the world if someone chooses not to disclose and you could just take that hint and respond accordingly.

Susan McPherson
Yeah. I mean, look, again, every human is different and that’s a good thing. It makes life interesting. But, generally speaking, I have found that this is the time that we don’t have to be superhuman or superwomen or supermen. And when you open yourself up to a little bit more vulnerability, others generally reciprocate in kind. And, therefore, you can have a little bit more meaningful discussion than about the weather. Not everyone. Some people will want to stick with the weather, and you know what, that’s good too.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sure thing. One of my bits, I always just imagine like if you try to small talk someone about the weather and they happen to be like extremely into the weather, they’re like, “How about that dew point, huh? It’s really climbing up there.” Just how that will unfold.

Susan McPherson
You know, it’s funny, I did my junior year abroad in Denmark, and I lived with a Danish family. And my Danish father, this was back in ‘80s, but he would always say that American always have to fill the void so they have to have talking. So, what they will do is talk about the weather. And I have to tell you, over the years, when we started having conference calls, inevitably in every start of every conference call, the de facto conversation would be about the weather, and I would completely start to laugh in the back of my head because it would take me back to Denmark, and I was like, “Oh, my God, he was right.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, “Those silly Americans.” Well, you shared a few great questions. I’d love it if you could give us a few more.

Susan McPherson
Well, I think there’s always this notion, again, because I work in impact, this discussion about “What else can we be doing to be helpful?” I also find anything around travel, anything about where our upbringing, where we came from, can give you a deeper clue as to people and, too,  what their hopes and dreams are. That is kind of the suggestions that I have.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how do we listen all the better so that we are picking up maybe what’s not said and prudently following up with what is said?

Susan McPherson
Well, we are woefully bad at listening, and this year has proven to be extraordinarily challenging. I think about all of us who had been privileged enough to work from home but have had the obligatory Zoom or Microsoft Team meetings while we have our email open, while we have our Twitter applications open, while we have our WhatsApp and our texting, and probably our children and our dogs all running around. Listening can be extraordinarily challenging.

In the book, I showcase Dr. Julian Treasure who has done a number of TED Talks, and I highlight recommend your listeners go and listen.

Pete Mockaitis
We got Julian on the show a couple of times, yeah.

Susan McPherson
Well, there you go. So, I would follow a lot of his advice. But, for me, personally, two things that I do. One, I literally carry a notepad with me now everywhere in virtual rooms, and I take notes when people are talking. I, also, am not so shy as I won’t…if I find myself daydreaming or thinking about what I’m going to cook for dinner as opposed to listening, is I will circle back and say, “Pete, I missed what you said. Can you repeat it?” And that keeps me grounded. That helps me continue to listen.

But, also, writing, taking notes if someone talks, at least for me, is very, very helpful. And then when I follow-up with people, I generally will pull from something that was said in the conversation so that that not only helps me remember, of course, but also reminds the person that I actually did listen to them, that I saw them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. And we had a comedian on the show who sort of talked about callbacks and how, if you had sort of a humorous exchange, referencing that in particular can facilitate that signal of, “Yes, I was listening. And, yes, that was a special happy fun moment we had there, wasn’t it?”

Cool. All right. Well, so then let’s hear about the do. So, we’ve gathered, we’ve asked, and now when it comes to doing, how do we do well?

Susan McPherson
And if we listened after we asked, then we have the follow-up to do. And, typically, the do begins with your follow-up, and I mentioned how when I do follow-up, I do try to mention what I heard or what I saw. And I, typically, will follow-up right away. It’s the type of thing where I know I’m going to get it done. But, again, that notepad that I carry around with me, I will make a note if I can’t do it right away. And I, generally, will respond back something I heard the person say or I will make…potentially, I will suggest that I will make an introduction for that person.

But I want to make sure your listeners know, I’m not sitting here saying, “You have to help every single person in the entire world.” But if your goal is to make a deeper more meaningful connection, this is a way to start the process, and it’s not a one-and-done thing. You’re not going to like follow-up and then, “Ah, done. I don’t have to reach out to them in 10 years.” This is something that, hopefully, if it builds into a reciprocal relationship, will carry through and continue to grow and blossom.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, when you talked about following up, like if there’s not just like a crystal-clear action item or to-do or promise made, can you give us some examples of actual snippets of follow-up text or dialogue?

Susan McPherson
Sure. It can be as simple as, “Pete, it was great chatting with you last night. I so enjoyed our conversation about X, Y, Z, your favorite hummus, or where you’re going on your next trip, or the project you’re working on. I’d love to keep in touch. What would be the best way to keep in touch with you?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s simple. Thank you.

Susan McPherson
I mean, let’s not overthink this. But the reason I asked about what is the best way is every person has a different means and mode of the way they want to stay in touch or communicate. And, to me, that is a very respectful way to keep the loop going.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then let’s talk about maintenance in terms of sort of ongoing? Like, in some ways, it could be intimidating if, well, I don’t know if you have any numbers in mind, but like the frequency of touches and the depth of touches, like it could multiply real quick in terms of, “I’ve met 3,000 people. And if I want to stay in touch, do I need to give them a message every other month?” So, how do you think about the maintenance stuff?

Susan McPherson
Sure. Well, again, I want to delineate between what I talk about versus networking. For me, it’s not a numbers game. It is very much intentional in keeping in touch based on, if we think back to the gather phase, “What is the community we want to build to help us meet our own goals?” This isn’t just about staying in touch for the sake of staying touch, although that is great, too. I’m not anti that.

So, to me, to sit here and put out numbers would be not what I’m practicing. But I also believe that because this isn’t transactional, a relationship doesn’t start and stop. A relationship ebbs and flows. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Susan McPherson
So, again, it’s not realistic to think you’re going to stay in touch with everybody every day but I fervently believe that you stay in touch with people not when you need something, so that when you do need something, it’s so much easier to ask.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. That’s good. That’s good. And I hear you, in terms of ebbs and flows, I’m thinking about when we moved into this building, like the realtor, we talked to him all the time, and now we talk to him rarely, but occasionally. And he’s awesome and I like being in touch with him, likewise, with the contractor. And so, the ebbs and flows does sound natural, and it may well be like three years of a gap between times, but if I see something that makes me think of them, go for it and that’s cool.

Susan McPherson
Absolutely. And that’s a gift. That’s a gift. And the thing is how often have you been walking down the street and somebody pops in your brain? And, generally speaking, you do, you park it. I, now, whenever that happens, I use my little voice memo on my handheld, which is generally with me, and I make a note so that I will actually then go back, or maybe while I’m walking, and just text using the voice memo and say, “Hey, Carolyn, you popped in my brain. It’s been a while. I just want to say hello and find out how you’re doing.” Simple as that.

And I must do those three to five times a day, and it’s literally when people pop in my brain. Again, no ask, no I’m not expecting anything in return, although, it’s lovely if people respond back, but it is my own way of being, like, “Hey, I’m still here,” but also spreading a little joy in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and you’re right, and it does feel good in terms of, yeah, as I imagine myself on the receiving end of that, like even if I have…even if that person doesn’t have a really special place in my heart, they’re just like, “Okay, I randomly met you at a whatever, a conference four years ago, and we had a couple laughs, but whatever.” So, just for example, like I would still feel pretty good to get that text and like, “Oh,” and I might say, you know, I’m probably not going to follow up and say, “Oh, yes, absolutely. So good to hear from you. Let’s find some time where we can really catch up at length.” I probably won’t do that. For some people, I certainly would. But even in the worst case that feels good. So, yeah, do more of that. Absolutely. That’s great.

Susan McPherson
Well, a lot of people say to me, “How do you have time? How do you find time to keep in touch in this and that?” And I have to be honest with you, Pete, the more people in my life, the more efficient I get because it means there’s more people I can tap into when somebody needs an expert in climate change, coral restoration, animal physiology. Like, you will know someone or you will know someone who knows someone.

Pete Mockaitis
You got a toxicologist for me, Susan?

Susan McPherson
I can find you one.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Good to know. Good to know. Well, that’s great. Thank you. Well, tell me, any final pro tips or things that you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Susan McPherson
Sure. Well, I just think leading with how can we be helpful is a tremendous way to pivot as we move through our professional careers whether we are with peers, whether we’re with the people who are hiring us or promoting us, whether we are raising money for our startup. Leading with that will only come back to help you.

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

Susan McPherson
I have to say “We’re only as blind as we want to be,” and I say that quote because I have found leading a life of deep curiosity has been extraordinarily helpful to me and never questioning whether somebody is worth my time. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, great.

Susan McPherson
Because what I have learned from people, and maybe the initial impression was, “Wait, this person can’t ‘help’ me with my career, they can’t help me get this or that,” but I have always surprised myself that when I kind of disabled the blinders, it enabled me to learn something not only about that person but to learn more about myself.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Susan McPherson
It would have to be Caste by Isabel Wilkerson that I just read earlier this year. Powerful, powerful. Highly, highly recommended just in terms of grounding and also what is basically systemic racism in this country. And I know I’m going deep but I have found that to be just extraordinary.

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

Susan McPherson
Email and my notepad. Honestly, my notepad. But I don’t know what I would do without email.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Susan McPherson
Texting people I love and asking how they’re doing, and blowing bubbles in my dog’s belly.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, fun. And is there a particular nugget you share that really connects and resonates with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Susan McPherson
I know I’m sounding redundant and repetitive, it’s literally, “How can I be of help to you?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Susan McPherson
And folks joke about that all the time.

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

Susan McPherson
Well, my company’s website McPherson Strategies or anywhere online susamcp1, you can find me on the social webs, and you can obviously email me at susan@mcpstrategies.com.

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

Susan McPherson
I would make sure you listen twice as much as you speak, that is why we have two ears. And I would always, always, always leave with how you can be helpful to others and, believe me, the world will come back and help you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Susan, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun in all the ways you’re connecting.

Susan McPherson
Thank you, Pete.

645: How to Make a Bigger Impact by Connecting First with Dr. Melanie Katzman

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Melanie Katzman shares strategies for establishing a great connection to facilitate great work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The trick to a great first impression
  2.  The one question to gain better perspective
  3. The listening hack that makes all the difference 

About Melanie

Dr. Melanie Katzman is a business psychologist and coach to the world’s top public and private companies. Her latest book, Connect First: 52 Simple Ways to Ignite Success, Meaning, and Joy at Work, is a #1 WSJ bestseller. 

She has delivered workshops and keynotes to organizations worldwide for three decades. During COVID-19, she is an especially sought-after virtual speaker, giving groups the tools for coping with newfound daily stressors, teaching immediately actionable techniques that have meaningful and enduring results. 

Melanie has been featured in the financial and popular media, and has appeared on numerous podcasts and television outlets. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Blinkist: Read or listen to summarized wisdom from thousands of nonfiction books! Free trial available at blinkist.com/awesome

Dr. Melanie Katzman Interview Transcript

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

Melanie Katzman
Thanks so much for having me, Pete. I’m excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your wisdom and Connect First. Great title. My hats off to you.

Melanie Katzman
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Can we kick it off by hearing about maybe the most surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made in the process of putting together the book Connect First?

Melanie Katzman
Sure. So, Pete, I’m a clinical psychologist with decades of experience seeing people individually as a therapist. At the same time, I’ve been a corporate consultant to both startups as well as large multinationals. And one of the things that I found is that no matter where I was working, no matter who I was working with, whether it be in America or other parts of the world, people at their core, are all wired the same.

We all want to belong. We want to be recognized. We want information. We crave praise. We want to be appreciated. And so, in creating Connect First, what I was able to do was pull from the experiences I have as both a therapist, as a consultant, and put that all together in a way that I hope communicates to everybody that we need to connect first through our common humanity.

And the surprise, the delight in the book and in the book tour, has been that people really resonate with that message. It just makes sense. It is what people experience. And particularly during a pandemic, it’s what people crave, that human connection. So, it’s a delightful surprise, it wasn’t a full surprise because it’s exactly why I wrote the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we talk about connecting first, maybe what’s the alternative? What do people do first if not connect that’s problematic?

Melanie Katzman
So, many people at work are so focused on being transactional, getting the job done, that they forget that the thing that you have to do first is to establish a relationship with people, you need to slow down to speed up. If you don’t develop trust, then you can’t actually ask people to push, to prod, to innovate, to take chances, to deal with conflict. And, too often, people show up at the office and just feel like, “If someone is being paid, they need to do it,” and, “If I ask, and I’m the boss, it should happen,” versus, “I need to actually demonstrate and establish respect and trust.”

Similarly, people will say, “Oh, we have an inclusion program.” And, somehow, because we have a program or a poster that that will somehow translate into people really feeling as if they have a seat at the table. And as we know, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, boy, the word should there really perked my ears up in terms of it’s sort of like we have these expectations or assumptions about how the world ought to operate, and if yours is that people should do awesome, innovative, stretched, extraordinary work because they’re getting a paycheck, we’re saying that worldview is not accurate to reality.

Melanie Katzman
I just think that what we know, what science shows us and I think many of our experiences demonstrate is that people do better work when they’re internally, intrinsically motivated, that money makes a difference to a point but, actually, to get passion, well, we talk about passion. We want passionate purpose-driven people on our team.

Well, passion is hot. It’s not cognitive. I can think I want to do a good job but I’m going to be really driven and passionate about doing a job because I care. That caring comes from an emotional connection to the work and to the people I’m working with, and that requires the human connection.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think people ask me, “So, Pete, how do you be awesome at your job?” just like at a party or something. I like, “Boy, 600 interviews, how do I distill it?”

Melanie Katzman
How do you distill it? What do you say?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m still figuring out, it’s like, “Okay, can I give you five things? One of them is caring.”

Melanie Katzman
Right. Like, “We could just say be a human.” I mean, that sounds ridiculous but people show up at work and they feel like they should be an automatron, and they should just churn it out versus “I’m really going to be thoughtful about how I approach my requests, how I deliver my work, the words I choose, and who I choose to say them to and with.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Okay. Well, so then you described 52 separate actions in your book, which is a bundle – I love it – and that’s organized into seven main themes. Could maybe give us the rundown, 30 seconds to a minute, on each of the seven themes? What are they?

Melanie Katzman
Sure. And they’re actually built on each other. So, when I first decided to write this book, people are like, “Wait. So, this is like a Ms. Manners for business?” I’m like, “No, no, no, no. We’ll start with the basics.” So, the beginning of the book is all about establishing trust. Just getting the basics right, like saying “Please,” and, “Thank you,” making eye contact. Like, the first chapter in the book is smiling. Like, “I smile at you, you smile back.” That’s not hard work.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s my favorite.

Melanie Katzman
Right? Even behind your big microphone, I can see you’re smiling, and it’s actually one of the problems we have now with masks. You can’t see the smile. But a smile is really, you know, it just gets us going as people. So, the first chapter is smiling. And then I go on to review other basics, all the things we know we should do but we forget to do, right? That’s the thanks-you-s, the please-s.

Then, from there, it’s “Use your senses.” See everybody, not just the people who you think who are important. Not the people who you think have influence or were the buddies, the ones who look like you, you’re comfortable with. See truly everybody. Listen. Don’t just try to hear, to reload, so that you can make your point louder and more definitively, but actually listen. Eat with other people. Breaking bread, old-time ritual of really a way of getting to know someone.

So, I talk about the importance of using your senses – seeing, hearing, eating, really quieting yourself and your internal dialogue to know what’s happening around you. Then be popular. And I use that kind of purposely, provocatively. Be the person people want to be with. So, come bearing conversational gifts, help the people that you’re with. Be smarter because they’ve been with you and because you’re willing to share.

And then we want to clear conflict. And how do you clear conflicts? It’s really having the confidence to say no to certain things, to say yes to others, to give feedback as a gift, to really be unafraid in entering some of those scary conversations. And then it’s really about being inclusive, in casting a wide net. And I even have chapters about how to be a good host, which people say, “That’s funny. This is a job. People are coming into my office.” I’m like, “No, no, no, you need to be responsible for the curation, for the comfort you create.”

And then we want to face the future unafraid. And that’s really if you have established respect, if you are seeing beyond your immediate box, if you are unafraid in tackling difficult conversations, then you can really collaborate with multiple stakeholders, bringing lots of voices into the room, ask questions that don’t have answers and be unafraid of what bubbles up.

And so, I really then talk to people about honoring history at the same time that you’re looking towards the future, embracing aging, embracing difference, and, ultimately, the book ends with a dream. Dream big. So, we start with a smile, we end with a dream. Start with the basics and then end with all of the ways in which you can apply these 52 suggestions so that you can build a different world, build a different culture at your company, and feel better at your job, which is why I dared to have joy in the title, because a lot of people are like, “Joy at work? That’s an oxymoron.” I’m like, “Nope, you get the positive results when you have joyful people pursuing meaningful work. And that creates a success.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Thank you. Okay. So, we have seven themes, and they’re sort of stair-stepping up, starting with establish respect, engage the senses, become popular, grow the loyalty, resolve conflicts, fight fear, have a big impact, we start with a smile, we end with a dream. Awesome.

So, now, within these seven themes, we got 52 actions, which is a lot of actions. So, we love the 80/20 principle here on How to be Awesome at Your Job. So, could you zero in on a couple, I don’t know, two, three, five, that just have just the disproportionate impact on making great connections? Maybe they’re high impact, they’re easy to do, they’re often overlooked. What are sort of the like the bullseye actions that make all the difference?

Melanie Katzman
And, by the way, you raised the fact that it’s 52, and that can seem really daunting, but one of the things I encourage people to do when they get the book is to read it in a way that suits you. It’s written with for the attention-deprived executive or worker so that you can dip in, get the information you need for the moment that you’re in.

So, if you’re in the middle of a conflict, you’re going to be, “What do I need to do? Well, this person seems like someone I can’t relate to. Let me pull these few chapters.” You can kind of go in and get what you need when you need it. But, on the other hand, you could also read the book as a yearlong exercise in personal development so that you can do a chapter a week.

Now, in terms of a couple of my favorites, like one of my absolute favorites is “Got it.” And those are two words that change the whole demeanor of work. So, I’m sure you’ve been in this situation, many of my clients have been, I have been, where you shoot off an email request and you look, you glance, “Where did it go? I asked for some information. I need it to be able to enact whatever transaction I’m doing, the deal I’m trying to close, the work I’m trying to complete, and I don’t know whether someone is working on it, I’ve been spammed, I’m not important.”

And whether you are the boss or you are the underling, when somebody doesn’t respond to your request, you don’t know how to take the next step. And we all want to manage our own time, but if you don’t know when the response is coming, or if it’s coming, then you can’t deal with your own timing, which is an incredible empowerment, and it’s this experience of disrespect.

So, I encourage people to say, “Got it.” And for extra credit, “Got it. Your answer is coming in 10 minutes, or it’s going to take me some time to pull the numbers together. I’ll get back to you tonight,” or, “Got it. I’m working on X. Should I re-prioritize to work on Y because this is an important request?” So, I encourage people to use those two words.

Pete Mockaitis
Or even “Got it. I’m afraid I’m not going to be the person who can help you with this.”

Melanie Katzman
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that still helps them with their timelines and what to do next.

Melanie Katzman
Advance the ball, right? Say, “Got it,” so then you know. The other really super simple, call people by their name. Like, it is a neural hack. People snap to attention when they hear their name, and too often we don’t call people by their name, or working in diverse organizations, people make up a name that’s easy for them to remember or pronounce.

Pete Mockaitis
Champ. Sport.

Melanie Katzman
Right. And it’s like it happens all the time, but it’s so easy. If I address you by your name, you feel like we already have a connection. If I can’t remember your name, but I remember your face, I can say, “Hey, Pete, I remember like a few years ago…” “Hey, guy, I don’t remember your name but we had such a good conversation. Remember we were standing at the coffee area at the conference, looking at X…” And then you go, “Okay. She cares enough, remember your name.” So, there’s all sorts of tricks to that, to like asking people the history of their name. It’s a quick way to understand someone’s background. So, it sounds simple, but like say, “Got it,” call people by their name.

Moving along the line. Another thing I would say is ask a beautiful question. Come prepared to ask a great question. It honors the person. So, when you do interviews for potential candidates, if someone asked a question that could be answered on the website, what have you learned? You’ve learned that they’re lazy, right? If somebody comes and they have already done the research to ask you a question that reflects what they and how they think, they are going to impress you and then you can also answer them in a way that can engage them.

And so, a lot of different suggestions within the book have to do with bringing what I call conversational gifts. Doing your research so that you’re showing up ready to have a good conversation. And preparing a good question doesn’t take a lot of time but does make a huge difference.

Pete Mockaitis
So a beautiful question, so how that gets formulated, one is that you’ve done your homework and your research as opposed to a lazy question that’s readily available in press releases or website.

Melanie Katzman
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Another is that you’ve done some real good thinking. Any more ingredients or steps or pro-tips for formulating a beautiful question or maybe some examples?

Melanie Katzman
So, I will work with people who are high potentials who are being coached at their company’s request by me, and that’s one set of engagements I have. The other is people will be coming to me when they’re wanting to transition to another role, or they have lost their job and they’re looking to repackage themselves to reenter the workforce.

And so, what I will say to people, I say, “If you’re going for the classic informational interview, so you’ve got a foot in the door, so do the research on who you’re meeting with and what their place is in the market. What are the questions they might be asking themselves and what is information that you have that connects the dots in ways that they may not have thought about before?”

So, for example, I’m going for an interview at a production company, and they make educational films about climate change. So, I’m going to show up and I can either say, “So, tell me who are your founders? Or, are you tackling this topic or that topic?” or I might want to say, “Hey, I’ve noticed that there’s a tremendous increase and demand for school-age programming but there’s an absence of quality product out there.”

“For example, so and so is doing such and such, so and so is doing such and such, but actually your sweet spot seems to be the creation of these kinds of products and you haven’t looked at the school market yet. What would you think about doing that? You could tackle this kind of climate question in this kind of way, educate people, fulfill your mission but also answer an area in the market that’s underserved.”

So, you’re coming in and you’ve done some strategic thinking, you’ve analyzed the marketplace, you’ve looked at what they provide, and you’re offering an opinion. Now, some people will say to me, “I should be paid before I offer up that perspective,” and I would say, “You want to get a job that you’re going to be paid well? Demonstrate that you’re worth it, come and be generous in your thinking and in your willingness to share your thinking.”

Pete Mockaitis
And if you already have the job, I mean, yeah, you’re just there all the time with regard to the meetings and having researched some things and noticed some things that maybe other people haven’t. Well, I just love that so much because I think about being on the receiving end of those questions in terms of, “I’ve actually never heard that organization you’re citing. I wasn’t aware of that trend that you’re pointing out.”

Melanie Katzman
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“You seem brilliant and I want you close by so I don’t overlook something really important.”

Melanie Katzman
But that’s exactly it. You can’t go wrong if you help people be smarter. And the other part of that is when you’re networking, both internally networking or externally, because often times when people are coming up for promotion, or want to be coming up for a promotion, it’s important to do some victory laps around the organization, talk to people, have them get to know you.

I think some of the great questions to ask are you go to someone who you admire in the organization, and say, “How do you get your information? What are the things that you read? On your commute, how are you spending your time getting information?” everyone likes to talk about themselves, and most people like to stop and think about, “Yeah, how do I do that?” And if I want to have the strategic capability of someone who’s very senior in my organization, I want to know what they’re inputting into their internal computer so I’m getting access to some of that good data.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s so good. And what’s so funny is there’s often blogs that you may have never even heard of that really have so much good stuff. I think there’s one about law, like Above the Law, or one about accounting that’s kind of edgy, and it’s sort of like, “I’ve never heard of that.” And I think maybe, I don’t know, a quarter or so of the people in the field may have, or it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard about that. But is that really worth looking at?” It’s like, “Oh, this super smart person is there all the time.” “So, apparently it is. Now, I know.” And that’s available right there, just get that curation step.

Melanie Katzman
Absolutely. What I do, non-pandemic times, one of the things I do was I lead leadership retreats in different parts of the world where I bring people together from very different backgrounds and very different nationalities and sectors to understand particular issues of the moment, and we will invariably end up in traffic because it’s just part of the job. And one of the things that we’ll do is just, I’ll say, “Hey, what’s the top five things that are coming up in each of your Twitter feeds? And where is it coming from?”

And it’s fascinating. You have people there that are Chinese entrepreneurs, and French politicians, and Brazilian businessmen and women, and a tech exec from California, and what they’re listening to or reading is so profoundly different, And at a time that we know that we can end up in our own reverberating echo chambers, understanding what different people are accessing is so informative. So, it’s just a really fun great question.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is beautiful. And I want to hit a particular action you highlight which is to listen to inspire. How do I do that?

Melanie Katzman
Well, one of the first things is, as I was saying earlier on, like, to really listen. So, too often I think we listen to reload, “So, I go with what I want to tell you. So, I’m just busy formulating in my head my response,” versus, “I’m listening to you to understand what you want me to really hear.” And I think a mistaken impression often is that we need to demonstrate empathy, that I’m listening to someone and I’m a good listener, I’m having an empathetic response, so I’m searching my autobiographical library for something I can say to show, Pete, that I can relate.

While I’m doing that, I’m not listening to what Pete is really saying. So, rather than focusing on me and what I’m going to do when you stop talking, I need to quiet down inside and actually listen to what you’re saying, show that I’m paying attention. And any kind of visual contact, I think the challenge is to keep your mouth closed and to show interest without using your words. And it’s an exercise I do with people when I am running programs because it’s super hard to listen without speaking and, yet, it’s very impactful when someone listens to you without speaking. It brings you in by their head nods, by their eye contact, by their smiles, by their hand motions.

And an interesting point from my experience has been that when I do encourage teams to have conversations where someone is speaking and nobody’s interrupting for over five minutes. Imagine, over five minutes, it seems like it’s endless. The first minute, people are talking, it feels really good to be listened to. The second minute, the other person is just listening and shaking their head but not saying anything. It feels awkward. The third minute, someone starts, the person who’s speaking, speaks more and adds more detail. The fourth minute might go a little awkward. By the fifth minute, they have revealed something they were never planning on revealing.

And so, five minutes of uninterrupted attention will generally get a much deeper fuller expression of what’s going on, and it’s a little investment for a huge impact. So, to listen to inspire, shut up. Shut up inside and shut up outside. Just listen and absorb and demonstrate your engagement.

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

Melanie Katzman
Okay. I think one thing I just want to mention is that we are having this interview during a pandemic, and as a psychologist working in business, I am so struck by the difficulties that people are having and that we need to take this seriously. Like, there’s a pandemic right now that’s related to a virus but there is a tsunami of mental health crises that is just going to pound us if we don’t take measures now to help people set clear boundaries between work and home, between the beginning and the end of the day. We need to listen carefully to the distress signals that people are sending up, some are much more subtly than others.

A lot of my work these days has been in delivering webinars for companies in lieu of the in-person talks and keynotes I usually do, helping provide a safe place for people to talk about the ways in which they can communicate better when they’re working from home, and ways that they can establish the human personal connection at work in the absence of physical interactions. So, I think we are physically-distanced and psychologically and socially desperate for connection. And companies need to work hard to answer that need.

And so, my big message is, to whoever is listening, really stop, listen deeply, pay attention, and put some effort into helping these connections unfold because if you don’t, I think you’re really going to end up with a very exhausted and debilitated workforce.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And now could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Melanie Katzman
I think one of my favorite quotes, maybe it’s part of the reason why I wrote a book has lots of steps, and it’s a Chinese philosophical quote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

Melanie Katzman
You got to start moving to make things happen and it’ll just be a little step.

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

Melanie Katzman
So, I love to look at neurobiology as a way of inspiring us in the office and in the workplace. And one of the studies I think is really important is it’s an fMRI study that shows you how your body heats up in reaction to different emotions. And there’s research that shows us that love and anger physiologically look very much the same. We kind of light up red if you look at these fMRIs.

And it’s important because they are emotions of approach. So, I don’t know if I want to hug you or I want to belt you, but either way I’m having a lot of reaction to you. And I think in the workplace, we often forget that when someone is really worked up about something and they seem pissed off and angry and even difficult, it may be because the person cares so deeply.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really true.

Melanie Katzman
So, I love that piece of data because it really affirms what I see. The problem child that I’m called in to coach is often the person who’s just caring so much.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so true. Like, I don’t get upset about things I don’t care about, and it happens in work frequently. And it’s easier if I just don’t care.

Melanie Katzman
Exactly. But sometimes I have to coach people, “Don’t care so much,” right? And so, I just think it’s an important factor for us to consider that the person who cares so much may be sometimes the individual on your team who can seem the most difficult and the most challenging, so we want to value that passion and help that passionate individual channel that energy into the most effective way.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Melanie Katzman
There’s a classic called Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, which is actually the new book was written in 1970 something. But I really like it because it’s about, “How do we change the things that we can change, control the things we can control, and learn how to focus on those particularly at times when we’re feeling out of control, depressed, or helpless?”

And what we find is, you know, my favorite psychologist or consultant joke is, how many consultants does it take to change a lightbulb?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I think I know this one. Oh, I know a therapist. I don’t know about consultants.

Melanie Katzman
I’m a therapist and a consultant so I go between the two. So, which is the answer?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m not going to give the punchline. Take it away, Melanie. Take it away.

Melanie Katzman
Oh, you’re not? Okay. The lightbulb has to want to change itself, right? And so, ultimately, the power is with us. We need to be able to change ourselves. And sometimes it’s changing our actions, sometimes it’s changing the way we think. And so, my answer to your question, given the times we’re living in, is that there are some things that we can change and there are some things we can’t, but to be able to survive and thrive during this period, we need to change the way we think or perceive or assess things in the moment.

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

Melanie Katzman
My paper and pencil. I have all sorts of electronics that help facilitate my work but I find that having a daily list that I write down helps me track and prioritize what I’m going to do, and it feels great crossing it off versus just hitting delete. So, I like a paper and pencil.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And, tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for, people quote it back to you frequently or Kindle book highlighted all the time?

Melanie Katzman
Well, I think, oftentimes, it has to do with a lot of what we’ve been talking about, which is you have to slow down to move fast, that the investments in making a strong connection is really a very small one in terms of time, but if you are intentional with your actions, you’ll have a very big impact. So, small acts of human kindness have huge and rewarding impact.

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

Melanie Katzman
Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn at Melanie Katzman. And all of these different social media platforms, almost every week I put out a minute of advice, so you can grab a minute with Melanie and it’s just very topical, practical advice that helps you just be better in that day and, hopefully, in that week.

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

Melanie Katzman
Yeah. It’s up to you. It doesn’t matter whether you are in a cubicle, whether you are working out of a closet right now, or whether you’re occupying a corner office, that it’s up to you and how you behave. And that will change and impact the culture of everybody around you. And that if you want to have joy and meaning at work, you make it happen by what you do and how you do it, and how you do it with people who you might not even think to include but probably should and could and will benefit by doing it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Melanie, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in all of your connecting.

Melanie Katzman
Thank you so much. And it was great to be connected to you, and thanks for a great interview.

635: Shifting Your Team from Survival to Performance through Psychological Safety with Dr. Timothy Clark

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Timothy Clark says: "It doesn't matter what your role is, you are an architect of the culture."

Dr. Timothy Clark discusses the specific benefits and behaviors associated with high-performing, psychologically safe teams.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to combat the culture of fear 
  2. Why to encourage intellectual friction
  3. Tips that boost your credibility at work 

 

About Tim

Tim is founder and CEO of LeaderFactor and is based in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Tim ranks as a global authority in the fields of senior executive development, strategy acceleration, and organizational change. He is the author of five books and more than 150 articles on leadership, change, strategy, human capital, culture, and employee engagement. He is a highly sought-after advisor, coach, and facilitator to CEOs and senior leadership teams. He has worked with leading organizations around the world. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Timothy Clark Interview Transcript

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

Timothy Clark
Thanks, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. First, could you tell us about your experience growing up with the Navajo. That’s kind of interesting.

Timothy Clark
It’s kind of a unique thing, isn’t it? Yeah, so I spent my early boyhood in southern Colorado, kind of in the Durango area, and the reason that we were there is that my dad, out of college, he took a job as a teacher among the Navajo, and so I kind of grew up with them, which is, you may know, or some of your listeners may know, it’s a big tribe. It’s the second largest tribe next to the Cherokee. And, yet, as a child, I mean, that was pretty natural, normal environment for me. I didn’t know anything different. But it turned out that that became kind of a defining experience in my life as it relates to differences and inclusion and things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we’re going to talk about some of that when it comes to psychology safety. First, can you define that term and tell us why it matters?

Timothy Clark
Sure. So, psychological safety, I can define in five words. It means an environment of rewarded vulnerability.

Pete Mockaitis
Well done.

Timothy Clark
So, think about that. You’re in any social environment, social collective, organization, do you feel that, if you’re vulnerable in some way, that that’s going to be rewarded or punished? That’s the difference. That’s really what we’re talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so that sounds like a pleasant thing to have. Can you share some of the hardest-hitting research that really shows that that’s important for teams? Like, what do we have to gain or lose when we have it or don’t have it? And if you could put some numbers to it, that’d be awesome.

Timothy Clark
Yes. So, the difference between having it, Pete, and not having it is profound. Think about it as if you’re a player on a team, you’re playing offense or defense. If you’re playing defense, then what that means is that you’re managing personal risks, you’re in a mode of loss prevention, self-preservation, and so you’re taking a certain amount of your productive capacity and you’re using it to protect yourself.

So, that means that you’re going to offer a survival response instead of a performance response. If the psychological safety is there, if you feel safe in that environment, then you’re going to offer performance response, which is a very, very different thing. So, the difference is profound and what that translates into is productivity, it translates into innovation, it translates into business impact. So, that’s kind of a short way of describing the difference.

Pete Mockaitis
And I suppose there’s a whole continuum associated with, it’s not just binary, “Yup, psychologically safe,” or, “No, not psychologically safe.” But I imagine there’s kind of like tiers, levels, or a gradient there. And so, I guess one story that comes to mind for me is I remember one of my first jobs, I was an intern, and my buddy Dan and I, we kept writing emails that somehow seem to like tick people off or offend them accidentally without us intending to.

And so, we would spend a fair bit of time doing what we joked around, we call it PCS, political consulting solutions, and we’re just like, “Hey, could you read this email and see every way that you could conceivably take it the wrong way, and help me change my words so that I don’t do that?” And so, we spent a fair bit of time doing this. And I guess we’re kind of newer to the professional workforce, and maybe some of that is a skill you need. But there’s a part of me thought, “You know, maybe if we could all just chill and assume positive intention on the other part, we could skip a lot of this time that’s not really productive.”

Timothy Clark
Well, that’s true and so we have to think of it on a continuum. As you said, psychological safety is not binary; it’s a matter of degree. And as we enjoy more psychological safety, we are able to engage in different acts of vulnerability and we’re able to climb a ladder of vulnerability. So, let me explain that a little bit, and we know this is based on a global survey research that we’ve done.

If you come into a new social setting, a new team, new organization, the first thing that most people are concerned about, and when I say most, I mean 92% because this is what the survey research says. What people are most concerned about is, “Do I belong?” That’s the question they’re asking, “Do I belong?” And that’s the first question in the natural sequence.

And then we go to the second question. The second question is, “Am I growing?” And in order to answer that question, you have to be able to learn in that environment. The psychological safety has to be sufficient that you’re able to ask questions, give and receive feedback, make mistakes, experiment, so, that’s the second question, “Am I growing?”

The third question is, “Am I contributing?” So, that takes you to the third level or stage of psychological safety. And to contribute is also, really, a very basic human instinct to want to make a difference, to be able to participate in that value-creation process.

Then we go to the very highest rung on the ladder of vulnerability. And that highest rung allows us to challenge the status quo. So, the fourth question is, “Can I challenge the status quo?” What does that mean? Without retaliation, without retribution, without jeopardizing my personal standing or reputation.

So, out of the research, what we were able to excavate is that there’s this natural progression of stages of psychological safety. So, stage one is inclusion safety, stage two is learner safety, stage three is contributor safety, and then, as I said, stage four is challenger safety. Can you challenge the status quo? And what we find is that when we go from social setting to social setting, wherever we are, it’s not the same. Sometimes the psychological safety is very low, sometimes it’s kind of in the middle, sometimes it can be quite high which can allow us to do some pretty astonishing things as individuals.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to with the research, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it. And when we say astonishing things, can you give us a story, an illustration?

Timothy Clark
Yeah. So, actually, we keep doing case studies of this, but to preface my response, let me go back to Google’s Aristotle project, which I think they kicked off in about 2013, and they studied 180 of their own teams to try to figure out, “Well, what are the defining characteristics of our most high-performing team, because we have all these teams? And the teams are filled with highly intelligent, very talented people, but they don’t perform at the same level. Some really have a hard time getting off the ground. Others are soaring and they’re innovating and they’re doing some pretty incredible things.”

So, for example, we were just working with a client that’s in the construction business, and they put together several teams to try to figure out how they could innovate. And some of the best innovations came from some of their least, at least this is the way they said it, their least talented teams, where these are the people that you would pick last to be on your team.

And so, what we’re learning is that psychological safety becomes this incredibly important enabling condition that allows people…it gives people respect, and it gives them permission to jump in, dive in, lean in, and they have peak engagement experiences. They have career best experiences. They do things that they didn’t think they could do. And we’re seeing this over and over again.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love that. Now, we’re going to talk about how to get there, although I think some maybe hard-nose folks would perhaps suggest, “Oh, Tim, I mean, come on, don’t we just need to have a thick skin and just put it out there and make it happen?” I imagine it’s not so simple.

Timothy Clark
No, it’s not. In fact, Pete, one of the case studies that I give in the book that illustrates this point is that, in the United States at least, a student drops out of high school every 26 seconds. Now, that’s a tragedy but what is even more illuminating about it is that the research shows that most of these students, the vast majority of these students, barring some legitimate learning disability, they can do the work. The reason they drop out of school is because they didn’t have the support, they didn’t have the encouragement, they lost confidence, and they called it quits.

So, what we know about learning is that it is both intellectual and emotional. You cannot separate those two tracks. And so, if you just say, “Oh, you just need to have a thick skin,” well, do you think that that is really all that different in adults, in professionals who are in the workplace? They learn very, very quickly that if they challenge the status quo and they get their heads chopped off, they’re not going to do it anymore. They will retreat and recoil into a mode of personal risk management because what happens is that if the psychological safety is not there, if you’re in fear-based organization, or fear-based team, the fear triggers what we call the self-censoring instinct, and we all have one.

If that self-censoring instinct is triggered or activated by the behavior of other people, we catch on pretty quickly. And so then, we self-censor; we do not contribute all that we are capable of contributing. And that is a universal pattern across demographics, across cultures, across nations. So, does it matter? Oh, it matters. Think about the unintended consequences of how it matters when it relates to productivity, innovation, overall performance. Yeah, it matters.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And maybe if you could clear a misconception, I have heard or internalized somewhere that psychological safety may alternatively be defined as something like the ability to express what you really think without fear of reprisal. And I see a Venn’s diagram in my mind’s eye. There’s a good overlap with your definition but, also, it’s different. So, could you lay it on there, is there a distinction there? And I imagine there’s some form kind of ground rules, like, “Well, you can’t say anything.” But I don’t know, is it like 97% of things are acceptable, barring, which is wildly inappropriate, offensive, aggressive? How do you think about that?

Timothy Clark
Yeah. So, the way that I think about that is that, first of all, let’s go back to psychological safety is a function of two things. It’s a function of respect and permission. And so, we have to maintain, in order to maintain high levels of psychological safety, we have to maintain high levels of respect and permission.

So, what that means is that we patrol the boundaries of respect when we are engaged in dialogue and discussion. So, what that means is, as a practical matter, if you’re a member of a team and we are debating issues and we’re trying to solve problems, and we’re trying to figure out solutions, we do need a high level of intellectual friction. We do need creative abrasion and constructive dissent. We do need hard-hitting dialogue.

The only way you’re going to maintain that, however, is that you have to manage the social friction down. So, the intellectual friction has to go very high but the social friction has to stay very low. The only way you can do that is by maintaining respect interpersonally. So, what does that mean? That means personal attacks are off limits, and we’re going to be careful about what we’re saying. Now, we’re not going to coddle each other, right? We need a high tolerance for candor and we need to debate issues on their merits but we’re not going to attack people personally. We’re not going to demean or belittle or marginalize or embarrass.

If we move into that kind of behavior, then it shuts down our intellectual friction and we’re not able to make the breakthroughs that we need. So, we have to manage the respect and the civility in that dialogue.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s zoom into maybe some particular interactions and how they can be conducted optimally. I’m thinking, let’s just say someone says something that you find frustrating in the sense of, I don’t know, for any number of reasons, I don’t know, “We’ve been over this a dozen times before,” fill in the blank. So, I mean, what you laid out there in terms of things that are out of bounds, I could see, like, you’re not going to demean or shout or whatever, but I think it’s quite possible that we could have some nonverbal cues that can be tricky in terms of our vocal inflection or like a sigh. How do we play that game? You’ve got emotional reactions to stuff people say and they can pick up on those and not feel so safe afterwards. What do we do?

Timothy Clark
Well, I think that’s true, and so it’s not just verbal. As you say, it’s the nonverbal. Take, for example, think about all of us who are working virtually during the pandemic, we’re working with a distributed workforce, we’re on some kind of virtual platform. And so, our interactions, so I see from the shoulders up, and what am I relying on? I’m relying on some gestures. I’m relying on your facial expressions. I’m relying on your vocal characteristics.

It’s okay to be frustrated. It’s okay to be human that way because that communicates some very important things but it crosses a line when it becomes disparaging, when I’m rolling my eyes, when I’m being dismissive of what you’re saying. So, there’s a line there of respect and of acknowledgement for what you’re saying. Even though I may vehemently disagree, and we need to be able to have that discussion on the merits, but, again, I still think the whole key is that you’re maintaining the civility and the respect, and you’re having marvelous disagreements at the same time.

Can you do that? Yeah, you can do it but it takes practice. It takes practice.

Pete Mockaitis
Marvelous disagreements is a great turn of phrase. Thank you. And then how do we do that practice? Like, what does that look like when we are trying to build those skills?

Timothy Clark
Yeah, that’s a great question, Pete. So, what we did is we, our team, our research team, we put together what we call a behavioral guide, and we identified very concrete behaviors that are associated with each of the four stages of psychological safety. Let me give you some very concrete examples.

So, for example, with stage one, inclusion safety, it’s very important that you learn people’s names, you learn how to pronounce them, and you use people’s names. Now, that’s very, very simple. Here’s another one, and this one is backed up by research that’s come out of the MIT Human Dynamics Lab. When you are speaking with someone, even virtually, face them with your entire body. Don’t swivel. Don’t look at them from an angle but face them with your entire body because it communicates a different level of acknowledgement and interest and attention to what they are saying. Those are just a couple of examples.

We’ve put together about 35 specific concrete behaviors for each of the four stages of psychological safety. And so, what it comes down to is practicing those behaviors. So, for example, if you want to elevate inclusion safety, stage one, then you need to engage in behaviors that invite, that share, that solicit feedback and input, and you’re acknowledging other people. So, there are examples, there are behaviors that do that very naturally. Those have to be practiced over and over and over again in order to shift the prevailing norms of a team.  Yes, it can be done but you got to practice.

Pete Mockaitis
Tim, this is so much gold. Tell me, first of all, how do we get this behavioral guide?

Timothy Clark
Oh, this behavioral guide, you can just go to our website and it’s a free download. And I can also send you a link, Pete, so that you can have it available on your site.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. We’ll totally put that in the show notes. And so, okay, 35 for each of the four, or a 140 total.

Timothy Clark
A hundred-forty total.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m going to play 80/20 with you here. Can you give me the top three? And I’m going to say top in terms of it’s high impact, and it’s maybe frequently overlooked, and it’s relatively easy to make the shift. For example, I think that names is awesome, and facing with your entire body is great. Like, I can do that right now. Can you give us maybe another one for the belonging or inclusion, and then maybe the top three for the other three stages?

Timothy Clark
Okay. I don’t have them in rank order but I’ll take a shot. So, let’s go to stage two, first of all, to learner safety. So, for learner safety, one of the concrete behaviors that’s in the behavioral guide is that you need to publicly share mistakes that you’ve made. Okay, that’s one. A second one is to ask for help from someone of lower status than you. So, that’s another one. Another one for learner safety is to acknowledge when you don’t know something and do that very publicly.

Now, let me build on that because we can keep going. I’m going to skip for just a minute all the way to challenger safety, stage four, because this is the toughest one. So, here’s one, number one, weigh in last. If you have positional power, absolutely never speak first, give your opinion or your point of view first. You weigh in last. Another one is to publicly change your opinion so the people can hear that you’ve been influenced and that you’re changing your opinion or your point of view on something. Here’s another one. Formally assign dissent.

So, for example, say, we’re debating an issue or, say, we’re thinking about taking a course of action. Then what I would say is I would say, “Okay, you, you, and you, we’re assigning you to be our loyal opposition. We’re assigning you to dissent. So, as we go through this discussion, we want you to tell us what’s wrong with our point of view, what’s wrong with this proposed course of action, where are the flaws, shoot holes in it, and we’re giving you this as an assignment.”

The reason this works so well, Pete, is because if we assign dissent, we are trading your personal risks for public permission. And as soon as I give you public permission, you don’t have to use your personal risk, you’re going to be much more likely to do it. It changes the entire dynamic of the team. So, I kind of bounced around a little bit but let me give you another one. It goes back to inclusion safety. This just came to mind. It’s called hop-on hop-off  interviews.

Have you ever been to a city where you’re a tourist and they have these hop-on hop-off buses and you go around the city and you hop off, and you look at particular tourist attraction, then you get back on the bus and you keep going? It’s a similar concept. If someone comes in, a new member comes in, you assign that member an escort and a guide.

And that escort takes you around to the other team members, and you have very brief hop-on hop-off interviews of 5, 10 minutes each where you literally make the introduction to each person on the team, you say, “I’d like you to meet Pete. He’s a new member of our team.” Then you tee up a few questions and you accelerate the normal pace of social integration.

So, this happened to me, Pete. Let me give you an example. So, in college, in graduate school, I spent some time at Seoul National University in Korea, and they gave me a place in what was called the Social Science Research Center. As soon as I got there, the director, he introduced himself to me, and he said, “We’re so happy to have you here. I’m assigning two graduate students to be your guides, so here they are, and they’re going to take you around, and you’re going to meet every single member of the center, every faculty member, every graduate student.” So, they did that exact thing and then they took me to lunch.

Can you imagine how I felt? In the first day, we accomplished as much social integration as you would accomplish maybe in a month. I don’t know, maybe longer. So, what we’re saying is that there are these very concrete behaviors that accelerate and they elevate the psychological safety, and they absolutely work. Those are just some examples.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s so good. Now, let’s see. Did we get some for the contributor safety?

Timothy Clark
Contributor safety, okay. Contributor safety, let’s go back to what that means. Contributor safety means that you feel free and able to contribute as a full member of the team, to make a difference using your talents and skills and experience and knowledge. So, for contributor safety, I would cite, let me see, one example is that what you do, if you’re the leader of the team, you talk about the things that you have tried that did not work.

So, you talk about mistakes very openly because what happens is, and we know this from research, is that when we’re contributing, we’re very tentative, especially if we’re new, we don’t have the informal permission rights that we would want to have. And, usually, a team grants those slowly over time. Well, we don’t have time to wait for that.

And so, if, as a leader, you can say, “You know what, I tried this and it didn’t work out that well. I tried this and it was okay. We had a little bit of ,” but you’re very forthcoming with trying to solicit contribution from the person so the person is not standing on the sideline very tentative, very reluctant to dive in. And so, you model that, number one. And then, number two, you protect that person in the process.

So, let me give you another one that is a pattern that we see very clearly. So, that pattern is, for contribution, that you invite contribution but you provide autonomy with guidance. And the reason is that the more autonomy that I have, the more likely that I’m going to take ownership for something. Then if something goes wrong, you’re going to protect me in that process. So, there’s got to be some reassurance that if I’m venturing out and I’m going to try some things and I’m going to contribute, that I’m going to receive some level of protection in that process.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say protection, can you give us a couple examples of what that means in practice?

Timothy Clark
Yeah. So, for example, there is interpersonal protection. Interpersonal protection means that you’re protecting me from embarrassment, you’re protecting me from demeaning or belittling or that I might feel humiliated. I’ll give you an example.

So, early in my career, I was in manufacturing and I would have ideas about performance improvement, for example, for a process but I didn’t want to say anything because I was a rookie and I didn’t have permission rights, the informal socio-cultural permission rights. But I had a manager that could tell, he could just read my body language, and he would say, “Tim, I think you’ve got something to say. I think you’ve got an idea.”

And he would coax it out of me, and then I would give the idea. And it may have been a foolish idea, a silly idea, but he would protect me in that process so that nobody else around the table, nobody else on the team, would ridicule that idea even though I was a rookie. So, he gave me protection, interpersonal protection within, in the context of the group dynamics, so that I would do it again because he wanted me to do it again and again and again. If you get shot down, you’re not going to do it again.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, how would he verbalize that, or would he speak to other teammates, or just continue leading the meeting with an affirmation, or like what kind of verbiage was unfolding here?

Timothy Clark
Yeah, it was pretty subtle. He would just say, “Yeah, I could see where you’re coming from. That may have some merit. What do the rest of you guys think about that?” So, just subtle cues both verbal and nonverbal.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Thank you. Well, now I’m curious. If, let’s say, an individual contributor is in an environment that they say, “Wow, I want that and I don’t have that psychological safety,” what can they do? I mean, I guess they could quit and try to find a better environment. But are there any tools in terms of how we run our own brain or how we might try to advocate, instigate for getting a healthier environment?

Timothy Clark
Yeah. What I would say in response to that question, Pete, would be that if you’re an individual contributor, and contributor, you, by definition, probably don’t have  power and so you feel at a disadvantage. You may feel that you have no ability to influence. What I would say is build your credibility, build your platform of credibility, based on your competence, little by little so that people will listen to you because, then, if you keep doing that, little by little, you’ll be able to influence your peers and then your boss.

So, it’s kind of, this is the opposite of top-down. You don’t have positional power so you’ve got to create a beachhead of influence. And the way that you do that is, first of all, do your job and do it extremely well. Be very, very good at what you do. If you’re not good at what you do, people are not going to take what you say seriously. You don’t have credibility. So, you’ve got to get good at what you do.

You need to become good at asking good questions. Even though you may be new, even though you may be inexperienced, if you ask some thoughtful, reflective, good questions, you can build credibility in the questions that you ask even though you don’t know the answers because people can see that you’re being reflective. So, I think there are several ways to come at it but you’ve got to start with your own credibility. That’s what I would say.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And any tips for insulating our brains from the barbs that might be coming our way?

Timothy Clark
Yeah. I would say that it really is worth your while to try to not take things personally even when they are meant to be offensive or people are taking shots at you. I think it only works to your advantage if you are patient with the egos and the insecurities of the people around you. I’ll give you an example.

So, I did a kind of a roundtable discussion with a whole group of women of color the other day. It was absolutely fascinating. And the one insight that I gained from them that was bigger than anything else is they said, “You know what, this is what we do. We have learned to take some shots, to take some insults, to absorb those but then to focus on building our own credibility.”

Now, there are, of course, times when it goes too far. I mean, if we’re talking about bullying or harassment or public shaming or outright manipulation, that’s completely out of bounds. But they would absorb a certain amount of, I guess, rude or just impolite behavior. They wouldn’t worry about it too much and they would work on their own credibility in terms of their ability to contribute, in terms of their ability to collaborate. And they said that was an accelerator for them, and I thought that was so interesting because they said, “Look, we have barriers to overcome and we’ve learned.”

Now, of course, we have a ways to go in many of our organizations but I thought that was a particularly important insight. Don’t get tipped over by little things that people say or do even when they, perhaps, were not done with the best intent. Be forgiving and just show how  you are in your response patterns, and you will earn trust and credibility that much faster.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I think when you are in that place where you’re doing some forgiveness and that sort of fuels determination in terms of, I guess, the term killing them with kindness comes to mind, it’s like, “I’m going to take this masterfully.” And in so doing, you stick it to them.

Timothy Clark
That’s right. That’s right.

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

Timothy Clark
Well, I would just say that every team is on a journey of psychological safety. Psychological safety is dynamic, it is delicate, and the job is never done. So, even if you’re not a leader, now, this is something that I think we really need to clarify. It’s not just the leader’s job. Now, does the leader set the tone? Sure. And is the leader’s modelling behavior perhaps the most important factor? Yes, that’s probably true.

But every member of the team has a role as an architect of the culture. All of the individual contributors, it doesn’t matter what your role is, you are an architect of the culture. You are radiating influence every single day, there is no off switch, you can’t turn that off. You cannot turn off the influence that you’re radiating, so keep that in mind. So, you’re either leading the way towards higher levels of psychological safety or you’re getting in the way, but you’re not a neutral party.

So, regardless of your role, regardless of whether you have positional power or not, please understand that you are an architect of the culture.

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

Timothy Clark
Well, I’m going to go real simple, Pete, with you on this one, and that is that, “The best synonym for leadership in the English language is influence.”

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

Timothy Clark
I’m going to go with an oldie but a goodie, The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. It was published many years ago, still extremely timely and relevant.

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

Timothy Clark
Yeah, what I do, Pete, is I have a habit of writing down concepts, thoughts, ideas, insights. This is something that I’ve done for years and years and years, and it’s one of my favorite habits, and it’s the return on investment for that habit has been enormous. So, I used to use a pad of paper and pencil. Now I just use my phone but I am constantly just trying to capture insights and thoughts and observations. And I put them in no particular order, I call it my gristmill file. It’s just filled with stuff. And then I just go back through it and I make connections. That’s been, well, it’s one of my favorite habits.

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

Timothy Clark
Yeah, honestly, lately, it really is the five-word definition of psychological safety – an environment of rewarded vulnerability. That seems to be resonating massively with people.

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

Timothy Clark
Sure, yeah. Just come to our website LeaderFactor.com. We’d love to see you. And you can certainly follow me on Twitter or visit me on LinkedIn, Timothy R. Clark.

Pete Mockaitis
And at Leader Factor, we could find those 140 behaviors?

Timothy Clark
Absolutely. Yeah, downloadable, fantastic resource, and absolutely free.

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

Timothy Clark
Yeah, I would say try to do a baseline, ask yourself this question with your team or the environment in which you work, “Do you belong? Are you growing? Are you contributing? Do you feel free and able to challenge the status quo?” Ask those four questions to baseline the level of psychological safety on your team.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Tim, this has been a treat. Thank you so much and I wish you many psychologically safe adventures.

Timothy Clark
Thanks, Pete. it’s been a pleasure to be with you.

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:

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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.